Series Preview #24: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago White Sox

Following a thrilling walk-off victory that transformed a pivotal series against the Giants from "disastrous" to simply "meh," the Diamondbacks host the Chicago White Sox as interleague play begins in earnest.  I'll level with you guys for a minute: I don't so much think of White Sox as an opposing team, as I think of them as the D-Backs' five-year pen-pal.  Except that rather than periodically exchanging notes with banal pleasantries every year or so, the D-Backs and White Sox exchange baseball players. 

Since the end of 2005, the Diamondbacks and White Sox have made four major trades that have influenced the paths of both franchises.  It's gotten to the point where I just sort of think of the White Sox as one of those currency converter machines in the international terminal of airports, but for players.  You know, you stick a Tony Pena in the slot once you don't have any more use for him, and out comes a Brandon Allen

So forgive me if you catch me thinking of the "White Sox" as a made-up repository for former Diamondback players, rather than an actual baseball team.  For this reason, whenever (god forbid) a Diamondbacks player dies, it is appropriate to euphemistically refer to them as "playing for the big White Sox team in the sky."

For posterity, here are the trades:

2005: Javier Vazquez traded to the White Sox for Chris Young.  According to Wikipedia, this trade was made because Vazquez wanted to play for a team in a city that was "easier for his family in Puerto Rico to visit."  Chicago apparently qualified, although anyone who has flown into O'Hare would take umbrage with the notion that Chicago is easy to visit at all.  Anyway, the White Sox got a decent mid-rotation pitcher, and the Diamondbacks got a young, cost-controlled outfielder who has been a staple on the team.  Score one for the snakes.

2007: Carlos Quentin to the White Sox for Chris Carter.  Chris Carter was a first baseman in high-A who was with the D-Backs for two weeks before being packaged as a throw-in in the Dan Haren trade.  Moving quickly along now...

2009: Tony Pena to the White Sox for Brandon Allen.  This one kind of depends on what Allen does at the big-league level.  Or, failing that, what the D-Backs get for Allen because they refuse to let him play at the big-league level.  However, D-Back fans can rest assured that they didn't give up too much in return, as Pena has an ERA+ of 89 since being traded.

2010: Edwin Jackson to the White Sox for Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg.  This trade was influenced by a number of fac--I'm sorry, I can't keep a straight face while typing this.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Kenny Williams.

As for the 2011 version of the White Sox, they've largely bounced back after a terrible beginning to the season threatened to derail the team before things even really got started.  On May 6th, the Sox sat at 11-22, eleven games out of first place in the AL Central.  But the offense has perked up considerably since then and the team now sits at 33-37, only 5.5 games behind the division-leading Tigers.  They suffered a setback in their previous series however, losing both games of a two-game set against the cellar-dwelling Twins.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs)

                           Arizona (38-32)                                Chicago (33-37)                                  Edge

Hitting (wRC+):    100                                                   97                                                Arizona

Pitching (FIP):     4.00                                                  3.74                                             Chicago

Fielding (UZR):   18.1                                                  -8.8                                               Arizona

The batting stats are generally slightly in Arizona's favor across the board, and it has resulted in the Diamondbacks scoring 33 more runs than the White Sox.  Obviously, park effects play a role in this, but the White Sox' team BABIP of .281 suggests that they might be getting a tad unlucky.  Their pitchers have also gotten slightly unlucky, as their team ERA (4.10) is noticeably higher than their FIP (3.74). 

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

Ryan Roberts, 3B
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Stephen Drew, SS
Chris Young, CF
Miguel Montero, C
Juan Miranda
, 1B
Gerardo Parra, LF

Chicago White Sox

Juan Pierre, LF
Alexi Ramirez, SS
Carlos Quentin, RF
Paul Konerko, 1B
A.J. Pierzynski, C
Alex Rios, CF
Gordon Beckham, 2B
Brent Morel, 3B

This lineup doesn't include their typical DH (and our old friend) Adam Dunn, who will most likely be mixed and matched into the lineup in either LF or 1B.  Although that's less of a lock than it would have been in previous seasons, as Dunn has struggled this season, with a Slugging Percentage of only .342 on the year, which would be a career low for him by far if it continues. 

