A’s Set 25-Man Roster

The A’s optioned out Jeff Fiorentino, Dallas Braden and, contrary to rumor, Carlos Gonzalez from the 28-man roster they used in Japan.  That leaves the 25-man roster as follows:

Starting Pitchers:  Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland

Relief Pitchers:  Andrew Brown, Santiago Casilla, Lenny DiNardo, Alan Embree, Keith Foulke, Fernando Hernandez, Huston Street

Catchers:  Rob Bowen, Kurt Suzuki

Infielders:  Daric Barton, Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, Jack Hanahan, Dan Johnson, Donnie Murphy, Mike Sweeney

Outfielders:  Emil Brown, Travis Buck, Chris Denorfia, Ryan Sweeney, Jack Cust

15-day DL:  Eric Chavez, Chad Gaudin

60-day DL:  Kiko Calero

I’m pretty satisfied and confident about the quality of that pitching staff. If Harden can pitch, he easily makes up for the loss of Dan Haren. I think Justin Duchscherer will sneak up on a lot of people, and be an above-average starting pitcher. Eveland and Gaudin will probably fall into the talented-but-inconsistent category, but that’s not bad for your fourth and fifth starters. If Foulke can keep pitching as well as he has in his last four outings (including the two that counted against the heart of the Red Sox order), then that’s an awfully deep bullpen. With Lackey and Escobar out for the Angels, this is probably the best pitching staff in the AL West from top to bottom.

The defense should be at least adequate, if not good. The big question is the bats: the A’s may have the best pitching in the division, but they probably have the worst hitting. The trade of Nick Swisher makes the outfield lineup look pretty darn weak. I expect a lot of 2-1, 3-2 ballgames this year, and the A’s success or lack thereof may depend on where Pythagoras decides to roll his dice in all those close ballgames.

Lessons Learned, Game 1

The good news is, if the A’s play like this for 161 more games, they’ll win a good share of them. Most reports out of Japan made it sound as if the A’s were expected to roll over and crumble against the awesome destructive powers of the Mighty Matsuzaka Power Sox. But the A’s did not fold in the presence of the world champions, acted as if they belonged as equals on the same stage as Boston, and lost the game mostly because of three of their own mistakes: two horribly mislocated pitches by Huston Street, and one gawdawful baserunning blunder by bad, bad, Emil Brown. Lessons learned:

Joe Blanton is pretty good. He outpitched Daisuke Matsuzaka for five innings, but ran out of gas in the sixth. It’s still March, he travelled halfway across the planet, and it still took a hitter the likes of Manny Ramirez to knock him out, so we can forgive him for his empty tank.

The jury is still out on Bob Geren. Geren didn’t have much to work with last year with all the injuries, so I’m still not sure what I think of him. But I must ask, why did Geren leave Blanton in the game to give up the lead run, with Alan Embree ready in the pen and a left-handed batter in Brandon Moss coming to the plate? It was a strange, Macha-vellian decision.

The A’s make opposing pitchers work. Matsuzaka only lasted five innings, mostly because of the A’s patient approach up and down the lineup. He had thrown 60 pitches after two innings. This will pay off in the long run, when the A’s face pitchers of a lower caliber than Matsuzaka.

Daric Barton has one heckuva batting eye. Three walks.

Opponents have already adjusted to Bobby Crosby’s adjustment. Crosby has moved up on the plate and opened up his stance in order to help him recognize and reach the outside breaking pitches that have given him so much trouble over the years. The Red Sox responded by jamming him with inside fastballs a couple of times, resulting in a couple of weak grounders. But on the positive side, he went 2-for-5 overall, so if getting jammed every once in a while means he’ll get more hits overall, so be it. Better to get jammed twice in five ABs on inside fastballs than strike out thrice on sliders in the dirt. He’s going to have holes in his swing either way; the smaller the holes, the better.

Travis Buck has not adjusted his swing. Like Crosby, Buck has a hole in his swing–in Buck’s case, it’s the high fastball. Pitchers like Matsuzaka who have enough zip on their fastballs can get him out pretty consistently by going up the ladder on him. He needs to learn to lay off that pitch.

PECOTA might be right about Hannahan vs. Chavez. The PECOTA projection system thinks Eric Chavez is on a steep decline, and that right now Jack Hannahan might be, if not a better player overall, a better hitter than Chavez. Given that Chavez is going to be out for probably another month or so with a bad back, perhaps PECOTA is right. Hannahan had two hits (including a 2-run homer) and a walk, so that’s another data point in support of this theory. On the other side, there were a couple of plays at third base where Hannahan did not make as clean a catch or as strong a throw as Chavez normally makes.

Keith Foulke might be Keith Foulke again. Foulke looked awful in spring training until his very last outing, where he put together the kind of quiet, 1-2-3 inning he used to assemble when he was at his peak. He faced the heart of the Red Sox order in the eighth inning, and got through it with no damage whatsoever.

