I've done prep work on three previews over the past few days so I feel like I know enough to write a novel on either. Which reminds me to ask everyone to pick up a copy of USA Today this morning to see my really, really short preview of the Rays playoff series. Also keep your eyes out on BaseballAnalysts.com for a collaborative preview between the outstanding Marc Hulet and myself. Otherwise your expanded preview, after the jump.
We'll start with the general stuff. The White Sox won the American League Central last night and finished with 89 wins, 74 losses. However, they are without Carlos Quentin, easily their best hitter. With a .687 DER the White Sox aren't quite at the Rays (.712) level, but have a slightly better defensive independent pitching staff (4.02) than the Rays (4.26). Offensively the Sox are, you guessed it, slightly better, although not by as much as you would expect (..262 GPA vs. .259 GPA) but they do hit for more power.
Behind the plate is catcher A.J. Pierzynski (.312) who only walks 3.5% of the time, the lowest of his career since 2002. That's not to say he strikes out an abundant amount either, however Pierzynski will stretch the zone quite a bit and swings out of the zone 40% of the time. Defensively Pierzynski has thrown out 9.4% this season, by far his lowest percentage in years and has seen his amount of throwing errors escalate by more than triple.
Paul Konerko's (.341) slugging percentage is nowhere near his previous seasons. This season his BABIP is way too low for a guy with a 21 LD%, hopefully he waits until next year to progress that. Konerko won't go out of the zone as much as his counterparts (24%). Defensively Konerko is of negative value, although not enough that it will be apparent.
At second is the 27 year old Cuban import Alexei Ramirez (.351). The one thing that Ramirez does really well is hit the ball hard, otherwise he's hacky (40%) (!) (!!) and doesn't grade out well defensively. Ramirez only walks 3.5% of the time, which means expect Scott Kazmir to walk him three times.
Juan Uribe (.317) fills in for Joe Crede at third and wears a blonde goatee. Another free-swinging Sox hitter, Uribe is ready and willing to go outside of the zone whenever he gets the itch (32%), but he'll also strike out 20% of the time. Uribe is not a very good offensive player and defensively he's a bit above average.
Mr. Alienation Orlando Cabrera (.320) will man the six hole. Cabrera apparently wants the "winner" or "warrior" tag this off-season, but he might get the "whiner" one instead. Defensively Cabrera is still solid and offensively he's not as much of a free-swinger as his teammates.
Dewayne Wise (.310) has the difficult task of replacing Quentin and justifying Nick Swisher being benched. Wise brings the two true outcomes stick to the plate: he's either going to strikeout or hit a homerun. Tell me if you've heard this one before, but Wise swings out of the zone one-third of the time.
A decade ago Ken Griffey Jr. (.332) would strike fear in most pitchers' hearts. Now he's a liability, both in the field and at the dish. Griffey still has his pretty swing and a pretty good zone presence. Look for him to be lifted for Brian Anderson late in games or to face up with David Price.
Jermaine Dye (.382) is one of the big bats on the Sox, but he's not exactly fond on walking unintentionally either. Dye's power is his biggest asset and he's not much of a defender, although he's not Griffey Jr. either.
Quietly Jim Thome (.364) has had a monster season. I guess once you hit 500 homeruns the attention dies down until you near 600. David Price will get to know Jim Thome quite well, and unfortunately Thome can and will beat you with the homerun, and he's willing to walk. Thome uses a very good eye to accomplish both of those tasks.
Toby Hall (.292) serves as the back-up catcher and probably won't see any playing time. Nick Swisher (.324) probably should and Brian Anderson (.304) provides a defensive upgrade in centerfield and on the base paths.
Javier Vazquez (3.58) will probably get the start in game one of the series and has similar strikeout, walk, and homerun rates to James Shields. A slight fly ball pitcher, Vazquez will combat Rays hitters with a 92 miles per hour fastball, a slider that sits around 85, a curve around 74, and a change that sits a tick above 81.
Southpaw Mark Buerhle (4.02) likely toes the mound in game two. He reminds me of Andrew Sonnanstine in terms of how he refuses to walk many hitters, doesn't strike out a ton, and gets groundball outs. Buerhle sits at 86 with his fastball, 80 with his barely used slider, 83.2 with his cutter, 71 with his curve, and 79 on his change.
John Danks (3.76) has given the Rays fits this year. Not only is he a weird human who throws lefty but Danks strikes out 7.5 per nine and only walks 2.6 while not giving up any gopher balls. His fastball hits 91+ and he uses his 86-88 cutter and 83 change to compliment it .Danks also throws a slider and curve, but uses them to lesser degrees.
Gavin Floyd (4.75) is the weak link in the Sox rotation. He's prone to homeruns and compared to the other starters, walks. His stuff includes a 91 fastball, 85 slider, 79 curve and 82 change. If he gets the start it would likely mean the Rays are down, but perhaps not for long.
Bobby Jenks (3.02) will close games for the Sox. For whatever reasons Jenks strikeout rate sits at a mediocre 5.49 per nine and his walk rates are up to 2.52 per nine. He's not allowing that many homeruns though. His fastball sits at 94 and he uses an 88 slider, and 83 curveball. Jenks relies heavily on his fastball/slider combination though.
Matt Thornton (2.68) is the large lefty with a 95 mile per hour fastball. He's essentially a 6'5", left-handed throwing version of Balfour who will pound the Rays with fastball after fastball. Don't be surprised to see him often against Carlos Pena.
D.J. Carrasco (3.25) and Octavio Dotel (3.61) are polar opposites. Where as Carrasco will force the Rays into pounding balls into the dirt, Dotel is an outs through air reliever and pays for it in the windy city. Carrasco isn't without his flaws either, but they aren't quite as glaring.
Scott Linebrink (3.29) signed a big deal with the Sox this off-season and has done okay, although he's a lot like Dan Wheeler, only at a 1.55 HR/9 rate. Linebrink uses his 92 miles per hour fastball 62% of the time and relies on a slider and change-up otherwise.
The keys to a Rays series victory:
Limit the homerun ball.
Take advantage of free-swingers.
Play the match-up game
Prediction: Behind their defense and stronger pitching the Rays scrape out three victories in a five game series.