Zito vs. Zito, Zito Loses

The boxscore says Chris Young faced off against Barry Zito in San Diego Tuesday night, but my eyes say that it was more like a matchup that took place in a computerized fantasy simulation: this was Barry Zito 2003 vs. Zito 2006. If you’re wondering why Chris Young suddenly turned into a good pitcher this year, I think it’s because somebody gave him a copy of Barry Zito’s 2003 playbook.

Young was just baffling the A’s hitters with what looked like mediocre stuff, and I kept wondering how he was doing it, until I realized that he was following a Barry Zito gameplan circa 2003, and then I understood what he was doing. The game plan looks something like this:

  • Live on three pitches: 86-88 mph four-seam fastball, a changeup, and a curveball.
  • First time through the lineup: throw almost nothing but fastballs. Maybe a changeup or two. Don’t show your curveball at all.
  • Pound the fastballs inside, just off the plate. Pitch higher in the strike zone than the batters are used to.
  • Second time through the order, just as they start expecting the fastball, start breaking out the curve.
  • Hope you can throw the curveball for strikes at this point. If you can’t, they’ll start sitting fastball, and then you’ll be lucky to make it through the order a second time.
  • If you’re not sharp, don’t give in to a batter–it’s preferable to walk a bunch of guys, and refuse to give up big hits, and you’ll minimize the damage when you get into jams. Keep aiming for the corners or just off it, and eventually, you’ll throw a good pitch and get a lazy popup or a strikeout, and get out of trouble.
  • Run a high pitch count so you barely make it through the sixth inning.
  • Hope your team’s bullpen can hang on to the lead.

The game plan worked perfectly. Young wasn’t particularly sharp, he walked a bunch of guys, had a lot of deep counts on others, but he never gave in to a batter. The A’s never managed to get a clutch hit off him, despite numerous opportunities.

Zito used that same game plan quite often in 2003, but the scheme seemed to run out of gas in 2004. The hitters learned the pattern, and started making Zito pay for his predictability. Zito had a fairly bad year in 2004, and had to make some adjustments (learn two new pitches: slider and two-seamer) in 2005 to get the hitters off-balance again. He’s a much different (and, IMO, better) pitcher now. It will be quite interesting to see if the batters eventually adjust to Young, and if Young will have to make a similar adjustment back.

The 2006 Zito was a little bit wild today; he didn’t have sharp control, and the Padres worked a few runs off him with a couple timely hits and an unfortunate balk. On an average day, allowing just three runs would be enough to win. But on an average day, you don’t pitch against your past.

Quality Starts

Well, my Blanton Fast worked, as he rattled off three straight quality starts as soon as I started it. The Blanton Fast is now over.

Seems like a good time to look at the A’s quality start numbers. If you want to see why the A’s have been hot in June, this chart pretty much explains it:

Quality Start Chart

Pitcher     April    May    June    Total
Zito         2/5     6/6     3/5    11/16
Haren        2/5     4/6     4/5    10/16
Blanton      2/5     3/6     3/4     8/15
Saarloos     0/0     1/5     3/3     4/ 8
Loaiza       1/4     0/0     2/4     3/ 8
Harden       2/5     0/0     0/1     2/ 6
Halsey       0/0     1/6     0/0     1/ 6
Team QS      9/24   15/29   15/22   39/75
Team QS%     .375    .517    .681    .520
Team wins   12/24   12/29   17/22   41/75
Wins-QS        +3      -3      +2      +2

The entire rotation is performing much better in June, and as a consequence, so is the whole team. All those quality starts in June has enabled the team to hide the fact that the bullpen is still not very deep from all the injuries.

So now that Blanton is repaired, who should I fast now? I’m thinking Eric Chavez. The guy is clearly playing injured. He’s swinging right through all kinds of hittable pitches. It’s probably painful for him to hit, and it’s definitely painful for me to watch. I’m not watching him hit again until he comes up with a multi-hit game which includes at least one extra-base hit.

