Current Series

7/30, 5:05 PST
Oakland (Lucas Harrell) @ Chicago (Brett Anderson)

7/31, 1:10 PST
Oakland (John Danks) @ Chicago (Dallas Braden)

8/1 1:05 PST
Oakland (Gavin Floyd) @ Chicago (Gio Gonzalez)

Previous Series:
Texas 3, Oakland 1
Oakland 3, Texas 1
Texas 7, Oakland 4

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A's Roster Shenanigans

I mentioned during my Spring Training Preview that the A's would have to think outside of the box to avoid losing Jake Fox or Eric Patterson to waivers (both are out of options).  According to this report from the Chronicle, the A's are doing just that.  Whereas I guessed they would send Gabe Gross to Sacramento and field a roster with only Eric Patterson as a backup outfielder, it looks like the A's will send Adam Rosales AND Landon Powell to AAA.

What's surprising about this is that Fox will now become the backup catcher as well as designated lefty masher.  I see a couple of problems with this.  First, I had assumed that Fox was a horrible defender behind the plate (and everywhere else, for that matter).  Fox has been playing a fair amount of catcher this Spring, so perhaps he's acceptable back there.  He doesn't need to be a world beater, but hopefully he can start once a week back there without being a disaster.

The bigger problem with him being the backup catcher is that managers are often unwilling to have their backup catcher as the DH.  Personally, I don't have a problem with it.  The worry is, however, that if your starting catcher will gets hurt and the backup is DHing, you'd have to lose the DH for the rest of the game to move the original DH behind the plate.  I think that the downside isn't all that bad.  First, the likelihood of a mid-game injury is relatively low, even for a catcher.  Secondly, the effects of not having a DH for a few innings is not the end of the world; you're probably just going to have to use a pinch hitter or two and an extra reliever or two.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

DTGG Season Preview: The Offense, or Hey, It's Not as Bad as You Think!

The A's have had some bad offenses in recent years.  They haven't scored 800 runs since 2002 when they scored 800 exactly.  Last season, a year in which run scoring was a fair amount lower than in 2002, five AL teams scored 800 times (and the Jays scored 798).  So we're used to seeing middling to horrible offenses out of the A's.  But we also know that having a not-very-good offense doesn't preclude success.  With those middling offenses (including the 2002 team that scored 800 runs), the A's made the playoffs thrice and came in second in the AL West twice.

Obviously you don't want to have a middling (or worse) offense.  But paired with a good pitching and defense an average-ish offense can give you a puncher's chance at the postseason.  Last year, the A's scored the 9th most runs in the AL (out of 14).  If they want to compete, they'll have to do better than that, but not necessarily by that much.  They scored 759 runs last season.  They scored 771 runs when they won the AL West in 2006 and 768 runs in their 2003 AL West winning season. 

Let's take a position-by-position look at how the 2010 A's stack up offensively against the 2009 squad with the help of CHONE projections.

DTGG 2010 Season Preview: Introduction

With Opening Day less than a week away, I'd like to welcome you to the Darn This Gold Glove Official Season Preview, or How I Started Worrying About This Season Once I Learned the A's Might Have a Chance in 2010. 

In March its easy to see your favorite team as a contender.  I have every year since Spring since 2000.  To be fair to me, though, the A's were contenders every year from 2000 - 2006.  2007 saw the A's bring back the core of its 2006 ALCS team (less Barry Zito and Esteban Loaiza) and in 2009 the A's acquired Matt Holliday and a bunch of veterans in what seemed like a good faith effort to compete.  My optimism in 2008 was probably unfounded.

Am I crazy to think the A's can compete this season?  Well, no one thinks of themselves as insane, so I hope this six-part season preview shows that my thinking that the A's have a shot at winning the AL West is grounded in reality.  Here is how the preview will unfold:

Part 1:  The Offense, or Hey, It's Not as Bad as You Think! (Coming Shortly)
Part 2:  Run Prevention, or Good Pitching plus Good Defense Equals Happy
Part 3:  The Mariners, or Cliff and Felix, Not Much Next
Part 4:  The Rangers, or Learning the Hard(en) Way
Part 5:  The Angels, or More Jeff Mathis, Please
Part 6:  Putting It All Together, or Yes Oakland, the AL West Title Is Your Only Chance at the Postseason (But It's Not a Bad Shot!)

I don't think anyone thinks that the A's are the favorites to win the AL West and I think its very possible the A's come in last again.  Hopefully, by Part 6 we can judge just how likely it is that the A's play into October this year.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wuertz Hurting, Gaudin signed

There's a good-news/bad news headline for you (more accurately a bad news/good news headline). In (supposedly) unrelated events, relief pitcher Michael Wuertz is having some problems with his shoulder and the A's signed relief pitcher Chad Gaudin. I do think that signing Gaudin was a good move independent of whether or not Wuertz starts the year on the DL, but to say that the questionable health of a key member of the bullpen didn't influence the A's into action just can't be true.

We'll know more in a day or two about Wuertz' health, so let's focus on Gaudin until we hear the results of Wuertz' condition. Gaudin began is big league career with the Rays as a 20 year old in 2003. He pitched effectively, especially for his age for the Rays for two seasons and then spent a mostly injured year with the Jays in 2005 before the A's acquired him for the 2006 season. He was with the A's from 2006-2008, spending 2007 as a full time starter, and was part of the deal that send Rich Harden to the Cubs. He spent last season with the Padres and Yankees and made 25 starts and 6 relief appearances for the two clubs.

