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Monthly archives: June 2008


When Baseball Teams and Hollywood Blockbusters Collide
2008-06-25 22:13
by Philip Michaels

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story today at WALL-E, the motion picture you will most likely be going to see in the next few weeks if you have any children in your house. The thrust of the article was an all-news-is-local angle along the lines of "Hey, provincial Bay Area residents -- you may recognize some local landmarks in animated form in the movie. Or possibly not."

That's of little interest if you happen to live outside the local area codes, but there was an intriguing anecdote from WALL-E director Andrew Stanton involving our local nine and the inspiration for the look-and-feel of the title character.

The idea actually came while the director was at an Oakland A's playoff game, almost five years ago, when the home team was competing against the Boston Red Sox.

"I missed the whole inning, because my editor from 'Nemo' passed me his binoculars," says Stanton, during a recent interview at Pixar's headquarters in Emeryville. "I spent the entire inning staring at the binoculars, making them move around. I said, 'That's it. That's exactly the face I need.'"

Ah, yes -- the 2003 divisional series between the A's and the Red Sox. Oakland won Game One in 12 innings on Ramon Hernandez's walk-off bunt, as every A's fan doubtlessly recalls. And the A's went up 2-0 in a relatively effortless Game Two.

I have no memory of how the rest of the series played out. I'm sure it was not the least bit traumatizing just as I am sure the Red Sox fans conducted themselves with their usual restraint and dignity.

So there you go -- our little ballclub has played some role, no matter how incidental, in influencing the look of a major motion picture. I'm sure that's something all A's fans can look forward to as we flock to the local multiplex to take in WALL-E.

Though I'm not sure how I feel about the surprise ending where WALL-E neglects to touch home plate and is immediately tagged out by Jason Varitek.


Exclusive Excerpts: Wily Wolff and the Ballpark Factory
2008-06-20 02:57
by Ken Arneson

"Honey!" I yelled, rushing in on my wife like a hurricane. "Look! I've got it! Look, honey, look! The fourth Golden A's Ticket! It's mine! I downgraded my season ticket package because our friends dropped out of our plan and our kids are now more interested in hanging out with their friends than their parents and the seat prices went up and the parking prices went up and the A's traded their best players, and then our new smaller season ticket package arrived in the mail today, and I opened it up, and the second set had the Golden A's Ticket, and now I'll get to write a big exclusive blog entry about the A's secret ballpark factory! IT'S THE FOURTH GOLDEN A'S TICKET, HONEY, AND I FOUND IT!"

"That's nice, dear. What does it say?"

"Huh? What? What does what say? Oh, the ticket? I ticket, all right, I'll read it." I took a breath. "Here we go:"

Greetings to you, the lucky finder of this Golden A's Ticket, from Mr Wily Wolff! I shake you warmly by the hand! Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you! For now, I do invite you to come to my ballpark factory and be my guest for one whole day - you and all others who are lucky enough to find my Golden A's Tickets. I, Wily Wolff, will conduct you around the factory myself showing you everything that there is to see.

Continue reading...

Rhymes with Luck
2008-06-19 06:23
by Ken Arneson

Of course, I write a whole article about how Joe Blanton has been unlucky this year, and then he goes right out and gets clobbered for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with throwing a bunch of hanging curveballs and leaving fastball after fastball over the middle of the plate.  The hit-me-fastballs included, embarrasingly enough, one to Blanton's good friend and former teammate Dan Haren, a bases-loaded double.  I'm sure Blanton will never live that one down.

Blanton just plain sucked last night.  That still doesn't change my belief that he's been unlucky.   Indeed, looking at BP's LUCK stat, which tracks the difference between expected W-L record and actual W-L record, even after last night's suckfest, Blanton remains the unluckiest pitcher in the majors:

Name W L xW xL LUCK
Joe Blanton 3 10 5.6 6.2 -6.39
John Lannan 4 8 5.8 3.5 -6.31
Aaron Harang 3 9 5.5 5.3 -6.28
Jeremy Guthrie 3 7 6.6 4.8 -5.74
Barry Zito 2 11 3.3 6.7 -5.60

Not Bad for a Bunch of Old Catchers
2008-06-18 00:32
by Ken Arneson

Last night, Mark Ellis and Bobby Crosby combined to go 6-for-9, including three home runs and a double, plus two walks, off Brandon Webb and the Arizona bullpen. Not bad for a couple of middle infielders who, oddly, are viewed by Baseball Reference as resembling a bunch of good-but-not-great, long-careered catchers:

Mark Ellis, Similar Batters through Age 30:

1.  Don Slaught
3. Terry Steinbach
5. Hal Smith
6. Sandy Alomar, Jr.
7. Dan Wilson
8. Darrin Fletcher
10. Bengie Molina

Bobby Crosby, Similar Batters through Age 27:

1.  Andy Seminick
3. Miguel Olivo
6. John Stearns
7. Barry Foote
8. Ben Davis
9. Steve Yeager

Obviously, Ellis' group of similarities is better than Crosby's, so it's fitting that Ellis hit two homers last night, to just one for Crosby.

