SweetSpot: Oakland Athletics

From Tuesday's chat:
    mike (williamsburg va)

    I am curious - if Beane had stepped down last May and Amaro took over the A's and then proceeded to make the exact same deals, how do you think the choices would have been viewed?

I get asked that question a lot. Do writers and analysts like myself defend Billy Beane's transactions simply because he's Billy Beane?

Well, I hope not. I try to be as impartial as possible. I liked last season's trades for Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester because the A's looked like a sure thing to win the division but had to be concerned about riding Sonny Gray (in his first full season in the majors), Scott Kazmir (hadn't pitched many innings in recent years) and Jesse Chavez (converted reliever). It seemed like the right idea to upgrade the rotation and add a guy like Lester who had a good postseason history.

Yes, things didn't work out, but not because Samardzija and Lester didn't pitch well. The offense imploded the final two months, the A's collapsed and they blew a big division lead, but even then if Bob Melvin doesn't leave in Lester too long in the wild-card game, who knows what would have happened the rest of the postseason.

I guess I would make this point: Beane knows more about this stuff then those of us sitting at our keyboards. Plus, there's this list to consider:

Teams to make the playoffs the past three seasons
Detroit Tigers
Oakland A's
St. Louis Cardinals

And digging a little deeper:

Wins the past three seasons
A's: 278
Cardinals: 275
Tigers: 271

Run differential the past three seasons
A's: 398
Cardinals: 320
Tigers: 280

So, yes, maybe it is fair to give Beane some benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, that gets us to this offseason and from afar it looks like Beane has torn apart his playoff team, losing Lester, Luke Gregerson and Jed Lowrie via free agency and trading Samardzija, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss. Those players combined for 16.1 Wins Above Replacement with the A's in 2014, and of course they would have had Samardzija for an entire season. That's lot of wins for Beane to find.

The A's know this. But listen to what assistant GM David Forst told FanGraphs' Eno Sarris at the winter meetings:
I think Billy has articulated in a couple of places that we knew that just bringing back the current team, assuming the losses of Lester, and Gregerson, and Lowrie and some of those guys that we didn’t have an opportunity to sign -- bringing back that team wasn’t going to work. The Angels were obviously 11 games better than us and the Mariners were right on our tail, and poised to get better. Just bringing back our group and just supplementing it with little pieces, wasn’t going to give us a chance to compete, and was also going to leave us further down the path of having an older, more injury-prone club, frankly.

We decided very early on that we needed to take a similar route that we did in 2011, in November in December, and work hard on increasing our depth, getting younger and getting healthier.

Have the A's replaced the departed talent? Here are the projected WAR numbers via FanGraphs for the major league-ready players Beane has acquired:

Chris Bassitt: -0.2
Billy Butler: 1.4
Ike Davis: 2.0
Kendall Graveman: -0.1
Brett Lawrie: 3.8
Sean Nolin: -0.2
Marcus Semien: 2.1
Joey Wendle: No projection, but could contribute

That adds up to 8.6 WAR, which is not 16.1 WAR. The Steamer projection system used at FanGraphs doesn't like the young pitchers the A's acquired from the Blue Jays and White Sox, but Beane is also hoping to acquire quality via quantity. He doesn't have to hit on each of Bassitt, Graveman and Nolin. If one turns into a solid rotation starter, that's a plus; maybe he gets lucky and two of them develop. Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, coming off Tommy John surgeries, may also be able to contribute at some point. Drew Pomeranz may thrive with a full season in the rotation. They can platoon at catcher/first base/DH/left field to provide a sum greater than the individual parts.

That gets to the larger picture on what the A's are doing. In this age of parity -- in the American League, you can make the argument that every team is "going for it" in 2015, as even the Twins and Astros have made some free-agent signings -- depth becomes vitally important.

Who stays healthy and who doesn't is often the deciding factor when teams appear to be of even strength. Maybe you have five good starters, but you may need six, seven or eight by season's end. Do you have a deep bench? And only the Indians hit with the platoon advantage more often than the A's in 2014, as Melvin mixes and matches his lineups. Beane is building depth on his 40-man roster while also acquiring inexpensive talent that will be under team control into the future. It's what the A's have to do, constantly recycling their talent to bring in new, less expensive talent.

It's interesting to note the list of A's players who received MVP votes during these playoff seasons:

2014: Donaldson (8th)
2013: Donaldson (4th), Coco Crisp (15th with three points)
2012: Yoenis Cespedes (10th), Josh Reddick (16th)

While fielding arguably the best team in baseball over the past three seasons (yes, minus playoff results), the A's have done so without a lot of star power.

The A's have been built on depth, versatility and rotation depth. That's Billy Beane's plan for 2015. Also, Oakland's estimated payroll currently sits around $67 million, about $15 million less than 2014, so don't be surprised if the A's have another move or two coming.

The A's won't be the favorite to win the AL West in 2015 but I'm not going to dismiss their chances.

Jimmy RollinsMitchell Layton/Getty Images

It was quite the exciting winter meetings. A few thoughts on some of those recent transactions ...

1. Dodgers trade Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon, acquire Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins and Yasmani Grandal.

It's risky blowing up a 94-win team, and although trading Kemp certainly helps clear some of the logjam in the outfield and gives the Dodgers additional money to play with, this series of transactions doesn't have as much to do with improving clubhouse chemistry or making manager Don Mattingly's life any easier as it does with something far less complicated: improving the team's defense.

New team president Andrew Friedman came from Tampa Bay, where the Rays turned their franchise around in 2008 by improving the team's defense and emphasizing it ever since. General manager Farhan Zaidi came from Oakland, where the A's had also made defense a bigger priority in recent seasons.

The Dodgers arguably ended up improving their defense at five positions:

Shortstop: Rollins > Hanley Ramirez
Second base: Kendrick > Gordon
Center field: Pederson > Yasiel Puig
Right field: Puig > Kemp
Catcher: Grandal > A.J. Ellis

Look at the upgrades, based on 2014 defensive runs saved per 1,200 innings:

SS: +16 runs
2B: +11 runs
CF: Puig rated as average here; Pederson projects as average or slightly above.
RF: +10 runs
C: Friedman loves pitch framing, and Grandal rates very well here while Ellis rates as one of the worst in the majors. Grandal isn't a great overall defensive catcher -- he had trouble throwing out runners -- but you have to believe the Dodgers' internal metrics rate Grandal has a sizable upgrade.

Yes, the Dodgers have lost two guys from the middle of the order, but Rollins (17 home runs in 2014) could replace much of Ramirez's power, Pederson projects as a 20-homer guy if he plays every day, and Kendrick is an offensive upgrade over Gordon. The Dodgers also replaced two injury-prone players in Ramirez and Kemp.

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke predictably ripped the Kemp trade, but when you view the big picture, it looks like a terrific series of moves to me (not even factoring in the Brandon McCarthy signing).

2. Padres acquire Kemp.

My friend Ted the Mariners fan emailed me after hearing about this trade, saying, "We couldn't beat this?"

It may look like a low return for Kemp, but Kemp's reputation exceeds his actual value by a large factor. You're not just trading for Kemp; you're also getting his contract. He's a 30-year-old outfielder who played below-average defense even in right field and had injury issues the past three seasons. FanGraphs valued him at just 4.6 WAR total over the past three seasons and just 1.8 in 2014 despite hitting .287/.346/.506. If Kemp can stay healthy and match his second-half production over the next several years, the Padres won't regret the deal. But Kemp isn't the superstar some fans think he is.

3. Tigers acquire Yoenis Cespedes and Alfredo Simon, trade away Rick Porcello and Eugenio Suarez.

Overall, I'd say the Tigers are just spinning their wheels in the mud so far if you factor in the loss of Torii Hunter and the assumed departure of Max Scherzer. (GM Dave Dombrowski said the club will no longer negotiate with Scherzer and agent Scott Boras.) Cespedes is certainly a defensive upgrade over Hunter, and if he can spike his OBP back over .300, the Tigers will certainly roll out what should be one of the better offenses in the league:

2B Ian Kinsler
RF J.D. Martinez
1B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
LF Cespedes
3B Nick Castellanos
C Alex Avila
CF Anthony Gose/Rajai Davis
SS Jose Iglesias

Even then, the lineup could have OBP issues once you get past Cabrera and Victor Martinez, especially if J.D. Martinez doesn't maintain his 2014 level of play.

I don't like the Simon trade, in which Detroit gave up Suarez for one year of a pitcher who has had half of a good season in the rotation ... and that half was fueled by a low BABIP. The downgrade from Porcello to Simon could be significant, and I think Suarez is going to be the better player than Iglesias.

4. Red Sox add Porcello, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley (trade pending) to the rotation.

Boston had better have good infield defense with this group. Throw in Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly and the Red Sox should have the staff that will throw the most ground balls in the majors, probably by a large margin. (Paul Swydan of FanGraphs has a piece on Boston's ground ball fetish.)

