Durazo Released

According to this press report, the A’s have released Erubiel Durazo.

Given that Dan Johnson and Esteban Loaiza will join Mark Kotsay on the DL to start the year, there are basically two roster decisions remaining: Lenny DiNardo vs. Brad Halsey as the long man in the pen, and Todd Walker vs. Travis Buck to replace Dan Johnson.

Even though Buck is probably a better player right now, I expect the A’s to let Buck simmer some more in AAA, and give Walker a shot. Walker’s slugging percentage slipped under .400 last year, but he still put up a typical-for-him .356 OBP, which ain’t bad. Most of that drop came from a collapse against LHP (.204/.320/.315), which is actually fine, since Bobby Kielty has the same issues from the opposite side of the plate. This makes for a nice platoon, with Swisher covering the position for the sitting half of the platoon. How’s this for some platoon numbers:

2006 vs LHP (Kielty): .325/.358/.607
2006 vs RHP (Walker): .302/.368/.425

Walker’s slugging still isn’t great, but the total numbers will do fine. Only problem is, this requires Shannon Stewart and Milton Bradley to stay healthy, so the A’s can avoid playing Kielty against RHP and Walker against LHP. I suppose if that situation does come up, that’s where you try Antonio Perez in the outfield and see what he can do.

A’s Lineup Permutations 2007

Billy Beane was quoted in the Los Angeles Times this morning (via Jon) as follows:

On a recent morning, Beane took note of a website that attempted to calculate how many runs the A’s could score with every possible lineup combination.

“With the Internet and blogs, you have so much more,” Beane said. “You’ve almost got a ‘wisdom of the crowd’ situation.”

Hey, I resemble that remark!

I had kinda forgotten about it until then, but since it seems Billy Beane took note of it, I suppose it’s time to dust off the old formula, and see what it says about the 2007 A’s. I plugged in PECOTA’s projections into the formula, and ran all the possible lineup combinations. The results are kinda weird, mostly because I think PECOTA’s OBP projections are too high for Mark Ellis (.349) and too low for Mike Piazza (.324). So you may want to look at the results, and mentally flip-flop Piazza and Ellis, because the formula likes Mark Ellis batting cleanup. Cleanup!

Also, I used Bobby Kielty’s projection, because he was the only name I could fill in for Dan Johnson that I was sure would be on the team. For what it’s worth, Erubiel Durazo’s projection (.333/.409) is nearly identical to Kielty’s (.336/.408). Todd Walker has a higher projected OBP, but a lower SLG (.345/.402), but that projection was for Petco Park–the numbers might project higher in Oakland. Still, all three players project similarly, so it probably won’t make much of a difference for this exercise.

The number beside the lineup is runs/162 games. The number will seem higher than actual team season run totals, probably because the optimal lineup never plays all 162 games. Lesser players get a lot of plate appearances besides the top nine players.

Top 10 Lineups
816.65 – Bradley Swisher Chavez Ellis Kielty Piazza Crosby Stewart Kendall
816.65 – Bradley Swisher Chavez Ellis Crosby Piazza Kielty Stewart Kendall
816.39 – Bradley Swisher Chavez Kielty Ellis Piazza Crosby Stewart Kendall
816.34 – Bradley Swisher Chavez Crosby Ellis Piazza Kielty Stewart Kendall
816.17 – Bradley Swisher Chavez Kielty Crosby Piazza Ellis Stewart Kendall
816.12 – Bradley Swisher Chavez Crosby Kielty Piazza Ellis Stewart Kendall
816.03 – Bradley Swisher Ellis Chavez Crosby Piazza Kielty Stewart Kendall
816.02 – Bradley Swisher Ellis Chavez Kielty Piazza Crosby Stewart Kendall
815.91 – Bradley Swisher Ellis Kielty Chavez Piazza Crosby Stewart Kendall
815.87 – Ellis Swisher Chavez Bradley Crosby Piazza Kielty Stewart Kendall

The projections are about 40 runs lower than last year’s projections. It still likes Kendall batting ninth. Stewart is this year’s Kotsay, which it likes eighth.

