Archive for the ‘Oakland A’s’ Category

Buying And Selling

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

While Nats bloggers have been going back-and forth about whether the team needs another bat or another arm, Mike Rizzo seems to have made up his mind. They need both. Yeah, okay — that’s the right answer. But if Rizzo was pressed (and trade bait was short), what do you think he’d really want? Given John Lannan’s continued troubles and the uncertainty surrounding the return of any number of potential starters, the answer should be obvious: not only can you can always play Roger Bernadina in right field, but you absolutely need to; we’re never going to find out whether this kid can hit unless we put him in the line-up every day. Which means that the Nats should be looking for a pitcher to supplement their front (and only) two hurlers — Stephen Strasburg and Livan Hernandez. Let’s be honest. You never know what you’re going to get with Atilano and Martin, Olsen is just too tweaky too often to be counted as a stalwart, pitching messiah Jordan Zimmermann is a ways away from rehabbing and Ross Detwiler is still an unknown. That leaves Chien-Ming Wang (who won’t be here until July) and Jason Marquis — who has yet to show the team anything. So . . .

So who’s out there?

There’s Cliff Lee, who will be available once the cratering Navigators figure out that doling out $91 million in salaries for a last place team isn’t going to cut it. Lee is in the last months of a four year deal, and the Nats would have to look to sign him longer term, but our guess is that the Mariners will happily take good prospects for him — including Triple-A pitchers and Double-A position players that have a future. The Nats have either, and both. In exchange, the Nats would get a veteran fastball pitcher who could mentor Strasburg and an absolutely lights out number two starter (number one anywhere else), who can rack up some badly needed wins. The folks in Seattle say they won’t part with Lee without getting a big time power hitter in return, but that sounds like wishful thinking. Lee isn’t going to stay in Seattle after this year, especially to anchor what promises to be a development team of young prospects and remaining big contracts. It’s an ugly but pertinent truth: the Mariners will take prospects — or they can keep Lee and try to catch the fast disappearing Belinskys, White Elephants and Whatchamacallits. They’ll make the trade — maybe Mike will too.

Then there’s Roy Oswalt, but his contract is a nightmare: just over $9 million over the rest of this season, $16 million in 2011, and $16 million in 2012 with a club option buyout of $2 million. The Nats say they have money to up their salary ceiling, but Oswalt’s price might be a little high — particularly if (as expected), the Nats would have to pick up most if not all of the salary and throw in prospects. Bottom line: he won’t be cheap. But then, there’s always Jake Peavy. Don’t laugh: the former Friar has struggled with the Pale Hose and it appears he’s losing patience with wheeling-and-dealing Kenny Williams and the perpetually enraged Ozzie the G. He recently told a reporter that he would rather be traded than go through a rebuilding process in Chicago. Translation? “Get me the hell out of here.”

It’s hard to blame him: Peavy was a part of a rebuilding process in San Diego — and the team only started to rebuild when he left. Then too, the ChiSox probably look at the Peavy trade with some remorse; they dealt prospects to San Diego, one of whom (Clayton Richard) has turned into a front line pitcher — 4-3, 2.71 ERA. That’s a damn sight better than Peavy (5-5, 5.62 ERA). Ugh. The White Sox might try the same magic, trading Peavy for pitching prospects in the hopes of striking gold. The Nats could help. Of course, Peavy sports a huge contract ($52 million, three years), a teensy bit bigger than Oswalt’s which (for paperclip counter Mark Lerner) is always a problem. But in the end (and if you carefully weigh this out), the Nats could find a rental (like Lee) for some front line prospects or they could take the longer view (which is probably what Rizzo wants) and pony up some prospects and some cash. In either case, while none of these pitchers are going to come cheap, bringing any one of them aboard right now (or in the very near future) will probably mean the difference between a club that will continue its slow-but-certain downward spiral and one that might be able to contend — and fill the seats.