I suppose it's also fitting that Kurt Suzuki also homered. Perhaps when all is said and done, Suzuki might end up being similar to one of these two groups of catchers, as well. His defense and pitch calling seem to be good enough for him to have a long career if he stays healthy. Whether he is a starting catcher for most of his career like Ellis' comps, or bounces between starting and backup duties like many of Crosby's comps, depends on whether he can hit enough.

Ellis' comps mostly had career OPSes between .700 and .750, while Crosby's were generally between .650 and .700. Suzuki? He's been a streaky hitter so far in his young career. His career monthly OPSes go like this: 1.352, .573, .776, .692, 1.069, .663, .521, .828. All those ups and downs add up to a career OPS of .698. He's right on the border, so you can easily imagine his career going either way. I'd take another steady Terry Steinbach any day of the week, but Suzuki will need to both improve his hitting and smooth out those monthly charts if he wants to be considered in the same breath as good ol' #36.

Great, kid! Don't get cocky.
2008-06-17 01:23
by Ken Arneson

After sweeping the Giants this past weekend, the A's stand three games out of the AL West lead, and two games out of the wild card. But don't get any big ideas, the A's will have to face the Diamondbacks' 1-2 punch, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, in the next two games, so that sweep might get cancelled out pretty quickly. Nonetheless, the A's competitiveness this season after the big firesale this winter has been a surprise to almost everyone.

How'd that happen? Well, just look the 2008 major league performances of from the two trades. The Dan Haren trade:

Dan Haren:        6-4, 3.41 ERA

Dana Eveland:     5-5, 3.56 ERA
Greg Smith:       4-5, 3.62 ERA

Carlos Gonzalez:  .263/.288/.404

Nick Swisher trade:

Nick Swisher:    .219/.335/.369
Ryan Sweeney:    .294/.349/.397

Sweeney has been outperforming Swisher, and you could argue that Gonzalez is doing so, as well. Eveland and Smith haven't outperformed Haren, but they're both putting up as good an imitation as you can reasonably expect. So in each case, the A's have taken a player at his peak, and replaced him with two younger players performing at just about the same level. A-a-a-a-a-a-nd, got five other prospects in the process.

So clearly, these were great deals for the A's. Not that the DBacks and the Chisox can complain too much, either: they're both in first place.

Meanwhile, up in Seattle not so much. What will the AL West be like when we can't count on the other teams to make stupid, counterproductive moves? If and when that happens, I suppose the A's will have to counter the non-stupidness of their division rivals by finally getting a stadium with competitive revenue streams. I'll have more on that thought later in the week...

Finally, here's a weird picture I took of a promo for Tuesday's A's-Diamondbacks game. To me, it's like one of those what-do-you-see, the-candlestick-or-the-face puzzles. Sometimes, I can look at it, and it looks normal, and other times, the sizes of everything just looks completely out of whack. Anyone else see the optical illusion, or is it just me? How tall does my daughter look to you?


Bay Bridge Series Warmup: Random Video Edition
2008-06-13 17:59
by Philip Michaels

I'm about to head out to see the A's in person for the first time this year, at the ballpark three blocks from my office as opposed to the one so close to my house that, on a night like last night, I can hear Roy Steele's voice from my front porch.

My attitude toward the Giants has always been one of benign indifference -- so long as their interests do not collide with mine, the Giants can go about their merry little way. So I have little in the way of fuel for the cross-bay rivalry fire. Now, the folks who wear those split Oakland-San Francisco hats -- those people I shower with contempt. Those appalling fence-sitters should be barred from both teams' stadia until they pick a side. Either that, or force them to wear an oversize hat with logos of all 30 teams. I mean, we wouldn't want to let anyone feel left out, would we?

So with nothing in the way of analysis of the storied Greg Smith-Barry Zito matchup on tap for tonight, let us turn our attention to this mind-blowing YouTube video that the folks at Fire Joe Morgan hepped me to:

Continue reading...