Last night on the A’s broadcast of the Giants game (where a miked Rene Lachemann was a hoot), Bob Geren said the top six lineup spots would probably be Kendall, Stewart, Bradley, Piazza, Chavez, and Swisher. So let’s look at that lineup:

798.54 – Kendall Stewart Bradley Piazza Chavez Swisher Crosby Ellis Kielty

That’s pretty much right in the middle of the possible combinations.

And for fun:
Bottom 10 lineups
772.85 – Piazza Kendall Stewart Crosby Kielty Ellis Bradley Chavez Swisher
772.84 – Piazza Kendall Stewart Kielty Crosby Chavez Bradley Ellis Swisher
772.82 – Piazza Kendall Stewart Kielty Ellis Chavez Bradley Crosby Swisher
772.79 – Piazza Kendall Stewart Crosby Kielty Chavez Bradley Ellis Swisher
772.77 – Piazza Kendall Crosby Kielty Stewart Bradley Ellis Chavez Swisher
772.69 – Piazza Kendall Kielty Crosby Stewart Bradley Ellis Chavez Swisher
772.65 – Piazza Kendall Stewart Kielty Ellis Bradley Crosby Chavez Swisher
772.61 – Piazza Kendall Stewart Crosby Ellis Bradley Kielty Chavez Swisher
772.43 – Piazza Kendall Stewart Kielty Crosby Bradley Ellis Chavez Swisher
772.39 – Piazza Kendall Stewart Crosby Kielty Bradley Ellis Chavez Swisher

The slowest player in baseball history leading off? Yeah, that seems like a bad idea.

 

P.S.   Go fill out TangoTiger’s community projections, and show PECOTA a thing or two.

A’s Scrounge Up Some First Basemen

A couple of curious moves today in the wake of Dan Johnson’s injury. With Johnson out a couple of months with a labrum tear in his hip, the A’s signed Todd Walker, and also traded minor league catcher Jeff Baker to the Marlins for Jason Stokes. It’s says a couple of things:

  • They don’t trust Erubiel Durazo to play first base. If they did, they’d just live with him for a couple of months, and wait for Johnson to return, or if Johnson can’t for some reason, they could call up either Daric Barton to man first base, or bring up Travis Buck and move Nick Swisher to first.
  • They really, really don’t want rush Barton and Buck. They probably want them to get more seasoning in AAA, and then bring them up mid-season, so they’ll get to keep them for that extra year.

So instead, there are now not just one, but two new potential first basemen in the A’s system. Walker has played all over the infield, but like Durazo, he plays those positions badly. Walker, like Durazo, is a hitter, first and foremost. I try hard not to remember his performance in the 2003 ALDS.

But perhaps it’s just a case of the A’s seeing an opportunity to grab freely some available talent. Baker wasn’t going anywhere with the A’s with Suzuki and Powell moving up the system. The A’s and Marlins have exchanged Baker before, through waivers: the A’s waived him, the Marlins claimed him, then the Marlins waived him, and the A’s claimed him back. At least Baker’s going somewhere he knows he’s wanted.

In exchange, the A’s get a former top prospect who has been hampered by injuries over the years. Stokes was on a lot of top prospect lists back in 2003-04, but has fallen after multiple injury-plagued seasons. But he’s still only 25, so it’s a good risk. There was some talent there, once.

But where are they going to put all these guys?

Slow Like An Elephant

When Mike Piazza plays his first game for the Athletics on Monday, three of the four slowest players of all time (and four of slowest six) will have played for the Oakland A’s. And that doesn’t even include Eric Karros, who is tenth.

It’s totally amazing that the A’s manage to replace Frank Thomas with an even slower player than Frank Thomas. Kinda like how Cheers managed to replace Coach with a character who was even dumber than Coach.

Somehow, we gotta get Paul Konerko in an A’s uniform before his career is over.

Elephants Leave The Desert

 

Time to come home.

