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Let’s clear a few things up right now:

I am not interested in discussing Billy Beane -- his merits, his faults, his legacy as a GM, his choice of paper or plastic. I am not interested in pimping the future MVPs and Cy Youngs of Daric Barton, Kurt Suzuki, Omar Quintanilla, Huston Street, and other A’s prospects. I will not pile on Jeremy Brown. The peregrinations of the mass media and their supposed glee at the A’s missing the post-season in 2004 do not concern me. The accusations of pandering to the A’s by Baseball Prospectus and other factions of the analyst community? Intriguing, but this is the last you’ll hear of it in this preview. How the A’s may fare in 2006 and 2007? Again, intriguing, but the future will be here soon enough, and we will analyse it when it arrives. The pros and cons of buying a Chrysler? Of no interest, despite the greatness of a car with power steering.

For the purposes of this essay, I’m concerned with one thing: the 2005 Oakland Athletics. Not how individual players were acquired, not why they were acquired, etc. They are here, that is all that matters, so let’s look at their chance for success or failure in the upcoming campaign.

2005: The Season Of The Interesting

On the surface, no team is more interesting than the A’s. Among others, the Padres are an intriguing team in the National League, ditto for the Dodgers and Mets. In the American League, we have the Indians and Tigers, and one never knows what will happen in the Bronx. As compelling as those stories are, the A’s are more compelling. Why? They’ve gutted their rotation, broken up the Big Three, and handed three open spots to three unproven pitchers. They’ve assembled a high-powered bullpen, designed to make the A’s play six-inning games and to take the pressure off those very three question marks in the rotation. They’re relying more than ever on working deep counts at the plate, getting people on base, and seeing what happens, having added high-OBP catcher Jason Kendall to the top of the lineup, giving Nick Swisher the every-day job in right field, and toying with the idea of trading Eric Byrnes to clear a spot for Bobby Kielty, who the A’s still believe in. They’re counting on getting similar production from players like Mark Kotsay and Erubiel Durazo, who in 2004 performed above and beyond what they had done in the past. They’re assuming that Bobby Crosby will continue to grow as a hitter and as a -- Dreaded Intangible Alert! -- leader. They’re anticipating Rich Harden will migrate from “Very good” to “Ace.” They’re hoping that Barry Zito re-discovers consistency. They’re counting on Octavio Dotel to cease allowing game-winning home runs on fat sliders, to trust his fastball, to make adjustments.

In truth, however interesting all those scenarios are, the A’s will live and die by the contributions of three of the following people: Dan Haren, Joe Blanton, Dan Meyer, Seth Etherton, Keiichi Yabu, Kirk Saarloos, Justin Duchscherer, Kirk Dressendorfer, David Zancanaro, Joe Slusarski, and Todd Van Poppel. OK, OK, so those last four won’t have an impact on the 2005 season. They do, however, function as the Official Cautionary Tale of what can happen when one relies on rookie pitchers. But for the A’s, at a quick glance it would appear there is little to worry about. When a team develops four starters like Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Zito, and Harden, it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing with pitching prospects.

It hasn’t always been this way in Oakland. In addition to the Fabulous Four -- Dressendorfer, Slusarski, Van Poppel, and Zancanaro -- we can add the following failures from the ghosts of seasons past: John Wasdin, Ariel Prieto, Blake Stein, Brad Rigby, Chad Harville, Willie Adams, Erik Hiljus, Steve Montgomery, Don Wengert, Steve Wojciechowski, Aaron Small, Mark Acre, Jay Witasick, Doug Johns, et al. Quite a list of goons, and by no means unique to the A’s; every organisation in the majors could assemble such a lugubrious list of lacerated late luminaries. The outliers are Hudson, Mulder, Zito, and Harden -- touted prospects who have blossomed into stars. Credit must go to the A’s for drafting those pitchers, of course. Hudson was a sixth-round pick, however, and Harden a 17th rounder from a JC, so it’s not as if the A’s foresaw stardom. Hudson, in particular, looked liked your garden-variety prospect -- that’s a somewhat decaying tomato-plant prospect, not your brilliant blood-red-heirloom-plant prospect -- until he developed a split-finger fastball. But just as the floptastic failures of former A’s prospects is no guarantee of doom for the current crop, the smashing success of The Former Big Three Plus One is not jet-black proof that whatever the A’s touch turns to green-and-gold glee.

