Week 3: Rodon's first appearance, the Royals as punks, CPS and BBB, and the Americans

Carlos Rodon’s first major league appearance on Tuesday was so-so. Let’s breakdown the good and bad.

The Bad:
  • Rodon couldn’t find the plate, which was bad. He wasn’t getting a ton of help from the ump, which wasn’t helping the situation, but he also wasn’t all that close on a number of pitches. He was clearly a little too pumped (but who can blame him?) and probably over throwing a little. While Rodon’s control probably wouldn’t be called good, there’s nothing that says he’ll struggle to find the plate like he did on Tuesday night. I’m not that worried.
  • Only one strikeout, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, pretty much everyone was in a good hitters count, so I’m not too worried about this either.
  • So much for that change up… Rodon didn’t throw one according to Pitch F/X.
  • Only three of Rodon’s sliders found the strike zone.

The Good:
  • He only threw his slider 18% of the time. Not sure where to put this, but that’s fine by me. It’s a pretty nasty pitch as it looked to be coming in at 87 mph with good movement. Lefties ain’t gonna touch him.
  • Other than Raburn, no one really got good contact on him. Lots of broken bats, weak grounders, and bloopers. Rodon was unlucky to give up the two run single to Raburn in the 6th, though he did himself no favors with his poor control. Raburn just missed a wind aided home run in the 8th, but he still hit it pretty well; and Raburn also destroyed a Rodon fastball in the 6th which went  foul (I think it was Raburn at least). But fairly weak contact over all which is a positive.
  • Carlos averaged 95 mph on his fastball and 87 (!) with the slider. That’s good!

In other Sox news...
--Jose Abreu so far this year:
.439 WOBA
182 wRC+

He's really good. Imagine what he's going to be like once he's walking more?

--The Royals are a bunch of punks. Who knew Phil Garner was managing them?

I have no clue how Kansas City has gone on this run since last season. I’m not sure I’d trust Ned Yost to manage a lunch order to McDonald’s, yet some how every bad decision he makes works.

There’s some talent on this team, but it’s not overwhelming once you get beyond three or maybe four guys. Yet there they are… can’t lose and their bullpen some how never giving up runs.

I can’t wait for them to regress to their below average talent level.

Most Interesting Things I’ve Read this Week:

--The always awesome Committed Indian with the Chicago line of the week: “Watching Joel Quenneville inch toward his optimum lineup in the playoffs every year is like watching the turtle races at Big Joe’s. You know he’s pointed the right way, and there’s a good chance he might get where he’s needed to but you don’t know if he’ll just stop and/or reverse course out of randomness/confusion/anger.”

--Keep gettin' 'dem checks, BBB. This entire situation at CPS—BBB, the Board, SUPES, the Fund, possible corruption, obvious mismanagement—is a mess. No one looks good right now, and I have no clue who is lying and who's telling the truth and who doesn't know... but the fact that BBB is going to get another $250k plus benefits? Someone one should step in here and void that contract. She's not coming back to the District. If they're going to void the SUPES contract, then void BBB's.

What I haven’t read:
2016 gets even dumber: New York Times wonders whether Jeb’s elitist weight loss will doom him (Salon) - There’s no need to even click on the link, there are so many of these type stories every day. This is but one example.

We moved into the 24/7 new cycle about 20 years ago. And with it the demand for news has increased. So instead of highlights of the baseball game, we get “talk” about if player’s X comments about twitter will affect his teams performance. Or, instead of talking about Jeb’s policies and what he did as governor of Florida, let’s debate his weight loss!

Essentially, the media now spends more time creating straw man arguments, and then debating and knocking them down, than they do actually discussing anything of substance.

The “news” has become the straw man. The starw man has become content. The content has become the entertainment. I’m sure I’m not the first to say this.

I’m not sure if this is problematic per se, but it’s silly and it makes it harder for everyone to get to the important issues and topics. Adding to the noise isn’t helpful and having to filter out yet another pointless non-news piece isn’t frustrating.

However, as the media’s platform becomes larger and most constant, the media’s response, too often, has been to create a straw man instead of discussing or researching or reporting the actual news and it’s impact and meaning.


