Baseball Toaster Catfish Stew
Monthly archives: July 2007


A's Do Nothing
2007-07-31 16:32
by Ken Arneson

Well, that trade deadline was boring. Plenty of bait (Blanton, Johnson, Piazza, Kennedy, Stewart, the DFA'd Kielty) but not a single fish caught today. What's going on here? Two things:

  1. The Moneyball effect. There has two subeffects from this:
    • There are fewer teams Billy Beane can win a trade from, because more and more teams know how to properly value players
    • Beane has acquired so many undervalued players that the fleeceable teams still undervalue them, and won't pay enough for them
  2. The changes in free agency rules. With the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, the team that signs a Type B free agent no longer loses a draft pick of their own, while the team that loses him still gets a free pick. That means there is less risk that a Type B free agent will accept arbitration if offered, because there's no downside to signing such a player anymore. Type B free agents are worth at least a free sandwich draft pick, so you don't want to just dump those guys for scraps--the player you get back has to be worth more than the draft pick.

    Nobody outside of MLB the MLPBA and the Elias Sports Bureau seems to be sure what the Type A/Type B formula is, but I've heard speculation that Piazza, Kennedy, and Stewart may all end up qualifying as Type Bs. In fact, some of the decisions the A's made before the deadline may have designed to make these players Type B free agents. What we do know is that the formula is based on the past two years of performance, and you are ranked according to your position. The top 20% at each position are Type A players, the next 20% are Type Bs.

    Outfielders, first basemen and DHs are grouped together for these rankings. Someone like Mike Piazza is more likely to rank in the top 40% if he's considered a catcher than if he's lumped in with the huge pool of OFs and 1Bs. He played 99 games in 2006 as a catcher, and 8 as a DH. Before he got hurt, he had played 26 games as a DH in 2007. So if he DHed for 66 more games, he'd end up as a DH for free agent purposes. Piazza was ready to come back and DH in early July, but the A's asked him to stay on the DL and try to catch. Why? Presumably because Jason Kendall sucked, but I think it's so that he'd be calculated as a catcher. Eventually, they gave up the idea of having him come back as a catcher, and said, OK, you can DH. When did they do that? When there were 67 games left in the season. Do you think Mike Piazza sat out two games before the trade deadline? You betcha. At most, he'll now have a combined 99 games as a DH in the past two seasons, same as his number of games as a catcher.

    I'm not quite sure why Joe Kennedy was dropped from the rotation in early July--he had one bad outing, but he really wasn't pitching as bad as his 2-8 won-loss record would indicate. Unless, of course, the A's wanted him to be a reliever for free agency purposes, as well. I'm not sure how they determine whether you're a starter or a reliever--I doubt it's strictly on games played like position players, since starters only go once every five days. But if Kennedy has a greater chance of qualifying for Type B status as a reliever than as a starter, I'm sure the A's are all over it.

    In recent years, the A's have found players like Travis Buck and Huston Street in the sandwich round. Is a 2-8 Joe Kennedy going to land someone with that sort of potential in a trade? Kennedy's not a bad pitcher, and I'm sure he's better than some of the dreck that a few contenders I can think of are running out there, but no one is going to send over a potential Buck or Street for him.

So blah, no new prospects to get us excited about the future--yet. We'll just have to wait for the 2008 draft for our next dose of that kind of pleasure. At least there's a good pitching matchup tonight to look forward to: Dan Haren vs. Justin Verlander. And even if there wasn't many happy returns of the day, I shall be thankful at least that I am not a Pirates fan, wondering why my team just took on Matt Morris' salary for no good reason.

Off-Topic: Tony Gwynn
2007-07-30 20:50
by Philip Michaels

This has nothing to do with the A's. Really, at this point, do you really want to hear me talk about the A's?

No, I'd rather talk about Sunday's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. I had a rooting interest in this year's class of inductees. My undergraduate years in San Diego happened to coincide with Tony Gwynn racking up batting titles just down I-15, so he was always high on my list of Favorite Ballplayers, Non-A's Division. And that was before he did me a solid when I was just starting out as a doe-eyed reporter.

Once upon a time, your correspondent harbored ideas about becoming a sportswriter. This was problematic for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was that your correspondent was employed by a national business newspaper that had no sports section to speak of. (Other problems: My game accounts tend to read like the narrative for those NFL Film from the 1970s, and it turns out that, with a few exceptions noted below, interviewing professional athletes is not much different from encounters with jocks in high school, only with fewer wedgies and more income disparity.)