Maybe it didn’t have to be this way for the upcoming season, this reliance on young starting pitching. In the decade before Beane arrived, the A’s were masters at uncovering free talent on the mound, starters and relievers alike: Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Steve Ontiveros, Gil Heredia, Scott Sanderson, Dennis Eckersley, Billy Taylor, Carlos Reyes, and more. Not only did these players help the team directly, but their success also inflated their value to other teams. The A’s, for instance, converted Taylor into Jason Isringhausen and T------- L---. This was in addition to the free talent the A’s assembled on the offensive spectrum: Geronimo Berroa, Matt Stairs, John Jaha, Olmedo Saenz, Scott Hatteberg, Randy Velarde, et al. When you fuse some of the players above with the emergence of the home-grown talent of Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Byrnes, and the Big Three -- and when you toss in the trades for Jermaine Dye, Ray Durham, Keith Foulke, and others -- it’s not hard to see why the A’s made the playoffs four straight years from 2000-2003.

All that is well-documented. What is undocumented, and indeed cannot be documented, because it has not happened yet, is the A’s 2005 season. More than any other year, the A’s need their offense to excel. In 2000, when Mulder and Zito joined Hudson in the rotation, the A’s had a powerful lineup that finished third in the American League in runs scored, compensating for the fact that Mulder was not effective. In 2001 the A’s were also productive, finishing fourth in the league. Since then, however, A’s fans have had to:

• Endure Johnny Damon’s temporary escent into Neifidom.

• Witness Jermaine Dye’s transformation into a zero-legged out machine.

• Suffer through the unmitigated misery that is Chris Singleton.

• Yearn for the days of Ben Grieve, who looked like a perennial all-star after winning Rookie Of The Year in 1998, only to fall out of favour after hitting pathetic grounder after pathetic grounder to second base -- if they managed to get that far.

• Ponder the unique helplessness that is Bobby Kielty vs. right-handed pitching.

• Plumb the semi-abyss of Carlos Pena’s tenure at first base.

• Cull the depths of despair at seeing a game-but-corpse-like “Jaha, John” in the clean-up spot even though he was, in fact, operating on fewer than zero legs.

• Gnash their teeth, their neighbour’s teeth, and their neighbour’s neighbour’s teeth at the excruciating miasma of Jeremy Giambi, who didn’t so much know the strike zone as he was able to successfully hit one pitch -- the one down and in -- and nothing else.

• And so on and so forth.

The word I’m searching for to describe the A’s offense in the last three years is “mediocre.” The words I’m going to follow that word is “at best.”

Why will 2005 be any different? It won’t be. The A’s feature a lineup with one star and eight complementary players. As mentioned above, several of them -- Durazo, Kotsay, Hatteberg -- played over their heads last year, while several others -- Keith Ginter/Mark Ellis, Kendall, Byrnes -- are as good as they’re ever going to be. Overall, the team will drive pitch counts through the roof, but who will drive in those who have worn out starting pitchers and who have reached base due to their pitch-count-driving-up abilities? It’s often said that plate discipline, like speed, doesn’t slump. (And if it’s not often said, it should be said often. Or so says I. Often, in fact.) It’s also often said that teams like the A’s are dull. For long stretches at a time, nothing happens, like a talky independent movie directed by Whit Stillman (Barcelona), which is still infinitely preferable to anything directed by Christopher Columbus, where things in fact happen but with the unfortunate ancillary occurrence that those things suck.

As someone who has watched about 80 percent of the A’s games in the last 20 years, I can say that there is something to the “nothing happens” argument. A more accurate way of expressing it would be that things do happen, buy they tend to happen in bunches. Last year, for example, over the course of any given series, the A’s would draw myriad walks, bash bushels of homers, and score reams or runs. The next series? I can’t seem to remember, because I was:

• Cleaning up the smashed television after another pop up with the based loaded by a first-pitch swinging Eric Chavez.

• Wondering whether I left the iron on while observing called strike threes to Kielty.

• Musing on the perplexingpulchritudinousthomaspynchon as I obliquely observed Bobby Crosby swing through another high fastball.

• Pondering how someone -- let’s call him “Erubiel Durazo” -- could take such a vicious, vicious cut and hit the ball only 43 feet.

• And so on and so forth.

All this is to say that the A’s are a streaky bunch, and they have been more so since Jason Giambi left for the greener -- get it? Greener? More money? Wow, what comic genius! -- pastures of the Bronx. More than streakiness, which most teams go through, there simply has not been enough front-line offensive talent on the A’s, and what front-line talent there is tends to depart via free agency.

