Algorithms abandon the White Sox
In the first four months of the season, the passing of every unimpressive week failed to dent the White Sox’s postseason projections. The Sox had three things going for them:
- A weak division
- The Central’s largest collection of individual backgrounds
- A busy schedule in advance
Whether you trust the talent of the White Sox or the lack of talent elsewhere, the White Sox might have needed only a good fortnight to take control of the division and never get it back.
Turns out it’s hard to build winning streaks when you’re committed to losing every opening game of a series. We also learned that for the lowest remaining schedule to count, you need to beat these teams. Instead, they went 8-8 against that 19-game streak against teams under .500, including three of four losses to the Royals.
Tim Anderson’s six-week absence also hurts in that department. He was one of the small group of batters within shouting distance of the back of his baseball card. Even after accounting for his flaws, he’s a better candidate to start games than Leury García (whose right leg might be a problem) and Lenyn Sosa (whose learning curve against MLB pitching seems steep) .
Add it all up, and the once favorable projections have taken a hit this week.
FanGraphs provisional ranking paint a dark picture:
And if you think they only have one path to the playoffs across the division, FanGraphs now puts that probability at 20.5%, up from 40% 10 days ago.
PECOTA, who had the White Sox even with the Twins at the top of Central for most of the time they trailed them, now has the White Sox a separate thirdalthough only by a few games:
- Cleveland, 85-77
- Minnesota, 83-79
- White Sox: 82-80
Post-season (33.1%) and split (20.2) odds are about the same.
FiveThirtyEight is the most bullish of the systems, but Tom Fornelli has charted the White Sox’s slow decline in October odds over the season…
…and he took a sudden plunge last week.
With the White Sox Three and a half games behind Cleveland and 1½ behind Minnesota, they can still say they control their own destiny, even if that destiny requires them to maximize one-on-one opportunities against the teams ahead of them.
But while they would understandably say that games are played on the field and not on spreadsheets, they are already hosting their own intangibles debate regarding the concept of “fire”.
After Wednesday’s meltdown, Johnny Cueto said they were running out of it:
La Russa has praised his team’s “combat” and “guts” throughout the season, and he defended them staunchly after Thursday’s loss, as he often does. As for the lack of fire, he pointed to a deft double play turned by second baseman Josh Harrison and rookie shortstop Lenyn Sosa behind Cueto.
“How did it happen?” said La Russa. “They weren’t fired?” »
Daryl Van Schouwen relayed quotes from Lucas Giolito and Andrew Vaughn that seemed to indicate Cueto was not Wrongand it also arrives just a few days later José Abreu said his efforts were the only thing he could control.
I try not to get drawn into discussions about fire or its proximities (urgency, effort, intensity), simply because it distracts from more crucial matters. I still think of the years when Reynaldo López spoke about his poor results with heightened concentration, only to realize that he literally couldn’t see well. After two eye surgeries, he was able to contribute a bit more.
In this case, we knew Rick Hahn had failed to address issues such as a heavy right attack struggling to get the ball in the air, or a defense playing too many guys out of position. Andrew Vaughn hasn’t been outplayed by Nate Eaton in cornering Kauffman this past series due to a lack of desire. Andrew Vaughn just can’t run like an outfielder should.
But I will say it’s not great when a veteran calls out his team for a lack of fire, and the manager seems more interested in sweeping it under the rug or making it a debate about the concept of fire itself. There’s really only one conversation I care about involving the words “Tony La Russa” and “fire,” but the White Sox won’t have that one until the end of the season, if ever.