Oh, Saturday. I miss you. I was so happy on Saturday. The A's had just defeated the Baltimore Orioles for the second straight day, they had improved to about 55 games over .500, and their odds of making the playoffs stood at 114%. Things just couldn't be better. Then, late Saturday night, they drank an Exlax colada at the local pub and spent the next 3 days crapping the bed. They dropped three games to the Orioles and Tigers, and looked absolutely pathetic in doing so. In the last game, they lost Brett Anderson for the final two weeks of the season. And, to really tie the "poop" analogy together, Coco Crisp came down with a case of pink-eye, which, according to science, is most commonly caused by having someone flatulate on your pillow.
The good news is, the sky stopped falling today. Oakland re-asserted its dominance with a 12-4 win over the Tigers, avoiding a sweep and making a statement to the rest of the league that they would not go quietly into the night. Still, though. I miss Saturday. But even more than that, I miss Friday, because Friday is when I got to represent Athletics Nation at Blog Day at the Coliseum.
Blog Day was created this year as a way to reach out to local bloggers and give them a chance to interview Athletics personnel. The A's appreciate the work done by the folks at sites like Athletics Nation, and this was a great way to give something back and say "thank you." Besides Nico and myself, there were representatives from sites including Athletics Farm, Swingin' A's, Bleacher Report, Section 925, and another prospect site whose name I can't remember. Continue after the jump to hear all about it!
Our day began at 3:30pm, when we were met by Oakland's Media Relations & Broadcasting Coordinator, Adam Loberstein (coincidentally an old college classmate of mine; go Aggies!). Adam took us to the room where they hold post-game press conferences, and we waited patiently for Bob Melvin to arrive. Melvin came off exactly as I expected; he's a very friendly, approachable guy, and he gave us his full attention and thorough answers to our questions. Athletics Farm has a full transcript of the 10-minute session, which I encourage you to read. My question for Melvin involved bullpens; does he think that traditional bullpen roles, like the designated 9th inning closer, are due to change in coming years as teams find more efficient ways to utilize their top relievers, or is he happy with the current set-up? His response (reproduced from A's Farm):
"It’s always a Catch-22, because you want to get the hot hand out there, you want to get the guys that are the best match-ups. Yet relievers are a little different breed. When that phone rings, the guy wants to have a pretty good idea when he’s coming in the game. If we have to change the role for a period of time, I think we’re more apt to do that than just consistently trying to match up. It’s a little different with call-ups when you have more options. But I think if you look at our late guys, our plus-game guys, they know when they’re coming in the game, and that I think is a comfort to them…confidence-wise for them, it helps them to prepare and feel good about what they’re doing, even though just looking at it statistically, it can be more of a match-up thing. So I think it’s a double-edged sword as far as that goes. I do like defining roles, but I’m not afraid to change them if we need to change them."
That answer falls pretty well in line with Melvin's track record this year. I think that he's found a good balance between embracing the traditional roles, while not being afraid to move guys around throughout the season to reflect who is pitching well and who is slumping at any given time. Sure, he uses the designated 9th inning closer, but he has shifted throughout the season from Fuentes to Balfour to Cook and then back to Balfour, all depending on who is the hot hand. Similarly, he knows who he wants in the 7th/8th innings, but he is able to play the match-ups between Doolittle and Cook (and sometimes Blevins) on a game-to-game basis. Neshek has a role (right-handed specialist), but he could be utilized as early as the 5th or 6th to extinguish a crucial rally, or as late as the 8th, as the situation demands. It's easy for us to deride traditional roles from the safety of our blogs, but I believe Melvin when he says that relievers require a certain comfort level which is gained by having a decent idea of when they may be expected to perform. Nobody is going to be perfect when it comes to bullpen management, but Melvin has certainly done a better job at it than Oakland's last two managers.
After Melvin's session, we went down to the field. The intention was for us to observe the manager's pre-game conference in the dugout with the regular media, but then something else happened: I saw Ray Fosse milling around nearby, looking bored. Now, Fosse lives locally, and I have seen him in public more times than I can count throughout my life. However, I'm the kind of person who generally likes to let celebrities carry on with their day, rather than bug them during their off-time. This time was different, though. This time, Ray was at work, and I was there to interview people. So, I called him over to shake his hand, and much to my surprise, he settled in and spent at least 20 minutes chatting with the group about what a blog is, his playing days, his great respect for Melvin, the confidence shown by A.J. Griffin, and more. Honestly, I don't remember many of the things we talked about, because I wasn't expecting such a long conversation and I didn't think to record it. The thing that stood out the most, though, was his admiration for Melvin. He's really impressed with Newbob's performance, his player management, and his generally classy behavior. As the brief transcript on A's Farm mentions, Melvin's players love him; Collin Cowgill would "run through a wall for that man," and Brandon Inge would "take a bullet for the man right now." I wonder how many players said those kinds of things about Bob Geren?
