A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Saturday, October 11, 2003

B-R Sponsorships
Unless someone else grabbed him earlier today, Barry Zito is ours at insane, winner's curse prices.

(I really like the new pricing system. It makes me glad after all to have absent-mindedly let a whole bunch of pages expire. Maybe fanatics of those players will step in and overpay, producing the best of both worlds where Sean Forman gets money but I don't lose it.)

Two other players are potentially mine for cheaper, though I'd be surprised if I got them both.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Waiver Wire Work

No, I'm not talking about my fantasy football team. Yesterday, the A's claimed Matt Watson and Marco Scutaro off waivers from the Mets. I love moves like this, not because these guys are future All-Stars (they might be, I just don't know), but instead because I haven't heard of them and it gives me something interesting to explore on a Friday morning. So, here's the scoop.

Matt Watson | OF
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 5-11/190
Bats/Throws: L/R

Watson was drafted by the Expos in 1999 out of Xavier, and sent to the Mets in 2002 in the Bruce Chen/Scott Strickland trade. The corner outfielder got of to a strong start as a pro when he set the single-season hits record (108) for the New York-Penn League, en route to a .380/.439/.518 season. Injuries sidelined him during the 2000 season, but Watson got back on track in 2001, pacing a Florida State League team that included Jason Bay, Brad Wilkerson, and Brandon Phillips with his .330/.414/.455 line.

Watson sputtered a bit at Double-A Binghamton in 2002 before rebounding with a solid 2003 campaign at Triple-A Norfolk. Here are his full-season minor league numbers (I've left out short stints at other levels in 2002 and 2003):

Year  Team        LG   G   AB   H  2B  3B  HR  BB  SO  AVG  OBP  SLG

1999 Vermont A 70 284 108 12 3 7 30 27 .380 .439 .518
2000 Jupiter A 40 137 24 5 2 0 18 23 .175 .276 .241
2001 Jupiter A 124 446 147 33 4 5 63 45 .330 .417 .455
2002 Binghamton AA 127 437 122 26 2 10 39 52 .279 .339 .416
2003 Norfolk AAA 74 254 75 18 1 11 23 23 .295 .366 .504
I can't seem to find any mention of his defense or arm, but the Expos liked him enough to name him the organization's player of the year in 2001. It's not tough to see what Beane likes in him, either: 173/170 BB/K in 1558 AB. His walk rate isn't off the charts (~10%), but his strikeout rate is so low that he clearly has a disciplined plate approach. Frankly, his development is not unlike Jason Giambi's through the same age-seasons, who was a doubles hitter until he arrived in Oakland.

The outfield will be a hot topic in the offseason; here's how Watson stacks up with his competition:
2003 EqA/MjEqA

McMillon .282
Byrnes .275
Watson .264
Guillen .263 (OAK only)
Grabowski .247
Long .236
Singleton .231
Dye .182
* * *

Marco Scutaro | 2B
Age: 27
Height/Weight: 5-10/170
Bats/Throws: R/R

Scutaro is a middle infielder fresh off of a .279 MjEqA season at Triple-A Norfolk. He seems to be a non-prospect compared to Watson, having spent time in the Cleveland and Milwaukee organizations before being claimed off waivers by the Mets in 2002. Scutaro's been the high minors since 1997, but has put up consistently good numbers for his position, shown by his .289/.371/.418 career Triple-A line. You can check out his full minor league record here.

With good plate discipline and some pop, along with what appears to be good defensive skills, he strikes me as a better option than the aging Frank Menechino. Once again, for the purpose of comparison:
2003 EqA/MjEqA

Scutaro .279
Crosby .273
Menechino .245
Ellis .243
German .242
Anyone know anything else about these guys?

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Peterson to Mets?

This would be very bad news, if true. Does Peterson have any disciples in the organization?

Peterson is under contract for two more years, I believe. So maybe we make the Mets take Terrence Long off our hands, if they want Peterson. That would be fair, I think.

Ten Things I Hate About the Tom Verducci Column
This column has already been discussed at length here. Yesterday, though, it was hailed as "amazing and scathing" by no less than CNNSI's "Fantasy Central" Producer (in his personal weblog, though, so this is either a cheap shot or a gratuitous name-drop or both). Meanwhile, I've been gathering my thoughts on this for a long time now; please pardon the length, correct any dubious reasoning, and so on.

