FQQ is back for another installment. The subject this time? John Gizzi, a correspondent for ESPN.com, who follows the A's closely for his weekly fantasy reports.
Without further ado, here's Mr. Gizzi:
1. What's your impression of the A's inactivity at the deadline (although they did address their most pressing need by getting Dotel earlier)? Do you think that was a big mistake? Or do you think this team is good enough as is to get into the playoffs and if you do, do think they will finally push past the first round?
Most people who know something about baseball recognize the A's haven't lost four straight first-round series because they've lacked one or two key players. While it would have been fabulous for the A's to acquire someone comparable to Jermaine Dye, Jose Guillen, Johnny Damon, or Jason Isringhausen, would that have guaranteed anything? After all, the A's have acquired not only players comparable to those four, but also in fact those very four players, and they still haven't been able to advance.
OK, so what's the problem? To say that the A's take-and-rake/anti-little-ball style is to blame is simplistic. Joe Morgan, who, despite his best efforts to prove the opposite, does in fact know something about baseball, can quibble all he wants that the A's system "doesn't work in the post-season," but he's been proven wrong by Rob Neyer, among others. To say it's all bad luck is equally simplistic. Among last year's examples, luck played no part in Ken Macha leaving Rich Harden in to face Trot Nixon, nor did it have much to do with Terrence Long taking strike three to end the series. And in terms of the 2004 playoffs, that latter example is the good news. This year, when the A's enter October, T-Long will not be here--and that fact alone gives them a better shot to move on. Will they? If I knew, I'd be in Vegas tomorrow. Well, maybe Friday.
2. I'm asking everyone this question, and inevitably I get a different answer from almost everyone, but what do you think are Barry Zito's major problems this season? Will he fix himself in an A's uniform or will it be with another team?
Anecdotally, Zito is the same pitcher he was last year: his velocity is the same, his curve ball is the same, his change-up is the same. He's simply being drubbed every other start, for reasons everyone else has already made clear. The funny thing about Zito's 2002 and 2003 seasons was that nearly every peripheral statistic--except for his K rate--was the same. He just won nine fewer games, mainly because he was often out of the game by the sixth or seventh inning and the A's offense was too anemic to present him with a lead before he departed. But though the numbers were similar, nothing seemed easy last year, unlike in 2002. In that sense, Zito's 2003 and 2004 seasons have been identical.
My hunch is that eventually he will compile numbers somewhere between his 2002-03 and 2004 ones but that he will do it in a different uniform. Billy Beane has shown baffling loyalty to some players in the past--John Jaha, Frank Menechino, Jim Mecir, and Scott Hatteberg, for example--but those were marginal players at somewhat modest salaries. The A's will not be able to afford Zito, especially if he turns it around somewhat next year, which I believe he will. So they will triage and keep Harden and Blanton, rather than dole out the money for the "next Steve Avery"--an apt comparison perhaps, but premature nonetheless.
3. How would you grade the job Ken Macha has done this year? So many people are critical of Macha on a daily basis (then again, baseball managers should expect this) that you'd think this was a last place team. I think he's done a slightly above-average job, making some blatant mistakes, but also making good lineup decisions, like sticking McLemore in the second spot in the lineup and keeping Hatteberg in an ideal spot to drive in runs.
A teaser to a recent Rob Neyer column at ESPN.com reads like this: "The Billy Beane-led A's and the Buck Showalter-led Rangers are both in good shape for the stretch run." I didn't read the article, because I'm too cheap to sign up for ESPN.com's premium service (and because ESPN.com is too cheap to provide it for me), but the gist is clear: John Hart, who has done a surprisingly nice job rebuilding the Rangers, does not deserve the credit for making them contenders. That belongs to Showalter, who apparently just showed up and took the job; it seems nobody, certainly not Hart, hired him. Admittedly, Showalter had succeeded in New York and Arizona, so the track record was there.
But whoever manages the A's, be it Art Howe, Ken Macha, or Tyler Bleszinski, is something of a sinecure, subservient to Beane, who gets all the credit for building the A's machine. In that sense, Macha is the perfect man for the job. Other than his occasional micro-managing of the bullpen and his seeming unwillingness to let Octavio Dotel work in the 8th inning, Macha stays out of the way.
4. What do you think of the A's farm system and do you think that the system will be able to replace inevitable losses like Dye and Miller this offseason? Will we see Rose and Swisher in Oakland next season as replacements? How far do you think Blanton is away?
The A's farm system is, to say the least, deep. But how will that depth be used? For concrete talent, a la Bobby Crosby and Rich Harden? Or as trade fodder, a la Mark Teahen and Mike Wood? Next year, probably more the latter. In other words, I don't think Swisher will get the RF job. (Miller will probably be back.) Swisher probably would be passable out there, but if there's one thing Beane can be, it's stubborn. In that vein, Bobby Kielty will get the first shot to replace Dye. For one thing, he's cheap. For another, and more importantly, he was something of a Beane Quest--a poor man's Erubiel Durazo, if you will. The problem is that Kielty has the disadvantage of not being able to hit. (I won't drudge up the depressing stats; it's enough to watch Kielty fidgeting in the box, jumping at the ball with no sense of balance with his left-handed swing.)
Blanton? I know the PCL is a hitter's league, but his numbers, particularly the pedestrian strikeout rate (six per nine innings--decent for the majors, but it needs to be higher in the minors), don't look pretty. We'll see how he does next year, but if, for instance, Zito or Mark Redman were to be traded in the off-season, the A's should not be counting on Blanton to fill a spot in the rotation.
5. Did you think that Mark Kotsay was this good? I'm not sure if you get to see the team on a daily basis, but Kotsay has been the team's MVP in a lot of people's estimation. He's brought stability and a sense of calm to the outfield. Could anyone have seen this coming?
Did anyone think Kotsay would be this good? He is someone the A's have traditionally not pursued, especially under Billy Beane: a fundamentally sound baseball player. For lack of a better way of putting it, he's not the one-dimensional player Beane seems to covet. For all the talk about the A's dumping Jeremy Giambi because he was one dimensional, it's hard to get past the fact it's true, despite the obvious spin to cover that Little G. had become a pain in the ass. Let's look at some of Beane's recent acquisitions. Chris Singleton was one dimensional, that dimension being good defensively. Kielty is one dimensional, or at least he was supposed to be, but he hasn't really hit well in over a year-and-a-half now. Durazo? One dimensional, that being hitting, of course. T-Long? One dimensional, the dimension being that he is singularly awful. Miller was supposed to anchor the pitching staff defensively; anything he would provide offensively would be considered extra. And on and on.
But Kotsay is a complete baseball player: he doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but he's good at most aspects of the game. He'll take a walk, but he'll also drive a fat pitch early in the count; he doesn't have tremendous range in the OF, but he's not T-Long out there, and we know his arm is fantastic. He doesn't have Dye's power (or even Eric Byrnes's), but he can hit the ball over the fence. Etc. I lie firmly in the middle of the childish Moneyball vs. "traditionalist" debates, but I would rather see the A's get more Kotsays and fewer Kieltys and Durazos. Those latter players and other similarly "undervalued" types have their value, but so do players who can actually play baseball.
Thank you so much, John. We appreciate your time and hope to speak to you again during a long October run...if only.