2007 Photo Outtakes: Five-Man Rotation

There are five slots in the A’s rotation, not one of which is today filled with any certainty.  Every potential A’s starter is a question mark:

  • Joe Blanton:  on the trading block.
  • Rich Harden:  injured, or about to be.
  • Chad Gaudin:  just had two surgeries.
  • Justin Duchscherer:  coming off surgery, never been a full-time starter.
  • Dana Eveland: minor league star, but as of yet, no major league success.
  • Dan Meyer: improving, but still hasn’t regained pre-injury top prospect form.
  • Dallas Braden:  not sure if he can succeed without his screwball, not sure if he can stay healthy with it.
  • Lenny DiNardo: less talented, but more reliable than all of the above, he is the backup plan, if all else fails.
  • Kirk Saarloos:  non-roster invitee is backup plan to the backup plan

This is the most unstable rotation the A’s have had since 1997, the year Billy Beane took over as GM.  That rotation had names like Steve Karsay, Ariel Prieto, Dave Telgheder, Mike Oquist, Brad Rigby, Don Wengert, Willie Adams, Mike Mohler and Jimmy Haynes all taking turns not pitching well.  Obviously, the 2008 group is more talented than the 1997 group, but even the fact that those dismal days have returned to our thoughts is cause for distress.  Bad memories!  Bad!  Bad!  Stay away!

Mark Ellis’ PR Hits Bottom and Bounces

OK, so yesterday I wrote a blog entry explaining that Mark Ellis gets ZERO publicity, and deserves plenty. And then, just before I went to bed, I found a new blog entry (subscribers only) from ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer, where he ranks the best second basemen in baseball. So what did Neyer conclude about Ellis?

Nothing. Neyer didn’t even mention Ellis.

See what I mean?

To be fair, Neyer had decided to exclude anyone over 30 from his analysis. But that didn’t stop him from mentioning four other 2Bs who were over 30, only one of which (Placido Planco, 8.6) had a higher score in Neyer’s chosen metric (WARP1) than Ellis’ 8.4. Meanwhile, Brian Roberts (7.1), Orlando Hudson (6.9) and Jeff Kent (5.0) all got their props.

So I went to bed more ticked off than ever–even the one mainstream writer in America most likely to appreciate the value of Mark Ellis had completely overlooked him. I was beginning to sense a crusade of Rich Lederer proportions welling up inside me.

Fortunately, when I woke up this morning, I found I did not need to go off and fight windmills. Rob Neyer didn’t become Rob Neyer without the ability to realize a mistake: today, he wrote this:

Yesterday Mark Ellis didn’t make my list of the 10 best second basemen (2008-2012). I doubted myself almost immediately, thanks to something a reader said in the comments section (from the bottom, the ninth up). Now, along comes Catfish Stew saying Ellis was more valuable last season than Derek Jeter … and I’m having trouble finding a massive flaw in his analysis.

Thank you, Rob. Mark Ellis’ level of publicity is now greater than zero. Mission accomplished!

 

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Mark Ellis is Better than Derek Jeter, and It Makes Me Unhappy

Here we have a photograph of Mark Kotsay, who was just traded for two decent prospects, catching a fly ball while Mark Ellis, who neither has been traded nor is rumored to be anytime soon, looks on. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Danes may have been pretty miserable back in Hamlet’s day, but today, they are the happiest people in the industrialized world. Why? It’s not because they have the best standard of living. It’s because they have the lowest expectations.

My giddiness that there still existed a GM desperate enough to both take on damaged goods like Mark Kotsay and give good prospects in return is beginning to wane. And now, as my happiness levels return to normal, I’m beginning to feel like the Mark Kotsay trade is a bad thing for my happiness.

Not because the trade was a bad trade: it was a very good trade for the A’s. My problem with it is that now it alters my expectations.

Mark Kotsay had good trade value basically because used to be an excellent defensive player who used to provide average offense, and somebody hoped he might be able to do that again. That was worth two decent prospects.

Meanwhile, here’s Mark Ellis. Mark Ellis IS an excellent defensive player (in fact, he’s quite possibly the best defensive player in baseball), who DOES provide average offense, and WILL be able to do that again. So how much should that fetch in return?

