Saturday, October 30, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
As of right now, Daric Barton will (and should) get the majority of playing time at 1st base in 2011. The actual amount of time could diminish somewhat, at least if I get my way (meaning Chris Carter makes the team out of spring training and the A's sign Adam Dunn). But even if the A's appease my own desires, fans will most assuredly see Daric Barton manning first more often than not. Even hypothetically, the addition of two sluggers that hit from both sides of the plate, who are not quite as sure-footed on the defensive end of the game as Barton, would essentially be forced to yield the position to him. Why? Because in 2010, Daric Barton proved he was beyond adequate with the glove. Last season he finished the campaign as the leader in UZR among Major League 1B's, while finishing second to Albert Pujols in range factor/9IP among MLB 1B's. In many respects, Barton made a name for himself strictly on his defense - something very uncommon among 1st basemen.
Barton's offense may have left something to be desired, at least to the baseball traditionalists, and those evaluating his numbers based on the position he plays. No, he didn't hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs like all the aforementioned detractors probably demand of MLB 1st basemen. But the biggest contribution Daric Barton actually made in 2010 when he was holding a bat didn't even involve him swinging it. The 25 year old California native led all of baseball in walks last year with 110. His patience was no fluke either; Barton put his keen eye on "display" by also leading the Majors with the smallest percentage of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%) at 15.5%. The exceptionally patient Brett Gardner ended at 17.9%, and was the only other player besides Barton to have an O-Swing% under 18%. His remarkable approach in 2010 is why his .393 OBP% was good enough for 5th in the American League, and 9th overall.
(Source: Halip, Leon. Getty Images)
Barton's .798 OPS in 2010 was well above the Major League average of .728, but there's no denying that his position tends to generate a lot more pop than just league average. Among the 24 MLB 1st basemen who qualified, Barton finished 12th in OPS. Barton was roughly average on the offensive side, perhaps slightly better, for his position - at least using OPS. With that said, as all-encompassing as the simpler stats like OPS get, it's important to acknowledge the two components that make it up - OBP% and SLG%. Barton's 2010 OBP% was one of the best in baseball, so his good OPS is padded quite a bit by his tremendous OBP%. (Although the calculation of OPS weighs both metrics equally, the average SLG% is approximately 1.2x the value of the average OBP%, which means that SLG% can inflate the OPS a bit, and that if you had to choose, it would be more beneficial to have an OPS padded by OBP% than SLG%.) Still, remembering that 1st base is traditionally a power-position, it's hard to overlook Barton's .405 SLG%. Sure, it was .002 points above the Major League average of .403, but it was the third-lowest SLG% among the previously mentioned 24 MLB 1st basemen (placing Barton 22nd of 24 in SLG%). Another statistic, whose emphasis is strictly power, and also goes by couple of different names, is Isolated Power, or "ISO." (Also known as Isolated Slugging, abbreviated "iSLG%.") It's incredibly useful as an individual measure of power because the traditional SLG% can be inflated by a high batting-average or deflated by a low batting-average. What ISO does, is effectively take the batter's frequency of hits out of the equation...literally...ISO = SLG% - AVG. How did Daric Barton fare among his MLB counterparts? AWFUL! Only James Loney ended with a worse ISO than DB, who finished 23rd out of 24 in the category.
Daric Barton is a good player. Based purely on his offensive statistics, his numbers are very good at first glance. When you see that he plays 1st base, they're not quite as impressive. In fact, "underwhelming" would be the polite way to describe his power numbers. However, Barton's overall value increases once again when his defense is taken into account. As little credit defensively adequate 1st basemen tend to receive, Daric Barton was undeniably exceptional. While standard measurements only tell one aspect of a players ability, WAR allows us to gauge the overall value of Daric Barton (or anyone else for that matter) by incorporating both offense and defense. Many regard Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as the end-all, be-all of baseball statistics, partially because it takes every facet of the game into account (offense, defense, replacement player value, value-adjustments based on position). We know Barton finished at or near the top in many defensive categories, his greatest strength on offense was his patience, and his greatest weakness was quite literally his weakness - power (or lack thereof). Barton's a unique study because he's seemingly on one extreme, either high or low, in a number of measurements. Interestingly enough, Fangraphs calculated Barton's 2010 WAR equal to 4.9. That actually placed him 6th among MLB 1st basemen (2nd in the AL), behind Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Aubrey Huff, and Adrian Gonzalez, and in front of guys like Paul Konerko, Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, Mark Teixeira, Derrek Lee, and Ryan Howard.