How good is it, however? The Steamer projection system actually projects Boston to have the sixth-best rotation in the majors via WAR -- but the fifth-worst ERA. Seems like there's a wide range of potential outcomes here based on those figures and some park adjustments going on that help those WAR numbers. Everyone seems to think the Red Sox will still make another move, either signing James Shields or trading for Cole Hamels. I'm not as sure about that. Considering the lack of top starters across the AL East, the Red Sox may just stick with this group, keep all those young starters they have and see if Henry Owens, Matt Barnes or Eduardo Rodriguez develop enough to help out later in the season.

5. Marlins acquire Gordon, Mat Latos and Dan Haren -- if he doesn't retire.

The Marlins' second basemen hit .236/.303/.334 in 2014, compared with Gordon's .289/.326/.378, so it looks like a small offensive upgrade, especially when you factor in Gordon's speed. But Gordon had just a .300 OBP in the second half (when he drew only four walks). He does, however, provide dynamic speed -- an element the Marlins lacked -- and if Gordon can learn to draw a few more walks, the top of the lineup has potential:


Which moves from the winter meetings did you like best?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,719)

2B Gordon
LF Christian Yelich
RF Giancarlo Stanton
3B Casey McGehee
CF Marcell Ozuna
1B To be acquired?
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Adeiny Hechavarria

OK, the Marlins need a better cleanup hitter. Latos is a big gamble coming off a season during which his velocity declined nearly 2 mph as he battled bone chips in his elbow and eventually had surgery. A rotation of Latos, Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, Jarred Cosart, Tom Koehler, Haren and eventually Jose Fernandez, who is expected to return at midseason, has potential -- especially if youngsters Eovaldi and Cosart develop consistency. But it could also feature a bunch of No. 4s. Call me lukewarm on the Marlins' moves so far.

6. Angels acquire Andrew Heaney for Kendrick.

It's hard to fault the Angels for making this move, in which they picked up Heaney and his potential, plus six years of team control for Kendrick, who hits free agency after the season. But losing Kendrick without a clear replacement on hand could be a huge blow. Kendrick was the club's second-most-valuable player last season behind Mike Trout. I'll be curious to see what happens at second base, as Josh Rutledge, acquired from the Rockies, projects as about a one-win player, if that. That's a four-win decline from what Kendrick provided in 2014, and if Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker regress, the Angels will face in a tough battle for the playoffs a year after racking up the most wins in the majors in 2014.

7. White Sox acquire Jeff Samardzija, sign David Robertson and Adam LaRoche.

You have to love the job Rick Hahn has done the past two offseasons, signing Jose Abreu and stealing Adam Eaton from the Diamondbacks last year, and now landing Samardzija, Robertson and LaRoche. I'd still pick the White Sox to finish fourth in the AL Central, but if they add another starter or outfielder it could be a great four-team race.

8. Cubs sign Jon Lester, trade for Miguel Montero.

Did you know Doug Fister has a lower career ERA (3.34) than Lester (3.58) and roughly the same postseason ERA (2.57 for Lester vs. 2.60 for Fister)?

9. Twins sign Ervin Santana.

Hey, he could be the new Ricky Nolasco! (Sorry, Twins fans.) OK, Santana is probably better than Nolasco, but $54 million seems like a lot for a guy who just posted a 3.95 ERA in the National League and whose best season of the past three came in Kansas City, where he played in a good pitcher's park in front of a terrific defense that complemented his fly ball tendencies.

10. Pirates re-sign Francisco Liriano.

At three years and $39 million, this was a good deal for Pittsburgh, which got a solid starter who didn't break the payroll. You always worry about his health and the potential that he'll lose his command at any time, but he's had two good seasons now -- and pitching coach Ray Searage seems to get the most out of his starters.

11. Cardinals sign Mark Reynolds.

St. Louis definitely needed a right-handed power bat, either to platoon with Matt Adams or to come off the bench. We saw the Giants' lefty relievers exploit the Cardinals in the NLCS. Reynolds can fill in at first and third, and for $2 million, he's an inexpensive pickup who could pay small dividends.

12. A's do a bunch of stuff.

More to come on this in a separate post later today.

13. Royals sign Kendrys Morales for two years, $17 million.


You have to say this about Billy Beane: The guy isn't afraid to make big trades.

The Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays completed an intriguing challenge trade on Friday night, in which the A's sent All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for third baseman Brett Lawrie and three unproven players -- pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman and minor league shortstop Franklin Barreto.

Most of the reactions on the Internet were like these ones:

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos adds one of the best all-around players in the majors in Donaldson, who has finished fourth and eighth in the American League MVP voting the past two seasons. Baseball-Reference WAR rates Donaldson the second-most valuable position player in the majors over the past two seasons at 15.4, behind only Mike Trout and ahead of Andrew McCutchen and Robinson Cano. Donaldson hit .255/.342/.456 in 2014 with 29 home runs and excellent defensive metrics.

The acquisition now gives the Blue Jays one of the strongest trios of hitters in the majors as Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion all ranked in the top 10 in the AL in home runs in 2014 with a combined 98. On top of the that, they added Russell Martin, who posted a .400 on-base percentage with the Pirates. Their lineup right now would look something like this:

SS Jose Reyes
3B Donaldson
RF Bautista
1B Encarnacion
C Russell Martin
DH Dioner Navarro/John Mayberry Jr.
LF Andy Dirks/Kevin Pillar
2B Maicer Izturis/Steve Tolleson
CF Dalton Pompey

For a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 1993 -- the longest playoff drought in the majors -- you have to love the top of that order. It certainly projects to be one of the best lineups in the league. The Blue Jays were fourth in the AL in runs scored last year with their third basemen hitting .234/.287/.400. Donaldson would project to be about a 30-run improvement at the plate over what the Jays received in 2014. Donaldson is arbitration-eligible for the first time and is set to receive a big raise to the neighborhood of $4.5 million, but he's still under team control for four more seasons.

Manager John Gibbons also has lineup flexibility with the likes of Danny Valencia and Justin Smoak and second baseman Devon Travis, acquired from the Tigers for Anthony Gose, who could crack the lineup at some point during the season as well. The lineup leans right-handed with Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion and Martin all hitting from that side, so maybe the Jays could still attempt to re-sign switch-hitter Melky Cabrera for left field. It's all about winning now, with Bautista and Encarnacion still two of the best hitters in the league but on the other side of 30 and both with two years remaining on their contracts, plus rotation anchors Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey likely nearing the end of their production years.

The rotation currently looks like this:

SP Buehrle
SP Dickey
SP Marcus Stroman
SP Drew Hutchison
SP J.A. Happ/Daniel Norris

Norris is one of the top pitching prospects in the game, a power lefty who climbed from Class A ball to the majors. If he's ready to make an impact, it could be a solid rotation with second-year righty Stroman perhaps ready to become the staff ace. And the Jays could still look to add another veteran arm here to add depth (although I like Stroman and Hutchison to improve in 2015).

All in all, it's a good deal for the Jays, who are making a big upgrade at third base without giving up players who figured to have a big impact in the next two seasons (other than losing Lawrie).

It's hard to see how this trade improves the A's for 2015. Lawrie, who turns 25 in January, is actually about four years younger than Donaldson but has more service time and is under team control for three more years. But he's nowhere near as good as Donaldson, although there's the chance he's worth 3-4 wins if he stays on the field for 140 games. After a strong 43-game stint as a rookie in 2011 during which he slugged .580, Lawrie hasn't hit as much as expected and has had trouble staying healthy. He's played just 177 games the past two seasons, hitting .252/.310/.406.

For the A's, then, it's also about the other players in the trade. Nolin, a 24-year-old left-hander has pitched two games in the majors, and Graveman, a right-hander drafted in the eighth round in 2013 who rose from Class A to the majors in 2014, were both starters in the minors. Neither were rated among Toronto's top 10 prospects in Baseball America's recent list but are viewed as major league-ready and so could compete for spots in the Oakland rotation.

Barreto, Toronto's No. 5 prospect, is the key to the deal for Beane, the one player with star potential. Barreto hit an impressive .311/.384/.481 with 29 steals in 73 games at short-season Vancouver, playing as an 18-year-old in a league consisting mostly of recent college draftees.

Oakland's lineup now looks something like this:

CF Coco Crisp
3B Lawrie
LF Brandon Moss
DH Billy Butler
RF Josh Reddick
C Derek Norris/Stephen Vogt
1B Ike Davis
2B Eric Sogard
SS Andy Parrino or other

Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld are also around as a potential left-field platoon if they want to slide Moss back to first base. Of course, the A's will mix and match as always, with John Jaso around to DH or Butler sliding over to play some first base. The rotation, minus Jon Lester, now checks in as:

1. Sonny Gray
2. Jeff Samardzija
3. Scott Kazmir
4-5. Jesse Chavez, Nolin, Graveman, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin

Without a shortstop who can hit -- Parrino is considered a plus defender -- the lineup is counting on a big comeback season for Butler and Moss to recover from the hip injury (and offseason surgery) that bothered him in the second half. The rotation has a solid front three, but Nolin and Graveman are unproven and Parker and Griffin are trying to come back from Tommy John surgery.