Thoughts on Season Three of The Americans

  1. Amazing season. Amazing show. It’s easily makes my top eight of best shows of all time. Maybe even top five at this point.
  2. I was a little bummed we won’t get a few episode arch of Elizabeth and Paige in Russia. How amazing would that be? And imagine Elizabeth going to the USSR in ‘83 and coming to the realization that things were horrible there compared to the US? And what if she went all ‘fuck that shit’ on the USSR upon her return ‘home’ to the US?
  3. It is unbelievable how good Matthew Rhys is on this show. Give him an Emmy please.
  4. Suck it, Chekhov's gun.
  5. This show, maybe more so than anything in pop culture, shows how far powerful humanizing a person can be. We’ve got two Soviet spies who go around killing Americans and steal American secrets, and you don’t hate them. You might not be rooting for them, but you also don’t want them to be caught. It’s a testament to how well done the show is; to humanize Soviet spies so that they’re not evil people (per se). And remember that next time you see some puff piece on TV or in the newspaper on a movie star or politician. Humanizing someone goes a long way.
  6. I thought the AV Club’s review of the season finale was top knotch. I totally missed the Philip is a robot, but he’s not, metaphor the show was driving home in the scene where he kills Gene.
  7. I’m not going to say that The Americas is a better show than Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Sapranos, or The Wire… but it might make me feel more than any of those shows, other than The Wire. I have so many mixed emotions when watching, should I feel bad rooting for Phillip? Why am I rooting for Phillip but against Elizabeth? Where these people bad or where they just placed in a horrible situation? Did they ever have a choice*?

A great show. Can’t wait for Season Four.

*Walter White and Tony Soprano both had a choice, and both chose evil. Don Draper has a choice, and constantly chooses to, frankly, be an idiot (I’ve never seen Don as bad or an anti-hero fwiw). The Wire made it clear that most characters on the show didn’t have a choice due to socioeconomic status, and the ones who did have a choice, were usually corrupted by either power or were bad dudes. Philip and Elizabeth really don’t have a choice, since their only other option is death (unless you believe they could defect and not face any sort of repercussion, which I find doubtful).


Week 2: Sox -- Twins, Cleveland and Detroit; Things I've Read (and haven't); Mad Men thoughts


Went 3-2 over the week and this week you saw a team that might be decent. The problem is that the Tigers and Royals are building quite the lead; even factoring in the coming regression for both teams, the Sox aren’t exactly built to be chasing teams who might now win 92 games instead of 88.

The pitching, overall, has been pretty good. If anything they’ve been unlucky; both BABIP and the ERA/xFIP spread are out of whack and will only get better for the Sox.

It’s the hitting that you’ve got to start to worry about a bit. While the BABIP gods aren’t helping, the Sox aren’t walking. If you’re not getting guys on base, you’re not going to score many runs. Both Eaton and Melky don’t have a walk yet this season… this is very very bad. And Abreu isn’t walking enough so far. It’s early, yada, yada, but if the top of the order doesn’t start being more patient, I’m not sure this team can win 75 games even with better pitching.

That said, the Sox have been super unlucky so far (Eaton, Melky, and Abreu all have BABIPs south of .206) and being 3-6 isn’t great, but there’s no need to hit the panic button either.

I’ll discuss Robin at another point, but he’s got to be on top of things more. I didn’t see the play at 2nd in the 9th from Friday, but just reading and hearing about it… yikes. That can’t happen if you’re the manager.

Quick Bulls thought: I’ve started looking into some defensive stuff with them, but have yet to finished it. Aim to this week. Anyway… since I don’t think the Bulls will struggle at all with the Bucks (silly of me considering how maddening the Bulls have been), it won’t change anything in Round One. Bulls in five.

Most Interesting Things I’ve Read this Week:

1) Enjoyed this story from the Trib on Natalie Jaresko, who was born in Chicago, worked for the State Department, and is currently the Minister of Finance in Ukraine.

2) Florida Ex-Senator Pursues Claims of Saudi Ties to Sept. 11 Attacks

“In sworn statements in the two cases, Mr. Graham has said there was evidence of support from the Saudi government for the terrorists.”

