By Jason Wojciechowski on July 31, 2015 at 7:38 PM

Has anyone asked Billy Burns why he's so dour all the time?

I'm glad Yoenis Cespedes is a Met. Going to law school in New York, a number of my closest friends being Mets fans, and marrying into a Mets family have conspired to make them my second team. I don't watch them that much (who has time for six hours of baseball in a night?) but I follow their goings-on a tiny bit closer than I do other teams and I'm a lot happier about their successful 2015 than I would otherwise be -- certainly I don't spend a lot of energy rooting for teams owned by people like the Wilpons unless I have a very good reason to do so.

But it's a little weird that Cespedes is already on his fourth team, right? He's a special case because he came into the league making market-rate money rather than being salary-suppressed for six years, but I can't think of a comparably good player who's been on as many teams as he has in as short a time. Moving around this much usually means you're waiver-bait.

I would like to have a thought about this trade deadline having the most trades in at least 18 years but I don't really. There are more tradeable assets than there used to be (slot money, competitive-balance picks) but all the slot money got traded around the time of the IFA signings and as I recall only one competitive-balance pick got moved (from the Marlins, who have now done that three times). The two Wild Cards thing makes more teams buyers, but it also makes fewer teams sellers, so it isn't clear how that moves the trade needle.

I'd like to say something about sabermetrics/Wall Street thinking pervading the game and turning players into assets to be moved about willy-nilly, but that has been increasingly true for a decade now; it's probably not something that hit a tipping point this year.

In all, until I hear a better idea, I'm chalking up the large number of trades to happenstance. A blip.

If you don't miss Bobby Kielty, I don't know who you are.

Madison Bumgarner may be a manly man who chops down trees and rides horses, but he could at least have dressed a little nicer to get married. If you can't put on a tie for your wedding, what'll it be for? They look nice! They're nice!

Same, kind of, for Mark Zuckerberg.

"Tact" is like social graces. "Tack" is like your course. If you've decided to go in a new direction on a project, you're trying a new tack, not a new tact.


By Jason Wojciechowski on July 31, 2015 at 7:08 PM

The non-waiver trade deadline is past, and the A's don't have the kind of players who might make the waiver-trading period interesting (think Alex Rios a couple of years ago or maybe Matt Kemp this season) so what you see is basically what we've got for the next two months, A's-wise. And what is that, exactly?

That's a starting rotation missing its second- (Scott Kazmir, traded to Houston for players who are a couple of years away from the majors) and third- (Jesse Hahn, on the disabled list with a strained forearm and not even throwing until mid-August, much less pitching in the major leagues) best starters. It isn't clear who replaces them. Sonny Gray is still here and still battling for a Cy Young Award; Jesse Chavez is still here and still battling to prove he can finish a full season in the rotation; Kendall Graveman is still doing whatever it is Kendall Graveman does.

Beyond that, there's Chris Bassitt, who may or may not have the command to compete in a major-league rotation, there's Felix Doubront, who the A's picked up after the pitching-poor Blue Jays designated him for assignment, there's Aaron Brooks, who I have decided is the new Brett Laxton and there's no convincing me otherwise, and then if you want to get past them or if someone gets hurt, there's Sean Nolin and Cody Martin hanging around Triple-A.

Out of every name I've just written, exactly two will compel me to watch their games in a lost season: Gray and Nolin. I will still watch, because I do, but you'll forgive me if I zone out and nap while Brooks and Doubront pitch.

Another thing the A's are now is a bullpen without its only good pitcher, as Tyler Clippard was exiled to Metsdom in return for Casey Meisner, who is both tall and 20 years old. What remains in the bullpen is ... well, why belabor it. Edward Mujica will get any save situations the A's stumble into, and R.J. Alvarez is back up from Triple-A to try to reclaim some of the shine he's lost in a rough 2015, but the rest of the crew is the same cast of characters that has helped turn this season from a pretty good one (431 runs scored, 397 allowed) to a terrible one (10-24 in one-run games).

Ryan Cook won't be back to "contribute" either, as Boston decided to take a flier on him, sending the A's a player to be named later in compensation. Cook seems broken, and apparently the A's decided they weren't going to fix him, so Boston's staff will take the next shot at it. If they can turn him around, his stuff is absolutely worthy of the late innings.

It's also worth noting that the actual best pitcher in the bullpen, Sean Doolittle, is throwing bullpens and such now. Without setbacks, I'd assume he'll be back before the end of the year; here's hoping he's his old flamethrowing, fire-breathing self, not the diminished version we saw briefly in his rehab games and in the majors before he headed back to the shelf. (Why do injured players go to "the shelf"? What else is on the shelf? Are there knicknacks?)

Pat Venditte is also out on a rehab assignment. I'd guess he'll bump Dan Otero back to Nashville.