In no particular order:
1. Gratuitous use of "Billy Beane." In fairness, this is much more of a problem with reactions to the column than with the column itself. I found no incendiary references by Verducci after all; rather, it's Quintong who invokes "Beane and his disciples," and countless Primer trolls who try to shift this to their favorite whipping boy (the man whom they perceive to be a stathead icon).

Certain names can just no longer be used in rational discussion, at least of anything other than the legacies of those people themselves, and certainly not of merits of ideas espoused by those people. Rush Limbaugh is poster-child for these "unnameable" people: So many people either blindly follow him or reflexively despise him that even on Primer, discussion degenerates too quickly. (Incidentally, in that last link, I believe the poster known as "Realist" stands out for rudeness, venom, and ad hominem attack. Many other people, including Szymborski, tried to discuss things calmly with him/her, to no avail.)

Other good examples in news/politics include Martha Stewart, Hillary Clinton, and every U.S. president in my living memory. In baseball, Beane has achieved that status (as has one other person whom I'll mention later), perhaps through no fault of his own. (He may have brought it on himself but I don't think that point is relevant to this discussion.)

It's certainly fair game to criticize what Beane has actually done as GM as part of your critique of the A's organization, but I don't find Verducci to have done this, except implicitly, in the this is the team he has built sense. Even there, he gets a lot of things baldly wrong.

2. Conflating "criticism of a team" with "criticism of an approach." Again, this is a fault of the people who praise Verducci rather than Verducci himself, but enough people are doing it that it needs to be called out.

In 2003, at least, two stathead-oriented teams faced each other. Oddly enough, one of them won and one of them lost. Even in 2000 and 2001 the A's had to face a team that relied far more on Things Statheads Like (read: walks/OBP/conversation of outs) than it was ever credited for. (In "our" circles circa 1998, I remember reading articles extolling not Billy Beane but Brian Cashman, since Cashman had figured things out that other teams seemed not to have figured out.) That leaves 2002 unaccounted-for, but A's-Twins was arguably the least fluky-frustrating series of the four. I'll wave my hands and blame some combination of Tim Hudson and the Metrodome, moreso Huddy.

In any case, there's this misconception that the A's, or Beane specifically, are singlehandedly bearing the standard for some dogma. Baseball America, of all places, has gone beyond this.

3. The "Big Game" Fallacy. John Madden used to complain about this when he coached the Raiders: People said his team couldn't win the big game, but they never actually annointed any particular game as "the big game" until after Oakland had lost. Madden (in a great quote that Google has failed to retrieve for me) asked his critics to tell him in advance which games the big ones were, so that he'd know to win them.

In the A's case, apparently people have decided that the "big game" is the one that would win them a Division Series. (But if Oakland actually did happen to win a Division Series, and then did badly in the ALCS, then--that year at least--the "big game(s)" would be the ALCS loss(es) rather than any Division Series loss(es).)

On the message boards a lot of wannabe mathematicians have pointed out that, if Oakland had a 50% chance of winning each "elimination" game, then there would be a 1-in-512 chance that they lost all nine. To them this seems too improbable. The problem with it is that, well yes, Oakland in particular would have a 1-in-512 chance of losing those particular games. That said, if you consider 34 years worth of expanded playoffs and anywhere from 26-30 teams in baseball, the odds much higher that some team somewhere would have nine opportunistic games and lose them all.

People notice the A's streak more because it fits an easy-to-describe pattern, just as they'd notice (and be suspicious) if the winning lottery numbers were ever 1-2-3-4-5-6 instead of something more random-looking like 17-8-29-2-11-14.

That's not to say there isn't a reason why the A's losses have fit that pattern: Any time a pattern like that comes out, it's reasonable to try to find an underlying cause. Unfortunately, neither Verducci nor anyone else has even attempted to explain how and why Oakland's teams manage to get their first two wins in a division series and then not the third.

My theory: As soon as people notice a pattern like this, it starts to become self-fulfilling. If you want to discuss specifically why a team can't win the last game of a series (as opposed to the games preceding it), this is intuitively at least as good an explanation as anything I've seen anyone else come up with.

4. "This team doesn't catch the ball well enough..." Tom Verducci, meet Bill James. Meet Fielding Win Shares By Position. Notice all the A's at or near the top? But don't just trust the numbers: Trust the people (read: us), who have actually seen this team play in months other than October. Night after night, Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis (more on him later) and even Miguel Tejada have made dazzling plays, sometimes literally game-saving plays. (Go back to the top of the 12th inning of Game 1. Oh wait: Verducci actually does this himself, and somehow concludes that it's Manny Ramirez's fault.)

