A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Murphy to Marlins

Minor league left-hander Bill Murphy was sent to the Marlins as the PTBNL in the Redmond/Neu trade from last week. This is bad news, as Murphy was actually quite a bit better than the other minor-leaguers the A's have lost this off-season (in the Rule 5 draft and in other trades, like the one for Chris Hammond). At Kane County, Murphy struck out 87 batters in 92 innings, allowing only 61 hits and 32 walks while posting a 2.65 ERA. He wasn't quite as impressive for Midland, posting a 4.09 ERA (44 H, 26 BB, 34 K in 55 IP), but is still, I think, a top prospect, probably the A's best pitching prospect other than Blanton and perhaps Shane Komine. Like Blanton and Komine, Murphy was part of the 2002 draft haul, the A's 3rd-round pick out of Cal State Northridge.

Rhodes signing finalized

The A's have finalized their three-year, $9.2M deal with Seattle lefty Arthur Rhodes to be their closer. This isn't really news, since it's been widely known for about a week that the two sides had reached an agreement, but it's good to have these things cemented. Also, this presumably means Rhodes passed his physical, which is a good sign because his ineffectiveness for parts of 2003 was attributable to a nagging ankle injury.

As I've mentioned earlier, I like this signing a lot, since Rhodes has just been dynamite ever since he was switched over to being a full-time reliever, and he's effective against both lefties and righties. Beane says the A's were able to get Rhodes at a price that might have been less than other teams were offering because they will let him be the closer, and because they offered a third year. (Atlanta wanted him to be a setup man, and the White Sox offered only two years.)

So the A's 2004 pitching staff is shaping up like this:

Rotation: Hudson, Mulder (L), Zito (L), Redman (L), Harden
Bullpen: Rhodes (L), Bradford, Hammond (L), Rincon (L), Brooks (L), Mecir/Harville

Hmm... that's a very lefty-heavy bullpen, with only Bradford and Mecir/Harville coming from the right side (and Mecir is better against lefties anyway). Am I forgetting somebody? I guess Justin Duchscherer might end up being the long man, and he's a righty. I don't really know if the A's will go with a 12-man staff, but my guess is that they won't. If they do, I guess they could have both Mecir and Harville, or they could keep only one of them around and have Mike Wood or Duch or at some point, Mario Ramos or even Joe Blanton. Certainly it helps to have depth because some of these guys are going to get injured.

I guess while I'm at it, I might as well start forecasting the position players:

cf Kotsay (L)
1b Hatteberg (L)
dh Durazo (L)
3b Chavez (L)
lf Kielty (B)
rf Dye
ss Crosby
c Miller
2b Ellis

of McMillon (L), Byrnes
if Scutaro, Koonce (L)
c Melhuse (B)

That's 25 guys right there. Oh, and obviously the lineup order is just wild speculation at this stage; I really wouldn't expect, for instance, that the lineup will go LLLLBRRRR, since Macha has shown a tendency to prefer left-right alternation. If I were Macha I'd probably bat Crosby leadoff at least to start out with, and see how well he takes to it.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Barry Zito Forever

Rob Neyer thinks that Barry Zito is losing it. He has two pieces of evidence: (1) his hit rate is extremely low, and (2) his strikeout rate is falling.

Well, this blog wouldn't be living up to its name if we didn't argue with that. Let's separate the evidence into its two parts.

First, the hit-rate argument. Neyer says:
He was very, very lucky. Hit-lucky. In both seasons, only 25 percent of the batted balls in play fell in for hits. That's exceptionally low unless you're a knuckleballer, and Zito's not.
This is the DIPS argument, that pitchers don't control batting average on balls in play, batters do. DIPS assumes that BABIP is all luck, and if you even that luck out, you can predict a pitcher's future ERA with DIPS better than you can with his real ERA.

