A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Friday, February 20, 2004

Baseball Prospectus Pizza Feed Report

I just got back from the Chicago Pizza Feed. Always interesting and you should go if you have the chance. In addition of course to buying the book and subscribing to the website.

There were a few items of interest for A's fans.

1. Chavez has reportedly gained about 40 pounds. No one is quite sure why. Supposedly the difference in appearance is a lot like the change in Giambi from '98-'99. Initial thought is that we may have to downgrade our expectation of Chavvy's defense.

2. Barry Zito's most comparable players go roughly like this.

1. Steve Carlton
2-20. A bunch of guys who started great but faded after their mid twenties. Tom Glavine's name was mentioned in this category, which wouldn't be too disappointing.

That isn't really a complete picture, but the dropping strike out rate is a concern. Nate Silver, the inventor of the PECOTA forecasting system that generates these comparables, allowed that there may be something to the theory that an extreme popup pitcher like Zito might overperform his DIPS generated projection on a consistent basis. But he didn't seem familiar with the recent study indicating that this might be the case. His off the top of his head thought was to bump about .15 off Zito's projected ERA, putting him in the 3.70-3.80 range.

3. Will Carroll said in his A's team health report on the website last week that no pitcher had ever come back from the specific leg/hip fracture that Mulder suffered. However, he said tonight that he could only find three pitchers who had the injury before, one in the 60s and two in the late 80s early 90s. So not too much can be read into that. All of those guys never even pitched again, so as soon as Mulder spends any time pitching competitively, he'll be in totally uncharted waters as far as recovery goes.

4. Two A's prospects made the top 50 list. Joe Blanton was #41 and Crosby was #11. This seems pretty much in line with other sources I've seen. No other A's farmhands were on the list, though Swisher and Brown were spoken of somewhat unfavorably in the context of the Moneyball draft.

There was an interesting discussion about the merits of drafting high school vs. college players. When Bill James made his famous study concluding that high school pitchers were foolish risks in the early rounds, about 70% of draft picks were high school players. Now its more like 50-50, and swinging more towards college players every year. Essentially, at a certain point as more teams focus on college players, the inefficiencies of the market will shift to favor teams drafting high school players, even pitchers in the high rounds. The Braves are reportedly delighted already, as players they saw as second round talents are falling to them in the sixth or later. For a team like the A's that wants track records and wants to reduce developments costs, drafting college players still makes more sense, but my guess is that over the next few years we may start to see a few high school talents mixed into the A's early rounds.

5. BP projects the A's at 88 wins right now, right alongside the Angels with the Mariners trailing badly thanks to Bavasi. They think Boston and New York are as good as everyone says, at around 106 wins apiece. For the A's, the offense is a wash, with the outfield improvements making up for the losses in the infield. Most of the decline comes from the pitchers regressing to the mean.

Again, absolutely buy the book, just shipped to stores last week, and subscribe to the website. For any hardcore fan, the analysis and writing is well worth it.

Forst elevated to Assistant GM

No surprise here, but the A's announced today that David Forst has been promoted to the role of assistant general manager to replace Paul DePodesta, now GM of the Dodgers. Everything I've heard about Forst is good, so I have high hopes for him; like I mentioned earlier, the real question is who will replace Forst, and who will replace them, etc.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Staring Down Conventional Wisdom

Sabermetrics is defined by Bill James as "the search for objective knowledge about baseball."

I’ve been wanting to write something about sabermetrics for a while. The A’s pride themselves at looking at things objectively and trying to find ways to succeed that other teams may have missed. Terry Gross on NPR asked Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, if he thought it was sad that a player could be reduced to only his numbers. Michael Lewis almost choked answering the question: “no, what’s sad is the idea that the Yankees can just buy a championship. Low budget teams succeeding because they are smart is great.” Amen, brother.

I had some ideas about players stats I was going to provide as evidence that I could use a spreadsheet and unearth something Neyeresque or Gleemanlike and profound about predicting the value of a player or outcome of this season. I didn’t get that done yet, but I did come up with something. Quick, what do these players have in common?

Ryan Ludwick, Indians
Cody Ross, Tigers
Jason Lane, Astros

One thing is they are all on the 40-man roster of a major league team, another thing is that they all play outfield, but the unique thing is that they all throw left-handed and bat right-handed. The only position players in the majors who do that. Why some people are left-handed and most right-handed, roughly 10%/90%, isn’t fully understood. Probably even less understood is why some people do some things one handed and other things with the other hand. Barry Zito, like me, throws and bats left, but writes and plays guitar right-handed. But I am a 38 year old from Minnesota without a curveball.