Yet we blamed Iraq (eventually indirectly). Though it is fair to ask why the FBI and CIA would still be covering up for the Saudi’s if there was a connection (other than conspiracy which I am doubtful about for a number of reasons starting with it’s a conspiracy). Either way, worth watching.

3) Were Chicago’s Famous ‘Lakefront Liberals’ Really All that Liberal?

Whet’s the best.

What I haven’t read:

Sometimes people are the most telling when talking about someone/thing else. Take this quote from Republican Ron Gidwitz, one of many Republican’s who donated to Rahm’s campaign:
Garcia, whose biggest donations came from the Chicago Teachers Union, the Service Employees International Union Health Care and the SEIU State Council, had repeatedly said he had warned those same unions they better be ready to share the sacrifice. 
But Gidwitz scoffed at that suggestion, saying: “Is [Garcia] really going to bite the hand that got him elected?”
It’s a fair point. But that’s not what’s telling. The telling part is the irony of Gidwitz’s quote: he’s also saying that Rahm isn’t going to cross the guys who fund him and got him elected.

There’s nothing news breaking in Gidwitz’s point—we all know that politicians are going to do everything possible to not hurt their supporters. But sometimes it’s best not to say anything at all.


***Mad Men spoilers from here on out***

I’ll be the first to admit that I’d have no clue how to conclude Man Men, especially Don’s story. But once again, in the moment of watching this week, I’m left worried that this is not only going to be unsatisfying, but also potentially ugly as far as endings go. If we leave Don as pretty much the same guy who he was at the start of the show, then what’s the point? Don in 1970 is emptier than Don in 1959 (literally and figuratively after Megan’s mother cleaned the apartment out). We’ve watched someone who over 11 years has, thus far, barely grown as a person even if he’s more accepting of his past. Even if Don Draper isn’t (as?) worried about anyone knowing he’s actually Dick Whitman, it doesn’t change the fact that Don still isn’t real. And an unreal Don Draper can continue to never change.

Sepinwall handles this head on in a cutting, negative review:
...I often hear complaints from fans who have grown weary of the show, and particularly about how Don keeps making the same mistakes time and again. It may be true to his character, they acknowledge, but if — to borrow Peggy Lee's question from last week's premiere — that's all there is, then why is the show still going? What's the point to it all?
The AV Club’s review is more optimistic than I am:
And what has Don built? That’s the question. Mad Men’s final half-season is taking an ingenious approach to the problem of how to end Don Draper’s story: Let the creative genius himself try to figure it out.
And we’ll see! As far as endings go I think we’re more headed towards a Wire ending, not perfect but good enough. Five more weeks until we finally see. But Pete probably summed it up:

"Think you're going to begin your life over and do it right. But what if you never get past the beginning again?"

--One last Mad Men thought: once again put to the test, and once again I enjoy watching Game of Thrones so much more than Mad Men. It was true last year. It was true last week. And I think I enjoy watching the Americans more than Mad Men too. That doesn’t mean they’re better, but Mad Men really has become a chore to watch, mainly because I care less and less about Don the more the show continues. I’m not sure when Peak Don was, maybe sometime in Season 5? But ever since the latter half of Season 6, I’ve cared less and less about Don Draper since watching the same guy make the same mistakes and either refuse to learn from them or to change. Watching a rich*, white, male, struggle—especially after all his insecurities and mysterious past has been stripped away—just isn’t that interesting in 2015.

*To critique the critics… Don’s wealth is often overlooked in a lot of the criticism I read on a week to week basis on Mad Men. Don, unlike most people, can buy his way out of any situation (i.e. Megan last week) which allows the show to sidestep a lot of potential issues. In fact, Don’s wealth has been a means for the writers to ignore plot for much of the show’s run: money has set Don Draper free from everyday life, therefore we can study the character.


Week 1: Sox Thoughts and Links: April 11, 2015

[Editor’s note: I’m going to start doing a weekly post, aim is for Saturday, which will focus mainly on the White Sox, but will probably feature thoughts on the Bulls and if I can find anything interesting, the Blackhawks. I’ll also throw in some interesting links and maybe a policy thought or two.]

