Baseball Toaster Catfish Stew
Monthly archives: October 2005


The Ghost of Jay Witasick
2005-10-31 11:42
by Ken Arneson

I received a frightful scare this morning. I read in the SF Chronicle this morning that the A's are expected to re-sign Jay Witasick to "a two-year deal with a club option".

At first I read this as two years plus an option for a third. And I went, "Eeeek! Jay Witasick is going to haunt us for three years!"

But then I realized my eyes were being tricked. They must mean that the second year was the option. Whew! What a relief. I mean, why would you give a guaranteed two-year deal to a 33-year-old player with a long history taking random moments to suddenly turn into a pumpkin?

Witasick is a useful player. He puts up pretty decent numbers on average. But he fluctuates around that average wildly. His command can disappear for weeks at a time. As a result, you only want him in the middle of your pen. He'll spook you if you rely on him too much in high-leverage situations.

Billy Beane probably still believes that relievers are where the bargains are these days, but remember, this is Jay Witasick. The cost may seem like a sweet treat now, but if things turn rotten, it may leave a painful cavity in the roster and the budget. So please, let's revisit him at least once a year.

Lessons Learned From The White Sox
2005-10-26 23:16
by Ken Arneson

Nice to see Jermaine Dye get the MVP. The A's didn't their money's worth out of him, but he has always been a class act. I'm happy for him.

When I saw the White Sox in spring training this year, they looked like a real impressive team to me. They hit well, and fielded well. I had a sense that day, a feeling in my gut, that the White Sox were going to be trouble for the American League, a really hard team to beat.

But the logical side of my brain, the one that reads sabermetric blogs and books like Baseball Prospectus, kept saying that no, this is an illusion: the White Sox are mediocre. Like a poor simpleton, I believed it. I picked the White Sox to be a .500 team. I fell for the misguided propaganda of the rationalists, and let their ineffective "logic" affect my decision making.

Well, no more. Thanks to Kenny Williams, Ozzie Guillen and their squad, I have now learned my lesson. Logic may lead to truth, yes, truth is nothing but a bunch of non-committal probablistic hedges. What's the use in that? Your instincts, your guts, lead to something far more effective: truthiness.

Now some of you may subscribe to Rick Peterson's adage, "In God we trust, all others must have data." But I say, Rick Peterson is wrong. The data didn't predict the White Sox.

You may reply, "Ken, you just don't get it." And then I go, "No, you don't get it." And then you're all, "No, you don't get it." And then I just go, "No way, dude, that simply isn't truthy."

Ha! Gotcha there.

I do get it. I am an it getter. I know data. I am a data knower. I speak SQL, the lingua franca of data, fluently. I have helped build database queries for telecom monopolies and nuclear power plants, for police departments and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States. Indeed, I might as well come right out and admit it: I am a querier. Some of my best friends are queriers. I have worked and played intimately with the founders and designers of some of the world's most widely used database query engines. I hang with some of the queriest people on the planet.

But do any of these people have a World Series ring? Simply put: no.

As the season wore on, I came to learn my lesson. Over time, instead of telling the facts to you, I began, like the best of analysts, to feel the news at you. In the end, I used no logic at all for my playoff predictions, and ended up correctly picking the White Sox to be champions.

It's very difficult to change. Sometimes your rational mind just tries to take over, trying to make you make sense. But that's not the real you talking, that's your logic addiction. But you can overcome it. I did. You just need to take it one day at a time. If you just wake up every morning and confront your rationality, saying, "today, I'm not going to let you win," you can turn your life around. It's up to you.

Go with your gut. Don't trust the data. Data isn't cool. Data doesn't rule.

Data is dead. Truthiness is king. Long live the king!

Remembering Bill King
2005-10-18 23:41
by Ken Arneson

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

--Wallace Stevens, The Man With the Blue Guitar

Stevens' poem describes the artists' dilemma: trying to describe the world, using tools that by their very nature leave the task incomplete, and at the same time, trying to change the the world, using those same inadequate tools.

My dilemma today is to describe the world with Bill King in it, using a blog. But figuring out the right notes to play, right thing to say, and the right way to say it, is hard. Even when I have all day to think about it. The words don't just flow out naturally. It's a struggle.