Or if you’re Ryan Goleski, time to go back to Cleveland. The A’s don’t get their Rule 5 money back, apparently, because they were satisfied that Goleski showed up healthy in Arizona. Or that seeing him up close and personal, they were satisfied that drafting him was a mistake.

In either case, the A’s played their last game in the Cactus league today, losing to the Angels, 2-0. They finished the Cactus League with a 15-12-1 record.

A Look at the Roster (Updated)

Joe Kennedy probably put a clamp down on the A’s fifth starter’s job today by pitching five innings, allowing only one run, and striking out nine. And since Rule 5 acquisition Jay Marshall, by all accounts, has won himself a job in the pen, the roster is pretty much set now. The only question remaining is whether Bobby Kielty will be ready by opening day, or will have to start the year on the DL. If he does, there might be room for Erubiel Durazo, who played great all spring, but otherwise doesn’t have a open spot to play.

Update:  Susan Slusser reports that Dan Johnson was seen hobbling with a "tweak" in his hip, which may provide another opening for Durazo to make the opening day roster.

Here’s a look at the Athletics’ roster, as I see it, with some commentary about each player’s status. Includes only 40-man roster, plus Durazo:

Pitchers  
Starters  
Dan Haren New cutter was supposed to help cut down on the number of gopher balls Haren coughs up, but it hasn’t seemed to have worked in Arizona.
Esteban Loaiza Got good results in his last start, but his velocity was way down, so there are concerns. Still complaining about his shoulder "not getting loose".
Rich Harden Yowza.
Joe Blanton He’s pretty much been Joe Blanton. Move along.
Joe Kennedy Terrible in spring until today’s start, which probably won him the 5th starters job.
   
Bullpen  
Huston Street Been awesome all spring.
Justin Duchscherer Missed most of March with triceps tendonitis, but has pitched well since returning this week.
Kiko Calero Great all spring.
Alan Embree Coughed up a couple runs in his last outing, but otherwise has been quite good.
Chad Gaudin Got stretched out to pitch three innings yesterday. The A’s won’t have a long reliever given this roster, so Gaudin might be called on to pitch multiple innings.
Jay Witasick Last year was a lost year due to injury, but he’s looked good and healthy this spring. Been joking about a new trick pitch, but it’s probably just a joke.
Jay Marshall Rule 5er won himself a job. He’s a lefty sidearmer, so you figure he’d be a LOOGY, but he’s pitched multiple innings, and gotten right-handed batters out in the Cactus League, too.
   
Sent To Minors  
Santiago Casilla His prospect days are over, methinks. He’s been passed up by Marcus McBeth, Mike Marshall and Connor Robertson as A’s relief prospects. I’m kinda surprised he hasn’t been traded yet.
Lenny DiNardo Pitched well in camp. Probably would have won the 5th starter job if Kennedy hadn’t come through today.
Scott Dunn Minor league free agent signing didn’t impress much in camp, and was sent down early.
Ron Flores Flores, Marshall and Halsey were basically battling for one spot, but only one of them couldn’t be sent to Sacramento, and it wasn’t Flores.
Shane Komine He doesn’t quite seem ready to get major leaguers out yet. Give him some more time in Sacramento.
Marcus McBeth He’ll be in Oakland in 2008, if not sooner. Converted position player just needs some more seasoning.
Dan Meyer He impressed early in camp, but nobody ever talked about him again. I think the shoulder probably won’t be fully recovered from the surgery for another couple months. It would be nice if he could return to his pre-injury form and make the Tim Hudson trade worthwhile.
David Shafer The booty for Kirk Saarloos didn’t impress much in camp, and was sent down early.
Brad Halsey Halsey still has an option, so he’s another casualty of Jay Marshall’s success.
Jason Windsor Bob Geren said he wanted to see better control from Windsor. He seems like he’s still a half-year or so from being ready.
   