Joe the Unlucky
2008-06-12 23:38
by Ken Arneson

Like so many of Joe Blanton's starts this year, tonight's game against the Yankees could have gone either way. In the bottom of the fifth with two runners on, Jack Cust hit a ball to the base of the left field fence for an inning-ending out. The next inning, Mark Ellis nearly robbed Derek Jeter of a leadoff single, but the ball came out of his glove when he got up to throw. A difficult play, but Ellis could have made it. The next two batters walked on pitches which half the umpires in the league probably would have called strikes. Hideki Matsui then hit a deep fly ball which, unlike Cust's, came down over the wall instead of just in front of it, and the Yankees won the game 4-1.

That's baseball. If both teams play well, both pitchers pitch well, then sometimes things will fall your way, sometimes they won't.

By losing that game, Joe Blanton joined Barry Zito with nine losses this year. The comparisons between the two former A's first-round picks should end with the loss statistic. Zito has deserved his nine losses--he's pitched like poop most of the year, with a 5.83 ERA. Joe Blanton, on the other hand, deserves a much better fate.

Earlier this year, I thought Bob Geren was leaving Blanton in games too long. Blanton would have a lead going into the sixth or seventh, but then tire and give up a few runs, hurting his overall numbers, turning a couple of leads into deficits, and potential wins into losses.

But even if you reject that idea, and accept his run totals at face value, Blanton deserves a better than a 3-9 record.

Blanton's 4.23 ERA is pretty much equal to the league average ERA of 4.17. He pitches for an average-to-above average team (.530 win %), on a team with a league-average offense (AL average: 4.49 runs/game, A's offense: also 4.49 runs/game).

Average pitcher on average team with average run support--so why does Blanton have three times more losses than wins? You'd think things should fall Blanton's way roughly half the time, right? Why isn't Blanton 6-6 instead of 3-9?

A big chunk of Blanton's misfortune has been a lack of run support. The A's are averaging 4.49 R/G overall, but only 3.53 R/G in Blanton's starts. When Blanton pitches, the A's hit like they're facing Cy Young contenders every time out. Which, it turns out, is pretty much the case. Check out the list of his opposing starters so far this year:

Daisuke Matsuzaka
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Cliff   Lee
C.C.    Sabathia
Felix   Hernandez
Livan   Hernandez
Felix   Hernandez
Vicente Padilla
Jeremy  Guthrie
C.C.    Sabathia
James   Shields
Jon     Lester
Sidney  Ponson
John    Lackey
Andy    Pettitte

That's a helluva list. He's faced Dice-K, King Felix and the reigning Cy Young winner twice each. The only pitchers who aren't currently their team's #1 or #2 starters--Livan, Sir Sidney and maybe Pettitte--all used to be #1 or #2 starters in their pasts.

So what happens when you take a league-average pitcher, and set up his matchups so that he basically gets a run per game taken away from him? You probably get Joe Blanton version 2008--a pitcher with a .300-.400 winning percentage.

Poor Joe. If the rotation had fallen just one game differently, he could have finally gotten some run support by being matched up against Zito on Friday. Instead, in his next start, he'll be matching up against Dan Haren in Arizona. Figures.

A's vs. Angels
2008-06-09 00:35
by Ken Arneson

The A's just lost two of three to the Angels, and you can probably pin the series loss on me. I attend several A's-Angels games every year, and the last time Oakland beat a team from Anaheim in my presence was over 17 years ago, the day Rickey Henderson tied Lou Brock's career stolen base record.

Since that day, I have been a better good luck charm for the Angels than the Rally Monkey himself. The Angels should put me on their payroll. They should pay me to go see their games against the A's. In tight ballgames, they should show pictures of me on their scoreboard, like this:


I went to the game on Saturday night, and of course, the Angels beat the A's. It was a game that made clear the difference in the standings between the two teams. I think both teams have roughly equal talents--good pitching, solid defense, and an offense somewhat lacking in power. But the Angels play a cleaner, more mature game. The A's used to be able to match the Angels solid-play-for-solid play. But this year, the A's are playing five or six players each day who are in their first full major league seasons: Kurt Suzuki, Daric Barton, Jack Hannahan, Travis Buck, Ryan Sweeney, and Carlos Gonzalez. And you can probably also include Jack Cust in that category, as well. These young players are talented, but there's an inconsistency that comes with youth that adds up. A bad swing here, a misjudgement there....

Continue reading...

