When the Chicago White Sox won on Opening Day, I called KVB and said, “We’re going undefeated!” He proceeded to agree and we started making plans to meet up in Chicago for the playoffs (apparently forgetting that the season is 162 games long and that White Sox always lose when we’re in the ballpark…)
Unfortunately, that moment was the high point of the first two months of the 2010 baseball season.
The White Sox lost the next four games and have been fighting just to get their heads above water ever since. As things stand today, with the White Sox having completed their April and May slate of games, the South Siders are a pathetic 22-28, 8.0 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central.
Yet all hope is not lost for the 2010 season…at least not for me…at least not yet.
The White Sox undoubtedly need a monster June to position themselves to compete for a division title during the second half of the season, and there are plenty of legitimate statistical reasons to believe that such a month is possible.
Yes, somehow I see good things right around the corner for the Sox with one merciful flip of a calendar page that will happen after today. Let’s down them down.
1. The Schedule
The White Sox schedule was not awful over the first two months of the season, but it was difficult, with an opponents winning percentage of .512. April and May featured seven games against the Rays, five against the Twins, three against the Yankees, and eight against surprising Toronto. The Tigers, Rangers, and Angels were all also sprinkled in there as well.
Chicago also did not help matters by playing poorly against the easier teams on its schedule, most notably the damn Indians, who the Sox have given six of their 18 victories.
In June, however, the White Sox only see the “mighty” Indians three times and overall face a schedule with a current winning percentage of .469 (as of May 30th). Instead of the Rays, Yankees, and Blue Jays, the White Sox get the Cubs (6 times), Pirates (3), and Nationals (3). June also does include seemingly tougher sets with the Rangers, Braves, and Tigers, but overall it is much kinder.
All in all, just by schedule alone, one could reasonably expect the White Sox to play closer to .500 baseball during June. Sadly that would be an improvement, but hey, we’ll take any improvement we can get at this point.
2. The Speed
Much was made in the offseason of the White Sox getting faster and becoming less reliant on the long ball to score runs. This supposed return to the “small ball” principles of Ozzie’s first couple of years in Chicago did not seem to be paying dividends early in the season, but that started to turn around in May.
New leadoff hitter Juan Pierre, after a horrid start to the year in which he hit .193 in April and scored just 8 runs, rebounded in May to hit .286, steal 10 bases, and score 14 runs. While Pierre’s .339 OBP in May still left something to be desired, the improvement in production from the leadoff spot was imperative, as was the lineup’s ability to turn Pierre’s speed into runs.
Similarly, Alex Rios produced an across the board spike during May. The team’s clear MVP through the season’s first two months had a whopping 1.106 OPS during May while stealing 7 bases and scoring 22 runs.
It has been a long, long time since the White Sox enjoyed this much speed at the top of the order, and with the power of Paulie, CQ, and Andruw Jones so inconsistent, the ability to manufacture runs takes on increasing importance.
If the May turnaround at the top of the order continues into June, the much maligned White Sox offense should continue its improvement, led by the speedy Pierre and the speed/power combo of Rios that has him on pace for 33 HRs and 48 SBs.
3. The Splits
This is easily the most important of the three reasons, mainly because it is the most compelling and predictive of what we can expect from certain White Sox players in June based on their career averages.
What led me to dig into this topic in the first place was wondering how far off Gavin Floyd’s current numbers were from where he usually sits at the end of May. I was considering dropping him in a fantasy league, but thought I should do a little more research first because he’s always seemed like a slow starter.
It’s a good thing I looked.
For his career, Floyd is 7-2 in 13 career June starts with a 3.12 ERA and a sizzling WHIP of 1.15. June is by far his best month of the season. Contrast that with his career April (8-8, 6.30 ERA) and May numbers (7-8, 5.47 ERA), and Floyd’s current 6.02 ERA and 1.54 WHIP don’t seem all that unusual.
If the rest of Floyd’s 2010 season go according to history, he should win 10-12 games and sport an ERA right around 4.00. But the White Sox need wins now to ensure that the team does not get broken up and that there is meaningful post-All Star break baseball on the South Side; that means June is do-or-die.
No White Sox player is as historically dominant in June as Gavin Floyd. He needs to keep that trend going.
Maybe I should have said that no White Sox pitcher is as historically dominant in June as Gavin Floyd, because ol’ Paulie usually rakes pretty well during the season’s third month as well.
Consider these June/career splits for Paul Konerko:
- BA: .296 / .277
- OPS: .911 / .845
- AB per HR: 14.8 / 18.4
Paul’s career averages are already very solid. During the month of June, they become very good to almost great.
We all know how streaky Konerko can be; heck, just look at his April/May splits this year (1.197 OPS in April, .712 in May). For the White Sox to experience the kind of June turnaround they need to become contenders, Paul Konerko’s June production must fall in line with his career norms. If so, he an Alex Rios could form one of the most underrated and productive 3-4 combos in the league and drive in a lot of runs together.
Gavin Floyd isn’t the only pitcher and Paul Konerko isn’t the only White Sox veteran who loves the month of June. Mark Buehrle also seems to enjoy June more than any other month as well.
Consider the following:
- Mark Buehrle has started 50 June games during his career, tied with April for the fewest of any month; yet Buehrle has won 27 games in June, more than any other month, and lost only 11 games, the fewest of any month.