By the time we'd finished speaking with Fosse, Melvin's press session was long over. Whoops! Our next appointment took us back to the press room. Farhan Zaidi, Oakland's Director of Baseball Operations, joined us for 15 minutes. Rather than give you a full transcript, I'm just going to summarize his answers (A's Farm will have a transcript in the near future) (update: here it is). This was probably the most interesting interview of the day; Zaidi had some really good responses to a variety of queries. On Grant Green: He is encouraged by Green's improvement at the plate this year, specifically his reduced strikeout rate. He sees Green as a decent-to-likely candidate to make the team next year, with the only remaining questions being where he will play and what role he will fill. I asked him about what clicked for Carter and Donaldson this year, and, as you would expect, he was as baffled as we are. The moral of the story was just giving young players as long of a rope as possible, and hoping that they can enjoy immediate success upon a promotion so that they can build on it. I also asked if there was a strategy behind going after former top prospects (Moss, Blackley, Andy LaRoche last year), but he denied that there was any specific game plan to target those guys. They simply go after the best players that they can find, and sometimes those are going to be previous wash-outs who turned a corner at some point or developed their game in some way which made them deserving of another opportunity.
The next question regarded pitching depth, and it produced my favorite quote of the day: "We don't build a 5-man rotation, we build a 162-game rotation. These days, there are very few guys that you can just assume are going to make 34 starts and pitch 200 innings." I think that's a great mind-set. Even though an outside observer would look at Oakland's roster in June and see insane depth, with young guys being buried in the minors and a trade for a hitter seeming like an obvious move, the A's look at it and see contingency plans for injuries (McCarthy, Anderson), regression (Milone, possible Straily), and other unforeseen obstacles (Colon). Despite all of that depth from the summer, Oakland is now down to 5 starters, with no more immediately attractive options ready in the minors. Good thing they didn't deal from that perceived position of strength! (He didn't say any of those things after the quote; that's my own commentary.) On which young player has most exceeded his expectations this year, he chose Jarrod Parker. It's not because he didn't expect Parker to be this good. Oakland loved his ceiling when they acquired him, but Zaidi didn't expect this level of success to come this quickly after a recent Tommy John surgery and a 2011 season spent in AA. I can't say that I disagree; I wouldn't have guessed that Parker would stick this quickly, either. When asked about Straily, he said it was the pitcher's success in the Cal League last year which first got him on the radar. After that, his story is similar to Parker's; no one thought he'd get this far this quickly. A more reasonable expectation would have been for him to spend 2012 in AA, and then challenge for a spot at some point next year if everything went well.
The last question may have been the best. Zaidi was asked about Parker's workload coming off of Tommy John surgery, and whether or not Oakland has any kind of innings limit in mind. Zaidi said, in no uncertain terms, that he has seen no evidence which has convinced him that there is a certain universal innings cap for pitchers recovering from this particular injury, and that the A's take these things on a case-by-base basis. Sure, the Nationals have made their decision on Stephen Strasburg, and he respects their choice, but he/we aren't privy to the information that they are working with so he can't really judge their decision. For his part, he takes each case on its own merit, and lets the medical staff determine the player's health individually (as well as the player's own self-reporting). New information may come up in the future which changes his viewpoint on this topic, but until then, he has no interest in universal innings caps for pitchers recovering from TJ. We can finally put that debate to rest!
Our final interview involved two players: Brett Anderson and A.J. Griffin. Unfortunately, my memory card filled up partway through, so I only got the first couple of questions on tape, but one of them was the question I asked (h/t to Blez for the idea): Did Anderson think that his weight loss and improved conditioning had an effect on his pitching and defense? (I included the phrase: "Lookin' good, slugger," which drew a laugh from Griffin.) Anderson downplayed the importance of his physical shape, noting that he will never be fleet of foot, "regardless of if I look like Jerry Blevins or look like David Wells." All he could really say was that his body and his arm felt good, and that he was never "going to be Usain Bolt anytime soon," no matter what kind of shape he gets in. Overall, Anderson had a very laid-back personality, between his posture and the cup into which he was constantly spitting seeds throughout the conference, and he displayed the sense of humor which comes through on his Twitter account. Griffin came off as a very well-spoken, confident young man (I can call him that because I'm older than he is!), who simultaneously knows that he belongs here but doesn't take it for granted. I was very impressed with both of them.
With that, we wrapped up and got our tickets. I met up with an old friend from college (and long-time AN'er; whatup D-Money!) for a little pre-game, and then joined Nico to witness a wonderful Oakland victory on Star Wars night. (Note: Nico brings a radio to the game to enjoy Ken Korach's commentary while he watches. Respect.) The game was excellent, the fireworks were some of the best I've ever seen at the Coliseum (which is saying a lot, because they always have great fireworks!), and I wrapped up my evening by chatting with Banjo Man in the parking lot while the traffic cleared out. He's a funny dude, and he wants my tie-dye A's shirt because his identical shirt is 150 years old and full of holes. (Sorry buddy; much love, but it ain't happening.)
Best. Day. Ever. Thanks, A's!