You wonder if there is another deal in the works with Samardzija, who has one season left until free agency. Certainly, at least one A's player thinks so:

I don't know if that's necessarily true. Players tend to overrate the value one teammate brings to the win-loss ledger. Still, Donaldson to Lawrie is probably a downgrade of at least 3-4 wins, so the A's will have to improve in other areas just to maintain 2014's status quo.

I wouldn't count out the A's just yet, but I'm certainly counting on the Blue Jays to be a force -- maybe the force in the AL East.
Randy JohnsonRich Pilling/Getty ImagesRandy Johnson should be a unanimous selection in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Hall of Fame season is kind of like Christmas season: It brings gifts and memories but also a lot of acrimony and stress, and it lasts way too long. Hall of Fame ballots were mailed out Monday to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which means the next six weeks will feature many Hall of Fame columns, debates, analyses and other assorted name-calling and belligerence.

Here are 10 main questions of conversation this Hall of Fame season:

1. Who are the new names on the ballot?

Last year's star-studded ballot that featured the election of first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas is followed by another long list of intriguing newcomers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado are the top names.

2. How many of those guys get in?

Johnson should be a unanimous selection with his 303 career wins, five Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, nine strikeout titles and six 300-strikeout seasons, but 16 of the 571 voters last year failed to vote for Maddux, so Johnson likely awaits the same slight and will get 95-plus percent of the vote but not 100 percent.

Martinez would certainly appear to be a lock to get the required 75 percent, but Hall voters tend to emphasize wins at the expense of everything else for starting pitchers and Martinez has just 219, so you never know. The BBWAA hasn't elected a starter with that few wins since Don Drysdale, who had 209, in 1984. Still, with the second-best winning percentage since 1900 of any pitcher with at least 150 wins (behind only Whitey Ford), three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles and the best adjusted ERA for any starting pitcher in history, Pedro should cruise to Cooperstown at well above the 75 percent line. Really, like the Unit, there is no reason not to vote for him.

Smoltz has a little more complicated case and may suffer in comparison to being on the same ballot with Johnson and Martinez. While Pedro was 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA, Smoltz was 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA. He did pick up 154 saves while serving as a closer for three-plus seasons and maybe that will resonate with voters. Smoltz also has a great postseason record -- 15-4, 2.67 ERA -- but similar postseason dominance didn't help Curt Schilling last year when he received just 29 percent of the votes. I believe Smoltz does much better than that, but I don't see why Schilling -- 216-146, 3.46 in his career with 79.9 WAR compared to Smoltz's 69.5 -- would receive just 29 percent and Smoltz 75 percent.

Sheffield, with the PED allegations, has no chance despite 509 career home runs and over 1,600 RBIs and runs. Delgado put up big numbers in an era when a lot of guys were putting up big numbers, and his 473 career home runs with 1,512 RBIs may not be enough to even keep him on the ballot (you need to receive 5 percent to remain on).

3. Does Craig Biggio get in this year?

He fell just two votes short last year on his second time on the ballot, so you have to think at least two voters will add him, assuming some of the holdovers don't change their minds. Biggio's Hall of Fame case is kind of ironic in that he was probably one of the more underrated players in the league while active. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times (10th, fifth, fourth), but the same writers who once dismissed him as an MVP candidate will now be putting him in the Hall of Fame. He's a deserving candidate, but if he hadn't played that final season when he was terrible and cleared 3,000 career hits, you wonder if he'd be even this close. Voters love their round numbers.

4. What's the new 10-year rule?

Candidates will now be allowed to remain on the ballot for only 10 years instead of 15. Three current candidates -- Don Mattingly (in his 15th season), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) were allowed to remain on the ballot.

For the first time, the names of all voters will also be made public, although neither the Hall of Fame nor BBWAA will not reveal an individual's ballot.

5. Who will be most affected by this?

Well, all the steroids guys, obviously. Mark McGwire, for example, is on the ballot for his ninth year, not enough time in case voter attitudes toward PEDs starts reversing course. Aside from that group, Tim Raines is on the ballot for the eighth year. He received 46 percent of the vote last year; that was actually a drop from the 52 percent he had in 2013. Historically, nearly every player who received 50 percent of the vote from the BBWAA eventually got elected, but now Raines has just three years left and was affected by the crowded ballot last year.

6. But the ballot is still crowded, right?

Yep. Remember, voters are allowed to vote for up to 10 players -- although most ballots don't get to 10, so the "crowded" ballot is somewhat of an overrated issue. Still, it's there, and several players saw their vote totals decrease last year. Anyway, I would argue there are as many as 22 or 23 players who have some semblance of a Hall of Fame case based on historical precedent. In order of career Baseball-Reference WAR: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Trammell, Smoltz, Raines, Edgar Martinez, Biggio, McGwire, Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Delgado, Lee Smith. Plus arguably Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly, who had high peak levels of performance but short careers.

Anyway, those who believe in a big ballot will once again have to make some tough choices on whom to leave off.

7. For which players is this an important year?

Raines needs a big increase this year, but it's starting to look slim for him. That makes Bagwell and Piazza two of the more interesting names. Piazza was at 62 percent last year on his second year, a 4.4 percent increase from 2013. If he sees another vote increase, we can assume he's on his way to election; but if he holds at the same percentage, we can probably assume there are enough voters who put him in the PED category and are thus keeping him permanently under that 75 percent threshold. Similar issue with Bagwell; he was 54 percent last year, actually down from 59.6 percent in 2013. If he gets back up over 60 percent, he may be back on a Cooperstown trek.

8. Hey, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling look like pretty good candidates.

That's not a question, but, yes, yes they are. Mussina (270 wins, 82.6 WAR) and Schilling are overwhelmingly qualified by Hall of Fame standards, even by BBWAA-only standards, especially when factoring in Schilling's postseason success. That both received fewer than 30 percent of the vote in their first year on the ballot was a little shocking and definitely disappointing.

9. What about the steroids guys?

No changes -- or progress, if you prefer -- here. Clemens (35.4 percent) and Bonds (34.7 percent) both received fewer votes than the year before. Rafael Palmeiro already fell off the ballot, and I suspect Sosa (7.2 percent) falls off this time.

10. What about Jack Morris?

Mercifully, Morris is no longer on the ballot so we don't have to spend all December arguing his case yet again. His candidacy goes over to the Expansion Era committee, which will next vote in 2016. I suspect Morris gets in then.
Billy Butler appears to be a hitter in severe deterioration, so why would the Oakland Athletics sign the designated hitter to a three-year, $30 million contract?

1. Yes, Butler's wOBA has slid from a career-high .377 in 2012, when he mashed 29 home runs, to .345 in 2013 to .311 in 2014, when he hit .271/.323/.379 with just nine home runs. But Butler turns 29 in April, so he's young enough to turn things around. The Steamer projection system has him hitting .277/.347/.426 with 17 home runs in 2015.

2. Oakland DHs -- there were 13 of them in 2014 -- hit a combined .215/.288/.344, the second-worst wOBA among DHs in the American League, ahead of only Seattle.

3. The A's hit just .239 against left-handers, the lowest in the AL, and ranked 13th in wOBA. Butler still hit .321/.387/.460 against lefties in 2014, so he's a middle-of-the-order bat against southpaws.

4. With Butler at DH, the A's can now mix and match at first base with Brandon Moss, Stephen Vogt, Kyle Blanks and Nate Freiman, or, more likely, make Moss the regular left fielder alongside Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick in the outfield, with Craig Gentry serving as the backup.

5. The price was right at $10 million per season. I was a little surprised Butler got a three-year deal, but he's not old and despite the bad body, he's been durable, playing 150-plus games every full season of his career. The A's have made a point to try to find players in that peak 26-30 age range. Butler fits into that range.

6. None of the other possible DH guys out there were good fits: Nelson Cruz will be too expensive, Kendrys Morales isn't good from the right side, Michael Morse is injury-prone, Torii Hunter is old.

7. It's a small factor, but you keep Butler away from a division rival in Seattle, which also needs a DH and right-handed hitter.

There's no guarantee this works out and you hate to pay even $10 million for a player who may not be much better than replacement level. Butler's power may be a thing of the past, he's slow, he grounds into too many double plays and while he can fill in at first base, he's mostly limited to DH. But if his bat rebounds just a bit he can help the A's.