Huston Street should listen to Alan Embree more. At FanFest this year, Street and Embree discussed their differences in approach: Embree thinks Street doesn’t challenge hitters enough with fastballs, and tries to fool batters with off-speed stuff far more often than he needs to. I’m sure Embree was on Street’s case again after today’s game, as Street threw consecutive changeups to Brandon Moss (who?), the second of which started on the corner, but then backed up over the middle of the plate into Moss’ happy zone, for a game-tying home run. If Street follows that first changeup with a fastball instead, the A’s probably win this game. It’s one thing to try to trick a David Ortiz or a Manny Ramirez into chasing something when you’re ahead in the count (Ramirez’ blow against Street was a two-strike slider which, had it been located well, probably also wins the game for the A’s, but hung like a tee over the middle of the plate), but you don’t need to fool the Brandon Mosses of the world like that. Another data point: Foulke’s eighth inning included freezing Manny Ramirez for a called third strike with a straight fastball on the outside corner.

Emil Brown goes straight into the doghouse. I can understand what Brown was trying to do–if he gets to third base with one out, then the A’s can tie the score without a hit. But he has to make 100% sure the throw is going to the plate and won’t be cut off, like it was. The fact that the next two batters got hits make it seem even worse. It’s the worst baserunning blunder by a new player on a new team since Mark Sweeney. Brown hit some balls hard today, but he’s going to have to do a lot more of that to get back on the plus side of the ledger after this blunder.

The A’s outfield defense: shaky. Jacoby Ellsbury made a great catch in centerfield that prevented a leadoff double by Brown in the eighth. Meanwhile, Brown almost flubbed a fly ball to left, Travis Buck misplayed a catchable drive that led to the three-run rally in the sixth, and Jeff Fiorentino had a shot at catching Ramirez’ double in the 10th, but his effort wasn’t a picture of elegance.

Mark Ellis RULEZ. Well, we knew that already. Still, a homer and a walk in five plate appearances, two double plays turned, and a nifty play ranging deep up the middle in the second inning to turn a potential two-on, no-out situation into a rally-killing fielders choice out. Nice.

Let’s Go, Tokyo Athletics of Fremont including San Jose!

I’m still debating whether to get up at 3am tomorrow morning to watch the A’s season opener against the Red Sox in Tokyo. Back in my college days, staying up all night to finish an essay or cram for a test had little effect on me. But ever since I hit my mid-thirties, missing out on sleep affects me both mentally and physically for days. I suppose if I go to sleep about 10pm, and wake up at 3am, I could get by on five hours of sleep, but it’s not easy for me to fall asleep at 10pm. I guess it will be a game-time decision.  I’ll put a game thread up, in any case, if there are any other crazy souls out there.

Starting the season in Japan is interesting, but in a way, I would have preferred seeing the two weekend games against the Japanese teams on TV, rather than the two games against the Red Sox.  I mean, we get to see the A’s play the Red Sox many times every year, but how often do we get the chance to see the A’s stand in against the Giants or the Tigers?

Well, er, I mean, these (Yomiuri) Giants or these (Hanshin) Tigers.  Really, though, the A’s travel thousands of miles just to face the Giants and Tigers?   How boring is that?   C’mon!  Give us some Dragons or Buffaloes or Ham Fighters (yes, I know, I know) or Lotte Marines!   Sheesh.

The A’s are technically the home team in these contests against Boston, but the crowd will likely be decidedly pro-Red Sox, because of their Japanese players.  But perhaps Lew Wolff could change that.  We know that when the A’s move to Fremont, he plans to name the team the Something Athletics of Fremont.  Wolff probably wants to name them the San Jose Athletics of Fremont, but Bud Selig doesn’t want the A’s to name the team after a city which is in another team’s territory.  So heck, why not call them the Tokyo Athletics of Fremont, officially?  Play a few games in Tokyo every year, make the A’s into Japan’s Team™, and watch the dough start to roll in.

I also have a suggestion for Wolff on how to get around the problem of San Jose being inside Giants territory.  Just move San Jose itself into Alameda County.  It can be the new trend.  Instead of relocating franchises from city to city, you just relocate the entire city.  QED, problem solved.

I’m not sure how we would chant for our team if Mr. Wolff followed all these suggestions, but we’ll work something out.  We’re a resource bunch, we A’s fans.

Luck of the Green

The A’s won again today in the Cactus League, defeating the Kansas City Royals, 6-2. That makes the Green and Gold 15-5 so far, with three games left before they head off to Japan. The pitching so far has been outstanding, especially from the young newcomers. They’re making me feel rather optimistic about the future. I’m not sure that’s a good thing so early in this rebuilding process; it seems like it would be easier on my mental health if I kept my expectations low for awhile. I just need to tell myself, "They’ve been more lucky than good…more lucky than good…more lucky than good."

