Chicago White Sox: How Big of An Impact Has Manager Robin Ventura Made In His First Year on the Job?

Sunday August 5th, 2012

Jake Dal Porto:  Chicago White Sox’s manager, Robin Ventura has revitalized baseball in Chicago. The Ozzie Guillen era is far is the past, and Ventura’s new brand of baseball has the White Sox in the thick of the American league playoff race.

Chicago, who finished 16 games behind the first place  in 2011, currently stand atop the Central division and own the third best record in the American league. Yet, being in the playoff chase in early August wasn’t what White Sox fans were merely expecting. After trading young closer Sergio Santos to the Toronto Blue Jays during the offseason, and pondering upon the idea of shipping John Danks away as well, it appeared as if General manager Ken Williams was looking to reconstruct his roster for the future and beyond. It would make sense, too, after granting Guillen’s request to be released during the offseason. Guillen, an icon in Chicago, managed the Sox for eight years (2004-2011), leading them to a memorable World Series win in 2005. But as his tenure came to an emotional end, it was time for a change. A new manager, a new roster, and a new feeling seemed to be the philosophy after the hiring of Ventura. But as we sit here in August, that philosophy doesn’t seem to matchup with prior predictions.

A manager is a manager. Generally, the young pups respect their respective skippers, but certified veterans often veer off onto their own ideas and pleasings. In 2011, precisely the same cycle started to take shape with Guillen holding down the managerial fort. The respect he garnered over his eight year stint with Chicago slowly started to decrease. That’s just part of the cycle. Sure, he’s entertaining with his post-game fanatics and such, but to think that the likes of Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, and A. J. Pierzynski really respected him at the end of 2011 seems far-fetched. And if it wasn’t far-fetched why didn’t it show up on the field? Not only did Rios have a down year, but Dunn was practically non-existent, let alone fearful, and Pierzynski wasn’t too sharp, either.

The difference in 2012?

Dunn, Rios, and Pierzynski are all in the midst of career years, or at least something in that realm. You want to know why? Two words—Robin Ventura. Yes, a new manager can make such an impact that quickly. He has Alex Rios hustling. He has Adam Dunn hitting home runs again. He has A. J. Pierzynski looking like the catcher he once was. And better yet, they all respect the six-time gold glove award winner because he is a players’ manager. He rarely calls his players out during press conferences, unlike Guillen who would just blast his team, and thus far, that formula seems to be effective, wouldn’t you say? Guillen, meanwhile, is stuck with a franchise struggling to find their true identity after trading their cornerstone piece away in Hanley Ramirez.

Let’s shift our focus back to Rios, though. Rios, who was a very highly touted prospect after being selected 19th overall in the 1999 draft, has yet to live up to the hype that was once placed on his shoulders. Sure, he has been an all-star twice (2006-2007), but coming into this season, he was .275/.323/.434 career hitter. This year, though, he’s taken off, with career-highs in several departments. His current .317 batting average is a career high, as well is his .890 OPS. The rejuvenated Rios is also on pace to shatter his original season home run total of 24 and original RBI total of 88, making it safe to say that he’s having a career year. And a lot of credit has to be given to Ventura for sticking with the 31 year-old Rios who has taken a lot of heat over the years.

Along with Rios, Adam Dunn is back to his home run ways. He leads baseball with 31 long balls despite a wavering .209 batting average and 155 strikeouts. A. J. Pierzynski is arguably in the middle of his best offensive season as a pro with 20 home runs— a career-high. Pierzynski, who is known to be a bit of a clubhouse virus with his various attitude issues, has yet to turn against his new manager. The always consistent Paul Konerko is hitting .315/.389/.501 from the first base position. Then we have the surprise tier of players. The cast of Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza have stepped up to complement the veterans. Viciedo, the 23 year-old Cuban, has jacked 16 home runs, while De Aza is hitting .292. It’s simple. To make a World Series push, a team must have players who are having career years and a couple of unexpected players to step up and round out the lineup. The White Sox seem to have those two areas covered. Coincidence? We’ll see.

But as we all know very well, a team can’t be led by solely offense, especially in the playoffs where pitching comes onto display like never before. Jake Peavy has been the leader of the White Sox rotation. He boasts a solid 3.04 ERA with a 9-7 record and has been key to the White Sox success. Chicago’s starting rotation has been everything but consistent, though. Outside of Peavy, and the young Chris Sale whose an astounding 12-3 with a 2.61 ERA, the White Sox have limited options, particular in the back-end of the rotation. The usually consistent John Danks sported a not-so-consistent 5.70 ERA before ending his season to shoulder surgery, while Philip Humber has a 7.21 ERA since throwing a perfect game on April 21st. Meanwhile, newcomer, Jose Quintana has given Ventura some stability since joining the Sox in May, but nothing is consistent with their rotation. Perhaps the addition of southpaw Francisco Liriano will bolster their starting staff. Then again, he’s known for his streakiness and inconsistency. Even with an array of bad starts, White Sox starters still maintain a respectable 4.14 ERA. On the other side of the coin, that number is nothing worth writing home about, either.

The single key for Chicago, is going to be their pitching. Specifically Humber and Francisco Liriano. Both are veterans and know the ins and outs of pitching, but both have failed to positively contribute to a magical White Sox season. If either, or even both of them can string together a few good starts, maybe they will catch lightning in a bottle and lift the Sox into the postseason. With Sale receiving multiple days of rest to protect his young arm, someone has to step up or else playoff baseball in the windy city won’t be making an occurrence. Yet, anything the White Sox accomplish in 2012 will be a bonus. Robin Ventura has taken this team from preseason sellers, to mid-season buyers (hello Kevin Youkilis, Liriano and Brett Myers). He’s a perfect example of how much of an impact a manager can make, making him more than worthy of the A.L manager of the year award in 2012. Can the White Sox duplicate the magic of 2005? Time will tell. But regardless of where the season finishes for the White Sox, the hiring of Robin Ventura can only be seen as an overwhelming success.

Jake Dal Porto is a high school student from the Bay Area. He is a big time Giants fan and his favorite players are Matt CainTim LincecumBuster Posey, and Sergio Romo. Jake’s favorite sports moment was when the Giants won the World Series back in 2010. He loves to use sabermetrics in his work.  He thinks they are the best way to show a player’s real success compared to the basic stats such as ERA, RBIs, and Wins. Jake also enjoys interacting and debating with his readers. Follow him on Twitter: @TheJakeMan24

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About Jake Dal Porto

Jake Dal Porto is a student from the Bay Area. He has followed Bay Area sports for years, and enjoys writing about the various Bay Area teams. He is an assistant editor at Golden Gate Sports, and the editor of Blue Man Hoop. If you need to contact Jake, email him: jakedalporto@gmail.com

Posted on August 5, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Danks is done for the year with shoulder surgery. Other than that good article

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