I’ve got nothing. They’re 0-4 and look horrible. I’m officially worried that they’re going to be horrible and somehow misspent most of the money this winter (even though I endorsed most of the moves).  Four games is nothing, but looking like a AA team in three of the four games is ugly.  

Looking for a few positives? Johnson has been looked likely, I’ve happened to watch every good Tyler Flowers at bat, and I do like that Robin is using the roster flexibility that Hahn gave him this year. Platooning Gillaspie/Beckham is a very positive sign from Robin, someone who has underwhelmed me as a manager in his first three years.

Most Interesting Things I’ve Read this Week:
  1. How Bibi and Bush Made a Mess of the Middle East: Misplaced Focus on Saddam's Iraq Tore Region Apart
There are some assumptions and flaws in this piece, but it’s an interesting read none the less. As someone who was always anti-war in Iraq, none of this is exactly surprising, but still crazy to think that no one ever considered the ramifications of the Iraqi invasion in 2002-2003. ‘It will work because we want it to be’ was the thinking, always so so so so dangerous.

Pretty cool story, first birth of a wild bison east of the Mississippi nearly two centuries.

Since taxes are due next week, just a friendly reminder that a government hand out/service and a tax break are the same thing.

What I haven’t read:
Anything that comes close to capturing and providing solid analysis as to why Rahm Emanuel defeated Chuy Garcia in the Chicago’s mayor race. There have been a number of hot takes, mostly from national, Beltway types, who either declare progressives dead or that Rahm’s win can be a blueprint for Hillary (which I found hilarious since progressives were a major reason why Hillary lost to Obama in ‘08 but whateves national media).

They all seem to have forgotten that politics is local (usually). And Rahm spent a lot of money. And while the Rahm defenders (supporters?) are quick to, rightly, point out that Garcia’s campaign was so-so at the best of times; they neglect to admit that Emanuel’s campaign was fairly underwhelming too (even if he won by 12 points). Oh and race, which for some reason we’re all pretending played little to no role in anything. In Chicago. Okay… whatever guys.

The reality was that the race featured very apathetic voters, most who stayed home (in a city that historically does well to get the vote out). Both candidates had their strengths and weakness. But most people, outside of a number of Chuy voters, weren’t all that excited to vote for either candidate . In the end, the guy with the most impressive CV*, was the incumbent, and had the most money won. It really wasn’t all that surprising, even if it took a little longer and was a little closer than everyone realized.

*This takes nothing away from Garcia, who has a very impressive resume in his own right (and one which is much more Chicago focused), it’s just hard to compete with a White House official turned Congressman turned White House Chief of Staff turned Mayor of Chicago.


***“Mad Men” spoilers from here on out***

I don’t wanna go too deep on “Mad Men” since the last season/half-season just started, but I do find it interesting that the characters, despite being given new starts seemingly every year, rarely do anything to change or improve themselves given these (seemingly) annual new starts. I too often feel like I’m watching the same character arcs and plot lines year after year.

In a nutshell, Man Men is a character study of Don Draper, a man who isn’t who he says he is (at the start of the show at least), Don consistently does things (read: everything) to alienate people (read: everyone) in his life; this is mimicked by nearly everyone who works in his advertising firm. Eventually the firm merges (and/or Don gets divorced) and everyone gets a new start. And then everyone goes back to making the same mistakes they made in the first place. And...

More later as the season and series plays out.


How the White Sox win the 2015 AL Central

This might be my favorite thing to think about and write each year. How the Chicago White Sox can win the AL Central.

Last year, they didn’t have a chance to win the division. But this year? It could happen. You might need to put on glasses, or squint really hard, but you can see it if you’ve got the prescription right.

Where We Ended: 2014
The Tigers won the Central last year with 90 wins. The Sox won 73. That’s a huge gap to make up in one winter. And more bad news, the Sox were out scored by 98 runs, second worst in the AL.