The second 1st baseman isn't nearly as important as the 2nd catcher. It's not even a guarantee someone besides the starter will even play in the first few weeks (or months) of the year. As of right now, Daric Barton is the only true 1st basemen that's basically guaranteed to be on the Opening Day roster. The only backup candidates that are currently Oakland property are all naturally positioned elsewhere on the diamond. This includes Chris Carter, Adam Rosales, Jeff Larish, Landon Powell, and Josh Donaldson. Not having another true 1st baseman isn't really a problem; most teams enter spring training without a clear second option at first. In my opinion, it's more of an opportunity than anything else. If Chris Carter makes the team then it gives the A's another glove at 1st (and protection from Carter in LF when someone else DH's). If my wish is granted and Adam Dunn is in Green & Gold next season then he'll provide another 1st base option for the A's. The closest thing to a dark horse candidate would have to be Tommy Everidge, which would basically mean something went wrong over the course of the offseason (like no moves whatsoever and/or Barton is hurt to start the year).
The 1st Base Market
If the A's sign a 1st baseman, it's because they want a DH. Chris Carter should get a number of opportunities in that capacity, but the A's may want to add a left-handed stick with power if Jack Cust isn't back in 2011 (and all signs indicate that he won't be). The A's could give consideration to Type A free agents Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee, and Paul Konerko, or Type B guys like Carlos Pena and Aubrey Huff. That's not to say a Mark Kotsay reunion is out of the question, or the possible addition of Lyle Overbay or Troy Glaus shouldn't be considered so the A's have some power off the bench. The payouts owed to each candidate is sure to be a factor in the A's potential negotiations of the future. Aubrey Huff is one player certainly deserving of a huge raise, regardless if he returns to the Giants or decides to test the waters of free agency. Huff's inconsistency in his career is his biggest detractor, but if my guess is correct, it won't matter because he'll be back in Orange & Black next season. One guy who won't be wearing the uniform he ended 2010 in is Lance Berkman, whose option was recently declined by the Yankees. Berkman failed in the American League, and his contribution to the Yanks was minimal. His .255/.358/.349 should result in a fair salary drop, despite being one of the more consistent power hitters of the past decade.
All of this is obviously nothing more than speculation based on itself (that being absolutely nothing). I don't know anyone who knows anyone anywhere in an MLB front office, and I could easily continue reciting name after name, knowing the more I list, the odds I mention someone the A's will acquire increase. Still, I'd still like to reiterate my one wish for the A's regarding free agents this offseason: ADAM DUNN. The Type A status is probably his biggest detractor from the standpoint of an organization such as the A's, who have lived an died on their early draft picks. But the amount of money the A's have coming off the books should allow them some leverage if they get into a bidding war with some teams. Anyone thinking he'll be another Jack Cust won't lose that argument from me, but that's because Cust was never as bad as most people felt he was. Sure, both of them strikeout a lot, but an out is an out. Both Adam Dunn's and Jack Cust's high OBP%'s mean they get on base more frequently than the average hitter - which, in turn, means that they make outs less frequently than the average hitter. So who cares how they're making those outs? Even if they're striking out every time, the end result is the same as an unproductive ground-out or fly-out, and their plate appearances result in an out far less often than most players. Cust's strengths were his patience and his power, and Adam Dunn excels in both those categories arguably more than anyone. Most people would say that those are in fact Dunn's greatest assets, but from a fan of a hopefully prospective suitor, it's his consistency I admire most.
