Underachievers? I Don’t Think So

Kenny Williams isn’t happy with his team. He believes he put together a playoff contender, but that the players just haven’t played up to their abilities, and he’s willing to say so publicly.

“They are underachievers,” Williams said before the White Sox played the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday. “We’re not playing up to our capabilities. Period.”

I’m curious, though – who exactly on his team was he expecting more from? The White Sox are fourth in baseball in pitcher win value, so I’m pretty sure he’s not complaining about a pitching staff that is one of the best in the game. The problem has to be the offense, right?

Aging veterans such as Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, and Paul Konerko have been about as productive as you could have expected, and they were the core of the run producers. AJ Pierzynski is having one of the best years of his career, despite getting up there in age. Scott Podsednik came back from the dead to provide decent offense in center field. Gordon Beckham was a pleasant surprise just a year after being drafted. Alexei Ramirez transitioned from second base to shortstop nicely, and while his power has diminished, his overall offensive performance is similar to last season.

Really, the only significant underachiever on offense is Carlos Quentin. He has taken a big step back from last year’s breakout season, but injuries have been a lingering problem for him all year and regression should have been expected anyway. Does Williams really believe that Quentin should have matched his 2008 totals while playing through plantar fasciitis?

I’m sorry Mr. Williams, but your offense isn’t full of underachievers. It’s just not very good. The best players are just a bit above average, and your roster lacks any position players that are legitimate stars. Pierzynski is probably your best everyday player, and that’s a pretty big problem.

The failure of the 2009 White Sox isn’t a work ethic or motivational problem. It’s a talent problem. You didn’t build a team with enough of it to contend. That’s not the players’ fault.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


40 Responses to “Underachievers? I Don’t Think So”

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  1. Joe R says:

    To be fair, the White Sox did get a big, heaping pile of nothingness out of Quentin and Rios this season. Betemit’s his own fault and should’ve never traded Swisher.

    Outside of that, Konerko’s having his best offensive season in a few years, Podsednik was downright mashing for his standards, and everyone else was pretty much what you’d have expected. So what else could Williams have expected, it looks like a relatively average team to me.

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  2. Matt says:

    Alex Rios underachieved quite a bit, and Ozzie Guillen was guilty of playing offensive out machine Chris Getz over defensive out machine Jayson Nix.

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    • Joe R says:

      Play him for a season and I bet he’d give Polanco-like value. Of course it’ll probably be somewhere else because I can’t see him getting much run in Chicago once Beckham’s at SS and Ramirez goes to 2B.

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      • Matt says:

        Ramirez is better defensively at SS than at 2B, and I’m not sure Beckham can play SS or 2B at the MLB level.

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      • Joe R says:

        Nix also has a walk rate in the double digits, think Ozzie Guillen and his career 3.5% BB rate notices?

        Just seems to an outsider of the White Sox that it takes a lot to exit Ozzie’s circle of trust once you get in. At least it’s not Dusty’s CoT that involves nothing but bunting and stealing bases.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Alex Rios didn’t join the team until mid-August. Blaming their woes on his underachievement (and let’s be serious, it’s not like he was properly achieving earlier in the year, either) is foolishness.

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      • Matt says:

        I never thought this team was good (and I agree for the most part that the article hit the nail on the head about the team just not being that good), but they had a real shot at winning a division that Detroit was trying to give away.

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      • Joe R says:

        I don’t think anyone’s blaming Rios, because what would a good Rios been worth to the White Sox. 75-76 wins right now instead of 73? But it’s probably fair to say KW expected a lot more when Rios was acquired.

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      • Joe R says:

        Oh yeah, and the Joe Morgan analysis of the A’s.

        “Well they don’t steal bases. They just sit and wait for the 3 run home run. Moneyball doesn’t work. With no risk, you get no reward. And the A’s always trade away their good players. They should start giving 1/4th their payroll on one player.”

        (last sentence wouldn’t be Joe, he has no idea what limitations on salary are and thinks everyone can spend like the Yankees).

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  3. Jack says:

    Spot on. I thought it was rather lame of KW to go on record with that stuff.