25 Least Favorite Oakland Athletics

The Esteban Loaiza news prompted a discussion on this blog about our all-time least-favorite A’s players. I laid out a few players in that discussion, but I thought I’d formalize the list, rank them in order of how much I disliked them, and explain why I disliked each of them.

The only rule is this: I have to have honestly disliked them while they played for the A’s. I can’t include players from whom I developed a dislike after they left. So no Giambi brothers, no Jose Canseco, no Troy Neel. And I don’t think Scott Sauerbeck is eligible yet, since I have yet to see him play.

The List:

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Few Hits, Lots of Pitches

I still haven’t gotten around to writing about Saturday, because yesterday a friend gave me tickets to the Giants-Angels game yesterday, so my family and I got on the ferry, and off we went.

I missed the top of the first, because my daughter wanted to take an at-bat in the mini-AT&T Park out in left field. I peeked through the holes in the faux-ballpark and saw Chone Figgins racing around third base and scoring, but I had no idea how that happened.

In the fifth inning, I heard some people talking about pitch counts and no-hitters, and I looked up and was surprised that Matt Cain indeed had a no-hitter going. I had figured there was a hit of some sort in the first inning, but I guess I was wrong.

And so Matt Cain went on throwing a no-hitter, through the sixth, and seventh, and into the eighth. With every out, the crowd seemed to get a little more excited. And I started getting a little more nervous, because Cain’s pitch count was getting awfully high. He got past 120 pitches in the eighth, and there was still over an inning to go.

I’d have loved to have seen another no-hitter in person (I witnessed Nolan Ryan’s sixth, and a four-pitcher no-hitter by the Orioles), but at the same time, I’d hate to see Matt Cain blow out his arm trying for it. So I was torn.

Cain got through 7 2/3 before he gave up his first hit, a clean single to center by Figgins, on this pitch:

Cain finished the inning, and walked off to a loud, standing ovation. He had a great night. And so did I.

A’s Get Loaiza A Driving Buddy

Less than a week after Esteban Loaiza was arrested for DUI, the A’s signed another player recently involved in a DUI incident, Scott Sauerbeck, to replace Steve Karsay, who retired.

Sauerbeck was just a passenger in the incident, not a driver. But it was his car involved in the incident, and both Sauerbeck and the passenger tried to hide from police after they were about to get caught.

Is this what counts for players who are undervalued by the market these days? People who (let people) drive drunk? Yes, nobody was hurt in either incident. The ghosts of those not killed are grateful.

I feel sick. First, we find out that for over a decade, the A’s clubhouse was a virtual pharmacy of illegal performance enhancing chemicals. Nobody gave a crap because the juiced up players helped them win. Now, this.

It’s not really signing Sauerbeck per se that bothers me. Innocent until proven guilty, of course. Really, what bothers me more is the historical pattern here.

Do you really think the A’s management went all those years and had no idea all these players were using these chemicals? Have the A’s ever expressed any regret or remorse or disapproval of any sort of chemical abuse? Maybe the Jeremy Giambi-John Mabry trade was…but we can only guess.

The question is: what kind of values do the A’s really have, anyway?

I want to root for a team that wins because of their values, not despite them. I get enough of that sort of behavior from the politics section of the newspaper. I don’t want it in my sports section.

The A’s have a designated driver program at their home games. With each passing year, they make it harder and harder to sign up. These days, you have to go to two different tables, sign two different forms, get a wristband stuck around your arm, all to get a voucher for a extremely small cup of soda that you can only redeem at certain stands in the stadium, the list of which is published nowhere, not even on the voucher. If you visit the wrong stand–sorry, you just wasted five minutes of your life standing in line for nothing. You need to go stand in that other line over there.

If they want to show they really have some values in this regard, give me one short form to fill out, don’t make me put on a useless wristband that nobody checks anyway, give me the largest soda you have, let me redeem it at any doggone stand in the whole stadium, and make Esteban Loaiza and Scott Sauerbeck pay for it. Then maybe I’ll start believing the A’s actually believe in something truly valuable.

Might As Well DL Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas tweaked his quad muscle again, and since he would probably have to miss a couple of games this weekend, and the following nine games are all in National League parks where he wouldn’t play anyway, the A’s put him on the DL.

