National / Sports / January 20, 2010

In defense of the DH

In years past, the scourges of baseball society have assailed the White Sox for their offensive style. Seemingly against the wishes of their own manager, the White Sox have done one thing consistently — hit home runs. And while that may sound nice and logical to you and me — or anyone who has a cursory knowledge of baseball — manager Ozzie Guillen has not been pleased.

Often citing his experiences with the 2003 Florida Marlins and 2005 White Sox, Guillen has long longed for a more versatile and balanced offense (his terms; I shall refer to this style as punch — or pointless). Because of this, it appears the White Sox will not have a traditional designated hitter on the 2010 roster. Of course, that may change, as pitchers and catchers don’t report for more than a month, but at the moment it appears to be the chosen course of action.

Despite the supposed baseball acumen of Guillen and General Manager Kenny Williams, the White Sox are acting in a manner counterproductive to, well, success. Although Guillen played the majority of his career in the American League, he seems fixated on the notion of a National League style offense, that being one that bunts and hits to the right side and executes the occasional hit-and-run.

Sabermetric research has debunked most of these theories — therefore, I will not elaborate on this point, but if you’re in need of clarification, either come find me, e-mail me, or check out Baseball Between the Numbers. Still, Guillen is not swayed.

For many years he has lamented the presence of slow-footed players such as Paul Konerko, Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye. In order to please Guillen, it appears Williams has subscribed to the notion of a “rotating DH,” that being a utilization of the position that allows for players to DH when in need of rest.

Such a strategy would make sense if the White Sox were blessed with a roster overflowing with above average, or even adequate hitters, but such is not the case. Their bench consists of options like Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay. Jones may perform as the right-handed member of a platoon, but his disappearance in the second half of 2009 portends doom for 2010.

Vizquel and Kotsay have some utility as bench players — though their salaries are incredibly inflated by, I don’t know, stupidity or something — but would not be a disaster at DH. But Guillen remains convinced that a traditional DH would sink the Sox’s chances.

It is not as though there is a dearth of designated hitters on the market; Johnny Damon, Jim Thome and Carlos Delgado remain unsigned, and each could fill the position. As mentioned before, the White Sox just don’t think they need a power, on-base percentage oriented player. Still hung-over from a World Series run in 2005 that featured Carl Everett at the position, the Sox front office insists they can succeed in spite of the DH situation.

But this is not 2005. The defense is not nearly as sound. Konerko is much older, as are A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Buehrle and Bobby Jenks. Additionally, building a team in the vein of a past champion is almost always dangerous business, as the formula for winning often includes a great deal of luck. As I’ve mentioned in this copy-space before, the 2005 White Sox were remarkably lucky: Cliff Politte, Damaso Marte, Neal Cotts, Bobby Jenks, Dustin Hermanson and Luis Vizcaino formed one of the best bullpens in baseball — one of the primary reasons for the White Sox’s success in spite of a depleted, average offense.

Like 2005, the media has reasonably low expectations for the White Sox. Unlike those who would prefer the media underestimate their favorite team, I’d like to follow the formula of the 2009 World Champion New York Yankees: guys who can pitch, guys who can field, and guys who can hit the ever-loving shit out of the ball. Now that’s a winning formula.

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Kevin Morris

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