It should be clear what the A’s have had going for them these past few years: pitching. That is to say, good pitching, and not just from the Big Three. The A’s have boasted deep bullpens in the past, and it is a clear strength in 2005. But youth casts its clumsiness there, too. Huston Street could be good, he could be Ryan Wagner V.2005. Juan Cruz, who is not really young, could build on last year’s improvements, or -- Dreaded Unmeasurable Quantity Alert! -- his reputed problems between his ears may re-surface. There are other concerns besides these. Dotel could be the AL’s best relief pitcher, he could continue to yield ill-timed home runs. Kiko Calero will be excellent if healthy, only -- and forgive the cynicism here -- why should we expect that from a pitcher who missed some time last year due to rotator cuff concerns and who has been injury-prone in the past? Expectations, like Republicans and Hillary Clinton, are dangerous. Chad Bradford is out until May, which is not too long, except that he wasn’t very good last year. Ricardo Rincon is the Obligatory LOOGY, except in the last two years he’s had some problems with the “One Out” portion of that acronym. Justin Duchscherer is a real asset: he can start, he can close, he can work multiple innings in relief, he can provide financial security to the people who print letters that go on the back of jerseys. Sanguinary fiduciary considerations and my unfortunate predilection to pessimistic perambulations aside, the A’s bullpen is going to be good. In fact, it could be the best in the American League -- with or without Dotel.

This is a good thing, because we simply do not know about their rotation. (Yes, we’ve returned to the beginning.) At this time last year, some people were suggesting that, as early as the 2005 season, Rich Harden would be the best pitcher on the A’s. Rather prescient. Now if those same people had predicted that both Hudson and Mulder would be traded in the preceding winter, I’d be more impressed. At any rate, Harden is not only the A’s best pitcher heading into the season, but he’s also the only reliable one. It would not be a shock to see him finish in the top three in AL Cy Young voting. What about Zito, you ask? There is a strong chance that he will improve. But are you willing to stake your collection of Mannix re-runs on that? If you saw him pitch the last two seasons, you’d be less willing to take such ghastly risks. As for the other three spots in the rotation, it’s a fool’s errand to predict how they will do in 2005. Rookie/young pitchers struggling? Talk about something that has been well-documented.

Group A: Pitchers who succeeded right away

Roy Oswalt, Mark Prior, Johan Santana, Wade Miller, Barry Zito, Zack Greinke, Dontrelle Willis, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Jason Jennings, Rick Ankiel, Brandon Webb, John Lackey, Chuck Smith, Oliver Perez, Bud Smith, Carlos Zambrano, Noah Lowry, Adam Eaton, Brett Myers, Josh Beckett, and Tim Hudson.

Group B: Erm, not so good right away

Jeff Austin, John Patterson, Todd Van Poppel, Ben Howard, Jesse Foppert, Ed Yarnall, Colby Lewis, Jeremy Bonderman, Mark Mulder, Kyle Lohse, Brad Radke, Nate Cornejo, Dan Reichert, Brandon Duckworth, Dan Haren, Jeff Francis, Seth Etherton, Dennis Tankersley, Tony Armas, Kirk Dressendorfer, Matt Riley, John Smoltz, Casey Fossum, Jon Garland, Sean Burnett, Rob Bell, Joe Kennedy, Blake Stein, Greg Maddux, Clint Nageotte, Brandon Claussen, Roy Halladay, Bruce Chen, Justin Wayne, Jason Marquis, Joe Slusarski, Jimmy Haynes, Ariel Prieto, Jason Grilli, Javier Vazquez, Edwin Jackson, Matt Kinney, John Wasdin, Rich Harden, Kurt Ainsworth, Eric Dubose, Tim Redding, Kirk Saarloos, Tom Glavine, Mike Wood, Chris George, Randy Johnson, David Zancanaro, Ben Sheets, Cliff Lee, Ryan Rupe, Runelyvs Hernandez, Nate Bump, David Cone, Willie Adams, Justin Germano, Carlos Hernandez, Jesse Foppert, Jake Westbrook, Brad Radke, Erik Bedard, Jake Peavy, John Stephens, and Ryan Drese.