How convieeeeeeeeeenient. He’ll be eligible to return when the A’s come back home, where the DHes roam, and the pitchers don’t swing bats all year.

Jeremy Brown replaces him on the 25-man roster. It’s the third time he’s been called up this year. He hasn’t played yet. Here’s hoping he gets at least one AB this time.

Loaiza Arrested for DUI, Speeding

According to the Oakland Tribune, Esteban Loaiza was arrested at 3AM on Wednesday morning for DUI and speeding. The CHP reported he was driving over 120mph.

It would sure be nice if the A’s could use this as an excuse to get out of that contract, but invoking the “morals clause” in the standard player contract is very difficult to do even in the worst behavioral examples, and unlikely to succeed.

We’re still stuck with him. I was having a hard time liking Loaiza to begin with, but I tried. Now, however, I shall now consider Loaiza as a resident of the deepest levels of my doghouse. He’s going to have to not only play extremely well, but show show a healthy dose of genuine contrition and remorse, to have any chance of getting off my list of least-favorite Oakland Athletics players of all time.

A Bad Plot Twist

There came a point for all of us–maybe at the first sight of Jar Jar Binks, maybe at the nails-on-the-chalkboard “romantic” dialogue between Anakin and Amidala, or maybe, if you’re a diehard believer, at that final shout of “Noooooooooooooooo!”–but in any case, at some point, you were forced to admit to yourself that no matter how much you admired the vision that George Lucas had for his Star Wars franchise, the execution just isn’t going to match the vision.

Ordinarily, I’d be walking on cloud nine after a five-game winning streak, including sweep of the Yankees, but the news of the Rich Harden injury, punctuated by Will Carroll reporting that Tommy John surgery now increasingly likely, has left me screaming “Nooooooooooooo!” to myself all weekend. The thought of Harden missing most of this year and next still haunts me.

* * *

Whether constructing a work of art or a baseball team, there are many paths to excellence. Sometimes, excellence arises from combining a bunch of pieces that work perfectly together. Sometimes, you stumble upon one or two of such quality that other details can be flawed, and it’s still excellent. And then there’s the rare moments of transcendence where you combine one or two great pieces with their perfect complements.

The original Star Wars films worked pretty well because they had three excellent things: a great villain in Darth Vader, a great actor in Harrison Ford who took a bunch of corny lines and made them sound plausible, and an interesting universe for the characters to inhabit. We barely noticed the flaws with the films because these three excellent things carried us past them.

But the prequels had neither the villain nor the actor, and suddenly all the flaws started sticking out like sore thumbs. In hindsight, Lucas needed to do one of two things:

  • Use the stars-and-scrubs formula again

    You need a great bad guy. In the prequels, Anakin isn’t bad yet and the Emperor isn’t really revealed as the bad guy until the third film. Perhaps you show the Emperor being evil right from the start.

    You let a great actor act. Let Samuel L. Jackson be Samuel L. Jackson. I want Jules Winnfield as a Jedi, not some cardboard cutout called Mace Windu.

  • Used a fully balanced attack

    Without stars to cover for the flaws in the details, you have to fix all the flaws in the details. You may not have any pieces that stand out, but you need every piece to fit together right, or the whole thing falls apart.

    No overly convoluted plots. No wooden dialogue. No annoying characters.

Or…maybe…both? Add the perfect complements to a few great pieces, and build something timeless.

* * *

Losing Harden depresses me for this reason: he’s the only eye-popping, shake-your-head-in-disbelief, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him dominant talent in the whole A’s organization. He’s the only Darth Vader/Han Solo the A’s have, a guy who can make up for the flaws in the rest of the story. There’s no one else on the major league roster, and no one in the minor league pipeline, who has this quality. Everyone else just does their part to move the plot along, some better than others, of course. But Rich Harden is a plot by himself.

The A’s hoped that maybe Eric Chavez would be such a player, or Bobby Crosby, but it should be clear that neither of them is that sort of player. They’re both a level below that: truly good, not truly great.

