By Jason Wojciechowski on November 18, 2014 at 7:18 PM

Let's just assume right now that the A's sign Billy Butler. The roster then baffles me:

v. LHP:

C: Norris
1B: Blanks
2B: Punto
SS: [Whoever they sign]
3B: Donaldson
LF: Gentry
CF: Crisp
RF: Reddick
DH: Butler

v. RHP:

C: Norris or occasional backup
1B: Jaso
2B: Sogard
SS: [Whoever they sign]
3B: Donaldson
LF: Moss
CF: Crisp
RF: Reddick
DH: Butler

That makes use of 13 position players, which is what the A's are presumably going to carry. Which means that anybody not listed above is S.O.L., which specifically means Stephen Vogt and Sam Fuld. Now what you could do I guess is say that Vogt is your other catcher. Do you want to do that? I'm not real sure you want to do that. But I guess if the roster makes you do that, and you've been putting up with John Jaso anyway, then you do that. In which case you don't need to sign a backup catcher (beyond the one or two you need at Triple-A).

So the addition of Butler basically means no Sam Fuld, and the set of comparisons becomes:

Butler offense v. RHP > Fuld offense v. RHP
Butler offense v. LHP > Jaso/Moss offense v. LHP
Moss LF defense < Fuld LF defense
Jaso 1B defense ?<? Moss 1B defense

I think this is probably a net gain overall, and as long as Vogt really is your second catcher, you've still got the flexibility to put him and Blanks in outfield corners, Gentry's still around when Crisp gets hurt, and so forth. It all seems like a marginal gain for $10 million per year for three years, doesn't it?

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By Jason Wojciechowski on October 31, 2014 at 6:04 PM

Speaking of minor-league free agents and such, it's probably worthwhile to take a run through who the A's could lose this December in the Rule 5 draft. My understanding of the rules comes almost entirely from The Cub Reporter, so if I get anything wrong, blame that guy, not me.1

Briefest summary: players who were 18 or younger on June 5th of the year they sign can be taken in the Rule 5 draft in the fifth such draft that occurs after their signing (and in every subsequent Rule 5 draft); players who were 19 or older on that date can be taken in the fourth Rule 5 draft.

College draftees and older high school picks, then, are those who were taken in the June 2011 draft or earlier. Younger high school picks and most international signings are those picked/signed in June 2010 or earlier.

