Since returning from my trip, I haven't had the bandwidth to resume the game summaries -- Please! Please! For the sake of society, contain your rioting! -- which I blame on a couple of factors. First, there's been the odd start times of the White Sox series -- 7:11 Central time, owing to a deal the Sox struck with some sort of convenience mart chain... I haven't yet been able to figure out who. The upshot is, I can usually listen to a batter or two at the office before it's time to catch my ferry home. By the time I putter across the bay, get home, whip up some dinner for me and the missus and flip on the TV, the game isn't over per se, but it's long since been decided. Especially if Colby Lewis is your starting pitcher.
for the Oakland A's, 2007 has been just dragging along, starting, stopping, unable to kick into gear for one reason or another.
Yeah, they're kind of a drag to watch this year, aren't they? Not a bad team, necessarily, but certainly not a very interesting one. Is there anyone in the A's lineup who makes you stop what you're doing and take notice, because you have a feeling that they're going to make something happen? Nick Swisher, certainly, and Jack Cust for as long as his alien overseers choose to keep the real Jack Cust in captivity in a saucer orbiting Romulus 5. And on the flip side, you have two players in the lineup who are absolutely painful to watch swing a bat -- Jason Kendall and his bottomless assortment of ground outs and Eric Chavez. Throw in the increasingly maddening Happy Talk With Glenn and Ray, and I'm sure you can imagine why A's games haven't exactly been appointment television for me these days.
But I still keep tabs on the action. (What? I'm supposed to develop hobbies at this late date?) And with the A's using the disabled list for the 12th time this season -- welcome home, Milton Bradley -- there's a general mood out there that I find a bit puzzling.
Whenever the A's place another body on the DL -- don't worry; it'll happen again soon enough -- the reaction among fans, commentators, and the general baseball-following populace seems to involve some griping about the A's ill fortune, how star-crossed the season has been thus far, how the baseball gods must be angry, and oh, the wind and the rain! If I can presume to sum up the typical reaction, it would be this: Can you believe the rotten luck the A's seem to be having with all the injuries this year?
To which I would reply: Yes. I kind of can.
If luck, as Branch Rickey once suggested, is the residue of design, then it follows that bad luck is the residue of blueprints so ill-conceived they'd get you thrown out of architect school for crimes against humanity. Sure, the A's are experiencing a run of colossally bad luck when it comes to rounding up enough healthy bodies to field a team these days. But that's because the front office made a number of decisions when assembling a roster that made such a bleak End Times scenario increasingly probable.
Or to put it more plainly, Billy Beane seemed to go out of his way to load up on guys who have a knack for debilitating themselves one way or another.
This is not just the benefit of hindsight. We all probably should have seen this coming by the time pitchers and catchers reported to Phoenix. Don't believe me? Then let's build us a chart, using three sources. The first column is the names of players who've spent time on the A's disabled list this season, as of the wee small hours of Thursday morning. (We're excluding 60-day DL occupant Chris Denorfia -- he was like this when we found him, officer!) The middle column is culled from the Positional Health Reports Will Carroll assembled over at Baseball Prospectus heading into this season. We'll use Will's color-coded system -- green for normal risk of injury, yellow for elevated, and red for high. The final table lists whether or not that player spent any time on the DL last year with the number of games missed in parenthesis, if available; I've pulled that from the A's 2007 Media Guide.
* Near as I can tell, Dan Johnson wasn't disabled, but he spent most of 2006 battling eye problems. I don't think that makes him injury prone, and the cause of his injury this year -- a collision during a spring training game -- is just one of those things that happens and not necessarily the sign of a player who can't stay healthy.
** Kotsay didn't go on the DL, but he only played in 31 of the A's final 51 games, owing to his achy-breaky back.
*** Snelling was, of course, a Mariner in 2006. Here's the relevant portion of his BP Player comment: "It was another knee injury this time, the seventh surgery of the Aussie's career, and the fifth on his left knee."
**** Like Kotsay, Street spent some non-DL downtime on the active roster in 2006; he missed 12 games between April 19 and May 1 with a strained right pectoral-minor muscle.
So... looking at the above chart, the only 2007 DL occupants who should take anyone by surprise are Dan Johnson and Mike Piazza. (That is, if a 38-year-old ex-catcher getting injured can be considered surprising. But, since like Johnson, Piazza was knocked out by a freak happenstance of the game, it's really not accurate to say that the warning signs were there.) All the other players in that chart were either listed as high risks for injury by a man who makes his living tracking these sorts of things or had a history of spending time on the DL or both.
Rich Harden is injured? You don't say. And Milton Bradley is on the DL again? Man, I would have thought the first nine times would have taken care of those aches and pains. And Duchscherer is injured, too? Man, who could have seen that coming? Except for Will Carroll. And Baseball Prospectus readers. And anyone with access to newspapers and a functioning memory. But other than that -- shocking, this rash of injuries!
Actually, the surprising thing isn't the number of A's who've spent time on the DL this year -- rather, it's that there aren't more Oakland players joining them in O.R. Will Carroll assigned red lights to Mark Ellis and Bobby Crosby, and a yellow one to Eric Chavez -- apart from the occasional bump-and-bruise-inspired day-off, none of these three have missed significant time, but would it shock you if they did? I couldn't find a Positional Health Report for Shannon Stewart, but you have to figure a guy who's only played in 55 percent of his team's games over the preceding three seasons due to assorted foot maladies isn't what we could call a sure thing for good health.
(But look on the bright side, A's fans -- one positional regular rates a Blue Light, the special designation Will gives to players who are among the least risky in the game. That would be Jason Kendall, the .197-slugging catcher who has just two more extra base hits than I do this year. Superb.)
We can gripe about bad luck and demand Larry Davis' head on a spit and wail about the unfairness of it all, but at some point, we need to acknowledge that Billy Beane was perfectly aware of the kind of team he was assembling and the challenges posed by keeping this assortment of players healthy and on the field. Ultimately, he's the one who put together a roster heavily populated by players who've lost time to injury in the past and stand a pretty fair chance of losing more playing time in the future. Instead of blaming it on some non-existent assembly of baseball gods, shouldn't we be directing some of the stinkeye in his direction?
Or to use a metaphor that probably isn't very good, but it's lated, so here goes: If you walk up to a blackjack table with the intent of repeatedly hitting on 16 no matter what card the dealer is showing or how many face cards may still be in the deck, at some point your inevitable losing streak ceases to be bad luck. It's just bad strategy.