Ah, but the newspaper I wrote for also had a daily feature that profiled industry leaders, headline makers, the undisputed titans of their professions in an oft vain attempt to get them to spill some of the secrets behind their success. The feature was near and dear to the heart of the publisher, who mandated that every reporter on staff would contribute a regular profile, regardless of whether they showed any aptitude or interest in doing so. Perhaps for that reason, many of my colleagues did not. But where others saw employer-mandated drudgery, I saw an opportunity to unleash my inner Grantland Rice. And so, invariably, when it came to be my turn to write one of the accursed things, I would wind up proposing a profile on some sports figure, usually a baseball player. And, through the powers of persuasion, plus the fact that my editor had a limited knowledge of sports, I was usually able to make the argument that not only should we profile Athlete X, the readers of our business publication would think us fools and frauds that we had not already done so.

I am very cunning when I choose to be. And that is how, in the spring of 1999, I found myself on an airplane to Phoenix, Arizona, to interview Tony Gwynn at the Padres' spring training facility. Gwynn was entering that season just 72 hits shy of 3,000, so that was my news angle. How I was able to convince the higher-ups that I absolutely had to speak Gwynn before the season started, thus necessitating a Spring Training trip on the company's dime, I am not exactly sure, but I hope one day to use those powers to trick God into letting me into heaven.

The game plan I worked out with the Padres was thus: I would show up at the Peoria Sports Complex bright and early to get a half-hour of face time with Gwynn before workouts began, and then spend the rest of the day watching him go about his business so that I could dutifully report how Tony Gwynn went about his business to my paper's readership. And so I arrived bright and early -- even earlier that bright and early, actually -- only to find the Padres' offices locked up tighter than a drum and my media relations handler nowhere in sight. Panic didn't complete set in until H-hour came and went with no sign of life.

To spare you the tail of my inner turmoil -- after enough time rattling doors and tapping on windows, I was finally able to get the attention of a Padres staffer who let me in, hustled me through the credentialing process, and ushered me off to Tony Gwynn's locker about 10 or 15 minutes past when we were supposed to meet.

"You're late," Tony Gwynn said to me, after I had managed to sputter out an introduction. I began to offer profuse apologies, mentally calculating the fine line between appearing sincerely sorry for any inconvenience and coming off as a whiny, little incompetent, when he chuckled.

"I'm messing with you," he said. "Come on -- let's go."

And so we went off into an office somewhere in the Padres' facility, where I got to fire off questions to Tony Gwynn about how he approached hitting, how he prepared for ballgames, and whatever else came into my head. The interview was supposed to be 30 minutes -- it went on well past that, and not once did Gwynn look at his watch or signal to the PR guy hovering in the corner to cut me off or give any sort of indication that he wasn't going to give me as much of his time as he possibly could. I don't delude myself into thinking it was because I'm that compelling an interviewer -- I would imagine there probably wasn't a question I asked him that he hadn't heard, in some or another, at least half-a-dozen times. But he answered them all, thoughtfully and completely. It was probably one of two most enjoyable interviews I've ever done -- movie producer Saul Zaentz was the other -- and easily one of the most enjoyable days of my professional life.

None of this makes Tony Gwynn a Hall of Famer, of course. The eight batting titles and career .338 average take care of that. What it does do, however, is make it exceptionally easy to root for him and to thrill whenever he gets recognized for his accomplishments. I don't necessarily need players to be model citizens to admire their on-the-field accomplishments, but when you meet someone who actually is a really nice guy, it makes things a whole lot sweeter.

Continue reading...

From SABR 37, I bring you... A's stats
2007-07-27 00:44
by Ryan Armbrust

I've got baseball stats on the brain. More so than usual, which is really saying something... I'm here at the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown St. Louis, home of the 37th annual Society for American Baseball Research convention, and after I spent some time earlier talking with Sean Forman, the man behind Baseball-Reference -- the best thing to ever spring from from the tubes of the interwebs -- I just can't help myself. I've dug around, and managed to find some notable statistical achievements that the A's accomplished (or neared accomplishing) in their win on Thursday against the Mariners. Without further ado...

  • Nick Swisher hit two home runs, a feat he's accomplished eight times in his career already. On Thursday, though, he hit one from the left side of the plate, and followed it up by jacking one out from the right-handed batter's box. Since 1957, that's only happened four times to an A's player. Ruben Sierra hit one from each side on June 7th, 1994, and twelve years and two weeks later, you guessed it, Nick Swisher hit two out against the Rockies, in interleague play. Less than a year later, Swish did it again, in an April contest this season against the Orioles. Apparently he couldn't wait another ten months, because he did it again last night. At this rate, I guess he's due for a L-R home run combo in another, oh, two weeks?
  • Mark Ellis continued his hot streak, hitting his 12th homer of the year. At this rate, he's on pace to break Davey Lopes' all-time Athletics franchise record for home runs by a second-baseman. Ellis needs five more round-trippers to tie Lopes' season record, and six to break it. No word on whether ESPN will break into coverage of other sports when Ellis approaches the mark. He is still 29 behind the career leader, Dick Green, though...
  • Most significant of all, Dan Haren stands an excellent chance of putting up the best ERA+ by any A's starter in franchise history. With an ERA of 2.42 on the season, Haren is doing much better than the league average of 4.46. So far, his ERA+ stands right between Vida Blue's 1971 season at #1, and Barry Zito's 2002 season at #3. He'll need to keep his ERA just below 2.40 to take the ERA+ franchise crown.