Bay Watch

Monday, May 24th, 2010

How odd is it that, just over forty games into the season, the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants — teams so different in outlook, history and raw talent — would have almost identical records? And yet there it is: after suffering through a gut-wrenching five game losing streak, the Giants (predicted in the pre-season as one of the elite teams of the NL West), are one game over .500, as are the Nats (at 23-22). If the Giants are so much better than the Nats (as baseball analysts would have once claimed), then why are they playing so poorly?

At least a part of the answer became obvious on Sunday, as the McCoveys struggled through yet another punchless contest — registering a terminally fatal 0-18 with runners in scoring position and suffering their second consecutive shutout. The loss was particularly hard to swallow, as it came against their White Elephant rivals across the Bay, who not only swept the interleague series, but made the Giants look downright silly. Here’s the key, at least according to San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy: the Giants can hit, but only sometimes and even when they do, it’s not when runners are in a position to score.

Giants fans are becoming impatient: with one of the most formidable starting rotations in all of baseball, the Giants should be winning decisively. They’re not. Bochy has responded to the team’s hitting drought by shaking up the McCovey’s batting order: dropping outfielder Aaron Rowand into the sixth spot and moving speedster Andres Torres to the head of the line-up. But even Bochy has doubts this will work — San Francisco’s problem is that it lacks hitters who can hit for power and average. Pablo Sandoval is San Francisco’s premier (and popular) young power hitter, but his batting average stands at .282 — hardly something to brag about. Aaron Rowand, signed as a free agent to anchor the outfield and drive in runs, is hitting just .242 while import Freddy Sanchez is struggling to remain above the Mendoza line.

A comparison between a line-up struggling to generate runs and one that knows how to put them on the board is sobering. The Giants have put 33 dingers into the seats, the Nats 39; the Giants are hitting an anemic .257, the Nats are chugging along at .265 — the Giants have driven in 160 runs, the Nats 191. Which is to say: a San Francisco front office that boasts a starting rotation of Lincecum, Cain, Zito and Sanchez (truly, the Nats have no one to compare), is now having to scramble to find someone comparable to Willingham, Dunn, Zimmerman and Guzman — anyone of whom would add more power and average to the Giants line-up than anyone they currently have. Which is why, in the weeks ahead, the Giants will begin to search for the hitting they will so desperately need to catch the Friars and Trolleys for the NL West flag. They must know — the price will be high.


Friday, May 14th, 2010

D5 — as in the fifth page of Section D. Section D is the Sports section of the Washington Post. Page five of said section is where I found the Associated Press story about Dallas Braden’s perfect game several days ago. And what was on the front page of the Washington Post sports section?  A story about a track meet in Philadelphia  — which was held last month. On the website the perfect game story was listed 16th — that is, the Post considered it the sixteenth most important sport’s story of the day. Dallas Braden’s perfect game was listed lower than “NCAA lacrosse,” “Redskins Insider” . . . and the “Chat Schedule.” Way to go Post.

To put things in perspective, there have been 19 perfect games in the last 130 years of baseball.  That’s one perfect game, on average, every six and a half years. Put another way, there are (on average), thousands of games between each perfect game. So a perfect game is a very rare occurrence; to say the least. You would think it would be worth it for Post sports reporters to conclude that it’s worth making a big deal about Dallas Braden’s gem.

This will always be a football town; that’s understood. But this is also supposed to be a great sports town. But you’d never know it from the Post.

Nats Take Chi-Town Series

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

In the “I can’t believe this is happening” 2010 season of your Washington Nationals, the late April three game series against the Cubs might stand out as one of the team’s best. The Nationals came into Chicago hovering at .500, and left two games over. The Nationals took two of three from the Cubs in a tightly played defense-and-pitching series of contests that (in retrospect) weren’t all that close. Oddly, the Nats not only won the series, they were the better team on the field. With a 12-10 record, the Nats are off to their best start since moving from Montreal to D.C. But it’s not just the wins that are surprising (or not, as the case may be), it’s the way the Nats are winning — getting solid starting pitching, playing tough defense and relying on a dependable “lights out” reliever.