Somehow it took me that long to say that Daric Barton's a good 1st baseman who will start for the A's in 2011 and that I wish/hope the A's sign Adam Dunn...that's about everything in a nutshell.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
In a recent article, the San Francisco Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins managed to take some of the generally positive sentiment generated by the Rangers-Giants World Series match, and somehow mold it into a cynical evaluation of A's General Manager Billy Beane. I'm not questioning Jenkins' credibility as a writer by any means-he's written plenty of columns that collectively reflect his knowledge, and he's done so for a long time. What I am calling into question is what he seems to imply in the article. His argument seems so shallow that once you read the title, you might as well have read the entire article (minus the factual tidbits at the end).
Source: Bush, Darryl. San Francisco Chronicle, 2006)
Do I disagree with the point? No, I don't. I agree with Bruce Jenkins. I agree that Ron Washington would not have worked out as the Athletics' manager to the same extent that he has for the Rangers.
Like I mentioned earlier, what I don't agree with (or at least need clarification on) is what Jenkins' seems to imply. After pondering the amount of managerial consideration Billy Beane gave to Washington prior to the 2007 season, (Jenkins also describes Washington as "a man with a pulse, someone who speaks from the heart") he then writes "nobody wonders too long about that, because the answer is an emphatic NO." The latter portion is fine. Without question. But if nobody wonders about it, then why is it the point of your column, Bruce? Well, it looks like readers have to assume that the reason is the simplest of the simple - because it's a dog-eat-dog world we live in, so almost everything comes down to some sort of comparison when you break it down to the core (sports columns would be one of the last things exempt from this train of thought). So it's here, in Bruce Jenkins comparative entry, where the certainty of hindsight allows Ron Washington to be the great baseball manager with a heart (and a pulse to go along with it) while Billy Beane's authoritarian approach to organizational operations apparently make the imperceptible Bob Geren the ideal man to squeeze 81 wins out of a team that evidently overachieved (according to Bruce) by finishing 2nd in the AL West.
Ron Washington has a pulse, and the Rangers finished in front of the A's, so he's the reason the Rangers are a good team. Is that what Bruce Jenkins means? I'm asking this because there isn't much else to go on . Where's the support? Wait...something else is missing...oh yeah! Where's the foundation? Ron Washington is a good baseball man, there's no denying that. But Bengie Molina could have player/coached the Rangers to a division title. The Rangers success and the A's mediocrity in 2010 was predictable three years ago. In fact, it's almost amazing the A's reached 81 wins just three seasons after having no significant big-league contributors and a depleted minor-league system. But Jenkins' article seems to give off the notion that if Billy Beane had loosened up the leash entering the 2007 season and hired Ron Washington, the 2010 Fall Classic would be a rematch of the 1989 series.
"It's just such a great thing that Washington left Oakland and joined a team he could really manage."
Is it such a great thing? Are we all simply astonished by Ron Washington's unique managerial approach to baseball? NO! That "NO" is more emphatic than Jenkins' "NO" regarding Washington's hypothetical managerial career in Oakland. At this point, Jenkins' seems to expose his own personal convictions more so than anything baseball-related. It's certainly a great thing for Ron Washington that he left Oakland and joined the Rangers. I don't know how great it would have turned out elsewhere. In some cases...actually no...in quite a few cases, it may have turned out horribly! Would Jenkins' have written this same article if Ron Washington had been in Trey Hillman's shoes the past three years? Maybe - if Ron Washington managed the Royals to the World Series. More importantly, would that have been possible if Wash' was in KC? NO! The cards Wash' was handed when he took the job were his greatest asset, not something he inherently possessed before he left the Bay Area nearly 4 seasons ago.
"There's no pervasive offensive philosophy on the Rangers, no strict directive to go up there and watch a million pitches pass by."