Losing Harden limits the A’s options. There’s no chance of transcendence, where a great player is complemented by a great balanced attack around him. You can’t do the stars-and-scrubs approach, because without him, there’s no big star.

* * *

That leaves two choices: find yerself another dominant player, or build yerself a flawless team.

I think it’s possible, that when all these injured players get back and hit their stride, that the A’s might have this kind of balanced, flawless team, with good, solid players at every position. But given what’s happened so far this year with all the slumps and injuries, no one can be blamed for being skeptical that this will come to fruition.

* * *

I need some kind of silver lining in this dark cloud to make me feel better. And that’s where the Barry Zito conundrum comes in.

This is Zito’s last year. If the A’s are going to win this year, without Harden, they’re going to need Zito.

However, Zito is also the A’s best trading chip if they want to land another dominant player. To trade or not to trade, that is the question.

I chatted with Bryan Smith earlier this week, and he said the 2007 draft class looks “awesome”. That helps give Billy Beane a little leverage in any possible trade, because the two draft picks the A’s would get in the upcoming draft is worth more than picks in a weak draft. He can afford to set a high price for Zito.

If his price isn’t met, and Zito can’t land the A’s their next dominant player, Beane will just take his chances: that this team will be good enough with Zito to compete for a title in 2006, and that the those extra picks in that awesome draft class will bring them the kind of dominant player or perfect puzzle pieces they need to keep competing in the future. Either way, it’s good.

There, I just found myself a new hope.

Rouse Up The Puns

Mike Rouse got called up from AAA Sacramento, made his major league debut against in Yankee Stadium Friday night, and immediately became the darling of all headline writers everywhere. His first two games have been a rousing success, helping the A’s offense arouse from its slumber by hitting .571/.625/.714 with 2 runs, 2 RBI and a stolen base.

All those puns will get old very quickly, but if a groan-inducing phrase Twister is what it takes to get some more offense out of the A’s, I will listen to all the bad puns you can rouse up. In fact, if it will help the A’s win some more games, I’ll even Risk the Trouble of taking back my moratorium on Milton Bradley puns. When it comes to wins, we’re like Hungry, Hungry Hippos around here.

Messages From The Famous

Boy oh boy oh boy am I glad this election is over. I am so tired of having to answer phone calls from the likes of Al Gore, Dianne Feinstein and Jerry Brown. Doggone celebrities can’t leave me alone.

And that’s not all. My phone has also been buzzing because Alameda High School recently won the North Coast 3A high school baseball championship. (Philip Michaels was there). I suppose I should be happy that my fine island has produced yet another baseball success story, but my enthusiasm is a bit dampened. Partly because I attended Alameda High’s main rival, Encinal High School. But mostly because of this fact: Alameda High’s coach is named Ken Arnerich. And his son, Kenny Arnerich, was the winning pitcher in the championship game.

Thus, I now present the transcript to over half my telephone conversations in the past week:

“Hello?”
“Hello, may I speak to Ken?”
“This is Ken.”
“Hey, wassup Ken, this is Mumblemumblemumble!”
“Who?”
“Mumblemumblemumble! Howzitgoin’?”
“Do I know you?”
“Oh, am I talking to the father or the son?”
“You have the wrong number, dude.”
“Oh, sorry.”

I suppose I should not be so annoyed. Perhaps I should respond to this celebrity intrusion with more enthusiasm, like how Annika responded to an email she received from Robert Redford about gas prices:

Dear Mr. Redford,

Oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god OMG OMG OMG!!!!

I can’t believe I got an e-mail from you!

…[snip]…

Okay lemme see. All the President’s Men was an awesome movie too. I liked that one. What else? The Natural! That movie kicked ass so much more than the one with Kevin Costner, which was too weird. I don’t know what the point of that one was. Like why would he build that baseball field? What was the deal with that? I liked that you made your own bat in The Natural, even though it ended up breaking, but you still hit a bunch of home runs with it.