A's Draft Day Blog
2008-06-05 10:00
by Ken Arneson

10:00 AM: Today, the A's will have the 12th pick in the MLB amateur draft, their highest pick since they picked Barry Zito with the 9th pick in 1999.

This draft has an upper tier of about 10 players, and the A's are hoping that one of those ten falls to them. Those ten are SS Tim Beckham, 3B Pedro Alvarez, 1B Eric Hosmer, LHP Brian Matusz, C Buster Posey, C Kyle Skipworth, SS Gordon Beckham, 1B Yonder Alonso, 1B Justin Smoak, and RHP Aaron Crow. The A's are hoping that two of the 11 teams ahead of them pick a player not from this list.

From the buzz going around the last few days, this does not appear too likely. The one scenario that might cause this to happen is if the secretive Giants select Gordon Beckham, who is coveted by both the Reds at #7, and the White Sox at #8. That might lead to the Reds selecting Canadian HS C/3B Brett Lawrie, the White Sox possibly going for 3B/1B Brett Wallace and/or the Rangers (#11) selecting a much-needed pitcher instead of the remaining bat from the top 10 list.

The names being attached to the A's should the top 10 go in the top 11 are threefold: Wallace, Aaron Hicks, and Jemile Weeks. Wallace and Hicks are essentially polar opposites: Wallace is the most polished bat in the draft, a college star with a rare combination of power and patience, but his body and athleticism--well, let's just say he's not going to be selling any jeans here. His lack of defensive value may lower his stock in the A's minds, especially since the A's already have a number of young first base types in their system with Daric Barton, Sean Doolittle, and Chris Carter. Hicks, on the other hand, is a phenomenal athlete--he has speed and power and can throw in the mid 90s, but he's a very raw talent fresh out of high school. He says he wants to play centerfield as a pro, but the A's may prefer him as a pitcher. The A's may not want to draft a player who doesn't want to play the position they want him to play.

Which leads us to Jemile Weeks, who all the draft-day mock drafts have going to the A's, as sort of a compromise between college polish and raw athleticism. He's the brother of the Brewers' 2B Rickie Weeks. The A's are bulging with outfielders, first basemen and pitchers, and very thin in the middle infield, so there's a certain logic to this idea. However, Jemile is not as powerful as his brother, which makes his ceiling more like Chone Figgins than Rickie Weeks. Picking Weeks at #12 seems like a waste of the value of the #12 pick. Because he has no power, Weeks is a pick more appropriate for the bottom of the first round than the top.

Who will it be? We'll find out in about an hour...

11:38: The Giants take Florida State C Buster Posey at #5. Everything has gone according to the mock drafts so far, making the Jemile Weeks scenario more and more likely.

11:49: The first mild surprise of the first round: the Reds take Alonso instead of Gordon Beckham. Not sure if that affects the flow of the draft downstream enough to help the A's.

11:54: The White Sox take Beckham at #8. Only two of the top 10 players left: Smoak and Crow.

11:59: Nats take Crow. Will Astros and/or Rangers, who both need pitching, take Smoak?

12:04: Whoa. First big surprise: Astros took Jason Castro, a catcher from Stanford. Smoak is still on the board. Will the Rangers pass up pitching, and leave Smoak to the A's?

12:09: Bah. Rangers take Smoak.

12:12: A's are on the clock. The top ten are gone. Who's #11 on the A's list?

12:14: A's take Weeks. Jim Callis calls him "the last true up-the-middle player" of the first round. OK, whatever, but this is a typical Oakland safe pick. A guy who is likely to be a solid major leaguer, but probably not a superstar. I was hoping for something different with the A's first high draft pick in years and years--someone with some bigger superstar upside. Yes, the A's need middle infield talent, but I'll have to let this one sink in for awhile before I can feel excited about it.

15:34: A's second round pick: Tyson Ross, from Cal. As a Cal fan, I can't say I'm particularly excited about this pick, either. Ross has size and talent, but he hasn't produced the kind of results you'd expect from a 6' 6" guy who can crank it up to the mid 90s. Well, at least he has some upside.

16:09: A's third round pick: Preston Paramore, catcher from Arizona State, with excellent plate discipline. Keith Law had him ranked as his #41 prospect.

