EW Episode 25 – The Secretly Successful White Sox System?/Starlin Castro’s Makeup Concerns
Date: August 21, 2012
Runtime: 17:24

The Style

The show opened to Guile’s Theme from Street Fighter II. (Sadly I didn’t know this on my own and had to have editor Ken identify it for me. The fact that I didn’t recognize this might be one the greatest regrets of my childhood). Once again Ben is in New York. Sam, we are told, is in Long Beach, in a Honda Fit, with the door open because of the heat, and letting the cricket sounds in. The cricket sounds lead to more insect related banter. Recently Sam found an ant nest when he removed his shower faucet. Upon finding the nest he sprayed a fill can of Raid on it and, “killed a billion ants and a bunch of queens.” Ben also got in on the insect genocide when he took down two wasp nests at his house. They were above the door and in the grill for those who are curious.

Sam opts to talk about Starlin Castro. Ben wants to talk about the White Sox. He prefaces the discussion by reminding everyone that Sam picked them to finish last in their division in 2012.

The Substance

Ben notes that Kenny Williams had recently opened up about the White Sox minor league system. The White Sox were at a place where their farm system had become a punch line. Addison Reed was the only White Sox minor leaguer who made BP’s list of top one hundred prospects. However, Williams had recently offered an argument for why analysts were down on the team’s minor league talent.

Williams noted that they had a different method than other teams. He argued that other teams allow their players to over-inflate their statistics at the expense of their development. For example, he mentions leaving Nate Jones in A ball in 2010 so that he could develop new pitches. Could he have been promoted and blown people away with his fastball? Williams thinks he could have, but it wouldn’t have prepared Jones to pitch in the majors. Another example he gives is Dayan Viciedo. Rather than pumping up his home run totals Viciedo had been working on hitting the ball to the opposite field.

Sam notes that veterans and their ability to stay healthy have driven Chicago’s recent success. He concedes that some prospect lists are probably over-dependent on numbers. However, he wonders if guys like Goldstein, Parks, and Law really aren’t smart enough to understand when a player’s numbers might be hurt during the process of developing some skill.

Sam goes on to say that he doesn’t accept Williams’ explanation, and points out that most teams at the bottom of prospect rankings probably have an answer for this criticism. Recent history suggests that their minor league system simply isn’t that good. Of the top White Sox prospects prior to the 2010 season only “1 ½ guys” were contributing anything at this point. These guys included Daniel Hudson, Dayan Vicideo, and Tyler Flowers. Their 2011 prospect rankings consisted of Chris Sale, Addison Reed, and a bunch of nothing.

Ben brings up the fact that under the old CBA the White Sox never spent money on the draft. In a sense they got what they paid for. People who study prospects for a living tend to know about a team’s developmental plan for a player. It shouldn’t have too big of an impact on rankings.

As of the date of this podcast A.J. Pierzynski was slugging .543. Sam wants to talk about the White Sox every night.

The discussion turns toward Sam’s topic. Starlin Castro was on the verge of signing a long extension through 2020. This leads Sam to wonder if people should be concerned with any of Castro’s character issues. Should this even be a topic of conversation when assessing Castro and his possible extension?

Ben is only concerned if Castro’s immaturity is the kind that will impact his on-field performance. An occasional error isn’t that big of a deal, but issues with off the field preparation could be. The fact that the Cubs were preparing to sign Castro to an extension instead of trading him gives Ben confidence that they’re comfortable with his maturity level.

If Sam was a Cubs fan he would be excited about Castro and his extension. He’s a little surprised the Cubs aren’t getting more of a discount as it looks like he will make the upper level of what someone at his stage of development would make. However, Sam does note that there is a certain amount of risk involved here and that Castro isn’t the sure thing you would expect a player of his caliber to be.

Ben agrees that Castro is the perfect guy to build around. The Cubs don’t have a lot of players who are this young and successful.

As of the date of this podcast Castro was slugging .116 below A.J. Pierzynski.

“Not everyone can be a thirty-five year old catcher” – Ben Lindbergh

The Supplement

Unfortunately for Sam the 2012 White Sox did not finish in last place in the AL Central. They actually came in second, finishing three games back of the Detroit Tigers, and eight games back of a wild card spot. Pierzynski also kept his slugging percentage above .500 for the entire season. 2012 was a career year for A.J. He hit .278/.326/.501 to go along with a 120 OPS+.

The White Sox doubled the number of players they had on BP’s Top 101 Prospects list this year with two. Tim Anderson (SS) checks in at number 39 and is called “one of the most naturally gifted players in the minor leagues.” Carlos Rodon (LHP) comes in two spots later at number 41. Most feel as if he could see some time in the majors this season.

Even though there doesn’t appear to be a ton of high-end talent the White Sox farm system is more highly thought of now then it was in 2012. Keith Law recently ranked them as the twelfth-best minor league system in baseball.

