Losing Loaiza

Goodbye, Esteban Loaiza. Thanks for last August (4-0, 1.48) and 2006 ALDS Game 2. I’m not sure it was worth the $13 million the A’s paid you for that, especially considering the 2006 ALCS Game 2, and the DUI, and all the time spent on the DL, but what’s done is done…

I suppose saving the $8 million remaining on Loaiza’s contract is a good thing. The A’s filled in quite nicely this year without him for a lot less money. I’d hoped that the A’s could get something in return for Joe Kennedy and Loaiza except salary relief, but I guess that’s not how things work these days.

If the days of unloading veterans for prospects are over, you have to wonder what methods are left for the A’s to rebuild. Suck for a few years, so you can get some top draft picks? If that’s the case, maybe dumping salaries is the thing to do. It will be an interesting winter of Beane-watching, for sure.

Of Holes

My baby daughter turns two months old today. For the first six weeks of her life, she didn’t do much of anything; she was like a cute little simple robot that was programmed to just eat and sleep and fill her diapers. Lately, however, there have been signs of sentience. If I sit her on my lap, she will stare intensely down at her own bare feet, studying them as if they were the two most interesting things in the universe.

* * *

I woke up yesterday morning and found my seven-year-old daughter in a state of hunger. Of course, she didn’t tell me this, I had to deduce it from her attempts to pick a fight with her older sister. When she’s hungry, she gets cranky and loses all ability to reason. She feels like nothing can ever possibly make things right (save food, but she’ll never admit that): she’s unhappy, that’s the way it is, and that’s how it always will be, and everyone else around her might as well be unhappy along with her.

Come to think of it, that behavior is not too much different from the two-month-old, minus the foot fetish. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose:

Me: What do you want for breakfast?
7-year-old: I don’t want breakfast.
Me: You need to eat. What do you want?
7-year-old: I don’t want breakfast.
Me: OK, let’s skip breakfast and go straight to lunch. What do you want for lunch?
7: I don’t want lunch.
Me: Dinner?
7: I don’t want dinner.
Me: How about dessert?
7: I don’t want dessert.
Me: You must be sick, if you don’t want dessert. Shall I call the doctor?
10-year-old daughter (sensing an opportunity): I want dessert for breakfast! Let’s have chocolate-chip cookies!
Me: I was kidding. You can’t have dessert for breakfast.
10: What about donuts? Can we have donuts?
Me: We don’t have any donuts, and I’m not going out to buy any.
10: How about chocolate-chip pancakes?
Me (sighing defeatedly, heading towards the kitchen): Oh, all right. I’ll make chocolate-chip pancakes for breakfast today…

* * *

Reason is an elevator to Enlightenment. But Enlightenment is a just a small, lonely bus stop on a long journey to a chocolate-chip beach. Enlightenment is nobody’s final destination. Dessert, on the other hand…

* * *

Josh Wilker, as a young man, took a Greyhound bus to California. He found a hole in a grocery store security system. He stole some cream cheese. But there’s a hole in his story. Where did the bagels come from?

The bagels fell from the sky, into the ocean, and washed up on the shore. Barefoot people with tans combed the strand, gathering the bagels into baskets, and drove the baskets away in a vintage VW bus painted with all the landmark tourist attractions of the world.


(You got your loaves, your cheeses, your walking on water, and then the topper–Wow! Look at the front of that bus! What a header! Who was that–Jesus or David Beckham?)

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A’s are Champs Again, Plus Other Notes

Thanks to their sweep of the Blue Jays and their victory tonight over the Devil Rays, the A’s are back in a familiar position: as MLB Heavyweight Champions. (It’s like boxing: beat the champ and you’re the champ. See the Catfish Stew sidebar for details.) The A’s will have to stay hot to keep their two-year run as Heavyweight of the Year going. They’re currently seven victories behind the White Sox for first place.

* * *
Is Jack Cust as good at catching the ball as Mark Ellis? If you think so, I suggest you follow in Billy Beane’s footsteps and go watch a sport where people aren’t allowed to use their hands at all. Baseball isn’t for you. If you can tell the difference, however, it’s time for you to go fill out TangoTiger’s annual Fan Scouting Report.

* * *

Interesting that Susan Slusser thinks the A’s might go into major rebuilding mode this offseason, and trade off a bunch of players, like Dan Haren, Joe Blanton, and Eric Chavez. Hard to imagine trading Haren, but on the other hand, starting pitching is starting to get way, way overvalued and expensive. And it will probably only get more overvalued this offseason: as Jayson Stark reports, now that Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano have signed new contracts, it will be a truly awful free agent market for starting pitchers this year. With every other GM seemingly hanging on to every last pitcher like they’re the last piece of gold on earth, Beane might be holding baseball’s two most desired and available commodities. Heck, he might even be able to get something good for Esteban Loaiza, if he keeps pitching like he did on Wednesday.