Recent scrutiny of DIPS has found some exceptions. Some pitchers do demonstrate some control over BABIP. Knuckleballers. Extreme flyball pitchers. Lefthanders. And the most recently discovered exception, pitchers who get lots of infield popups. Zito is three of those four. And perhaps his curve ball is so darn good it has the same effect as a knuckleball.

Zito led the AL in both popups (78, 2nd place 58) and foulouts (32) in 2003. Popups and foulouts almost never fall as hits. In that sense, a popup is almost as good as a strikeout. If Zito creates popups at a higher rate than anyone else, his BABIP should be lower accordingly. And it is. His real ERA has been lower than his DIPS ERA every single year of his career, usually by a wide margin:
Year   ERA   DIPS

2000 2.72 4.00
2001 3.49 3.63
2002 2.75 4.01
2003 3.30 4.11* (*estimate)
Zito's done this four years in a row. And when someone can do something consistently and repeatedly, I call that a skill, not luck. So I don't buy the DIPS argument with Zito. I think the problem here is with DIPS, not Zito. Zito is a DIPS outlier.

The strikeout/walk rate argument is a bit more alarming. His ERA is still pretty darn low, even though he's striking out fewer batters every year. More balls are being put in play every year. The question is: are those missing strikeouts being turned into popups (almost as likely to be an out as a strikeout), or other types of balls in play (less likely to be an out)?

Well, I haven't seen any popup stats for any years except 2003. But I would doubt that more than just a fraction (1/3? 1/5?) are being turned into popups. That remaining fraction is likely to be turned into hits at a league-average rate. So in that sense, Neyer is right: his ERA is likely to go up if the falling strikeout trend continues.

Even so, I'm not going be calling for Billy Beane to go trade Barry Zito anytime soon. I'll take off my stathead hat and put on my scouts hat, and tell you why I'd keep him: the hope of a fourth pitch.

Barry Zito is a three-pitch pitcher: fastball, curveball, changeup. That's it. When he has all three pitches working, he's darn near impossible to hit. Example: Game 2, 2003 ALDS.

But when he loses the touch on one of those pitches, he's suddenly a two-pitch pitcher with a mediocre 88 MPH fastball. He's wily enough to be able to take those two pitches and get through the order twice without too much damage. But on those nights, he usually struggles to get through the order a third time. I've seen it happen many times. Example: Game 5, 2003 ALDS.

Zito is only 25 years old. It's not too late for him to find a fourth pitch: sinker, cutter, splitter...some other weapon to put in his arsenal. If he had one more pitch, one more way to throw the hitters off balance, he'd have a much better chance of getting through those innings where he is struggling with control.

Zito fiddled with a cutter last spring training, but abandoned it when the season started. So I know he's thought about it. If he could find that extra pitch, I think he'd win several more Cy Young Awards. In fact, I think he would be so good the Hall of Fame couldn't take him. When he gets too old to last five or six innings without getting tired, he'd go to the bullpen and be the best old LOOGY in baseball. He'd be his generation's Jesse Orosco or John Franco, only better. Barry Zito would pitch forever.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Arbitration of a different kind

Well, I was a little bit off yesterday. In more ways than one.

One of those ways is that I thought yesterday's arbitration deadline was like the other arbitration deadline, where if you don't offer them arbitration, they can't resign with the team before May 1. But that's not right. The A's can still try to sign Mark Redman. The Cubs can still try to sign Michael Barrett, and then send Damian Miller to the A's. Fikac and Frankie may still end up on the 40-man roster. It's just a little more complicated now, because other teams can make competing offers.

Another way I was off was that I forgot about Billy McMillon. He was tendered an offer. As was Chad Bradford.

A third way that I was off was...oh, never mind, it's a long story...

UPDATE: The A's did sign Redman, to a three-year contract. The Cubs did sign Barrett, and trade Miller to the A's. So now all we're waiting for is for the Arthur Rhodes deal to be made official, and we can start looking at the likely A's roster for 2004.

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