The remarkable thing about Group B? It’s not complete. (No doubt I’ve missed some from the first group, as well, for which I apologise in advance.) The remarkable thing about both groups? Other than the old A’s flops (and Hudson), they mainly go back to the start of the 2000 season. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “What the heck are Mulder, Randy Johnson, Peavy, Maddux, Sheets, and some other pitchers -- some of them are retired -- doing on that latter list? Not only did many of them debut before 2000, but some of them also are, or were, the best pitchers in the league!” Indeed they are. Indeed they were. Indeed I can’t go on. Indeed I will go on. And indeed all those pitchers in Group B for the most part struggled in their first extended attempt in the majors. (To be fair, Roger Clemens, Doc Gooden, Curt Schilling, and others who debuted before 2000 succeeded in their first years, but overall they comprise a minority, even within the pantheon of great starters in their generation.) Oh, sure, some of their individual numbers were OK -- Peavy’s K-rate, for example, Johnson’s height, Van Poppel’s bank account. And oh, sure, some of the sample sizes are small. But for the most part, these were not polished rookie seasons -- and many of those prospects came with the glittering statistics and every bit of the hype, if not more, than Haren, Blanton, and Meyer.

Taking a closer look at a random player -- let’s call him “Roy Halladay” -- from Group B, we see that his rookie campaign looked better than it was. (OK, so I’m cheating; Halladay’s rookie season was 1999.) He gave up a ton of baserunners and was, quite frankly, lucky to finish with the numbers that he did. But that caught up with him in 2000, when he was drubbed all the way back to A ball before emerging as the class of the American League three years later. Other players who were OK in small samples -- Cliff Lee and Carlos Hernandez, for instance -- were then terrible or injured or both when further exposed to the league. I won’t even get into the players not listed with careers already lost (Ryan Anderson) or in jeopardy (Rafael Soriano) because of injuries. Say it with me, kids: there is no such thing as a pitching prospect.

What the A’s are doing is bold, and in many ways one has to admire that boldness. But it is a mystery to me why “decisiveness” or “boldness” should be admired prima facie as character traits. What matters is whether something is the right thing to do -- a bewildering connotation on its own -- not whether it was done with “decisiveness” or “boldness.” It is possible to wake up one morning, boldly declare, “I am going to slash every tire in my neighbourhood,” and accomplish the task with gusto. Unless the tires were on Hummers, very few juries would be sympathetic to your “boldness.” Additionally, even if you’re acting in an innocuous way, there is no law that says your boldness will be rewarded. Asking the long-haired brunette from the corner coffee shop for a date may be a bold move, but that does not imply it will be a successful one. There is no correlation between boldness and success. The correlation of “boldness” to “risky,” however, is well-established.

Fearless prediction

While I say with a fair degree of certitude that the A’s will live and die with their young pitching, there are players not mentioned here (or maybe they are mentioned) who will have an impact on how well the club will do in the playoff chase. Whether or not the A’s are buying or selling, there will be some mid-season trades. Maybe several of them. The A’s could be buyers, sellers, or both -- another unknown event in a season of unknowns. About the only thing I’m willing to predict, in this preview, is this bland pleasantry: It’s going to be an interesting year in Oakland.

2005 Oakland Athletics Preview | 13 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Gerry - Monday, March 28 2005 @ 09:40 AM EST (#107701) #
I agree that it will be an interesting year. Boldness might not win you any games but it does get you attention.

When Billy initially traded the big two, he said it was with an eye towards 2006 and 2007, that 2005 would be a year to allow the young players to settle into the major leagues.

Somehow, over the past three months, Billy Mania has taken over, and now people are predicting Oakland to win the West. That prediction does not look good, when you combine the A's offense with rookie pitching.

Btw Gitz, you took a shot at Bobby Crobby, even though he was rookie of the year. Were you impressed by him, other than his tendency to swing at high fastballs?

Also I saw reported that Swisher reported to camp a lot lighter and now he is not hitting. Are the A's concerned with Nick?

Interesting, veeerrry interesting.
jsoh - Monday, March 28 2005 @ 10:06 AM EST (#107702) #
Infinitely entertaining

Cleaning up the smashed television after another pop up with the based loaded by a first-pitch swinging Eric Chavez.

I'm gonna have to quibble about this tho. You misspelled "Vernon Wells". HTH.


Mike Green - Monday, March 28 2005 @ 10:22 AM EST (#107704) #
90 wins and second place for the A's. While I admire Beane's off-season moves, the A's will need a fair bit of luck to win the division. On the other hand, the 79 wins projected for them by the oddsmakers is not a reasonable number.

