SweetSpot: Oakland Athletics

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

August, 4, 2012
8/04/12
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Theme of the week: Late-game drama.

  • Sunday's Yankees/Red Sox tilt featured a 10th-inning go-ahead single by Pedro Ciriaco. There's been only one other go-ahead hit by a Bostonian, in extra innings, in the Bronx, over the past eight years: Jacoby Ellsbury's 14th-inning homer on Sept. 25. And it was the first non-home run version of such a hit since April 22, 2001, when Jason Varitek singled off Mariano Rivera in the 10th, driving in Trot Nixon from second.
  • Anthony Rizzo hit the Cubs' second walk-off homer of the season on Sunday to beat those hated Cardinals 4-2. It's the first time Chicago has defeated St. Louis via walk-off homer since Aramis Ramirez took Dennys Reyes deep in April 2009.
  • Milwaukee's Corey Hart homered in the bottom of the 10th against Washington on Sunday as well. His, unfortunately, was not a walk-off because the Nationals had scored twice in the top of the 10th. Hart finished 4-for-5, including an extra-inning homer, in a home game that his team still managed to lose (in this case, by an 11-10 score). He's the first player to do that since Sept. 7, 2004, when Corey Patterson of the Cubs launched his second homer of the game in the bottom of the 12th in a 7-6 loss to Montreal.It was a dubious first in Brewers franchise history.
  • [+] EnlargeOakland A's
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThe Athletics on Friday won their second 15-inning game in the span of five days.

  • Oakland is still very much in the walk-off business, securing their 12th of the season with a sacrifice fly by Jemile Weeks on Monday -- in the bottom of the 15th. By inning, it was the latest "sac-fly-off" since Raul Ibanez brought an end to that 19-inning game between the Phillies and Reds last season. It was Oakland's first walk-off sac fly since Rickey Henderson‘s 15th-inning winner to beat Toronto on May 23, 1981.
  • The Athletics played 15 more innings on Friday night against Toronto, and won on another sacrifice fly (by Coco Crisp) in the bottom of the 15th. Oakland leads the majors in walk-off wins with 13. The Nationals have eight. No team, by the way, has ever had two "sac-fly-offs" in the 15th or later in the same season.
  • After surrendering three runs in the top of the 10th on Wednesday, Texas walked off with an 11-10 victory over the Angels on Elvis Andrus' two-run single to cap a four-run rally. It was the most runs the Rangers had scored in an extra inning since May 5, 2009, when they put up a six-spot in the 10th at Seattle. Andrus hit the first walk-off single, with his team trailing in extras, of the season. And it was the first single to turn an extra-inning deficit into an extra-inning walk-off, in Rangers/Senators franchise history.
  • Justin Morneau (4-for-4, HBP) and Jamey Carroll (4-for-4, walk, go-ahead single in the 10th) both had "perfect" days at the plate for Minnesota. The Twins are the only team this season to have two players each record four-plus hits and a hit in every at-bat. Ben Revere and Ryan Doumit both did it on June 22 in Cincinnati.
Statistical support for this column provided by Baseball-Reference.com and the Elias Sports Bureau.