The Nats 3-2 win on Wednesday at Wrigley was a model of how the Mike Rizzo makeover has taken hold: Luis Atilano pitched six solid, if unspectacular, innings, Adam Dunn ended the game with a tough near-the-boxes snag of a fly ball that kept the Cubbies off the bases in the ninth, and Matt Capps recorded his league-leading 10th save in a three-up-and-three-down final frame. Even the sometimes-shakey Brian Bruney looked good, pitching out of a two-men-on 7th inning. Bruney looked like he’s finally getting his fastball down in the zone, and gaining confidence. My sense is that Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman is desperately trying to keep his composure, while privately holding torch light parades on the team’s impressive start. “Our guys are focused and trying to play today’s game, not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow or down the road,” Riggleman said after the series. “They are just trying to win the game. Hopefully, it will add up and we win another one.”

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: “Baseball Tonight” commentators are starting to take notice of the Nats — focusing, most recently, on the 10-for-10 Capps. The “who would have thought it” comments are a reflection, mayhaps, of BT’s down-in-the-mouth view of Nats’ baseball. After L.A. dropped two of three in Washington last week, BT ran a segment on “what’s wrong in L.A.” — implying that it wasn’t a matter of what Washington was doing right, but what the Dodgers were doing wrong. The lone exception is Tim Kurkjian who, when not talking about Stephen Strasburg, is celebrating his Spring Training prediction that the team is worth watching . . . The Cubs looked just average in their series loss against the Anacostia Nine. The Cubbies pitched well, but their big bombers (and the entire team, for that matter) were held homerless. That’s almost unheard of in Chicago, and shows just how effective Nats’ starters have been . . . We’ll add this: Tyler Colvin looks like the real deal. It’s going to be hard to keep the Stan- Hack-in-waiting out of the line-up, or keep Alfonso Soriano in . . .

After putting it off for several months, I am reading The Bill James Gold Mine, the most recent trademark effort from the statistical guru and now Senior Baseball Operations Advisor for the Red Sox. As if I don’t get enough baseball (a Nats game per day, plus the MLB Extra Innings package — this week it was the fascinating Diamondbacks-Rockies match-up), I now finish the evening with a chapter of James — like slurping ice cream after a visit to Chucky Cheeze. His take on the 1974 World Series is worth reading twice, particularly if (like me), you don’t exactly have a love affair with Dodger play-by-play legend Vin Scully. Then there’s this, in the chapter on the Oakland Athletics, one of baseball’s most fascinating teams:

“Who led the Oakland A’s in Win Shares in 2009? Andrew Bailey with his 26 saves and 1.84 ERA? Nope, he had 17 Win Shares. Jack Cust and his 25 home runs? No, only 14 Win Shares. Matt Holliday before he left? Only 12 Win Shares. It was third baseman Adam Kennedy with 18 Win Shares . . .” That is to say, if you peel away all the controversy (and complexity) surrounding the concept of “win shares,” James is making the case that Kennedy was more valuable to the A’s in 2009 than franchise marquee players Bailey, Cust and Holliday. The notion is almost counter-intuitive. That said, James has a point about Kennedy, and players like him. My own non-statistical sense is that Kennedy’s value to the A’s last year and to the Nats this year is more simply put: while Kennedy is hardly flashy and does not hit the long ball, his steady experience pours concrete into the middle of the Nats infield and batting order. I just feel better with him on the field. At the end of the year (and barring injury), we’ll find that the Nats are more likely winners when Kennedy’s in the line-up than when he’s not . . .

Adam Kennedy #29 and Cliff Pennington #26 of the Oakland Athletics congratulate one another following their victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on August 29, 2009 in Anaheim, California. The Athletics defeated the Angels 4-3.

Dick Bosman’s 1974 “No-No”

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Not every Nats game is a trip down memory lane, but damn near. Before the first pitch of last night’s Nats-Rockies tilt at Nationals Park, one of me droogs (here they are, for those of you who’ve forgotten), told me about watching a no-hitter pitched by fastballer Dick Bosman in Cleveland in 1974. “You’ve actually seen a no-hitter?” I asked. He nodded: “A great game,” he said. “Fantastic. It was back in the early 1970s, 1973-1974, something like that.” Being armed with one of those hand-held doohickies, I looked it up. The game in question came on July 19, 1974 at Cleveland’s Memorial Stadium, when the Naps faced off against Oakland’s White Elephants. The A’s would go on to take the World Series in ’74, but on that July day in Cleveland they looked helpless against Bosman.