I suppose some memes are impossible to shake, no matter how wrong they are. Verducci things to himself, "A's suck at defense," without bothering to actually check the assumption. He flips on the TV, sees the Game 3 error total, and thinks a triumphant "Ha!" to himself. And, more likely than not, continues to assume that the best defenders in baseball are guys like Derek Jeter (more on him later).

5. "...doesn't succeed at situational hitting..." Impossible to refute without pinning someone down on a definition of situational hitting. Is it that they don't hit "when it counts"? Everyone's talking about the 3-for-45 by Chavez and Tejada, but nobody talks about just how ugly Boston's middle-of-the-order stats had been, or their 2-for-whatever with runners in scoring position, because the series lasted just long enough for the Red Sox to right the ship.

Maybe Verducci just wants the A's to move runners over more? Or bunt?

6. "...and, as one Oakland source put it, 'We're the worst baserunning team in the league.'" This one is actually true, so why is it something I "hate" about the column? Easy: Verducci 'buries the lede.'

This is the second time in three years that Oakland has blown a series (at least a Game 3, with a 2-0 lead) specifically on bad baserunning. That is a trend, at least if you're looking for trends, and it might (or might not) be an indictment of the A's coaching staff. Do some legwork, guys: Compared to other teams, what does Oakland do (or not do) in spring training and pre-game drills? Is there a systemic problem or was it just spectularly ill-timed boneheadedness by Jeremy, Miggy, and Byrnes?

And no, you emphatically don't get away with blaming statheads for screwed-up baserunning. After all, given just how precious we all know 27 outs to be, why on Earth would you think we condone cavalierly throwing them away? (Neyer gets this.)

7. "There is also the matter of their leadership vacuum." Does anyone here know how Verducci voted in the 2002 AL MVP race? If he voted for Tejada, is he on record stating why?

8. "The fatal decision." If the Red Sox really were about to walk Dye intentionally (I don't know, I was in an airplane when it happened), then pinch-hitting Melhuse was indefensibly stupid. This sort of oversight ought to lead to a managerial firing rather than a "the whole organization sucks" column.

Come to think of it, the baserunning itself is arguably on the manager, to the extent that it's his job to have 25 games ready to play, with their head in the game. On the other hand, to be fair, blaming the manager for playoff failures is intuitively dissatisfying since we've now had two managers go through this.

All the same, specific players (and specific managers) did either make boneheaded mistakes or fail to come through or both. In the very end, the A's lost Game 5 because Terrence Long struck out with the bat on his shoulder rather than getting a walk or a hit. Players fail sometimes; they're human. Every pitcher-hitter confrontation produces a result adverse to one player or the other.

9 and 10 (because it's so galling that it counts double). "Maybe Derek Jeter isn't your prototypical Moneyball player..." There are so many things wrong with this paragraph that I'm not even sure where to begin.

First, as a Primer pointed out, Jeter is in many ways a prototypical Moneyball hitter, if you set aside the fact that he singlehandedly costs his team $17 million a year.

Second, the paragraph implicitly gives all or most of the credit for the Yankees' post-season success to Jeter, which if anything is orders of magnitude worse than giving Beane most of the credit/blame for whether the A's, or "stathead" teams generally, succeed or fail.

Let's just say Jeter has a pretty good supporting cast, shall we? Actually, both the A's and Yankees have had remarkable positional stability in recent years, making a position-by-position comparison easier. Lessee:
Jorge Posada or Ramon Hernandez? That choice seems pretty clear.

From 2000-2003, each team has had two years of Jason Giambi, not that New York did much with Giambi in the 2002 playoffs anyway. I'd give Hatteberg the nod over Tino, though neither one pushes his team to a championship, Tino's rings aside.

The fascinating comparison is Mark Ellis to Alfonso Soriano. Ellis should be the player you want, either if you have a defense fetish or if you think that statistics lies. Soriano has gaudy numbers in overrated categories and is an atrocious second baseman. And yet, he adds significantly more to a team than Ellis does. More importantly for this particular discussion, I think a vast majority of baseball fans would assume that he does.

Skip shortstop, rather than begging the question.

Eric Chavez or Robin Ventura? Chavy certainly has far more upside but, ironically for the A's and statheadness, check out their OBPs.