Hitters  
Starting Lineup  
C Jason Kendall Hasn’t hit much in spring. Probably doesn’t matter.
1B Dan Johnson Johnson was one of the big question marks going into spring training. Were his struggles last year just because of his eye problem, or is he really a AAAA player? He had a good spring, and earned himself another shot at the job.
2B Mark Ellis Ellis hasn’t hit much in the spring. PECOTA projects Ellis to have a great year with the bat, but I’m not quite so optimistic. I think he’ll have a year more like 2006 than 2005.
3B Eric Chavez Spring Training is especially meaningless with Chavez, because he doesn’t even use the same swing he uses during the season. Last year was the one year he used the same swing in spring and in the season, and he got off to a great start, but got hurt. This year, expect a slow start again, but hopefully, better health.
SS Bobby Crosby Crosby wasn’t ready to play when spring training began, but has played this past week, and looked pretty good.
LF Shannon Stewart Looks recovered from the plantar fasciitis that plagued him two of the past three years. Has had a great OBP all spring.
CF Milton Bradley Been awesome all spring.
RF Nick Swisher Started out slowly, but has been raking for about a week or so. He’s ready.
DH Mike Piazza Piazza looks great. He’s ready, too.
   
Bench  
IF Marco Scutaro Scutaro played all winter, so he’s sharp.
IF-OF Antonio Perez Perez has taken up the outfield, to increase the number of ways he can get into the lineup. Made a great catch this weekend. Has also been mashing the ball, in contrast to his horrible year at the plate in 2006.
OF Bobby Kielty Just got back in the batter’s box after knee surgery. Not quite ready to field yet. Might start year on DL.
C Adam Melhuse The A’s like Melhuse as a backup catcher. However, if Kendall went down for an extended time, I’ll bet the A’s would bring up Kurt Suzuki and give him the playing time, because the A’s like Melhuse as a backup catcher.
   
Sent To Minors  
Jeremy Brown I don’t think he’ll ever get much of a shot in Oakland. And Suzuki’s going to get the playing time in Sacramento, so I don’t even think he’ll get much of a shot in Sacramento, either. Still, he’s on the 40-man roster, and Suzuki isn’t.
Donnie Murphy Claimed off waivers from the Royals, he’s looked pretty good after an injury-plagued season last year.
Javier Herrera Just back from Tommy John surgery. Trying to get career back on track.
Erubiel Durazo He’s hit great all spring, and played pretty good defense, too. There’s just no room for him on the roster with Piazza there. I suppose he could make the team if Kielty starts the year on the DL. He apparently has the right to become a free agent if he doesn’t make the roster.
   
Rule 5 Return  
Ryan Goleski Struck out a lot. Might be able to keep him, however, because Cleveland didn’t disclose an injury when the A’s drafted him, so maybe there’s some sort of deal to be made as compensation.
   
Disabled List  
Mark Kotsay Back surgery, back in June or so.

Ken’s Greatest Hits

My motivation in starting this list was to have some kind of sampling on the sidebar. My motivation in finishing it is having Catfish Stew mentioned in this week’s Sports Illustrated. So if you’re coming here from there, read a sampling below, and then vote for us.

Note: This is just a list my own writing that I’m happy with. Philip and Ryan can make their own doggone lists. Call me selfish if you like. ;P The list is below the fold…

Continue reading

Answer: Widespread Panic!

As all you DIPS supporters out there know, when you see a pitcher whose K/9 rate has started to fall by a strikeout or two a game, it’s definitely cause for concern. So what is it cause for when a pitcher’s K/9 rate falls by six strikeouts per game?

Rich Harden only struck out seven in five innings today. That’s a mere 12.6 K/9 rate, well off his earlier spring training pace of 18.69 K/9.

You know what to do.

In Which Bob Geren Is Visited By Supernatural Entities

Methinks the fisking of anti-sabermetric articles is growing more stale by the day, but this one is worth it just for this one sentence:

I am a strange demon with special Joe Blanton wins-related supernatural powers, and Bob Geren, I am offering you this deal right this second.