--- -- ---

And on a completely different note, I'm going to finally be making the journey from Nebraska out to the Bay Area next week to take in some A's games. I'll be around for the entire Angels series, including AN Day 4 on Saturday. I'm looking forward, with great anticipation, to actually meeting more than a dozen fellow A's fans at once. If you see a guy who looks like this walking around the vicinity of the coliseum, looking somewhat lost and overwhelmed by the mass of green and gold, that'd be me.

Two Walks and a Cloud of Dust
2007-07-21 11:34
by Philip Michaels

With the A's snapping their longest losing streak in nine years Wednesday, this complaint is going to sound a lot like the guy who, after a week wandering around in the desert, gripes that the glass of water the rescue crew gives to him isn't properly chilled. But I think the manner in which the A's scored most of their runs against the Rangers typifies exactly why this team has been in such a funk lately and why Ryan is right to be skeptical of the chances for a late-season playoff push.

Let's go to the bottom-of-the-second play-by-play, courtesy of ESPN:

• Swisher walks.
• Ellis singles.
• Kotsay reaches on an error; Swisher and Ellis move up a base.
• Scutaro singles, scoring Swisher; bases still loaded.
• Crosby walked, scoring Ellis.
• Suzuki struck out.
• Buck hits a sac-fly, scoring Kotsay.
• Stewart singles, scoring Scutaro from second; Bobby Crosby moves from first to third.
• Stewart advances to second on a wild pitch.
• Cust walks, loading the bases.
• Swisher grounds out.

If you're scoring at home, the A's scored their four runs on three hits, an error, and three walks -- Oakland left the bases loaded. On one one play -- Stewart's broken-bat single to right -- did the A's runners advance more than a base. Rather than "exploding for four runs" as this Chronicle game story says, that's taking runs the Rangers have handed you. Kevin Millwood may as well have taken Swisher, Ellis, Kotsay, and Scutaro by the hand and escorted them around the bases -- the effect would have been the same.

And that is your 2007 A's offense in a nutshell. As Joe Sheehan wrote over at Baseball Prospectus, the A's can get on base via the walk and hit the occasional home run but not much else. A rally made up of a series of strung-together hits is the stuff of fantasy and rumor. Instead, your typical A's rally consists of a couple of walks, maybe a hit that moves the runners up a base but nothing more, and then a run-scoring ground-out and an inning-ending double play.

In fact, that's exactly what happened in the preceding game, an 11-4 loss to Texas on Tuesday. In the second inning the A's had runners on first and second with one out; Dan Johnson hit into a double-play. In the fourth, the A's managed to load the bases with a walk, a single and another walk; the only run came home on a sacrifice fly. The two-run outburst in the fifth came on a walk followed by a homer. And the A's got their final run of the night after loading the bases with one out in the sixth and hitting another sacrifice fly. (Friday's lose to Baltimore was more of the same only with fewer scoring opportunities and more swinging and missing.)

You've heard of the Minnesota Twins and their Piranhas-style offense? If Oakland were to have an animal kingdom equivalent for its offense, it'd be the vulture -- the A's wait around for their prey to fall over dead and hope that another predator doesn't come along to shoo them away from pecking at the carrion.

At the risk of repeating myself, I think this is a matter of poor roster construction -- getting too many guys with the same skills and the same ceilings compounded by relying too heavily on oft-injured players. The question is, can the A's right the ship? Not in 2007 certainly. Perhaps not for a while if there isn't some recognition that bad planning and not bad luck is the main culprit here.

Continue reading...

The Sound of One Hand Typing
2007-07-19 20:31
by Ken Arneson

Often during the A's recently concluded 9-game losing streak I've felt like ranting here, but I haven't had--well, not the time; I've had lots of time--the hands to do so. Much of my computer time these days is spent with a sleeping baby in one arm, and I've held off writing, waiting for a two-handed opportunity on the computer. As I've sat waiting, I have officially gave up on two things:

  • Two-handed opportunities on the computer
  • The A's making the playoffs in 2007

So here I go, pecking slowly at the keyboard.

