The Guillen Number: White Sox rely on HRs
April, 27, 2011
By Christina Kahrl | ESPN.com
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireOzzie Guillen may talk about small ball, but his teams have relied on sluggers like Paul Konerko.
Maybe it’s a matter of the kind of player Ozzie Guillen was. With a career line of .264/.287/.338, and just 28 career homers in more than 7,000 plate appearances, he was anything but a bopper. Or maybe it’s because of his characteristic volubility in praise of little ball and stealing bases. After all, this is the manager who heaped elaborate praise on the unlikeliest of trios almost five years ago: Jason Bartlett, Jason Tyner, and Nick Punto of the Twins, the original-edition "little piranhas."
As a result, you might think of Ozzie as a skipper inclined to live up to the "Ozzieball" rep, scrapping after one run and giving much consideration to "the little things." If you did, you’d be wrong, because this is a classic case of do as I do, not as I say. For all the talk, Ozzie’s ballclubs have almost always been anything but the subtle nibblers he might publicly profess admiration for.
Instead, Ozzie's squads have lived up to an older label associated with Chicago’s South Side: the Hitmen. That name for the 1977 team described a club that hit a then team-record 192 home runs. Playing in a different park now -- and a veritable slugger’s paradise at that -- Ozzie’s squads topped that total in four of his first five seasons as a skipper from 2004-2008.
The contrast between what Ozzie praises and what his lineup actually does is such that Joe Sheehan, my former colleague at Baseball Prospectus, coined a stat term to describe it: the Guillen Number, which is the percentage of a team’s runs scored on home runs. While Ozzie might be complimented for talking about doing the little things, his lineups have reliably relied on the home run.
From 2004-2010, the Sox scored more of their runs via the home run than any other team in baseball -- 43.2 percent, against a major league average of 35.4 percent. Here’s their ranking during Ozzie’s tenure managing the Sox:
The only teams over this time to deliver a higher Guillen Number than the 2008 White Sox were the 2010 Blue Jays and 2005 Rangers. The top 10 list for the Guillen Number is three Sox teams, two Reds teams, and five different one-time entries. The Sox are second in the major leagues over this same stretch when it comes to delivering Earl Weaver Specials -- the three-run home run -- with 173 swatted in seven seasons, a tally that ranks only behind the Yankees’ 195. (For the cruel, the team with the lowest Guillen Number from 2004-2010 was the Royals at 28.6 percent, while the team with the lowest tally of Weaver Specials was the Pirates with 88.)
Now, if you’re a "Sesame Street" fan, you’ve probably noticed from the table that one of these years is not like the others. That’s 2010, the only year the Sox plated less than 40 percent of their runs on homers, a low point in Sox slugging. That was the season after the Sox swapped out sluggers Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye and indulged Ozzie’s oft-stated need for speed by trading for leadoff mediocrity Juan Pierre, while trying to get by with Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones at DH.
This resembled the blueprint for how the Sox won in 2005: Instead of stocking left field with a slugger, the eventual champs put speedster Scott Podsednik in left while getting by with journeyman Carl Everett at DH. Podsednik hit zero homers but led the league in stolen-base attempts, and the Sox got power from the other eight slots in the lineup, including 23 homers from Everett. Fast-forward to 2010, and just as Podzilla had before him, Pierre led the league in stolen-base attempts while hitting one homer. Unfortunately, the Sox did not get power from the rest of lineup, and finished with the lowest team Isolated Power number in the Ozzie era. As a result they scored almost 60 fewer runs than in 2008, and more than 100 fewer than 2006.
Now, this really isn’t anything that should surprise you. The White Sox' home park has been and will continue to be one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball. In the last three years, it ties with Texas’ home field for total offensive environment, with a park factor of 111 for runs (as calculated by Baseball Info Solutions). In homers, it led all of baseball from 2008-2010, indexing at 135 (NuYankee was next, at 134), handily beating out even humidor-humidified Coors Field (124). And for right-handed power, there’s no better place on the planet to be in the majors these days, as the Cell’s short porch in left helps generate a park factor of 145.
Because the fences are where they are and the park plays how it plays, the Sox have tried to go back to what has worked for them by signing Adam Dunn, hoping to replace the power they so casually discarded when they let Thome walk away. With Paul Konerko still going, Carlos Quentin healthy and bopping, and Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham, and Alexis Rios capable of delivering more power than most up-the-middle combos, you might expect this lineup to deliver on the 2005 playbook that won the Sox a World Series, delivering plenty of power while indulging Ozzie’s speed fetish with Pierre’s infrequent on-base antics.
Unfortunately, Quentin has been the only Sox regular beyond Konerko doing any damage in the early going, while Dunn -- after missing a week after an appendectomy -- has hit just two homers. Consistent with the team’s Guillen Number clip on Ozzie’s watch from 2004 to today, Dunn plated four of the nine baserunners he’s driven with those two clouts. That’s an important reminder that for the Sox to get back out of the basement they won’t need to change how they score, but how often.
Christina Kahrl helped found Baseball Prospectus in 1996, is a member of the BBWAA and covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.