Looking back on the prospects that were discussed on this episode is interesting. Nate Jones was expected to be their closer last season, but he was sidelined with back and elbow issues. Viciedo played in 145 games for the team in 2014, but he was recently released. Addison Reed was traded in December of 2013 for Matt Davidson. Davidson was expected to compete for the starting job at third base in 2014, but he spent the year in Charlotte behind Conor Gillaspie.

Starlin Castro did sign an eight-year extension with the Cubs worth $60.57M. The deal includes a team option for 2020. In three of his five seasons at the big league level he’s been an All-Star. After a rough 2013 he bounced back this year to hit .292/.339/.438 with a 114 OPS+. He still figures to be an important part of the Cubs current rebuilding effort.

EW Episode 26 – The Return of Brett Anderson, Oakland’s Playoff Rotation, and the Financial Future of Stephen Drew

Date: August 22, 2012

Runtime: 16:16

The Style 

The show opens with the transporter sound from Star Trek. Sam opens by announcing that he is the star of the show, and joining him tonight is his sidekick Ben Lindbergh. Amazingly Ben hasn’t slept since episode 25 was recorded.

Ben chooses to discuss the comeback of Brett Anderson and the A’s potential playoff rotation. Sam’s topic of conversation is Stephen Drew. Welcome to an all A’s episode of Effectively Wild!

The Substance

Ben opens the discussion by noting that Brett Anderson recently made his first start since June 5, 2011. His line in his comeback start was 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 run, 0 walks, and 6 strikeouts. Anderson’s velocity appeared to be right where it was the previous season. Unfortunately, Anderson has been a tantalizing pitcher who got hurt often. Ben wonders if there’s a chance Anderson could make the A’s playoff rotation. Their rotation at that time included Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker, and Tommy Milone.

It’s hard for Sam to say whether or not he could get in. Most of the A’s starters were young guys who might get shut down if they weren’t pitching in a playoff race. Would they be able to maintain their effectiveness through September given the load they had carried up to this point? If one of those pitchers looks gassed they might not have a choice but to start Anderson.

Of the players just mentioned Sam notes that Anderson is the only one that he’s considered “ace quality” at some point over the past six or seven years. He’s always been on the cusp of becoming a star. Anderson’s injury history has been depressing given that he was only twenty-four years old at this point.

Ben’s surprised that more people haven’t been talking about the impact Anderson’s return could have on the playoff race. Other teams had to trade for good starting pitching, but the A’s simply got a good starting pitcher back. He had good velocity and control in his first start back and should be quite an acquisition for the A’s.

The focus then turned to Stephen Drew. The A’s had just traded for Drew. In the deal they picked up his salary for 2012 and his buyout option for next year. Sam wonders who is going to opt out of this deal.

Ben recently analyzed the Drew trade and mentioned that he hasn’t hit much since returning from injury. Drew has also had trouble staying healthy. This didn’t bode well for his forthcoming free agency, but there weren’t a lot of great options at shortstop on the free agent market. Compared to Ryan Theriot and Jason Bartlett, Drew would look like a good option. The A’s didn’t appear to have a great option at short in 2013. Chris Owings, their top shortstop prospect at the time, probably wouldn’t be ready yet.

Sam asks if they should expect Drew to opt out of his deal after this season. He would have left $10M on the table. Sam also wonders if Oakland is where Drew wants to be. On the plus side Sam notes that age and positional scarcity are in Drew’s favor. It wasn’t so long ago that he was a four or five win player at a premium position.

Ben reads the Baseball Prospectus quote on Drew from 2009. “We’ll keep projecting stardom and that’s on the modest side.”

The Supplement

Brett Anderson started six games for the A’s in 2012. In those starts he had a 153 ERA+, a 2.72 FIP, and finished with 6.4 K/9. Anderson cracked the playoff rotation for the A’s and pitched Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS against the Tigers. He was quite good in that start, pitching six innings while only giving up 2 hits and no runs. He also struck out six hitters. The A’s would lose this series 3-2. Unfortunately, he would only pitch in 16 games for the A’s in 2013 (starting 5). Anderson made three starts in 2014 for the Rockies before ending up on the 60 day DL. Even with his injury history he’s still too talented to give up on. This led the Dodgers to give him a $10M contract heading into this season.

Stephen Drew ultimately opted out of his deal with the A’s and signed a one year deal with the Red Sox for 9.5M. He ended 2012 hitting .250/.326/.382 with a 98 OPS+. The following season in Boston was a little better as he hit .253/.333/.443 with an OPS+ of 111. However, 2014 continued his downward trend offensively. He split time between Boston and the Yankees and struggled to contribute in both places. Between both stops he combined to hit .162/.237/.299 and he cumulatively contributed -0.3 WAR. It might be time to erase the quote in the 2009 BP Annual.

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