Why the White Sox Are So Good This Year

Despite watching the Tigers get all the headlines in the offseason, the Sox remain above them in the standings thanks to two strong Comeback Player of the Year candidates in Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. Plus: in praise of Dewayne Wise.

Dewayne Wise White Sox

 

Last August 16, the White Sox were one game over .500, a mere 3.5 games out of first place, though only two games shy of the most they’d be over .500 all year. They’d been disappointing all year, but there was still a bit of hope. Then the Tigers went 30-10 for the rest of the season, and the Sox finished 16 games behind and four games under .500. Worse yet, the Tigers made one of the biggest offseason moves, adding Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder to their lineup while the Sox stayed quiet.

This August 16, the Sox ended the day 13 games over .500, 2.5 ahead of a still-good Tigers team. What happened?

Paul Swydan ran the early numbers for Comeback Player of the Year in each league, tallying up everyone who’s improved by at least 2.0 WAR (wins over replacement player) since last year. Four of the 11 in the AL are White Sox, and all four are in the top six:

* Adam Dunn (4.6 WAR swing)
* Alex Rios (4.0)
* Chris Sale (2.6)
* A.J. Pierzynski (2.1)

That’s 13.3 wins over replacement, though Alexei Ramirez, Brent Morel, and Orlando Hudson have all underperformed their 2011 campaigns (Ramirez was worth the most WAR for Sox hitters last year, with 4.9—not a great sign in and of itself—and has a WAR of 0.8 so far this year, as his power and walk rates have dropped off substantially). But Dunn has the highest WAR swing in baseball from 2011-2012, and Rios is tied with David Wright for second. Here’s a bit more on the relationship between WAR and a team’s actual wins.

Then there’s the laudable recent play of Dewayne Wise, whom you might remember from his previous tour on the South Side. It’s hard not to root for him; he’s played for six teams in his 10 years in the majors, though that undersells his experience as a journeyman:

* 2000, 2002: Toronto (70 games total)
* 2004: Atlanta (77 games)
* 2006-2007: Cincinnati (36 games)
* 2008-2009: White Sox (136 games)
* 2010: Toronto again (52 games)
* 2011: Toronto, Florida (69 games)
* 2012: Yankees, White Sox (60 games)

He’s also played for 17 different minor-league teams in his 16 professional seasons, starting at 19 years old (not counting the times he was demoted to the same minor-league affiliate on his second tour with a team; for instance, he played for Dunedin, Toronto’s high-A team, as both a 23-year-old and a 33-year-old). He won’t keep hitting .353 for the Sox—he’s a career .225 hitter—but he’s having his best major-league season yet, putting up a .282/.300/.538 line with five home runs in 78 at bats, good for a more-than-respectable .838 OPS. Wise is practically the definition of a replacement-level player, putting up a career 0.9 WAR in ten seasons and, well, literally being a replacement basically every year of his career. But that’s the job of a replacement-level player, and it’s good to see Wise back on the Sox.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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