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  4. Jack says:

    Since when was there any question as to whether or not Beckham could handle the middle infield? He was only playing 3B out of necessity since thecombination of Getz/Nix at 2B as slightly more acceptable than Fields at 3B in Ozzy/Kenny’s eyes. I don’t believe I have read or heard from any single source that Beckham was/is in danger of being relegated to a corner spot. I think he will almost certainly be playing the middle infield in the future.

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  5. Sky says:

    Would love to see how the White Sox players’ stat lines compare to the pre-season projections. I bet even Quentin isn’t that huge of an underachiever if you look beyond just 2008.

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    • lincolndude says:

      You can see that on their player pages. The projection systems had Quentin at 15 to 20 batting runs above average prior to the season.

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  6. dickey simpkins says:

    The team was never that good, but then again, neither are Detroit or Minnesota. Mediocre division means a team like the Sox was in contention for most of the season.

    Kenny probably realized if the Sox were in the AL East or West, the season would have been over months ago, but for a guy who’s hoping for a playoff push to increase attendance and TV viewers it’s understandable to call a mediocre team “underachieving.”

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  7. MikeS says:

    You forgot to mention the godawful defense they have played. Scott Linebrink has been weak, but the bullpen had enough to get by. I disagree that Dye has been “about as productive as you could have expected.” His OPS since the all star break is about .600! and in too large a sample size. Don’t know how many wins he costs with that, but with the rest of the division being lousy, it wouldn’t take many to have kept them in contention. Also, the Peavy thing backfired on them when he took a few extra weeks to rehab after getting hit by a line drive.

    Don’t get me wroong, had this team made the playoffs, nothing would have happened. But I’m more excited about the rotation next year and the increased overall athletecism on the roster. They need a few parts, but I think they are headed in the right direction.

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  8. dcs says:

    Doesn’t everyone see why he called them ‘underachieving’? It’s to cover his own a$$. If they are simply underperforming, it’s their fault, not Williams’. If they have mediocre talent (which seems to be the real truth), then it’s his fault as the team architect.

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  9. Steve says:

    Mediocre talent? Seriously? Alex Rios, John Danks, Jake Peavy, Gordon Beckham, Bobby Jenks, Jermaine Dye, Mark Buehrle, A.J. Pierzynski, Matt Thornton, Octavio Dotel, Paul Konerko, and Alexei Ramirez all have the ability to be above average players. This team seriously underperformed this year.

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    • Xavier says:

      I find it subtly hilarious that you’re implying that nearly exactly half the team “having the capacity to be above-average” equates to anything EXCEPT an extremely mediocre team.

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    • noseeum says:

      Lots of players have the “ability” to be above average. That’s why they’re in the majors. But only half of the league can be.

      -Peavy and Rios don’t count. They just got there.
      -Beckham is a rookie. You can’t expect him to be an above average player. Just an above average rookie. He might be great, but no one should have expected him to become a cornerstone of the offense in year one.
      -Konerko and Dye are old. You should expect regression.
      -Alexei Ramirez was a 27 year old rookie last year. ‘Nuff said.
      -Thornton’s had a heck of a season, so no blame there.
      -Jenks is a good, though not great, closer. But he’s a closer, so there’s only so much he can do to win. He protects wins. He doesn’t create them.

      So you’re left with Danks. There you have it. This season is all Danks’ fault. :P

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    • BX says:

      Not when you look at Dye’s last two years. He was awful in ’07, and a league average player at best in ’08.

      Konerko was barely average in ’07 and ’08.

      Beckham’s a rookie. Expecting him to put up star numbers in his rookie season is ridiculous. He’s been way better than expected since he was fasttracked.

      Relievers fluctuate a lot. That’s why teams shouldn’t pay big bucks for a reliever. Thornton’s always been one of the better relievers in the game, but Dotel and Jenks have fluctuated a LOT in the past.

      Rios + Peavy = small sample size

      And Buehrle/Danks/Floyd have been really good. So no way they’re any part of the problem.

      So, yeah, Williams needs to get his facts checked

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  10. KARKO says:

    Is this article really necessary? What do you think Sox management’s expectations are after 1) Winning a WS in the last five years 2) Winning a pennant last year 3) Having a big market payroll and 4) Having the best pitching staff in the division (4th best FIP in the entire AL)?