- Buehrle’s 3.38 career June ERA is bested only by his 3.30 career ERA in May. His 1.18 June WHIP is better than any other month.
- Buehrle strikes out more batters per nine innings and walks fewer during June than in any other month.
While Buehrle’s splits are not anywhere near as extreme as Floyd’s, June has always been his best month. With a 4.38 ERA right now in 2010, Mark needs another strong June to rebound and get closer to his career ERA of 3.82.
Continuing with our batter-after-pitcher trend, AJ Pierzynski is another White Sox vet who loves June. He’ll need a productive one to get his current .211 batting average closer to last year’s surprising .300 clip, which came during what was one of his best seasons at the dish.
For his career, AJ is a .283 hitter but a .312 hitter in June. Both numbers presage improvement for AJ moving forward. Veteran baseball players usually revert to their career norms and AJ has proven to be much, much better than a .211 hitter.
The good news for the White Sox is that AJ doesn’t just slap more singles during June. He hits with more power as well. AJ’s career .424 slugging percentage improves to .481 in June. His on base percentage also improves, up to .350 from its norm of .324 as AJ has a slightly higher walk rate in June.
How about another pitcher? Sure!
Freddy Garcia may have a tenuous grip on the 5th starter’s slot with Dan Hudson nipping at his heels in the minors, but the White Sox may want to delay any decisions until after June. Freddy has a career ERA of 4.12 and is sporting a 5.26 ERA so far this season, but history suggests that Freddy will pitch well in June, sputter for the next two months after that, and then pitch his best in September.
For his career, Garcia has a 3.79 ERA in June and a 1.23 WHIP with a record of 24-11. The White Sox would certainly welcome numbers even 80-85% of that from Garcia at the back end of the rotation.
The other months for Garcia are littered with 4+ ERAs and 1.3+ WHIPs, but he gets serious again in September, as White Sox fans know from 2005, and has a 26-11 record, 3.31 ERA, and and 1.17 WHIP in 51 career September starts (the most of any month).
If Garcia can pick it up in June, along with Floyd and Buehrle, his September prowess just may have some significance.
Alexei Ramirez and Others
Those five guys, all veterans with established track records, show clear historical preference for the month of June. Another guy who loves June, though whose experience is not quite as extensive, is Alexei Ramirez.
The Cuban Missile has a solid .316/.362/.505 June line and has hit 10 career June homers, the most of any month. Alexei also has solid July and August numbers, but June is clearly his preferred month, and usually the point at which he snaps out of his early season doldrums to become a productive member of the offense.
With a .254 average and only 4 HRs so far this season, Alexei could use another June turnaround, and there is no reason to think he won’t do it again.
There are also some other guys on the White Sox roster who have done well historically in June, though perhaps not as markedly as the guys mentioned above:
- John Danks‘ 3.09 ERA in June is his second best (3.03, April)
- Bobby Jenks‘ 2.31 ERA and 1.01 WHIP are his second best (1.21 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, August)
- June is Mark Teahen’s most productive month other than September.
What does all this mean? Not a whole hell of a lot in reality. It really just means that frustrated White Sox fans like me, KVB, and you (if you’re a White Sox fan, which I assume you are if you’re read this far) should wait at least one more month before burying the 2010 Pale Hose.
And I know what you’re probably thinking. So what if the White Sox have a great June? If all of these guys peak in June, how will they have enough in July, August, and September to keep up with Minnesota and Detroit anyway?
That’s a great point, to which I say simply: I don’t care.
The season’s last three months will be irrelevant if the White Sox do not have a huge June. If they can position themselves to compete by the beginning of July, anything is possible. If they stay 5-6 games under .500 come the All Star Break, you can start breaking out the shovels and eulogies for the 2010 White Sox.
The White Sox would need to go 17-10 in June to creep back over .500. If they can do this, they’ll be 39-38 heading into July, and you’d have to think somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 games out of first place. That isn’t a great position to be in, and the odds of winning the AL Central would still be against the White Sox, but it’d sure be a hell of a lot better than six games under and 8.0 back. At least the team would have a shot.
So the question is, can a team currently playing .440 baseball play .630 baseball for an entire month to get its head above water? The easy answer is probably not; the hopeful answer, however, is (you can put it on the board…) yes. Luckily for those hoping, there is at least some statistical evidence, as laid out in this post, to suggest that it’s possible.
If you total up the career June won/loss records of the White Sox current starting rotation, which has woefully underperformed expectations so far in 2010, you get 72-40. That is a .643 clip, which is better than the aforementioned .630 clip I cited as getting the White Sox over .500.
So before you think going 17-10 in June is improbable, remember that all the White Sox pitchers need to do is perform to their career norms, and if Paulie, AJ, and Alexei can produce at their usual June clips, the pitchers will get more run support, wins easier to come by, and the White Sox can start to make their move.
With that said, all we can do now is sit back, relax, and strap it down…and hope that June 2010 is as White Sox-friendly as past Junes have been. If so, the White Sox can make it a three team race again and have a fighting chance at their second AL Central crown in three years.
I still believe it can happen, and the numbers suggest that you should too…at least for one more month.
* – Alex Rios photo credit: Jerry Lai/US Presswire via ESPN.com
* – Mark Buehrle / Paul Konerko photo credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images via ESPN.com
* – Paul Konerko photo credit: Rumors and Rants