His control is a little less than ideal, which is probably why he hasn't quite stuck in any team's rotation for more than a year. Despite his mediocre walk rates (career 4.27 per 9), he's performed solidly at all of his various stops and in all of his roles. Except for his 13 innings with the Jays, he's consistently put up FIP's in the mid 4.00s. (I'll frequently be referencing FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, which is both a better predictor of future ERA than past ERA and accounts pretty well for all the things a pitcher is control over. For a MUCH more detailed (and much better) explanation of FIP, click here).

Gaudin's versatility fits in well with the A's - and would really fit well on any staff. I can see him soaking up some starts should injuries to the usual suspects occur, the A's need to limit the youngsters' innings, or Braden's leg continue to get weird infections. He'd also be useful in relief, though by no means as good as Wuertz or Ziegler (or Bailey, of course).

The Gaudin pickup probably means that Jason Jennings will likely start the year with Sacramento unless Wuertz is ready to go on Opening Day. Replacing Jennings with Gaudin is an easy upgrade, he does everything the A's were hoping to get out of Jennings, but better. He's also younger and has a much better recent history of success and health, the latter of which seems to be in constant demand with our pitchers.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Six Year Outlooks: 1st Base

First base is a position where the A's are well stocked in terms of young talent.  All points indicate that some combination of Daric Barton and Chris Carter should get the A's through the next six years, but should Barton's bat never develop or Carter's strikeouts and size get the best of him we'll see what the A's fallback options are.  Should they both fulfill their potential (offensively) one could be the answer at first while the other DHs.

Here's my take on what the A's choices are at first base (the cold corner?) through 2015.

Daric Barton
Opening Day Age: 24
ML Service: 1+
Arb Status: Eligible after 2011
FA Status: Eligible after 2014

Barton's M.O. throughout his minor league career was to put up high OBPs, but hit with less authority than you'd like to see out of a first baseman.  Reviews were mixed as to whether or not that power would ever come.  It hasn't so far and Barton's got only 16 career homers in nearly 800 big league plate appearances.  His M.O. in the majors has been to only hit well in September.  There is reason for hope.  First is that he's only turning 25 this August.  Secondly is that despite his lack of power, he's not that far from being a useful bat (but still far from being a future star).  His major league OBP last year of .372 is will play, even at first base, as long as he hits for some semblance of power.  Fangraphs rates his glove at first to be above average and as a former catcher may still be improving.

The A's would be smart to refrain from locking Barton up through his arb-years.  If he doesn't improve offensively in the next two years he'd be a non-tender candidate when he becomes eligible for free agency.  Barton's still too much of a work in progress to guarantee any chunk of change for his services.  He does show enough hope that he's not a bad guy to have starting at 1B this year and he'll hopefully start showing some power soon...both for the A's and for his own sake because he might start getting pushed out by one or more of the guys a little farther down this list.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

3/25 A's Notes

Things are actually going on with the A's while I'm busy here getting philosophical (what is a fifth starter) and writing 1500 words about A's catchers.  Let's get to them in a blogger's favorite way...bullet points!

  • The A's acquired Edwar Ramirez from the Rangers for Gregorio Petit.  Some fans and analysts (and the A's to a certain extent) had hopes that he could be a major league utility infielder.  His career minor league batting numbers are uniformly bad (save for a half season in Midland.  He hit hit .244/.292/.336 in Triple A last year and will be 27 this season.  Despite his ability to play every infield position, he isn't worth a major league roster spot.  And with Adam Rosales (who may make the big league club) and Steve Tolleson on board, Petit was potentially looking at a bench role in Sacramento.
  • Ramirez is a former Yankee reliever (he was acquired by the Rangers for cash considerations earlier this Spring) and is mostly known for his killer change-up.  As much as I love his strikeout rates (he struck out 10.62 hitters per 9 innings between 2007 and 2009) he does everything else too poorly to be much of an asset in the pen.  He walks way too many batters (5.13 per nine between '07 and '09) with last season being especially horrific (7.36).  He's also a flyball pitcher who's worst season in the majors was his most recent.  He was brought in mainly to provide depth in the bullpen and, assuminga mostly healthy bullpen, will pitch in Sacramento.
  • Speaking of bullpen health, there's some good-ish news coming out of Arizona on that front.  Andrew Bailey has resumed throwing, Michael Wuertz will pitch in a big league today, and Craig Breslow will resume throwing off of the mound.  This puts them all on track to be ready for Opening Day.  Joey Devine is even throwing again, though he's expected to start the season on the DL.
  • On Sunday the A's sent nine guys to their minor league camp: pitchers Lenny DiNardo, Fernando Hernandez and Marcus McBeth, catcher Josh Donaldson, infielders Adrian Cardenas and Eric Sogard and outfielders Corey Brown and Matt Carson.  Gregorio Petit was also sent to the minor league camp before being shipped to Texas.  None of these cuts were a surprise, with only DiNardo and McBeth having any shot at all of making the team out of Arizona.  With the bullpen looking relatively healthy,their chances went down to zero.
  • Though this isn't strictly about the A's, the prospect of Larry Ellison buying the Warriors is pretty exciting.  I'm an admittedly fair weather Warriors fan.  I watched all of their 2007 playoff games, and probably 1 game since then.  I am aware that people have been pretty unhappy with current owner Chris Cohan, and their complaints seem pretty legitimate; someone has to be blame for the consistently sub-par teams the Warriors put together.  This story about Ellison also got me dreaming about his buying the A's.  Not that I've really had a problem with Lew Wolff, but it's fun to imagine what a super-rich, super-competitive, eccentric guy would do as an owner.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Six Year Outlooks: Catcher