It's a bit of an odd sensation giving up on the A's playoff chances in July. The A's haven't been this clearly out of contention in July since 1998, the summer before Tim Hudson became the first of the "Big Three" starters to make his major league debut.

So here's one point in support of those who said that Billy Beane's success has nothing to do with the principles outlined in Moneyball, and everything to do with the good fortune of acquiring Hudson, Mulder and Zito: the A's streak of contention began precisely when the first of those three pitchers arrived, and ended precisely when the last of them had departed. Interesting that both Bay Area GMs, after many successful years, find themselves this summer having to re-prove themselves by moving past the foundation of their previous success: Beane without the Big Three, and Brian Sabean without Barry Bonds. And each has to start this process this summer with a farm system pipeline that is quite dry, and a trade market that has largely ceased to overvalue mediocre proven veterans. It's a difficult task, like trying to type a long essay while holding a seven-pound baby in one arm.

It will take all of Biily Beane's creativity to fix this thing. 10 years ago, a Jason Kendall might have brought in a package of good prospects; now he brings in a guy described as "no one's idea of a top relief prospect" who six months ago was probably closer to being out of baseball than to the major leagues. Beane is really going to have to dig deep to extract any value out of his tradeable assets. The good news is that if there is one thing that Billy Beane is good at, it's digging deep and finding hidden value in other teams' minor league systems. Justin Duchscherer, Chad Gaudin, Lenny DiNardo, Jack Cust, Marco Scutaro--these guys were all acquired without fanfare for next to nothing, and all have provided positive value in return.

Still, those guys are useful role players, not stars. The thing about having a lineup devoid of big stars is that you can't afford to have any offensive black holes like Jason Kendall and Bobby Crosby suck everything away. Like a tennis player with mediocre ground strokes who gets a lot of free points with a big serve, one star player like Frank Thomas can compensate for a lot of other deficiencies. The A's have been hurting (literally) in a lot of ways this year, but the biggest hurt this year compared to last has been not having the Big Hurt to hit that three-run homer once a week, that turns a 3-4 losing week into a 4-3 winning record.

In fact, Beane is so good at acquiring talent on the cheap, like finding quality in rehabbing free agents (John Jaha, Frank Thomas, Shannon Stewart) it's rather stunning to contemplate how bad his track record is at signing mid-level free agents. Mike Magnante? Arthur Rhodes? Mark Redman? Esteban Loaiza? Even his re-signs and extensions have been bad. Jermaine Dye was a total flop in Oakland. Has Eric Chavez been worth all that money? Has Mark Kotsay?

I'm beginning to think that given Beane's strengths and weaknesses, he ought to forego the midlevel free agents altogether, and go for a stars-and-scrubs strategy. Beane can find the scrubs for cheap better than anyone. Skip having three or four $7-12 million/year players on the team--nearly every one the A's have had in Beane's tenure has been wasted money. Blow it all on one superstar instead. Go ahead, Billy, go forth this offseason and spend all your money on ARod.

Then after six or seven more contending seasons on both sides of the bay, we can go complain that Brian Sabean is overrated; he just lucked into that Barry Zito-led pitching rotation, and state that we'll finally find out how good a GM Billy Beane is, now that he at last has to build a team that isn't just a bunch of nobodies surrounding his all-time home run king.


An Offensive Offense, a Dozen Times Over
2007-07-18 13:18
by Ryan Armbrust

Though the A's managed to score more than three runs for the first time in a dozen games last night, they still lost. Oakland now carries a 44-50 record, six games below .500, 12.0 games back of the Angels and 11.0 games out of the wild card. It might be time to face the reality that this just might not be a playoff-caliber team. For the first time in a decade, the A's will be sellers at the trading deadline -- and they've already begun by unloading Jason Kendall on the unsuspecting Cubs.

Now, I'm as optimistic as the next guy when it comes to my team, but after taking a long, hard look at where Oakland stands, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which they can make up a dozen games. The offense is putrid (second to last in the league in runs scored), and shows no signs of the impending sea change needed to challenge in the AL West. Though the aformentioned streak of scoring three runs or less had been halted, a similar streak is still going strong. For the last 12 games, Oakland has scored four runs or less while garnering eight hits or fewer. That's one of the longest streaks of its kind since 1957, as far back as retrosheet data goes. Here are the other teams to score 4 or less while getting eight hits or fewer:


A pretty pathetic lot. The real story about those dozen teams is that none made the playoffs, and almost every one of them finished the season below the .500 mark.


