Zito’s (Possibly) Last Stand

Yesterday afternoon, in the outer reaches of the Oakland Coliseum’s second deck, some ignorant fools tried to get a wave going in the top of the seventh inning. Didn’t they realize the drama that was unfolding before their very eyes?

Perhaps not. After all, they had the worst seat in the house to watch the most important person in the stadium yesterday: the Mets scout sitting behind home plate, ready to report Barry Zito’s every move back to Omar Minaya. Zito had just passed the 100th pitch mark, and the scouting report was about to be finalized. What would it say?

After this grand slam in the first inning by cleanup batter Troy Glaus:

the guys sitting behind me said, "Get Minaya on the phone and tell him he can play his prospects today. Zito’s not going anywhere."

Zito’s control was off for the first five batters or so, but then pitching coach Curt Young came to the mound, and Zito settled down after that. The Blue Jays got a bunch of hits early on that always seemed to be six inches out of the reach of a fielder. But that was just bad luck more than bad pitching: the holefinding didn’t last too long, as the defense stepped up.

Eric Chavez broke Mike Gallego’s team record for consecutive errorless games at third base, with several amazing plays. Chavez nailed down all the Blue Jay gold glove votes with this amazing play, off the bat of John McDonald.

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My Last Milledge Column

The next A’s game I have tickets for is Saturday. As it turns out, this may turn out to be Barry Zito’s last game in an A’s uniform. I’ll have to remember to give him a standing ovation when he comes off the field, even if he gives up 10 runs in the first inning. Zito has provided a lot of viewing pleasure over the years, and I want to be sure to thank him.

This is relevant because rumors are flying around that Billy Beane is shopping Zito again. And of course, that means that the neverending Zito-for-Lastings Milledge rumors are back, too. I’m not going to write anything about it myself. I’ve already speculated about it, let’s see…1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 times already, and you know what they always say, eleven times is enough.

If you want more Zito/Milledge speculation, let me point you to MetsBlog, where Matthew Cerrone discusses the idea with ESPN’s Buster Olney. The words “Lastings” and “Milledge” shall not pass through my keyboard again until we are certain the trade will or will not happen. It’s all up to Omar Minaya.

Olney thinks that Beane would also be willing to go for Aaron Heilman instead, which I think is ridiculous. Heilman is only six months younger than Zito, and he’s accomplished almost nothing in comparison. Olney mentioned Heilman’s “upside”, but Heilman is running out of time for upside. His ERA is 4.47. In a weaker league. As a reliever. If Heilman is the return, I’d much rather keep Zito, try to win this year, and get two draft picks in what is supposed to be a very strong draft class.

The bigger question is a philosophical one: should the A’s trade Zito at all, when they’re still tied for first place with 62 games remaining? Is there any way they could get anything for Zito that wouldn’t decrease their chances of winning the division this year?

It’s an interesting question. The A’s upper farm system is so barren, that it’s hard to imagine the A’s getting much better than they are now in the next couple of years. This may be there best chance to win a division for a while. On the other hand, Zito is probably their best, or only, tool they have to restock the upper levels of the farm system with some talent.

Perhaps the Zito dilemma shouldn’t be viewed in a vacuum. There are ways Beane can improve the A’s in other areas to make up for the loss of Zito, and give the A’s a chance to compete this year and next. For example, I’d like to see the A’s go out and nab a third baseman like Joe Randa, just so they can let Eric Chavez hit the DL and fix his tendonitis with rest. Randa, mediocre as he is, would still easily improve on the .100 batting average that both Chavez and Antonio Perez are putting up there right now. Then maybe you have a healthy Chavez for September.

Scrum

Tonight, the Angels caught the A’s for first place in the AL West standings. The pessimist in me thinks that it should be obvious now that the Angels have fixed their problems and are just going to zoom past the A’s, Rangers (half a game out), and Mariners (three games out) and run away and hide with the division.

However, for the optimist in me, there’s this:

Angels' series opponents, since June 1
Cleveland
Tampa Bay
Seattle
Kansas City
San Diego
San Francisco
Arizona
Colorado
LA Dodgers
Seattle
Oakland
Tampa Bay
Cleveland
Kansas City
Tampa Bay

The highest current winning percentage amongst any of those teams is the Padres, at .520. The Angels haven’t faced a good baseball team in almost two months.

Meanwhile, the A’s have gone up against the Twins, Yankees, Detroit (twice) and Boston (twice).

So maybe the Angels aren’t quite as good as they seem right now, and the A’s aren’t quite as bad. The schedule has been kind to the Angels so far, but it will strike back later. The Angels have the most difficult remaining schedule of all four AL West teams:

Team      Remaining Opponent Win %
Athletics  .501
Rangers    .505
Mariners   .511
Angels     .528

If you take out the intradivision AL West games, the table looks like this:

Team      Remaining Opponent Win % (non AL West teams)
Athletics  .499
Rangers    .506
Mariners   .510
Angels     .548

Even if the Angels are the best team in the division, they have the toughest road ahead to win it. Still, there are so many intradivision games remaining (at least 28 for each team), the division will probably be decided by who can knock the other teams out in their head-to-head matchups.

This division is still a wide open sea of unpredictable mediocrity. I can’t say I’ll be watching events unfold with much enthusiasm. It’ll probably be more like watching four boats with large holes in their hulls slowly take on water. You’re horrified by the disaster, but you have to keep watching, just to see which one sinks last.