Welcome to the first edition of the Six Year Outlook feature.  I discussed earlier what this feature is, but I want to briefly note the layout I plan to use.
  • Players are ranked by proximity to the major leagues.  For players already in the majors they'll be sorted by expected playing time this season.  AAA veterans who may see time with the big club will be ranked in order of likelihood to be called up.
  • I will try to list all players with a decent shot at making the majors, even if they only project to be a backup.
  • For each player projected to start this season in Oakland I'll note the amount of service time they have (as of the end of the 2009 season) and how many years they have before reaching free agency.  These figures will be based on their not returning to the minors.
  • For each player projected to start the season in the minors I'll include my best guess at their major league ETA
Kurt Suzuki
Opening Day Age 26
ML Service: 2+
Arb Status: Eligible after 2010
FA Status: Eligible after 2013

This article over at Fangraphs explains Suzuki's value better than I ever could.  The bottom line is that a good defensive catcher who is league average offensively is worth about 3 wins and is a rare commodity.  Suzuki will be arb-eligible starting next season and as a unique player, its hard to judge how much he'll earn.  Mike Napoli, who is superior offensively, but much worse defensively, earned about $2 million last year in his first year of arbitration eligibility (as a Super-Two).  Recent deals for full time catchers in their second and third years of arb-eligibility have been for about $3 and $5 million.  There's also been talk of extending him through his arbitration years which would lock in price certainty.  If it were signed before next season I'd expect a three year deal worth about $11 million or so. 

Even at 26, no one really expects improvement from him going forward.  He is plenty valuable, though, so even if he merely repeats his performance of the past two years he'll be an asset even at $4 million a year.  The only thing I'd question about Suzuki is how he'll respond to the heavy workloads he's had so far in his career.  On the one hand, that he hasn't had any injuries at all and has been able to handle catching over 145 games for two years in a row might be a sign that he's super-durable.  On the other hand catching that frequently may mean that he's a candidate for future injuries or an early breakdown.  That being said, Suzuki gives the A's a quality option as a starting catcher through 2013.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Six Year Outlooks: Introduction

I'd like to introduce a feature here on DTGG that I hope to update throughout the season (and off-season) as roster changes and player performance dictate.  The feature is (as you could probably guess from the title of this post) a six year outlook on the players the A's have at a certain position.  This post lays out what the series is about (and explains why I'm doing things in certain ways) and I hope to get right into the outlooks shortly.

These are the questions that seemed important to me to answer to make these outlooks as useful as possible.

Why six years?

Six years is about as long as we can expect anyone to be on the A's major league roster.  It includes all of a player's team-controlled seasons.  Six years is also sufficient time to go deep into the A's farm system.  Even the rawest of prospects should be at least vying for a major league job in six years (See Michael Inoa).  Doing a shorter-term outlooks would lead to more accurate projections, but would also ignore a number of interesting players (e.g. Max Stassi) and would not provide a full picture of organizational health.  Anything longer than six years is foolhardy, as it's probable that the A's roster in 2017 would include only a handful of players currently in the A's system.

Why by position?

Doing a position-by-position outlook shines a light on what types of players the A's need in order to maintain competitiveness in the future.  If, for example, the outfield outlook reveals that the A's don't have a good center field option five years down the road, we then know that they'll need to look for those types of players via trades or the draft or expect that this will be an area where the A's may need to pursue a free agent in the future.

I may also do a team outlook by year after I do a position-by-position outlook.  It's probably not as instructive to do one for each of the next six years, but I'd like to take a look at what the A's roster might look like in 2011 and 2012.

Multi-position players?

Players who project to play multiple positions at the major league level will appear several times in the positional outlooks.  This goes for prospects who might have to switch positions before reaching the majors as well.  I don't plan on doing a specific outlook for DHs, but as I move through the positions I'll note which players


As of now I only plan on doing an outlook for starting pitchers.  When necessary, I'll note pitchers that might be better suited for the bullpen, but given that the A's strong bullpens in the past have included converted starters (Bailey, Ziegler) guys we traded nothing to get (Devine, Wuertz), and a mish-mash of other players I'm inclined to throw my hands in the air and just say I can't predict who might be a good reliever down the road.


This is always a good question that I like to ask myself before writing something.  (This is especially important given that I need to explain writing nine somethings (ten including this post).)  I hope to really root out where the A's organizational strengths and weaknesses are.  And given that the core of the A's will always (for the foreseeable future, at least) consist of players developed inside the organization it's vitally important that the A's have viable major league options throughout the organization.

I don't mean for these to be projections.  Guessing that the A's infield in 2013 will be Chris Carter, Jemile Weeks, Grant Green, and Adrian Cardenas doesn't fully explore the options they'll have at the time.  What to do about Cliff Pennington and Daric Barton?  What about Adam Rosales?  Could Dusty Coleman be a viable option as a utility infielder?  This is the level of detail I want to get and I think doing these six-year projections will help answer these types of questions.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The A's "Rotation"

Marc Hulet at Fangraphs has a pair of posts dealing with fifth starters.  In the first, he makes the argument that there's no such thing as a fifth starter, finding that in 2009 only the Cubs and Rockies had "fifth starters" that made more than 24 starts.  He then suggests a new approach to filling out the back end of the rotation.  Hulet suggests that teams use:

1. A long reliever who would serve as the seventh arm in the ‘pen and be expected to make eight to 10 starts on the year. Ideally, this would be a proven veteran who could stick at the MLB level all season.
2. A pitching prospect that projects to be a fringe No. 3 or 4 with two or three minor league options remaining. He would be introduced to the Majors in this low-pressure role over the next two to three seasons before officially (hopefully) graduating to the role of a reliable third or fourth starter. In this role, the pitcher would need to make about 10 starts at the MLB level each season.
3. A minor league “veteran” pitcher (somewhere in the 25-30 year old range) who has been unable to stick in the Majors – and still has at least one minor league option left – and can be relied on to make at least five starts on the season.
I agree that people talk about fifth starters (or Number 1 or Number 2 or Number 3 or Number 4 starters) in a confused manner.  At first glance I'm not sure I agree with this solution to the fifth starter problem.  To me, it looks like you're wasting three roster spots on pitchers who are good bets to be around replacement-level.  That being said, the idea that there really is no such thing as a fifth starter got me thinking (some more) about the A's rotation. 
The A's have at least eight pitchers who are probably major league caliber starters (Sheets, Anderson, Duchscherer, Braden, Cahill, Outman, Gonzalez, and Mazzaro).  The A's also have a number of other pitchers who are probably around replacement level right now, some with the chance to be better in the future (Jason Jennings, Brett Tomko, Clayton Mortensen, Tyson Ross, James Simmons).  None of these pitchers are good bets to make 30 starts this year, either because of health issues, youth, or potential ineffectiveness (or a combination of the three).

What we really need to consider is this:  The A's need to find pitchers to start 162 (regular season) games this year.  How should those be split up?  Ideally the best pitcher would get the most starts, the second best pitcher will get the second most starts, the third best pitcher gets the third most starts and so on.  The best way, then, to think about a team's rotation is not the top five starting pitchers, but all the starters who may end up starting a game, ranked from best to worst.  The A's "rotation" would look something like this:

1.  Brett Anderson
2.  Ben Sheets
3.  Justin Duchscherer
4.  Dallas Braden
5.  Trevor Cahill
6.  Josh Outman
7.  Gio Gonzalez
8.  Vin Mazzaro
9.  Jason Jennings
10.  Brett Tomko
11.  Clayton Mortensen
12.  James Simmons
13.  Tyson Ross

(This is just a rough ranking of these players, I could see an argument for each pitcher ranked 2-3 spots higher or lower.)

Obviously, when judging the strength of a team's rotation you wouldn't want to put a lot of weight on the quality of the 13th man.  But guys six through eight or nine are somewhat important.  To get a really good read on the rotation you'd probably also want to guess how many starts each guy will make over the course of the year.  I've made those estimates for the A's this year below.(Warning, ridiculously wild guesses to follow.)

Anderson - 30
Sheets - 18
Duchscherer - 14
Braden - 24
Cahill - 24
Outman - 6
Gonzalez - 22
Mazzaro - 15

Jennings - 5
Others - 4

Obviously these numbers will be wrong.  Sheets and Duke could end up making 40 starts between them (or 10).  But I think this paints a better picture of the A's pitching staff than a traditional look at the 5-man rotation.  Despite all the words I wrote last week about who will break camp with the A's, it's important to remember that the Opening Day roster will undergo a lot of changes over the course of the season, and the starting rotation is where a lot of those changes will take place.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Training Preview (3rd and Final Part)

On to the pitchers and my final projected Opening Day roster and lineup.

Two things to note first.

1.  In my first post in this series I forgot to mention that Michael Wuertz is dealing with some injury issues.  He has yet to pitch in a major league spring training game, though he has pitched in minor league games.  It looks like he won't have to start the season on the DL.  Also, lefty reliever Craig Breslow is also dealing with some minor elbow issues and underwent an MRI a couple of days ago which revealed tendinitis.  He'll be shut down for a few days but he's likely to be ready for Opening Day as well.  These are a couple of situations to be monitoring this Spring.

2.  For all my discussion of who will or who should break camp with the big club, the importance of who wins what role is a little overstated.  Injuries will happen, forcing any number of roster moves and role changes.  If performance dictates, even projected starters like Rajai Davis or Daric Barton could lose playing time to prospects like Chris Carter and Michael Taylor.  This is especially true on the pitching side, where the A's are both very deep and quite injury prone and all of the young pitchers are optionable to AAA.

As I mentioned earlier, it is likely that the A's will carry 12 pitchers: 5 starters and 7 relievers.

Ben Sheets, Brett Anderson, and Dallas Braden are locks to make the rotation and Trevor Cahill is almost certainly going to make it as well.  There's been some talk of having Cahill start the year in AAA.  He was far from dominant last year and could work on both his command and his ability to strike guys out.  The greatest benefit, however, would be lowering his service time and delaying his arbitration clock.  I don't think I'd have Cahill start the year in AAA.  First, I think the A's can compete this year and he is likely one of their 5 best starters (especially with Duchscherer on the DL).  Second, if he struggles, he can be sent to AAA in the middle of the year (especially when Duke comes back or if Josh Outman makes it back this season as well).

