This is insane. Writing this, right now, is a fool’s errand. Two months ago I daydreamed about Blue Ribbon Committee findings; and sometimes when I drank too much, "Coliseum City". Tonight my dreams are more likely to be haunted with visions of myself riding a Unicorn with a naked Mila Kunis while jumping over a stadium filled with A’s fans celebrating a World Series win. Hey look it's Tom Hanks and E-40!
We are in a magical place ladies and gentlemen. This is one of those stretches teams go through that make you sure they are more than the sum of their parts. It makes you doubt all you know about statistical probabilities. It makes you throw out level headed analysis and start pushing all of your emotional chips into the part of your brain that controls hope for a Rudy Ruettiger, or a Buster Douglas, or a 2010 Giants type of long shot.
This team is freaking awesome. There I said it. I don’t want to hear about May, or April or how bad our 7, 8 and 9 hitters are. I don’t want to talk about staying on schedule or "windows" or ball park timelines. I just want to talk about how money the A’s are, how we got here, and how it could get better. So give your collective skirts a lift, because I’m about to blow some serious sunshine.
I won’t bore you by rehashing the details of our offseason. We all know the story, and not just from this most recent incarnation of tear down and rebuild, or rather rebrand, the dreams of a not too distant contender. Same script, same plot, thus far a very different result.
What’s Gone Right
The Amazing Rookies
· Yoenis Cespedes. He takes some terrible routes in the outfield, is the quintessential Latin free-swinger, has been banged up for much of the first half, and oh yeah he’s God. He’s the player every scout dreams of discovering, which makes him exactly the type of player the A’s never end up with. He’s built like Bo Jackson, Swings like Reggie Jackson and runs the bases like Action Jackson (underrated Carl Weathers flick BTW). Everything he hits, he hitshard. When he connects on one of his signature laser beams I fear for any object within that leather orb’s trajectory. Something is getting smashed. Like "Vlad the Impaler" before him, he will take some hacks at pitches two feet out of the zone, but also like Vlad, he has the ability to take a breaking pitch two inches above the dirt and send it into orbit two miles above the earth. Just ask Freddy Garcia who mouthed a slack jawed "wow" as he listened for a Cuban Missile to find it’s target on the second deck behind him. He had just buried a curveball in a place he must have thought no one could hit it. Roughly four nano seconds later that ball was testing the integrity of the concrete wall of the second deck( Here’s an idea, if Bud won’t let us have a new stadium we can just have Yoenis demolish the coliseum one line drive at a time). The scariest part for our opponents is that he seems to be getting better with a machine like efficiency. Most scouts worried about him adjusting to big league breaking balls. He’s doing just that, adjusting. His numbers have gotten better on breaking pitches per month April: .238, May: .188, June:, .257, July: .394 (h/t Casey Pratt on the research) and it’s obvious why. Ask Billy Beane, or Bob Melvin, or Chili Davis and they will rave about how he approaches each at bat. Strike out flailing? He doesn’t get discouraged, he gets determined. Note to pitchers in the AL: if you fool him once good for you. Try and do it again? Good for Oakland. 238 AB’s, .298 BA, .356 OBP, .882 OPS, and an OPS+ of 141! That last one takes the park into effect so it puts the first numbers into better perspective.
· Jarrod Parker: We should start with this: don’t get used to him in 2012. He’s within probably 60 innings of getting shut down. I absolutely cannot see the organization risking a kid with top of the rotation stuff, hell top of the rotation results, who is two years removed from TJ. He should be icing his arm and driving it through barrels of rice, or some such manly shit, in about 10 starts. Results so far: 7-4, 99IP, 3.00 ERA,,1.22 WHIP, 6.9 SO/9. Downside he walks too many guys but he’s 23 years old, under club control for another 6 years and should be wrapped in bubble wrap as soon as it’s prudent. Future Ace.