1972 was a bad year for offense, apparently, with five teams going on epic slumps that season. Even when subjected to the pythagorean method of qualifying their win-loss records, there's not much improvement. The composite winning percentage improves from .463 to .466 -- an insignificant amount.


If the A's pitching holds up and the offense wakes up out of its funk, there is still hope that Oakland could finish above the .500 mark, but a spot in the playoffs just may not be in the A's future for this season. I hope I'm wrong, and we see Oakland go on a monumental tear to make a run at the post-season, but it's hard to ignore the flood of evidence that points to the contrary. This just isn't a very good team right now.

Kendall Traded To Cubs
2007-07-16 17:43
by Ken Arneson

...with some cash for catcher Rob Bowen and minor-league LHP Jerry Blevins.

The 6' 6" Blevins was not on anybody's prospect list to begin the season. He had a 6.13 ERA last year, but something must have clicked for him in the offseason. He's had a monster year in 2007. He had a 0.38 ERA with 32 strikeouts against only 5 walks in 23 2/3 innings in A-ball, before being promoted to AA. There, he's struck out 37 in 29 1/3 IP, against 8 walks, with a 1.53 ERA. He's been better against lefties than righties, but he's not just a LOOGY like Jay Marshall; he's been good against RHB, too.

So I'm very happy. The A's weren't going anywhere with or without Kendall this season, so to get anything with even some possible positive value for him is fabulous.

Meanwhile, has anyone seen Ray Fosse?  Anyone?  I'm kinda worried about him...


Gaudin and Stewart: Streaking in Opposite Directions
2007-07-13 00:25
by Ryan Armbrust

This is one of those occasions where I sure wish I had been wrong, but it appears that Chad Gaudin has headed down the path I predicted for him. His control continued to fall apart as he allowed five walks and struck out just two Twins. Not coincidentally, he only threw 52 of his 97 pitches for strikes before being pulled between the 4th and 5th innings. He saw his ERA rise from 2.88 to 3.18, and we're probably not done seeing that line trend upwards.

On an opposite trajectory of success, Shannon Stewart gathered another two hits to raise his batting average on the season to .311, and extended his hitting streak to 15 games in a row ( ). This is not one shy of his career high, as the game story would have you believe, though. He's twice had streaks of 16 games, but in August of 1999 Stewart hit safely in 26 consecutive games while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Oakland now stands at 0-1 in the second half, making an annual post-All-Star surge just a little bit more of a challenge.

Ex-A's Report #2: Rickey Is New Mets Hitting Coach
2007-07-11 21:07
by Ken Arneson

First, some Zito news, and now this: Newsday is reporting that Rickey Henderson will be the new hitting coach for the New York Mets, replacing Rick Down.

Well, this should be fun.  I've always thought that Rickey could be a pretty good first base coach, since he has an expert eye for pitchers' moves, but I never really thought about him as a batting coach.  He had pretty much the ideal batting approach as a player; it should be interesting to see if he can explain and transfer that approach to others.

Zito Watch
2007-07-11 07:57
by Ken Arneson

Barry Zito's sky is falling for the seventy billionth time since his career began: Tim Marchman has a column today wondering whether Barry Zito's contract is the worst of all time.

I guess my three-part series about Zito has made me somewhat of a Zito expert, so I suppose I should respond. Let us summarize what we know about Barry Zito:

1. His detractors over the years have looked at his peripheral stats and conclude he's not as good as his ERA, because his (luck/big foul territory/good defense) masks his shortcomings.

2. Point #1 is crap.

Barry Zito's success rests on his proven ability to reduce the BABIP of right-handed batters far lower than normal. That's what makes him special. It's skill, not luck (see TangoTiger for more);  it's not the foul ground (no significant home/road splits), and it's not the defense (he did this even when he had Ben Grieve, Terrence Long and Matt Stairs in the outfield behind him.)

Against left-handed batters, he's pretty much been an average ho-hum major league pitcher. But because the vast majority of batters are right-handed, Zito succeeds.

So Zito is having a bad year.  I've heard that he's lost his control, he's lost his velocity.  Is the sky at last falling?

Um, no.  Let's look at the important numbers:

2007 4.90 25.3% .368 .306/.398/.480 .245 .233/.318/.380
2006 3.83 18.7% .297 .260/.369/.400 .281 .257/.339/.418
2005 3.86 22.8% .248 .215/.296/.335 .245 .223/.306/.369
2004 4.48 21.2% .383 .327/.423/.485 .273 .247/.308/.412


3.30 23.3% .244 .223/.291/.345 .241 .218/.296/.317


2.75 20.7% .305 .275/.352/.439 .233 .203/.273/.314


3.49 18.0% .279 .234/.346/.358 .287 .229/.301/.342


2.72 23.7% .269 .194/.348/.306 .229 .195/.280/.313

If Zito was losing his stuff, he'd be struggling against both LHB and RHB this year. But he's been just as good as ever against RHB. His bread and butter is still there, and still working just fine.