So that leaves the fifth starter spot to resolve.  Unlike some years, the A's will need to use a fifth starter right away, not having enough early-season off days to start the year with the fifth starter in AAA.  The battle appears to be down to Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro after longshot Clayton Mortensen was sent to AAA.  I'm a sucker for guys who put up big strikeout totals, and as such I'm backing Gio in this race.  I know he's been terrible at times and is maddeningly inconsistent.  He had a number of memorable starts, both good and bad.  On August 4th against the Rangers he went 6.2 innings, giving up no runs, 3 walks and 7 Ks.  On September 25th against the Angels he went 6.1 innings, again giving up no runs, walking only 1 and again striking out 7.  He also had a few stinkers, notably his 2.2 inning 11 run, 4 homer, 3 walk, 1 K fiasco against the Twins on July 20th.  This pattern mirrored much of his AAA career, where he'd be brilliant for two or three starts and get bombed every so often.  I'd really like to see the A's give him about 10 starts in the majors to see if he can put it all together and iron out his control and consistency. 

Mazzaro is a groundball specialist and on the strength of his sinker, CHONE projects a 4.47 ERA this season for Mazzaro (and a 4.35 ERA for Gio).  While inducing grounders is a skill I certainly appreciate and understand the value of, I don't think he has the upside that Gonzelez offers.  Plus, he's a year younger than Gonzalez and has only started 14 games in AAA (Gonzalez has over 30 AAA starts).  I see value in a scenario where Mazzaro makes the club as a long man (which could very well be needed because of Gonzalez' inconsistency), but he'd probably be better suited for pitching every 5th day in Sacramento. 

With a rotation of Sheets, Anderson, Braden, Cahill, and Gonzalez, let's see who makes up the seven man bullpen, starting with the back end.  Andrew Bailey will be the closer (again assuming his tennis elbow is as minor of a problem as everyone is saying).  Wuertz will be the primary setup guy (again assuming he's healthy enough to stay off the DL).  Brad Ziegler is a lock for the big league 'pen and will also see action in high leverage situations.  Jerry Blevins and Craig Breslow (again, assuming good health) will be the main lefty set up guys.  This leaves two bullpen spots up for grabs, and assuming that Devine isn't ready to go, the arms filling out the back of the pen is far from ideal.  Brad Kilby, Henry Rodriguez, and Jason Jennings look to be the main contenders for the last two spots.  The A's could also turn to Marcus McBeth (former A's OFer) or  Lenny Dinardo who are in camp as non-roster invitees.  If Jennings, McBeth, or Dinardo make the Opening Day roster, the A's will have to add them to the 40-man roster.  They currently have room for one to do so and could make additional space by transferring Outman to the 60 day DL.

I'd be fine with having Jennings around as a long-reliever mop-up guy.  You don't really need to worry too much about keeping him healthy and there's no need for him to do anything other than soak up low-leverage innings. If he pitches too horribly or gets hurt he can easily be swapped out for, say, Brett Tomko who should be ready to pitch in May or June.  It's unclear, what if anything Kilby or Rodriguez could bring to the big league club (such is the life when dealing with 12 man pitching staffs).  Rodriguez does have talent; he reportedly touches 100 MPH on the radar gun.  As you might expect with a young flamethrower, he has some problems with the strike zone, walking more than 7 batters per 9 innings in AAA last year.  To say he needs more seasoning in the minors is an understatement.   Kilby is interesting in that he does have interesting numbers and was impressive in his brief big league call up last year.  He's struck out over a batter an inning at every level he's pitched (except for in Sacramento in 2008, where he struck out only 8.5 per 9).  He's also got decent control and is not especially prone to the long ball.  Kilby's problem is his handedness.  While Breslow is more than a LOOGY and can get both lefties and righties out, it's not certain what a third lefty's value is to this team.  That being said I'd rather have him pitching for the A's this season than Rodriguez.

To recap this three part series, I project the A's Opening Day roster and lineup as follows:

RHP Ben Sheets
LHP Brett Anderson
LHP Dallas Braden
RHP Trevor Cahill
LHP Gio Gonzalez

Bullpen (highest leverage to lowest)
RHP Andrew Bailey
RHP Michael Wuertz
RHP Brad Ziegler
LHP Craig Breslow
LHP Jerry Blevins
LHP Brad Kilby
RHP Jason Jennings

There's a lot of variability here based on injuries.  Duchscherer and Devine could be ready to go, and Bailey, Wuertz, and Breslow may end up on the DL. 

Position Players
C - Kurt Suzuki - R
1B - Daric Barton - L
2B - Mark Ellis - R
3B - Kevin Kouzmanoff - R
SS - Cliff Pennington - S
LF - Rajai Davis - R
CF - Coco Crisp - S
RF - Ryan Sweeney - L
DH - Jack Cust - L

C/1B - Landon Powell - S
C?/1B?/3B?/OF? - Jake Fox - R
2B/OF - Eric Patterson - L
1B?/3B - Eric Chavez - L

I could see Chavez getting the Opening Day start at 3B or DH for symbolic reasons, but this is what the A's will likely look like in the field on Opening Day.  I'll write about the batting order at a later date.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Training Preview (Part 2)

Earlier I did my best to predict which of the A's current injury risks will start the year on the DL.  This was in preparation for this: deciding who should make the Opening Day roster and what to watch for in Spring Training. 

I'm going to assume a breakdown of 13 position players and 12 pitchers.  As much as I'd like to see a 14/11 split, the A's don't have enough early season off-days to be able to skip their 5th starter much and the 13/12 split seems to be the way almost all teams are going these days.  I'll start off with position players, which appears for the most part to be settled.

Behind the plate it's going to be Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell.  Suzuki's the starter and Powell is the backup.  Simple as that.  Joel Galarraga is an interesting player, but he'll only break camp in Oakland in the case of injury or the A's doing something crazy like carrying three catchers (there's no good reason for that).  This fills 2 of the 13 available position player spots.