Did you notice that in The Natural you started out as a pitcher, but then you switched to a home run hitter — just like Babe Ruth did! That was the cool part. Well, one of the many cool parts. The whole movie was cool, for a baseball movie. My favorite baseball movie of all time was Bull Durham, which you weren’t in. But Kevin Costner was in it, which is funny because he also did that one where he built the baseball field, which was kind of sucky as I said before.

That’s so great. Now I’m totally regretting not responding that one time I got an email from Britney Spears. Not some mass-market email, or spam email faking Britney Spears, but an actual honest-to-goodness email from Britney herself. I happen to own a domain name whose name is perilously close to that of a music label. Until I blocked them, I used to constantly get emails from people who misspelled that domain name, asking if they’ve received the CDs or sheet music, informing me of meetings, upcoming sessions, inviting me to release parties, and so many other mundane details of the music business. I’ve thought it might be fun to show up at one of these meetings sometime, but unfortunately, most of them were in New York City.

Anyhoo, the day before some special she had on HBO, Britney herself made this oh-so-common spelling error in JC Chasez‘s email address, and his invitation to a party (along with Justin Timberlake, Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, and others) on “FIRDAY, NOVEMBER 30 AT THE TIMBERLAKE/SPEARS ESTATE” (yes the entire email was in ALL CAPS) reached my inbox instead.

I guess I just wasn’t in a snarky mood that day. Oh well, opportunity wasted. I wish I had had Annika’s response as a model. What are the odds that those email addresses I possess still work?

SORRY BRITNEY JEAN I MISSED THAT PARTY THAT YOU AND BOBBEE PLANNED FOR CHRIS AND DANI WHO ARE (WERE?) FINALLY TOGETHER ONCE AGAIN...BUT OMG OMG OMG OMG I *TOTALLY* WISH I COULD HAVE BEEN THERE!

But too late, I guess. But, hmm, maybe it’s not too late for…well, time to go. I gotta replace my answering machine message with a recording of “We Are The Champions”.

The Fast Is Dead: Long Live The Fast

Well, the Kendall fast worked, and now the Loaiza fast, where I would not watch Loaiza until he threw five consecutive shutout innings, is over. Esteban Loaiza came off the DL today and pitched brilliantly, throwing only 77 pitches in seven innings, allowing just one run, a seventh inning solo homer by Ben Broussard. The A’s won, 4-1.

Since this fasting idea seems to be working pretty well, I think it should continue. Which A’s player is currently annoying me the most? Probably Joe Blanton. His inconsistency from start to start is maddening. One start he throws a shutout, the next he gives up more runs than innings pitched.

So I shall now begin a Joe Blanton fast. I’m not going to watch Blanton again until he runs off three consecutive quality starts.

Here’s hoping he can end this fast quite quickly. If Rich Harden needs Tommy John surgery (not in the immediate cards, but since he has a “high-grade strain of the UCL” according to A’s trainer Larry Davis, you have to imagine it could happen), the A’s will need both Loaiza and Blanton to find their grooves ASAP.

You gotta wonder…if Rick Peterson were still here, would the A’s have had all these pitching injuries?

Harden Returns to DL

Harden’s back is fine, but now his elbow hurts. Criminey!

This really pops my balloon. I had visions of the A’s getting on a roll, climbing back up the standings, and winning this very weak, very winnable division. I have a hard time seeing that happening now. And if Esteban Loaiza looks bad today against Cleveland, I’ll be really depressed.

Rich Harden is turning into the next Mark Prior, and the A’s are turning into the Chicago Cubs right before our eyes. You think you’re going to have a great rotation for years to come, and then poof!, it all turns to ashes. Next thing you know, all you have is Carlos Zambrano/Dan Haren and a bunch of band-aids.

A’s Draft More High Schoolers

The A’s didn’t choose until the 66th pick in 6/6/06 MLB draft. That’s a lot of sixes. The A’s chose Trevor Cahill, a converted shortstop, who has a commitment to Dartmouth. Is it a sign of the apocalypse that their first pick was a high school pitcher? To me, the interesting thing to me about this pick is not that he’s a high schooler, but that he might be tough to sign. Which may not be a sign of the end of the world, but another sign (giving up a first round pick to sign Esteban Loaiza being the first) that the A’s think this year’s draft is terrible. If we’re gonna spend $X on a player, let’s pick one we think is worth $X, even if we don’t get him.