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

April, 14, 2012
4/14/12
1:48
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  • Austin Jackson scored a run in each of the Tigers' first six games this season. That was the longest streak by a Detroit batter to start a season since Darrell Evans crossed the plate in each of the first eight contests in 1986. And it's the longest streak by a Tigers leadoff hitter since 1939, when one of Jackson's center field predecessors, Barney McCosky, also scored in the first eight games of the season. In game seven on Friday, however, Jackson was on base only once (he walked in the eighth) and was stranded at third.
  • [+] EnlargeAustin Jackson
    Duane Burleson/AP PhotoAustin Jackson is having a solid season for the Tigers early on.
    The Red Sox managed to blow a three-run lead in the ninth and a two-run lead in the 11th in losing a wild one to Detroit on Sunday, 13-12. It was the first time Boston had scored a dozen runs and lost since May 31, 1970, when they were on the wrong end of a 22-13 slugfest with the White Sox at Fenway.
  • Alfredo Aceves gave up all three ninth-inning runs in Sunday’s game without retiring a batter, making him just the second Red Sox pitcher in the live-ball era to work zero innings pitched in each of his first two appearances of the year. Guido Grilli faced one batter each in the first two games of the 1966 season, and didn't get either of them out.
  • The Tigers used eight pitchers in that 13-12, come-from-behind win over the Red Sox. It marked just the second time in 70 years that Detroit had come back to win a game in which their starter surrendered seven-plus runs without getting through the third inning. Omar Olivares was the starter in 1997 when the Tigers rallied to beat Baltimore 11-8.
  • On Sunday, the Yankees managed just three hits -- all doubles. That same day, the Twins had just two hits as Jason Hammel posted the longest no-hit bid of the year so far. Both Minnesota knocks were doubles. It's the first time in almost three years that two teams have done that on the same day. But then … the Royals did it against Oakland (three hits, three doubles) on Monday … and the Athletics did it against Kansas City (one hit) on Tuesday.It's the first time since at least 1917 that there have been three straight days where a team had every hit be a double.
  • On Sunday, Jeff Samardzija (making just his sixth career start) was afforded the chance at a complete game. He had to be pulled after giving up a two-out homer that pulled the Nationals to within a run. Four days later, Matt Garza was en route to a shutout against Milwaukee, but was pulled after committing a two-out error that allowed the inning to continue. So the Cubs had two pitchers this week leave the game after 8.2 innings pitched.The Cubs hadn't had two pitchers work exactly 8.2 innings in the same season since 1995 (Jaime Navarro and Frank Castillo).
  • In Sunday's Cardinals-Brewers game, you could say the teams spread it around. In the 9-3 Milwaukee victory, the 12 runs were charged to eight different pitchers. In fact, every hurler who appeared in the game ended up with at least one earned run on his record.It's the first game in eight seasons where the teams combined to use eight or more pitchers, and every single one of them got charged with at least one earned run. The last time that happened was on Sept. 9, 2004, when the Royals erupted for a 26-5 victory over the Tigers in the first game of a doubleheader.
  • James Shields got called for a balk Wednesday on an illegal pickoff throw to third. That was in the bottom of the fifth -- after Justin Verlander had been called for his own balk in the top of the fifth.It was the first MLB game to feature balks by both teams in the same inning since Aug. 16, 2004, when the Rangers' Mickey Callaway and then-Indian CC Sabathia committed them in the fourth inning of a 5-2 Texas win.
  • In that same game, Verlander threw eight shutout innings before getting tagged for four runs and the loss in the top of the ninth. He became the first pitcher to throw eight scoreless innings, then surrender four (or more) runs in the ninth to take a loss since Tim Hudson did it for the Braves on Sept. 22, 2005. Hudson allowed a three-run homer to Shane Victorino of the Phillies for most of that damage before Macay McBride had to come in and get the final out.
  • In Monday's Yankees-Orioles game, Derek Jeter went a perfect 4-for-4 for the visitors, while Matt Wieters went a perfect 4-for-4 in the home dugout. It was the first game this year to feature two players with four-hit games.Since the start of 2010, there's been only one other MLB game where a player for each team went a perfect 4-for-4 or better -- and it was between the Orioles and Yankees. On July 30, 2011, Vladimir Guerrero’s 4-for-4 was the bright spot for Baltimore as the Yankees -- led by Robinson Cano's 5-for-5 -- demolished them 17-3.
  • In Yu Darvish's much-anticipated major league debut on Monday, he allowed five earned runs, four walks, hit a batter, threw one wild pitch -- and won the game because the Rangers spotted him eight runs.He's the first pitcher in the live-ball era to win his major league debut while giving up all of those stats (or worse). Even take away the wild pitch, and only one other hurler has hit five earned runs, four walks, one HBP and a win in his debut. That was the Blue Jays' Matt Williams on Aug. 2, 1983.
  • Jeff Gray of the Twins earned the first one-pitch victory of the season on Wednesday. Gray threw his one and only pitch to Peter Bourjos to end the top of the seventh, after which the Twins took the lead in the bottom of the inning. The Twins, conveniently, recorded the last one-pitch win last season, by Matt Capps on Sept. 23.
  • Speaking of pitching oddities, the Royals-Athletics game was finally called in the top of the eighth inning on Tuesday after its second rain delay. Aaron Crow, who had pitched the seventh for the Royals, was credited with his first career save. Technically, he does meet the save criteria set forth in the rule book, notably that of being the "finishing pitcher" in a game his team won.The last player to be credited with a save prior to the ninth inning was Tony Sipp of the Indians, who received one in a rain-shortened affair with Tampa Bay on July 23, 2010. That also remains Sipp's only career save.
  • On Tuesday, Freddy Garcia of the Yankees famously threw five wild pitches to tie the single-game American League record for such a thing. He was also the first pitcher to throw five-plus wild pitches in an outing of less than five innings. But two of those wild pitches scored runs for Baltimore. Another run scored on an error. That made the Orioles the first team in two years to score four-plus runs with one or fewer RBI. (The one RBI they did get came on a home run.)For the Orioles, it was just the second time since moving to Baltimore that they scored four runs on one or zero RBI. The other was in their inaugural year: On June 27, 1954, they scored three times on errors by the Athletics before finally walking off on an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th.
  • Oakland "walked off" in unusual fashion on Wednesday when Jonathan Broxton plunked Yoenis Cespedes and Jonny Gomes to force in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th. It was the first game to end with back-to-back hit batters since Sept. 2, 1966, when Stu Miller of the Orioles hit Al Weis and Tommie Agee of the White Sox in the bottom of the 11th. (I admit that Elias found this a lot quicker than I would have.) However, Gomes became the first Athletics batter to get hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in extra innings since at least 1947. (It had never happened in the Baseball Reference "play index" era.) It's also noteworthy that Oakland scored its two runs in the 12th without a base hit. The three runners ahead of Cespedes reached on two walks and an error.
  • Before Friday, there had been 36 double-digit strikeout games by teams this week (including seven games where both teams did it) but not one by a single pitcher. Max Scherzer's 11-strikeout outing on Friday afternoon broke that string.
  • In Wednesday's 17-8 eruption between the Giants and Rockies, there were four pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Jeremy Guthrie, Guillermo Mota, Jeremy Affeldt)who all gave up at least six hits and at least five runs. It's the first time that that has happened since July 17, 1998, when Seattle dropped an 18-5 score on the Royals at the Kingdome.(It is also very intriguing that, in that game, both teams posted a seven-run inning. Except I don't know of a good way to search line scores.)

    By the way, on their next two games on Thursday and Friday, the Giants promptly had two pitchers (Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain)carry no-hit bids into the sixth inning. The only team to have bids in consecutive games last season was also the Giants. That happened on May 8 and 10 by Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum.
  • The Orioles and Blue Jays combined to hit seven home runs in Baltimore's 7-5 victory on Friday. All were solo shots. It's the first game with seven-plus home runs that were all solo since a July 20, 2010 game at Camden Yards between the Rays and Orioles.
  • There's always one guy left out.In the 10-9 "pitchers’ duel" between the Twins and Angels on Thursday, 17 of the 18 starters recorded at least one base hit. Howard Kendrick was the lone collar, going 0-for-4 plus a walk.

    It's the first nine-inning game this season to have 17 different starters record a base hit. There were three games last season where all 18 did.
  • Minnesota got a four-hit game from Denard Span and three-hit games from Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Danny Valencia. It's the first time the Twins have had four players with three hits, including at least one with four, since they dropped a 20-1 score on the White Sox on May 21, 2009.

2012 predictions you couldn't predict?

February, 18, 2012
2/18/12
11:00
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Last year, You Can't Predict Baseball came up with bold predictions for the year. We had a lot of fun coming up with them, and then laughing at how hilariously wrong they were at the end of the year. This year, we're bringing these predictions to SweetSpot, along with explanations for some of them. Keep in mind, these predictions are supposed to be bold, but not insane -- even we know the Orioles aren't going to the playoffs in 2012.

Los Angeles Angels: Kendrys Morales stays healthy all year.

Houston Astros: Bud Norris is top five in K/9 in the NL. We figured something good had to happen to the Astros, right? Norris actually has a pretty nice career K/9.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes is their starting center fielder by Memorial Day.

Toronto Blue Jays: Brandon Morrow makes the jump to elite starting pitcher. He's struck out more than 10 batters per 9 innings two years running, though his ERAs have remained ugly. We think this is the year his results finally match the stuff, especially considering his declining walk rate.

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran has more wins than Tim Hudson.

