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Friday, May 04, 2007

Picking Up (the) Pieces

A month into the 2007 baseball season the most interesting story to me is that of the injury-wracked Oakland Athletics team. So far this year, they've suffered injuries of various sorts to Rich Harden (their best starting pitcher), Mark Kotsay (their best center fielder), Milton Bradley (their best right fielder), Dan Johnson (their second-best first baseman -- though he's back now), Nick Swisher (their best left fielder and best first baseman), Mike Piazza (their best designated hitter and back-up catcher), Esteban Loaiza (their #4 starting pitcher) Adam Melhuse (another back-up catcher), Bobby Kielty (fourth outfielder) and Travis Buck (a Triple A outfielder) who performed well as an emergency call-up pressed into everyday duty.

In spite of all this, the A's have a 13-14 record and are holding down third in the AL West, a mere 2 games back of the division-leading Angels.

How are they doing it? Well, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton have looked great leading the rotation in the absence of Harden, and Chad Gaudin has done everything that was expected from Loaiza while Joe Kennedy has been serviceable at the back of the rotation (fortunately the schedule through April left little need for a fifth starter). And the bullpen has been strong. Yep, they've been doing it with pitching.

Their bats have sucked. It's been all ass-bats (a fine word coined by BatGirl) all the time. Which isn't surprizing considering the line-up flux -- must be tough to get an offense going when the components change on an almost nightly basis.

Through all this, Billy Beane, Oakland's GM, has never stopped trying to improve his team, for now and for the future. In the last few weeks, he's traded minor leaguers for Chris Denorfia (a fourth outfielder type who's out for the season -- and was at the time of the trade, he's a player for next year), and Ryan Langerhans, a good defensive outfielder and league-average hitter who can play all 3 OF positions well. Then Beane turned around and traded Langerhans to Washington for Chris "Doyle" Snelling, a good hitter and better than average defensive outfielder with a reputation for being injury-prone who was languishing on the Nationals' bench while lesser players started everyday (don't ask why he was sitting -- you can't know the mind of a squid). After the Snelling trade and the Piazza injury, Beane traded a player-to-be-named later (or cash) to the Orioles for minor league walking fiend, Jack Cust, a classic three-true-outcomes hitter with no defensive upside -- he's fit only for DHing.

I don't expect Snelling or Cust to be in the A's lineup all season, but I do think they'll be useful parts when they do play.

At The Hardball Times, Jeff Sackmann has an interesting article on Billy Beane and whether he's discovered a new baseball inefficiency to exploit. Whether or not Beane has found a new strategy is a fascinating question -- certainly most of his recent signings and trades seem to point that way. Other interesting (though perhaps moot) questions if the strategy exists are whether or not Beane consciously developed and pursued it, or if it is something he stumbled into while dealing with his team's injuries over the last few seasons and found a way to make work for him. Two things do seem certain to me: Beane shows no fear, and he is the most fascinating GM in sports.


Brenda Schmidt said...

All ass-bats all the time! Ha! That in itself might be enough to make me switch from hockey to baseball. I mean "ass-sticks" just doesn't have the same ring. Or feel...

John said...

You might enjoy reading BatGirl's blog, Brenda. Anne Ursu can write.

Zachariah Wells said...

John, would it be fair to say that you wish MLB was full of Beanes?

John said...