Bosman had a more than serviceable career: his fastball carried him from sleepy Kenosha, Wisconsin into the Pirates organization, and then into the McCovey’s minor league system. He ended up in Washington, where he had his best years pitching for the Senators. His best year came in 1969, when he led the AL with the lowest ERA and went 14-5. He won 16 games in 1970. But even at the age of 27 — when Bosman should have been at his peak — he seemed to be running out of gas. Bosman went to Texas with the Senators, but then kicked around until 1974, when he landed a starting role in Cleveland, where the no-account Indians were doing what they have been doing throughout their long and painful franchise history: searching for pitching.

July 19, 1974 was a warm day in Cleveland, but it was not killer-hot like it can be in Cleveland and there had been showers in the morning. Bosman was slated to start against Oakland’s Dave Hamilton. With some 24,000 looking on (Cleveland Stadium — built in 1931 — held 78,000 for baseball), Bosman went to work, facing a line-up of Oakland bombers. In many ways, this was a typical Oakland team, a mix of speed and power complemented by a deep starting rotation: Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi were at the heart of the order, with Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman and Dave Hamilton the primary hurlers. “Blue Moon” Odom added to the mix, though his best years were in the past. The Indians and A’s were locked up into the third, when Joe Lis gave the Naps a 2-0 lead. In the top of the 4th, Bosman fielded a swinging bunt from Bando, but his throw was wide of first, and scored as an error. As it turned out, Bando was the only A’s baserunner for the day — and the one baserunner that would keep Bosman from a perfect game. By the end of the 7th, Bosman had faced only one more than the minimum.

In the ninth inning, on the verge of putting himself in baseball’s record books, Bosman approached his catcher, John Ellis. “Catch me on your belly if you have to,” Bosman said, “but make me keep the ball down.” Ellis squatted behind the plate, flashing his glove on the ground, nodding at Bosman. “I told myself it was John and me now,” Bosman remembered, “and I concentrated on getting those last three hitters.” In the ninth, Bosman put the Elephants down in order, sealing his no-hitter and (as he hoped) resuscitating his career. [Here’s the boxscore] At the season’s beginning he had been on baseball’s junk pile and relegated to the bullpen. Now he was “in the books.” His teammates were ecstatic, and Cleveland fans chanted him off the field: “We want Bosman. We want Bosman.” He came out of the dugout after a time, and tipped his cap. “This is the culmination of everything I’ve worked for and dreamed about,” he said after the game. “I almost feel like I am dreaming.”

Bosman wasn’t long for baseball. In 1975, he was traded to the team he no-hit, with Jim Perry for Blue Moon Odom and cash. He had a good year with the A’s, pitching effectively and registering an 11-4 campaign. The A’s finished first in the AL West, seven games ahead of the Royals, and faced-off against the Red Sox for the AL pennant. The Red Sox crushed the A’s in three games, and went on to face the Reds in the World Series. Bosman saw little duty in the Red Sox post-season series, pitching to a single batter. The A’s released him in 1977 and he retired to his home in Florida. He spent the next twenty years in Florida, restoring antique cars — his obsession. He vowed to never look back. “When you shut the door on baseball, you have to keep it shut or it will never let you go.” Bosman has been a coach in the Tampa system since 2002.

Kennedy Now A Nat

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Adam Kennedy #29 of the Oakland Athletics is doubled off first base on a ball hit by Matt Holliday in the fourth inning against the Minnesota Twins during a Major League Baseball game on June 11, 2009 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Adam Kennedy

With Orlando Hudson going to the Twinkies, the Nationals moved quickly to sign 34-year-old Adam Kennedy, solidifying their defense at second base — and all but guaranteeing that (barring a trade) Cristian Guzman will be the team’s starting shortstop when the season begins. While the announcement is not yet official, Kennedy has said he is pleased to be coming to Washington — because he likes the way the team is structuring its roster. The signing of Kennedy, and apparently for a bargain price, puts the finishing touches on the Nats’ off-season, though Mike Rizzo admits that the team would like to add another starting pitcher. Or, as MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds said on Friday night: “Right now the starting rotation is Marquis, Lannan and question, question, question.”

