Saturday, July 7, 2012

Over Easy

You go off to the sky, good bye, good bye.Look at the clouds burst. They're growing taller,and as your ship leaves in the distance,my world gets smaller, and it takes you worlds away.A million light years from me.Wayne Coyne, "They Punctured My Yolk"

Batting Second: I was saying Yolk-ilis.

Upon the resounding bulldozery of the team then the American League's best, the Texas Rangers, there was a sweeping comment made in e-gus's South Side Sox July 5 recap:
In this three-game set alone, [Kevin Youkilis] outperformed the production the White Sox had at the hot corner all season long. Ridiculous.
In spite of any internal harrumphs--after all, Yolk provided great defense and two game-winning RBI in his first series in Chicago--it seems overarching at best to say that even the greatest performance over a single, three-game series could outdo the work of every third baseman on the White Sox roster.

But it's true--Yolk outplayed 72 games' worth of Brent Morel, Orlando Hudson, Eduardo Escobar, and Brent Lillibridge at the hot corner, all in just a single series.

Choose whatever saber flavor you wish, and it comes up Yolk. Using win probability added, the results are nothing short of horrifying:

Morel: 33 games at third base, -1.18 WPA
Morel alone delivered more than one loss on the season, and over a full season--a.k.a., Ozzie Guillen's Permanently Play Your Way Out of Your Slump Method--would have earned some six losses for the White Sox in 2012.

Hudson: 28 games, -.436 WPA
Catching the diminished lightning of a veteran Ken Williams has long lusted after in this case produced just one flicker--Hudson's game-winning single on June 8 to beat the Blue Jays. Imagine if Rawlings had sent him a larger third baseman's glove more quickly...

Escobar: 18 games, -.166 WPA
Esco's performance is on par for a rookie playing to the right of his longtime position.

Lilli: six games, -.418 WPA
There are a lot of reasons this fan favorite was jettisoned, and his unbearably horrible work at the hot corner was hardly a prominent one. But man, debiting the team a half a win in just six games (48 innings!) of work is something else.

So, pre-Yolk, the third base position cost the White Sox 2.2 wins in less than half a season. It wasn't just that Morel, injured or otherwise, was creating losses on the South Side; every option there wasn't just unproductive, but created a sucking sound that would have cast the White Sox south of Cleveland and Detroit in the standings.

Youkilis didn't get off to a gangbusting start with the White Sox, compiling a -.186 WPA in his first five games. But in his last five, he's added more than half a win alone (.555 WPA). So in just 11 games with the team (of which Chicago won eight), Yolk has added a third of a win (.369 WPA) and his overall work at third base has been good for .175 WPA.

And in just his first home series of the season, that sweep of the Rangers, Youkilis put up a .486 WPA. In just the two games he played at third base, his WPA was .345, well outperforming all of the third sackers on the South Side before him.

Given the flaccid production among White Sox third basemen, bringing Youkilis to the South Side seems like a no-brainer. But Williams faced some fierce competition for Yolk, no matter how much of a luxury he'd become in Boston--including bids from division rival Cleveland.

Yet in spite of being in a pretty desperate position at the hot corner, Williams fleeced Boston in the deal, taking a flier on just his type of "grinder" at a minimal cost ($1 million for the remainder of the season). He surrendered very little to the Red Sox; Lillibridge was going to jump to a more premium value via arbitration in 2013, and Zach Stewart was at best treading water among the other South Side wannabe arms.

What's interesting about the trade is the decisiveness with which Williams completed it--another one of his hallmarks, for better and worse. The GM was trolling around the manager's office just prior to the trade, kicking around the idea of moving Dayan Viciedo (back) up third base. Robin Ventura dismissed that notion firmly, and no sooner was the Tank's position switch dismissed than Yolk was being fitted for a change of Sox.

For virtually nothing, Williams delivered a pre-break anchor kick for his club. The White Sox already have won eight games with Youkilis, and at nine games over .500 have reached their high-water mark on the year.

Giddy-up: Alexei moves in for the celebratory tickle of Yolk.

It's not just that scenes the one above are certain to happen frequently at the White Sox shift into the dog days, it's that the men Yolk replaced proved to be virtually incapable of them.

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