That mantra may work to deceive myself, as I still haven’t seen any of these young players play; the A’s haven’t and won’t be televised until their major league opener in Tokyo. I did however, watch my first televised baseball game this weekend: Seattle vs. San Francisco.

When you compare the A’s to a team like Seattle, it’s easy to look at Seattle’s best players and see that they’re better than Oakland’s best players. One of the things I think people who prognosticate fail to consider is how much team depth matters over the course of a season. From roster spots 21-40, I think the A’s roster is much stronger than the Mariners’. The A’s may be a team utterly devoid of stars, but they’re pretty much utterly devoid of scrubs, too. That’s probably why PECOTA picks the A’s to have a better record than Seattle.

And wow, the Giants are bad. Each player in Oakland’s backup infield–Jack Hannahan, Gregorio Petit, Donnie Murphy and Dan Johnson–is probably better than their counterpart in the Giants’ starting infield this year.  And Barry Zito looked awful.  I’ve argued in the past against using DIPS as a means to measure a unique pitcher like Zito, on the basis that his stuff hadn’t changed, and his BABIP record had been consistently low. But judging by Saturday’s performance, Barry Zito has suddenly lost 4-5 mph off his fastball…and he didn’t have 4-5mph to lose. He better get it back soon, or that contract will kill the Giants for years to come (if it hasn’t done so already).

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I have three openings in my very casual, head-to-head Yahoo fantasy league. Draft is tomorrow night, Tuesday at 8pm Pacific. Categories: Hitting/Fielding: R, RBI, HR, SB, OBP, SLG, Assists, Fielding %. Pitching: W, SV, Holds, ERA, WHIP, K. To join click here. League ID: 47499. Password: ken.

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And finally, a (somewhat) Swedish St. Patrick’s Day greeting to all the permanent and temporary Irish people out there, from this (somewhat) Swedish blogger:

The Hole In Tire Universe

Today is Pi Day (3.14), but if that’s not nerdy enough for you, it’s also Einstein’s Birthday, and if you want to be even geekier that that, you can participate in Talk Like A Physicist Day, which, marvels of marvels, is also on today’s crowded agenda.

All of these mysterious quantum entanglements I heard about from some of the science blogs on the Periodic Table of BlogsCosmic Variance here, and Cocktail Party Physics here, but when I went to look for the reference this morning, I clicked on the wrong science blog, and ended up at the blog called Bad Astronomy here, where I got sucked into reading about the old 70s TV show Nanny and the Professor.

I barely remember watching that show as a kid, but the show did have the child actress Kim Richards, who later starred in the movie Escape to Witch Mountain. When I was nine years old, I thought Witch Mountain was the greatest movie I had ever seen, perhaps I hadn’t seen many movies and didn’t know better, perhaps because it was my first taste of sci-fi (this was two years before Star Wars), or perhaps because I had a crush on Kim Richards. (This "greatest" status didn’t last long; later that summer my cousin visiting from Sweden took me with him to see some movie he had heard of called "Jaws", and totally shattered my cinematic innocence.) Curious, I did some googling to see what Richards was doing these days, and discovered she has mostly retired from acting to raise her family. But while she stepped away from the celebrity life, another family member stepped in: Richards is the aunt of Paris Hilton.

To entangle these quanta even further, I happened to spend a very uneventful night inside Paris Hilton last May, before returning home to the Bay Area to watch Matt Morris pitch a masterful game against the Oakland A’s the following day, a performance which probably led to Morris’ eventual trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates, a horribly stupid trade which probably led to the firing of Pirates GM Dave Littlefield. Which makes me think of the Baseball Prospectus book signing with Kevin Goldstein and Christina Kahrl that I attended this past Monday here in my hometown of Alameda, CA, an event which, to be honest, wasn’t a whole lot more noteworthy or eventful than my night with Paris Hilton, other than the one statement that stuck in my mind, which was Goldstein saying that Littlefield was probably the last of baseball’s stupid GMs. Every team is run by committees of Einsteins these days, all talking about baseball like physicists.

Perhaps, then, the sequel to Moneyball should be called some ultra-physicist-sounding name like "Infinityball", except that the term "Infinity Ball" has already been used in my favorite episode of the TV cartoon show The Tick. In this episode, The Tick vs. The Big Nothing, The Tick has to travel to the center of our galaxy to help the Whats stop the Heys from throwing a black hole into another black hole and destroying the universe. The Whats try to explain to The Tick the science behind the Heys’ evil plan, but The Tick can’t stay awake to listen. "Science…boring…interest fading…zzzzzzzz…."

The Tick was created by Ben Edlund, and I was curious, like I was with Kim Richards, to see what he was doing these days. I found on IMDB that he has written a movie called Pox which is due out sometime this year. And looking at the cast for that movie, I discovered that my brother-in-law has a role in the film, playing a character called "Walraven".