The Billy Beane March

I stayed with a friend in Boston, and he had a curious picture hanging on his wall, of a building in York, England:

Bile Beans

Those silly British. I already knew they had funny spellings for words like “color”, “organize”, and “jail”. But it was news to me that they even had their own spelling for “Billy Beane”.

Naturally, I had to investigate further. I googled Billy Beane’s name using this weird British spelling. It turns out that Billy Beane is so popular overseas, that his mere presence is considered enough to cure all sorts of diseases, such as:

Headache, Biliousness, Costiveness, Piles, Liver Trouble, Bad Breath, Pimples, Face Sores, Female Weakness, that Tired Feeling, Lack of Physical Tone, Sleeplessness, Kidney Troubles, Rheumatism, Indigestion, Dizziness, Buzzing in the Head, Fulness after Eating, &c., &c. A Bile Bean taken now and then will keep one free from these digestive troubles, their attendant evils, and dangerous after effects.

See now, that’s why a little travel is good for the soul. It can give you a different perspective on things.

Here I was, thinking that Billy Beane had been causing all those symptoms as I watched the 2006 Oakland Athletics play baseball. That all the little misjudgments he’s made over the years have added up to all manner of unpleasant symptoms today.

What I need to do is have the confidence that a little Billy Beane, right around the trading deadline, will correct all my disorders of digestion, and I will feel as well as I ever have in my life.

Then I can feel as happy as the Aussies, who love Billy Beane so much they wrote a song called “The Bile Bean March” to express their love and joy for the man.

For those of you who cannot read the sheet music linked to above, I have created a clip of the first section of the song for your listening enjoyment.

And when I feel sick to my stomach trying to digest the thought of rooting for Esteban Loaiza on a Sunday morning, I shall listen to the song, and dream of the magical trade to come that will cure all my ills.

Why There Are No Great Icelandic Baseball Analysts

The population of the entire country of Iceland is 100,000 less than the city of Oakland, California. Its manufacturing capabilities are limited, as it relies on its unique natural resources to drive its economy. As an island in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean, its geographical isolation makes it difficult and expensive to import products, so it often has to make do with whatever items happen to make their way onto their big volcanic rock in the sea.

Icelanders, therefore, must find innovative ways to compensate when technological innovations such as the scorecard fails to reach their shores. On my recent visit to Iceland, I discovered that, odd as it may seem, Icelanders have turned to license plates for their scorekeeping needs.

Give the Icelanders credit for creativity, but obviously, this is a highly inefficient method. It can take days to gather all the necessary vehicles to record a game. It’s impossible to play a game without this car in attendance:

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I Just Can’t Get Anywhere These Days

So I traded my tank in for a tractor, but wouldn’t you know it, the next place I went, they had banned those, too:

No Tractors

I suppose because that house is so famous for its failure to reach an agreement on a ban (you all know that story, right?), that people felt compelled to ban something. Let us offer our sympathies for the poor tractor, forced to suffer the burdens of history, and the unfair fate of the scapegoat.

Vanishing Into Thin Air

What is this All Stars Game of which you speak? Here in Europe, such things we do not hear of.

Billy Beane and the San Jose EarthquA’s went to Europe this summer to study soccer at its highest level, but I fear the Messiah of Sabermetrics is entering the sport too late to exploit its inefficiencies. This year’s World Cup was decidedly boring, riddled with far too much cautious defensive play, and a complete paucity of risk-taking offenses.

Methinks someone over here read Moneyball, and sucked all the risk-taking out of the sport. Whatever the soccer equivalents of bunts, steals and hit-and-runs are, they are gone. When everyone basically plays with eight defenders in front of the goalie–well, how interesting can a 2-on-8 fast break be? Moneyball may lead to the most efficient way to maximize your odds of winning a game, but efficiency never gets called “The Beautiful Game”.

* * *

Of course, judging by how Billy Beane’s Base Ball Team is currently playing, efficiency may not be the best word to describe it. Unless, of course, you define efficiency as “sucking as much as possible, while still remaining in first place.”

I’m too far away to understand how this highly flawed team has reached the All-Star break tied for first, but I shall soon be studying the problem up close and personal.

But before I can do that, I have a few more twists and turns to take on my strange current itinerary. Back in a few days…

This Is A Tank-Free Zone

I have a blog entry I intend to write, relating the A’s stadium situation to my current travels, but the essay remains unwritten. My travels have taken quite a few more detours than I expected, because it turns out that there are just way too many places that the darn Danes won’t let me drive my tank.

No Tanks Allowed

It takes forever to get anywhere around Denmark. I simply haven’t had the time for essay writing. Sorry. Perhaps later.

Where In The World Is Ken?

When your team has the worst batting average in all of major league baseball, but is still somehow in first place, it can be quite stressful. On the one hand, your team is awful. On the other hand, you have hope. It’s enough to drive you nuts.

I couldn’t take it anymore. So I left. Now, I’m in a place where nobody cares a lick if the A’s can’t hit a lick. The only way I can stress about the A’s now is if I go out of my way to do so.

Go ahead and try to figure out what city I am in from these photos I took today. No fair guessing if I already told you where I was going.

Big Apple

Buildings

Sea Soccer

Ah, now, don’t you feel better already?