    Anyone notice the Sox had the WORST BABIP in the AL this year? Bad luck happens. Injuries cripple teams. I’m sure the sabermetricians will take the time to dissect and analyze the ’cause of death’ of the Cleveland Indians; surely THEY were unlucky (and not a bunch of underachievers) not to win the division as predicted (again). Maybe they can actually apply the same due diligence here before publishing this crap.

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    • scott says:

      This post wins.

      I was a firm believer in this teams ability, but some decisions leave a lot to be desired; not playing Rios in CF everyday, giving considerable PAs to Chris Getz and not Jayson Nix, not DHing Carlos Quentin everyday the moment they traded Thome, especially if they thought they “had a chance.”

      I’d be amazed if they didn’t win the division going away in 2010; both the Royals and Indians are and will be miserable, and the Twins have serious questions at SP and anything beyond Mauer/Morneau/Kubel. A full year from Jake Peavy and the continually impressing Daniel Hudson, the Sox really look like they’ll have the arms to win the division.

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    • Teej says:

      The team BABIP is only a few points below average. Team BABIPs will always be really close, because there’s a ton of data and it evens out. Looking at team BABIP over a full season isn’t going to tell you much.

      And even if it did, BABIP tends to correlate with LD%, and the White Sox’s LD% is the second worst in the AL. When you’re not hitting line drives, balls tend to find gloves. This isn’t a case of bad luck.

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  11. Andrew says:

    What kind of talent that the Sox lack would finishing five games over .500 and winning the Central require? They have easily the best pitching in their division, have the probable ROTY, and hit a ton of homers. Quentin regressing wasn’t a given and no one projected him to hit fewer than 40 HRs. Also his fasciitis didn’t manifest until over a month into the season.

    Ramirez has certainly underperformed. To say he didn’t is to ignore how absolutely atrocious he was at the beginning of the season. A combination of his poor performance, Quentin being out much of the season, Bobby Jenks sucking, and Buerle having that string of terrible starts cost the team around 6-8 games, enough to fall out of the division race.

    FWIW, here are the PECOTA projections for this year:

    CLE 84-79
    MIN 79-83
    DET 78-84
    KAN 75-87
    CHI 74-88

    I don’t think it’s that unreasonable for the Sox to have thought they would win a few more games.

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    • Terminator X says:

      “Quentin regressing wasn’t a given and no one projected him to hit fewer than 40 HRs.”

      Go check the projections on Quentin’s page here, and quit listening to the idiots on ESPN.

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    • big baby says:

      there isn’t a player in baseball for which hitting less than 40 homeruns would be impossible.

      40 homeruns is a ton.

      prince hit 34 last year.
      pujols hit 37.

      the only person who could probably be said to be a lock for more than 40 is ryan howard. and adam dunn to hit exactly 40.

      hell, quentin only hit 36 last year.

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    • Teej says:

      Quentin regressing wasn’t a given and no one projected him to hit fewer than 40 HRs.

      ZiPS: 24
      Marcel: 23
      CHONE: 23
      Oliver: 22

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  12. Andy S. says:

    I don’t think he’s necessarily saying the players are underachieving individually, but rather that they haven’t been able to put it together for wins.

    Kind of like the anti-Angels.

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  13. TheUnrepentantGunner says:

    By the way, on admittedly a short sample size, your prediction that Rios would still be a productive player is going down in a flaming ball of FAIL right now Mr Cameron. In fact, while I enjoy reading you, and enjoy all the work with pitch f/x and general awesomeness of the website, I would argue your overall predictions are on par with Joe Morgan and slightly behind John Kruk and Jayson Stark. And that is about the worst insult I can give you.

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    • noseeum says:

      All predictions in baseball are terrible. If you can beat the monkey, you’re doing pretty well, and that’s pretty crappy. The world is getting pretty good at explaining what happened in baseball, but it’s tough to fault someone for getting wrong what WILL happen.

      Joe Morgan can’t even help you with what ALREADY happened!