Name Age (2015) Position Level Signed/drafted Notes
Aaron Shipman 23 LF High-A third round 2010 no pop, great on-base, not the type to get Rule 5'd
Alex Nolasco 24 RP Arizona 2008? 2009? only 13 2/3 innings this year
Andres Avila 25 RP High-A April 2010 strikeouts took a leap in 36 Stockton innings
Andrew Werner 28 P Double-A 2010? 2011? signed out of indy leagues by Padres
Anthony Aliotti 27 1B Triple-A 15th round 2009 first basemen can't slug .354 in the PCL
B.A. Vollmuth 25 1B/3B Low-A third round 2011 that didn't work
Beau Taylor 25 C Double-A fifth round 2011 hasn't solved Double-A
Blake Forsythe 25 C Double-A third round 2010 (Mets) can probably catch in Double-A as long as he wants
Blake Hassebrock 25 RP Double-A eighth round 2010 15.6 H/9!
Bobby Crocker 25 OF High-A fourth round 2011 not OPSing 800 in the Cal League isn't great
Carlos Navas 22 SP Arizona 2008? 2009? maybe short-season next year?
Chad Oberacker 26 OF Double-A 25th round 2011 two cracks at Double-A, hasn't done anything with the bat in either of them
Chih Fang Pan 24 2B Low-A April 2010 missed all of 2013; hasn't hit
Chris Jensen 24 SP Double-A sixth round 2011 (Rockies) probably not good enough to be snatched up; probably good enough to stick around for a while
Chris Lamb 25 SP High-A 11th round 2011 really solid year, if old and relatively low level; might need to protect him
Colin Walsh 25 2B Triple-A 13th round 2010 (Cardinals) had a good year in 2012
Conner Crumbliss 28 2B/OF Double-A 28th round 2009 big OBP guy has seen it slip as he's advanced
Cristhian Perez 23 SP Short-season July 2008 missed bats at an almost unbelievably low rate the last two years in Vermont
Dayton Alexander 24 OF Short-season sixth round 2011 Hawaiian
Deck McGuire 26 SP Triple-A first round 2010 former prospect
Drew Granier 26 SP Double-A 32nd round 2011 still chugging along, still walking everyone
Dusty Coleman 28 SS Double-A 28th round 2008 could be a free agent; didn't play in 2010
Dusty Robinson 25 RF High-A 10th round 2011 played half this year in indy ball before returning
Gabriel Santana 22 SS Short-season August 2008 hasn't hit
Jake Goebbert 27 LF Triple-A 13th round 2009 (Padres) debuted in 2014 but didn't hit in stint with Padres
Jeff Urlaub 28 RP Double-A 30th round 2010 1.57 ERA looks BABIPy
Jonesy Zarraga 23 LF Arizona August 2008 second year in AZL; stats took a step back
Josh Bowman 26 SP High-A 10th round 2010 stats indicate that he gets hit hard
Josh Whitaker 26 RF Triple-A 25th round 2010 slugged in Double-A; interesting possibility
Kent Matthes 28 OF Double-A fourth round 2009 (Rockies) had a bat once upon a time, but hasn't hit in years
Michael Soto 23 1B Low-A March 2009 slugger type
Miles Head 24 1B/3B/DH Double-A 26th round 2009 (Red Sox) former prospect hasn't hit in 2.5 go-rounds at Double-A
Murphy Smith 27 RP Double-A 13th round 2009 third year at Midland, a bullpen move doesn't do much
Nate Long 29 SP Double-A 26th round 2009 should reach the majors by 32
Paul Smyth 28 RP Triple-A 35th round 2009 could get grabbed as the last reliever in someone's bullpen; why not?
Rodolfo Penalo 22 CF Arizona 2010? didn't come stateside until this year; on-base freak with speed
Ryan Lipkin 27 C High-A 24th round 2010 see Ryan Ortiz
Ryan Ortiz 27 C Triple-A sixth round 2009 see Blake Forsythe
Sam Roberts 26 2B/RP Low-A 26th round 2011 converted to pitching midyear; does this get the A's an extra year?
Sean Murphy 26 SP Double-A 33rd round 2010 maybe Irish
Seth Frankoff 26 RP Triple-A 27th round 2010 intriguing Double-A component stats; less so in the PCL
Tanner Peters 24 SP Double-A 16th round 2011 hurt most of the year, pitched the last three weeks in AZL
Tyler Vail 23 RP Low-A fifth round 2010 1.3 K/BB in Low-A as a reliever
Vicmal de la Cruz 21 RF Arizona November 2010 Three years in AZL
Wade Kirkland 26 2B High-A 11th round 2010 did get three games at Triple-A
Zach Neal 26 SP Triple-A 17th round 2010 refuses to walk anyone
Zeke DeVoss 24 OF High-A third round 2011 (Cubs) released by Chicago last year

Meanwhile, here are the notable players who I believe are minor-league free agents:

Player Position Level Story
Alden Carrithers UT Triple-A has a hyphenated middle name
Daric Barton 1B Triple-A finally off the 40-man and free to roam. I think
Deryk Hooker RP Double-A former Cardinal; future Pirate (I have no idea)
Dusty Brown C Triple-A 46 major-league PAs total; drafted in 2000
Jake Elmore IF Triple-A has appeared in the majors each of the last three years
Jefry Marte 3B Double-A acquired in the Collin Cowgill trade
Jeremy Barfield RF Double-A converted to pitcher, then converted back; 2008 draftee; good at Twitter
Kenny Wilson OF Double-A claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in July 2014
Marcus Walden RP Double-A started 11 games in Sacramento, then demoted to Midland and the bullpen
Nick Buss OF Triple-A apparently not a Lakers owner
Omar Duran RP Double-A big strikeout numbers, walks getting more and more under control
Philip Humber RP Triple-A would have put money on him making an appearance at some point for the A's in 2014
Ryan Doolittle RP Double-A missed all of 2009; might not be an FA because of it
Shawn Haviland SP Double-A good ol' Ivy League to MLB; missed all of 2013

  1. That's stupid, don't blame him. I'm the one who got it wrong. Blame me. 

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By Jason Wojciechowski on October 23, 2014 at 9:37 PM

Aaron Gleeman has helpfully compiled the list of Gold Glove "finalists" -- I still haven't figured out what "finalist" means in this context except that we know the list at each position contains the eventual winner. Just one A's player appears, Josh Donaldson, though Yoenis Cespedes is also a left field finalist and most of his defensive work (i.e. most of his splendiferous throws) was done for the A's.