As for outfield, both teams have seen more flux: Wow, I didn't fully comprehend just how much of a revolving door of mediocrity the Yankees had in LF, pre-Matsui. And yet, since 2000, how many outfielders have the A's had as good as Paul O'Neill, let alone Bernie Williams? (Okay, slot Justice and Dye between O'Neill and Williams.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

He Must Go
Is our favorite outfielder trying to become the most hated man in Oakland?

I have to say you were all right all along with your vitriol:

To strike out with the bat on your shoulder (as someone out there put it: "Backdoor slider--Gibson was looking for one, Long wasn't") and end your team's season is one thing, but this is the last straw.

Good riddance. On the other hand, good luck to Beane trying to get anything for this guy.

I wish sometimes that certain players were forced not only to work as their own agents but also to work as their own GMs, just to see how nonexistent their market value really is.

I also know that I'll cheer Miguel Tejada next time he's in Oakland, regardless of what uniform he wears. This guy, on the other hand... feh.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Notes from last night

I was talking with a friend before the game yesterday, and he noted that the A's 0-9 curse is a first round curse, while the Red Sox' curse doesn't necessarily apply to the first round. That's why our curse took precedence over their curse. The Red Sox pain is yet to come.

The Red Sox and Cubs are long-suffering, but the A's are densely-suffering. I'm not sure which is worse.

Oddly, I'm not nearly as upset now as I was after Game 3. I'm not going to stop being a baseball fan, although the thought did cross my mind, too: is this pain worth it? But then I think: our rotation next year will be Hudson, Mulder, Zito, the new-and-improved Lilly, and Harden, and I can't wait for spring training to begin. I may not ever watch any more playoffs, though.

Barry Zito needs a fourth pitch he can rely on. Zito lost the feel for his curveball in the sixth inning, and he was suddenly a two-pitch pitcher. When the count went 2-2 on Manny Ramirez, Ramirez fouled a fastball straight back, meaning he had timed Zito's fastball. So without his curveball, and not wanting to risk walking the bases loaded, Zito's choices here were to throw a changeup, and risk hanging it so Manny could hit it hard, or another fastball, which Manny had the timing down on. Either way, his choices weren't good. If he had a sinker or a cutter or a splitter--something besides the curve that has some movement--he could get through those innings where the curve temporarily abandons him. He could be Zito Forever instead of Zito Twice Through The Order. Zito threw another fastball to Ramirez, and there went the season.

As much as Dye has struggled against Lowe, I think pinch-hitting for him was a mistake. I wanted to see him get a chance to drive in at least one run. You don't need a hit there; just contact. I think Dye, a powerful guy, would have been more likely to hit a sac fly deep enough, or a ball hard enough to get through the drawn-in infield. Dye looked visibly angry and disgusted as he was called back to the dugout. I don't blame him.

I'd like to see Tejada and Foulke come back, but that's probably not realistic. Perhaps getting Jose Guillen back is a little more realistic. I liked watching him play. Even with a broken hand, he was the best A's hitter in the playoffs, and from what I've seen this year, his hitting seems very Tejada-like: not a whole lot of patience, but some (like, for instance, that 9th inning walk last night which was a very good at-bat), and with good pop, so if they lose Tejada but keep Guillen, then what you basically need is for Bobby Crosby's offense to replace Terrence Long's offense to get similar production from 2004's lineup as compared to 2003's lineup.

For some reason I was channeling Ray Fosse when I wrote that last sentence. I apologize. I'll bet you didn't even realize I was actually trying to ask a question.

What a Casual Fan Might Not Understand
Losing nine straight "elimination games"* is tough to take. That's a pretty rare streak, if anything remotely like that has happened to any other team in a four-year span.

Having the series hinge, two years out of three, on baserunning mistakes, is all the worse. I thought about composing an ode, in the tune/style of Alanis Morissette's "Unsent" ("Dear Miggy, I realize you thought the play was dead, but would it hurt you to have run anyway?"), but was too lazy to follow through with this, even on an airplane.

*- Monday morning's Providence Journal badly butchered the consistent usage of this term. They used it not only for the A's games (meaning games in which the team in question is attempting to finish the series) but also, in a different sidebar, for recent past Red Sox games (there misused to describe games where the Red Sox had to win to stay alive).

Post Mortem
Who's still around? I suppose Joon won't see this for awhile, and Mike may or may not actually give up his fandom. Anyone else?