Zito's struggles this year are entirely with left-handed batters.  Like his worst season in 2004, he's allowed an extremely high BABIP against them.  In addition, the word has apparently gotten around about his reverse splits, and he's facing a higher percentage of LHB this year than ever before.

Zito has had these troubles with LHB before, and fixed them.  I think he can fix them again.  I wouldn't quite give up on him yet.


You'll Never Get Rich
2007-07-10 08:24
by Philip Michaels

When you think about it, a Rich Harden start is not unlike the A's very own version of a reality show -- Pitching Survivor, they could call it. Every time the once and probably not future ace of the A's staff takes the mound could be the last time you see him for a long time, every pitch the last one he throws before the inevitable disabling. Can The Amazing Race or Survivor match that for drama? You tell me what's more imbued with meaning -- a couple of people trying to make a connection to Quito? Someone trying to juggle coconuts under Jeff Probst's watchful eye? Or a guy whose arm might come flying off on his very next split-finger fastball? Line up to see the show, folks. Maybe Rich Harden lasts six innings, maybe three, or maybe he can't even go 60-feet-six-inches. It's all very dramatic.

At least there was some drama at the Oakland Coliseum Saturday. There certainly wasn't any in the game itself, which seemed a foregone conclusion the minute Adrian Beltre's third homer in two days cleared the left field fence. Harden's first start since April 15 lasted 66 pitches, none of them very inspiring or enough to make you think that the Victoria, B.C.-native was going to help lead one of Oakland's patented second-half charges. And indeed, after the game, what was likely apparent to anyone inside the stadium Saturday was confirmed Sunday by the A's: Harden's shoulder isn't feeling right and surgery becomes an ever more likely possibility.

No one knows what tomorrow may bring and all that, but this entire weekend had an air of depressing finality about it. The narrative of baseball is littered with stories of talent squandered or never realized due to some fatal character flaw or unlikely turn of events. The case of Rich Harden isn't either of those. Rather, it's the story of a guy who could throw beautifully and decisively when his body let him -- only his body wouldn't let him for very long. If unrealized potential is the stuff of tragedy, then what is potential that's not only realized but surpassed, only to be cut short by an arm that just can't withstand the strain of a 162-game season? Most of us come to terms with the gnawing suspicion that, while we're doing the best we can with the resources at our disposal, we're never going to be able to rise to the top of our given career path. Well, Rich Harden was able to get there, at least for a little bit, only his body wouldn't let him stay. If I think about it any more, I'm going to spend the rest of the week deeply depressed.

Perhaps the rest of the A's thought about all that a little too much -- how else to explain the lethargy of the just-completed homestand? The mandates of my day job that I destroy entire forests writing about the ins and outs of the iPhone have kept me from watching too much baseball in the past week or so. But the games I have watched, at least for a little bit, included:

• Last Monday's 11-7 loss to Toronto, a three-hour-seven-minute game that felt like it was contested over the course of six years. Forget the final score for a moment -- even if Oakland won, this game still would have been a miserable slog, albeit a miserable slog with an acceptable outcome. Every pitcher seemed to pause long enough to dash off a few chapters in the Proust essay they were doubtlessly composing between pitches; the innings seemed interminable. As a baseball game it was a hell of an advertisement for cricket.

• The Fourth of July game against Toronto, which was decided within seconds of me flipping on the TV to watch the first inning conga line of Blue Jays circling the bases.

• The aforementioned Saturday game, in which the admittedly good Felix Hernandez held the A's to two hits, though really, Keith Hernandez probably could have shut down Oakland's offense the way they were swinging the bat.

So you can understand, I hope, if I'm sounding a bit glum about the A's prospects after the All-Star Break. The offense hasn't done much with any consistency for the first 88 games, so it doesn't really seem very probable that they're going to start any time soon. And now the pitching -- so outstanding for most of the first half -- seems to be returning to earth.

My fear is not necessarily that the A's won't be playing meaningful baseball in September -- it was bound to happen one of these days -- but that folks both outside the A's front office and within will attribute the lackluster results of 2007 to an unfortunate series of injuries. The reality is that, with one or two exceptions, most of the injuries suffered by Oakland players were of the could-have-seen-that-coming nature. Yeah, the sheer volume might have been surprising, but it merely illustrated the folly of building your team around so many "Ifs."