[+] EnlargeRickie Weeks
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWith Prince Fielder gone to Detroit and Ryan Braun facing possible disciplinary action, Rickie Weeks could lead the Milwaukee Brewers in home runs in 2012.
Milwaukee Brewers: Rickie Weeks leads the team in home runs. He was fourth on the team last year, with 20. In front of him were Corey Hart with 26, Ryan Braun with 33, and Prince Fielder with 38. Fielder is gone, and for this prediction we'll assume Braun will miss a third of the year due to a suspension. It's not too bold to think Weeks could pass Hart in 2012.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran outproduces Albert Pujols from last year. Albert Pujols was great last year, but not quite best-player-of-his-generation Albert Pujols. If healthy, it's not absurd to think of Beltran outproducing Pujols' 5.1 WAR in 2011.

Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza isn't their best pitcher. It'll be Ryan Dempster, who had great peripherals but bad results last year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill will be good again. He was great with them in limited time, and Arizona's park is quite hitter-friendly.

Los Angeles Dodgers: James Loney will be a top-three first baseman in the National League. Many thanks to Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness for somewhat alerting us to this one. We just decided to take it semi-absurdly far.

San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner is their best pitcher. In terms of ERA, he already wasn't very far behind Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and his K/BB ratio eclipsed theirs by quite a bit.

Cleveland Indians: They'll have the best pitching in the American League Central. We're banking on Ubaldo Jimenez, making a major comeback to something closer to what he was in 2010, and the rest of the staff displaying the good that they did in 2011. We're also counting on the Tigers' starters not being very impressive behind Justin Verlander, which is bold but not quite insane, and the pitching of the White Sox, Twins and Royals not being able to keep up with Cleveland's.

Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero catches 100-plus games. The Mariners probably aren't going to compete, so why not try and play him where he'll accrue the most value?

Miami Marlins: Despite all their new acquisitions and the hype, they still finish fourth in the NL East. When you think about it, this one isn't so crazy. If Josh Johnson isn't healthy and maybe even if he is their pitching still trails that of Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta; even with Heath Bell, we don't think their bullpen is as good, either. Their offense might be better than some of those teams', but the Marlins were quite a bit below league average offensively last year and we're not sure how much Jose Reyes is going to make up for that.

New York Mets: Mike Pelfrey is the worst starter in the NL. Pelfrey's been pretty terrible two of the past three years, and now they're moving the fences in at Citi Field. He was far better in his huge home stadium, but we're guessing with the moved-in walls he'll be significantly worse at Citi. Here at YCPB, we actually don't think the Mets are going to be quite as dire as many are saying, even if they do come in last place in the NL East - but Pelfrey won't be a bright spot.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg has a 17-strikeout game.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters is the best catcher in the AL. A lot of people are so obsessed with Wieters not matching the hype that they didn't notice he became a plus offensive performer last year, to go along with very good defense. His taking the next step isn't that bold as predictions go, especially if Joe Mauer has to move off catcher.

San Diego Padres: Luke Gregerson is a top-three closer in the NL.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels is their best starter. And this isn't meant to be a slight to Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but considering their ages and the fact that Hamels is pretty darn good himself, plus a possible boost from a contract year...

Pittsburgh Pirates: Charlie Morton is their All-Star.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish isn't their best starter -- but he's still good. And we think he'll be pretty good, we just think Derek Holland will become more consistently good, or Matt Harrison will put up numbers like his 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields will have no complete games. Predicting someone to have no complete games might not seem bold, but it is when it's a guy who was known as "Complete Game James" last season. Shields did have 11 complete games in 2011, an almost unheard-of number these days, but he had no complete games in 2009 or 2010.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
Kim Klement/US PresswireAfter none in either 2009 or 10, James Shields pitched 11 complete games for Tampa Bay in 2011.
Boston Red Sox: No one hits 30 home runs. This might seem crazy when you consider their great offensive numbers last year, but only one player on their team hit 30 home runs and it was Jacoby Ellsbury with 32.

Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the NL.

Colorado Rockies: Jamie Moyer will have the best HR/9 on the staff.

Kansas City Royals: They reach .500. While their pitching won't be great, their offense will take a big step forward this year. Combined with the rest of their division being the Tigers and some dumpster fires, it's not that difficult to see it happening.

Detroit Tigers: They score fewer runs than they did in 2011. Yes, that’s even with Fielder. It's not improbable that Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Delmon Young regress quite a bit from their numbers with Detroit last year, and that Prince Fielder's production "only" makes up for the offensive loss of Victor Martinez in 2012. They'll still have a very good offense, though.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer hits 15 home runs.

Chicago White Sox: Robin Ventura gets ejected more times than Ozzie Guillen. Look at the state of the White Sox. We'd get ejected too.

New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda leads the team in ERA.

You Can't Predict Baseball is an affiliate of the SweetSpot network.
With the complete edition of the Future Power Rankings revealed on ESPN.com this week and a special guest talking about a very relevant team, Keith Law and I had plenty to discuss in Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast:

1. Keith’s contribution to the five-year Power Rankings was dissected, as well as the methodology and the strength of the American League East! Where did your team end up? (Hope it’s not the Baltimore Orioles).

2. Surprise! Slugging Cuban Yoenis Cespedes ends up with the Oakland Athletics, and Keith shares his thoughts on what should be a very bright future.

3. Perhaps nobody would use the words "bright" and "future: when discussing A.J. Burnett, but his potential trade to Pittsburgh was on our mind, as well as the game’s best manager signing a contract extension.

4. Our e-mailers wished to discuss prospects, and KLaw had answers about the Blue Jays, Braves and scarcity of second basemen.

5. I spoke with Bill Baer about his new book "The 100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die" as well as the NL East and his popular blog CrashburnAlley.com, part of the SweetSpot network.

So download and listen to Thursday’s fine Baseball Today podcast, and we assure you no cats were harmed in the taping of this show.

Trevor Cahill and Sabermetric discontents

April, 13, 2011
4/13/11
9:00
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So, last night I made my way to the Cell to see whether Trevor Cahill's performance would be “the story,” or if it might be the latest White Sox bullpen conflagration. As it turned out, the game didn't exactly cooperate. Early on, Cahill struggled in his first game after agreeing to a five-year, $30.5 million deal on Monday, while the Sox's bullpen did not combust late, instead aiding an extra-innings win over Oakland, 6-5 in 10.

So, my memes were already shot to hell, but it makes sense to talk about Cahill nevertheless, because there are some general points about evaluating pitchers worth making, especially the perils of taking any of the multitude of well-designed interpretive metrics out there as the final word for evaluating a pitcher's quality.