End-of-season Haiku for every team

November, 7, 2014
Nov 7
Congrats to the Giants on their World Series victory. Let's look back at the year on the diamond for all 30 teams, in regular season win total order, through traditional Japanese verse:

Trout league's best player?
Shoemaker pleasant surprise
Yet steamrolled by Royals

Stoic Showalter
Lost Manny, Matt, Chris but still
Ran away with East

Fateful decision
In playoffs shouldn't dampen
League's best rotation

The Bison is back
But Clayton couldn't kill Cards
Donnie gets last chance?

Death of Taveras
Casts pall on terrific year
Still class of Central

Flammable bullpen
Undermined starting pitching
Now replace V-Mart

Who needs walks, homers?
An "abundance" of bunting
Outfield defense ... whoa!

Cespedes got dealt
Team's offense dried up with it
Beane's "stuff" didn’t work

Three titles -- five years
Bumgarner otherworldly
Can they keep Panda?

Burning Cole last game
Trying for division tie
Might have cost Play-In

Cano did his thing
Felix, Hisashi duo
Not quite good enough

Kluber conquered all
But rest of staff slogged through year
Michael Brantley ... star!

Jeter’s farewell tour
Now A-Rod longest-tenured
Not your dad's Yankees

All five starters had
Double-digit wins, but four
Had ten-plus losses

Led till late August
Won nine all of September
Lucroy's framing tops

Shutout 16 times
NL's next to last runs scored
Let's just watch Kimbrel

DeGrom great story
Wheeler looked good, stayed healthy
Harvey's back, Big 3!

Last in all slash stats
No-hit by Timmy ... again
Front office rebuilt

Stayed competitive
Despite losing Fernandez
Can they sign Stanton?

Friedman, Maddon gone
Price dealt for cheaper prospects
Has their window closed?

Votto hardly seen
But Mesoraco burst out
Cueto stayed healthy

Abreu? Real deal
Chris Sale's elbow still attached?
Thank you, Konerko!

Top prospects galore
Renteria won't see them
Maddon works magic?

Vets went untraded
Amaro kept job somehow
Get used to last place

Bradley, Bogaerts ... meh
Buckholz saw ERA triple
Lester will be missed

Altuve a star
If only they could have signed
1st rounder Aiken

Hughes K'd 1-8-6
Is that allowed on their staff?
Mauer's bat slumping

Given multitude of hurts
Washington bowed out

League-worst ERA
Tulo missed 70 games
Fast start, then crash, burn

Gibson, Towers done
Can Hale, Stewart make team rise
Like a phoenix? Eh!

Diane Firstman runs the Value Over Replacement Grit blog and is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.
Here's the first part of our ranking of each team's worst position in 2014. We conclude with our final 15 teams and positions that might be looking to upgrade during the offseason.

16. Minnesota Twins LF/RF: 2.6 wins below average

Yes, Byron Buxton can't get here soon enough, although he'll eventually slot into center field, not a corner. Twins left fielders ranked 21st in wOBA -- they hit .238/.331/.332 -- but were dragged down by an MLB-worst minus-25 defensive runs saved. That shouldn't be a surprise as 11 different players got time out there with lead-footed Jason Kubel and Josh Willingham getting the most innings. Oswaldo Arcia got 399 PAs in right field; and while the Twins collectively ranked 15th among right fielders in wOBA, they also ranked worst in the majors in defensive runs saved, at minus-23. Arcia was minus-10 in his time there, while Chris Colabello and Chris Parmelee, in about half the playing time, were a combined minus-12. Twins pitchers weren't getting a lot of help from their outfield’s corners.

Fix for 2015: Minnesota can't continue to give so many innings to converted first basemen and DHs. Arcia will be the regular right fielder, but left and center are still wide open. Danny Santana finished the year in center, and he's a natural shortstop ... and Eduardo Escobar was OK there in 2014. Anyway, Jordan Schafer and Aaron Hicks are on the 40-man roster but aren't good starting options. Maybe Hicks gets one more chance to prove himself.

17. New York Yankees SS: 2.5 wins below average

Yes, that 2.5 ranked worst in the majors. It was time.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Elsa/Getty ImagesGreat career. But a not-so-great 2014 season. The numbers don't lie.

Fix for 2015: Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela are on the 40-man roster; but Ryan can't hit and Pirela, .305/.351/.441 in Triple-A, didn't play much shortstop (eight games) at Scranton. So the replacement could come from the free agent ranks: Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew or Jed Lowrie. Drew hit .162 after missing the first two-plus months last year but is the best defensively and could probably be had on a one-year deal.

18. Kansas City Royals DH: 2.5 wins below average

The Royals declined the $12.5 million option on Billy Butler, who hit .271/.323/.379 as his power numbers continued to drop (nine home runs).

Fix for 2015: They'll probably try to bring Butler back, but on more team-friendly terms. A guy like Rickie Weeks may make sense as well, as he can hit lefties while also providing insurance at second base. Guys like Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez are likely out of the Royals' price range.

19. Seattle Mariners DH: 2.4 wins below average

Seattle DHs hit a pathetic .189/.266/.302. In 2012, they hit .214/.286/.311. In 2011, they hit .225/.316/.333. In 2010, they hit .195/.270/.342. So, umm ... it's been an ongoing problem.

Fix for 2015: Is there a more perfect free-agent fit than Victor Martinez going to the Mariners? Otherwise, there's Cruz, another try with Kendrys Morales, a return of Mike Morse (the Mariners do need a right-handed batter) or finding a first baseman and moving Logan Morrison here.

20. Pittsburgh Pirates 1B: 2.4 wins below average

Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez formed an ineffective platoon. Davis at least had a decent .341 OBP; but overall, the Pirates' first sackers hit .226 with 17 home runs and below-average defense.

Fix for 2015: With supersub Josh Harrison emerging in 2014, the Pirates could give him the full-time job at third base and slide Pedro Alvarez over to first.

21. Arizona Diamondbacks 2B: 2.2 wins below average

Aaron Hill's OPS dropped 164 points from 2013. The Diamondbacks would probably like to trade him, but he's making $12 million each of the next two seasons.

Fix for 2015: Hill likely returns for his age-33 season. Or the D-backs give the job to one of the young shortstops, Chris Owings or Didi Gregorius. More likely, it's Hill at second with GM Dave Stewart looking to trade one of the shortstops for pitching or outfield help.

[+] EnlargeMorse
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsMichael Morse had some big postseason hits. Too bad he had to play the outfield some.
22. San Francisco Giants LF: 2.0 wins below average

This is a reflection of Mike Morse's statue-caliber defense, as Giants left fielders hit a respectable .257/.327/.440.

Fix for 2015: Morse is a free agent after signing a one-year, $6 million deal. He did slug .511 against lefties, and that right-handed bat was a nice fit lower in the order. Gregor Blanco is still around as a fourth outfielder and defensive caddy, or they could go the all-defense route with Blanco and Juan Perez and Travis Ishikawa filling in.

23. Los Angeles Angels 3B: 1.9 wins below average

David Freese had a tough year, as Angels third basemen ranked 24th in the majors in wOBA and 29th in defensive runs saved.

Fix for 2015: Freese still has one more season before free agency, so the job is his, with Gordon Beckham around as the backup.

24. Milwaukee Brewers SS: 1.7 wins below average

Who is the real Jean Segura?

First half, 2013: .325/.363/.487
Second half, 2013: .241/.268/.315
First half, 2014: .232/.266/.315
Second half, 2014: .271/.330/.345

Fix for 2015: Hope Segura is at least the player of the second half of 2015 and closer to the All-Star of the first half of 2013.

25. New York Mets C: 1.5 wins below average

Mets fans are probably shocked that left field, right field or shortstop didn't show up here. But while those positions were also all below-average, catcher was the worst. Mets catchers hit .226 with a sub-.300 OBP, but a big liability was Travis d'Arnaud's defense, which Baseball Info Solutions rated as the worst in the majors (minus-15 defensive runs saved).

Fix for 2015: D'Arnaud had a nice second half at the plate (.265/.313/.474) but threw out just 19 percent of base-stealers and led the NL with 12 passed balls. He does rate better on pitch framing. Anyway, he's the catcher, so the Mets will undoubtedly be looking to upgrade left field (.219/.306/.308) and shortstop.

26. Oakland Athletics 2B: 1.4 wins below average

Eric Sogard got the most time here with Nick Punto and Alberto Callaspo filling in. They ranked 29th in the majors in wOBA.

Fix for 2015: The A's have a bigger hole to worry about at shortstop with Lowrie a free agent, so they may be forced to go again with Sogard and Punto, who at least provide solid-average defense.

27. Washington Nationals 2B: 1.2 wins below average

Danny Espinosa didn't hit. Then Asdrubal Cabrera came over, but his defensive metrics were terrible. The ranking would be even lower if Anthony Rendon hadn't played 28 games here.

[+] EnlargeAsdrubal Cabrera
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesAsdrubal Cabrera joined the Nats at the trading deadline, but he didn't solve their defensive problems at second base.