But as any Sox fan knows, not all was bad last year. The team was somewhat enjoyable to watch unlike 2013. They played the Tigers tough (9-10 last year). They had a winning record in interleague. The Sox were sort of competitive in the first half, playing .460 baseball, not good, but not horrible. However, they fell apart in the second half where they went 28-38 and were outscored by 75 runs.

To figure out how the Sox can win the division, we need to set some parameters. First things first, let’s assume that 90 wins is going to win the division again. The Tigers probably aren’t ‘better’ heading into 2015. The Royals won 89 games last year and needed luck to do so,  then used some sort of super-duper-magic-dust to get to Game 7 of the World Series. Regression is likely. The Twins are a few years away.

The Indians… well, they’re the wild card in all this. The Tribe won 85 games last year, and while they didn’t add too much (i.e. anything), they also didn’t lose too much. While I don’t think Michael Brantley will be as good as he was last year, I also doubt Jason Kipnis will be as bad. The Indians offense might be relying too much on Nick Swisher bouncing back, but considering his age, he might be done and the Tribe might very well be looking at a sunk cost. Meanwhile, the Indians starting pitching appears to be strong. BUT they’re counting on a few young arms stepping up and being decent. Always a big risk. Could the Indians win 90? Easily. Could they be stuck on 85? Just as easily.

Considering that the Central is stronger this year, let’s set 89 wins is our goal. The Sox won 73. Where can we find 16 wins?

First, Short, Center: For starters, Abreu and Alexei have to be as good as they were last year. Eaton too, but he’s got to play more on top of it. If those three stay healthy and play well, the Sox are off to a good start.

Second Base: Micah Johnson appears not only to have won the starting nod, but also will get a chance to fail. I kind of doubt the Sox will sit him prior to Memorial Day unless he’s booting balls left and right. Johnson doesn’t need to hit a ton, he’s going to be 9th in the order after all, but he does need to play decent defense.

The Sox got negative 0.4 WAR last year out of second base, that’s not good. Guys didn’t hit and the fielding was just so-so (mostly Gordon Beckham’s doing). There’s a lot of room for improvement and if Johnson (and Sanchez) can just be around league average, I’ll gladly take it as it will turn a loser position into one that doesn’t hurt the team.

Third Base: Next, Conor Gillaspie needs to continue to do what he did last year and that’s hit righties. He could also stand to be better with the glove, which ain’t gonna happen. The Sox do need to figure out what to do when they’re facing a lefty since Gillaspie can’t touch ‘em. I’m not sure I know Gordon Beckham is not the answer, but he was decent against lefties last year. Unfortunately, Bonifacio’s record against lefties isn’t the best either. Thus, third might be that position where the Sox just have to hope pray for a cummulative 2 WAR from these three, there’s very limited upside here, so it’s kind of doubtful. UNLESS, Matt Davidson figures out what’s gone wrong down in Charlotte during April/May. I’m not going to count on it however. Third base is what it is…

...Which means it’s the most obvious upgrade in season. If third base turns out to be as blah as I think it will be and the Sox are within shouting distance of the wild card/division; then this should be where Hahn swings a deal to make the team better.

Left Field: Our first clear upgrade! Mekly is going to be better than Viciedo. De Aza was passable in left, but not very good. Viciedo continued to be an outright disaster. Melky isn’t very good with the glove in left, but he’s actually an upgrade from Viciedo; and Cabrera’s bat is going to play in left. This is a 3 or 4 win up grade for the Sox.

Right Field: Sox fans are bullish on Garcia. Non-Sox fans are bearish. I see both cases. Pros: Avisail looks like a ball player. He can run, he can hit, he’s got pop, he’s only 23… he’s someone that can put it together. If he cuts down on the Ks a bit, is a tad more patient at the plate, and if he stays healthy, he can easily be a better than average right fielder. But the Cons have a solid argument too: he isn’t a very good fielder, he hasn’t shown a ton of pop, and he’s had trouble getting on base in the majors.

But there were signs, especially in September, that Garcia might be putting it together. He walked a bit and there is pop in his bat. He’s never going to win a gold glove, but he should be serviceable in right. And Avisail was unlucky last year, a BABIP of .285 is pretty low for someone who can run a bit.