It seems as though Bruce is attributing a ton of Ron Washington's success to the moment the Rangers apparently became the Burger King of MLB front offices and told their skipper "have it your way, Wash!" By comparison, it's a given that Washington has far more control over the Rangers than he would have had he been named manager of the Athletics. But Jenkins seems to be under the impression that either the A's are the only team that implements specific philosophical approaches from the GM on down, or the Rangers are the only ones who don't. I don't know if he did it intentionally or not, but Jenkins' was correct when he mentioned that there isn't any offensive philosophy implemented by the Texas front office (that is public knowledge at least). If that was indeed intentional, it's probably because Jenkins is aware of Nolan Ryan's emphasis on pitcher stamina, which minimizes the significance of pitch counts, but is a big reason the Rangers' staff stresses year-round conditioning to their pitchers. The rational effect of this approach undeniably alters such state-of-the-game decisions regarding how, when, and where to use which pitcher, and therefore, the managerial approach taken by Ron Washington.
I could go on to criticize Jenkins' article in a thousand more words than it was even written, but that would ultimately detract from my objective. Although, when Jenkins implies that Ron Washington is courageous because he confessed to his own personal weakness after testing positive for cocaine use prior to the start of the 2010 season, it seems as though Bruce is using the most arbitrary details of Washington's off-the-field life to accredit his managerial success. Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge Ron Washington fan, and I think he's a terrific manager. I think there's plenty of in-game decisions that make that evident. I also think that someones' personal life and professional life are two entirely different entities, and therefore should be kept separated in their respective analyses. I don't think Ron Washington is a bad person because he tested positive for an illegal narcotic. I don't know the man! I know little about his personal life other than Eric Chavez gave him one of his 6 Gold Glove Awards, and that his New Orleans home was ruined by Hurricane Katrina and Jason Giambi helped him recover in the aftermath. Beyond that, I could say nothing about Ron Washington that doesn't have something to do with baseball. His character is what distinguishes his status as a "good" or "bad" member of society, so only people who know Ron Washington could judge him in that respect. It's in that same respect that we can't accurately judge Ron Washington's professional career based on the decisions he makes in his personal life. We have an infinite number of metrics we could choose from to evaluate Ron Washington's effectiveness as a manager, so why would we throw in some anecdotal nonsense that isn't even close to baseball-related? Bruce Jenkins may not agree with that particular idea, and that's fine. But citing a positive drug test as an event that ultimately revealed Ron Washington's courage to the public and somehow tying it back to the Rangers playing in the World Series is ridiculous. The last I checked, it was a bad thing to test positive for illegal drugs. Jenkins goes on to say that Billy Martin and Tony LaRussa have proven that not-so-good life decisions don't have to get in the way of success on the field. Yes, once again, I agree with the idea, but what is Bruce implying in that statement? I'd like to point out that, although Tony LaRussa may have been arrested for DUI, he's one of the most respectable individuals in society - not just in baseball. He's an animal rights advocate, and I admire him more for his personal ideals and contributions to society (such as ARF) than I do for his contributions to the game...other than maybe the 89' World Series. I'm a far greater supporter of LaRussa outside of baseball because of all of the work he's done to protect animals. I actually can't stand his strategic approach to baseball...but LaRussa's managerial decisions are a completely different topic...just like they should be.
In Case He Ever Reads It (within the next few weeks)
You're covering the World Series, Bruce. Giants fans will probably appreciate a column about what you think they're doing right a lot more than A's fans will appreciate a column about what you think they're doing wrong. I hope you realize that. Go A's.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Well the A's obviously aren't in them but quite a few A's fans probably can't seem to get away from playoff fever. I'm talking of course about the local buzz surrounding the National League neighbors of the Athletics, the 2010 NL West Champion San Francisco Giants. Although "playoff fever" is probably something the more bitter, envious, and spiteful A's fans would like to see turn into typhoid fever, it's undeniably an exciting time if your teams apart of it. And besides, any baseball is better than no baseball.