Fix for 2015: With Ryan Zimmerman presumably moving over to first base to replace free agent Adam LaRoche and Rendon slotting in at third, where he's a plus defender, the Nationals could: (A) give Espinosa one more chance; (B) find a better contact guy; or (C) try to trade a pitcher for a second baseman. (One rumor you'll see is Howie Kendrick, who has one year until free agency.) Personally, I'd try to keep the pitching depth, especially with Jordan Zimmermann a free agent after 2015. If Espinosa doesn't do the job, you can always look for a trade deadline replacement.

28. Baltimore Orioles 2B: 0.9 wins below average

There were a lot of black holes at second on offense across the majors in 2014. The Orioles (primarily, rookie Jonathan Schoop) hit .216 here with an awful .259 OBP.

Fix for 2015: Schoop has power (16 home runs), his defense was outstanding (he has a shortstop's arm) and he was rushed a bit to the majors. He might never give you the good plate discipline, but the O's can live with 20-homer power and Gold Glove-caliber defense if he boosts that OBP a bit.

29. Colorado Rockies 2B: 0.9 wins below average

As bad as the Rockies were, it's surprising their biggest position weakness didn't rate worse. DJ LeMahieu is one of the worst hitters in the majors -- his park-adjusted RC+ ranked 143rd out of 146 regulars -- but was a deserving winner of the Gold Glove.

Fix for 2015: Considering his defense, LeMahieu will be back as the Rockies try to plug holes on their pitching staff. On the other hand, they need to realize his empty .267 average is of little value in Coors Field.

30. Toronto Blue Jays C: 0.6 wins below average

Congrats, Blue Jays fans: You had the best worst position in the majors! This was actually a big upgrade from 2013, when J.P. Arencibia led the Jays to 2.6 wins below average at catcher. Blue Jays catchers ranked 19th in wOBA with average-ish defense.

Fix for 2015: Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole will return.
I still can't get this game out of my head. I'm happy for Royals fans, sad for A's fans, happy for baseball, worried that we just saw the best game of the postseason. Let's hope we get few more like this one. Some stuff from other people:

Joe Sheehan, in his newsletter:
All of that made the bunt a bad play. What made it worse is that the bunt sent a runner to scoring position for a mediocre hitter in Escobar and waiver bait in Nix. Nix does not have a hit since joining the Royals. He's on the Royals because lots of other teams have had him and decided they didn't want him. He's not very good at baseball, as major-leaguers go. Ned Yost traded Jarrod Dyson, with the platoon advantage, a runner on first, nobody out and a 2-0 count, for Jayson Nix without the platoon advantage, two outs and a runner in scoring position.

Ned Yost does not understand the relative skills of his players. He doesn't understand the range of potential outcomes of a plate appearance. He doesn't appear to understand how leverage changes within an at-bat. He doesn't know how to look ahead in an inning. He just knows the things he learned about baseball 40 years ago.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs examined all of Yost's bunts. His take on the Dyson bunt:
Another inning, another leadoff single, another bad hitter making the out/advancement trade-off. Only with Dyson, the bunt is probably an even better play than usual, as 40% of his career bunts have resulted in hits. Bad hitters with great speed have even more incentive to attempt bunts because of the higher likelihood of reaching safely if the defense doesn’t play it perfectly, and again, we’re looking at a -1.1% cost in Win Expectancy even when the A’s do convert the out at first base.

This was not only an entirely defensible bunt, but probably the right call.

So, all told, we have four sacrifice bunts by Yost last night, and they break down something like this:

Probably Negative: 1
Unknowable Gray Area: 1
Probably Positive: 2
Joe Posnanski, Hardball Talk:

The Royals, for many years, did not have anything concrete to believe in. They would talk the happy talk of spring training about how they believed they had better players, believed this pitcher would improve and that outfielder would build on last year’s success, and their defense would get better. But this was the misty kind of belief. There was no blueprint for winning that anyone actually could spell out, no clear line to victory like: “We will score more runs than other teams because we will hit more home runs” or “We will keep people from scoring because we have strikeout pitchers” or anything else like that.

The very best part of this year’s Royals team has been the replacement of that old bleary belief with a clarity of vision. It’s not an easy vision. But it’s clear. These Royals know what they’re up against. They can’t hit home runs. They don’t walk. They don’t have a starting pitcher who will get Cy Young votes. They have a manager who will occasionally just leave the planet. They don’t have as much money. They are not very deep.

OK – that’s something to work with. Now, how do you use all that? No power? Well, let’s steal lots of bases. No great starter? Maybe not, but let’s put together five really good ones and build a legendary back of the bullpen. Kooky manager? Maybe, but remember a manager can only hurt so much and, anyway, sometimes the nutty stuff will work. No depth? All right, have Alicedes Escobar play all 162 games at shortstop and Salvy Perez catch more games in a season than any Royals catcher ever.

Buster Olney says Billy Beane may have to make some big moves in the offseason:
Oakland has never stripped down completely, in the way that the Astros have in recent seasons, or the Cubs. In Beane’s tenure as general manager, the Athletics have never failed to win less than 74 games; the only other teams that can say that are the Cardinals and Yankees.

But this overhaul will be particularly excruciating, because of how good the team was in late July, how well it performed all summer, and how heartbreaking the finish. The work to push the rock back up the hill will start sooner rather than later.
Sam Mellinger, Kansas City Star:
There is no telling where this already wild ride will end, and whether it will be with more champagne. They have been lost and winning and buried and then winning again — and that was just Tuesday night.

So very little of what we’ve seen in this Royals season has made even a bit of sense to anyone with whom the franchise’s sorry history might as well be ingrained into their fan DNA. The Royals, after all this time, have a legitimately good baseball team that even seems to be getting good breaks here and there. Up is down. Cats and dogs living together. All of it.

The oddity of a 162-game season coming down to a single do-or-die playoff had turned a fan base’s worst fears wild. But that is all over now. The Royals left in the middle of the night on the happiest flight of the year, taking luggage they packed without knowing for sure whether they’d actually need it. They landed in Anaheim in the dark, ready to prepare for a best-of-five division series against the Angels, who won more games than any team in baseball this year.

It figures that very few people around the sport will expect the Royals to win that series.

But how many people expected them to even be in it?
Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle:
“I can’t say anything negative about these guys,” said Josh Reddick in the still of the A’s clubhouse, one of many players who gave calm, patient interviews in stand-up fashion. "When we score eight runs, hey, we know we’re winning that game. Especially behind Jonny (Lester). It just didn’t go our way. But we’ve got nothing to hang our heads about."

Someone asked Lester, crestfallen in defeat, if he pondered the notion of it being his last game in Oakland. "I’m not worried about that," he said. "Right now I’m worried about these guys, this team, this outcome. I got to grind it out for two months with them, something I’ll always cherish. There’s a time and place to think about yourself. This is not that time."

The result was cruelly familiar for Beane, the A’s having now lost all seven winner-take-all postseason games under his stewardship, but it never came down like this. Even with all the cards stacked in his favor, he still couldn’t taste a victory.

I didn't feel like I gave proper perspective to Tuesday's night wild-card game, so here's a quick follow-up post. How unlikely and dramatic was the Royals' win, considering they trailed 7-3 in the bottom of the eighth, 7-6 in the ninth and 8-7 in the 12th? One way to measure this is using Win Probability Added, which Baseball-Reference.com describes as "Given average teams, this is the change in probability caused by this batter during the game." A change of +1 or -1 would equate to one win or less. In other words, a leadoff single in a tie game in the ninth changes your team's chance of winning more than a single in the fifth inning when trailing 5-2 or whatever.

We can add together all the WPAs of the individual batters to arrive at a team WPA. A game that features a lot of lead changes or dramatic comebacks is going to have a higher WPA and can even exceed 1.0 in rare circumstances. Baseball-Reference hasn't updated its WPA from Tuesday, but FanGraphs has Kansas City's team WPA at 1.063. That would be the fifth-highest for any postseason game -- out of 2,738 individual possibilities.

Here the four higher ones:

1. St. Louis Cardinals, Game 6, 2011 World Series: 1.377 WPA

There's a reason some call this the most exciting postseason game ever played. The Cardinals trailed the Rangers 1-0, 3-2, 4-3, 7-4 and then 7-5 entering the bottom of the ninth. They scored twice to tie it on David Freese's two-out triple, only to see the Rangers take a 9-7 lead in the 10th. Once again, the Cardinals tied it with two outs, on Lance Berkman's single. Freese then won it with a home run in the 11th.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates, Game 6, 1960 World Series: 1.251 WPA

Another popular choice for greatest game ever played, Bill Mazeroski won it 10-9 with a home run in the bottom of the ninth, but the Pirates had trailed 7-4 in the bottom of the eighth before scoring five runs, only to see the Yankees score twice in the ninth to tie it.

3. Chicago Cubs, Game 1, 1908 World Series: 1.135 WPA

The Cubs blew a 4-1 lead against the Tigers but then rallied to score five runs in the ninth to win 10-6.