Besides, focusing on the injuries distracts from the other problem with the A's, or at least what I see as the problem from my view in the cheap seats -- too many average to above-average guys, not enough game-breakers. The A's feel like a collection of fourth outfielders, back-of-the-rotation talent, interchangeable AAAA parts. There are exceptions, of course -- Dan Haren has stepped up as a frantline pitcher, setting aside a couple of recent blah starts, and Nick Swisher at least holds some promise of stardom. Jack Cust can occasionally strike fear into the heart of an opposing pitcher, at least until the clock inevitably strikes midnight.

But the vast majority of the 40-man roster? A lot of adequacy, not a lot of superlatives. Which isn't always a bad thing -- not every team can field a lineup of superstars from the top of the order on down. Coming up with enough solid-if-not-spectacular players helps fill in those holes and keeps a team in contention. But at the end of the day, you need a game-breaker or two. The A's used to have guys like that -- Frank Thomas most recently, Miguel Tejada before that -- but now they've got a surplus of one type of player. A roster full of adequate Major Leaguers -- Bobby Kotkendalvez, we'll call him. He gets on-based a fair amount and shows some pop every now and again and won't let you down too often with the glove. But come up with big hit? There's only so much you can expect Bobby Kotkendalvez to do.

These were my thoughts sitting in the second-deck at Saturday's game, watching Rich Harden wash out of a start and probably the season while the A's batters went through the motions against King Felix. They're admittedly grim and probably off-base, so let's try and end things on a positive note before getting into the game notes. I got my tickets for free, thanks to the generosity of a Boys and Girls Club of Oakland volunteer who wound up with more tickets for Saturday's game than attending kids -- since he turned down my offer of money in exchange for the tickets, I guess he'll just have to settle for a nice donation. And it was the A's BeerFest on Saturday, and when else are you going to be able to enjoy two beers at the Coliseum for $10?

So let's drink to adequacity, and get on with the notes...

Continue reading...

Bright Blessed Days
2007-07-08 23:01
by Ken Arneson

My youngest daughter, eleven days old, attended the first ballgame of her life this afternoon. The Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics demonstrated to her, in many ways, what an amazing world she was born into. As a token of my appreciation, I would to sing them a song, and it goes a little something like this:

The colors of a rainbow
So pretty in the sky

Continue reading...

Gaudin's Deceptive ERA
2007-07-05 23:15
by Ryan Armbrust

While I'm thrilled that Chad Gaudin allowed only two earned runs while helping the A's to a win over the Mariners on Thursday night, I'm a bit concerned about his pitching recently. But Ryan, you might say, Gaudin has an ERA of 2.88 on the season, and 2.18 over his last three starts -- what can there possibly be to worry about?

Well, since May 8th, when Gaudin struck out eight Royals and allowed just one walk, he's handed out 34 free passes and punched out the same number. He hasn't struck out more than four in a start since the Royals game, and he's walked at least three in eight out of those eleven starts.

His ratio of strikes to pitches thrown has also declined as of late, going from around 65% or above in many of his early-season starts to around 60% or below in six of his last seven games.

Control issues were the main reason Gaudin didn't stay around in Tampa Bay, and failed to stick in Toronto. Unless he can get his strike zone back under control, it's likely that his ERA -- and his effectiveness -- will suffer.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but I felt that I needed to introduce a touch of reality to the over-optimistic game summary on the official website. [UPDATE: Which of course has been changed by now to reflect Gaudin's shaky control...]

The Pursuit of Tenderness
2007-07-04 05:59
by Ken Arneson

I have come in recent days to question the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson's 231-year-old sentence that we are celebrating today:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

While I am certainly grateful for all the blessings this sentence has laid upon us, it is the last word of the sentence that I have been pondering. Indeed, the phrase "pursuit of Happiness" seems to be the only part of the sentence that is uniquely Jeffersonian; the rest of it comes borrowed from other famous Enlightment philosophies, particularly those of John Locke.

Locke wrote about "Life, Liberty and Estate". Adam Smith followed Locke up with a discussion of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Property." Scholars are not quite sure why Jefferson changed it from "Property", a basic legal concept, to "Happiness", a basic human emotion, but the effect is huge. By placing an emotion into the sentence, the sentence comes alive. It brings something tangible, something that is experienced by every human being, into a sentence that is otherwise highly abstract.

* * *

My third daughter was born a week ago today with an excess of fluid collected in her lungs. She spent the first two days of her life in a neonatal intensive care unit. As I sat by her side in the hospital, watching her with breathing tubes in her nostrils, an IV in her arm, and a gazillion wires coming from various places on her body to monitor this and that, I experienced many strong and profound emotions. I'm pretty sure none of them would be labeled "Happiness".