Most baseball people know they like one hand or the other for certain situations and to get the most out of baseball, one might choose to do the opposite, throw right and bat left, like my first baseball hero, Rod Carew. I don’t think people choose at all, cause as a 2nd grader I was given my father’s glove, he’s a righty, and I realized I could play better if I caught the ball in the glove then took the glove off to throw, a la Jim Abbott. I am interested in how the A’s having 3 left-handed starters while the Red Sox and Yankees have none will play out in 2004. I was interested when lefties went 1-3 in the Masters in ‘03 (Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson) and 3 of the top 7 in the ’04 FBR in Phoenix (Flesch, Weir and Mickelson)

Conventional wisdom might say baseball should select against someone who throws left and bats right, it certainly says left-handed throwers shouldn’t play 2b, ss, 3b or catcher. There are no major leaguers who throw left-handed and play any of those positions. But if there was a lefty with a glove like Ozzie Smith, don’t you think he could get over the difficulty of throwing across his body some of the time? Turning a slightly trickier double play? Fielding a bunt from 3rd base? Conventional wisdom sends that guy to center field. Vin Scully says he thinks the only reason there aren’t more left handed catchers is that when kids start playing little league, the team has 1 catchers glove for the team and it is a right handed glove.

Anyone know the best player ever who throws left and bats right? Rickey Henderson. Career leader in walks, stolen bases and runs, over 3000 hits. He’s been able to overcome his unfortunate handedness pretty well.

There may or may not be any value in reassessing our dogmas on handedness, but sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong. That’s the A’s bread and butter, reexamine everything. It’s cool and great and in a perfect world we’d all love the A’s and hate the Yankees. But according to the great philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be.” How can you argue with that?

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Scoresheet Opening
Want to broaden your fantasy/roto horizons? This league has a sudden opening. Read more here about how Scoresheet works; write to me (e-mail provider is Yahoo!, handle is matt979) if you're interested and I'll hook you up w/the commish.

Note: You MUST be available for an on-line draft Saturday, March 27.

Valentine's Day in San Francisco and the World is OK

With friends in town visiting, we went to SF on Saturday. The crowds were big everywhere. Many shopping and eating, and from my point of view, the economy must not be too bad. People seemed happy too. Three of the people I saw amongst the multitudes had A's stuff on. Complete A's outfits: matching hat, shirt and jacket. A black man, a white man and a white woman. I didn't notice any Giants fans similarly attired, although my eye does catch the green and gold. If I had been close enough I would have talked some baseball with these fans. The big questions I have for 2004 are:

1) Can Rhodes close effectively?
2) Will the A's have enough offense, Dye and Crosby in particular?
3) How good will Anaheim be?
4) With all the Red Sox/Yankees hoopla could the A's sneak past both of them in the playoffs?

That's it. Admittedly the weekend had some less positive news for A's fans, ARod going to the Yankees, DePo going to the Dodgers. But the season is coming soon, and the A's and their fans are looking good.

Monday, February 16, 2004

DePodesta to LA, Rodriguez to NY
Comments welcome on this weekend's big baseball stories.

A friend of mine writes sports columns for a medium-sized newspaper south of Boston. He apparently has a column in mind comparing the Yankees' signing to the plight of teams like Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and so on. I had some choice comments about his potential column.

So in any pro sports league that doesn't have NFL-style parity, there will be the Evil Empire (Yankees, Lakers, Red Wings), the pack of other contenders, a group of teams that are rising or falling or mediocre or some combination of the three, and the pack of bottom feeders. Intuitively, which group of teams do you think is more affected when an Evil Empire team siphons a Rodriguez-caliber player from a mediocre team?

Well, put it this way: The Devil Rays were going to suck no matter where A-Rod played, and the reasons they suck have a lot more to do with Naimoli, Lamar, Bonifay, et al than they do with anything that ever happened in the Bronx.

By comparison, if you lived around here (East Bay, or close to it) while the Lakers were rounding up Gary Payton, Karl Malone, and so on, which team do you think got more sympathetic coverage for bearing the brunt of the power shift: Sacramento, or Golden State?

(Oddity: Sacramento hosts Oakland's Triple-A farm team, yet the two locales host rival NBA teams. Something similar happens with Salt Lake City and Minnesota's Twin Cities, even more pronounced for San Antonio and Seattle since the Missions are Double-A.)

Anyhow, the Kings were and are a championship-contending team whose odds at a title decreased a bit when all the old guys became Lakers. The Warriors were already expected to suck, with the Laker-related player movement causing their "suck" expectations to be about the same. (In fact, apparently Golden State is pretty good this year, if only they could win on the road.)

Long story short, it's funny to me to see the A-Rod trade give people sympathy for the league's bottom feeders, when in fact the teams hardest hit are teams like Minnesota, Toronto, Anaheim, and... well... us.

Then there's the DePodesta signing, which of course expressly hurts Oakland. (I'd come to suspect that quietly he was the real brains behind the operation, with Beane becoming a lightning rod and a bit of a decoy. I was really hoping some team would badly overpay for Beane's services. It's as if, instead of signing Tejada, the Orioles had found some loophole that let them take Bobby Crosby and force the A's to keep Tejada.)

For lack of a better point to this post than the pro forma "here's the latest news," I'll just say that being a fan of a team like Oakland comes down to stoicism sometimes. Let the other small-market teams complain about the sizes of the communities in which they play, or the less-then-ideal stadia; the A's organization simply copes and finds a way to flourish.

Now that Alex Rodriguez is a Yankee and Billy Beane has lost his right-hand man (and Vlad is still an Angel), it just becomes more of a challenge--both to cope and to find a way to flourish.

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