The White Sox are very reliant on their middle-of-the-order hitters.  Shortstop Alexi Ramirez has a good argument for making his first All-Star game, as he leads all AL shortstops in fWAR (3.1) this season.  Carlos Quentin is currently having his best season since his monster, breakout season in 2008 (I know, I know, I don't like writing about it either), with an OPS+ of 152.  And Paul Konerko just keeps chugging along.  At age 35, he has put an OPS+ of 158.  Just looking over his stats, I really had no idea Konerko was actually as good as he is.  Guy's had an OPS below .840 just twice since 1998.  Cue the chorus of irate Diamondback fans who think we should have signed him in the offseason.

Luckily, the rest of the lineup is less than impressive.  Juan Pierre has finally aged to the point that he has stopped fooling people with his empty .300 batting averages and now has the decency to just be clearly bad, as his slash line of .258/.323/.303 indicates.  As a general rule, when a team gives a player a seven-year contract, and then proceeds to put that player on waivers after a season and a half, it is best not to pick that player up.  But White Sox GM Kenny Williams cares not for my "logic," as that's exactly what he did with Alex Rios, who the Blue Jays gave up on.  The White Sox have high hopes for their two 24-year-old infielders, but both Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham have struggled this season with OPS+ of 61 and 85, respectively. 

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Daniel Hudson (7-5, 3.82) vs. Edwin Jackson (4-5, 4.39)

Insightful Commentary: I've talked a fair bit, in this space and elsewhere, about just how lopsided the trade that sent Hudson (and prospect David Holmberg) to the D-Backs in exchange for Edwin Jackson was.  And here is a chance to see evidence of this once and for all.  Hudson had a strong start his last time out, striking out seven Marlins and allowing just one run in six innings of work.  His ERA is slowly but surely dropping to where it "should" be based on his FIP, and it's good to see.

Raw stuff has never been a problem for Edwin Jackson, as you may remember.  Jackson's problems have always lied in the realm of harnessing and best utilizing that stuff, and it is evidenced by his high walk rate.  To be fair, EJax has been unlucky this year, as his BABIP of .343 suggests.  But the facts remain: Jackson is older and more expensive than Hudson, and he's not as good of a pitcher.  His K/9 is lower than Hudson's, and his BB/9 is significantly higher. 

(Now that I said all that, expect Jackson to dominate the D-Backs on Friday)

Saturday: Zach Duke (1-1, 4.56) vs. John Danks (2-8, 4.54)

Insightful Commentary: Zach Duke was spotted a 9-0 lead against the Marlins...and couldn't manage a win.  In fact, he almost managed to cough the game up after getting tagged for 7 runs in 4.2 innings.  It wasn't a good performance, but you have to feel for the guy: after four starts, his BABIP is .398. Obviously, this isn't going to continue, so look for his results to improve slightly over the next few starts. 
Danks has had a rough start to 2011, as his ERA is over half a run above his career mark (4.02) and his FIP is similarly higher than usual.  This is mostly thanks to a K/9 rate that has dropped from 6.85 in 2010 down to 5.91 in 2011.  However, there are signs that he may have begun to turn the corner in his last two starts, as he's given up only 2 ERs in the past 15 innings, striking out 10 in the process.  

Sunday: Josh Collmenter (4-2, 1.86) vs. Phil Humber (6-3, 2.95)

Insightful Commentary: Josh Collmenter had a worrisome start his last time out, going five innings and giving up five runs against the Giants.  In this game, he walked more batters than he has all season (5), gave up more hits than he has all season (5) and gave up more line drives than he has all season (5).  None of these stats are terribly concerning on their own, but they bear keeping an eye on when they all occur in the same game.  I hate to say it, but this could be the beginning of the league catching up to Collmenter.

They say it's better to be lucky than good, but Phil Humber has beaten the system by being both.  Sure, the journeyman has a BABIP of .200 and a HR/FB of 5.8%, both of which are likely to regress.  But at the same time, he's helped his cause by posting a career-low BB/9 of 2.09.  His FIP is currently 3.49, somewhat above his ERA, but still plenty respectable.

 

Final Verdict: For all of the crazy, frenetic energy that surrounds the White Sox with Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen at the helm, the Sox are a very average team this year.  Their lineup isn't terrible, but it won't scare anyone after Quentin and Konerko.  Similarly, their rotation doesn't have any major holes, but no one stands out as a clear "ace" either.  While it's difficult to compare across leagues, I think the Diamondbacks are a bit better than the White Sox, and since they're playing at home, I'll say Diamondbacks two games to one.

Check out South Side Sox to get the Chicago viewpoint.

GO D-BACKS!

All batting data courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise mentioned, all pitching data courtesy of Fangraphs.  Data on the trades from Wikipedia.

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