I was watching the White Sox-Angels game on Monday evening, not paying the closest of attention as I was gathering RE24 data on Cubs relief pitchers--you know, just another night. Ken Harrelson, White Sox TV play-by-play man made a comment I wasn't sure I heard correctly, and since I'm the last person in the United States without a DVR, I couldn't rewind and listen to it again. Luckily for me, Chicago sports radio station WSCR, 670 The Score, was kind enough to replay it on Tuesday:
That three-game series against Kansas City, you could take us talent for talent, we're probably a little better than Kansas City. They execute better than we do. . .when they get a man on second, they get him over to third, and then they probably get him in. When they got a man on second and third and nobody out, they'll get at least one, and most of the time, two.
Mercy! Don't take my word for it, listen to it right here (it begins at the 28:13 mark). White Sox fans have become deadened to Ken Harrelson's ridiculous, over-the-top comments, but that doesn't make them any more difficult to check and see if they hold up to close scrutiny. So let's go position-by-position and see how the teams stack up.
Catcher--Salvador Perez vs. Tyler Flowers
Yeah, right. Flowers has legitimate pitch framing skills, and no matter what importance one wants to place on that, it can't overcome his anemic offense. His 65 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) isn't dead last among catchers, merely 24th--Perez is 16th. An argument can be made Perez is having a down year offensively, but he's four years younger than Flowers and under Royals control through 2019. Verdict--Salvador Perez.
First base--Eric Hosmer vs. Jose Abreu
Flip the players into the other park and see what happens--Abreu would continue to a below-average defender (to the extent it matters), and his power would decrease. Hosmer would continue to play stellar defense, and his power would increase. Hosmer is also three years younger, but Abreu is under team control through 2019 vs. 2017 for Hosmer, at which time his price will likely be much higher. This is a very tough call, because there are a lot of external issues, and I like both players. In the end, I'll take the younger player. Verdict--Eric Hosmer.
Second base--Omar Infante vs. Carlos Sanchez
I have to pick one, right? Both have anemic offense--Infante's 44 wRC+ is bad even by middle-infield standards, even worse than Chase Utley's. Infante has the better UZR/150. In the end, I'll take a chance on a 23-year-old who might improve as opposed to a 33-year-old who's probably in the decline phase. Verdict--
no one Carlos Sanchez.
Shortstop--Alcides Escobar vs. Alexei Ramirez
Alexei Ramirez is having a decent August, batting .270 and playing solid defense. Let's forget the .289 OBP and focus on the .242 BABIP--he might just be warming up. This streak has run his season batting average all the way up to... .237! Add in that Escobar is only 28 (I really thought he was older), and it's pretty easy. Verdict--Alcides Escobar.
Third base--Mike Moustakas vs. Tyler Saladino
Prior to this year, I would have considered third the position most in need of upgrading for the Royals. Despite Moustakas' high draft status, he had never fully turned the corner from prospect to fully-formed big league player. The glove has always been there, but in an era in which offense is decreased, teams, especially teams like the Royals, can't afford to utilize a defense-first third baseman. Something clicked for Moustakas this year, and batting in the #2 slot seems to agree with him. He's cooled off considerably from his hot start, but what he is now is more than acceptable. Saladino also could be a solid player, but he's only a year younger than Moustakas. In this case, I'll take the bird in the hand. Verdict--Mike Moustakas
Left field--Alex Gordon vs. Melky Cabrera
Talk about hot--over the past 30 days, Cabrera has one of the best wOBAs in baseball. Unfortunately, the 100 days prior to that were pretty brutal, and even with this hot streak, he has a 0.5 fWAR, which is not enough for a left fielder. Prior to his injury, Alex Gordon was having the typical season Royals fans have come to expect, and his plus defense is an asset even in a position that doesn't really require it. This is a no-brainer. Verdict--Alex Gordon.
Center field--Lorenzo Cain vs. Adam Eaton
Yep, let's go with the player who's been benched at least twice this year (I lost track). To be fair, Eaton has been playing very well as of late, but Cain is among the elite, trailing only Mike Trout in center field fWAR, and just between you and me, Mike Trout is pretty good. The only thing that gives me pause are the three years Cain (29) has on Eaton (26), but age isn't everything. Verdict--Lorenzo Cain.
Right field--Alex Rios vs. Avisail Garcia
I really didn't understand the signing of Alex Rios, other than maybe they got him cheap, which they didn't. Avisail Garcia is still a player who's viewed as developing, but he's nearing 1000 major-league plate appearances, so it's time for him to become what he is. He had two homers in a game on Monday, raising his season total to 11, too few for someone playing half his games in US Cellular Field. Rios is having a better year than Garcia, if a -0.2 fWAR is better than a -0.5 fWAR (it is--but it means both are bad). Garcia is ten years younger than Rios, so. . .Verdict--Avisail Garcia.
Designated hitter--Kendrys Morales vs. Adam LaRoche
I was a big Kendrys Morales fan, or at least as big as someone who never saw him play could be. After his breakout 2009, the 2010 injury took a long time to heal. He just seemed like another cheap pickup, but he's been an outstanding replacement for Billy Butler. It's an open question how long he'll be able to last, but he's not Adam LaRoche, imported to DH and not very good at it. Plus, I hate his beard. Verdict--Kendrys Morales.
If you click no other link in this post, click this one--it shows the cumulative fWAR for starting staffs this year. Yeah, you saw that correctly--the White Sox have the best starting pitchers in baseball this year. Chris Sale had his strikeout streak, and Jose Quintana leads all of baseball in no-decisions since 2012, to the extent that matters. Jeff Samardzija has been very effective, Carlos Rodon is in his first year, and John Danks' contract expires after 2016. The Royals--well, they've scored a lot of runs! And they added Johnny Cueto. Verdict--White Sox.
To the surprise of no one, the Royals have one of the best bullpens in baseball. The White Sox were abysmal earlier this year but have made strides as of late. They have a very effective closer in David Robertson, but their setup men weren't getting it done. To be fair, it wasn't really their fault. Verdict--Royals.
In today's game with 12 and 13-man pitching staffs, using the term "bench" is really a misnomer, since we're essentially discussing the backup catcher, infielder, outfielder, and perhaps one more player. I don't know what happens to Ben Zobrist when Alex Gordon returns--I'd put him at second so fast it would make your head spin. Zobrist with a speedy Jarrod Dyson, coupled with the fact they don't have Gordon Beckham, means. . .Verdict--Royals.
I've never watched a Kansas City TV broadcast and already know it's better than the Sox. I say this with a grain of salt, since analyst Steve Stone is one of the best in the game and is truly a joy to listen to. I've never listened to a Kansas City radio broadcast and already know it's better than the Sox. Some day I'll tire of sharing this link from the Wall Street Journal some time back on the most biased TV broadcasters in baseball. This is not that day. Verdict--Royals.
This graph ties it all together:
Data through Tuesday, August 11th
This plots cumulative team fWAR, both position and pitching, versus team winning percent, and it's not hard to see the difference between the Sox and Royals. If this chart had been shown a couple weeks ago, the Sox would have been around the Phillies--that's how bad they had been playing. Even though they're playing decent ball now, they were absolutely horrific in the first couple months of the season, which is why any playoff talk is likely a pipe dream at best.
Ken Harrelson did nail it when he stated "They execute better than we do"--this is what typically occurs when teams have better players. 12 different areas, and a truly objective analysis suggests the Sox might, might be better at three of them--not a solid basis to say they're better than the Royals.
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA and is an unapologetic Cubs fans but bears no animus toward the Sox. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.