Mr. Walraven, in real life, is a huge LA Angels and UCLA basketball fan, and his alma mater beat my alma mater, UC Berkeley, in the Pac-10 basketball tournament last night. I suspect that he will have a lot of bragging rights over me this year. But there is some hope for me–the Cal Bears’ baseball team has been red-hot this season. They are 10-1-1 so far this season, with their only loss coming at the hands of Missouri and pitcher Aaron Crow, who is serious candidate to be the top pick in the 2008 MLB draft. Bryan Smith, who used to write with me over at all-baseball.com, and now works with Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus writing about minor league and amateur baseball, wrote a nice (subscription-only) article about the Bears yesterday.

In the article, Smith discusses two of the Bears’ best hitters, junior David Cooper and senior Josh Satin, but fails to mention the other Bears hitter with an OPS over 1.000, centerfielder Brett Jackson. Jackson is a sophomore currently hitting .325/.491/.550, and leading the team with seven stolen bases.  I mention him where Smith doesn’t, because Brett’s father Peter used to be my boss in my previous job, and he is also an investor in the company I am currently working for.

My current company just (finally, finally) released version 2.0 of our software (formerly known as Fairpole) and my business partner (who quantum entanglementally used to play third base for the Bears) and I have been working tirelessly all week to work out the kinks in it that you only discover once you release it into the wild. Hopefully, once that process is over, we can bring the new version of the software back over to BaseballToaster.com, as well.

I hope this explains my recent silence on this blog. The momentum on the blog has deflated a bit, but I’ve been busy tying the entire universe together, and haven’t had time to rant about how stupid I think the A’s are for even thinking about sending Eric Chavez on that long plane ride to Japan, or conversely to write about how happy and optimistic it makes me to see how well the entire A’s staff is pitching in spring training. And since it looks like Red Sox may start the season without both Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, perhaps the A’s can fly to Tokyo next week and surprise everyone by starting off the season with a Big Bang.

0.338140227 Fluid Ounces of Love

My season tickets arrived today, but unlike past seasons, I got no thrill from opening them. I have no emotional link to the 2008 A’s yet. I’ve been pretty silent about spring training, mostly because I can’t think of anything intelligent to say about a bunch of players I’ve never seen play. Take the players from today’s boxscore, for example:

Guys I’ve Seen In Oakland before:
J Hannahan 3b
D Murphy ss
R Bowen c
D Johnson 1b
J Cust lf
A Embree p
Not exactly a group to summon the muses down from Mount Olympus, are they?

Guys I’ve Seen Play On Other Teams
T Linden pr-lf
M Sweeney dh
Offensive rejects from the Giants and Royals. Oh, boy!

Guys I’ve Never Even Heard Of
A Brown rf
C Rogowski ph
B Conrad ss-3b
C Gissell p
Huh? Andrew Brown playing right field?

Guys I’ve Heard Of But Never Seen Play
C Denorfia cf
C Gonzalez rf
J Fiorentino pr-cf
W Bankston 1b
J Knoedler c
R Sweeney ph
G Petit 2b
D Eveland p
F Hernandez p
I’d like to see them, but then again, that doesn’t mean they mean that much to me.

Thus my silence. Communication is the problem to the answer. I’m not in love, so don’t forget it. It’s just a silly phase I’m going through. You lay your bets and then you pay the price. Ah, the things we do for love.

Fundraiser for High School Sports in Alameda

A follow-up to my piece on the crisis in the Alameda high school athletics: I saw this a little late, but KNBR Radio and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame is holding a fundraiser today for Alameda Education Foundation (AEF), to provide funds for high school athletics in Alameda.

In a very exciting opportunity this afternoon, KNBR680 is partnering with the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame to raise funds for high school athletic programs in AUSD.

The Hall of Fame has donated a $30,000 matching grant to AEF, specifically for high school sports. KNBR will be contacting and interviewing professional athletes that came up through our athletic programs. The challenge? To get these athletes (and everyone listening) to match that $30K — or more! Please tune in to Tom Tolbert today, after the Giants game, from 3:00 to 7:00 pm.

Want to donate? Go to our donate button. When you get to Paypal, write "high school sports" or "KNBR" on the "item" line.

Our trip to Sacramento last week went well; we met with some staff of Lt. Governor John Garamendi, made our concerns heard, and got a tour of his office. (It’s not a particularly impressive office; your typical Silicon Valley office is much more impressive, but then again, the Lt. Governor’s office doesn’t really hold much power, so maybe that’s fitting.) Our group is pictured second from the bottom in this news article. The one good thing to know is that the politicians in Sacramento are certainly getting an earful. I think they’re starting to realize there’s a line that being crossed between a lean government and a starving one.