Nor do the A's really have anyone who was slighted. Sam Fuld is a very good outfielder, but his 517 innings in center were the most he played at one position. (162 games x 9 innings = 1,458 innings, to give you a sense of scale.) Eric Sogard is above-average at second base but only played half a year of innings there. Craig Gentry is a part-timer. Josh Reddick missed 50 games.

And Coco Crisp ... well, that's an interesting one. He's been known as a good defender for a while, or at least as a good flycatcher with a limp noodle arm, but his numbers took an absolute dive this season: -13 FRAA, -17 DRS, -14 UZR, -7 Total Zone. Those aren't the be-all end-all, but when FRAA and Total Zone agree with the ball-in-play-based metrics, I tend to give the whole package a little more credence.

It's not hard to see where the drop comes from: Crisp caught way way fewer balls this year than he has in the past:

Year Putouts + Assists per game
2010 2.5
2011 2.4
2012 2.4
2013 2.8
2014 1.8

Whoa.

The Inside Edge numbers, which break chances down into probability bands (0%, 1-10%, 10-40%, 40-60%, 60-90%, 90-100%), show Crisp declining in every band. The numbers only go back to 2012, but, most precipitously, and also most intriguingly, check out the 1-10% band, which Inside Edge calls "Remote":

Year "Remote" plays made "Remote" chances %
2012 2 6 33%
2013 1 5 20%
2014 1 19 5.3%

Okay so there are some things to think about here. One of them is scorer bias. In 2013, Crisp had 47 chances labeled "impossible" and in basically the same number of innings in 2014, that declined to 30. So it's entirely possible that Crisp had something like 10 borderline balls switch ratings.

On the other hand! Inside Edge and BIS (which provides the data that forms the basis of DRS and UZR) presumably have different people watching/classifying the balls in play, and the drop in balls caught registers in the BIS-based metrics, so that might be an indication that it's not just error. (Unless, and let's here take some lessons from Colin Wyers, the classification systems are so alike that error is likely to be replicated across those systems.)

So I don't know. Coco caught fewer balls this year. That part is indubitable because we register one entirely objective statistic: putouts. He caught balls. He didn't catch balls. (That, incidentally, forms a large basis of FRAA.) On the other hand, how many air balls did the A's allow?

Year TBF In-play % In-play Air% Air balls IFFB% IFFB OFFB
2013 6069 70% 4248 59.9% 2544 16% 407 2137
2014 5971 69% 4120 53.8% 2215 14% 310 1905

(These stats are from Baseball Reference. If I knew off the top of my head where to get the raw stats, I'd just use those. Instead I have to work backward from the percentages.)

That's not an insubstantial difference. It's about 1.4 fewer outfield chances per game, which means 140 fewer chances to Crisp and his outfield mates in his 900 innings in center field. Breaking down the league range factors (there's probably a better way to do this), about 40 percent of those chances would go to center, so Crisp probably saw something like 55 fewer chances over the course of the year than he did in 2013.

Now, the statistics, especially the ball-in-play ones, account for this in the sense that they're only dealing in the first place with balls in Crisp's zone. He's not penalized for not catching those 55 balls that weren't hit to him. But in decreasing the sample, you're increasing the possibility that Crisp got bad luck on a weirdly skewed sample of difficult baseballs to catch. Which means that it becomes harder, despite the magnitude of the apparent defensive cratering we saw this year, at least in the numbers, to say "Crisp isn't what he was on defense" (and to therefore bemoan his contract).

There's also good reason to think Crisp's neck injury, which you'll recall began all the way back in May, had something to do with his defense. (Note as well his drop in steal attempts compared to 2011 and 2012, though double note that his rate was about the same as 2013.) On the other hand, he's always hurt. Always has been and, more importantly, always will be. If his injury was the reason he was -15 in the field this year, then we should probably count on that being the case until he hangs up the spikes unless there's some reason to think this injury was somehow special.

Maybe it was! I don't really know. It's all heuristics and guesswork and back-of-the-envelope math. There's only so far you can go with those. How far? Right about ... here.

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