· Tommy Milone: This is the guy scouts laugh at you for believing in. They laugh and laugh right up until he wins 20 games…or gets exposed as a smart pitcher with too average of an arm to ever be special. In my opinion he’s at worst a middle to back of the rotation starter who can dazzle when the smoke is thick and the mirrors are shined and intelligently limit the damage when they’re not. Keith Law will tell you that he’s a product of the park. Keith Law is a lot smarter than I am. Keith Law can blow me. The sample size necessary to make a statement like that is much higher than 61 innings. He had two really terrible games on the road giving up a combined 15 runs at Fenway and Coors field. Those starts happened. I’m not trying to gloss over them but this is a rookie we’re talking about. A rookie with 140 career innings under his belt a 3.34 ERA, 1.195 WHIP and an ERA+ of 119. Yes he’s better at home. Everyone is better in Oakland (except for the 2012 Yankees, burn!). I’m not ready to crown the kid the next Maddux but I’m not ready to relegate him to merely a Coliseum side show just because he doesn’t throw mid 90’s. Yes, his margin for error is smaller but A’s fans have seen many guys with less than overpowering stuff paint the black en route to impressive heights of nastiness. If he’s a healthy version of Justin Duchscherer A’s faithful will rejoice.121.1 IP, 3.34 ERA, 1.195 WHIP and even without the overpowering stuff a respectable 6.4 SO/9
· AJ Griffin: OK this is getting ridiculous. We should not be talking about AJ freaking Griffin. Unlike Parker and Milone the guys in our draft room can pat themselves on the back for this one. Drafted in the tenth round in 2010 he’s currently dominating the bigs (albeit in a small sample) after only 280 some odd minor league innings. He’s here because in 2011 he developed an allergy to riding busses, and cheesy park promotions so he calmly climbed from A ball, to the AAA Rivercats while throwing 160 innnings of 1.1 WHIP and striking out a healthy 8.7/9. His stuff is not overpowering but the thing you hear most from scouts is that he has the ability to locate his pitches (seemingly at will) down and away to hitters from both sides of the plate. In our park, with our defense, that‘s a recipe for success. He’s been homer prone in the past and that’s bound to cause some problems, especially on the road. He should be able to pitch deeper into this season than Parker and maybe even Milone based on the strength of the 160+ innings he pitched just last year. 30IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.0 WHIP, 6 SO/9
· Ryan Cook: Here’s how I know we’re awesome. I just listed four rookies doing crazy good things for the Athletics and I hadn’t even mentioned our rookie All Star closer. The A’s are famous for producing quality closers. Eck, Izzy, Koch, Folke, Bailey the list goes on and on. It looks like we’ve got another name to add to that list. He has been absolutely filthy for the A’s with a sub 1 WHIP and an ERA+ of 236. I should temper expectations right away by saying this is most likely the luckiest Ryan Cook will ever be. The likelihood that he can continue to walk almost five batters per nine while keeping this rate of run prevention is very small. The good news is that he has room for regression while maintaining his status as a stud closer. If he can cut down on the walks and maintain that 9.2 SO/9 rate he could be the best in the West in no time. 42.1 IP, 1.70 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 2 sweet All Star Game K’s
· Sean Doolittle: If Parker, Milone, Griffin, and Cook are unlikely stories, Doolittle is getting struck by lightning, while being abducted by aliens on the same day you won the lottery, twice. I’ve been talking about Doolittle since we drafted him in 2007. He rocketed to AA in just his first full season of pro ball and looked like he was on the fast track to the big leagues. Nothing overly unlikely about that, except at the time Doolittle was a power hitting first baseman who hit 22 homers, and 40 doubles between A and AA. I had him penciled in as our 2009 starting first baseman. He could have singlehandedly saved us from the Daric Barton era. Instead his knees decided to self destruct and he spent the next two and a half years trying to get back on the field. Luckily Doolittle would not be denied. His knees wouldn’t let him hit, but at age 25 after five years of frustration he picked up a baseball and started throwing it by hitters at will. He started 2012 in A ball after exactly 1 IP in the Arizona instructional league the year before. All he’s done since is blast through 3 different minor leagues with a minuscule 0.72 ERA and ridiculous 17.3 SO/9. He finally reached Oakland in June and he hasn’t slowed down a bit. He’s not walking a ton of guys and his K rate has stayed red hot. 19.1 IP, 1.86 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 218 ERA+ and a 13.5 SO/9.