Apparently, nothing. There are ZERO trade rumors involving Mark Ellis out there–none. Listen, folks, I’m beginning to get rather upset about this.

Mark Ellis, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love Mark Ellis because he’s the most reliable baseball player I’ve ever seen. He never, ever, ever makes a mental mistake. He plays basically flawless baseball, day in, day out. He might not be the fastest, strongest, or flashiest player out there, but he’s good enough of an athlete that combined with his mental perfection on the field, he’s a very valuable player.

According to Chris Dial’s defensive calculations, Mark Ellis saved more runs on defense than any other player in baseball: 24 runs over average. And if you don’t want to trust just one defensive statistic to give him the AL Most Valuable Defender award, you can take the average of the various stats, as Lee Panas over at Detroit Tiger Tales has done, and find that by nearly every way you can measure, Mark Ellis was the best defensive second baseman in the American League, saving 19 runs over average. On offense, Ellis had a VORP of 24 runs.

If we add those together (it’s a bit of apples and oranges, but they’re the fruits at hand, so bear with me) you get a 2007 total of +43 runs. Compare this to, say, Derek Jeter, whose VORP was 53, but defensively was a horrible -27, you get a total of +26.

Now I don’t really believe that Mark Ellis is a better talent than Derek Jeter. If Jeter was playing 2B and Ellis was playing SS, their defensive numbers would probably be much closer. But here’s the annoying thing:

If the New York Yankees announced that they were hoping to trade Derek Jeter this offseason, ESPN would be providing us updates every hour; Pedro Gomez would be parked outside Jeter’s home hoping to get the latest scoop, Peter Gammons and Buster Olney would spend every waking hour calling every GM and assistant GM to see if they had any news about where Jeter might be going, and MLBTradeRumors.com would be the most visited site on the Internet until the trade actually went down.

Mark Ellis provided 17 more runs of value to his team, is three years younger, and cost $17 million less than Derek Jeter, is everything the just-traded Mark Kotsay is not, is quite clearly available to be had in the right trade and what do we hear?

Silence.

Meanwhile, Seattle is apparently about to trade 18-24 years of future players for two years of Eric Bedard, and after that goes down, they’d still be playing Jose Lopez at second base, who had a defensive value of +6, and an offensive value of -9. They could improve their team by about five wins by upgrading from Lopez to Ellis, and the only rumored interest we hear from Seattle is that they want to know the price of Joe Blanton. Good luck with that.

I’m sure Billy Beane appreciates the value of Mark Ellis more than anyone, and since Ellis might end up a Type A free agent, perhaps the best course of action is to keep Ellis. If Ellis leaves, the A’s get two draft picks, and if he accepts arbitration, fine–he probably provides more value than he’d actually win in arbitration anyway. Defense ain’t where the dollars are.

But my point isn’t really that Mark Ellis is better than Derek Jeter, or that the A’s should trade him, or that other teams should give up their farm systems to get him. I’m perfectly happy to keep him around. But now that I know that damaged goods like Mark Kotsay has an appreciable value around the league, that makes my expectations for Mark Ellis shoot up to the moon. The fact that Ellis still gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield is as rotten as the corpse of Polonius decaying beneath the stairs.

New A’s Roster Facts

Some tidbits absorbed from staring at the A’s roster:

  • The outfielder with the most seniority on the A’s 25-man roster is Travis Buck.
  • The outfielder with the most seniority on the A’s 40-man roster is Javier Herrera. Herrera has never played in the major leagues.
  • The outfielder who has played the most games in an Oakland uniform is Jack Cust.
  • The outfielder who has played the most games in a major league uniform is Emil Brown.
  • Every player on the roster was born in either the 70s (9 players) or 80s (31 players).
  • The A’s have six players over 30 years old.
  • The A’s have three players over 31 years old.
  • Alan Embree is the only player on the roster who was alive during Richard Nixon’s presidency.
  • The A’s have seven players born after I graduated high school in 1984.
  • Eleven more players were born in 1983.
  • Henry Rodriguez, the youngest player on the 40-man roster, will turn 21 in February.
  • Rodriguez is also the lightest player, at 175 lbs.
  • Joe Blanton is the heaviest, at 250 lbs.
  • Five players are tied for shortest, at 5′ 10".
  • The tallest players are Jerry Blevins and Andrew Brown, 6′ 6".
  • If not for Rodriguez, Blevins would have the odd honor of being both the tallest and lightest player on the team. He only weighs 185 lbs.
  • Eight players bat left, throw left. Of these, five are pitchers.
  • Eight players bat left, throw right. Of these, one is a pitcher (Rich Harden).
  • Dan Meyer is the only Rickey Henderson on the team: Bats Right, Throws Left.
  • The only switch hitters on the roster are catchers: Rob Bowen and Landon Powell.

That last point leads to a particularly painful thought about the 2008 A’s lineup (as it stands today): their best four, and possibly five, hitters are all left-handed. Without the switch-hitting Swisher in the middle of the lineup, it’s hard to construct a lineup that doesn’t make it easy for an opposing manager to just run out his LOOGY during a critical point in the game to cut down the A’s offense. If you want to avoid that, you have to inject Chris Denorfia and/or Mark Ellis higher into the order than you ordinarily would based on their OBP/SLGs. Maybe you run out the projected lineup like this (Position, Name, Handedness, ZIPS projected OBP/SLG):

  1. RF, Travis Buck, L, .360/.458
  2. 2B, Mark Ellis, R, .335/.418
  3. 1B, Daric Barton, L, .369/.440
  4. 3B, Eric Chavez, L, .341/.453
  5. CF, Chris Denorfia, R, .350/.438
  6. DH, Jack Cust, L, .394/.470
  7. SS, Bobby Crosby, R, .305/.353
  8. LF, Ryan Sweeney, L, .326/.374
  9. C, Kurt Suzuki, R, .325/.369

Perhaps you swap Chavez and Cust, but I personally hate having pure three-true-outcome types in the middle of the lineup; I think they fit best batting sixth or seventh, at the tail end of a string of good hitters instead of in the middle. I don’t have any numbers to support this belief, but from years of watching, I much prefer my cleanup guys to be able to adjust their game to the game situation, and the TTO guys only play one way. (The lineup tool wants Cust to hit leadoff, by the way.)

Another thing of note: Every player in that lineup except Sweeney and Crosby is projected by ZiPS for an OBP above the average player at his position. Now, swap out Sweeney with Barry Bonds. How’s that lineup look now? Is it actually–dare we say it?–good?

With good pitching, I think you can win with that lineup. The problem remains this: in order to achieve Victory 2008! we are still counting on a healthy rotation consisting of Rich Harden, Justin Duchscherer, Chad Gaudin, Joe Blanton, and one clear winner from the group of Eveland/DiNardo/Meyer/Braden. If the three hurt guys stay hurt, and the rotation looks more like Blanton/Eveland/DiNardo/Meyer/Braden most of the season, the A’s ain’t gonna win any titles, even if their lineup looks like the New York Yankees.

Mark Kotsay Is Officially A Brave; Catfish Stew Is Officially Giddy

Mark Kotsay passed his physical, and…wow. The A’s got not only one, but two of the Braves’ top 20 prospects in exchange for Mark Kotsay. As discussed before, the A’s get hard-throwing reliever Joey Devine, who John Sickels lists as the Braves’ #5 prospect, plus–bonus!–Jamie Richmond, the Braves’ #13 prospect.

Neither prospect is without their flaws. Devine was rushed to the majors too young, where he promptly gave up some devastating home runs. He was the first pitcher in MLB history to give up grand slams in his first two games, and he also gave up an 18th-inning home run to Chris Burke in the 2005 NLDS, which ended the Braves’ season. He has also had trouble throwing strikes, but seemed to have overcome this while spending most the 2007 season in the minor leagues. A change of scenery may do him a world of good.

