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Milton Bradley's Coming Out Party
2006-04-05 23:50
by Ken Arneson

Milton Bradley scored the winning in run in Tuesday's game, but Marco Scutaro got to wear the hero's crown. In Wednesday's 9-4 win over the Yankees, Bradley got to keep the crown himself.

Bradley drove in the A's first two runs with a bases loaded single, cutting a 4-0 Yankee lead in half. The next inning, Bradley drove in the tying run with a bases loaded walk. And then in the eighth, with the score still tied, Bradley showed off both his power and his speed. He hit a ball off the center field wall, and motored all the way around for a leadoff triple. He scored the winning run one batter later, as Robinson Cano couldn't handle Jay Payton's grounder with the infield in.

A little bit of patience, a little bit of contact, a little bit of power, and a little bit of speed. It's characteristic of Milton Bradley and, if it's not too soon to start trying to characterize a team, it's characteristic of the 2006 A's as a whole. Nobody really stands out with eye-popping superstar talent, but everyone is above average. With all the talk of where the A's new home will be, and what they would be called, perhaps the most appropriate name would be the "Lake Wobegon A's".

It struck me today watching several runners go from first to third that, wow, the A's actually have some pretty good team speed. Of all the hitters on the 25-man roster, only Frank Thomas and Dan Johnson are slow. Pretty much everyone else on the A's has above-average speed. As a longtime A's fan, that feels so weird to say. In the past, for every Rickey Henderson, there were seemingly two Mark McGwires.

The A's really only made one mistake all night, when Dan Haren hung a slider, and Gary Sheffield did what Gary Sheffield does with hanging sliders. The rest of the night, the A's pitched great, and played perfect defense.

I suspect this might be the A's M.O. this year. Playing against the A's will be like playing a master baseline player in tennis: they'll just keep putting the ball back in your court, time and time again, steadily, steadily, steadily, until you finally make a mistake, and you lose.

Each A's game becomes a bet with the other team: I bet you can't play as long as we can without making a costly pitching or defensive mistake. And whatever kind of mistake you make, we have enough power, or speed, or contact skills, or patience to take advantage of it.

On Wednesday, that's exactly what happened. Derek Jeter booted a grounder that kick-started the A's first rally. Bradley received the RBI free pass, scored on the error by Cano, and tripled when Johnny Damon couldn't run down his centerfield blast in the eighth. And then to finish it off, a fastball down the middle to Frank Thomas. Bases-clearing double, game over.

2006-04-06 06:28:38
1.   wilson
Base running, I was thinking about the exact same thing last night as I was following the game online. Small sample size, but I am getting the feeling that 2006 A's are more willing and able to take that extra base on a single. Too long have we been plagued with the likes of Giambi^2. But as people as suggested, the new batch of younger A's players are really more rounded baseball players, and they know how to do other things (beside hitting)well. If more important, they have the self-confidence and know they can take that base. I just wonder if people have data that measure the efficiency in base running. I think Alan Schwarz probably looked into that in one of his books. I will have to look it up.
2006-04-06 09:50:27
2.   MrIncognito
I like to think of base-running and "doing the little things" by analogy to a concept in human development called the Zone of Proximal Development. Many of our abilities are genetically limited to a certain range. Similarly, the success or failure of a team is mostly due to talent on the field. However, there is a certain range of abilities above our natural talent attainable through instruction, training, and whatnot called the Zone of Proximal Development. In baseball, this is the equivalent of base-running, moving runners, etc. Winning and losing baseball games probably remains largely dependent upon the talent on the field, but just as we enjoy watching people learn and grow past the hand they've been dealt, it's vastly more satisfying to watch a team able to exceed rational expectations (even if the impact of such things is probably negligible in the grand scheme of things).
2006-04-06 11:04:42
3.   dbt
I like to think of that mindset -- "play solid fundamentals and jump on your opponent's mistakes" as the exact philosophy that won the Patriots 3 superbowls in 4 years. Let's hope the A's can be so lucky.
2006-04-06 11:35:58
4.   gswitter
Would we still be talking about baserunning and team speed if Bradley and/or Kendall had been out on the close plays at third? Bradley was loafing out of the box and only turned it up a few steps before second base. Gump (who definitely belongs with Thomas and Johnson in the slow pile) took a shot on a ball that got away from Posada, and it could have easily gone the other way.

I agree, the overall team speed is noticeably better this year. But I think that's a natural result of being priced out of the sluggers market and focusing more of the teams budget on defence.

Now let see if the this years A's have finally worked the baserunning gaff demons out of their system. Last night is probably not a good indicator (Bradley), but I'll take the good fortune on the close plays and the win.

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