The A's best player and other links

By Jason Wojciechowski on March 25, 2014 at 8:15 PM

This is a fun piece by Alex Hall asking who the A's best position player will be, and along the way looking at the A's history of team leaders, the mishmash of players who've led the team, and how that compares to franchises with one clear star at the top of the pile. It's worth a gander, so check it out.

As to my pick for A's best player ... well, let's start with the projection systems:

System Player WAR(P)
PECOTA Josh Donaldson 3.1
Oliver Coco Crisp 5.5
Steamer Josh Donaldson 5.1
ZiPS Josh Donaldson 3.7
Fans Josh Donaldson 5.9

Oliver doesn't dislike Donaldson, by the way, it just loves Crisp on the strength of a projected +13 defense. That strikes me as a little aggressive. At the risk of being boring, I'm going with Donaldson as well. He's so far been durable and we know what he's capable of at the bat and in the field. The other candidates seem to have more question marks or downsides: Jed Lowrie can't defend; Josh Reddick's plate discipline undermines his OBP; Yoenis Cespedes might be amazing or might be not much at all, and in any event might be hurt; Coco Crisp hit for unprecedented power last year, is at a worrisome age, and has had fragility issues in the past; and Korea hates Eric Sogard.

Nate Freiman got sent out, which you had to start to expect, given that the A's would rather not lose Daric Barton, and if you're carrying Barton and Moss, there's just no room for Freiman unless you option Eric Sogard and have Alberto Callaspo take all the starts at second, which apparently the A's would rather not do. In theory they still could, by keeping Michael Taylor over Sogard, but the announcement that Callaspo will be in the mix at first base against lefties would seem to foreclose that. Although that means you're starting Callaspo at first against lefties, not second, which means that either Sogard is starting against lefties or else Nick Punto will be the second baseman against lefties and ... guh, let's do this again:

vs. R

C: Jaso
1B: Barton
2B: Sogard
3B: Donaldson
SS: Lowrie
LF: Cespedes
CF: Crisp
RF: Reddick
DH: Moss

vs. L

C: Norris
1B: Callaspo
2B: Punto
3B: Donaldson
SS: Lowrie
LF: Cespedes
CF: Crisp
RF: Reddick
DH: ... Moss?

The trouble against lefties in the absence of Craig Gentry is that you're missing a righty and replacing him with lefty Sam Fuld. This is the reason I'd rather have Michael Taylor on the roster to start the year. He can designatedly hit against lefties, which means he has a use. Sam Fuld, on the other hand, does not appear in the above lineups. He's not going to start over Cespedes, Crisp, Reddick, or Moss, and he probably shouldn't start over Barton, though if he did I guess this wouldn't be the worst lineup:

C: Jaso
1B: Moss
2B: Sogard
3B: Donaldson
SS: Lowrie
LF: Fuld
CF: Crisp
RF: Reddick
DH: Cespedes

The math, then: take the Fuld-Cespedes defensive gap, subtract the Moss-Barton defensive gap, and compare that to the Barton-Fuld offensive gap. I don't think that comes out positive. So you've got Fuld hanging around as a true fourth outfielder when you could have Taylor hanging around as a platoon DH. And all the "Fuld can play center!" stuff doesn't hold any water for me because so can Reddick and Cespedes. How about "Fuld has an opt-out!" So? Taylor has to be waived or traded. You're going to lose the one you don't use.

Now, I guess the argument for keeping Fuld is that you're getting Gentry back in a week or so, at which point you can option Fuld, since it's after his opt-out date, and then you won't lose him until June 1st (his next opt-out date). Taylor, by contrast, would be lost on April 5th, a week after they lost Fuld to the opt-out. So it's really, in the end, not at all about what the 25-man roster looks like, but rather how to build a deep 40-man roster. Fuld provides that more than Taylor does. Update: Fuld is actually out of options just as Taylor is, so even after he makes the roster for the first week of the season, the A's could lose him to a waiver claim when Gentry comes back. Which means that the question comes back to some combination of "which player is better on the 25-man until Gentry comes back" + "who are we less likely to lose on waivers?" Odds seem pretty good, given the state of reserve outfielders around the league and the possible upside of both players (offensive for Taylor, defensive for Fuld), that neither will survive a DFAing, in which case the question reduces back down again to the 25-man question, and now I'm back to wishing Taylor would get a shot. Fuld is fun, but Fuld's particular mix of skills just don't seem as great a fit in Oakland as they might elsewhere and as Taylor's might here.