4. Cincinnati Reds, Game 3, 1976 NLCS: 1.073 WPA

The Reds were down 3-0 when they scored four runs in the seventh. The Phillies scored twice in the eighth and once in the ninth to take a 6-4 lead, but in the bottom of the ninth, George Foster and Johnny Bench hit back-to-back home runs off Ron Reed to tie it and Ken Griffey Sr. eventually singled in the winning run.

And then come the Royals. So everyone who called last night's game "epic" wasn't exaggerating. It goes down as one of the most exciting postseason game not just of recent history but any history.

On an individual basis, Eric Hosmer, who went 3-for-4 with a key walk off Jon Lester in the eighth and the big one-out triple in the 12th, had a .599 WPA according to FanGraphs, which would rank 36th on the all-time postseason list. (Freese's Game 6 performance ranks No. 1.)

This is supposed to about the five key things that decided this game. There were about 20 of those. Or 50. Or 100. I lost track somewhere there in the 10th or 11th inning of one of the craziest, wildest, most improbable baseball games I can remember watching.

This was supposed to be a pitcher's duel between Jon Lester and James Shields. It wasn't.

It was supposed to be about the Kansas City Royals getting the ball to their dominant bullpen trio with a lead. It wasn't.

It was supposed to be about Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin matching wits with the Royals' Ned Yost, and Melvin winning in a landslide. OK, Yost did make one of the worst tactical decisions in recent playoff history.

The Royals won anyway.

This game ties Game 7 of the 1924 World Series for the longest winner-take-all postseason game ever played. Walter Johnson won that one. Jason Frasor, the seventh Royals pitcher of the game, won this one, after helping to give up the lead in the 12th inning. The Royals were down 7-3 in the eighth inning and won. They were down 8-7 in that 12th inning and won. The heroes were guys such as Brandon Finnegan and Christian Colon. It was small ball over Moneyball, at least for a day. It was baseball, not always beautiful, but still baseball at its most entertaining, at October intensity.

OK. Doug Padilla has the Royals angle. Here are five reasons the A's lost.

1. Bob Melvin stuck too long with Jon Lester. Down 7-3, the Royals rallied in the bottom of the eighth inning. Melvin, determined to apparently ride starter Lester straight to closer Sean Doolittle, left him in for 111 pitches, and maybe one batter too many. A Jed Lowrie error, a stolen base and a single made the score 7-4 and then Lester walked Eric Hosmer with one out (after Lorenzo Cain had stolen second). Melvin finally brought in Luke Gregerson, but Billy Butler's RBI single made it 7-5. Pinch-runner Terrance Gore stole second and a wild pitch made it 7-6 and put Gore on third with one out. Gregerson pitched carefully to Alex Gordon, who walked and then stole second with Salvador Perez up. A base hit puts the Royals up, a sac fly at least ties it up ...

Gregerson fanned Perez on three sliders, the third one a good foot off the plate. Yes, the Royals drew the fewest walks in the majors and Perez drew just 22 in 606 plate appearances. Gregerson exposed his free-swinging ways and it was a terrible at-bat. He threw four sliders to Infante, the fourth swung and miss on a pitch in the dirt. Gregerson, a sneaky offseason pickup from the Padres, does have a nasty slider, as batters hit .212 against this season. But it's not the nastiest in the game -- they also hit four home runs and nine doubles (all four home runs by right-handed batters). What makes it impressive is how often he throws it -- 48 percent of the time. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings, only five threw their slider a higher percentage of the time.

The Royals were 90 feet from tying the game. Assuming the A's would close it, I had written, "Royals fans will have all offseason to think about those seven sliders."

Instead the postscript will read: How do you leave in a starter to give up six runs in a do-or-die game? (Actually, I was surprised that it has happened 14 times out of 182 sudden-death games, the last in 2012, when Adam Wainwright and Mat Latos both allowed six runs in Game 5 of the division series.

The difference is those guys weren't still in there in the eighth inning with a four-run lead. The last comparable game was Nolan Ryan in Game 5 of the NLCS for the Astros, when he took a 5-2 lead into the eighth and coughed up the lead. Melvin let the game slip out of his hands even though the A's bullpen -- despite a couple notable tough losses -- had actually pitched well. Obviously, if Lowrie doesn't make the error the inning probably unfolds differently, but in this day of dominant pens, Melvin waited too long to go it.

2. Geovany Soto leaves with a thumb injury.

Soto was a controversial starter at catcher over Derek Norris, in part because he had never caught Lester. But he's the best defensive catcher on the A's, with the best arm. When he left in the third inning, unable to catch, it allowed the Royals to take advantage on the bases against Norris. They stole seven bases, with five of those thieves eventually scoring.

3. Royals' bunting finally pays off! OK, the sabermetrically inclined folks on Twitter were having a fun time with Yost and his bunts -- the Royals had four sacrifice bunts in the game. But in the ninth inning, the Royals tied the game off Sean Doolittle on a Josh Willingham flare to right, with Jarrod Dyson pinch-running (Willingham had hit for Mike Moustakas); Dyson was bunted to second and then, in maybe the most important play of the game, stole third, the first steal of third Doolittle had given up in his career. Dyson then scored on Norichika Aoki's sac fly.

4. The dropped pitchout. In the bottom of the 12th inning, after Hosmer tripled and Colon scored him on a high hopper of an infield hit to third base, Colon was running against Jason Hammel, who had just entered the game. The A's had called a pitchout, but Norris dropped the ball.

5. Oakland's No. 5 starter gave up the winning hit.

To be fair, Hammel pitched very well in September, with a 2.20 ERA and .198 average allowed. He was one of eight pitchers on the Oakland roster, kind of the designated long man. Sonny Gray had started Sunday and Jeff Samardzija on Saturday, so the choice probably came down to Hammel to Scott Kazmir (although Kansas City put Ventura on its roster, despite his starting on Sunday). This wasn't a bad call by the A's so much as you just hate to lose a game with a guy pitching in an unconventional situation. Hammel actually threw Perez -- who had had awful at-bats all game -- a pretty good 2-2 slider that was off the plate, knowing Perez will chase any pitch within the vicinity of Kauffman Stadium. Perez was just able to pull it inches past a diving Josh Donaldson -- a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman -- for the winning hit.

I'm all for thinking outside the box in the postseason, especially in a one-game situation like a wild-card game. But it's another thing to think so far outside the box and pull off one of the worst managerial decisions in recent history.

The Kansas City Royals led the Oakland Athletics 3-2 in the top of the sixth inning when James Shields, who had cruised through the previous two innings, gave up a broken-bat bloop single to Sam Fuld and then walked Josh Donaldson on a borderline 3-2 fastball. Up stepped Brandon Moss, who had homered in the first inning.

Yost has three of the best relievers in baseball in Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who usually pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. He pulled Shields and could have stretched those guys out for 12 instead of nine, or even used lefty reliever Brandon Finnegan to pitch to the lefty-swinging Moss (who was unlikely to be pinch-hit for after his earlier home runs)..

Ventura threw a 99-mph fastball up high for ball one. A 98-mph fastball was up and out of the zone. Moss hit the next pitch up and out over the center-field fence for a game-turning three-run home run. The A's went on to score two more runs in the inning -- one run charged to Ventura, the second to Herrera, who finally entered with one out.

The Royals got a prime position, leading in the sixth inning with the game's most dominant bullpen trio available. Instead, they used a pitcher who had thrown 70-something pitches two days prior. They got #Yosted.
The Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals have announced their 25-man rosters for Tuesday's wild-card game and since rosters can be changed before the Division Series, it's no surprise that both teams left several starting pitchers off their rosters. For Oakland, Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir are all inactive; for the Royals, Jason Vargas is inactive. The surprising inclusion for the Royals is Yordano Ventura, who started Sunday and threw 73 pitches. Obviously, Ned Yost believes he's available for an inning if needed.

A's lineup
CF Coco Crisp
LF Sam Fuld
3B Josh Donaldson
DH Brandon Moss
RF Josh Reddick
SS Jed Lowrie
1B Stephen Vogt
C Geovany Soto
2B Eric Sogard
SP Jon Lester

The big news here is Adam Dunn is on the bench, even though right-hander James Shields is starting for the Royals. Manager Bob Melvin decided to go with Fuld's defense in left, with Moss moving over to the DH spot. Geovany Soto also gets the start at catcher over Derek Norris, a bit of a surprise since Soto has never caught Lester before (of course, they've only been teammates for a few weeks).

This is one of the fun things about baseball: You know many times the A's fielded this lineup during the regular season? Yep. Zero. Dunn had started the final four games of the season at DH and started nearly every game against a right-hander since coming over from the White Sox, but has hit just .212/.316/.318 with Oakland. Considering this is his first time in the postseason after 2,001 career games (and he's retiring after the season), let's hope he gets into the game.