The Unlikely Cast of "Vets"
· Josh Reddick: After not living up to the hype that comes with any Red Sox prospect, Boston made Reddick the centerpiece of the trade for Andrew Bailey. Over 278 AB’s in 2011 Reddick had posted better than league average numbers, but without the power and patience the Sox were hoping for. I don’t know if it’s the Bay Area water, the fact that he’s getting consistent AB’s for the first time or just the 2012 A’s fairy dust but the energetic and affable Reddick has found his power stroke in the unlikeliest of places, the Oakland Colliseum. Minutes ago he hit his 22nd bomb (love morning baseball) of the year and it’s still July. The crazy part is he’s actually hit more home runs at home than on the road. We are talking about Oakland here, the flyball graveyard where Daric Barton couldn’t get one out with a potato gun. He’s playing great defense in RF and has taken to gunning down any runner who attempts to try him. He went from looking like a nice RF with potential to an All Star snub who’s top three in the AL in WAR. He reminds me of Swisher in terms of personality (slightly less annoying for some reason) and has helped keep the clubhouse loose and confident. 357 AB’s, .272 BA, .350 OBP, 139 OPS+
· Brandon Moss: Another Sox prospect who fell out of favor. Made his way to the A’s as a journeyman and possible fourth OF’er who hadn’t had a meaningful amount of AB’s since 2009. He came with zero fan fare and it stayed that way until he asked Bob Melvin if he could give first base a shot. All he’s done in Oakland so far is post an OPS+ of 150 while mashing 11 homers in just 110 AB’s. He’s held his own with the glove at first base and sports a .8 WAR (being that WAR is cumulative it’s very impressive considering his somewhat limited playing time). .255/.322/.609with the aforementioned 11 bombs while platooning with…
· Chris Carter: He was supposed to be Ryan Howard without the terrible contract. When he hit 92 HR’s in a three year span between A and AA we thought he could be the answer. When he followed that up with 35 homers the next year at AAA we knew he was going to fill the chasm that first base had become in Oakland. 114 Big League AB’s over the next two years left us wondering what had happened to the Paul Bunyan in white cleats we had been expecting. 41 k’s vs. 9 BB’s and an utterly amazing -12 OPS+ in 2011 (I honestly didn’t know that was possible). This year though? Oh, just a slashline of .279/.415/.721 and an OPS+ of 207 (I honestly didn’t know that was possible). If this is a dream I don’t want to wake up. Chris Carter looks like every bit the monster we had hoped he would be.
· Travis Blackley: My favorite Blackley story of the year comes from a random meeting with one of my best friends Jeremy in downtown WC. This is the same night Blackley beat the Mariners for his first win in like 7 years. We were about to play the Giants in the battle of the Bay.
Jeremy: "What do you do"?
Blackley: "I’m a major league pitcher for the A’s"
Jeremy: "Oh I wouldn’t know you I’m a massive Giants fan"
Blackley: "Yeah…I was on the Giants two weeks ago"
A couple of minutes later Blackley hands Jeremy two beers and says "Here is something to make you feel better after we kick the Giants ass this weekend"
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oi Oi Oi!
I keep writing off Blackley and he keeps going out there and making me look dumb. Scrap heap players like Blackley don’t make this type of turnaround years after they were last relevant…except when they do. Is he Guillermo Mascoso or Ryan Vogelsong? I’m done guessing but I will say that the fact that he’s a former top prospect probably bodes well for his chances at keeping this up. 63.2 IP, 2.69 ERA, .99 WHIP, 5.1 SO/9, and a 149 ERA+
Why This Will Continue
Ok, so we’ve covered most of the improbable reasons why we’re sitting here today. This has been a great story, a blessing bestowed upon a beleaguered fan base. So is that all it is? A good run by a scrappy team destined to fall back to the pack and return to dreaming about the future? I’m not so sure. Here’s why.
Reversion to the Mean
There will be some inevitable reversion to the mean for most of the players above. Fortunately for the A’s that blade cuts both ways. There are several regulars, thus far absent from this analysis, that have been falling short of even the most pessimistic projections. Kurt Suzuki, Jemile Weeks, Cliff Pennington, and Coco Crisp are all playing well below career norms. That’s almost half of our projected everyday lineup that has thus far fallen completely on their face in 2012. I can’t promise you that they will all turn it around this season but I would put money on that group collectively improving in the second half. Those four guys are no one’s murderer’s row but they are better hitters than they have displayed thus far. If the bottom of our lineup can become serviceable it would help make up for some of the regression bound to occur in other parts of the roster.
