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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Another Kenny Blunder! 

Kenny Williams, possibly under the influence of illegal substances, traded Keith Foulke, Mark Johnson and minor league closer Joe Valentine to the A’s for closer Billy Koch and two minor league players to be named later.  Baseball America has revealed one of players to be named will be left-handed starting pitcher Neal Cotts. The other player will be another C-level prospect, hardly a commodity.  It doesn’t take a lot to recognize this is another one of the blunders Williams is becoming famous for. 

Koch will be replacing Foulke as the Sox closer.  Unfortunately Koch cannot fairly be compared to Foulke when it comes to performance.  Keith Foulke has been one of the two or three best relievers in baseball for the last four years.  Since Koch entered the league in 1999 he’s been a solid closer, but Foulke has been better than Koch every season.  Since 1999 Foulke has pitched more innings, allowed fewer hits, fewer home runs, fewer walks and struck out more batters.  Almost needless to say, Foulke has had a lower ERA over that time period.  Koch’s pros come down to two things.  He throws in the upper nineties and he’s been in the closer role since arriving in the majors so he’s gotten a reputation as a “proven” closer.  Simply put, Foulke is a more effective pitcher and the difference in blatantly obvious for anyone paying attention.

Trading Foulke for Koch straight up would be a loss for the White Sox.  There is only one thing Billy Koch does better than Keith Foulke and that’s light up a radar gun.  It was silly for Williams to also give away Mark Johnson.  Johnson is a good defensive catcher who can get on base a little bit.  Johnson would have come into the season backing up Miguel Olivo and likely been the starter if Olivo faltered.  Joe Valentine could be a decent reliever.  The key word is “could.”  Minor league relief pitching prospects are little more than fodder.  Losing Valentine is nothing to kvetch about. 

The prospects the Sox will receive in return are nothing special and are essentially meaningless in this deal.  There are tons of C-grade prospects like Neal Cotts floating around the majors.  Cotts was a second round pick last season out of Illinois State.  Last year Cotts pitched in high A-ball and struck out a lot of batters but he was old for the league.  Age is the single most important factor in evaluating prospects.  Cotts will turn 23 next year.  Jon Garland, who has two and a half years of major league experience with the White Sox, will also be 23 next season.  Cotts will have to develop fast to be good.  Sox fans know how flaky all pitching prospects are after watching the organization attempt to develop Kip Wells, Jon Garland and Jon Rauch among others.  It’s a crapshoot whether the pitcher will stay healthy and a second one as to whether he will be effective in the big leagues.  The Sox are receiving little beyond Koch.

This trade comes down to Kenny Williams’ bad thinking.  This appears to be a chronic affliction.  First of all he failed to recognize the value of his own player.  Secondly he either overvalued Koch’s gaudy radar readings or gaudy save totals.  Any fool can tell you radar readings don’t make a pitcher great.  Saves also tell you little about the quality of a pitcher.  A pitcher can get a save for an outing in which he enters the game with a three run lead and no runners on base.  How important is it that a pitcher performs well in that scenario?  If he gives up “only” two runs he still gets the save.  The save is a glory stat, an individual bragging rights stat and a stat to bring in big money in arbitration and free agency.  Saves are a product of a manager granting opportunity, not a way to measure performance quality.  Kenny Williams has been swindled again thanks to the best general manager in the game, radar guns and saves.

Editor's Note:  Andrew Ritchie is known by WSI's message board crowd  as Kermitthefrog and writes about the White Sox based on statistical analysis.  Andrew like statistics because it helps cut through the bias when talking baseball.  Andrew pledges to be as objective as possible, but hey--nobody is perfect!  You can email Andrew at

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