There's so much to say. I'm old enough to remember the days before King was the voice of the A's (he joined them in 1981). But King was still the voice of my childhood, as his Holy Toledos punctuated the broadcasts for all the Warriors and Raiders that I listened to as a kid. So where to begin?

Let's consider this. Get yourself a stopwatch, and see how long it takes you to read the following paragraph out loud:

Love with the ball. Gives it back to the top of the key to Sloan, then over to Walker on the right, looking for Love running a pattern, but Love has to come out to the right. Seven seconds on the timer. Walker one-on-one with Rick. Walker on the right side...turn, fallback, twist in the air, shoot...IN AND OUT! A rebound, taken by Love. GEORGE JOHNSON BLOCKS THE SHOT! Wilkes has it! And again defense gets the ball for the Warriors.

It takes me about 18-19 seconds to read that paragraph. To read it. Bill King said all those words during the 1975 NBA Western Conference Finals, live, instantly, both deciding what to say, and then saying it--in less than 17 seconds.


Now read that paragraph again. Look at what King did in those 17 seconds. He didn't just describe where the ball went and who had it. He also described Bob Love running a failed pattern away from the ball. He gave us a shot clock update. He described the defense, that Rick Barry was defending Chet Walker without help. And then he summed up the whole sequence in less than ten words.

I listened to the Bill King tribute on KNBR today, and every time they played a tape of his basketball calls, I just sat in awe. Pure awe. Words just aren't supposed to come so easily.

Bill King is the greatest basketball announcer ever. Some say Chick Hearn may have been just as great, and I can accept that, but I just don't think it is humanly possible to be better. King completely mastered the art of announcing basketball. (For awhile, Hearn and King both announced Bradley college basketball at the same time for competing radio stations in Peoria, Illinois. Must have been something in the water.)

The faster the action was, the better Bill King was. That's why he was so great at basketball. He also excelled at football: next time there's an old NFL Films story about the '70s Raiders, pay attention to the calls they use from Bill King. Watch how the pictures match his words, even though he was talking on radio. It's amazing how much detail he packs into those moments.

Baseball is slower, so King's greatest strengths weren't put on display quite as often, but when the big moment arose, King nearly always had the right call, just the right words at just the right time.

But because baseball is slower, the fans got the time to come to know him and love him. King was both an elitist and an everyman. He'd put on his tux to attend the ballet, yet he wore shorts and flip-flops in the booth. He knew all the fancy restaurants in every city, yet he'd chow down popcorn between innings. His vocabulary was a veritable Oxford English Dictionary, yet he once called a referee a m--f--er on the air. He was beyond us, yet at the same time, he was just like us.

He was like the family member we're most proud of, the one who went off to bigger and better things, but always came back home as if nothing had happened. The person who understood that we're all imperfect, yet got as close to perfection as anyone we knew. The person who demanded our best, yet always forgave us our failures.

We lost the best part of ourselves today, but we're all better for having had that part at all.

Thank you, Bill King, and may you rest in peace.


I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero's head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,

Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.

Bill King Passes Away
2005-10-18 13:45
by Ken Arneson


Damn damn damn damn damn damn.

I...I can't think of anything else to say right now...

* * *

Maybe I'll just link to a few articles I've written in the past about him:

The Vocabulary of Bill King

Things Are Looking Up

Bill King = Orson Welles?

The Athletics Zone

Milledge for Zito Rumor
2005-10-17 23:53
by Ken Arneson

Peter Gammons floated a trade rumor about a Barry Zito-for-Lastings Milledge trade in his latest column:

One interesting decision for Beane? Whether to trade Barry Zito if the Mets offer a package including Milledge. Problem is, while the A's have positional players coming, they do not have any more pitching.

Now what's this rumor really about? It's probably just Beane using Gammons as a messenger, letting people know what he wants for Barry Zito: another Mark Mulder trade. Another Barton and another Haren.

Gee, I'd love to give you Zito for Milledge, but gosh, what am I going to do about my pitching if I do that? Maybe if I give you one of my many hitting prospects in the deal (like, say, Nick Swisher: he's young, and he's gonna be solid, really he is, and he plays a really good defensive first base, which I believe you may also need) perhaps you would be so kind as to give me one of your pitching prospects (like, oh, say, Yusmeiro Petit) to help me fill the hole that Zito would leave on our roster.