As fields go, sabermetrics is as guilty as any when it comes to picking its favorites on the basis of who does what, why and how. Mathematics, raised to the level of immutable logic as a matter of faith, winds up becoming less of a language that describes an assembly of events on the diamond in a way that we can easily aggregate and summarize them, and instead becomes the vehicle for absolute pronouncements -- some which of which have the virtue of being true.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Cahill
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOakland's Trevor Cahill allowed four runs on six hits Tuesday night.
There is nothing better than absolute certainty, after all, and so as long as you can hum a few bars, add a mysterious floating head and some flames (both preferably green) and voila! You are the Wizard of Oz, something less than Ozzie Smith when it comes to playing the field, and yet quite determined to be oracular in matters mathematical. It may not matter that you may not be absolutely certain. Instead, you stick to what you know, because you've got numbers to prove it.

Take Cahill, already something of a disappointment for the predictive punditocracy. Cahill upset the analytical applecart from the very moment of his being drafted in 2006, because he was a second-round high school pitcher picked by the so-called “Moneyball” A's -- you know, the team that didn't pick high school pitchers, or didn't pick them early at any rate. Cahill didn't throw especially hard, then or now, usually topping out around 92 or so, sitting around 90, hardly the stuff of Nolan-esque legendry or drool-worthy stuff.

As it turns out, it should have been anyway. In 2009, as nothing more than a 21-year-old rookie, Cahill upset statheads his latest time by posting a 4.63 ERA for the A's. BIS' Component ERA (referred to as ERC) said that was a 4.79 season in its interpretation of his performance, while Baseball Prospectus' SIERA, aimed at anticipating future work, judged Cahill's rookie season as worthy of a 5.08. Per FIP, FanGraphs reports that season was a 5.33 campaign.

That doesn't sound like much to base a future on, of course, except that Cahill followed it up by finishing fourth in the AL in ERA in 2010 as a sophomore, despite a SIERA of 3.90 and an FIP of 4.19. At least ERC had jumped the other way by evaluating his performance as a 2.81 -- instead of over-performing, somebody's metric was finally suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Cahill was actually something like this good.

When a pitcher outperforms his metrics, statheads usually run for the usual suspects, clothing performance with wailing about BABIP, or scurrying toward an observation about his HR/FB percentage. They could do the former, but not the latter, because Cahill's HR/FB rate wasn't better than league-average, inconveniently enough. But at least there are his strikeouts, or the lack of them, a sin with which you can condemn anyone to statistical sub-worthiness. With 4.5 K/9 and an 11.6 percent strikeout rate as a rookie, followed by 5.4 K/9 and 15.1 percent K-rate in 2010, Cahill was below average, perhaps even in Lake Wobegone.

Of course, there's the additional problem that different databases wind up with different classifications of what is or is not counted as a fly ball, but that's one of those snaggy-nasty details that might get people to wondering about how far we can stretch the data we do have to make all-knowing pronouncements.

Get hung up on these facts -- or factoids -- and you run the risk of not being ready to rush to an absolute condemnation or endorsement of the A's decision to give Cahill a five-year, $30.5 million deal. Committing to this extent of erasure, of arbitration cases-to-be that never will be, to faith in Cahill's performance, seems like a huge leap of faith in a pitcher who hasn't punched people out, and who has gotten the benefit of a lower-than-expected BABIP.

The problem with these kinds of broad strokes is that they risk missing the trees for the forest. Cahill is a strike-thrower, yes, and one armed with a hell of a sinker. He's showed a plus curve in the minors, and hasn't really thrown it all that much in the majors (less than 14 percent of the time last year). It would be crazy to get too hung up on how much he has or hasn't thrown that curve this year -- not that some statheads aren't willing to try -- except that pitch selection is defined by the opposing batter's strengths and weaknesses, as well as whether Cahill's trying to execute on those pitches from the stretch or a full windup. But in the rush to judgment over whether the money has been spent badly or well, or if Cahill's going to be something or nothing, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that maybe he's just a 23-year-old talent who has already pitched well and is nevertheless a couple of years removed from what would constitute a normal career peak.

Cahill's mediocre velocity marks and equally tepid strikeout rates do not reflect something he does have going for him already. He got looking strikes 32 percent of the time last year, against a MLB average of 28 percent, an improvement from a league-average rate as a rookie in 2009. Where he generated swinging strikes just 11 percent of the time in 2009 (where 15 percent is average), he ticked that over to 16 percent in 2010. He's been doing that while overwhelmingly relying on a sinker/fastball/change mix, perhaps not all that surprising given his youth.

You want more curves? The kid's 23: Give him time, and count on his club to let him grow as he must, not as it might need -- having already put down more than 30 large on the proposition, it's safe to say the team is betting on his career, and not just his 2011 success rate with breaking stuff.

Cahill pitched last night, of course, and didn't have much to say about his breaking stuff. After the game, he and A's manager Bob Geren talked about execution on fastballs and fastball location. Geren speculated about whether Cahill was having trouble with his grip in the first two innings, when he walked three and allowed an Earl Weaver special -- a three-run homer that put the Sox in the driver's seat. Cahill observed that, early on, he “didn't really know where the ball was going. I was trying to get my fastball outside to righties, inside to lefties,” but “I was leaving everything down the middle.” As for the question of being able to hold onto the ball on a cold spring night in Chicago, “It was a lot harder ... I couldn't really get a hold of the ball.”

Single samples being what they are -- essentially meaningless -- the outcome instead seems to suggest that it would be nuts to jump to some sudden conclusions, about Cahill's curve, or his future. He's beaten expectations consistently and well in his five-odd seasons as a pro, and he might continue to. For statheads, it's important to remember that by getting too stuck on the general truth -- that what is true for the population as a whole is true for everybody, leading to too-quick guesstimates of impending doom -- analysts too can get left holding the bag more than we'd like to admit.

Take Matt Cain of the Giants, for example. My fellow statheads have been burning electrons on the subject of Cain's impending doom for a good four seasons now, and yet Cain keeps managing to stand that proposition on its head and rank among the more effective starters in the league in each subsequent season.

It gets especially ridiculous when you start positing how the Giants' defense must be the answer for Cain being able -- this is the team that has employed ex-catcher Pablo Sandoval at third, DH types like Pat Burrell or Aubrey Huff in the outfield corners and aging leather-less mediocrities like Freddy Sanchez or Miguel Tejada or Edgar Renteria in the middle infield. Naturally, the analysis crew will get it right, eventually: Cain is doomed to go the way of all flesh, the same as you and me, so predict failure long enough and consistently enough, and you're guaranteed to be “right.”

