- Shut down Chad Gaudin - now - for the remainder of the season.
- Do not - I repeat, do not - bring up Daric Barton this year, under any circumstances.
I several reasons for believing the A's should abide by both of these, and I hope you'll read on.
- I'm writing this on the heels of Gaudin's four-inning, 5 walk, 5 ER performance against the light-hitting Twins today, but I'm not giving a knee-jerk reaction, either. Gaudin was far more dominant in April and May than he was in June, and I expect that trend to continue.
We're an educated readership, so I can cut some corners in this summary...one of the greatest causes of young pitchers breaking down is a dramatic increase in workload from one year to the next. Gaudin threw 84 combined AAA and big-league innings last year, and he's already hit 113.1 after tonight's start.
Why is he walking more people lately? As a former pitcher myself, I'm guessing he's experiencing a little bit of "dead arm" - from his enhanced workload - and so he's having to nibble more than he did when his stuff was very lively in April and May. This problem will only get worse as the year goes on. "Dead arm" recovers from a period of rest (like, an offseason or a DL stint), not from continuing to pitch.
Contrary to what common sense would tell us, we do not want Chad Gaudin to throw 200 innings this year. He's only 24 years old, and even though he's been a starter before, it would be drastically poor mistake to make a one-year jump of 100 innings for a young pitcher.
In writing this, I'm suggesting that we as a team should consciously "punt" on this 80-win season that we're in the makings of producing. And, yeah, that's controversial - it's publicly announcing that we don't think this is a playoff roster. But what is the single-greatest "glass-half-full" element of the frustrating A's 2007 season? I'd say it's the remarkable discovery of a third excellent cost-controlled starter to pair with Haren and Blanton. And if we ride Gaudin into the dirt this year in the name of finishing 82-80 instead of 78-84, that would be colossally stupid. Because I can almost assure you that 200 innings of Chad Gaudin this year would mean a broken-down Chad Gaudin in '08, and perhaps beyond. I've read too much good analysis about baseball and young pitcher workloads to think otherwise.
- As for Daric Barton...
Aren't we glad that Beane wasn't as excited as AN was about that hot June? Barton's June was exactly that - a torrid month. Thus far in July Barton has been a very pedestrian .286/.310/.429. When fans evaluate their top prospects, they make the same mistake some big-league teams make - they are so excited to see that player reach his expected potential, that they leap at the first sign of him doing so. But that same logic is what got Alex Gordon rushed to the big leagues after one good spring training - a 70 at-bat sample size! Because of that over-excitement, the Royals are essentially wasting a cost-controlled year of one of the best hitting prospects in baseball in a non-contending year for them. Exacerbating the error in the Royals' judgment is that they moved a perfectly capable third baseman (Teahen) off of the hot corner in order to create a spot for him, thereby lessening Teahen's value. And the ripple effect of that decision is, it's effectively blocking an OF spot for Craig Brazell, who is leading the entire minor leagues in homers!
Hindsight shows that rushing Gordon on the basis of a small sample size wasn't prudent at this juncture, and neither would it have been to rush Barton after his spectacular June.
The best tact to take with Barton, who is still only 21 (!), is to do what the Brewers did with Ryan Braun, and wait for him to force the A's hand, just as Braun did Milwaukee's.
I'd still like to see Daric Barton do a few things:
a.) Play a full season of AAA baseball and have an OPS over 1.000. If he can do that, then we can assume with the typical regression, that he can be an .850 OPS first baseman or better at the big league level.
b.) Hit left-handed pitching well. He still doesn't do that. Do you want to start platooning a 21-year-old? I don't, because that becomes a catch-22, and it's one of the reasons Jacque Jones' career never really blossomed after reaching the big leagues at a young age: You can't hit him against lefties because he's terrible, but if you never give him any experience hitting against lefties, he'll always be terrible at it. So again, let Barton figure out how to do that for a full year at least in AAA. Why not wait until he can slug .480-.500 against AAA lefties, or two years, whichever comes first?
c.) This correlates with a) and b), but develop some home-run power, considering he plays a premium offensive position the A's will always need to get power from.
A month ago, I had a letter "d" on that list, which was, "discover if Barton can play third base." We now know he can't, or at least, the A's brass has decided that. In a span of three days in June, he made 5 errors at third, including one game with a "hat trick" at the hot corner. He hasn't been back since, and being committed to 1b full-time coincided with his mid-June offense surge.
But my point is, if we KNOW that Barton is locked at first base/DH, then he has to be that much better offensively. First base is the premier offensive position in major league baseball. This isn't like bringing up Miguel Tejada at age 21, when he has tremendous value simply by filling a vacuum we had and playing the premier defensive position on the field. You can swallow a terrible offensive season in that circumstance. If you bring up a first baseman, you have to be damn sure that he's ready to hit. And anyone who is absolutely certain of Barton's readiness is being overly optimistic.
To force that move - especially when we already have a first baseman in DJ who is making ~400K, has an .825 OPS, and plays good defense (the metrics suggest this), is RIDICULOUS.
So, here's what I've heard others say, and it sounds like a nice compromise: "Bring Barton up for a little while, see how he does, and if he doesn't, no worries - you can send him down, and you haven't wasted much service time at all." That's a pretty good argument, and it shows how sophisticated baseball fans have become in the last five years. (Did people used to talk like that about baseball before blogs?)
But that isn't a good idea, either.
It's unwise to even give Barton a cup of coffee this year. Here's why: A major leaguer uses up an "option" in each year that he a.) is on the 40-man roster, and b.) sent down on a minor league assignment. Options are tricky, and they are the least understood element in baseball in my opinion, and there isn't one website that tracks them, which why I'm going to make them the focus on my column for The Hardball Times in the coming months. But in brief...a player usually gets 3 options. In Barton's case, if we added him to the 40-man roster at his age, we'd get 4. Let's do some math, and present a near-worst-case scenario:
- Bring Barton up for java, send him down (option #1 at age 21)
- Barton struggles horribly in spring training, starts in AAA. Turns out he gets hurt, and spends the whole year there. He still uses option #2 at age 22, because he's already been added to the 40-man roster last year. (Yes, that's right - Javier Herrera is using an option year right now in Midland, and Jason Windsor's using one in Sacramento).
- Great! Barton's healthy again...but he needs to get his swing back. Turns out that takes an entire year. (Option #3 at age 23)
- Barton opens the season with the big club. He has a good few months, but then he hits a slide...he scuffles so bad that we need to send him down, for option #4. This happens all the time with 24-year-old hitters. Heck, it happened to DJ last year at age 26, and DJ was an excellent AAA hitter.
Here's my point in that scenario: By the next season, we've put ourselves in a position with Barton at age 25 where absolutely nothing can go wrong. He has to stick, because he can't get sent down. And it's very conceivable that Barton will not yet be the hitter that he is going to become by age 25. Look at 28-year-old Jack Cust for evidence of that.
I didn't even use the bleakest scenario possible in that Barton hypothetical. Heck, I had him only get hurt in one season. Teams lose players because they rushed them and exhausted their options all the time. Some of the success stories in the game right now - including Gaudin himself, and Jeremy Guthrie - happened partially because their previous teams rushed them unnecessarily, wasted a few of their options, and gave up on them from a combination of frustration and the lack of options that their own decisions caused them.
I don't want the A's to do it with their best prospect.
I get the sentiment. Seeing new prospects is fun, especially in a down season that won't yield a playoff berth. You want to see the future, and you want to see it now. It's human nature.
It just isn't an intelligent baseball move.