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Billy Beane Visits Athletics Nation May 2008 Edition Part III

You've already read Part IYesterday you read Part II .  Now, comes the conclusion of one of the longest interviews with Billy Beane I've ever conducted.

One note.  I meant to ask Billy about AN favorite and contributor Brad Ziegler but I forgot, so I sent him an email to ask him and his reply was, "On Ziegler we have definitely noticed how well he has performed and at some point, if he continues,  deserves an opportunity"  So keep up the great work, Brad and hopefully we'll see you with the big club sooner rather than later. 

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I do conducting it.  I feel extremely lucky that I get the opportunity to do this and I take the responsibility very, very seriously.

Enjoy the conclusion. 


Blez:  Back to the big league club for a moment.  Bobby Crosby had one of the best months he’s had in a long time in April.  What do you think he’s doing differently in the box to make him so much more effective?

Beane:  Well he’s staying in the box.  I mean he’s healthy and that’s helpful.  I’ve said this many times with you but he’s missed so much development time and people tend to get frustrated with injuries.  People expect him to come back and play like a veteran of four or five years and that’s really not the case.  One of the things Bobby is doing much better this year is that he’s going to right field much better.  He’s shortening up with two strikes.  He still opens up a little bit, but he’s had streaks this year where he’s really cut down on his strikeouts and done a great job with two strikes.  He did it just the other day with a double down the line.  When he goes to right field and he thinks that way with two strikes, he’s a dangerous hitter.  To me that’s the biggest thing.  He’ll still fall back a little and it’s something he’s aware of.  It’s something he knew he had an adjustment to make and at times he’s done a good job of making that adjustment.

Blez:  It’s funny because this past weekend, I heard a couple of Atlanta broadcasts and both times they were praising what a great player Crosby could be.  They said it twice how well-rounded a player Crosby was.  They mentioned it several times and I just thought it was funny how the people on AN and people who see him everyday just don’t have that same perception.  There seems to be nothing but frustration with Bobby.

Beane:  The first of it came with his injuries.  What comes hand-in-hand with those injuries was missing that development time and the frustration level also comes from the fact that at times, he’s very good.  People see him put it together.

Blez:  A’s fans have had that same frustration with Eric Chavez for quite a while.

Beane:  Exactly. The frustration comes from everyone realizing the ability is there and wondering when the consistency might come with the performance.  We’re not even two months into the season and this year I think he’s been pretty consistent.  I’ve said it to you many times but I’m a big Bobby Crosby fan because it’s hard to find that kind of talent.  You know someone who plays good defense, can run and have power and speed.  Especially in the middle of the diamond.  The one thing I’m privy to is how much he cares.  All those guys care, but some of them care a lot.  And Bobby is one of those guys that takes every game to heart.  Whether or not people are frustrated with him, if they saw the kid on a day-to-day basis like I do and knew how much he cared, I think he’d quickly become one of their favorites.  For me it hurts when we lose physically and when I see Bobby, I see how I feel in his face if he doesn’t perform well.  And he’s a competitor.  You talk about a god awful mood and a guy you don’t want to speak to if he doesn’t perform well, he’s one of them.  And I like that.  He wears his performance on his sleeve.  If he’s not playing well and the team isn’t playing well, you don’t want to be around him which is good because you want guys to care.  I know how much Bobby cares.

Blez:   How concerned were you with Jack Cust’s early season slump?  He seems to have gotten out of it.

Beane:  Yeah, he became player of the week and given where he started and where he is now, he’s made amazing progress.  He was still getting on base and was a little behind home run-wise.  But that’s the thing that has happened to Jack over his career.  People have pulled the plug on him when he’s struggled.  They’ve never allowed him to struggle and the guy hit 26 home runs last year when he came to us at the end of May.  He deserves the opportunity to struggle.  So to answer your question about how concerned I was, I believed he would get it going.  He was still taking some of his walks and Jack has been hitting since he was 18 years old.  I didn’t think that all of a sudden the bubble had burst.  That was why we kept him out there.

Blez:  Did you think it might’ve been one of those situations where people might’ve gotten a better book on him?  It seemed like they were throwing him nothing but offspeed, offspeed, offspeed.

Beane:  When you’re struggling, every guy looks bad on offspeed stuff.  Jack’s going to strike out there.  We know that.

Blez:  Do you mind all those strike outs from him?

Beane:  Well, we don’t like them (laughing).  But that’s who he is.  But the idea that Jack is going to turn into (former Pirate and A) Manny Sanguillen or a guy that makes a lot of contact just isn’t going to happen.  He does have a great strike zone and walks a lot and he has a lot of power.  That’s just part of the deal with Jack.

Blez:  Were you fascinated by Jack’s season last year in which he seemed to have three true outcomes any time Jack came up last year and that was a walk, home run or strike out?  Had you ever seen anything like that before?

Beane:  When (Mark) McGwire was here, it was kind of like that.  He actually had a tough year in 89 or 90, but you saw a little bit of it there.  But listen if you had nine Jack Custs in your lineup, you’d have a lot of home runs and a lot of guys on base. 

Blez:  You’d win a lot of games.

Beane:  Exactly, you’d win a lot of games. 

Blez:  Kind of like the concept of having nine Scott Hattebergs.

Beane:  But that was the beauty of Hatte, that he would take a walk or likely be able to make contact. 

Blez:  What I was saying was a reference to the concept of the winning team from Moneyball with nine Scott Hattebergs.

Beane:  Yeah, if you had nine Jack Custs, you’d have a pretty good offensive club.  That’s a lot of walks and home runs.