This won't be the first or last time a stathead prefers the security of theory over the virtue of accepting anomalies. As one colleague put it to me more than nine years ago, he “couldn't wait for Livan Hernandez's arm to fall off,” all the better to prove what we “knew” to be true about pitch counts to be immutably so. Livan is still pitching, of course, and if anything has been better than ever, even without reaching six strikeouts per nine since 2004, that at a time when MLB-wide strikeout rates have moved in the opposite direction, past 7.0 K/9.

Livan may yet get to 200 wins, which might seem surprising, but he is at 166 already. As long as there is a need for human beings capable of throwing 30 starts in a season and throwing strikes -- and you can already define that need as permanent -- he might last as the right-handed universe's answer to Jamie Moyer, deathless and dutiful and competent as an innings-eater, if something short of all-powerfully awesome.

To bring this back to Cahill, it's worth keeping in mind that what we think we know can be dangerously misinformational. In his own way, like Cain or Livan, he's beaten expectations and projections. In his age-23 season, he might continue to. The vast preponderance of data suggests that he might not, but against that you have his youth, his limited repertoire and the absence of any knowledge of when and whether he might expand it and how effective he'll be, and I think we've come up with another reason to watch and learn.

If Cahill succeeds where Livan has or Cain has, it's our job to learn from how he beat that “preponderance” of interpretative data, and enjoy the results as baseball fans in the meantime.

A scout's tale

March, 11, 2011
3/11/11
12:14
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Recently, Baseballin’ on a Budget’s Chris Martinez was granted an interview with Shooty Babitt, currently working as both a television analyst for the A’s on Comcast SportsNet California and a scout for the New York Mets.

Chris used the time to ask in-depth questions on many topics, including scouting, something about which many baseball fans (including me) only have cursory knowledge. I thought I’d post a few snippets in this space (for the record, Shooty seems like a great guy; the fact that he turned 28 major-league games into a 30-year career as a broadcaster and a scout only backs that up).

CM: I didn’t know there were different tiers of scouting. You’re talking about doing the scouting for trades and free agency. I only knew about the area scouts at the minor league level. Can you talk about the difference in the types of scouting?

SB: An area scout is given a particular part of the region, like a Northern California scout, an area guy. When I was an area guy with Atlanta, I had from Salinas, [Calif.,] all the way up to southern Tahoe. [The scout's] job is to know every player who could be a potential professional player. There are pro guys who only do minor-league stuff and then there are area guys who are doing A-ball coverage because at the end of the season and after the draft their clubs send them out to do professional scouting.

It gives them a chance to see kids that they’ve scouted in the past from high school and see the progress they’ve made. Are they that player they thought they would be? Were they right about his tools becoming playable at the higher level? Or did they make a mistake? Where did you go wrong? That’s a great yardstick for me scouting for as long as I have.

There are kids that I saw that I said that can’t hit in the major leagues. I’ve been wrong on a couple but I’ve been right on more. That’s the great part of the job. The things that I’ve seen in players over the past years, those are the things that I’ve determined as far as my evaluations are concerned.

CM: Can you go into the details of your day-to-day scouting duties?

SB: My schedule is mapped out for the year. I have to make sure everything falls into place. Normally, I’m in the Bay Area for half the month. I’m starting the [2011 season] with the first three days in Oakland against Seattle. I get to the ballpark around 2 or 2:30 when no one’s there. I set up. I get online, read some notes, get prepared. When people start showing up I start talking to whomever I know: a coach, a player, a manager, a front-office executive, anyone who can tell me something that gives me more knowledge about that club.

I get my lineups written up. I have a card I keep during the year so whenever I see them I change the date but I write the lineup on the card. Our reports are made up on that card. I make up my report on each player. Normally, I stay with a club five days so I can see all the starters. By that time I’ve seen all the relievers and position players. Now I’ve watched what they’ve done and I’ve evaluated and graded [them], what it is now, what I think it will be in the future, and what [a player's] value might be.

On that fifth day, I’m onto the next city. Hopefully, it’s another club coming in that I’m responsible for and [it] gives me a week and a half at home. But if I have to jump on the road, I do the same thing. Each night when I’m there, I’m doing reports. The next time I see a starting pitcher, I get him in the computer. I don’t want to fall behind. When it starts getting close to the trade deadline, we start zeroing in on a lot of players. We have more conference calls. Just be ready for the phone to ring.

CM: I read some quotes, what Billy Martin said about you. Is it true that he said he’d rather shoot himself than have you play second base?

SB: I didn’t hear that. One night in Cleveland when the whole infield had a bad night he took it out on me more than anyone else for some reason. He said he was going to send me to Egypt to play.

The entire interview is entertaining and informative, well worth the time to read it. Kudos to Chris for making the most of the opportunity.

Dan Hennessey writes Baseballin' on a Budget, a blog about the Oakland Athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DanHennessey31.

Striking gold with compensation picks

March, 11, 2011
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In the past week, I’ve been writing at Baseballin’ on a Budget about the A’s recent history with compensation picks lost or gained through free agency. The A’s added players such as Huston Street, Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton with draft picks that weren’t originally their own. I thought it would be interesting to see what other steals have been found with “free” draft picks. (Note: I only looked at first-round and sandwich picks that a team got for losing a player).

After the 1984 season, the Padres signed former Cubs pitcher Tim Stoddard to a three-year, $1.9 million contract. Stoddard threw 105 innings for the Padres in a season and a half, going 2-9 with an ERA+ of 85. He had one more good season in 1987 with the Yankees. The Cubs selected Rafael Palmeiro with the Padres' pick the following June; Palmeiro didn’t blossom until he was traded to the Rangers, but the Cubs made the right decision not signing Stoddard and found a gem late in the first round. Later, the Orioles would draft Brian Roberts with a sandwich pick after the Rangers signed Palmeiro for his second tour of duty in Arlington.

[+] EnlargeClay Buchholz
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesBoston used a compensatory pick to draft Clay Buchholz.
After the 1990 season, the Giants signed Bud Black from Toronto to a four-year, $10 million contract. Black had ups and downs the previous five years, but was coming off a good year. For San Francisco’s trouble, Black was worth 1.0 WAR over the four years. With the pick, the Blue Jays took Shawn Green; Green, along with Carlos Delgado, anchored Toronto’s lineup for a four–year stretch from 1996 to 1999, before being traded to the Dodgers.

