8:14 PM CST, January 23, 2012
Ozzieball was always a misnomer.
Taking their lead from the guy in the manager's office, White Sox marketing types and some of their more casual fans romanticized the Ozzie Guillen era as one of in-your-face baseball — aggressive baserunning, hard slides and pitchers knocking back batters.
That was never how Guillen's teams won. Nor was it why Guillen was generally a very solid manager during his eight seasons on the South Side.
Truth be told, Guillen was more like old-school American League managers — men like Earl Weaver and Cito Gaston. He won because, well, his hitters were better than your hitters, and he had a pretty good idea when to ride his starting pitcher and when to call the bullpen.
Guillen's teams generally beat you with home runs, not small ball, and now that he and longtime ace Mark Buehrle have moved on to Miami, the challenge for rookie manager Robin Ventura and general manager Ken Williams is to survive without the power hitters and predictable pitching that allowed Guillen to thrive.
Guillen's eight White Sox teams outhomered the opposition every year, by an average of 202-172. That's as easy an explanation as any as to how Guillen compiled a .524 winning percentage.
The White Sox haven't hit as many homers in recent years, which is largely why things became so stressful around U.S. Cellular Field.
When the Sox outlasted the Twins over 163 games in 2008, they banged out 235 home runs — the third time in the Guillen era they led the AL. But the total has dropped every year since then — to 184, 177 and only 154 last year, when Adam Dunn was imported to stop the trend.
The Dunn signing continued a pattern that portends difficulty ahead for Ventura and Williams.
The Sox have outhomered the opposition in 12 straight seasons. But while that trend was started largely with home-grown power hitters — with Paul Konerko the exception among a cast that included Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, Ray Durham, Aaron Rowand and Joe Crede — most of the recent bombers came in trades or free-agent signings.
Williams has benefited hugely from the strong scouting and player development operation he took over from Ron Schueler, but all that's left from his inheritance is Konerko, who will be 36 when the 2012 season begins. There's a shortage of power hitters in the farm system, with the top prospects, first baseman Andy Wilkins and outfielder Tracye Thompson, two or three years away.
There's an onus on 22-year-old Cuban Dayan Viciedo to hit the ground slugging in April. Ventura and his hitting coach, Jeff Manto, like Ventura in his first season as a coach in a big-league dugout, will try to get more power from Brent Morel, Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez, while evaluating whether catcher Tyler Flowers can handle pitchers well enough for them to get his powerful bat in the lineup on a regular basis.
The key, of course, is a return to form by Dunn and Alex Rios, who combined for 59 home runs in 2010 but only 24 last season. Along with Beckham's stalled development, this is likely the reason respected hitting coach Greg Walker did not get an offer to join Ventura's staff.
Everything ends at some point, however. You wonder if Guillen is getting out at just the right time in terms of the home-run winds, which have been at the Sox's backs almost the entire time Ventura was away.
•Guillen may be missed more than Sox fans would like. According to the Pythagorean standings, his teams won fewer games than they should have only twice (2004, 2009) and were a highly successful plus-19 in wins over his tenure, including plus-8 in 2005, when a 35-19 record in one-run games allowed them to win the division title over Eric Wedge's Indians, who were numerically superior.
Buehrle will definitely be missed. He carried the biggest workload for a pitching staff that gave up the fewest home runs in the AL in 2010 (136) and ranked fourth last season (147).
Chris Sale moves into Buehrle's spot in the rotation. Some think the White Sox handicapped his development by using him as a setup reliever last season rather than sending him to the minors to start. He worked only 103 innings as a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University in 2010, the year the Sox drafted him.
The Sox hope they can land another Cuban power hitter soon. They're expected to bid for Yoenis Cespedes and 19-year-old Jorge Soler when they reach free agency.
Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has remained loyal to Williams despite his heavy spending producing only a 440-445 record since the 2006 All-Star break. He wouldn't have to look far if he wanted to make a change during 2012. Assistant GM Rick Hahn stayed put last winter rather than allowing himself to become a leading candidate in job searches in Baltimore and Houston, and Tony La Russa continues to say he would like a front-office job with significant responsibilities.
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