Three Surprises in White Socks

The White Sox are certainly a surprising team this year. I do not think many gave much thought to the AL Central under the assumption that the Twins were clear favorites there and that the Wild Card was assured to come out of the AL East. Instead, the White Sox are holding the divisional lead and they are doing it with little help from their position players.

It has been the pitchers where Chicago has made up ground on the better teams in baseball and the success on the mound has come from some unexpected sources. Mark Buehrle is having a typical Mark Buehrle season and Jake Peavy was a bit of a disappointment in both performance and durability, though neither should have come as too big a shock. To counter the letdowns and exactly-as-predicteds, three pitchers have exceeded expectations enough to propel the White Sox up the divisional leader board.

J.J. Putz came into 2010 on the heels of an injurious and all around disastrous 2009 season with the Mets. Having thrown just 29.1 innings, Putz’s strikeout rate fell from a three year average close to 11 per 9 to just 5.8. His walk rate also stayed at his 2008 level in the mid to upper 5s, which left him with an equal number of walks as strikeouts in 2009.

The projection systems did see much improvement for Putz in 2010. CHONE and ZiPS put him at a 4.29 and 4.24 FIP respectively. FanGraphs readers were a lot more optimistic with a 3.49 predicted FIP, but even they are being blown out of the water by Putz’s actual performance that is right out of his 2006 model of success. The strikeouts are back to 10.6, the walks are back down to 1.5 and the high ground ball rates are back as well, keeping the home runs infrequent. In total, Putz has already thrown 35.2 innings with just a 2.00 FIP. He’s been one of the very best relievers in baseball.

John Danks ended up in Chicago with a reputation as a big time fly ball pitcher, a reputation well deserved. His ground ball rate in his rookie 2007 season was just under 35%. It has steadily risen each season since up to 43% in 2008, 44% last year and now up to 47% in 2010. Interestingly, the cause might be because of his drastically reducing the use of his breaking ball. During that transformation, Danks has managed to hold onto his strikeouts and cut down on his walks by a smidge. His continued improvement has once again bested the average projections.

Gavin Floyd took a sizable step forward last season, upping his strikeout rate by about one per nine without any additional walks. Largely, the projection systems did not expect Floyd to hold onto those gains as well as he has in 2010. The other part that nobody expected was Floyd’s ground ball rate going from a well-established rate in the low 40s to 51% this season. Floyd’s 6.4% home run per fly ball rate is unsustainably low, but even adjusting for that, Floyd has held onto his 2009 improvement and is establishing a new baseline for performance as a high-3 xFIP pitcher as opposed to the mid-4 range that was working in previously.

There are obviously many reasons for Chicago’s success to date in 2010, but the above three pitchers are both some of the biggest and some of the least expected.



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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.



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airlifting
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airlifting

“The White Sox are certainly a surprising team this year. I do not think many gave much thought to the AL Central under the assumption that the Twins were clear favorites there and that the Wild Card was assured to come out of the AL East.”

i wonder how many times this has been written in the blogosphere over the last five years. over that same time frame, it’s this second sentence that has probably never been written. the offense has never looked this bad.

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