For Garcia to be a positive for the Sox, there are a number of things that needs to happen. First, he needs to make better contact: a 10.8% infield fly ball ain’t gonna cut it. Also of concern, Garcia’s line drive percentage was 15% last year (for comparison, Melky’s was 21%). And while Avisail swings at strikes, he’s still too much of a hacker as seen in his swing percentage outside of the zone of 42%. If that doesn’t fall a bit, he’s going to see more and more pitches outside of the strike zone, which probably will lead to more weak ground balls and infield flys.

I can go either way on Avisail. In many ways he holds the key to the Sox 2015 season. If he’s a 3 WAR player, the Sox should be around the 89 win mark if everything else goes according to plan. If he’s putting up a negative WAR? The Sox are in trouble because there is no easy fix.

Catcher: I’m not going to pretend for a second that Tyler Flowers is going to be as good as he was last year. His .355 BABIP was insane and odds are he’s going to regress to the mean there. I doubt his power drops much and Flowers has proven to be decent behind the plate, but Tyler doesn’t walk and he strikes out a near Baez like rate…

However, the Sox actually have a backup catcher this year in Soto. Sure he’ll get hurt at some point, but Soto will slow down a running game (see the A’s/Royals Wild Card game if you don’t believe me) and has a decent enough bat. I could see a near 50/50 split occurring with these two as the season progresses (if Soto stays healthy). I could actually see the Sox being a little better behind the plate this year because, you know, they actually have two major league catchers unlike last year.

DH: While I wasn’t crazy about the LaRoche signing at the time, considering everything else that Hahn did over the winter, the moves seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. And honestly, I like it more today than I did when first announced. A lefty bat who can hit… I’ll take it. LaRoche is going to play some first too, where his glove, which might not be great, is better than Abreu’s. Considering how bad Konerko was last year, and how Adam Dunn, Adam Dunn was… it’s an upgrade. Not a huge one, but an upgrade.

Starting pitching: Assuming Sale only misses a start, maybe two, to start the year; the Sox just need him, Samardzija, and Quintana to do their thing, which is be really good starting pitchers. Meanwhile, Noesi and Danks aren’t so good. But if the Sox can get Noesi to be average for two months or so, Carlos Rodon will probably be about ready to be called up in June. He could be the difference maker in July and August—even if he’s on an innings limit this year—by giving the Sox four good to great starters.

The Sox starters, compared to the rest of baseball, weren’t bad last year considering it was pretty much Sale and Quintana and pray for rain. Samardzija is a four or five win upgrade, probably putting the rotation into the top third in baseball. They’re going to have the Danks problem until his contract ends next year. But Danks in the 5th spot isn’t the end of the world. Sure it could be better, but if he gives you 180+ innings… you deal with it.

Relievers: Somehow, someway, this wasn’t the worst bullpen in baseball in 2014 by WAR. But it was darn close. The pen did lead the league in walks per 9 and had the second lowest K/9. So it was really bad.

The pen was the easiest area to upgrade over the winter just because it was so bad. There’s no doubt it’s better today with Robertson and Duke. If the Sox can get someone else to take a step forward, the pen should be fine.

There is one thing that has me worried about the pen… the Sox were 28-24 in one run games last year. That’s not bad. The issue with the Sox last year was they weren’t very good in the 8th and 9th inning in particular. The Sox allowed a run in the 8th inning 50 times, and in the 9th it occurred 47 times. The Yankees, by contrast, allowed a run 34 and 33 times in the 8th and 9th respectively. Of course, not all those innings were games where the Sox had the lead, but, if say the Sox were down a run going into the 8th, allowing another run makes the comeback all the more difficult. When you’re down, you want to stop the bleeding; the Sox weren’t very good at that last year.

So the upgrades in the pen, and assuming someone can come along and be pretty good, be it Zach Putnam or Javy Guerra (or even Daniel Webb if he stops walking everyone), then the Sox should be okay out of the bullpen.

