White Sox blind to what ails them

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ozzie_guillen_090817.jpgWhite Sox general manager Kenny Williams has had it up to here with his team’s lack of effort, focus and desire, apparently.

Frustrated by a 3-3 roadtrip to Seattle and Oakland, the GM told the media on Monday that “We’ve deserved what we’ve got. I’m not happy. I’m not happy with a lot of what I see, we’re underachievers, period.”

Perhaps Williams’ angst comes from a feeling of pressure after adding two huge contracts in Alex Rios and Jake Peavy. Maybe he just woke up cranky.

But even more interesting than Williams’ grousing were the comments of his manager, an equally perturbed Ozzie Guillen:

“The way Kenny built this ballclub, there’s no doubt we’re better than .500. Look at our lineup, look at our pitching staff. Don’t look at our defense, please. Don’t look at that one, we’re horrible. But if you look at the team and say this is a .500 team, you have to be wrong.”

So Ozzie’s take is essentially this: We’ve got good offense. We’ve got good pitching. So we should be good even though we can’t catch the ball, and we have no idea where we’re throwing it.

But if you disobey Ozzie and look at the defense, you’ll see the White Sox are probably right about where they’re supposed to be.

A little research shows that the White Sox have committed 90 errors this season, most in the AL. Even more interesting is a look at the UZR ratings over at Fangraphs where the stats agree with Ozzie’s eyes. The White Sox are not a good defensive team, ranking 18th out of 30 teams in UZR at -14.1 runs below average.

Looking at the roster reveals a bit of a dilemma when you consider that the team’s best fielders (Jayson Nix, DeWayne Wise) can’t hit, while among the better hitters, only Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez are slightly above average with the glove. At least the addition of Alex Rios allows the hatchet-man known as Jermaine Dye (-13.4) to “rest”, or see time at DH.

The teams that frustrated Williams and Guillen last week – the A’s and Mariners – are both allergic to offense:  Seattle is 25th in runs scored, the A’s 19th. But when you factor pitching and (yes, Ozzie) defense into the mix, the playing field evens out. The Mariners have the second-best defense in baseball, and the A’s come in at No. 11 overall.

The answer to the White Sox’s question (aside from having Jake Peavy strike everyone out once he joins the team) seems to be staring them in the face. Remember, this is a simple game: You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. You got it?

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Meanwhile, the White Sox say they won’t risk Peavy on the basepaths against the Cubs on Sept. 3, no matter how tempting it is to remind everyone in the Windy City which team landed the former Cy Young winner. An Aug. 28 start at Yankee Stadium, however, is a possibility.

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If you Twitter, and aren’t against playing a little defense once in awhile, you can follow me at @Bharks.

How not to enjoy what Aaron Judge is doing

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been one of the biggest and best stories in all of baseball this year. While he held promise entering his rookie season, most experts figured he’d provide some low-average, low-OBP power. That he’d be a guy who, based on his size, could send a pitcher’s mistake 500 feet in the wrong direction, but who would probably be shown to have big holes in his swing once he’d been around the league a little bit.

Judge defied expectations, however, and has put together an amazing rookie season. He broke the rookie home run record yesterday with his 50th blast. He still strikes out a lot but so does everyone. He nonetheless has hit for a great average and has gotten on base at a fantastic clip. He has also showed some uncommon resilience, overcoming a lengthy slump in July and August and returning to the dominant form he showed in the first half while helping a Yankees team not many figured to be a strong contender into the playoffs. Such a great story!

Sadly, however, this sentiment, which appeared from a commenter on my Facebook page yesterday, has become increasingly common:

I’ve seen it in a lot of comments sections and message boards around the Internet too, including our own comment section. From yesterday:

This is not exactly the same thing we’ve seen in the past with other breakout home run hitters such as Jose Bautista a few years back. This is not an accusation that Judge is taking drugs or anything. It’s more of a preemptive and defensive diminishment of excitement. And I find it rather sad.

Yes, I understand that past PED users have made fans wonder whether the players they watch are using something to get an extra edge, but it really does not need to be this way. We’ve had drug testing in baseball for over a decade and, while no drug testing regime is perfect, it just seems bizarre, several years after Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did their thing — and a few years after Alex Rodriguez and others were caught and disciplined for trying to do more — to assume, out of hand, that great baseball performances are the product of undetected cheating. Yes, it’s possible, but such assumptions should not be the default stance, only to be disproved (somehow) at a later date.

The same goes for the juiced baseball, right? Yes, there is strong evidence that the baseball was changed a couple of years back leading to a home run spike, but aren’t all players using the same baseball? It’s also worth remembering that the season Mark McGwire hit 49 homers — 1987 — is strongly suspected of being a juiced ball year as well. It’s a concern that may be based in fact, but it’s a large concern over a fact thrown out with little regard for context to sketch out a threat that is either remote or without consequence.

The point here is not to argue that Aaron Judge is undeniably clean or that the baseball isn’t different. The former is unknown and the latter is likely false. The point is that it’s super sad and self-defeating to qualify every amazing feat you see with preemptive concern about such things. Years and years of sports writers writing McCarthy-esque “Yes, but is he clean?” articles does not require you, as a fan, to do the same. You can enjoy a cool thing in the moment. If it’s found out later to have been tainted, fine, we have a lot of practice in contextualizing such things and we’ll do so pretty quickly, but what’s the harm in going with it in real time?

I suspect the answer to that is rooted in some desire not to look like a sucker or something. Not to find oneself like many did, in the mid-2000s, being told by sportswriters and politicians that they were dupes for enjoying Sosa and McGwire in 1998. But that’s idiotic, in my view. I enjoyed 1998 and all of the baseball I saw on either side of it, as did most baseball fans. When the PEDs stuff exploded in the 2000s I reassessed it somewhat as far as the magnitude of the accomplishments compared to other eras in history, but it didn’t mean I enjoyed what I had seen any less.

Likewise, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of watching Aaron Judge this year. Why can’t everyone? Why is it so hard? Why have we been conditioned to be skeptical of something that is supposed to be entertaining? When your personal stakes are low like they are with respect to any sporting event or form of entertainment, it’s OK to enjoy things while they’re enjoyable and worry about them being problematic if and when they ever become so. And hey, they may not!

I promise you: if Aaron Judge walks into the postseason awards banquet this winter carrying a briefcase that unexpectedly opens and 200 syringes full of nandrolone fall out, no one is going to say you were dumb for cheering for him yesterday. It will really be OK.

Yadier Molina leaves game after taking two foul balls to the mask

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The St. Louis Cardinals have been eliminated from contention for the NL Central crown and are hanging on by the thinnest of threads in the race for the second NL Wild Card, two and a half games back of the Rockies with the Brewers in between. Last night those dim playoff hopes took what may have been a fatal blow thanks to a couple of foul balls that knocked Yadier Molina out of the game and, possibly, out for the season.

In the seventh inning of last night’s Cubs-Cardinals game Molina took a Kris Bryant foul ball off of his mask. It sent him to his knees. He gathered himself, set back up and, on the very next pitch, took a second foul ball, right to the mask. He was much slower in rising that time and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny immediately — and wisely — pulled Molina from the game.

Molina is being monitored for a concussion. Whether he has one or not, prudence would dictate sitting him down for the rest of what are likely the Cardinals final six games of 2017.