The decision to trade for Matt Holiday is still one that bothers me today, though at this point that horse has been flogged to the point that I can't be bothered by it.
Or can I?
Today Tim Kurkjian wrote an article on ESPN, discussing how the A's have largely closed the gap with the Angels during the off-season, and are now poised to be competitive for the division in 2009.
What struck me about this article is the emergence of a common theme I get from Beane's quotes regarding the A's moves this offseason: the importance of improving the offense so that pitchers don't feel as much pressure in winning games.
The major need the A's addressed was their offense. Last season, the A's were last in the major leagues in slugging percentage (.369) and batting average (.242), second-to-last in on-base percentage (.318), 27th in runs scored (4.01 per game) and 25th in home runs (125). They had only one player with more than 13 home runs (DH/outfielder Jack Cust hit 33). They had no one with as many as 78 RBIs -- the Angels had four guys with at least 78 RBIs.
Beane laughed and said, "4.01 runs per game? That seems a little high. You'd better check those numbers … obviously, it was critical that we address that for the young pitchers. You don't want them going out there thinking that they have to pitch a shutout.''
It seems like every time I see a quote from Beane regarding the Holliday trade or Giambi signing, this issue of protecting the pitcher comes up. Previously, I'd kind of written off Beane's statements about this subject as typical "safe answer" blather. That is, Beane can't say, "We traded for Holliday because our numbers show us that we are vastly superior to the Angels and we are going to run away with the f*@#ing division this year!" because if that doesn't happen he looks like an idiot. Similarly, Beane can't say, "we sold high Gonzales. The guy can't take a walk to save his life, and his defense is not as wizard as y'all think." But Beane can say he made the trade to protect his young arms. Hard to argue that. So the question is, to what extent should I believe him?
There are a lot of things to consider here:
Do pitchers really "go for the shutout" if they don't have good offensive support?
If they do, does it really matter? Does it mean they are a bigger injury risk for trying harder? Or does it limit development by not allowing youngsters to experiment with their approach?
Will Anderson/Cahill/Mazarro even be up in time to feel the benefit of Holliday in the lineup?