FIRE JOE MORGAN: Definition Of Grinding


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Definition Of Grinding

According to Steve Rosenbloom, it's turning fewer runs into more wins. Grinding: what can't it do?

Grind it out: Revisiting Thome-for-Rowand

Sportswriters, just a quick tip -- one way to get on FJM with alacrity is to invoke the 2005 White Sox and how awesome their actually mediocre offense was without mentioning their stellar pitching. Gets me every time. It's like that YouTube clip where a guy in a monster mask pops out of a trash can and then ostensible prankee punches the guy in the face.

I love Jim Thome. I don’t think Aaron Rowand is Superman. But I think that trade killed the White Sox and will continue to kill the Sox for who knows how long.

This is ridiculous for almost too many reasons to list. Reason #1: Thome was way more valuable than Rowand in 2006, the first year after the trade was made. Hit 42 homers, OPSed 1.014. Thome was pretty good in 2007, too, with 35 and .973, though Rowand probably had him beat with his fielding and his surprising year at the plate. Reason #2: Aaron Rowand isn't even playing under the old White Sox contract anymore. He had a player option for 2008, and he damn well took advantage of his crazy, career-best 2007.

Which brings us to Reason #3: If the White Sox needed Aaron Rowand so bad, they could have just signed him back as a free agent before this year. Why did they not do this? Because Brian Sabean and the aging-veteran-loving San Francisco Giants gave him $60 million.

So unless you're saying that Thome's very presence is the reason the White Sox are losing -- oh. Oh God. That's exactly what you're saying, isn't it?

It doesn’t make sense if you compare their careers. Thome is going to the Hall of Fame; Rowand is going to the hospital. But it makes perfect sense if you understand the grinder mentality that Rowand represented, the grinder mentality that the 2005 Sox lineup had, the grinder mentality that existed precisely because Rowand wasn’t Thome.

Because Thome was miles better at hitting. You don't want your players to be too good. Jesus, baseball rule number one, people. This is day one shit. NOT TOO GOOD, that's what ol' Abner Doubleday would say as he went out to his barn, going about his business of not inventing the sport of baseball.

I don't know how many times I can type this into our blog.

2005 White Sox (Rowand-y, grinding, mentally strong): 741 runs (9th in the AL), OPS+ 95
2006 White Sox (infected with Thome, non-grinding, mentally weak because too good at hitting): 868 runs (3rd in the AL), OPS+ 103

And what the hell, one more time for the long-time readers:

2005 White Sox pitching: 3.61 ERA (1st in the AL)
Hermanson, Cotts, Politte ERAs: 2.04, 1.94, 2.00.

That's 180+ innings of like, vintage 1999-era Pedro. From Dustin Hermanson, Neal Cotts, and Cliff Politte.

But sure, it was also the grinding.

It existed and worked because those Sox were forced to worry about where their next run was coming from and forced the entire lineup to worry about fundamental, situational hitting.

What these stat geeks don't get about baseball is that it's not about OBP or OPP or DORPy-DORP-DORP, it's about worrying. When your team sucks, you worry, and then the clutch hits just pile up.

This Sox lineup, see, goes the other way by accident, or because it’s over-powered.

** EDIT **

Upon reading this again, it seems like "over-powered" might mean White Sox batters are getting over-powered by opposing pitchers, and thus going the other way unintentionally. So read the next paragraph with a giant grain of salt over your eyes in the shape of reading glasses that transform it into something that makes sense.

** END EDIT **

Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause. Move over, "clogging up the basepaths," you've got a new companion in the four-poster California-king-sized Bed of Baseball Idiocy. "Over-powered." If Steve Rosenbloom's favorite NASCAR car were losing races, he would be the guy taping "wind-blockers" all over the hood, yapping "This car's too fast, I tells ya, too fast!"

The 2008 White Sox aren't failing to score because they lack a grinder mentality. They're 8th in the AL in runs because they're 8th in the AL in OBP, in no small part because Thome, Paul Konerko, and Nick Swisher -- all ordinarily quite valuable hitters -- are off to career-worstish starts. Are you going to accuse these guys of not grinding? Swisher leads the AL in pitches per plate appearance. It's true. I looked it up. Is that not grinderiffic? Thome is 8th in that category, by the way. These three decent-to-great hitters are having concurrent slumps because Thome is old and Konerko is getting old and Swisher -- well, sometimes guys just stink for a couple of months. It happens.

The frustrating thing is that there are valid criticisms to be made about the Thome-Rowand trade. Rowand is seven years younger and he plays a premium defensive position well. Of course, without Rowand's incredible 2007, which I don't think even Pat Gillick would've claimed to have foreseen, Thome still would have been more valuable for the past two years. The White Sox did also have to include top prospect Gio Gonzalez (for whom they later traded again in the Freddy Garcia deal, and then dealt for Swisher), and the Phillies had to throw in $22 million because of Thome's bloated deal.

One criticism that is not valid is: Jim Thome emanates a pheromone that makes his teammates hit worse, while Aaron Rowand, through sheer lack of Thome-power, compels Juan Uribe to get clutch hits.

With Thome ahead of Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye, you have a rerun of the Frank Thomas-Magglio Ordonez-Carlos Lee lineup. Wait for the homer. And wait. And wait. And wait behind teams like the rebuilding Twins. Yeesh.

2004 White Sox (Thomas-Ordonez-Lee, too many homers, too much waiting): 865 runs (3rd in the AL), OPS+ 102
2005 White Sox (Clubhouse constantly freshened by Rowand Magic Grinder Scent): 741 runs (9th in the AL), OPS+ 95

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posted by Junior  # 1:47 PM
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