Some series thoughts as seen from, completely coincidentally, a trip to New England:

Tuesday, September 30: My biggest selfish schedule regret was that the A's had the one series not to begin on Tuesday; otherwise I could have gone to Game 1.

Wednesday, October 1: (Or Thursday, on the East Coast.) Had a very late arrival to PVD. Around 1 a.m. my travel companion stepped out of the room for a bit and suggested I watch baseball for awhile. It was 4-3 in the 8th. Had the game not been close (or even had Oakland held a slim lead), I could have left it at that. Instead we watched five hours of baseball and I drifted off to giddy non-sleep with "I can't believe he bunted!" floating through my brain.

Thursday, October 2: Caught Jerry and Joe (Boston radio announcers Jerry Trupiano and Joe Castiglione) on some AM station in the New Hampshire mountains, late in the afternoon. It was 5-0 at this point and they were lamenting that, to win a series like this, the Red Sox would need to make big plays ("which they haven't") and get big hits ("which they haven't).

Friday, October 3: Got mild razzing from Red Sox fans at the rehearsal dinner, though also a very nice Reggie Jackson bobblehead from the bride and groom. Bostonians expected their team to lose but still held out hope... The bride and groom mentioned that, had they somehow scored Green Monster seats (in some sort of lottery), they'd have blown off their own wedding, or at least the reception.

You have to figure that wearing full bridal regalia would get you on TV once or twice. ("And now there's a wedding bouquet, caught by Manny..." "...but he DROPS IT!")

Saturday, October 4: Saw Game 3, innings 7 thru 11, in an impromptu hotel room gathering with other wedding guests, most of whom cheer at the top of their lungs on the Trot Nixon HR.

Local controversy centered on whether to use Pedro for Game 4, with the choice of John Burkett reminding at least one old classmate of 1998 and Pete Schourek.

Sunday, October 5: Heard the 6th inning on the radio while driving around Cambridge, showing off my old haunts to my traveling companion. We were at the Border Cafe as the bottom of the 8th transpired. Waitstaff cheered and hollered and passed word down the line: "Two-run double"/"Ortiz""5 to 4".

Monday, October 6: Started watching a scoreless game while on layover at the Phoenix Airport. Manny's HR happened seconds before we had to go line up.

Monday, October 06, 2003

4 months until pitchers and catchers report

I'll see you all then, or maybe I'll pop by if/when the A's make a big off-season roster move. It's been another heart-breaking ending, but it was a great season, and a great series. Hats off to the Sox and good luck to them in the rest of the postseason.

Forever Zito

On July 22, 2000, with the suddenly surging A's threatening to creep out of third place in the AL West, Barry Zito made his major league debut against the slugging Anaheim Angels. Though he walked six, Zito shut down the Glaus/Erstad/Salmon-led Angels by allowing only two hits and fanning six over five innings.

Later that year, the underdog A's were on the brink of elimination in Game 4 of the ALDS. Making his postseason debut against Roger Clemens in hostile Yankee Stadium, Zito kept Oakland alive by shutting down the Yankees for five-plus innings while walking two and striking out five.

In 2001, Zito rebounded from a case of early-season bad luck and became one of baseball's most unhittable pitchers in the stretch run. Along the way, he out-deuled Curt Schilling in Arizona, baffled the powerful Cleveland Indians, and won 13 straight at the Coliseum, helping the A's put up one of the best second half performances of all-time.

That October, Zito and the A's faced the Yankees once again. Up two games to none and with a chance to finish off the defending World Champs, Zito took the mound in Game 3 of the ALDS and tossed a gem: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 6 K.

In 2002, the A's put themselves in position to take the AL West by winning twenty straight games. But, on September 13, after losing three in a row to the Angels and losing sole possession of first place, Zito got Oakland back on track by taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning in shutting down the Mariners.

* * *

Big games, yes, but tonight's is the biggest yet. How does one counter the best pitcher in baseball? The league's best southpaw is a damn good start.

Here's the postseason tale of the tape:

         IP   H  ER  BB  SO   ERA

Zito 26.7 19 6 9 28 2.03
Pedro 24.0 11 3 6 31 1.12
There are so many storylines, it feels like Game 7 of the World Series.

Eight straight elimination games, lost. Three straight Game Fives, lost. Two-thirds of the Big Three, out. One 800-pound gorilla, still there. Enter Barry William Zito.

I believe. I only wish I could be there to see it.

Sunday, October 05, 2003


If the A's lose tomorrow, I will stop being a baseball fan.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?