The signing of Kennedy was necessitated after the Nats’ front office remained adamant on what they were willing to pay for Hudson, who was undoubtedly the first choice to fill the void up the middle. Hudson accepted a one year $5 million deal to play in the cold confines of the new Target Field in Minneapolis. What that might mean for snow dates aside, the Twinkies now look as solid as any team in the AL Central — and have to be an early favorite to win the division title. Not so the Nats, though it seems clear that the team’s off-season additions have more than marginally strengthened the team: then too, Kennedy was a bargain for one year at a reported $1.25 million, with a club second option year. “It should be fun — everybody kind of blending in and ready for a good season,” Kennedy said of coming to the Nats.

In truth (and though it might sound like sour grapes), Kennedy matches up well with Hudson. If the stars line up right, this could be the one signing that team looks back on as Mike Rizzo’s best off-season move. Both Kennedy and Hudson have a reputation for hard play and good gloves, both have experience on playing for winning clubs — and both are ready to recover their careers after suffering through sometimes strange interludes of simply not showing up. Last year, Kennedy hit .289 with 11 home runs, 63 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 129 games for the Athletics, but during the previous three seasons his presence and play were spotty — and only partly because he was slowed by injuries. His offensive numbers were mediocre. Maybe this was because in his last year in Anaheim (in 2004), Kennedy started swinging for the fences: his average plummeted, his on-field presence seemed an afterthought, and teams started losing interest. He tried to straighten that out last year: with positive results.

This is a good signing, and while a lot of Nats’ watchers might have preferred Hudson, Kennedy is a solid glove man at a good price. And honestly, if Hudson’s wrist acts up and if Kennedy can play more than the 129 games he logged last year, then this decision could turn into another Rizzo miracle.

Rockies Even Series; Trolleys Stun Redbirds

Friday, October 9th, 2009

The Colorado Rockies held off the rallying Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday to take the second game in their five game series, 5-4. The key for the Purples was an unlikely two run homer off the bat of catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who hadn’t had a four base knock since May. Torrealba’s knock was complemented by solid pitching from Rockies’ starter Aaron Cook and bullpen aces Jose Contreras, Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt, Franklin Morales and all-world closer Huston Street (above). The Heltons, who won during the regular season by counting on the bats of an unlikely mix of new heroes, depended on the bat of yet another unknown newcomer: in this case it was left fielder Carlos “Cargo” Gonzalez. Gonzalez — a former Showboat prospect and a throw-in in the off season Oakland-Colorado Matt Holliday-for-Huston Street trade — spent much of the last two seasons in triple-A, while Denver’s front office waited for him to pan out. Gonzalez got his chance this year, after a series of injuries made room for him in the Colorado outfield. On Thursday, the fleet Venezuelan went 3-5 to spark the otherwise sleepy Rockies’ line up.

When the Oakland A’s got Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies in the Huston Street trade back in November of 2008, they thought their search for a big bat was over: the Stillwater, Oklahoma native was a three time all star and three time silver slugger and he’d been named the 2007 World Series MVP. But Holliday didn’t seem to fit in in Oakland (he hit an otherwise anemic .286 with 11 home runs in 93 games), and on July 24, 2009 Oakland A’s guru Billy Beane swapped him to St. Louis for three top prospects: Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson. In St. Louis, Holliday tore the cover off the ball — hitting .353 with 13 home runs in just 63 games, and propelling the Redbirds into the post season. He was just what Tony La Russa ordered.