The free agent market is quite thin this year, so Beane might just be able to get that kind of price for Zito. Perhaps not from Omar Minaya, but from some other sucker. It's probably a good year to be a seller. Not that I want to see Zito go, but the A's have several starting pitcher options. They really really need some monsters in the lineup, a 1.000 OPS hitter or two. They have solid hitting prospects, .800-.900 types, but besides Barton, no real monsters. Milledge has a shot at becoming one.

* * *

The A's picked up Jay Payton's option, but not Keiichi Yabu's. Neither move is terribly surprising. Yabu is replaceable. Payton's salary is reasonable, and even if they didn't want to pay him $4 million next year, they probably could find someone who might. The Yankees need a centerfielder, for example. The Yanks would probably be better off trading for Payton than blowing a wad of cash on Johnny Damon.

That First Magic Moment
2005-10-17 23:38
by Ken Arneson

It was a school night, but I let my youngest kid stay up to watch the end of the playoff game. It was only about half an hour past her bedtime, the game was almost over, and she really likes it when the players "jump all over each other." Since the game was almost over, I let her keep watching.

She had been rooting for the Cardinals. When the playoffs began, she decided that Albert Pujols was her favorite player in the playoffs, so she would root for his team. She likes Pujols because he's really good in Backyard Baseball.

But when I explained to her in the top of the ninth that the Astros had never been to the World Series before, she decided that it would be OK if the Astros won. We kept watching, counting down to the jumping-all-over-each-other moment..."two outs to go"..."one out to go"..."one more strike"...

And then Eckstein got a hit. Edmonds walked. Up came Pujols.

"Pujols is really good," she said. "He can hit grand slams."

"Well, right now," I said, "he can only hit a three-run homer. But they'd still probably be pretty happy with that."

And then...pow.

"Oh my God," I blurted out, the instant he connected. And as it landed, all I could say was, "Wow..."

I instantly felt really sorry for the Astros fans. That's gotta be one of the all-time stomach punches. As an A's fan, I've suffered a few stomach punches of my own, but if the Astros lose this series, this one's probably worse than all of mine. Yes, even the one-of-which-we-do-not-speak.

My daughter and I sat in a sort of stunned silence for the rest of the game. Well, maybe only I was stunned. She was probably just tired. The game dragged on another ten minutes past her bedtime. As soon as the last out was recorded, I said, "Off to bed, now." She went, no objections.

Tomorrow, we'll probably pay for this. My daughter will probably be cranky and irritable, and we'll have to diffuse a tantrum or two. But the tantrums will only last a few minutes, and will quickly be forgotten. This evening may end up being one of her earliest baseball memories, one magical game that everyone talks about for years to come, that she was actually watching. The memory will last a lifetime. The price is worth it.

Macha, Redux
2005-10-14 16:08
by Ken Arneson

You put your Macha in. You put your Macha out. You put your Macha in, and you shake it all about.

And here I thought this offseason was going to be boring. It's been hilarious! A laugh a minute! Orel Hershiser? Larry Bowa? And now this?


I'm not personally Machtose intolerant, so I don't have any problem swallowing this weird turn of events. I don't think Macha bothers me more than any other manager would. But let us all say a prayer for poor Zachary. May he survive this horrible shock to his system.

Surrealist Moments
2005-10-13 14:26
by Ken Arneson

"Angels first place, A's second place, Rangers third place, Mariners last place," Selig said. "Sound familiar yet? If not, get used to it, as that will be your AL West for the next 20 or so years."

So why bother even hiring a manager?

* * *

Orel Hershiser? In green and gold? Are you kidding me? That's just way too weird to actually happen.

Not that he wouldn't make a good manager,'s just unthinkable.

Then again, Hershiser did wear a Giants uniform once. That's probably even more unfathomable.

But really, Billy Beane is just screening Paul DePodesta's calls, right? Right?

* * *

Or maybe, the Dodgers and A's got their brains caught in a lunar-powered thought transferrence device, and they are gradually becoming the other. Next thing you know, The Dodgers will start wearing white shoes, and Tommy Lasorda will start telling everyone he bleeds green.

* * *

If Nova Science NOW were there, they'd take the women out of the water, and perform surgery on them.