As for trading Chavez, he’s kinda in the same boat as Rich Harden: he’s an attractive talent, but unless he comes back and has a monster September to prove he’s healthy, he’s not going to bring much back in a trade. Check this out these 2007 stats from the A’s third basemen:

Eric Chavez:   .240/.306/.446, $11 million.
Jack Hannahan: .241/.333/.448, Minimum wage! Hee-yah!

Which would you prefer?

A’s Get Back to .500

You know the old saying, first you get back to .500, then you think about how to get to the playoffs.  OK, the A’s are back at .500 with their sweep of Toronto; how’s the playoff picture look?

11.5 games behind the Angels in the division.
9 games behind the Mariners for the wild card.
7 games behind the Yankees for second place in the wild card.
5.5 games behind the Tigers for third place in the wild card.

Nope.  Too many teams ahead of the A’s, too many games back.  I think we need another saying.  First you get back to .500, then you get to within 5 games of the lead, then you think about how to get to the playoffs.

I shall now return to my relaxing summer, free of the stress of playoff worries.

Aw, Who Cares?

I went to the A’s-Royals game yesterday. Unlike the other game I went to this season against a team from Missouri, which had the fingerprints of the visiting team’s manager all over it, I didn’t find any evidence of Royals manager Buddy Bell at all. I was a lovely day, after all, he’s retiring soon, the Royals had already won the series, so why make any fuss? He probably scribbled his game plan on a napkin at breakfast, set the team on autopilot, laid back and took a nice afternoon siesta.

That’s the only way I can think of to explain how the Royals essentially gave the A’s a free victory yesterday. In the top of the sixth, with the A’s up 2-0, the speedy Joey Gathright led off the inning with a single. Jason LaRue, he of the .147/.229/.287 batting line, was due up next, with the top of the order to follow. Good chance for a big inning, so you’d expect a pinch hitter, right?

Nope. LaRue hits. Not only that, but he bunts. When down by two. With a guy on first who could probably get to second base on his own if that’s what you think you really need. A total waste of an at-bat, of an out, and, as it turned out, of an inning.

Then, in the bottom of the sixth, Kyle Davies, who had thrown 99 pitches, was replaced on the mound by John Bale. The A’s were not fooled by Bale for a second, and smacked him around for two consecutive innings, scoring three in the sixth and another in the seventh. Not once in those two innings did the Royals get anybody up in the bullpen. Apparently, the plan was for Bale to pitch two innings, no matter how much he stunk, and if it cost the Royals a chance to win the game, who cares?

At least the A’s were trying to win. But even with the A’s, a feeling of resignation was in the air, as I looked out on the field and saw a lineup with only three players who played on opening day. It felt like I was rooting for an expansion team, instead of a team that made it to the LCS just last season. Who are these guys? Is that Dave Telgheder I saw out there? Patrick Lennon? Damon Mashore?

I took the usual assortment of photos, but the game just didn’t seem worthy of photos. But my seven-year-old daughter said she wanted her picture on this web site, so I’ll put this one up:

Last year, we were rooting hard for the glory of the A’s winning the World Series. Now we’re reduced to hoping against hope (and Placido Polanco–not him again!!!) that Mark Ellis finally wins a gold glove. It’s not quite the same thing.

 

Comparisons: Why is Jack Cust Better than Dan Johnson?

As a fan of a Moneyball-type team, there’s something deeply unsatisfying about watching your offense at work. There’s always a sense as a fan that something is missing from the attack; we grasp at straws trying to figure out what this something is. Sabermetricians pooh-pooh our doubts, patronizing us as if we just silly little children talking about imaginary monsters underneath our beds.

I try to be brave, but I keep hearing noises. It keeps me awake, and as I lie there trying to tell myself that there are no such thing as monsters, my mind ignores my own advice, and keeps looking for proof that monsters really, truly exist.

Lately, my mind has convinced myself that the key to finding the monster lies in the comparison between Dan Johnson and Jack Cust. Jack Cust, as you all know, TOTALLY ROCKS, while Dan Johnson (when hitting without Ryan’s mojo) SUCKS. The thing is, I don’t really understand why. They’re both about the same size: Johnson is 6’2", 225, while Cust is 6’1" 230. They’re both pretty slow, lumbering types. They were both born in 1979. They both have the typical Moneyball approach to hitting: see a lot of pitches, take a lot of walks:

2007 Johnson Cust
Plate appearances 363 320
Bases on Balls 53 59
Pitches seen 1494 1404

Cust has a slight advantage there, but not a hugely so. There’s nothing there to suggest that the problem with Johnson is that he needs better plate discipline. And while Cust has more home runs, it’s not like Johnson is without power, either. In fact, they both have exact same number of hits (69) and extra-base hits (30) this year; the difference being that Cust turned seven more doubles and triples into homers:

2007 Johnson Cust
Hits 69 69
Doubles 18 12
Home Runs 11 18

On the other hand, if there’s one thing that’s glaringly different between these two men, it’s the kind of outs they make:

2007 Johnson Cust
Strikeouts 54 104
Ground outs 84 59
Fly outs 96 28

See that? If you didn’t have the middle table in this blog entry, and you were going to guess which guy has more home runs, the guy who puts the ball in the air in 30% of his plate appearances, or the guy who does so in 14% of his plate appearances, which would you choose? If you were going to guess which guy has the better batting average, the guy who puts the ball in play 85% of the time, or the guy who puts the ball in play 67% of the time, which would you choose? You’d think if baseball outcomes were distributed more or less evenly and fairly, Dan Johnson would be better than Jack Cust, but he’s not.