Holliday’s post season experience gave St. Louis the confidence they needed against L.A. With Albert Pujols and Holliday in the middle of their order and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright their big guns as starters, St. Louis was set to head into L.A. to face Joe Torre’s big bats. L.A. took the first game, with a surprisingly shaky outing by Carpenter. But St. Louis came back to dominate the second game: and it looked like the Redbirds were set to even the series at one game apiece. But with two outs in the ninth ining and St. Louis leading, the otherwise sure-handed Holliday dropped a sinking liner off the bat of first sacker James Loney to give the Dodgers new life. Casey Blake then walked and former Nats Ronnie Belliard singled home the tying run, before Mark Loretta’s short centerfield single provided the 3-2 walk off win. “It’s tough to swallow,” Holliday said after the game. “Obviously, I feel terrible. But I just missed the ball. It hit my stomach. I think I can catch a ball hit right at me.” The Trolleys now lead the series, 2-0.

“Kentucky’s” Last Gasp

Saturday, June 13th, 2009


Our friends over at The Nationals Enquirer speculate that we may be seeing the last of Austin “Kentucky” Kearns — and I’m inclined to agree. Kearns will be the designated hitter for the Nats in Tampa (though he sat the bench last night), but it could be the former Redlegs (sometime) powerhitting rightfielder’s swan song with the Nationals. Kearns continues to struggle to break out of a two year slump. The Nats have clearly run out of patience. What is so surprising about the built-like-a-ballplayer Kearns is that, with the exception of 2006, Kearns never reached his potential. He plays a passable rightfield; in fact, he’s an excellent defensive player. But watching Kearns play rightfield is like watching that little dog with the tutu dancing on her hindlegs: it’s interesting, but what’s the point? The truth is, he never learned to hit major league pitching.

Kearns was “Mr. Baseball” in Kentucky, emerging as a dominant high school pitcher. He was offered a baseball scholarship to the University of Florida, but chose to sign with Cincinnati, and the close-to-home converted outfielder was considered an exceptional prospect. He was drafted #7 overall in the 1998 amateur draft and spent three years in the low minors, where he showed considerable patience at the plate — and a high on-base percentage. But he never hit for power, which bothered the Cincinnati brain-trust. Baseball Prospectus noted that his power blossomed in 2001, and he was soon headed to the majors. But when he showed up in Cincinnati, he started acting like that brilliant but under-achieving child: a kid with enormous talent, but little show for it. The kind of kid that teachers take into the hallway: “Austin, you have so much potential.” And the power disappeared.

But they loved him in Cincy. There’s even a blog of his baseball cards (of which the one above is a good example). He was the home-grown talent who was going to lead the Redlegs to the world series. The bloom came off that rose fast enough and Kearns ended up in Washington. The trade, a Jim Bowden special, was considered a steal at the time, but the Nats are mightily tired Kearns just now. This year, Kearns is hitting .206 with three home runs. There seems little prospect that he’ll somehow reach his potential. After awhile, some .206 hitters are just that: they’re not under-achievers, they’re .206 hitters. Austin’s reaching the end of the line.

Five Things About Yesterday . . . fans of the appropriately named New York Chokes who are consigned to hell will be condemned to watch Luis Castillo’s dropped ninth inning pop fly against “The Empire” for eternity (“on no, not that, anything but that“) as penance for their sins. Don’t miss it. It’s priceless . . . There were three gems pitched last night out west and I tried to watch each of them, switching between games. You don’t get to see this kind of thing very often. In the first, Dan Heren pitched a complete game two-hitter against the Astros, throwing 112 pitches and facing 30 batters. The Showboats won, 8-1. Heren is so damn good it almost gives me cramps . . . in the second, Tim Lincecum pitched a seven hit shut-out against the White Elephants in Oakland. He threw 110 pitches, 76 for strikes and stroked a single with the bases loaded. The Giants won 3-zip. An unbelievable game . . . in the third, one of the game’s great underrated pitchers, Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez threw a 130-pitch complete game against the Mariners, beating them 6-4. Jimenez, who sometimes struggles with his control, is one of the best-kept secrets in the majors. If his arm doesn’t fall off, Jimenez could emerge as one of the game’s great pitchers . . . The Rockies (the Rockies!) have now won nine games in a row . . .  So that’s three complete games in one night in a division that, not counting the Trolleys, stinks . . . and one other thing. Out in Chicago, where Lou Piniella is popping bottles of Pepto Bismol, Milton “they’re picking on me” Bradley tossed an end-of-inning ball to his fans in the bleachers. The only problem was, of course, that it wasn’t an end of inning ball. It was only the second out. “I hadn’t seen that one before, I’ll be honest with you,” Lou said. Which is to say: Lou hasn’t been the manager of the Cubs for that long . . .