· Brandon McCarthy: The A’s currently have the best ERA in the AL and it isn’t all that close. We’ve given up a full 30 runs less than the next best team. We’ve done so with the aforementioned busload of rookies and a handful of unlikely vets. The "Ace" of our staff has been holding his shoulder on with duct tape while only managing 78 innings thus far. The A’s and McCarthy know the injury and managed it with tremendous success last year. He will never make 30 starts but he’s looking good in his current rehab assignment and he’s very close to rejoining the staff and giving us some more "Ace-y" innings. If we can get another 100 innings (optimistic) out of him bringing him up to last year’s total that would be a huge boost to this club.
· Brett Anderson: Probably the last time I felt this good about the A’s future was when a 22 year old Brett Anderson was one hitting a ridiculously stacked Red Sox lineup at FENWAY. That doesn’t happen to the Sox. They don’t get shut down like that at home by a mere kid. Except Brett Anderson isn’t your average young gun of a pitcher. He’s a college coaches son who’s probably forgotten more about pitching at age 24 than most pitchers learn in a lifetime. Combine that with "stuff" to burn and you have yourself a future Ace. In between that magical day in Beantown and today he’s battled elbow problems that eventually resulted in Tommy John. Apparently that is behind him now, a full year removed from the surgery and currently on rehab assignment. Our most talented pitcher may soon be back on the mound in Oakland. Just another Ace for the A’s.
· Dallas Braden: This soft tossing lefthander was never supposed to amount to much. Using a well located upper 80’s fastball, and a filthy changeup he did the impossible in 2010. Tossing a perfecto at the Coliseum (on mother’s day no less) and publicly telling A-Rod to "stick it" pretty much sums up every A’s fans wet dream. The injury to his shoulder is serious and the odds of a full recovery are probably long but I’m not going to bet against him. He’s a vet, a bulldog on the mound and he’s a great example for our current crop of soft tossers. He’s throwing now with hopes of returning before seasons end.
· Dan Straily: Shocking, the A’s have the minor league’s hottest pitching prospect. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches at this point. Strailey has gone from "sleeper" to strikeout king in one short year. He currently leads all of baseball in K’s with 171 in just 132.1 IP. He’s got a sub 1 WHIP at AAA and I don’t see how they can keep him down much longer unless…
· Trade Deadline: Billy recently told Tom Verducci that he’s "going for it". We missed out on Hanley Ramirez but the good news is, we were IN on Hanley Ramirez. There isn’t much out there currently and asking prices are steep but if Billy can turn something from our deep farm system into an infield bat for the stretch run? We might just be in business THIS October. How crazy is that?
There was a time when the Oakland A’s players were more than trade chips dreaming of their day in pinstripes, a time when the franchise was more than a broken side show for billionaire monopolists to argue over. There was a time when the story wasn’t told by Brad Pitt, didn’t revolve around the past opportunities and heartbreaking endings, a time when this franchise was the envy of the baseball world, when we churned out stars and wins that the big market teams dreamed about. There was a time when we cared more about home field advantage than territorial rights. A time when our owners still believed in our "Town" and our fans weren’t lost in a sea of bandwagon ballpark groupies in shiny new Giants gear.
As I see it, we now have two choices. We can try and keep level heads and prepare ourselves for an all too likely let down at season’s end, or we can say the hell with it, and throw our mind body and soul into believing again. I for one choose the latter. I choose to risk the heartbreak for the small chance at the seemingly impossible. We’ve lived long enough in limbo, in Bud Selig mandated purgatory. I’m sick and tired of waiting, sick of the status quo, sick of living in fear of contraction. I, for one, am hopping in this Delorian and I’m gonna floor it. And as Doc Brown said "if my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour….you’re gonna see some serious shit".
After all of that here is my second half prediction, to be recorded on the inter-webs for all eternity…
Oakland Athletics 2012 World Series Champions
-Queue the laugh track