Were 2011 White Sox Doomed From Start?

DETROIT, MI: Manager Ozzie Guillen looks on while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. Chicago won the game 5-0. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The White Sox have a new manager this spring. They have a new hitting coach, too. I don't know who that is. But the old hitting coach was ex-Sox first baseman Greg Walker, who a) now works for the Braves, and 2) was perfectly happy to speak to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Joe Cowley about last season's messy situation on the South Side:

‘‘You can dissect it any way you want, blame it on whoever you want, but it was not a positive situation for anyone involved,’’ Walker said. ‘‘We talked about it. There was a feeling in the clubhouse and the coaches’ office that we should have never been back for 2011. After 2010, it was obvious that the first sign of adversity was going to make things bad.

‘‘When it gets off track like it did and you have more going on than the normal team, it’s too hard to overcome. The atmosphere the past few years reached the point where winning baseball could no longer be played, no matter which players were brought in.’’

Walker took it a step further and said the idea that the players weren’t affected by the circus atmosphere — whether it was former manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Ken Williams sparring, Williams and members of the coaching staff quarreling or the coach-on-coach distrust that existed — just wasn’t true.

First things first: The 2011 Chicago White Sox did not seriously under-perform.

Before last season, if you looked at all the reputable projections, you would have figured the White Sox for roughly 84 wins, right along with the Tigers and the Twins.

Now, the Twins ... they seriously under-performed. The Twins went 63-99.

The White Sox went 79-83. They missed their projection by around five wins. The standard deviations for wins in a baseball season is around five. That is, even if you had essentially perfect knowledge before the season, you would still expect to miss a bunch of projections by as many as five wins. Due purely to luck.

But in the case of the White Sox, you don't even need to consult the luck. Adam Dunn alone cost the White Sox something like five wins. If Dunn has the numbers for which he was paid, the White Sox win 84 games.

So while it might have felt dysfunctional from the inside and while things might have been dysfunctional, there's no obvious reason to think the internal dysfunctionality sunk the White Sox's season. Unless we can reasonably blame Adam Dunn's .159 batting average on Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams.

It's also worth mentioning that while the White Sox certainly haven't been dynastic since winning the 2005 World Series, they've hardly been terrible. They won 90 games the next (but finished third). They won 89 games in 2008 and 88 games in 2010. A lot of franchises would kill for the White Sox' success over the last six seasons. Granted, when you look at the dollars they've spent per marginal win, it's not a brilliant record. But the White Sox have not been a joke and with a little extra luck at some point they might have actually won another World Series.

My personal opinion -- and granted, both Greg Walker and Joe Cowley would know more about this than I -- is that all the discord and shenanigans were more damaging within the front office than on the field, per se. With the exception of Adam Dunn, the players as a group did roughly what we expected. It's possible that getting rid of the old manager and the old hitting coach -- the old pitching coach is still there, by the way -- will lead to better days for the White Sox. But only, I think, if the changes make it easier for the general manager to make good personnel moves.

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