Steve McCatty and White Elephants

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

My friend and sometime CFG contributor DWilly (here he is) stood to applaud that Nats last night as the team high-fived each other after beating the Giants. “So that’s it for June,” he said. The comment was a corrective to the action on the field and in the stands, where the Nats win was greeted as confirmation that not only is anything possible, but evidence that the Nats can reel-off as impressive a streak in wins just as easily as they can reel-off losses. After all, the Nats had not only beaten the Giants, they had sullied the growing legend of Tim Lincecum: that the righthander just might be invincible. Last night he wasn’t.


The win came after a day of otherwise disheartening news: that Jesus Flores might be done for the season and that Randy St. Claire was being given his walking papers. The news on Flores was a blow to the Nats, who realize that they will now have to rely on the punchless bats of Josh Bard and Wil Nieves, while the St. Claire announcement seemed nominal evidence that the baseball adage (“you can’t fire the players”) just happens to be true. Commentators wondered how it was that St. Claire could be blamed for the performance of an underage and underdeveloped pitching staff. Then too, the challenges faced by St. Claire won’t change simply because his replacement, former Oakland A’s ace Steve McCatty, has taken his place.

Frank Rizzo said the reason that St. Claire was fired was because the pitching staff was not performing — a fairly predictable response. But Rizzo didn’t fully explain the hiring of Triple-A pitching coach McCatty to take St. Claire’s place. Presumably, he didn’t feel he had to: McCatty can coach young pitchers because he once was one himself. Well, maybe … but in truth, McCatty’s career was meteoric: it burned bright for a short if brilliant time, before sputtering out.

MLB Network’s tag-team of Reynolds and “Migraine” went into this a little bit last night, but it bears repeating. Oakland’s front office is notorious for developing good pitching, at the cost of suffering through fallow years with young arms that bring nothing but heartaches. The pay-off can be huge: once the arms develop, championships follow. The template is simple enough — get as much pitching as you can and let the best rise tot he top. The resulting “triumverate” can carry a team for years and perhaps even bring championships.
Steve McCatty was a part of the “second triumverate” of Oakland A’s pitchers that included Rick Langford and Mike Norris. This second triumverate was supposed to be a kind of rebirth of the first triumverate that had dominated the major leagues in the early 1970s. That first powerhouse included Catfish Hunter, Ken Holtzman and Blue Moon Odom. As fate, or talent, would have it, McCatty, Langford and Norris were as forgettable as the Hunter, Holtzman and Odom (and Vida Blue) were memorable. They brought success to Oakland, but that was about it. After seven years (or so), the A’s went back to the drawing board and replaced this second triumverate with a far more talented (and successful) “third triumverate” — of Dave Stewart, Bob Welch and Mike Moore (with Dennis Eckersley as the closer). From 1987 to 1990, Stewart was dominating — winning 20,21,21, and 22 games. Bob Welch, his SP mate, was hardly an amateur: he was 27-6 in 1990.
Langford, McCatty and Norris -- Oakland's Third Triumverate

Langford, McCatty and Norris -- Oakland's Second Triumverate

The White Elephants not only develop front-line pitchers, they know when to get rid of them – using their starters as effectively as possible for as long as possible before trading them off for younger fireballers who then become the next triumverate. As Stewart, Welch and Moore formed a third triumverate, their replacements (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito) formed a fourth. At the height of their power (not their pitching power, their earning power) Mulder, Hudson and Zito were let go or shipped out for young prospects, who now comprise an emerging fifth triumverate, one of whom (Vin Mazzaro) was on display last night. This new threesome is young and untested, but the potential is startling: Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro might not return Oakland to the days of Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue, but they’re as powerful a set of young arms as there is in major league baseball.