Kansas City shortstop Kurt Stillwell signed with the Padres after the 1991 season; he played only 193 games the next two seasons, posting an OPS+ of 61. For the low, low price of $3.5 million over the two years, Stillwell posted minus-3.3 WAR (yeah, that’s negative). Adding insult to wallet-injury, the Royals took Johnny Damon with their sandwich pick.

Other tales include Toronto drafting Chris Carpenter (for aging but still-effective Tom Henke), Minnesota drafting Torii Hunter (for John Smiley), and the Mets drafting David Wright with a sandwich pick after letting Mike Hampton sign one of the worst contracts in baseball history with the Rockies.

Two teams in particular had drafts that could have been classified as great hauls with just compensatory picks. The Braves took Adam Wainwright in 2000 with Arizona’s first-round pick for letting Russ Springer go and later added Kelly Johnson with a sandwich pick for “losing” Jose Hernandez.

But the kings, as they are wont to do lately, are the Boston Red Sox. After 2004, the Red Sox played shortstop roulette, signing Edgar Renteria from St. Louis (losing their own first-round pick that became Colby Rasmus) and letting Orlando Cabrera go to Anaheim (picking up a first). The Red Sox also lost Derek Lowe to the Dodgers and Pedro Martinez to the Mets, giving them two firsts and three sandwich picks. With the picks for Cabrera, the Red Sox drafted Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie; with the picks for Lowe, they drafted Craig Hansen and Michael Bowden, and with the pick for Martinez, the Red Sox took Clay Buchholz. That’s a pretty good haul for any team, much less one that had just won the World Series.

Almost all of these teams did well letting their free agent sign elsewhere, which is the same conclusion that I came to looking at just the A’s. That some of the compensatory picks pan out is just a bonus.

One more interesting note: In 1983, the Mets drafted Calvin Schiraldi with their sandwich pick, setting him on a course in which he would play a vital role in their 1986 World Series win. Traded to Boston in 1985 in an eight-player deal, Schiraldi blew a save in Game 6, the famous “it gets through Buckner” game, and lost Game 7, giving up three runs in the seventh after entering with the game tied.

Dan Hennessey writes Baseballin' on a Budget, a blog about the Oakland Athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DanHennessey31.

A's blog joins SweetSpot Network

December, 15, 2010
12/15/10
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This is a good day.

Of course, I don't generally have much to complain about, so most of them are good days.

This is a particularly good day, though, because today I'm pleased to introduce the latest addition to the SweetSpot Network ... Baseballin' on a Budget, covering the Oakland Athletics.

It's actually somewhat shocking that it's taken this long to find an A's blog, considering how many really smart people follow the team. Finally, though, I met Dan Hennessey at the PITCHf/x Summit in San Francisco last summer, and after reading a few entries from his Knuckleballs blog, I figured I might have my man.

I was right, and we've since been blessed by the addition of Chris Martinez, who will cover (among other things) the Athetics' farm system, to the team.

Enough with the introductions. Here's Dan on the A's new designated hitter:
    As I wrote Sunday, I’m ok with acquiring Hideki Matsui, so long as the first item of business is to steal any glove he tries to bring with him. If he’s allowed to play any outfield, expect to see Bob Geren crushed in these here (electronic) pages. He will give back everything he earns at the plate. Even if they find another DH-only type player, he’s probably better than Matsui in the outfield (if they want both in the lineup). I can’t stress this enough; I will flip out if I see Matsui in the outfield. With Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Ryan Sweeney, there’s no reason he should ever be out there.

    Enough ranting, back to rationality. The deal is reportedly for about $4.5 million and some incentives, which is fine. I’m a little surprised it’s that low, since I think he’s a 1.5 to 2 WAR player if he plays 140+ games. Given the number of DH options available though, everyone’s price comes down. Seemingly, the A’s are betting on Matsui’s ability to play a lot, passing on older (but possibly better) players like Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez, as well as injury-prone players like Nick Johnson.

I think that's probably right. Matsui missed a big chunk of 2008 with an injury. Otherwise, in the three seasons since 2006 he's played 143, 142, and 145 games, and posted adjusted OPS's of 123, 123, and 124. If he does those things for the A's, he's a bargain. As long as he doesn't play more than a tiny smattering of games in the field.

Again, I want to welcome Dan and Chris to the SweetSpot fold. The network just got a little better.

A's bringing coal to Newcastle

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
2:57
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Shouldn't the Yankees have been in on this? Or have they just been too traumatized by their Japanese pitchers ...
    The Oakland Athletics have won the right to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, Major League Baseball announced Monday.The Athletics submitted the highest bid and now have 30 days to sign sign Iwakuma, a 29-year-old right-hander from the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League, to a major- or minor-league contract.--snip--The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers also submitted bids for the rights to negotiate with Iwakuma, according to published reports.

Was it only the Mariners and the Rangers who joined the Athletics in submitting bids?

If so, two obvious questions come to mind:

Did the A's know the Rangers and M's submitted bids?

and

Did the A's submit their bid with the intention of blocking the Rangers and M's?

As near as I can tell, there's absolutely nothing to prevent a team from submitting the highest bid -- that is, offer of a posting fee -- and then making an offer to the player so low that it will almost certainly be declined. The posting fee isn't paid unless the player is actually signed; otherwise the player simply returns to his Japanese team and no money changes hands.

I don't mean to suggest the A's are doing this. Yes, the A's already seem to have enough pitching, and not nearly enough hitting. Yes, you might think the front office would be more intent upon bolstering the lineup than adding another starter to the rotation. But you have to get the talent where you can find it, and let Billy Beane (and David Forst) sort them out later. Plus, you need five starters and the A's have only four -- with due respect to Vin Mazzaro -- who stir any real excitement. Four good starters is good. Five good starters is great.

If the A's do sign Iwakuma, they're only a Rookie of the Year hitter away from the World Series.

If you believe what just happened on the other side of the Bay, anyway.

What does Giants' title mean for A's?

November, 5, 2010
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How, if at all, does the Giants' championship affect the Athletics' proposed move to San Jose? From the Mercury News:


    The Giants have insisted South Bay fans and corporate sponsors are crucial to their bottom line. Many San Jose boosters say those fears would be offset by the number of East Bay fans who would likely drive a shorter distance across the Bay Bridge to attend Giants games instead of hiking south.

    At Sunday's game, Selig told a Bay Area News Group columnist that a decision on the A's would be coming "hopefully in the near future."