(The last play in A's postseason history from the 2006 ALCS is pictured above)
The seemingly inescapable talk about the 2010 MLB Postseason among Bay Area baseball fans is a direct result of the Giants success at the end of the regular season and through the playoffs so far. There are sure to be some A's fans who are genuinely mutual rooters of the Giants, and others who clench their teeth at the very thought of their success. What I might find hard to believe however, is that there are A's fans without an opinion on the matter-with the exception perhaps being those living outside of the region. Otherwise, your indifference can't be conditional, and the success of another team within the A's market cannot be ignored. The Giants were good this year, and their strong September play proved beneficial when the Padres decided October baseball wasn't for them.
As an A's fan, it's hard not to be a little jealous, especially since this is the first time since 1997 that the A's didn't make the playoffs while the Giants did. With that said, you can't hate someone for cheering on the team they grew up watching, and outside of the ballparks, I'm a fan of anyone wearing their team colors. It's also always good to see people who are fans of baseball in general. (This is a completely different conversation, but in a film-sport analogy, Michael Bay films are to football, as Stanley Kubrick's films are to baseball. That's a reference to both popularity and intellectual quality. Don't get me wrong, I've followed the NFL in the past as well as the NCAA in the more recent past, but I grew up in a Niners household and they're pretty much becoming the Royals of the NFL.) Growing up on the peninsula has forced me to accept that being an A's fan means I'm going to be in the minority, even within my own social circle. Personally, most of my close friends are very intelligent and loyal Giants fans. For them, I can be happy if the Giants succeed in the playoffs. Those I refuse to be happy for, and those I will insist on detesting, are the people who have just started following the Giants over the past eight weeks. I refuse to acknowledge these people as baseball fans, and if the Giants go on to win the 2010 World Series, it will make me sick to know that these people have the privilege of believing they were apart of something as special as a World Series. I understand that people like this are apart of almost every team to make a playoff run, but I'd feel the exact same way if it were the A's.
Another adverse effect this should have on the A's is from the media's standpoint. The Bay Area media practically refuses to acknowledge the very existence of the A's as it is. Even when the A's are good it seems as though they need to win twenty consecutive games, or have their starting pitcher throw a perfect game just to remind the local media that they reside in the same region. The amount of excessive discussion in 2011 alone that will come as a result of the Giants' postseason success is already a given. At this point it's merely a matter of how much bigger the already (and literally) "Giant" shadow hovering over A's will actually become.
Although some A's fans might say they refuse to root for a team whose owners allegedly want the A's "out" of the region, (a thought substantiated by the Giants attempt to "block" San Jose from the A's) there's little proof beyond speculation that Larry Baer and Bill Nuekom want the A's to depart from the region. While they obviously wouldn't have a problem with the A's moving elsewhere, it's important to note that Giants ownership said nothing about the Fremont development, or the A's excursions within their own territory. Thanks to a post on NewBallpark.org, it's theorized that Baer and Nuekom apparently made a deal with Jon Fisher in which the A's majority owner claimed he would not pursue any ballpark developments in San Jose. That information is something most A's fans following the topic have been left in the dark about, and it also makes the Giants ownership not seem so merciless. As businessmen, it's understandable why they'd like A's ownership to honor their agreement. From that same business aspect however, it would also be nice to see the Giants take a more marketable approach to the situation if the A's can't find a new home in the East Bay, especially since the A's are the ones who granted the Giants their rights to the South Bay (it was previously mutual territory) back when they were in danger of moving to St. Petersburg.
Just For Fun
And of course for the more jealous A's fans (and any other A's fans surrounded by victims of the playoff-fever epidemic), it's still consoling to point out that even if the Giants win it all this year, the A's still have more trophies in ten less years spent in the Bay Area.