I’m not sure why Sickels has Richmond rated so high; his numbers in A-ball last year were decent, but not overly impressive: 3.02 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 6.36 K/9. Richmond being #13 is probably an indication of how shallow the Braves’ system had grown after the big Mark Teixeira trade last summer. Still, while Richmond doesn’t seem to overpower anyone, he does have one excellent asset: his control. In 2006 in Rookie-level ball, he pitched 67 innings, and only walked an Eckersleyesque four batters all year. That jumped up to 25 walks in 138 2/3 innings as he advanced to A-ball last year, which isn’t too bad, either.

Still, even with their flaws, both players have some upside, which is two more players with upside than I had expected to get in exchange for Kotsay.

And now, this analysis has grown tiresome. This is the time on Catfish Stew when we dance.

Blowing Up The A’s, Part 3: Kotsay to Atlanta for Devine

David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says he has spoken with Mark Kotsay, who was told by Billy Beane that the A’s are working on a deal that would send Kotsay to the Braves for a mid-level prospect. The A’s would probably pay at least $5M of the $8M owed to Kotsay this year. If the Braves find Kotsay’s MRI acceptable, the deal could be announced Monday.

This deal is probably going down now because the Braves other good CF option, free agent Mike Cameron, just signed with the Brewers. It’s a good fit for both teams: the Braves need a stopgap centerfielder until Jordan Schafer is ready for the big leagues, and the A’s need minor league depth.

I feel about this news exactly as I felt about the Jason Kendall trade: to get anything of value for Kotsay at this point, including salary relief, is a great move. A healthy Kotsay was one of my favorite A’s players ever: I loved his deadly accurate throws, and I liked watching his simple approach at the plate: swing at anything that’s a strike, don’t swing at anything that’s a ball. But it’s time to move on. Kotsay, in the last year of his contract on a rebuilding team, most likely isn’t going to help the A’s win any pennants, even if he stays completely healthy in 2008. If the deal goes through, I’ll be happy. If the A’s get back anybody who’s a top 20 Braves prospect, I’ll be giddy.

Update:  The A’s have signed free agent outfielder Emil Brown to a one-year deal to play the Bobby Kielty role of right-handed platoon bat.  Danny Putnam was designated for assignment to make room for Brown on the 40-man roster.  Which suggests something else:  the player the A’s will get back for Kotsay is probably on the Braves 40-man roster.  Because if the A’s were getting a player back for Kotsay who wasn’t on the 40-man roster, the A’s would probably just wait to finalize the Brown deal after the Kotsay trade goes through, give Kotsay’s roster spot to Brown, and not have to risk losing Putnam on waivers.

The only players who are both on the 40-man roster and on John Sickels’ top 20 Braves prospect list are #3 Brandon Jones, #5 Joey Devine, and #9 Jair Jurjjens.  Any of those sound too good to be true, so it’s probably not a top-20 prospect coming back.

Update 2: ESPN confirms that the A’s will get Joey Devine for Kotsay. The A’s are eating all but $2M of Kotsay’s salary. That’s great for the A’s; they’re shedding salaries commitments left and right, and have budget room to absorb some salary to get some talent back. Devine, a reliever, is a former first round pick who has huge strikeout rates, but also high walk rates, too. He showed some signs of improving his control in 2007. The A’s want upside these days, and Devine certainly has that. His walk rates may prevent him from realizing his full potential, but even if he flops, this is a great deal for the A’s.

Pour, Pour Slim Shady: Catfish Stew 2007 Top 10 Lists

 

1. stop casting porosity
2. stomach punch
3. questions without answers
4. their
5. asparagusy
6. things that come in threes
7. pitchers of eminem
8. zza zza gabor
9. dairy queen
10. winnie the pooh

 

1. joe kennedy
2. rich harden
3. barry zito
4. milton bradley
5. travis buck
6. mike piazza
7. daric barton
8. jason kendall
9. shannon stewart
10. todd walker

 

1. 2007 mlb rookie of the year
2. eephus
3. baseball
4. tinstaap
5. baseball web gems
6. other names for a fastball
7. charting pitches
8. babip
9. oakland athletics
10. 2007 baseball playoff predictions

 