Much as I hate to see Nate Freiman go, I'm talking myself into the above arrangements, especially after Gentry gets back, when he can sometimes start for Reddick against lefties and other times push Cespedes (or Crisp?) to DH. The infield defense looks a lot better if you can avoid Moss at first base, though putting a new-position-learner at the spot, especially one who's no taller than me (I'm not tall), may not be much better. Remember what Mike Piazza did to his wrist?

Is Billy Burns better than Billy Hamilton?

Stat (minor leagues) Hamilton Burns
XBH / PA 5.8% 4.0%
XBH / H 23.0% 15.6%
AVG .280 .311
BB + HBP Pct. 9.8% 15.8%
SB / (BB + HBP + 1B) 60.2% 29.1%
SB Pct. 82.5% 88.0%

... okay, that came out better for Burns than I thought it would. Hamilton, unsurprisingly given that he's got three inches on Burns, has more pop, which has helped him speed along after being a second round pick, arriving in the majors in his age-22 season, while Burns reached Double-A for about a month last year, in his age-23 year. Hamilton's numbers did experience some drag in Triple-A last year, where he hit just .256 with an isolated power of .087 -- doing an apples-to-apples comparison would make Burns look less rosy.

The thing is, nobody really doubts either player's speed or even, to an extent, their ability to get on base against minor-leaguers. The question is what the results will be when pitchers in the majors come directly at each hitter and dare them to put the ball in play. Hamilton has just enough pop and just enough physicality that there's some hope he can keep pitchers honest. Burns may not have that, and thus may see his career depend on balls falling in front of drawn-in outfields, bunts, and never ever ever swinging at a pitch off the plate. Also getting hit by pitches sometimes would help -- he does seem to have a knack for that, with 34 plunkings in his 1150 professional trips to the plate. (Compare Shin-Soo Choo, with 81 in the majors in 3677 PA.)

This is a nice piece taking a cut at quantifying the A's exposure to injuries to various regulars, using ZiPS, putting some reasonable numbers on injuries, and looking at the overall roster effects of an injury to a particular player. I like it. Things get difficult if you start consider injury stacks, what with the multiplying probabilities and the difficulties of rosterbating to cover two spots instead of one, but still, the piece is a nice illustration of the ways the A's have covered for certain spots, where the vulnerabilities might be, and so forth.

Re-signing Jed Lowrie to play second base is an idea that attracts me, but I don't know, given the cost, whether it would be a good use of the A's money. Shortstops are in short supply (cough), so Lowrie, assuming he holds up again this year, will be able to command a hefty salary and a number of years that ought to make the A's uncomfortable. Sure, they don't have an obvious answer, but Eric Sogard ain't half bad and who knows, maybe Daniel Robertson can hack it there from like 2016 to 2021.

Bruce Jenkins is right that the gospel of pitch counts isn't any kind of answer, though I'd argue that he's wrong to suggest that there is such a gospel within baseball overall. There is a protect-the-arms gospel, certainly, but my suspicion is that more teams put pitchers in their own boxes and on their own programs than not. And the irony of using Tim Lincecum as an example of a pitcher who hasn't come down with an arm injury despite massive use is apparently lost on Jenkins -- in 2011, Lincecum had a 127 ERA+ and averaged 93 mph with his fastball. In 2013, he was at 91 with a 76 ERA+. He's 29 years old. Tell me his arm is just fine and dandy, Bruce.

Chili Davis says what we've all been thinking about Yoenis Cespedes and his swing -- he needs to make better decisions on pitches, not shorten up on the ones he can reach. Also, Davis is working on Cespedes' head.

In case you missed it, Sonny Gray will start Opening Day. Apparently Jesse Chavez will actually pitch third, ahead of Dan Straily, which probably has more to do with how the spring schedules lined up than with any idea of who is the better pitcher. Also in case you missed it, Ryan Cook and Craig Gentry will 100 percent open the season on the disabled list. They'll backdate the moves so that they can be activated on April 5th, in time for the sixth game of the year, with Felix Hernandez expected to pitch for the Mariners in Oakland. Oh, and Fernando Rodriguez, too. How could we forget him.

Here's some minor-leaguers stuff from Jim Callis.

Scott Ostler has a nice look at the approach of Tye Waller to his first-base-coach job.

Boy, Coco Crisp is prickly, eh?

Derek Norris is terrifying.

I think the A's should trade Chris Gimenez for Andy Parrino.

This is the saddest headline. In no small part because it's true. Here's more on Vogt, especially regarding his work with Chili Davis.

And just like that, Fernando Abad and Evan Scribner are "proven arms."

Down with coaches!

Did you know Bret Boone works for the A's?

Billy Burns went to Mercer. Can we have baseball, please.

Okay, sometimes frivolous spring stories aren't so bad: adopt the Phoenix Muni stadium cat!