White Sox hope less is more on offense
Lineup may have fewer sluggers, greater balance
CHICAGO -- The following words flowed so easily and naturally from Ozzie Guillen that he had no idea the reaction they would stir among White Sox followers.
This particular sentiment stands as one important change detractors of the White Sox attack have wanted to hear for years. When the weather warms up, or so the theory goes, the ball starts jumping at U.S. Cellular Field, among other venues, and the White Sox softball-style lineup was built to take advantage of that hitter-friendly atmosphere.
After all, in four of the six seasons Guillen has managed, the White Sox topped the 200-homer plateau. But when those home runs drop off or flat-out disappear for an extended period, so does the team's run and victory output.
A funny thing has happened, though, since Guillen's declaration concerning the offense's adjustment. General worries now center on whether there will be enough remaining firepower to help push the White Sox to an American League Central crown and beyond.
Yes, the pitching is there, quite possibly the AL's best staff from No. 1 through No. 12. Will the offense be able to compensate, though, for a 2009 combination of 50 home runs and 155 RBIs from right fielder Jermaine Dye and designated hitter Jim Thome, since subtracted from the roster?
"There's no question, when Jim and Jermaine aren't there, that's a big chunk of our team," said White Sox first baseman and captain Paul Konerko, who enters the 2010 campaign as the only White Sox starter with at least 25 home runs in 2009. "And there's no doubt it will be a different look, but every year brings a different feel and I really like what we have."
"I don't think it's going to hurt us, but I guess we'll see," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham of the reduction in power possibly sapping the White Sox of run potential. "I like our team. I think having a little more speed is going to help and so will having the lineup being a little more even throughout."
If past history serves as an accurate indication, subtracting a little power won't spell doom for the White Sox. Let's take the 2005 season as an example of this team's ultimate target goal.
As a unit, the White Sox finished third in the AL with 207 home runs but their 741 runs scored checked in at 30 below the league average. The White Sox also finished last with 253 doubles. So, how did the White Sox and their middle-of-the road offense win 110 games overall and come home with the World Series title?
For starters, the pitching staff tied with Cleveland for the AL's best ERA at 3.61. The White Sox topped the AL with 53 sacrifice hits, meaning they were able to manufacture the needed runs, although not always much more, and then give the lead to their top-notch hurlers.
It's a familiar pitching-driven pattern of success seen in the Guillen years. In 2004, the White Sox tied with the Yankees for long ball supremacy at 242 home runs and finished third with 865 runs scored. Their pitching tailed off, posting a 4.91 ERA.
In 2006, on a team thought to be even better than the 2005 champions with the Thome and Javier Vazquez additions, the White Sox led the AL with 236 home runs and finished third with 868 runs scored. Even the team's .342 on-base percentage was above the league average, but the same thing could not be said about the pitching staff's 4.61 ERA.
Their 2008 AL Central title squad provided a good balance through 235 home runs, a league best, 811 runs scored and a 4.11 ERA. This 2010 White Sox team basically will go as far as its elite arms and improved defense carry it, but complementary offense will be needed at U.S. Cellular.
Check out the 2009 campaign for proof. The pitching staff ranked only behind Seattle with its 4.16 ERA, but the 79-83 White Sox sat fifth from the bottom in on-base percentage, third from the bottom in runs scored and second to last in doubles.
Plenty of 2010 pop exists with the return of Konerko and a healthy Carlos Quentin. Another year of experience exists for run producers such as Beckham and Alexei Ramirez up the middle of the infield, and a fresh start in Chicago exists for talented center fielder Alex Rios and third baseman Mark Teahen.
Instead of featuring a trio of 30-home run hitters, the White Sox conceivably could field five or six players in the 15-to-25 homer range, not to mention plenty of potential for double and triple gap power. With this movement away from station-to-station baseball, it will be easier to score a runner from first on a double or might only take a single or a sacrifice fly to bring home a game-deciding run.
Guillen promises to keep his group in constant motion on the basepaths, and the same can be said for his rotating DH-by-committee. He believes the results on offense might be surprising, even with the new philosophy.
"Sometimes fans won't like my answer, but I'm always going to tell them the truth," Guillen said. "We now have the ballclub to really play baseball."
"I'm not too worried," Beckham said. "We just need to scrap, play hard and score more than the other team, and our pitchers are good enough to hold that lead. Just keep getting runs and give it over to our pitching staff."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.