Steve McCatty is a part of this tradition and a believer in the Billy Beane template: draft pitchers, sign pitchers, test pitchers and pick the three best. And don’t stick with them forever. And just when they’re about to ask for 16 big ones over seven years, let them slip slowly away Zito-like, to teams outside of your own league — and preferably to the hated McCoveys.

Steve McCatty has been a part of that, has seen it, and knows the model. He gets it. There’s only one other question we need to answer: can he coach?

ZZ Tops

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Nats Win! Nats Win! Jordan Zimmermann came up from Triple-A just in time to save the Nats the humiliation of yet another loss, pitching a stellar six innings against the Tomohawks. Zimmermann may well be a “find,” though it’s clearly too soon to tell. Unlike the other Zimmerman, this one wasn’t expected to be an immediate star: he was drafted in the second round with the 67th pick in the 2007 draft. Before the Nats focused on him he hadn’t gained too much attention — pitching for Division III University of Wisconsin-Stephens Point.

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This “Zim” (or perhaps it should be “Zimm”) is a four-pitch guy: fastball, curveball, change-up and slider. He threw his fastball at 95 last night and was low in the zone — a requirement for any NL fireballer. Nationals Farm Authority (which is indispensible) has quite a bit on Zimmermann. We note he was taken behind Detwiler, Smoker and Burgess in 2007.

Jordan Zimmermann pitched on the same day that Ryan Zimmerman was given a contract extension, which locks him up for five years for about the same amount given by the Orioles to Nick Markakis. Nats 320 has good coverage of this and I have little to add, except for the comment that those who say that “Zim” has yet to have a breakout season are absolutely right: but so what? My wife watched the Nats press conference and noted that Kasten and Lerner “look really worried.” Their same-day “roster shuffle” netted four new pitchers, including Kip Wells, who has kicked around since 1998 — pitching for the White Sox, Cardinals, Pirates, Rangers, Marlins and Rockies. Z and Z are the future: Kip Wells is not.

During the press conference announcing Zimmerman’s new contract, Stan Kasten was damn-near eloquent: “This is a big thing today, I think,” he said. “We demonstrate our commitment to building this team the right way.”

So say we all.

White Elephants: One of the best games I saw pitched this year was between two no-names — A’s lefty Dallas Braden and Blue Jays newcomer Ricky Romero. (The Jays won 1-0.) That I would even mention this is saying alot; I don’t think anything north of Buffalo should even be in the league, particularly if the team is named after a bird and plays in a hotel. The only other Blue Jays game I watched “live” from the former Skydome featured a young couple out in the left field hotel suites overlooking the field; they were shagging their brains out, all in front of a national audience.

Braden and Romero are worth watching, but particularly Braden. His 2006 shoulder surgery doesn’t seem to have had an impact on his fastball, though it is clocked only in the high 80s. The key for Braden is location, and putting his slider on the inner half of the plate for righthanders. On Sunday, Braden gave up five hits in just over seven innings. But here’s the catch: he was outpitched by Romero, who is also a lefty — and also has had shoulder problems. A graduate of Cal State-Fullerton (a baseball assembly line), Romero was picked behind Matt Garza and Ryan Braun by that “baseball genius” J.P. Ricciardi. Ricciardi, who gave us Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells, was slammed for the pick in Toronto.

Romero and Braden are comers, it seems — the new breed of young lefthanders that could dominate in the junior circuit for the next decade.  Braden may well be a part of a new white elephant staff reminiscent of the Hudson-Zito-Mulder days. They’re not there yet: Sean Gallagher is struggling (an 8.10 ERA), as are Dana Eveland and Brett Anderson. But in the Sunday tilt, Braden threw 97 pitches, 59 for strikes. His outing against the Jays followed a similar effort against Jon Lester and the Red Sox, in which Braden threw 90 pitches, 60 for strikes. Trade him to the Nats.