17:21: Fourth round: Anthony Capra, LHP from Wichita St. with good results, decent velocity, but no good breaking pitch. Fifth round: Jason Christian, a shortstop from U Michigan with decent stats. Just for comparison:

Player              AVG  G    AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  SLG% BB HBP  SO  OB%  SB-ATT  PO   A  E  FLD%
Jemile Weeks..... .366 57 216 75 79 16 5 11 57 .639 30 4 36 .447 19-20 93 148 9 .964
Jason Christian.. .330 50 194 56 64 13 6 7 48 .567 39 3 36 .445 16-18 83 113 13 .938

Very similar OBPs, but that slugging percentage is the difference betwen first round money and fifth.

Number Nine... Number Nine...
2008-06-01 23:59
by Philip Michaels

Several little fun facts stood out from Sunday's 13-8 win over Texas, which we don't like to think of as winning ugly so much as we call it winning with inner beauty.

• When Rajai Davis grounded out end the eighth inning with Daric Barton on second and Kurt Suzuki on first, it was the first time all game that the A's ended an inning with runners on base. That's somewhat unusual that late in a game where you've already pushed 13 runs across the plate.

Nevertheless, that's what happened. The A's offense was largely impotent for the first three innings. Oakland scored its first run in the fourth when Jack Hannahan scored from third on a Bobby Crosby ground out. The fifth ended on a Hannahan sac fly which plated Barton but saw Suzuki tagged out at second after the latest questionable base-running decision by the A's catcher. The A's had a 1-2-3 sixth, and the seventh inning scoring fest wrapped up with a Mark Ellis homer.

Total number of runners left on base during the game for Oakland: 2.

• Thanks to Susan Slusser's game report, we know that the last time the A's scored nine runs in an inning was a 2006 game against Baltimore. (The nine runs came in the first; the rest of the game, the A's only scored one more run.)

You'd have to go back to June 18, 2000 to find the last time the A's scored more runs in an inning. Oakland hung a 10-spot on Kansas City during the top of the third on its way to a 21-3 victory. Frank Menechino, Ramon Hernandez, and Terrence Long all homered in support of Gil Heredia; Sebastain Janikowski tacked on the extra points.

Actually, Sunday's seventh inning -- in which eight runs had already scored by the time Texas recorded the first out -- reminded me a lot of an A's game last year against the Cardinals that I happened to attend gratis on the indulgence of a Missouri-born friend of mine. In the bottom of the third, eight A's batted and six runs scored before St. Louis could record the first out of the inning on a 4-6-3 double play. That was one of two six-run innings in the same game, which saw Tony LaRussa hand things over to Scott Spiezio in the bottom of the eighth -- the one-time Sandfrong frontman was the only Cardinal "pitcher" to not give up a run that evening.

• In the same Chronicle article linked above, Bob Geren called Mark Ellis' 13-pitch at-bat against Frank "Have a Seat, Lady" Francisco that culminated in a solo home run as "the best at-bat I've seen in 30 years." Dodger fans who remember Alex Cora's 18-pitch at-bat against Matt Clement are free to disagree.

Hey, Where'd Everybody Go?
2008-06-01 09:37
by Philip Michaels

Nothing drives your faithful correspondent battier than when newspaper reporters, announcers, and team officials -- otherwise known as People Who Don't Have to Pony Up For a Ticket -- complain about attendance. So you can imagine the blood-boiling irritation I experienced upon reading this Tuesday morning Chronicle article on the Athletics' poor attendance.

The article, by the Chronicle's David White, is particularly facile and fluffy, even by the diminished standards of the O Woe is Me, Why Aren't the Fans Attending Ballgames Any More genre. I'll stall for time while you click on the link and give the article more attention than it deserves, but White's magnum opus can be summed up thusly:

  • Boy, people sure don't seem to be attending A's games this year.
  • This makes the players awfully sad.
  • I guess no one's noticed that the A's are having a pretty good year.

The first point could be made by anyone with a pair of eyeballs and a working knowledge of an abacus. The second is immaterial to anyone not on the team's payroll. ("Oh man -- Rajai Davis is put off by the low attendance? Quick everyone -- to the ballpark!") And the third point is simply lazy reportage -- the sort of knee-jerk blame-the-fan mindset that can't possibly imagine that perhaps fans have perfectly good reasons for not making the turnstiles spin in perpetuity.

Winning baseball and free stuff is what attracts people to the ballpark -- Rob Neyer likes to say that, if I recall correctly, and he's more or less right. But there are other reasons -- some more reasonable than others -- that cause people to say away. And just off the top of my head, with only minimal research, I can rattle off eight reasons why someone might hesitate before making a beeline toward the Coliseum -- seven-and-a-half more reasons than David White managed to conceive of.

Continue reading...

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