I know almost nothing about Bob Geren, how he runs a game, how he relates to the team and to the press and to the fans, but I think it’s great to start off the relationship by picturing him sitting in his office negotiating with ghosts.

Newton’s Third Law Of Spring Training

For every Rich Harden, there’s an equal and opposite Joe Kennedy.

Kennedy gave up nine runs in 2 1/3 innings today, his fourth straight a-clobberin’. This is no Gaussian slump. It’s either a Gomes or a Crosby or a Blass. Something is clearly out of whack here.

Starters ERAs so far:
Rich Harden: 1.04
Dan Haren: 5.40
Joe Blanton: 9.00
Esteban Loaiza: 10.12
Joe Kennedy: 20.48

But hey, don’t fret your little head none, ‘cuz ERAs don’t matter, wins do. It all starts with heart, and Joe Blanton is a tough son-of-a-gun out there.

* * *

Back on the happy side, Rule 5 pick Jay Marshall is making a good case for sticking around. He followed Kennedy’s disastrous outing with two perfect innings. His ERA this spring is 2.89. In fact, the entire A’s bullpen, with the exception of Justin Duchscherer (who is expected to pitch for the first time tomorrow) has been lights out this spring. Kiko Calero, Alan Embree, Huston Street and Jay Witasick have yet to yield a run in a combined 20 innings of work. They’re making Chad Gaudin, who has yielded one run in six innings of work, look bad in comparison.

* * *

I have two openings in a very casual head-to-head Yahoo fantasy baseball league.

Update: Looks like the openings are filled.

Rich Harden: Yowza!

Just watched Rich Harden’s start against the Rockies today on MLB.tv. Nine strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. Absolutely filthy. He gave up his first run of the spring, but it was from two wild pitches and a groundout–he wasn’t hit hard at all. Harden was throwing 98 mph fastballs on the corners, followed by 89 mph sliders just off the black or those 86mph backup-floaty-knuckle-splitter thingies–the Rockies had no chance.

For the spring, he now has 18 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings, with just one walk. Yowza, what talent. Oh, man, what a pleasure it would be to see him stay healthy for a full season. I just hope there’s nothing to that voice inside my head that keeps saying, “this is too good to be true.”

Update: Carlos Gomez breaks down Harden’s delivery over at THT.

Press Release: Arneson To Shower, Shave

Catfish Stew, a weblog dedicated to staying on the cutting edge of Oakland Athletics baseball culture, hereby announces the following:

  • Columnist Philip Michaels pledges to brush and floss his teeth
     
  • Arizona Bureau Chief Ryan Armbrust will clip all ten fingernails AND all ten toenails
     
  • Founder Ken Arneson will shower, shave, and get the best a man can get. Adds Arneson, “I’ll be clean as a whistle! 99 44/100% pure! Because I’m worth it.”
     

These pledges are made in conjunction with today’s Oakland Athletics press release, which announces that Nick Swisher will be getting a haircut.

Go Ahead, Fool Me Thrice

Presumptive fifth starter Joe Kennedy got clobbered again today, which is really odd, if you believe in the walk year effect, and you consider that Kennedy is looking at Gil Meche money instead of Alan Embree money if he can manage to get through the year without losing The Job That Is His To Lose.

Yeah, yeah, it’s just spring training, and all that. Worry not. But on the other hand, Billy Beane & Co. are perfect examples of Cringely’s Law of Smart People:

There’s an interesting effect here that I’ve noticed over the years — smart people don’t make the same mistake twice while REALLY SMART people don’t make the same mistake three times. Since they tend to make fewer mistakes to start with, really smart people tend to repeat the mistakes they do make because they are initially convinced that the outcome was someone else’s fault or perhaps because of cosmic rays.

Thus Jose Ortiz starts at second base for two months until the A’s figure out he’s not a major leaguer, and Eric Karros keeps getting to play for months until the A’s figure out his career is done, and Arthur Rhodes keeps getting the ball in the ninth inning for two months until the A’s figure out he’s a basket case, and Esteban Loaiza pitches every five days for two months until they figure out he’s injured, and Dan Johnson plays first base every day for two months until they realize he can’t see. And every year the A’s get off to a slow start, and every year the A’s wait about two or three weeks longer than any smart (not REALLY SMART) person would wait before getting rid of the guys who are dragging them down and replacing them with someone who can actually play.