Here are a few facts about the Bay Area MLB franchises and their history in the region-just to sooth the pain of envy
- As I mentioned earlier, this is the first time since 1997 the Giants have made the playoffs and the A's did not
- Since the A's moved to Oakland in 1968, the Giants have made the playoffs just 3 times in years the A's have not, including this year (1987, 1997, and 2010)
- The Giants have made the playoffs 8 times, including this year, since 1968
- The A's have made the playoffs 15 times since 1968
- The A's have won the World Series 4 times in 6 opportunities since moving to Oakland
- The Giants have not won a World Series in 3 opportunities since moving to San Francisco
While these facts are fun to acknowledge, and prove the A's have the historical edge, what matters right now is that the 2010 NL West Champion Giants are a win away from their 4th pennant since moving to the Bay Area, and the Athletics are watching it on television. We can all point to history as a means of relief, and the historical facts are certainly a legitimate assertion. But we desire relief in large part because we wish we could all be where they are right now.
Here's a playful prediction keeping with the theme of Bay Area baseball. Consider the following:
- As of right now, the Giants lead the NLCS 3-2 over the Phillies
- The last time the Giants led the NLCS 3-2 was in 1987 versus the St. Louis Cardinals (the Cardinals came back to win the sixth and seventh games)
- That same year, the A's finished 81-81 and failed the make the postseason
- The following year, 1988, was the first of three consecutive seasons in which the Athletics made the World Series (only winning it 89')
- This year, 2010, the A's also finished 81-81 and failed to make the playoffs
- The ONLY times in San Francisco Giants franchise history in which they led the NLCS 3-2 were in 1987 and this year, 2010
- The ONLY times in Oakland Athletics franchise history in which they finished 81-81 were in 1987 and this year, 2010
And the American League Side of it
Perhaps focus should be shifted off the Giants and over to the league the A's actually play in. Sure, a lot of people said the Rangers were going to win the West coming into the season. After the month of June it started looking like it would be difficult for them not to win it. But a lot of people also said they were going to get booted quickly from the postseason too. No team was as frustrated with Texas as the A's were, and A's fans probably share that same sentiment. Regardless of your feelings about it, the Rangers are going to the World Series. I rooted as hard as anyone possibly could have against the Rangers this past season, but it's hard to resent them when it was a miracle the A's were able to stave off elimination until a week left anyway. When you watch the final out, it's also hard not to be happy for Ron Washington. Not only that, it's also hard not to look twice when CJ Wilson lifts up Bengie Molina around the 1:17 mark. As much grief as I gave bandwagon fans earlier in the post, it's nice to see Texans give as much attention to the Rangers as they do the Cowboys. San Francisco's always been as good a baseball town as it is a football town, but the Rangers almost always take a backseat to the Cowboys (maybe not this year since they're 1-4).
(Rangers winning the American League Pennant pictured above)
The 2010 A's vs Who's Left
Seriously, with the Rangers winning the American League Pennant, and the Giants a win away from taking the NL Pennant, it's a tough call for A's fans on who to root for (or who to root against more). On one hand A's fans could root for the Giants and argue they're doing so because the Rangers were the only team standing between the A's and a division title. On the other hand, the Giants share the same market, and the media frenzy as a result of a trophy on the west side of the bay may quite possibly become the most irritatingly inescapable provocation to ever exist for an A's fan. Either way, if the Giants do indeed play the Rangers in the World Series, one things for certain-A's fans will not hear the end of it, no matter who wins.
How did the A's fair against the leftover playoff teams?
- They went 0-0 vs the Phillies
- They went 3-3 vs the Giants
o The A's took the first three at the Coliseum while the Giants took the last three at AT&T Park
o The A's and Giants both looked like different teams when the series switched venues. The A's were 1st in the West when they played host, and three weeks later they left San Francisco losers of 5 of their last 15, never to rise higher than 2nd in the standings for the remainder of the year
- They went 9-10 vs the Rangers
o This series was a close one, and was in the A’s favor for most of the year
o 10 of the 19 games were decided by 3 runs or less
o The A’s lost the final three games of the series, the second in which the Rangers clinched the division
Take what you want from this. This is an A's blog, so excuse the perceived biases. Go A's.