Defense: The Sox D wasn’t very good last year if you go by the defensive metrics (fangraphs and baseball reference). The eye test would tell you about the same. The Sox weren’t very good at any of the corner positions, Alexei might be slipping with age at short, and whoever was at second last year wasn’t very good. Fangraphs didn’t think Eaton was very good in center, but baseball reference did; while it was the reverse for Flowers.

All in all the Sox defense probably won’t be much better this year. Sure, Melky’s probably a little better than Vicideo, but I’m not going to see him as a difference maker. There’s a chance Garcia, after dropping some weight, can get to a few more balls. Maybe the metrics agree that Flowers and Eaton are both good defenders. And it turns out that Johnson is an upgrade at second, while the late inning defensive replacements at third and maybe one of the corner spots saves a game or two over the course of the season. Who knows. But if there is one reason to be down on the Sox in ‘15, it’s that the defense doesn’t appear to be much better.

So, what does this all mean? One of the Sox problems last year is that it didn’t really have an average player. Alexei probably comes closest, but the ‘14 Sox were either stars or bums. 2015 looks much the same, only with more stars. That’s a good thing.

The good news is the Sox upgraded in left field, at DH, the 3rd starter roll, and the bullpen. But they also need second, third, catcher, and the 4th starter to be average; and assuming they’ll be ‘average’ is a bit of a leap of faith in all positions. I can see it happening at second and maybe catcher. But I doubt the Sox are going to get the production needed at third base for it to be considered average. And assuming anything other than below average with the backend of the rotation is optimistic.

In the bigger picture, the Sox should score more runs this year. 1-4 in the batting order is very good, and if Garcia starts to mature as a hitter, that’s a really good 1-5 in the order. With Alexei and Gillaspie at 6 and 7 in some order, really isn’t too shabby either. Flowers/Soto batting 8th is a bit of a black hole, and we’ll see on Johnson. All in all, this is a line up that should score around 700 runs. It’s not great, but it’s enough if the pitching is there.

And that’s where I have trouble with the Sox. They allowed 758 runs last year, 13th most in the AL. There’s a clear upgrade in a few of those pitching spots that were filled by below average pitchers last season, but even if the Sox cut 50 runs, we’re still only looking at an 81 win team. It’s unlikely that the defense is going to save any more runs too (if anything the defense is going to continue to cost the Sox runs).   

But the point of this 2,500 word analysis is to convince myself that the Sox are going to win the AL Central. So let’s bump the offensive output to 710 runs, a 50 run improvement.

And remember how bad I said the Sox were in the 8th and 9th inning? Well here’s the graph:
No Runs Allowed
Any Runs Allowed
% Inn w/ Run Allowed

The Sox were horrendous late in games, opponents were most likely to score in the 8th and 9th inning. If the pen were able to cut the number of runs allowed by 30% in each of the 8th and 9th, that’s 53 runs. And if at a 40% reduction, it’s 70 runs prevented.

Runs Allowed with 30% improvement
Runs Allowed with 40% improvement
Runs "Saved" from 2014

Things start to get interesting if the late inning pen is able to reduce the number of runs allowed by 40%. Factoring in the upgrade Samardzija brings and a huge, though not entirely impossible, improvement from the bullpen, you’re looking at reducing the number of runs allowed to somewhere around 85 to 95. Suddenly the Sox are scoring 710 runs while allowing 660. That’s an 86 win baseball team, and with a little luck...

The 2015 AL Central title goes to the Sox.

So there you go, that’s how the Sox win the division: continued improvement from Abreu and Eaton along with the addition of LaRoche and Melky and a nice season from Garcia improves the offense by 50 runs; a deal around midseason for a third baseman improves the team by a win or two the rest of the way; Robertson and Duke along with another arm solve the bullpen issues which takes a huge leap forward creating a top 10 bullpen; Samardzija (and eventually Rodon) present upgrades over Carroll and Noesi giving the Sox a top 10 rotation. All injuries are to players that are easily replaced (i.e. Danks, Johnson, Flowers, most of the bullpen).

And if the Sox make it to the dance, they’re going to roll out Sale, Samardzija, and Quintana. No one else in the AL can roll like that save maybe the Tigers. The hard part is getting there.