And Joe Kennedy? I am of the opinion that Joe Kennedy has already proven his suckitude as a starter (5.01 career ERA), and also proven a certain awesometude as a reliever (2.51 career ERA), so why mess with success? I guess the good news is that if I am right, and Kennedy has his head screwed on backwards when he starts, he’s giving the A’s a four-week head start towards figuring out that he sucks. Maybe now they’ll replace him in May instead of June.

But why listen to me? Maybe the starter/reliever splits are just phantoms, and Kennedy will fix whatever’s ailing him, and he’ll do just fine. After all, I’m just an ordinary smart person, not some REALLY SMART guy like Billy Beane.

Kotsay Out Three Months

Mark Kotsay is going to have surgery to fix a herniated disk in his back, and will miss 8-12 weeks.

So, let’s take a look at how the A’s red lights are doing so far:

Mark Kotsay: back surgery

Bobby Kielty: knee surgery

Bobby Crosby: still recovering from his broken back

Justin Duchscherer: flu, elbow tendonitis

Mark Ellis: OK so far, but I hear Sylar is looking for him

Rich Harden: So powerful! However, his power may overwhelm him, as he is predicted to destroy New York on June 30.

Yup, them’s our A’s for you. We love ’em!

Defending Murray Chass

If you spend any time working as any sort of designer or engineer, you quickly discover that human beings are absolutely horrible at explaining what they want. A client will come to you and insist on some crazy feature (“We need a big photograph in the middle of this web page”) which to an expert is just obviously a bad idea for five reasons you can think of right away, and another couple dozen reasons lurking beyond, and so you have to delicately steer the conversation to dig down beneath the surface of this seemingly stupid request to find the real reason they suddenly want this change. You ask dozens of questions and pick apart what they say until you discover that the problem has nothing to do with a lack of photographs at all, they just want the page to have more three-dimensional depth. So you simply add a drop shadow to the border, and all is well.

The human mind is like that. We’re very good at sensing when something isn’t quite right, but we’re really awful at consciously understanding what the problem is and how to solve it. Still, that doesn’t stop us from guessing. Weirdest of all, we convince ourselves that our guess isn’t a guess: this really IS the problem, and we really DO need this solution.

So when Murray Chass goes rambling that these newfangled statistics are ruining the game, I thought, I recognize this pattern. It’s an obviously preposterous statement. But this isn’t coming from some ignorant blowhard message board troll, it’s coming from a Hall-of-Fame writer. There probably is a real problem here, but the problem is not VORP, and the solution isn’t to ban it.

Here’s the key statement:

But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.

The idea that statistics can undermine the enjoyment of baseball is obviously preposterous. It’s easy to provide plenty of counterexamples to prove that statement false. The real problem, if I can read between the lines a bit, is this: Nobody has any friggin’ idea why fans enjoy baseball.

When we ask the question, “Why do teams win?”, we can respond with precise measurements like OPS and WARP and VORP. But when we ask the (IMO) more important question, “Why do we watch?”, we fumble around for answers like, well, design clients.

Baseball is a sort of Age of Enlightment when it comes to understanding why teams win. The Bill James, Nate Silver, and Tom Tango characters of this era are transforming our understanding of how teams win, just as Galileo, Copernicus, and Newton transformed our understanding of how the universe works.

But when we try to understand why we’re so fascinated by this sport, we’re still in the Dark Ages. Sure, we’ll make guesses, but our guesses are pretty much the equivalent of describing the sun as a burning chariot traveling across the sky. We talk not in measurements, but in vague terms like “the human factor.” Basically, when it comes to why people watch baseball, we’re primitive barbarians who still believe in magic.

Never get between a barbarian and his magic. I’d explain why, but it’s a long, tall tale.