Daric Barton, Mark Ellis, Cliff Pennington, and Kevin Kouzmanoff are all locks to make the major league roster and are likely the Opening Day starters from 1st to 3rd.  Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp, and Ryan Sweeney will likely be the Opening Day outfield.  We have now filled 9 of the 13 available position player roster spots.

Eric Chavez will make the team unless the A's release him, and while that's an interesting thought, I just don't see that one happening.  Jack Cust is also a virtual lock to make the club, probably as the Opening Day DH.  We now have 11 of 13 position player spots filled.

The players to watch this Spring are Jake Fox, Eric Patterson, Adam Rosales, Gabe Gross, and Travis Buck as they are battling it out for the other two roster spots.  The main things to consider when deciding who should fill out the back of the A's bench are what qualities best complement the other players on the roster and the players' option statuses.  Fox, Patterson, and I believe Gross are out of options, meaning the A's would have to expose them to waivers before sending anyof them down to Sacramento.  We don't really need to be concerned about stunting the development of any of these players by not playing everyday as their are all 26 or older and none truly project to be everyday players.

Might any of these players get occasional starts?  Cust could probably use some days off against tough lefties.  He has much less power against lefties and last year hit a horrendous .221/.321/.300 against southpaws.  This gives an advantage to Jake Fox who could spell both Cust and Barton against some lefties.  I wouldn't say this guarantees Fox a roster spot, though, as he brings few other assets.

So then, what types of players do the A's need off their bench?  Handedness isn't much of an issue.  The 11 players who are likely to get regular PAs are pretty evenly split among lefties (4), righties (4), and switch hitters (3).  Position is an important factor.  Only three of the 11 players definitely on the roster can play the outfield, but all can play center (and both Davis and Crisp play it extremely well).  The A's need at least one of the remaining two spots to go to an outfielder, but it doesn't really need to be a center fielder.

The A's should probably also carry someone who could play either middle infield position as only Ellis and Pennington can.  Rosales and Patterson are the candidates here with Rosales being able to play short.

For good measure, here is what the CHONE projection system expects from these five offensively.  Buck, Gross, and Patterson bat lefty, while Fox and Rosales are righties.

Buck:  .262/.336/.418
Fox:  .257/.316/.462
Gross:  .238/.332/.387
Patterson .258/.322/.392
Rosales:  .245/.310/.395

The numbers on Rosales and Patterson look a bit low to me based on their minor league track records.  Patterson hit .307/.376/.494 in Sacramento last year and played OK in Oakland last year, managing to put up an OBP of .373.  Rosales split last season between raking in AAA (.349/.408/.596) and sucking in Cincinnati (.213/.303/.317).  In previous years he put up pretty decent minor league numbers, but has always been a bit old for his league.

There are no perfect solutions if the A's decide to head north with only 13 position players.  They could get creative and let Fox be the backup catcher or release Eric Chavez, but I highly doubt the A's will do either and I'm not convinced that either would be a good move anyways.  In the end, I think Fox and Patterson should make the team.  Perhaps I'm overly concerned that the A's would lose either one trying to sneak them through waivers, but they each have shown a lot of promise in the minors and do have roles to play with the big league club.  Patterson can backup both 2B and OF (and probably serve as the emergency SS), while Fox can get some ABs against lefties at DH and 1B and maybe play some OF as well.  I guess he could also play some 3B in a pinch, but with Kouz and Chavez on board there's no reason to subject us to that sort of abuse.

I'd like to see Rosales make the club, and given how much the A's paid to acquire him, I'm sure they would too.  That being said, if Pennington gets hurt the A's could use Patterson at short for a game while they recall Rosales from Sacramento.

A breakdown of the pitching staff will come next.

Spring Training Preview (Part 1)

I love the idea of Spring Training. I went to Arizona twice as a kid and loved it.  Every Spring I the clips of sunny fields and guys with numbers nearing triple digits make me wish I were there.  Spring Training is great for fans, both to attend and as something to whet our appetites for the real baseball that is now only a few weeks away.  As great as it is for fans, its a trap for anyone attempting to do analysis.  I remember getting very excited about Patrick Lennon's Spring Training performance one year (1997, I think).  As I recall he was an ex-con that swung a sledgehammer around in the on-deck circle - and he led the Cactus League in home runs for a while (it's very possible that any or all of these things are false).  I was sure that the A's had found a new superstar, but he obviously didn't turn out to be that.

Spring Training is obviously primarily for the players; even if it is a vestige of days when players had real jobs in the offseason, they do need to work themselves into game shape and get mentally and physically prepared to see live game action.  Despite the potential to be sucked in by gaudy, or nauseatingly bad, numbers, there is still some decision making based on Spring performances and a lot of it is justifiable.  Most of these decisions are at the edges of the big league roster (at least for a good team).  Who is the 5th starter? Who's the second lefty out of the pen?  Who's the fifth outfielder and backup catcher? 

With that being said, here are the two main things I'm looking for out of the A's this Spring: health and roster battles.

Lets start with with the first, as it impacts the second.  The A's, as always, have a number of health issues.  First, they have a solid chunk of players who are healthy now, but we can all but expect to get hurt sometime this season.  Here I'm talking about Mark Ellis and Eric Chavez.  For now I'll pencil them into the opening day roster as there's no reason not to do so.

There are also a number of players coming off of major injuries who may or may not have to start the year on the DL.  These players are: Coco Crisp, Justin Duchscherer, Joey Devine, and Ben Sheets.  I'm assuming, for now at least, that Andrew Bailey's arm problems are as minor as the reports indicate them to be.

