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Ozzie Guillen is a Good Manager

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As of this publishing hour, only three teams in baseball have fewer wins than the Chicago White Sox (15).  This is a huge disappointment for a team that certainly has spent the money necessary to compete, and unlike the Royals and Indians, aren’t a perennial disappointment.  The White Sox pitching rotation and bullpen have both underachieved, and the questionably constructed lineup has been a disaster.  Plenty of city folk are calling for someone’s head, usually centered around GM Kenny Williams, and Manager Ozzie Guillen.

Neither are particularly deserving of the blame.  And while there’s plenty of it to go around, the White Sox (and their fans) should probably step back and realize: they’re still in good hands, even if there isn’t going to be any miracle salvaging of this season.

Take a look around the midwest.  Last year, the rudderless Indians fired manager Eric Wedge in August, and replaced him with the savvy, but ultimately uninspiring Manny Acta.  They too have only 15 wins.  Last weekend, the Royals fired Trey Hillman.  Former Brewers skipper Ned Yost is in charge now.  The man who replaced Yost in Milwaukee on a permanent basis, Ken Macha, is on the rocks there now.  Lou Pinella, at best, is not helping the Cubs win.  Dusty Baker is still 1) employed, and 2) sporting one of the more talented NL teams, but his Cincinnati tenure has been marred by all sorts of inconsistencies.

There’s really just three managers who have weathered the test of time in the midwest, of which Guillen is one.  Ron Gardenhire, doing pretty much the same thing in Minnesota, but he’s working with all the chips in the AL Central this year.  The third guy is Tony LaRussa, who knows how to leverage his reputation as a strategist into loyalty from a city and his players.  Of course, if you allowed me to eliminate one manager from that list and run my team with the other two, I’d toss out LaRussa.

After that realization, it’s clear that White Sox fans have little to complain about with Guillen.  Hey, managers existed to be second guessed.  Guillen and Gardenhire both make their share of questionable indefensible moves.  Some blame Guillen’s desire to play the game the “right” way as the primary reason that the White Sox lineup (which can’t exactly run the bases or do many other versions of that ball-in-play jazz) isn’t performing to standard.

Perhaps the Sox are caught in a state of flux right now, not knowing what kind of team they actually want to be.  I’ll suggest that Guillen’s desire to have a team that CAN run and CAN bunt and CAN take the extra base and CAN avoid bad fundamental baseball hasn’t actually stopped the White Sox from doing what they do best: hit the ball out of the ballpark.   Ignoring that the team chose not to return aging power players like Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye, the top four hitters in HR on the White Sox are on pace to combine for 132 HRs this season.  By contrast, the Royals 4th best HR threat, David DeJesus, was asked to bunt two runners over in the first inning last week.

Guillen has a reputation for constructing lineups that have low on-base guys at the top, and while this has actually legitimately hurt the White Sox offense this year, as a team, the Sox are walking a lot with a few outlying exceptions: Pierre, Pierzynski, Rios, and Ramirez.  Konerko, Quentin, Mark Teahen, Gordon Beckham, Andruw Jones, and Mark Kotsay are all reaching base via the walk.  The White Sox on-base problem is simple: they aren’t hitting.  That, of course, is something that Guillen takes a lot of flak for, relying too much on the singles hitting element of his team to drive his offense.  The statistics argue the exact opposite as the problem: the Sox are being victimized by batted ball luck (a remarkably low/unfortunate .238 team BABIP), not by a team-wide philosophy to hack, go for singles, and then run into outs.

Furthermore, Guillen does two things critical of every manager that helps his team in the long term: he sticks with young players who might be hurting the team (Gordon Beckham) while giving less playing time to veterans who might be doing the same (Pierre/Kotsay/Quentin), and he always manages the later innings as if he has faith that his offense can get him back into it.  The trend de jour of managing in Major League Baseball these days is to be protective of ones pitching staff when a win is merely unlikely.  Guillen, even in the face of biting bad luck this year, manages to win even when it’s not likely.  This might be more critical than anything for a struggling offense.

Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, for one example, did not manage his bullpen to shut down the Kansas City Royals last night, trailing by no more than two runs at any point.  Modern bullpens have the ability, if they so choose, to more or less set up the platoons in the later innings so that no starter in a lineup can truly expect to hold the platoon advantage in any given at bat.  Heck, in 2008, Detroit manager Jim Leyland once used LOOGY Bobby Seay to get out Joey freakin’ Gathright in the 7th inning.  Managers tend to opt for caution when trailing, even sometimes by a run late in the game.  I like Guillen because he manages for run prevention even when his team is trailing late, as long as it’s within reason.

It’s no coincidence that the White Sox typically feature lower bullpen ERAs and higher bullpen WPA than other AL teams: they put their talented players in situations to succeed.  They don’t save Matt Thornton’s arm for a better opportunity, he’ll pitch whenever a team groups it’s lefties together.

It appears that bad luck, on both sides of the ball, is mostly to blame for the White Sox’ struggles, along with a steady diet of poor defense.  Manager Ozzie Guillen is not part of the problem, and I think, if things start to even out for the South Siders, he can once again be part of the solution.  Perhaps — unbelievably to some — even without costing his team more outs than other managers in baseball.

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