The Curse of the Were-Elephant
2005-10-09 22:18
by Ken Arneson

I took my older kid this afternoon to go see the new Wallace and Gromit movie, Curse of the Were-Rabbit. My younger kid decided to stay home and watch baseball. She didn't care much for the other Wallace and Gromit cartoons. I think the satire/spoofing goes over her head, so she experiences the movies mostly on a literal level, which doesn't quite work for her. It's the difference between age five and age eight, I guess.

When we left the house, Lance Berkman had just hit a grand slam in the 8th inning, to bring the Astros to within one run.

It's a twenty-minute walk to the movie theater from my house. We saw the movie. (Quick review: enjoyable, entertaining, but coulda been better. The plot seemed rather loose, and the editing was choppy.) We walked back home.

And the Astros and Braves were still playing.

Cue the Jon Stewart eye-rub: Wha?

* * *

I recently answered some "What went wrong" questions about the A's over at Baseball Analysts. Check it out.

* * *

Posting might be light here for the next week or three. Now that the A's season is over, I'm gonna try to put some intense focus on programming Fairpole.

Macha Leaves A's
2005-10-05 14:59
by Ken Arneson

Ken Macha is out.

Interesting that the exact numbers that changed hands came out. Beane offered $2.6 million for 3 years; Macha asked for $4 million. Beane called off the negotiations; Macha said they would have been willing to come down to $3.1 million, but Beane said forget it.

With the Detroit job filled already, and Jim Tracy the rumored favorite for the Pittsburgh job, it sounds to me like Macha's agent overplayed his hand.

Let the speculation about his replacement (and where Macha's going next) begin....

Update: Some people think they know already.

Globe Gloves
2005-10-05 10:36
by Ken Arneson

TangoTiger's 2005 Scouting Report by the Fans for the Fans is now available. Mark Kotsay won a "Globe Glove", and I wrote his summary:

Mark Kotsay makes extraordinary defense look ordinary. His arm is good, but not a cannon. Yet he can unleash a textbook one-hop throw right on the base with uncanny consistency. His speed is good, but not blinding. Yet he seems to get to every fly ball without ever having to leave his feet. Kotsay is a great fielder, but he is not a reliable source of "web gems". With solid fundamentals, perfect positioning and excellent reads off the bat, Mark Kotsay makes even the most difficult of plays look simple and routine.

Compare that to what Aaron Gleeman wrote about Torii Hunter:

Torii Hunter plays center field like a middle linebacker plays a sweep to the outside. He attacks the ball without regard for his own safety and hunts it down. Whether the catch involves scaling the baggy-covered walls in the Metrodome or skidding along the turf face first, he makes the play first and thinks about it later. There is no more spectacular outfielder in baseball, and while the triangle in Fenway Park handed Hunter his first career knockout this season, his overall record against The Wall is second-to-none.

Two utterly different styles of center field play, yet each effective in his own unique way. Ain't baseball great?

* * *

Here is the A's report from Tango's study. Can't say I'd disagree with the results too much, except for Jason Kendall.

Kendall's speed and first-step scores are probably accurate, but those traits aren't very important for a catcher defensively. Overall, his speed helped him reach a score of 52 on a 100 point scale. In my book, any catcher with an arm as bad as Kendall's should not be considered an above-average defensive player. Catchers probably need to be measured differently.

Playoff Predictions
2005-10-04 01:07
by Ken Arneson

Well, everyone else is doing it, so I may as well, too.

First, my division series picks. I'm going with my "fewest errors during the season wins" theory for these. It's worked for me in the past, and it's certainly been better than any other method I've tried, like, say, thinking about it. The number of games? I'll just make something up.

LA Angels (87 errors) over New York Yankees (95) in five.
Chicago White Sox (94) over Boston Red Sox (109) in four.
St. Louis Cardinals (100) over San Diego Padres (109) in three.
Atlanta Braves (86) over Houston Astros (89) in five.

OK, then in the LCS, you reverse it:
White Sox (94) over Angels (87) in six.
Cardinals (100) over Braves (86) in five.

Then back the other direction for the World Series:
White Sox (94) over Cardinals (100) in seven.

There you go. The White Sox. See, if I had given this any thought at all, I would never have picked them. Now I'm going to be right, another curse will be broken.

Which all goes to prove the following...brains: bad. Soylent green...mmm...soylent green.

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