1. Zito Thoughts, Part 3
2. Ah, That Day
3. A Picture Worth A Thousand Words
4. A’s Release Bradley, Ruin Upcoming Catfish Stew Post
5. Zito Thoughts, Part 2
6. In Memory of Joe Kennedy
7. Of Holes
8. Matt Kemp’s Magic Floating Helmet and Other Assorted Images
9. 2007 Photo Outtakes: I Don’t Want to Know
10. Zito Thoughts, Part 1

2007 Photo Outtakes: Empty

There will be a lot more of this in 2008. No, I’m not talking about Nick Swisher batting at the Coliseum. I’m referring to the empty seats. Even if Billy Beane is approaching rebuilding correctly–gathering a large cluster of young, cheap talent that can come of age together–it’s bound to hurt the near-term attendance figures. Very few people go to a major league game because the home team has a top-five minor league system.

Now some may be (and some are) asking, how did it come to this? How did the A’s let their farm system dry up so badly that they were forced to rip apart a team that made it to the ALCS just 15 months ago? Well, the most obvious answer is this: this is the way the system is supposed to work. Teams that are good for long periods of time are going to eventually have their talent dry up from having low draft picks year after year.

The A’s haven’t had a pick in the top half of the first round since Barry Zito was chosen with the ninth pick in 1999. Any pick beyond the 15th pick has historically had about a 75% chance of never amounting to much more than a replacement-level player. Even if you’re really smart about your drafts and you can figure out how to reduce those odds of failure from 75% to about 66%, your draft pick is still going to flop two times out of three. Eventually, you’re going to have a run of three or four years when your picks don’t work out, and you run out of talent.

Since Zito was chosen, the A’s have had 19 picks (excluding 2007: too soon to judge) in the first and supplemental rounds. Of those 19, seven have had careers that can be considered above MLB replacement level: Swisher, Joe Blanton, Mark Teahen, Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Bonderman, Huston Street, and Travis Buck. That’s a 63% failure rate: a pretty good percentage, actually.

So if there’s a suggestion out there that the A’s don’t draft well, or don’t develop their talent well, the evidence seems to suggest the contrary: on the whole, the A’s draft and develop talent better than the average team.

It’s when you start breaking down the whole into its constituent parts that you can find room to quibble. The A’s draft and development program has its strengths and weaknesses. The A’s are good at finding and developing players in those areas where statistical results are good predictors of future performance, namely corner outfielder/first basemen types, and pitching. As Moneyball spelled out, they’ve figured out how to beat the odds (somewhat) there. But at positions where athletic tools are an important part of the job description, the A’s tend to make as many, or more, mistakes as anyone.

The next time the A’s draft and develop a star centerfielder or shortstop or second baseman will be the first time. Part of the reason the pipeline has dried up at this point in time is that the A’s spent high draft picks in recent years to find players in these positions–specifically Richie Robnett (cf), Cliff Pennington (ss), and Brian Snyder (2b/3b)–and they have all pretty much flopped.

This leads to an interesting dilemma if you’re the A’s. If you know you suck at one thing–drafting players at the up-the-middle positions, and you’re good at something else–finding value in pitching and the corner positions–how should you approach things? Should you try to learn from your mistakes and pick better next time, or do you stick with what works for you, and figure you can trade for players to fill your holes later?

In their return for Dan Haren and Nick Swisher, the A’s seem to have opted to stick with what they know. They got nine players back: five pitchers, three corner outfielders, and one first baseman. No shortstops, no second basemen, and no pure centerfielders. (Although all three outfielders are said to be able to play some CF, all three are considered to be more natural fits in the corners.)

Haren and Swisher were their two most valuable trading chips, and they used them to get players we can be fairly confident given the A’s history that the A’s have evaluated accurately. As it stands today, the A’s farm system is much more talented than it was before the trades, but on the other hand, it’s more talented in the same areas it was talented before, and it’s still empty in the areas where it has been the emptiest. It will be interesting to see if now that the A’s have filled their coffers with their strengths, if they change direction a bit and start diving more into their weaknesses.

 

A’s Trade Banjo Man to Minnesota for Three Young Musicians

Having already traded away Dan Haren and Nick Swisher this offseason, the Oakland Athletics continued their rebuilding program today, sending Banjo Man, a 23-year veteran of the green and gold, to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for three promising young musicians.