Among the hitters, the only thing to get used to will be Ben Zobrist's absence. He was one of the team's three best hitters on the season, right there with Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt, with a little less over-the-fence power than both made up for in doubles, and of course Bob Melvin will surely miss his plug-and-play versatility, diminished though it was from years past: He never played shortstop for Oakland. The offense will suffer by virtue of "Eric Sogard, full-time player" and the defense will miss his presence in left field given the extra time Mark Canha will see, though that may be mitigated by the return of Coco Crisp, who went out on a rehab assignment four days ago. With Billy Burns locking down center field and Canha looking like a big-leaguer, I'd be surprised if Sam Fuld survives Crisp's return. (Though even with his 66 OPS+, Fuld's defensive skills and baserunning acumen might make him a waiver-claim target for someone with an available 25th-man spot.)

We'll talk about 2016 later.


By Jason Wojciechowski on July 6, 2015 at 8:15 PM

The A's have Made Some Moves about which I should Say Some Words. The theme of the two trades is acquiring minor-league relievers in exchange for international bonus slots. The meaning of the theme is that we shouldn't expect too much; these trades aren't even for cash, but for the right to spend cash on the international free agent market without incurring penalties. That's worth something, obviously, but I don't know if any of us know yet how much it's worth, and we're kind of relying on teams making the market over a couple of years of these trades to have a sense. Fortunately for you, I'm not of the mind that telling you whether transactions are Good or Bad is an interesting and worthwhile thing to do, so it doesn't actually matter, for purposes of this blog, how much international slots are worth. What matters is that the A's didn't want to use them or saw better uses for them in acquiring players who were already in organized baseball than signing some kids and wishing upon a star. (Which isn't to say that minor-league relief "prospects" are anything other than star-wishes, but they are undoubtedly a different type of star-wish.)

The other theme of the trades is that, four days apart, the A's acquired two minor-league pitchers from the Braves for two different international slots. That's weird! We could speculate: The A's thought they'd use the second one but then their targets were signing elsewhere so they called Atlanta back and said, "Actually, we'll trade it after all"; or Atlanta wanted the second one in the first place but didn't want to part with Aaron Kurcz but then finally relented when they weren't able to acquire the slot elsewhere for a price they preferred; or Billy Beane and John Hart just thought this would be hilarious.

The players: Cody Martin was a seventh-round pick in 2011 and was added to the Braves' 40-man roster this spring, whereupon he commenced to strike out major-league hitters at a nice rate (24 in 21 2/3 innings) but also walk a few more than is ideal (seven) and get hit pretty hard (24 hits, four homers, .357 BABIP). His dad was a professional pitcher, albeit not a major-leaguer, a fact that has been mentioned in each of the last three Baseball Prospectus annuals, and he's a pitch-mix type, someone without a standout offering, which makes his strikeout rate in relief for Atlanta a pretty nice surprise. As a minor-leaguer, he's been largely a starter, one with the strikeout rate (decent but under one per inning) fitting his type. The problem is that he doesn't have the control (over three walks per nine in his minors career) of a command-and-control guy, and he appears to get more flies than grounders. All of this adds up to, "Well, I guess this is why he was a seventh-round pick and then was available in the Rule 5 draft but not taken and then was available just for a bonus slot." He's made one start for Nashville already, striking out five and walking three (though one was intentional) in 4 1/3 innings.

Then there's Aaron "Col." Kurcz, who is already on his fourth organization: He was drafted by the Cubs, included in the Theo Epstein trade to Boston, then acquired by the Braves for Anthony Varvaro. He's had Tommy John surgery already, he's on the small side, he walks the world, and he gives up a lot of fly balls, but he's got a nice strikeout rate, and if you're whiffing 10 per nine in Triple-A, well, hey, that's worth a shot. He's not on the 40-man yet , though he'll be Rule 5 eligible this offseason if he isn't added. PECOTA threw a 2012 Brad Boxberger comp on him and 2012 Brad Boxberger was, depending on your metric, a major-league pitcher or just worse than one.

The victim: Nate Freiman was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man for Martin. All Freiman did the last two years in the majors was post a 100 OPS+, heavier on the OBP in 2013 and heavier on the SLG in 2014. He still didn't add up to even half a season of plate appearances over those two years, though, so it wasn't really much of a thing for the A's to send him down to Nashville when Beane managed to land his latest white whale, Mark Canha, particularly because Freiman is limited to first base (and he's not particularly spry even there) while Canha can lumber around left field and pretend he's capable of it. Freiman this year has been completely nothing, hurting his back and, when healthy, hitting .171/.225/.188 for Nashville. That's only 129 plate appearances, but it's the kind of line that, when you also see the phrase "back injury" in his bio, can end a career. League-average hitters don't grow on trees, even when those league-average hitters are boosted by a platoon-heavy deployment, but Freiman went unclaimed by the league. That's not a great sign.

Also: Chris Bassitt did his job filling in for Sonny Gray and acquitted himself well. Now he's headed back to Nashville. No corresponding move yet, but since the A's spent the last week undermanned on the position-player front, the word is that Jake Smolinski will be coming to Oakland. Perhaps, as a right-handed hitter, he will take at-bats from Sam Fuld against lefties.


By Jason Wojciechowski on June 30, 2015 at 7:55 PM

EDIT: I have learned that my queries in this article aren't really any good. I don't want to get into it, but the short is that they result in a (skewed, though in a way I don't recall) sample rather than anything comprehensive. I still like the Shea Hillenbrand comp, but basically just throw anything I even imply is "analysis" in the garbage.