Crisp did not play after June 12 last season and is coming off of surgery to both shoulders.  He's also now dealing with hamstring issues that will sideline him for a few days.  I'll pencil them into the opening day roster, though I'll be monitoring Crisp's health.

Sheets missed all of 2009 with a torn flexor tendon (elbow).  All indications are that he's ready to start the season, despite his terrible outings so far.  There's every indication that he won't be on the DL to start the year and a decent chance he'll be the A's Opening Day starter.

Duchscherer also missed all of last season struggling with elbow issues (and depression).  He hasn't yet pitched this Spring, and although he has indicated that he'll be ready for Opening Day, the odds are that he'll start the year on the DL.

Devine is yet another pitcher the who missed all of 2009.  He's coming off of Tommy John surgery and earlier this month battled tendinitis.  He was supposed to play catch yesterday, but that session got pushed back.  I expect that he'll also start the year on the DL, but it's possible he'll be ready for Opening Day.

Part 2 of the Spring Training Preview will deal with the position battles and I'll make a guess at the A's Opening Day roster and lineup.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ron Washington and Cocaine: Can He Survive the Scandal?

The surprisng and unfortunate news for the day is that Ron Washington tested positive for cocaine use during the 2009 season.  I was a big fan of Wash during his stint as the A's thrid base coach and was mildly disappointed that the A's didn't seriously consider him for their managerial opening.  Personally, I'm pretty indifferent to the personal lives of sports figures, but hard drug use in the middle of the season seems like a behavior that could negatively impact his performance as a manager.  And, as Rob Neyer noted, it's hard to believe that this was a one time incident.

It appears that Wash will keep his job as manager of the Rangers.  Should Washington's cocaine use affect his job security?  Will this incident be too much of a distraction and hurt his ability to manage?  To answer these questions I've run the incidnet through Nate Silver's Electric Minor Political Scandal Acid Test (EMPSCAT).  While the system was designed to evaluate a politician's ability to survive a scandal, I think there are enough similarities between a Major League manager and a political figure that this battery of questions can shed some light on the situation.  Unlike a player, a large part of a manager's duty is dealing with the media.  Also, unlike a player, his usefulness can't be easily measured; Barry Bonds had plenty of potentially damaging scandals throughout the final years of his career, but his obvious skill and value to the Giants on the field made the scandals less damaging.  Lastly public opinion can be a factor in whether or not a manager keeps his job.

EMPSCAT is a series of five questions, and the greater number of questions that can be answered in the affirmative, the greater potential harm the scandal has.  As I said, this was created for politicians, and I will try to adjust the question or answer in a way that is more appropriate for a sports figure.

1.  Can the scandal be reduced to a one-sentence soundbyte (but not easily refuted/denied with a one-sentence soundbyte)?  Yes, definitely.  Ron Washington tested positive for cocaine in the middle of the 2009 baseball season.  That's about as straightforward as it gets.  Washington's defense is that he strayed from the law this one time, which is both hard to believe and an admission of guilt anyways.  The clarity of the issue is a big strike against Washington.

2. Does the scandal cut against a core element of the candidate's brand?  Most baseball managers don't really have individual "brands," but we all do have an idea of what a manager should be.  We expect them to be strong leaders, smart tacticians, and have the ability to handle whatever personalities his team has.  Drug use cuts against the first two of these to some extent.  We don't expect leaders to use illicit drugs and we think that drug use is a lapse in judgment.  That being said, we also don't expect any sports figure to be a perfect citizen and Washington didn't have any special reputation as an upright citizen.  His cocaine use is not what we expect of managers, but this is mitigated strongly by the fact that we have such low expectations of sports figures.

3. Does the scandal reify/reinforce/"prove" a core negative perception about the [sports figure], particularly one that had henceforth been difficult to articulate (but not one that has become so entrenched that little further damage can be done)?  No.  I am unaware of any rumors or speculation about anything negative regarding Washington's personal life at all.  That this is so unexpected works in his favor.

4. Can the scandal readily be employed by the opposition, without their looking hypocritical/petty/politically incorrect, risking retribution, or giving life to a damaging narrative?  This question doesn't neatly translate from policiticans to sports figures.  I guess a corallary would be if some sportswriter had an ax to grind with Washington or someone influential in the sports community was crusading against immoral behavior in sports.  But the lack of either of these things will help him survive the scandal.

5. Is the media bored, and/or does the story have enough tabloid/shock value to crowd out all other stories?  There are plenty of sports news stories that will quickly push this scandal out of people's minds, not least of which is the beginning of March Madness.  Perhaps if additional details come out in the future this thing may drag on a bit, but I'd bet that in a week no one will really be talking about this.

Judging from the answers to these questions it seems likely that this revelation will have little effect on Washington's tenure with the Rangers.  Comments from Jon Daniels, Michael Young, and other Rangers players seem to confirm this.  What will matter more is the Rangers on field perfomance this season.  This is not to say that this will in no way effect Washington's job security.  If Texas starts very slowly I could see this incident giving him a shorter leash.  Or if they finish with a middling record, instead of reaching the playoffs I could see this impacting whether or not the Rangers bring him back for 2011.  From what anyone who's played with or under him has ever said about him I gather that Ron Washington is a good guy.  I wish him (personally) all the best going forward.