* * *

Human beings have a large set of emotions they experience. These days, we simply take it as self-evident that Happiness is the ultimate emotion, the one we ought to pursue above all others. We spend a lot of time and energy obsessing about how to be happy, but is there truly a hierarchy of emotions, with happiness at the top? Or is this just an idea that Jefferson planted in our heads 231 years ago, and has grown so large today that we cannot get around it?

* * *

Happiness is a positive, but selfish emotion. It's about me, how well things are going for me. I experienced positive emotions while sitting in the hospital, but I wouldn't call those emotions "Happiness" because they had nothing to do with me at all. When I think about how I felt sitting in the neonatal ICU, holding this small child with all the tubes and wires sticking out of her, the one word that comes to mind is tenderness.

Tenderness is a social emotion, not a selfish one. It's about caring for someone else, about wanting to attend to another person's well-being, above and beyond your own. It's both positive and negative at once: positive in that you want to make this other person grow and thrive and flourish, and negative in that you recognize how delicate and fragile life can be. The feeling is deeper, and more profound, than any shallow happiness can ever be.

* * *

My daughter is home now, healthy and growing. I got some good sleep last night, my first good rest in a long time. It is the happiest I've felt in weeks. But how I feel doesn't really matter.

Look up "happiness research" on the web, and you get all sorts of information about how human beings can, do, and ought to behave. Happiness researchers will provide statistical evidence that having additional children won't make you any happier.

Humbug. I think that happiness researchers, like happiness itself, are somewhat besides the point. Look up "tenderness research", and all you get are articles about beef. A lot of people, I think, are barking up the wrong cow.

* * *

Humans are social beings, with social emotions, and we pursue our social connections--creating families, making friends, joining political parties, attending churches, volunteering, becoming sports fans--for reasons that go beyond our own personal happiness.

Meanwhile, I can't help but wonder: what would our world be like today, if Jefferson had written that among our unalienable rights were "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Tenderness"?

Cust and Blanton: BAMFs
2007-07-04 00:43
by Ryan Armbrust

We all know what happens when I single out a player for in-depth praise, so instead of telling you how Joe Blanton and Jack Cust are among the statistical leaders in various meaningful categories this season -- however much I'd love to illustrate that -- I'll just leave you with these two screen grabs from last night's 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays.

Jack Cust, BAMF:

Joe Blanton, also a BAMF:

"That home run was huge," Blanton said. "If he doesn't hit that ... I probably don't get to finish the game."

All-Star Haren's five runs are my fault, but Jack Cust is back.
2007-07-02 01:55
by Ryan Armbrust

First, I'd like to take the blame for newly annointed All-Star Dan Haren giving up five runs to the Yankees. His streak of seventeen consecutive games with three or fewer earned runs ( ) came to a grinding halt after I brought up his name and ERA. The last four times I've mentioned pitching performances by an A's hurler, they've abruptly changed their tune.

So, I'm sorry, A's fans. You won't see me picking out pitchers for a while. At least it didn't cause a loss -- thanks to Jack Cust. I fear for Gaudin, though...

Speaking of the Great Cust, perhaps he's made an adjustment lately? He's on a home run tear that, while not quite approaching his burst onto the scene, is in the same zip code. His epic homerless drought ( ) is over, and his strikeouts are down a bit ( ), too.

Oh, and here's a list of the top 10 hitters in baseball sorted by OPS (min: 175 PA)

1 Barry Bonds SFO 16 84 32 .304 .516 .603 1.119
2 Alex Rodriguez NYY 28 45 64 .327 .425 .680 1.105
3 Magglio Ordonez DET 13 41 36 .369 .444 .617 1.061
4 Jack Cust OAK 14 32 60 .288 .411 .615 1.026
5 Chipper Jones ATL 13 34 35 .327 .416 .595 1.011
6 Vladimir Guerrero LAA 14 46 30 .328 .423 .564 .987
7 David Ortiz BOS 13 54 53 .314 .430 .557 .987
8 Chase Utley PHI 15 31 56 .326 .406 .579 .985
9 Prince Fielder MIL 27 38 67 .281 .371 .614 .985
10 Carlos Pena TAM 18 31 61 .280 .380 .604 .983

Notice any surprises on there? No, not Carlos Pena -- though who'd have guessed that he'd be that high...

Jack Cust has the 4th highest OPS in baseball at the All-Star break. While it isn't "official" since he doesn't have the 250 PA to qualify at this point, it's close enough for me.

It might just be the irrational fan in me, but I'd like to think that Dan Johnson's bat is coming alive, too. His hits ( ) and home runs ( ) have been up lately, though I don't like how many ground ball outs he rolls over on to the right side of the field.

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