    At least one expert Monday said the claim that an A's move to San Jose would hurt the Giants' bottom line might be difficult to prove after the San Francisco team's handsome postseason profits -- as well as the prospect of an even larger boost from ticket sales and sponsorships next year.

    "To the extent that the commissioner's office would be concerned about the Giants' financial well-being if the A's were allowed to move to San Jose," said Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economist and baseball expert, "that concern would by allayed given the success the Giants have had."


To which Craig responds:

    Setting aside the fact that Zimbalist has been disqualified as an expert in ballpark development cases because, to put it delicately, he’s often full of crap, on what planet does this make any sense?

    The Giants just won a World Series and made a bunch of money with no other team in their territory. Wouldn’t it be more logical to say that a team cutting into their territory and thus their profits would hamper the kind of success they just experienced while their territory rights remained inviolate? Or even if that wasn’t the case, why wouldn’t the response be that, no matter how successful the team is, they’d always be more successful if they had San Jose to themselves?


Craig's underlying analysis is probably correct, but I think he's being a bit rough on Zimbalist. Essentially, the paragraph before Zimbalist's quote sets him up as saying something -- a team in San Jose wouldn't hurt the Giants' bottom line -- that he doesn't actually say.

What he says is that the Giants' success takes some financial pressure off the organization, which I think is undoubtedly true. Their championship is going to pay immediate dividends, and additional dividends for some years. He also says that the Giants' success may allay some concerns about the franchise's financial future, should the A's relocate to San Jose.

But this is worth mentioning only if anyone (who matters) actually has such concerns. Before the World Series, were the Giants concerned about going out of business? Hardly. Were any of the owners concerned about the Giants' bottom line? Har-dy-har-har.

According to Craig, "this is ultimately a business dispute. The kind that no amount of baseball success is going to resolve on its own."

Yes, but it's also a political dispute. To alter the Giants' "territory," Major League Baseball needs two things: some confidence that the Giants won't sue MLB for $200 million and win; and enough votes from the owners of the 29 other teams. You know how the A's are voting. And I can guarantee that the other 28 teams aren't going to give a second's thought to the welfare of the A's or the Giants. They'll be thinking about themselves.

And if you can figure out which way those 28 teams will go, you're probably the smartest man in the room.

Does Bill Hall have 'super utility' to Sox?

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
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From the tail end of Theo Epstein's conference call today (which was mostly about exercising the one-year option in David Ortiz's contract):
    Yeah, we’d love to have Bill Hall back in the right circumstances. He really, I thought, blossomed this year in a super-utility role. He played so well, in fact, especially in terms of his power production that he might attract interest from a number of teams as an everyday player and get more substantial playing time. And if that happens, I’m sure that would be of interest to Billy. If later in the offseason, he’s in a position to consider a super-utility role and based on the moves we’ve made with our everyday players, that type of player makes sense on our roster, I’m sure we’ll be talking. He was nothing but a great teammate while he was here and a contributing player.”

I think the term "super utility" is a fairly recent invention, don't you?

The first player I recall being used in a super-utility role was Tony Phillips.

Originally a shortstop, Phillips later became a second/third baseman, and finally qualified for super-utility status by becoming an occasional outfielder as well. In 1988, Phillips started one game at shortstop, one game in right field, three games in center field, 14 games in left field, 14 games at third base, and 20 games at second base. He also appeared in three games at first base. Which is to say, he did everything except pitch and catch.

All this was masterminded by Tony La Russa, of course.

Phillips might have been the first player who did that (except as a stunt), but my quick-and-dirty search suggests that the "first Tony Phillips" was actually Cesar Tovar, who played for the Twins in the 1960s. In 1968 (for example), Tovar started eight games in right field, 12 at second base, 15 in left field, 20 at shortstop, 29 in center field, and 68 at third base. Tovar also played first base, catcher, and pitcher for one inning apiece in this game. Which obviously was a stunt, as he became the first major leaguer to play all nine positions in one game. Granted, a stunt that worked exceptionally well, as Tovar pitched a scoreless first inning and scored one of the Twins' runs in a 2-1 victory.

Tovar did this sort of thing for about six years, and usually drew a bit of down-ballot MVP support, probably because of his versatility. When we think of Bill Hall and Tony Phillips -- and Chone Figgins in 2004 and '5 -- we should think of Cesar Tovar, the first Super Utility Man.

Again, as near I can tell. Of course we can all come up with our own definition. But the important thing is that you have to play the infield and the outfield. If you're just playing the infield, you're a utility infielder; if just the outfield, a fourth outfielder (unless you're Andres Torres, in which case you're a center fielder who's occasionally slumming it). And you also have to play more than one position in the infield.

Last year, Hall started 34 games in the outfield and 51 games in the infield, but all 51 were at third base.

This year, Hall started 53 games in the outfield and 43 games in the infield: 38 at second base, three at shortstop, two at third base. My preference would be to see a Super Utility Man play a few more games at shortstop or third base. But who am I to argue with Theo Epstein?

Are Giants and A's really so different?

November, 3, 2010
11/03/10
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Reacting to a quote from a Giants executive -- "We've shown 'Moneyball' is a bunch of garbage." -- Mike Silva has this:
    Paul DePodesta did say his definition of “Moneyball” is finding undervalued players. I believe two key contributors, Juan Uribe and Andres Torres, might fall into that category. Again, I believe incorporating aspects of advanced statistical analysis into decision making is essential to survive in the modern game.

    Remember, the MLB playoffs is a tournament. You get there and anything can happen regardless of Moneyball.

Some of the key elements in the Oakland team memorialized as (and in) "Moneyball" were (1) a fantastic home-grown rotation, (2) a relatively cheap but quite effective closer, (3) a cheap but quite productive first baseman who nobody else really wanted and (4) a cheap, veteran left fielder who'd recently struggled as a DH in the American League East.

Looking at the 2010 Giants, let's see ... check, check, check, and check.

One big difference between the 2002 Athletics and the 2010 Giants ... the A's had very little money to spend (hence "Moneyball") while the Giants had a fairly large amount of money to spend.

Except the way things worked out, the Giants that won the World Series on the field didn't actually make a great deal of money.

The Giants opened this season with a payroll approaching $100 million. But by the end of September, fully $30 million of that payroll -- the portion allocated to Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand -- was essentially dead money. Zito didn't pitch in the playoffs and Rowand, on the bench for much of the season, went 3 for 11 in the tournament. Essentially, the team that won the World Series was a $70 million team. Which would have ranked somewhere near the bottom among National League payrolls.

