A's Player Development, Slightly Disturbing

You see it in the game threads and recaps every day; Crosby strikes out three times while chasing pitches that were never in the strike zone, Ellis hits an infield pop-up with two on and no outs, Chavez watches strike three go by with RISP, ___ fails to lay down a bunt.  For the last 5 years  I feel like I've been reading the same game recaps every single day.  Maybe thats why I was so impressed by Cust for the first couple of weeks of the season.  He seemed to legitimately improve his approach at the plate. It appeared that he had shortened up his swing, was making more consistent contact, and wasn't striking out so dang much.  This doesn't seem overly impressive at first, that is, until you try and remember the last A's player you can remember making an improvement from the previous year.

Whether it be a player coming in from a trade or a guy that has come up from the minors it just seemed to me like no one ever seems to improve year to year.  Not since the steroid era players of the 1999-2002 teams could I think of a player on the A's roster who had seen consistent improvement from year to year.  Way too often on AN I've made statements like the one above only to be promptly told by the "stat" guys my visual observations deceived reality. So I decided to try and quantify this using some of the statistical software from a Six Sigma quality improvement class I've had this semester.  It's a bit of PITA getting the data in the correct format so thats why I'm a little short on it right now.  What I wanted to do was try and compare the progress of various key players were on the team for more than three years starting after 2002.  A lot of the tests are either a little difficult to apply to baseball stats, or are difficult to understand unless you don't have a strong statistical background, but one I found that provided some cool and clear results were some really basic time series plots. Like I said, since it was a bit of a PITA getting the data in the computer program I just settled on a few guys: Crosby, Ellis, Chavez, Kotsay, Scutaro, and Swisher.

The following tables are time series plots of the BA's, OBP's, and OPS's of the aforementioned players since 2002.




It's easy to see there is a clearly negative trend in every guy on there except Swisher, who was ironically traded.  I took it a step further with averages per year and did a trend analysis just to confirm the negative trend.




When the team is struggling like it is now, it's easy to look at past trades or managerial decisions in hindsight.  We can debate all day why Beane dealt Hudson, Harden, Blanton, and Haren for players that have yet to amount to anything.  We can question why Howe, Macha, and Geren have all seemed to be completely clueless at times. Again though, these are easy assertions to make in hindsight.  I don't have access to some of the premium websites like Baseball Prospectus to get detailed player data to determine if certain guys are underachieving or just aren't that good, but I'm fairly certain Daric Barton and Carlos Gonzalez were sure fire MLB level players.  Travis Buck and Ryan Sweeney's continued inconsistencies are also somewhat troubling.  Matt Murton and Charles Thomas never seemed to pan out.  Kieth Ginter anyone?  I don't even want to touch the guys that have left the A's and have since enjoyed success like Andre Ethier, Jermaine Dye, or Carlos Pena.

Anyhow, I'm beginning to wonder if there is something within the A's hitting philosophy that is messing with the players.  Maybe the guys Beane has been trading for actually had potential, but the teaching philosophy of the organization is getting to them.  Back in the day they stressed patience.  At the rate I see guys on the team take fastballs right down the middle and chase balls away, I get to think maybe they are still placing an excessive premium on patience driving up opposing pitchers' pitch counts.  I see a big problem with this when your team isn't loaded with 5 or 6 guys who are going to tally a double digit home run total for the season.

So what do you guys think?  Is there a problem developing hitters within the organization or are the majority of the guys in the organization just lacking in potential?  Also, if anyone has detailed information or  knows of any changes in the organization that may have happened at the start of the negative offensive downturn feel free to contribute.

Edit:  Ellis's stats skewed the data a little bit because of the absent data from 04.  I missed that when I initially made the graphs, so his data actually goes into 2009.  I purposely left the other guys 2009 stats out because of the small sample sizes, but yeah, Ellis's stats are off by one year, because there shouldn't be a point in 2004.

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