I don’t understand it. Even though their ages and body types and plate discipline are similar, there’s something clearly inferior about the quality of contact that Johnson makes when he swings his bat. Perhaps some smart people out there can explain it to me. Perhaps there is some chart (Plate Discipline on one axis; Quality Contact on another?) that could make sense of this for me. But until I understand how the quality of contact works, how you measure it, and how it impacts an offense, I’m still going to continue to feel like there are treacherous monsters sabotaging the A’s attack.

What I was doing while Bonds hit #756

I was this close to catching Barry Bonds’ 756th home run. Bonds hit the ball almost directly straight at me, but unfortunately, it landed about five miles short of where I was standing in the hallway of my home, as I took a break from cleaning baby bottles to peek into our TV room to watch the at-bat.

Oh well. So I didn’t end up with a valuable piece of memorabilia. I didn’t get to say I was there. But hey, at least I got to hear the fireworks!

Asparagusy, Asparagusy, Asparagusy

The title of this blog entry has been changed from the original, because my two oldest daughters have been calling each other "stupid" and "ugly" for about a week straight, so I just raised the price of using those two words in our home from free to dessert. A parent should require more creativity in the use of language in their households. So in order to have some ice cream myself, let’s just say there that there was a bit of "seaweedity" a lot of "asparagusiness" at yesterday’s A’s-Angels game. Not in the quality of play–both teams pitched well, played solid defense, and put up some good at-bats. It’s just that–well, you have to see for yourself:

In the first inning, this pitch got almost too far inside on Vladimir Guerrero, and nearly hit him.

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Kennedy Claimed by DBacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks have claimed Joe Kennedy off waivers. This is the third player the Dbacks have claimed this week, along with Jeff Cirillo and Byung-Hyun Kim. The A’s get nothing in return but salary relief. I suppose that’s good, if Kennedy wasn’t going to generate a draft pick in free agency, but it’s also quite unexciting. I’m not exactly an A’s fan for the accounting ledgers.

If Billy Beane Won’t Hold a Fire Sale, Then I’ll Just Have To Do It Myself

Another reason for the A’s not holding a fire sale, besides the ones I listed last time, is that the A’s are not really all that far from contending again. While the A’s are currently seven games under .500, they have actually outscored their opponents on the season. And if you go even further, and adjust their runs scored/runs allowed by strength of schedule, things look even better. According to BP’s Adjusted Standings, the A’s ought to have the best record in the AL West, and should be just one game behind Detroit for third-best in the entire American League.

When a team’s actual record falls far below its projected one, it’s usually a sign of two things: 1) a bad bullpen, and 2) a bounceback to come. This is essentially what happened to Cleveland in 2006–they outscored their opponents by 88 runs, but finished 6 games below .500, thanks to an atrocious bullpen. They stabilized their pen in the offseason, and in 2007, they are contending again.

There was a period in July, while Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero were all on the DL, when there was not a single member of the A’s bullpen who was on the division winning team of a year before. The A’s won the division thanks to their pen–their M.O. in 2006 was to play solid, mistake-free defense, keep the game close into the late innings, and then outlast the other team’s bullpen with depth. There were many narrow, late-inning victories on the way to the division crown. This year, the A’s haven’t been able to win those types of games very often.

If Street, Duchscherer and Calero return to health in 2008, and are joined by an effective Alan Embree and Santiago Casilla, the A’s could return to their favorite game plan again. The major tinkering that needs to be done is to purge the team of the sub-.300 OBPs that are killing the offense. Jason Kendall is gone, so that’s one-third the battle. And hopefully, the A’s can find some sucker to take Mark Kotsay off their hands, and hope that Chris Denorfia can take over the job and put up a far more respectable OBP than Kotsay’s. The final and most difficult problem is to find an ABC (Anybody But Crosby). I’ve been watching Donnie Murphy pretty closely this week, and I don’t see any reason to think he’s Anybody.

 

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Meanwhile, I’m facing a bit of a roster crunch at home. With three kids now, there’s just not enough space around here to keep all the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years. It’s time for a fire sale! I’m doing a major purge of my house this weekend, getting rid of anything I don’t need–clothes, trinkets, toys, games, books, etc. This includes dozens of baseball books. Everything must go! If any of you are in the Bay Area, and might want to take any of this stuff off my hands, email me at catfish AT zombia.com. Anything I have left by Sunday will be headed to Goodwill or CARH.