The A's and the Success Cycle

I want to discuss the A's and the so-called "success cycle" before doing any other sort of analysis because the concept is an important in determining the merit of any roster move. The basic idea is that a team that is capable of contending in the short term should be more willing to sacrifice long term assets whereas a team that has no hope of competing in the next year or two should avoid wasting resources on players that are only likely to be useful on a short term basis.

An organization that accurately determines how realistic it is that it can contend for the playoffs will maximize playoff appearances and minimize mediocre seasons. The impact of this has particular relevance to low-revenue teams; the Yankees can seemingly spend their way out of any mistakes they made, whereas a miscalculation by the A's could be disastrous. The Pirates, who haven't been remotely close to the playoffs since 1992, represent the worst case scenario of what happens when you don't understand the concept. For years they signed guys like Pat Meares and Derek Bell, hoping they could maybe reach .500, but that's not even a goal they give out trophies for. As my high school basketball coach used to say, "Aim high, get high. Aim low, get low."

The logical next question, this being an A's blog and all, is "where do the A's fall on said success cycle?" I don't think that's the right place to start, though. As I mentioned above it's plausible, or even likely, that the success cycle doesn't really apply to teams that can spend seemingly infinite amounts of cash. The Yankees and Red Sox can -- and to a certain extent do -- sign any top tier free agent they want, draft picks that fall for signability reasons, and the top international amateur prospects.

What about the other end of the spectrum? Do the rules of the success cycle apply to an extremely low-revenue team, like the A's? Here's how it would work theoretically. A team with a strong enough scouting and player development system could be primarily made of players with less than six years of service time, filled in with minor league free agents and other veterans on one or two year deals. Oh, wait, that's not hypothetical. This is what the A's roster actually looks like. Their only commitments past this season are Michael Wuertz for $2.8 million, team options (with buyouts) for Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis, and Coco Crisp, and arbitration figures for nine or ten other guys. (Also Wuertz' deal bought out his last arbitration year.) (BIG thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts.)

This strategy seems to be sustainable as well (and seems to be what the Rays, Marlins and Twins are doing). You lock up your youngsters for as long as you can and when you can no longer afford them trade them for new prospects or let them walk after six years and hope they were good enough to become a Type A free agent and get draft picks when they sign elsewhere. As long as useful veterans like Ben Sheets, Orlando Hudson, and Bobby Abreu are signing cheap-ish, one year deals and the minor league system keeps producing major league talent, then I can see this strategy resulting in competitive teams.

Is this ideal? No way, far from it. First off, World Series teams need superstars and it's hard to draft and develop more than one or two every few years. Second, if executing this strategy yields marginal success (e.g. winning 90 games but missing the playoffs), you're stuck with a low first round pick and your chances of drafting a superstar diminishes further (this is mitigated by the fact that having a good team should result in higher revenues). Lastly, the margin of error is still quite slim. Re-sign the wrong player (see Eric Chavez) or lock up a replacement level player through his arb years (see Terrence Long) and you get in a financial jam pretty quickly.

I think understanding that this is how the A's have been operating, and will continue to operate, is important to being an A's fan.  We've long been resigned to the fact that we won't be able to keep the stars we develop and to expect rapid roster turnover.  But we need to also keep in mind that this is a viable strategy to be competitve.

(Sorta) Mission Statement

I recently read that the definition of a nerd is someone who talks about a topic way beyond the point anyone listening cares anymore.  By this measure I'm definitely a baseball nerd.  A related hallmark of a nerd is the compulsion to delve into the minutiae of a subject and get lost in tiny details that seem unimportant to people outside of the nerd-dom.  On this account, I'm also an A's nerd.

Note the title of this blog, "Darn This Gold Glove."  This is a reference to a commercial the A's were running in the early 2000s.  It starred Eric Chavez fielding grounders.  Except he was fielding terribly; each ball was clanking off of his hands.  After a few grounders, the camera reveals that he is fielding with the Gold Glove award that he had won the previous season.  He looks down at his hands and says, "Darn this Gold Glove."  If I remember correctly, the spot also features Tim Hudson inexplicably taking grounders beside Chavez at shortstop. 

Another commercial from the era that I find amusing is a radio ad featuring Ben Grieve and Eric Chavez.  This must have been from the late 90s.  Grieve wants to give a note to a cute girl who he spotted in the stands to ask her out.  He shows it to Chavez asking him for advice.  Chavez doesn't comment on the wisdom of giving a girl in the stands a note (presumably in the middle of a game).  Instead, he comments on the note itself, telling Grieve "you made the 'No' box bigger than the 'Yes' box.  Don't you want her to say Yes?"

The point of this (other than the fact that I think these commercials are surprisingly funny, even if my textual recreation of them are less so) is that only someone with serious A's-nerd proclivities would remember these.  I mean, these ads aren't even on Youtube!  Actually, the real point is not to prove to any readers that my knowledge of A's minutiae is better than anyone else's, but to hopefully entertain others who may be interested in these stories and get people to correct me where I've misremembered or can add new details.

To me, though, knowing a bunch of quirky things about the A's isn't really enough of a reason to maintain a blog.  The reason why I feel like I need a space where I can write about the A's is because I'm a fan.  That I know all this meaningless stuff about the A's is a result of my fandom.  I want them to win.  God, I want them to win.  And like any good fan I not only want to follow the team's move closely, but want to judge each transaction, each lineup machination, each bullpen move, each stolen base attempt, to see if it's actually helping the team. 

So here's what I envision this blog being -- a place for me to point out what I find interesting about the A's and a place to go on record with my analysis of managerial and roster moves.  I hope that in doing these things I become a better fan (and a better A's nerd).