On the bench
Position players -- DH Dunn, C Norris, IF Nick Punto, IF Albert Callaspo, IF Andy Parrino, OF Jonny Gomes, OF Billy Burns, 1B Nate Freiman

Pitchers -- Jason Hammel (R), Drew Pomeranz (L), Fernando Abad (L), Ryan Cook (R), Dan Otero (R), Luke Gregerson (R), Sean Doolittle (L)

The A's went with just eight pitchers compared to nine for the Royals. Hammel and Pomeranz are the two long guys available if Lester gets hammered or injured or the game goes in deep extra innings.

Speedster Burns is the pinch-running option off the bench. If a pinch-hitter is required late in the game, the Royals' big trio of relievers are all right-handed, so expect to see the switch-hitting Callaspo or Punto if a single is needed or Dunn if a home run is needed. Norris, Gomes and Freiman would be a matched up against a left-hander, while Parrino could be used as a defensive replacement.

Royals lineup
SS Alcides Escobar
RF Norichika Aoki
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvador Perez
2B Omar Infante
3B Mike Moustakas
SP James Shields

Yost used this exact same lineup the final eight games of the season, so I guess he didn't want to overthink things too much. Escobar and Aoki didn't settle into the 1-2 spots in the lineup until Sept. 13, when Yost finally realized he should get Infante and his sub-.300 OBP out of the two-hole. Aoki stays in the No. 2 spot even with the left-handed Lester pitching since he had a .428 OBP against lefties this year. Plus, Lester is actually tougher on right-handed batters, so no need to worry too much about platoon splits anyway.

The odd thing is that Gordon spent most of the season hitting third, fourth or fifth and has the highest wOBA on the team -- but is hitting sixth. No, this isn't a lefty-lefty thing. Gordon hits left-handers better than Hosmer. It could be a September thing though, as Gordon hit just .190 the final month.

On the bench
Position players -- C Erik Kratz, IF Christian Colon, IF Jayson Nix, OF Jarrod Dyson, OF Josh Willingham, OF Raul Ibanez, OF Terrance Gore

Pitchers -- Ventura (R), Jeremy Guthrie (R), Danny Duffy (L), Jason Frasor (R), Brandon Finnegan (L), Kelvin Herrera (R), Wade Davis (R), Greg Holland (R)

The perfect scenario for Yost is for Shields to take the lead into the seventh or eighth, where he can give the ball to his power trio of Herrera, Davis and Holland. Guthrie pitched on Friday, so he's more likely to be the long man ahead of Duffy and Ventura.

The two position players to watch are Dyson and Gore, two of the fastest players in the game. The Royals led the majors in stolen bases while hitting the fewest home runs, so don't be surprised to see both of these guys get in at some point. Dyson was 36-for-43 stealing bases and will be used as a defensive replacement for Aoki if the Royals are leading late. Gore is strictly a pinch-runner, having spent most of the season in the minors before going 5-for-5 on the bases in the majors.

Tim Kurkjian has some of the key questions for the game here. To me, the big one is this: How will Yost use his bullpen? If Shields gets into a tight spot in say, the fifth or sixth inning, will he be willing to go to Herrera before the seventh? Will he trust rookie lefty Finnegan -- with just seven major league appearances -- in a crucial spot against one of the A's lefty sluggers if such a situation arises? You have to think Yost has the utmost confidence in Herrera, Davis and Holland but I can also see him riding Shields one inning too long. He has big weapons down there in the pen; he can't go down in this game without maximizing those three relievers.

For Melvin, he's probably a little more dependent on Lester delivering a big performance. The bullpen had a couple tough losses down the stretch but actually pitched pretty well overall in September, with a 3.05 ERA. Still, his late-inning options aren't as dominant as Kansas City's. Melvin will have better matchup opportunities, however, as Yost is unlikely to use his bench for much more than pinch-running. Maybe Willingham would hit late for Infante or Moustakas, but that's about it.

It should be a low-scoring game. I guess I'm leaning on Lester's postseason history here -- 1.97 ERA in 11 career postseason starts -- and excellent work down the stretch and predicting the A's win 3-1.
Imagine the weight Sonny Gray carried on his shoulders on Sunday afternoon. How much do 30-plus ballplayers weigh? Add in a coaching staff and front office and all the other personnel that help a team through a season. Add in the losses the Oakland Athletics have accumulated of late, one after another after another, many by one run, 20 out of their last 29 games all told as Oakland plummeted from a division lead to desperation. If you want, add in the history of the A's over the past 15 years, with a lot of good ballclubs that couldn't get the job done.

The A's still have a lot of work to do, but thanks to Gray they'll have that opportunity. The right-hander pitched a six-hit shutout, recording 17 ground-ball outs, as the A's beat the Texas Rangers 4-0 to clinch the second wild card. With the Seattle Mariners later beating the Los Angeles Angels behind Felix Hernandez, it was a win Oakland needed to avoid a tiebreaker game on Monday.

When the A's scored twice in the top of the ninth, there was little doubt Gray would return in the bottom of the inning to close it out. He probably would have been out there even if the lead had remained 2-0. It was the kind of starting pitching performance the A's never received in a must-win game from Mark Mulder or Tim Hudson or Barry Zito back in the Moneyball days. It was the kind of performance Justin Verlander delivered for the Detroit Tigers the past two seasons in eliminating the A's from the postseason in the division series. It was what the A's needed.


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Now they can wipe out the past six weeks of bad baseball, forget the blown leads and tough defeats. They have to win only one game to get where everyone thought they would be back at the All-Star break when they owned the best record in the majors: Playing in the division series. It will be Jon Lester versus James Shields, Tuesday in Kansas City. This is a reason why the A's acquired Lester in July and why the Kansas City Royals acquired Shields two years ago.

For what it's worth, Lester has an impressive postseason history, with a 1.92 ERA in 11 career postseason starts. He allowed just six runs in five starts last October for the Red Sox. So he's a guy who has come up big in big games. Shields, on the other hand, has a 4.98 ERA in six playoff starts, the last one coming in 2011.

Of course, one win doesn't cure some of the ills that have plagued the A's down the stretch. Leadoff hitter Coco Crisp and power bat Brandon Moss have remained in the lineup despite struggling through injuries. Crisp has hit .191/.272/.258 in the second half while Moss has hit .173/.310/.274. Adam Dunn, making his first postseason appearance after 2,000 games in the majors, hasn't done much in his limited time with the A's, hitting .212 with two home runs in 25 games. Josh Donaldson twisted his ankle on Friday night, but he played over the weekend and had three hits, including a home run, on Saturday.

If the A's get by the Royals, you have to like their chances to keep advancing. Their rotation depth means they can line up Jeff Samardzija in Game 1 of the division series against the Angels, followed by Gray in Game 2 on regular rest. The Angels, meanwhile, are still hoping that Matt Shoemaker -- he says the pain from his rib-cage strain is almost gone -- will be able to join Jered Weaver and an erratic C.J. Wilson in the playoff rotation.

After spending all of September facing "What's happening?" questions, the A's can finally face "How's it feel?" questions.

Now they get to face the ultimate question: How are you going to fare in the postseason?

Maybe, after all the frustration in the early 2000s, after the tough losses to Verlander the past two years, after all these losses in September, maybe this will finally be the year for the A's.

Five things we learned Friday

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27

The big news of the night was the Kansas City Royals clinching their first postseason berth since 1985, ending the longest playoff drought in the majors. (That honor now belongs to the Toronto Blue Jays, last in the playoffs in 1993, when they won the World Series on Joe Carter's home run.) Doug Padilla was on the scene for the Royals' win over the White Sox, so he has that covered, but one quick note about the Royals before we get to five other things we learned on Friday.

The Royals don't have the best starting rotation in the American League -- they're fourth in ERA and that's playing in a pitcher's park with perhaps the league's best defense behind them. But it's a good rotation that has done a nice job of pitching deep into games. Only the Tigers have received more innings from their starters among AL teams. Now, the gap between the Royals and the bottom teams isn't large -- 80 innings -- but they've also thrown nearly 100 innings more than two years ago, before they acquired James Shields. When the Royals made that controversial deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, trading away top prospect Wil Myers, this is exactly why general manager Dayton Moore thought it necessary to add a guy like Shields. He's not the best pitcher in the league, not a Cy Young contender, but he's a durable workhorse who annually ranks among the leaders in innings. He led the AL last year with 228⅔ innings and has thrown 227 this year. He's been exactly what the Royals desired, and maybe it doesn't show up in the sabermetric evaluations, but you have to believe having a staff leader like him has had some effect.

So, congrats, Royals. The wild-card game isn't necessarily much of a reward if you go one and done, but there's always this: The Tigers lost. You're only one game from tying them for the division lead.