With their third round pick, the A’s picked Matthew Sulentic, a high school outfielder. He’s small (5’10”, 170), but may have had the best hitting stats of any high school player in the country (.600+ BA, 20+ homeruns). The scouting report says his “makeup is off the charts.” He’s signed with Texas A&M.

* * *

Rob McMillin has a little rant about how the A’s are still getting credit for creative draft strategies (they drafted high schoolers!) that really aren’t all that creative:

Brandon Wood, anyone? Nick Adenhart? No love for the Angels? How about Scott Elbert, Blake DeWitt, and Chad Billingsley for the Dodgers? Is a trend only a trend when the A’s find themselves chasing the other guys’ tail lights two freaking years after other teams have identified this alleged inefficiency?

I agree with his rant. The “inefficiency” angle on the MLB draft makes no sense to me. If teams were allowed to trade picks, then there would be opportunities to exploit inefficiencies. But since you’re stuck with whatever draft position you end up with, drafting “strategy” is little more than a test to see who can come up with the most accurate sorting algorithm.

Sort these 700 players in order of their future value.

Every team will have a different algorithm, and even a small difference in measurement from the majority of other teams picking can make you look like you only like college players (A’s), or high school players from Georgia (Braves), but really, your list is probably only slightly different from everyone else’s.

The Accidental Redneck

I ought to sue somebody. I put a cheap-brand sunscreen on before I went to the A’s game yesterday, and I might as well have worn magnifying glasses for all the protection it gave me. When I got home, my arms and neck were as red as strawberries. Ticks me off; I did the right thing, and I still got badly burned.

What ticks me off more than the actual pain of sunburn is that I have tickets for Rich Harden’s return from the DL today. I know that I should stay out of the sun today to give my skin a chance to heal, but doggone it, I paid good money for good seats for this game, and I want to use them. Maybe I’ll put on a long sleeve turtleneck, and sweat it out. I can’t decide.

Harden’s return this afternoon helped them win a 2-1 game yesterday. Dan Haren pitched well, but threw too many pitches. It was obvious in the third inning that he would only get through six innings at most, and I was dreading the fact that the A’s would have to go to that weak bullpen for at least an inning. In the fourth inning, I said, “I bet the A’s lose this game in the seventh.”

The seventh inning was indeed trouble, as the Twins scored a run to tie the game 1-1. Randy Keisler failed to retire the one batter he faced, and Kiko Calero gave up a couple of hits. But then Brad Halsey, who had been in the rotation during this stretch of injuries, came out of the pen and got the A’s out of the jam with only one run scoring.

That’s the importance of having depth in your pen. If one guy is having a bad day, you can try someone else. If you only have one guy you trust, you’re stuck with him, whether he’s having a good day or not. That’s where Harden’s return helped the A’s win the game. When Calero wasn’t sharp, Ken Macha had Halsey to try, and it worked.

At least, it worked in the seventh. In the eighth, after the A’s scored a run to take the lead, Halsey allowed the first two batters to reach, and Macha called on Huston Street to get a six-out save. It was Street’s best performance of the year. His fastball was jumping; the Twins were lucky if they even fouled it off. He walked Tony Batista to lead off the ninth (Street threw him nothing but sliders, for some reason), but otherwise the Twins could do nothing with him. It was the first time that the 2006 Huston Street looked like the 2005 Huston Street. Nice to see.

Round Numbers

While Jason Kendall was turning the round number in his home run column to a different shape, there have been a number of A’s going in the other direction in the last few days:

  • Barry Zito got his 1000th career strikeout in his 200th career start.
  • Mark Kotsay hit his 100th career home run.
  • Ken Macha got his 300th career win as a manager.
  • Bobby Crosby hit the 6000th home run in Oakland A’s history.

Here are some lists associated with those milestones:

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