Sonny Gray got sick and spent last night in the hospital, so he couldn't pitch today as he was scheduled to. The hypothetical man in the A's bullpen is Drew Pomeranz, but he pitched last night, so he was in no position to make a start. Nobody else in the 'pen is a starter, even on a part-time basis. Thus, the A's had to call for help from the minors in the form of Chris Bassitt.

Thus on top of thus, the A's needed to make a 25-man move. One thing they could have done, as suggested by friend-of-the-blog @ThanksBilly on Twitter, was send down Kendall Graveman. He started last night, so they could ship him out, have him miss one turn in the rotation, and bring him back after the requisite ten days in the minors. That's not a bad idea. I like that idea. Graveman's been pitching well, so you'd have to sell him on it, make sure he knows this is an emergency situation and he's on an arm-protection plan anyway (presumably) so the pitches he doesn't throw now, he can throw in September, when the A's have clawed themselves back into the periphery of the Wild Card chase.

But the A's didn't want to do that. Which leaves sending down a position player, because no manager in 2015 can have a short bullpen for a day. Heaven forfend! With Sam Fuld out of options and everybody else on the team at least a part-time starter, that left Max Muncy, who doesn't really have a role at this point anyway. As others have pointed out, he's not going to start vs. RHP over Brett Lawrie because what's the point of having Brett Lawrie if you're going to platoon him? You want his defense in any event. And he's not going to start over Ike Davis or Stephen Vogt at first because he isn't as good as them. And he's not going to platoon with Billy Butler at DH because ... well, that one I don't have a great reason for. Because Butler is making eight figures, I guess, and it'd be kind of embarrassing, even if it's already a little embarrassing for everyone involved that he's got a .259 True Average, a figure that'd be fine out of a second baseman but is very much the opposite of fine for a DH. But that's not going to happen, the platoon-Butler plan, so here we are with Muncy, no playing time, no role. Down he goes!

After Bassitt makes his start, Muncy can't come right back up, and the A's are short on infielders, with four for three spots, and most days all four are in the starting lineup, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Andy Parrino rejoin the 40-man roster at the expense of Arnold Leon or Jake Smolinski or Angel Castro come Wednesday. And if that happens, when does Muncy come back? Maybe after a Ben Zobrist trade, unless the A's get a major leaguer back in that deal? It's entirely possible that Muncy is in Nashville until roster expansion, which means it's entirely possible that the books are more or less closed on his rookie season. (He's not over the 130 at-bat playing time mark for rookies, but he has been on the big-league roster for more than 45 days, so by service time, 2015 spells the end of his rookie status.)

If this season is all she wrote for Muncy, it's not a great season: 88 plate appearances, a 77 OPS+, a 27 percent strikeout rate. We know rookies have ups and downs, but we also know that sometimes we're seeing the truth. The question, then: how often does a player have a poor rookie season, even in very limited time, yet go on to become a productive player? The Baseball Reference Play Index is here to help. I found 64 players who started their career with a sub-80 OPS+ in at least 80 plate appearances, yet went on to have a career of at least 2,000 PA and at least 5 bWAR. Twelve of those players are still active:

Player Positions bWAR
Adrian Beltre 3B 79
Torii Hunter CF/RF 50
Adrian Gonzalez 1B 41
Aramis Ramirez 3B 32
Brandon Phillips 2B 27
Carlos Gomez CF 23
Michael Bourn CF 23
Nelson Cruz COF/DH 19
Miguel Montero C 14
Brian Dozier 2B 13
Alex Avila C 12
Adam Lind 1B 10

The thing to notice about this list is that it has a lot of players who you can forgive being bad hitters. Hunter, Gomez, and Bourn are or were center fielders of some defensive repute; Beltre and Ramirez play the hot corner adroitly; Phillips and Dozier are middle infielders; and Montero and Avila don the tools of idiocy. This leaves Adrian Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, and Adam Lind as models for Muncy, and even Gonzalez is a much better defender than Muncy is reputed to be (and was in any event a no. 1 overall pick in the draft -- those guys get chances on chances).

Of the other 52 players on the list, here are those with Muncy-like defensive value:

Player Seasons PA bWAR
Paul Konerko 18 9505 28
Aubrey Huff 13 6786 20
Vic Power 12 6459 15
Ollie Brown 13 4012 11
Kevin Young 12 4352 6
Fernando Tatis 14 3468 6
Deron Johnson 17 6619 6
Shea Hillenbrand 7 3816 6
Harry Simpson 9 3138 5

Don't forget: These are the success stories. There are four figures worth of players who had a shitty enough rookie season to qualify for the initial list, and out of all those, the 64 from which the above two lists are culled were the only ones who had a successful career by the arbitrary definition I chose.

But Shea Hillenbrand! Two All-Star Games, nearly $20 million in career earnings, 229th in career hit-by-pitches ... that's a career to aspire to even if, okay, maybe he didn't have the best reputation as a teammate. Still.