1. The Pirates win but suffer a potentially big loss.

The Pirates broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth with the Reds when Jay Bruce misplayed a line drive into a run-scoring, go-ahead double for Travis Snider, but their 17th win in 21 games came with potentially bad news when Russell Martin left the game after drawing a seventh-inning walk, his lingering battle with a sore hamstring getting the better of him. Martin didn't discuss the issue after the game but manager Clint Hurdle said, "Some days are better than others, and today it just seemed to be tougher for him to get loose." Chris Stewart will start Saturday afternoon. For a spell, it looked like the Pirates would tie the Cardinals for the NL Central lead when Arizona led early and almost rallied late, but …

2. The Cardinals win in extra innings to keep their one-game lead.

St. Louis caught a huge, huge break in this one. Leading 6-3 in the eighth, Pat Neshek couldn't hold the lead, and the Diamondbacks appeared to take the lead when Ender Inciarte hit a double over left fielder Jon Jay's head, which would have scored Arizona's seventh run … except the ball bounced into the stands and Didi Gregorius had to return to third base. Neshek got the next batter and Jhonny Peralta eventually delivered the go-ahead single in the 10th. (By the way, Peralta is a worthy top-10 guy on the NL MVP ballot.)

Michael Wacha had another mixed review. He gave up two runs in the first and then nothing else, leaving after 98 pitches and a leadoff single in the sixth, but he still walked three in his five-plus innings. If the Pirates do end up catching the Cardinals to force a one-game playoff, Wacha could potentially be in line to start the wild-card game. Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright will go on Saturday and Sunday.

3. The Oakland A's magic number is down to one.

Scott Kazmir has been the one Oakland starter struggling -- the first-half All-Star has a 5.42 ERA in the second half and owned an 8.58 ERA over his six previous starts entering Friday's game -- but he came up big in a 6-2 win over the Rangers, going seven innings and allowing four hits and just one earned run. Kazmir threw 72 percent strikes, his highest percentage since Aug. 8 and fourth highest of the year, throwing more cutters and fewer sliders than he had recently. "It's been a long time coming it feels like. Just feels good," Kazmir said. Keep an eye on Josh Donaldson's knee. He tweaked it in the third inning and played the rest of the game (he went 2-for-4) but looked hobbled and took it slow on the bases.

The Mariners held on to beat the Angels 4-3 as Fernando Rodney allowed a run in the ninth but recorded his 48th save in 51 opportunities, so Seattle needs two wins and two Oakland losses to force a Monday tiebreaker game.

4. Doug Fister might be the real ace of the Nationals.

Fister threw a brilliant, three-hit shutout in the first game of a doubleheader against the Marlins, clinching the NL's best record for the Nationals and a Division Series date against the wild-card winner. Fister improved to 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA. While Fister fanned a season-high nine in this game, he's an anomaly in this age of strikeouts: He has just 98 in 164 innings, but he also has just 24 walks in 26 starts and induces a lot of weak contact and ground balls even though he tends to pitch up in the zone, a testament to the movement he gets on his two-seam fastball and ability to change speeds. Fister isn't starting Game 1 of the Division Series, but he has a 2.98 career postseason ERA in 48⅓ innings.

5. Corey Kluber couldn't keep the Indians alive but did help his Cy Young case.

Kluber finished his season with another dominant effort: 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 SO. When Cody Allen closed out the 1-0 win, the Indians were still alive, but they were officially eliminated once the A's won. But Kluber's three-start finish -- 39 K's, including becoming the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2004 with back-to-back games of 14 strikeouts -- might have pushed him past Felix Hernandez as the Cy Young favorite. The final opposing-batter stats against Kluber's curveball: .091 (19-for-209), with no home runs, 126 strikeouts and five walks. Wow.

What are odds of Monday baseball?

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
Heading into the weekend, we have the slim possibility of three potential tiebreaker games Monday. This wouldn't be unusual in the wild-card era. We had one last season between the Rays and Rangers (the Rays won 5-2 behind David Price's complete game) and we have had six others since 1995: Mariners over Angels in 1995, Cubs over Giants in 1999, Mets over Reds in 1999, Rockies over Padres in 13 innings in 2007, White Sox over Twins in 2008, Twins over Tigers in 12 innings in 2009.

The possible Monday games:

--Oakland at Seattle for a wild-card berth.

--Kansas City at Detroit for the AL Central title.

--Pittsburgh at St. Louis for the NL Central title.

There are actually two permutations on the first one. Kansas City, Oakland and Seattle could each end up with 87 wins if the Royals go 0-3, the A's go 1-2 and the Mariners go 3-0 over the weekend, creating a three-teams-for-two-spots scenario. The A's, Mariners and Indians could also each end up with 86 wins if the A's go 0-3, the Mariners go 2-1 and the Indians go 3-0, creating a three-for-one scenario. (Here are the rules for those tiebreakers, in case you believe in the impossible.)

While acknowledging either of those things could happen, they probably won't. Baseball Prospectus gives the Indians the worst playoff odds at 0.7 percent. I'm not sure if that's just reaching a Game No. 163, or winning the tiebreaker and making the wild-card game. Either way, it's a long shot.

Anyway, sticking to three scenarios above, let's review.

A's two games up on the Mariners
A's at Rangers: Scott Kazmir vs. Nick Tepesch; Jeff Samardzija vs. Derek Holland; Sonny Gray vs. Nick Martinez.

The Rangers have won four in a row over the A's in the past two weeks and have improbably won 12 of their past 13 games. Which either means they're really hot or they’re due for some losses.

Angels at Mariners: Jered Weaver vs. Hisashi Iwakuma; Cory Rasmus vs. James Paxton; C.J. Wilson vs. Felix Hernandez.

Iwakuma, Paxton and Hernandez are all coming off horrible outings, and Iwakuma has been bad over his past five starts. The Mariners also aren't a good home team, with a 38-40 record at Safeco. One possible advantage is that the Angels probably won't ask their starters to go deep into these games as they gear up for the playoffs. You may also see some of the regular position players rest a game (although, since the Angels won't play again until Thursday, I don't think you'll see too much sitting.) Seattle has to hope it can at least get to Sunday with Felix in play.

What needs to happen for a tie: Mariners sweep the Angels and the Rangers beat the A's two of three, or Seattle takes two of three and the Rangers sweep. FanGraphs gives the Mariners a 4.1 percent chance at the wild card, but Baseball Prospectus is at just 0.5 percent. That doesn't make sense to me: Why would the Indians, with one fewer victory than the Mariners, have better odds? (I assume because they've played better lately.)

Most likely scenario: The A's beat the Rangers two of three, and the Mariners win just one from the Angels.

Monday matchup if there is a tie: Probably Jon Lester vs. Taijuan Walker.

Tigers two games up on the Royals
Twins at Tigers: Anthony Swarzak vs. Rick Porcello; Ricky Nolasco vs. Kyle Lobstein; Kyle Gibson vs. David Price.

Sorry, Royals fans, but none of those pitching matchups favor the Twins. The Twins have, however, split 16 games so far with the Tigers.

Royals at White Sox: Jeremy Guthrie vs. Hector Noesi; Danny Duffy vs. John Danks; Yordano Ventura vs. Chris Bassitt.

While the Royals are on the road, the good news is no Chris Sale or Jose Quintana for the White Sox in these final three games, so they have the starting pitching edge on paper in each matchup. The Royals are 11-5 against the White Sox.

What needs to happen for a tie: Considering a Twins sweep is unlikely, the Royals need to sweep the White Sox and hope the Twins take two of three.

Most likely scenario: Both the Tigers and Royals win two of three and the Royals host the wild-card game. FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus both give the Royals about a 4 percent chance of winning the division.

Monday matchup if there is a tie: Justin Verlander vs. Jason Vargas. (Max Scherzer and James Shields would be going on three days' rest.)


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Cardinals one game up on Pirates
Cardinals at Diamondbacks: Michael Wacha vs. Trevor Cahill; Lance Lynn vs. Wade Miley; Adam Wainwright vs. Josh Collmenter.

The Diamondbacks are 6-17 in September and have the worst record in baseball. The Cardinals do have a losing record on the road, however.

Pirates at Reds: Vance Worley vs. Mike Leake; Francisco Liriano vs. Alfredo Simon; Gerrit Cole vs. Johnny Cueto.

The Reds are 8-14 in September, but the Cueto game will be the tough one for the Pirates as he goes for his 20th win.

What needs to happen for a tie: You have to think the Cardinals will take at least two from Arizona, so the Pirates will need to sweep. Still, since there is just one game separating the two, this is certainly the race most likely of the three to end in a tie. If so, I wrote earlier about what that means for the Pirates and Cardinals rotations.

Most likely scenario: Cardinals and Pirates both win two of three, giving the Cardinals the division.

Monday matchup if there is a tie: Jeff Locke vs. Shelby Miller or John Lackey.

Prediction? Well, I guess I'd say none of three races will end up in a tie. But the Mariners fan in me holds out hope ...