White Sox' Kenny Williams wants full credit for half a team

Paul Konerko: His weak performance is only part of the reason the White Sox have a losing record. - Jason Miller

Despite the ex-general manager's protestations, half a team is not a whole team: You have to hit as well as pitch.

Sometimes team executives seem so far out to lunch, so disconnected from the realm of actual experience, that they induce what you might call the George Lucas Effect, the disconcerting sensation that the director is not watching his own movie. When Kenny Williams, former general manager and current executive vice-president of the Chicago White Sox, told the media on Tuesday that he couldn't take criticism of the team he designed seriously because, "People say I left this organization in a dire situation, but in the next paragraph it says but their pitching has been solid?" I went scurrying to the record books to gather examples of teams with "solid" pitching and weak offenses that had gone home at the end of the regular season. These are roughly as numerous as stars in the sky. Then I thought, "Who the hell needs to look for examples when you have the 2013 Chicago White Sox?"

The White Sox, to give Williams his due, do have solid pitching, even having traded Jake Peavy and Jesse Crain. Their league- and park-adjusted ERA (ERA+) of 111 ranks fourth in the American League behind that of the Tigers, Rangers, and Royals. They're also fourth in strikeouts per nine. They have one of the best pitchers in baseball, Chris Sale, heading up their rotation, three other lefties to round it out, and recently unveiled a promising rookie, Andre Rienzo. The bullpen features far too much of Donnie Veal and, of late, pitch-to-contact-or-self-destruction right-hander Dylan Axelrod, but it's hardly a disaster area. If the 2013 White Sox have a saving grace, the pitching staff is undoubtedly it.

For a widescreen, panoramic view of the White Sox, read: South Side Sox!

Having applauded the hurlers, we turn to the reason the club is 46-72, the offense. The White Sox are 14th in a 15-team league in on-base percentage. At its most elemental, winning in baseball means scoring more runs than you allow. The Sox have scored 435 runs and allowed 513. For Williams to look at that differential and still kick back and say in essence, "Hey, I did my job," is akin to saying, "Whaddya want, I sold you half a car -- the good half, even." Either you get the whole package or the car doesn't go.

We don't have sub-general managers for offense and pitching who put together their segment of the roster without responsibility for the rest. An executive can't do a partial job and evade criticism of the whole. There's no set number of runs a team most score or prevent from scoring to win -- success is in the ratio. The Red Sox are on a pace for 95 or 96 wins because they've scored 609 runs and allowed 504, and history (via Bill James) tells us that if a team spends its season scoring and allowing runs in that proportion, 95 wins is about where they're going to end up. Sure, sometimes luck bends the end result a few games in one direction or another, but 95 is a safe expectation.

Having said that, some ratios are pretty much impossible. If we take Williams at face value and accept that his pitching staff meant that he left the team sufficiently prepared to win, then it's fair to ask just how much better they would have to be to win at this level of offense. First, some perspective: The Royals have allowed the fewest runs per game in the AL this year at 3.79 runs per game. For the White Sox to win at the 95-win pace of the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers, Sox pitching would not only have to get the opposition below their own offense's meager 3.7 runs per game, they would have to drop it all the way to three runs per game -- they'd need to be about 50 percent better than league average, and that doesn't happen. In the last 60 years there have been just a handful of teams that (as measured by ERA+) have been even 30 percent better than league average, the most recent being the 2002 Braves, a team with three likely Hall of Famers on its roster.

That team won 101 games, then wiped out in the division series. It also couldn't hit, but those Braves were far closer to the league average than this year's White Sox. The list of teams, like the White Sox, that have had above-average (but sub-historic) pitching and below-average hitting is more typically littered with teams that didn't get even that far. A few examples to compare with the White Sox:


Tm

ERA+

OPS+

W

L

1968

White Sox

117

77

67

95

1992

Red Sox

116

83

73

89

1927

Dodgers

118

73

65

88

1984

Pirates

117

89

75

87

1997

Blue Jays

116

82

76

86

2013

White Sox

111

82

46

72

"People didn't see this coming," Williams said. We will leave aside for now whether last September's 13-18 record or the team's somnolent offseason should have been a clue to someone in the organization that the dam was about to burst over the South Side, but it seems fair to say that they should have at least felt warned given that the 2012 offense was in itself in no ways comparable to that of the '27 Yankees, and that it suffered the loss of A.J. Pierzynski and Kevin Youkilis and added only Jeff Keppinger, a 33-year-old hitter coming off of a career year.

Williams argued that the White Sox don't need to rebuild, though he also contradicted himself, saying, that, "These contracts we were supposedly saddled with, we were able to use them, which was always our plan if we had a situation such as this, that we could use what we had and replenish things that way." They haven't replenished -- Avisail Garcia and a bunch of long-shots is a few bullets short of a full reload -- and "a situation such as this" would imply "a point in time at which the roster's liabilities exceeds its assets," which is pretty much the definition of a team in need of a rebuild. Yet, the bigger point is that the reason those players are liabilities is not that they're collectively having off years, although there is that, but that whatever rebound they have coming isn't going to be sufficient to carry the team even if the pitching staff continues to perform well.

Add in that the White Sox have few ready position players in the minors and you have a roster whose position players are very low on upside. You have to be a reflexive contrarian or a blind optimist to think that the Sox have very many players in the lineup who are going to be part of their next great team. Or maybe you just think, "Hey, you have a pitching staff, so that's enough. Job over."

If that's the case, then we finally know how the front office is split between Williams and Rick Hahn: Hahn is the general manager, Williams is the executive vice-president in charge of gratuitous self-satisfaction.

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