The A's will have a fabulous defence, and probably a forgiving home park, for all their young pitchers. The infield of Kendall, Hatteberg, Ellis, Crosby and Chavez is probably the best in the game defensively. Mark Kotsay is one of the top 5 or 6 defensive centerfielders in the game. All this means that even if the young pitchers struggle some, they will pitch deep into games and their confidence will not take the same hit that it would take in Colorado.
best400 - Monday, March 28 2005 @ 01:47 PM EST (#107743) #
The A's have an excellent Bullpen, and a great bullpen can really cover the mistakes of a young starting staff, sure some of their hitters may have had fluke years, but we forget that their best hitter Chavez was out for 2 months and the A's stuck around.
The start the A's have is what will define the tone, if they start well the young pitchers will gain confidence and pitch better, if they lose hard early they'll lose some confidence and the whole team will struggle.
Pending a good start the team could have a 90 win season
Ben - Tuesday, March 29 2005 @ 05:13 AM EST (#107836) #
The Athletics should be very interesting to watch this year. They're definatly going to be boom or bust in most people's eyes. No one is going to look at the progress that people are making, everything will be focused on whether or not they win this year. If they dont, people will be all over Beane, and if they do, Beane will get labeled the genius yet agian. Honestly, this is a slightly better than .500 club with a lot depending on Chavez and Harden. If they are really as good as people think they can be, they have a chance. However, if they perform like they did last year, maybe a little better, than there is not chance of playoffs. It is going to be between the A's and the Angels in the West and the A's and Red Sox or Yankees in the wild card. They have a decent chance to win one of them, but its going to be very hard to do so. The A's dont have a Vlad Guerrero to carry their offense (at least not yet in Chavez) and their "ace" is viewed as a gian flake, not someone reliable in the Schilling/Johnson mold. I say "ace" because everyone is down on Zito and Harden might end up being the #1 by the end of the year. Either way this is like every other year, there is some confidence but there are also a bunch of question marks. My prediction: the A's win 92 games and finish second in both the wild card and the West, Beane is then called a giant fool and there is an extreme backlash against sabrmetrics as people slowly realize that the Red Sox won by spending a lot of money.
Chuck - Tuesday, March 29 2005 @ 10:32 AM EST (#107861) #
Honestly, this is a slightly better than .500 club

My prediction: the A's win 92 games

Ben, you seem to have changed lanes during your stream of consciousness!

Four Seamer - Tuesday, March 29 2005 @ 11:17 AM EST (#107865) #
My prediction: the A's win 92 games and finish second in both the wild card and the West, Beane is then called a giant fool and there is an extreme backlash against sabrmetrics

If the A's win 92 games, Billy Beane will be called many things, but "giant fool" will not be among them (except maybe by Joe Morgan).

And in what universe are people only slowly realizing that the Red Sox spent a lot of money on their way to winning the World Series last year?

robertdudek - Tuesday, March 29 2005 @ 10:59 PM EST (#108037) #
No, I think Gitz misspelled "Tony Batista".
Mick Doherty - Tuesday, March 29 2005 @ 11:54 PM EST (#108046) #
Ooh, there's a QOTD for you ... Name the greatest Batista in Blue Jays history.
Ben - Wednesday, March 30 2005 @ 04:54 AM EST (#108061) #
Ben, you seem to have changed lanes during your stream of consciousness!

Hmmm, I was trying to go for the whole "they should be about .500 but I'm insanely optimistic things will break right and they'll win 92". Guess it didn't really come across that way, sorry.

If the A's win 92 games, Billy Beane will be called many things, but "giant fool" will not be among them (except maybe by Joe Morgan).

Again, I'm overly optimistic, but I think most people will just look at playoff results. Also I think the Angels will probably clinch with some time and people will say that they relaxed and allowed the A's to catch up to 92 games. That they shouldnt have won that many.

And in what universe are people only slowly realizing that the Red Sox spent a lot of money on their way to winning the World Series last year?

In the universe that says that the Red Sox prove Jamesian theory in winning the Series, missing the fact that they spent a lot of money on premium players in the process.
Chuck - Wednesday, March 30 2005 @ 09:22 AM EST (#108069) #
In the universe that says that the Red Sox prove Jamesian theory in winning the Series, missing the fact that they spent a lot of money on premium players in the process.

Ben, I think you'll find that the posters in these parts are a little sharper than that.

Ben - Thursday, March 31 2005 @ 01:25 AM EST (#108241) #
Ben, I think you'll find that the posters in these parts are a little sharper than that.

Well, yea, I'd hope so. I'm speaking of the general world however
Chuck - Thursday, March 31 2005 @ 06:54 AM EST (#108245) #
Well, yea, I'd hope so. I'm speaking of the general world however

The general world doesn't know who Bill James is.

2005 Oakland Athletics Preview | 13 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.