In explaining the deal, A’s general manager Billy Beane repeated the rationale that he cited when trading Haren and Swisher: since the Minor League system was depleted and the ballclub appeared to have little chance of contending in the near future, Oakland would need to build a new foundation by trading star performers for promising youngsters.

Beane said that parting with the jovial Banjo Man was "very difficult" and insisted that the move was not about dumping an aging member of the team. "This was about trying to acquire as much talent in bulk as we can," Beane said. "It’s no fun doing this, from an emotional standpoint."

In exchange for the 57-year-old Banjo Man, the A’s received three young musical prodigies, all under the age of 23: Accordion Kid, Bagepipe Babe, and Tuba Dude.

Accordion Kid, 22, is the Twins’ #2 prodigy according to American Fanstand, a leading authority on ballpark music. Kid spent the year performing for the AAA Rochester Red Wings, where he was named the International League’s Most Outstanding Musical Prospect. He is expected to be ready for to make the jump to the major leagues in 2008.

Bagpipe Babe, 19, was ranked #3 by American Fanstand, and has perhaps a higher ceiling than Accordion Kid, but is further away from the majors. She showed lots of promise with the low-A Beloit Snappers, but scouts say she lets her bags sag from time to time, and needs to be more consistently firm in her presentation to make an impact at the major league level.

Tuba Dude, 21, did not make Fanstand’s Top 10 list. He is a bulky fellow who scouts say is unlikely to be a star, but could someday play a solid supporting role in the right circumstances.

A’s owner Lew Wolff praised Beane’s initiative. "I will certainly miss Banjo Man," Wolff said. "But we didn’t want to just cross our fingers and hope we’d be better this year. Billy’s building for the future but hasn’t torn the team apart. I honestly think we’ll be better. We’ll certainly be faster and younger."

Beane and Wolff indicated that more trades were in the works, but would not comment on any specific players. Below are some other members of the A’s organization that Beane is thought to be shopping:

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Swisher Traded To White Sox

When I say, "Let’s Do This", Billy Beane doesn’t waste any time, does he? Nick Swisher, who in many ways has been the defining personality of the A’s franchise the last two years, is now gone to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for three prospects.

The A’s get the White Sox’ top two prospects, pitchers Fautino de los Santos and Gio Gonzalez, plus a fourth-outfielder type in Ryan Sweeney. De los Santos has a huge ceiling, but is probably a few years away from the big leagues. He’s the kind of high-reward talent that we A’s fans hoping the A’s would get back in exchange for Dan Haren. Gonzalez is not nearly as talented, but is polished and almost ready for the majors.

The trade of Swisher is a bit of a surprise, as we’ve been expecting that Joe Blanton would be the next to go. Plus, Swisher was under contract through 2012, so he could conceivably still be around when the A’s are ready to contend again. But I guess Beane is going full-bore on filling the 2011 basket with as much talent as conceivably possible. Since Swisher has been dealt, I don’t think there is any trade that follows now that would surprise me.

When you look at the combined trades of Haren and Swisher, what Beane has received in return is a possible Haren in de los Santos, a possible Swisher in Carlos Gonzalez, plus a possible Blanton or two in Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez. It will be fun and interesting to add all this up when the ordeal is overwith.

2007 Photo Outtakes: Victory 2008!

The bad news: the odds of the A’s adding the number "2008" to this banner are only slightly worse than the odds of Rich Harden staying healthy all season, which in turn are only slightly worse than the odds of me growing a second head, being elected President of the Galaxy, and then stealing a spaceship while visiting the planet Damogran.

The good news: if the third of these improbable events happens, the other two will follow as a matter of course.  Therefore, I would like to remind all A’s fans in Iowa to vote for me in the caucuses on January 3rd.  It’s the first step in a long journey towards Victory 2008!

If you have any questions about what I would do as President beyond my top priority of making sure the A’s win the World Series, feel free to ask them in the comments below.   I’ll be happy to answer, provided, of course, that doing so would not make me look uncool.