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      • Joe R says:

        The A’s need more athletes, they don’t steal enough bases, they walk too much:

        AL ranks for A’s:

        BB: 8th
        SB: 4th

        BTW the A’s are 36-31 since the ASB. 33-26 since trading Holliday. This is pretty much the worst A’s team they will run out there for awhile and for over 2 months have played like a 90-91 win team. I think they win the AL West again in 2011.

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    • big baby says:

      i’m absolutely amazed that in a short sample size something unpredictable happened.

      that’s never happened before

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      • TheUnrepentantGunner says:

        Well, I get the sample size argument for the Whitesox only, but if you factor in the plate appearnces with the Blue Jays a line of 240/290/390 over 600 plate appearances doesnt scream small smaple size to me. (was he unlucky 30 something more times than last year? really?)

        I would also wager that Ozzie moves Rios to the doghouse previously occupied by Nick Swisher and a host of others next year, meaning the chances of recouping your value on Rios goes down further, especially with that contract lingering. I would go so far to argue that the best scenario for Rios to rebound would be playing for a team that is not named the White Sox, but with the White Sox taking on a good portion of his paycheck, which would still make the Rios acquisition awful for the whitesox. And maybe its bad luck over the 120 or so PA, but maybe Chicago is a bad fit for Rios either because he can’t play for Guillen (not the first player to suffer that fate) or the park or who knows what.

        Either way, even if he mean reverts for the next 480 PA and posts a OBA of 330 or so, his OBA for the last 600 PA is then still around ~=300, which is scraptacular.

        So yeah, I still maintain this is one of the worst of Dave Cameron’s predictions, and he has had a few bad ones.

        nosseum: Touche, your point on Joe Morgan wins. You would really think though that part of the reason for all of this analysis is to try to predict which players are worth the contracts, or if my $260 a team Fantasy baseball team really should trust Justin Upton (yes!) and Colby Rasmus to lead my team to glory (or lack of glory as it turns out this year).

        Anyway Dave, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, either Rios has horribly underperformed (to the tune of at least a win or two in his 120 PA for the SOX) OR he was a bad deadline period acquisiton for a team still vaguely in contention

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  14. Panicstreak says:

    This Sox team has not underachieved, they have merely achieved. Everyone of their players has is playing at or near their projected value based on past performance. Perhaps some of that falls on the players, some on Ozzie for not motivating them to that level, some on KW for not finding guys with the sort of potential to overachieve.

    Im a believer that for a team to have the sustained success necessary to make a playoff run, they need players to over-achieve for sustained periods during the seeason. For instance- was anyone expecting the kind of first half that Brandon Inge had? Sure he has regressed to his projected value, but his first half was immense and carried the Tigers for several months. Same with Edwin Jackson. Not one player on the Sox, except maybe Gordon Beckham when he first arrived provided that sort of pop to the lineup.

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  15. Steve says:

    you know who did not underachieve this year? Nick Swisher. it’s not fair that the Yankees can get players like that and the White Sox can’t.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Yeah. You know what else would be awesome? If they had the opportunity to acquire a solid starting pitcher on a reasonable contract for a B-level prospect and spare parts. Maybe somebody like Javy Vasquez?

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      • Bill says:

        Yeah I too foresaw Javy Vazquez breaking out at 33.

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      • Teej says:

        He didn’t need to break out to be valuable. He was worth roughly five wins a year the three seasons before the trade (albeit with his weird LOB% issues).

        He’s definitely having the best year of his career, but it’s not like he was mediocre before. A decent chunk of his FIP improvement can be chalked up moving into the NL and out of U.S. Cellular.

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  16. Rick says:

    Is it fair to pretend that “most likely outcome” and “up to our abilities” are equivalent statements? Sure, the Sox have performed up to a level that a reasonable person might have predicted. But Williams is suggesting that they did play as well as they could have played. I don’t he’s wrong — though I doubt he cares much about this distinction.

    I imagine that most GMs (and fans) probably expect their teams to overperform relative to a holistic prediction where teams had to average 81 wins…

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  17. Luis Aparicio says:

    Couldnt Agree more.

    I actually predicted they would finish in last place in their divsion this year. Kenny’s willingness to trade away prospects for aging vets, although somewhat successful in the past, is going to come back to haunt him very soon.

    Cant imagine what this team will be like next year. The 2010 version of the 2009 Giants perhaps?

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