The Giants won the World Series. The Moneyball Athletics still haven't won a postseason series. In 2001 and 2002, the Moneyball Athletics won 205 games. In 2009 and 2010, the (supposedly) anti-Moneyball Giants won 190 games.

I understand that there's been a great deal of pent-up frustration within the Giants organization. Jerks like me have compared Brian Sabean to Billy Beane, and found Sabean wanting. Maybe that wasn't fair. Sabean's certainly got his ring, and Beane certainly doesn't. But considering how much money the Giants have flushed down the toilet these past few seasons, if I worked for them I probably wouldn't raise that particular subject too often.

Oakland's Anderson still most talented A

September, 28, 2010
9/28/10
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Bloomberg Sports' Tommy Rancel reviews Oakland's pitchers and arrives at Trevor Cahill as biggest surprise, Ben Sheets as biggest bust, Gio Gonzalez as 2011 keeper, and cites Cahill as a good candidate for 2011 regression ...
    As mentioned, Cahill has really good traditional stats, but a quick check of his peripherals show he has not been as impressive as those numbers suggest. His 5.31 K/9 IP is poor and his 2.89 BB/9 is acceptable, but only with a higher strikeout rate. In addition to the mediocre control rates, his .237 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is not likely to be repeated again (league average is typically around .300). Cahill is a fine young pitcher with a terrific groundball rate (55.7% ranks among the league leaders) and plenty of room to improve. But buyers beware next season - his ERA's likely to rise, and 17 or more wins might be a reach.

You think? W/L-wise, Cahill might be the biggest (positive) fluke of this season. It'll be akin to a miracle if he wins 15 games next season. Especially considering the Athletics' chronically anemic hitting.

But yes, Cahill's been the biggest surprise, Sheets has been the biggest bust -- as long as I live, I'll never figure that one out -- and Gonzalez is a keeper.

He's not the only one, though.

Dallas Braden shares Cahill's strikeout rate but has walked roughly 30 percent fewer hitters. Not to mention founding the autonomous region of Bradenia. (Granted, Braden's been both hit-lucky -- like Cahill -- and probably homer-lucky this season, so he's also a candidate for ERA regression.)

And Oakland's best starting pitcher is the guy with the 6-6 record: 22-year-old Brett Anderson. In 48 major league starts, he's got a 3.62 ERA and a 3.32 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Anderson missed two months in the middle of the season with an elbow injury, but since coming off the DL in late July he's pitched as well as ever. The only category he wins is probably "2011 Cy Young candidate if he doesn't get hurt again."

Bradenia refuses to surrender

September, 24, 2010
9/24/10
11:40
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Hey, at least somebody hasn't officially conceded the American League West championship. We can always count on the King of Bradenia:
    Dallas Braden hasn't conceded anything yet.

    The left-hander allowed one hit in eight innings and the Oakland Athletics beat Texas 5-0 Thursday night, stalling the Rangers' pursuit of their first AL West title since 1999.

    "There's no obese lady in sight and I can't hear any singing," Braden said.

    Braden (10-13) outpitched Cliff Lee to end his four-game losing streak and keep Texas' magic number at four for clinching the division. The A's moved within seven games of first-place Texas.

    "I'll see you in October," said Braden, who has held the Rangers scoreless for 18 straight innings over three games since Aug. 6.

You have to love Braden's confidence (or cockiness; you decide) and you have to love the way he's pitched this season (except for his strikeout rate, but let's not quibble about such trivialities so soon after he pitched so well).

Dallas Braden
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesDallas Braden pitched 8 innings Thursday night, giving up just one hit.
October, though?

Actually, yeah. Braden's turn in the rotation will come up on October 3 ... the last day of the scheduled regular season. So yeah, we'll probably see him again.

I don't think that's what he meant, though. I think he was trying to rally the troops for an assault on the first-place Rangers, these last 10 days of the season. And somewhat suddenly, the notion doesn't seem utterly preposterous.

Ridiculous, maybe. The A's are still seven games out of first place. Just to give you an idea, if the Rangers win just two of their remaining 10 games, the A's have to win nine of their last 10 just to force a one-game playoff for the division title.

I suppose it really is preposterous.

You know how players always talk about taking everything "one game at a time"? I don't think that's applicable here. The A's need to begin by taking three at a time; namely, these next three games against the Rangers. If they can sweep this series, then they (and you, if you enjoy such things) can begin to dream a little. A sweep would leave the A's four games out of first place with seven games to play. This would still require a historic comeback, but at least you can sort of understand the math.

And I have to say, a sweep isn't impossible. Not with Josh Hamilton out of action and Cliff Lee already having pitched in this series, and the games in Oakland. It's just a shame that nobody's going to be in the Coliseum to help; there probably weren't 10,000 fans in the ballpark Thursday night.

Another unlikely path to the Show

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
2:38
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From the Sacramento Bee, 10 days ago:
Bobby Cramer left baseball five years ago, a former girlfriend convincing him it was time to get on with his life.

That relationship ended. But Cramer's love for the game didn't, even when he was substitute teaching, doing law enforcement work and spending a year working for Shell Oil.

So the left-handed pitcher returned to baseball in 2007, working his way from Class-A Stockton to Double-A Midland to Triple-A Sacramento, pitching once in the postseason during the River Cats' run to a Pacific Coast League championship.

Since then, he's played for Midland, Sacramento, Stockton, the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden Baseball League and Quintana Roo of the Mexican League before rejoining the Cats in time for this season's PCL Pacific South Division pennant race.

--snip--

Cramer, an Anaheim native who played for Long Beach State and was in the Tampa Bay organization until 2005, has never played in the major leagues.

But he hasn't given up the dream. And he said his current girlfriend is supportive of his goal.

"I'm hoping the success I have this year will bring me something," said Cramer, who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

"I understand how things work. I understand it's going to be a tough decision for them (the A's) to make.

"I'd love to make it to the major leagues if the right opportunity came along."

It's come along. With Vin Mazzaro recently exiled to San Francisco, the A's need another starter. And as Susan Slusser reported this morning, "I'm told that Bobby Cramer is the guy who will take the fifth starter spot next Monday or Tuesday at Kansas City ..."

I'm told the same thing. I'm also told that Cramer throws his fastball in the 86-90 range, has a good cutter that's tough on right-handed hitters, knows how to pitch, and has big ... well, let's just say he doesn't scare easy out there.

He's probably not the new Jamie Moyer. But you have to pull for him against the Royals next week.

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