Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Role Reversal

Ozzie Guillen has never been too timid about stating his adoration for the Minnesota Twins and the way they play the game. At seemingly every opportunity, he has publicly complimented the organization, its players and its manager. Oftentimes, when the White Sox would play at the Metrodome and Guillen would rattle off one of his profanity-laced diatribes about his team's uninspired play in a post-game presser, one got the impression that the Chicago skipper secretly desired a gig in the opposing dugout.

It should come as no surprise that Guillen is partial to the "piranha" approach to run-scoring that he helped the Twins make famous a few years ago. During a 16-year playing career, Guillen posted a modest .264/.287/.338 hitting line while managing just 28 home runs in more than 7,000 plate appearances. Even when he was at his best, Guillen's value came from his speed and defense. That style certainly doesn't mesh with the way the White Sox have been constructed for much of the past decade, with an offense built around plodding sluggers like Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Joe Crede and Carlos Quentin. Chicago's offensive formula has been effective -- as illustrated by their World Series Championship in 2005 and subsequent AL Central title in 2008 -- but it has been drastically different from the one employed by the light-hitting Twins.

Today, we're seeing a major shift in philosphy for both teams.

The Sox have spent the past year parting ways with the likes of Thome and Dye while loading the roster with players fitting a different mold. Juan Pierre, who was signed during the offseason to play center field and bat leadoff, is a speedy runner who has consistently demonstrated an ability to hit for a high average but whose power is almost non-existent. Omar Vizquel, Chicago's new starting shortstop, is an all-glove guy who provides little with the bat, particularly at this late stage of his career. Mark Teahen, acquired in a trade with the Royals, hasn't slugged over .410 in any of the past three seasons.

Through moves like these, the White Sox are shedding their label as a straight power-hitting club while leaning more on speed and defense, not to mention an excellent and relatively youthful starting rotation. This is the formula that once epitomized Twins baseball.

Looking at the current Twins' roster, however, we find that they've strayed from that foundation. An outfield alignment of Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer possesses plenty of offensive upside but may cover less ground defensively than any other trio in baseball. Glancing up and down the lineup, you're hard-pressed to find three guys capable of swiping 20 or more bases, but you're also hard-pressed to find three (OK, maybe four) guys not capable of bashing 20 or more homers.

Over the years, Chicago has regularly sat near the top of the league in long balls while the Twins have been at the bottom. As recently as 2008, the White Sox ranked first in the American League in home runs while the Twins ranked dead last. This year, there's a pretty realistic chance the Twins will out-homer the Sox. The last time that happened was the last time the Twins won the World Series, back in 1991.

The White Sox will be a team to monitor throughout spring training and throughout the season, as they appear to be the Twins' most formidable competitors for the AL Central crown. For the first time in ages, the Twins may have the more dangerous lineup in this heated rivalry, but conversely the Sox may hold an edge in pitching and defense. It's a strange role reversal, but it should make for another great race in a division that has gained a reputation for improbable outcomes.


JoeBraga said...

Are you sure Omar Vizquel is starting at short? I was thinking Alexi Ramirez was.

Anonymous said...

Span is an average outfielder. Cuddyer is below average overall despite his arm making up for some of the range. My hope is that Delmon's attitude and 35 lbs of lost weight this season might improve his D to only sort of terrible instead of worst out there.

On the infield we have a gold glove catcher, Punto who's zone rating is great when he plays 3rd, Hardy who was 3rd best last season in UZR at short, Hudson who is average these days but still capable, and Morneau who is about average at 1st. Harris isn't as good defensively but not a train wreck either. So really our infield is above average but not spectacular.

Our defense will not be great this season and our outfield speed is sort of concerning given our current pitchers high fly ball rates. But overall I don't think it will be a train wreck by any means. Last season our defense was atrocious (3rd worse UZR if I'm not mistaken). We've made big improvements at short and 2nd, lost Gomez, but my gut also says that Span and Delmon will both be a hair better this season.

I think our players are solid all around and will make up for defense with offense in most cases. But one thing that is annoying to me is that we don't have a stellar defensive outfielder to sub in as a closer type of player. That could cost us a game at some point.

Then again great defensive outfielders with no offense can be had for cheap so maybe I just need patience. Or maybe they'll hold onto Casilla by putting him in that role.

NoDak Twins Fan said...

Hopefully this shift in philosophy doesn't mean that the White Sox will improve this year. I like it better when they are down.

Nick N. said...

Are you sure Omar Vizquel is starting at short? I was thinking Alexi Ramirez was.

Oops. You're right. Vizquel will serve as mentor and late-inning sub. The overall point stands, though.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Sox trade for Pierre from the Dodgers?

Josh said...

I've heard rumors that Vizquel may DH for the ChiSox, with Andruw Jones (which tell you a bit about how short they are for quality hitters!)

The ChiSox have the stronger rotation right now, but I think their pen is still below the Twins. Infield defense looks like a push, maybe slight edge to ChiSox. OF D is edge to the ChiSox. I think the runs lost from the offense for them will more than offset the runs saved from the improved D. And they're going to need their starting pitchers to go deep in games and not get hurt or take a step back.

Right now, Chicago does not look like as complete a team as the Twins.

JustinMorneauMVP said...

White Sox defense should be pretty atrocious. Alexei Ramirez is their only good defender and he is a ??? defender at SS. Other than that, they have Teahan (alright defender) at 3B, Gordon at 2B (horrible at defense), and Paulie at 1B (not a gold glover by any means since he stands in cement.)

Outfield defense will consist of Rios (alright in RF, but horrible in CF), Pierre (losing ground fast), and Quentin (not very good). Their pitching may hold the edge over us, but do not count on it since their defense is so bad.

Twins defense has a gold glove SS (Hardy), a gold glove 2B (Hudson), Punto (best position is 3B), Morneau (solid at 1B), Mauer (gold glove C). Outfield defense is a little more shaky but the hope is that Delmon, with the loss of 30 lbs, out of Dome, and family problems behind him will do much better, at least replacement level defense we hope. Span should do better not having to move around anymore, and Cuddyer is below average.

Overall, the Twins defense is better than the Sox. The only place I would say the Sox defense is better by a tad is in the outfield.

Nick N. said...

Didn't the Sox trade for Pierre from the Dodgers?

Yes. Wow, I should really do a better job of proofing these posts when I put them together at midnight on a Tuesday...