Blez:  I know Eric Chavez has been rehabbing in Sacramento.  Do you think we’ll see him on the field in 2008?  Mark Kotsay had a similar back surgery and he had stated that he never felt good all year long last year. Kotsay has been better since he’s been in Atlanta, but do you think it’s realistic that we’ll see Chavez this year?

Beane:  Oh yeah, I’d be surprised if we didn’t.  He’s felt great up until this point.  Given what Eric has gone through, everyone is going to be cautious and even cautiously optimistic.  He’s eligible to come off on May 27th.  That doesn’t mean we’re going to pull him off but I think the fact that he’s playing games in Sacramento is the best indicator. 

Blez:  Is he playing full games down there?

Beane:  He had four at bats and went two for four last night.  He’s DHed and done some field work.  It’s a very detailed plan on how to get him back out there.  It’s a long program.  The 60-day DL was the best thing for him because early on he was trying so hard to get out there as soon as possible.  When we pushed it so far out into May, I think it forced him to take a deep breath and say, well I can’t come back until the 27th of May any way.  He had to come out the other night but not because it had anything to do with his back or anything but his shoulder and leg was just dead.  He hasn’t been out in the field a lot so his legs were just crushed.  But so far so good, he hit a home run yesterday.

Blez:  I meant to ask this earlier when we were talking about him, but how does the situation work with his contract?  Do you have a chance to pick up the option on him that the Jays had?

Beane:  He was released so the option is wiped clean and we don’t have a chance to pick it up.

Blez:  We’ve talked a lot about the starting pitching and surprises like Dana Eveland and Greg Smith, but did you expect the bullpen to be as good as it has been so far?  Casilla in particular up until his arm injury the other day.  He was having an Eckersley-like season..  Andrew Brown was also great up until his recent struggles.

Beane:  Yeah, Casilla looked great.  I actually thought we were pretty good.  But the guy who has come up and been pretty good as a surprise has been Joey Devine.  We wanted him to get his feet wet with the organization and we knew we were going to call him up at some point but we didn’t expect it this early.  But he’s really taken off since he’s been here.  In Andrew and Casilla’s case, I don’t think we were really surprised.  Santiago’s always had that ability.

Blez:  He’s throwing 96 and 97 miles per hour.

Beane:  He’s had times, depending on his workload in the minor leagues, where he’s hit 95, 97 at times and depending on workload he’ll drop down to 90, 92.  And Andrew has been the same way.  I thought we had the makings of a pretty deep bullpen.  Keith (Foulke) has been a pretty nice addition too.  He’s pitched really well.  So to answer your question, I thought we’d have a shot at pretty good bullpen quite frankly.

Blez:  I’ll raise my hand and say I was down on the Emil Brown signing at the beginning just because I thought he was going to take some playing time away from the younger guys like Travis Buck and maybe even blocking Carlos Gonzalez had he broken with the team.  But Brown has proven to do something well that the A’s haven’t had the last few years and that’s hitting with runners in scoring position, although he has hit a little slump recently. 

Beane:  He’s not the only one, we had a tough offensive road trip.

Blez:  What exactly made him an appealing signing for you and does it make sense that a guy who may not be as patient as the rest of the lineup to force opposition pitchers to approach them differently.  Someone like Jay Payton comes to mind because I thought he was a nice fit for the lineup because everyone else would see a lot of pitchers and…

Beane:  He’d jump on the first pitch or something?

Blez:  Yeah, exactly.

Beane:  That’s a very good comparison actually.  Jay and Emil are a very good comparison.  They’re both aggressive in the strike zone.

Blez:  And they’ll lay off on occasion too.

Beane:  Yeah and that’s a pretty interesting comparison.  In Emil’s case, he’s played a lot too.  The last week you mentioned, he struggled a little bit.  But the thought was that he was going to give some of the young left handers a break against some left-handed pitching.  He’s swung the bat well though so he’s been in there every day.  I do think he could use a couple days off as well at some point.  With Emil, we drafted him so we had a background with him.  And originally when the season ended we thought there was a chance we were going to bring Shannon (Stewart) back.  Then Shannon wanted a longer contract than we wanted to give at the time.  It then looked like he was going to get it and Emil became available.  We didn’t have a right-handed bat so we needed a right-handed bat to offset all those young left-handed hitters.  And Emil’s always been a good RBI guy.  So we thought at the time we should jump on him because it was good value for us similar to what Shannon was the previous year.  We got him to replace Shannon, bring a veteran presence to the team and a guy who could hit left-handers. 

Blez:  He could also play center field.

Beane:  Yeah, in a pinch he could play center and all three outfield positions.  So far we’ve been happy and he’s a good guy too.  But we knew that since we had some background on him since he started in the organization.

Blez:  Talking about Emil leads to an interesting discussion that we always have on AN and many other places online.  It’s the notion of clutch hitting.  I don’t know if I ever asked you about it and I wanted to see where you come down on the fence on this one.  Do you believe in clutch hitting?

Beane:  Do I believe in clutch hitting?

Blez:  Yeah, is there such a thing as a guy who can be called a clutch hitter?

Beane:  I think there’s a better way to answer that.  I think ultimately most guys are going to, given if they have enough at bats, will probably hit close to what they hit for their career. 

Blez:  In other words, guys who are usually good hitters are going to excel in each situation regardless?

Beane:  Yeah, I think people have a tendency to define a guy as a clutch hitter because of a couple of at bats.  But I’m not sure that a couple of at bats are defining enough.  You need a lot of events or at bats and usually their stats will be what they normally are.

Blez:  Is there a way to quantify it?

Beane:  I know people are trying to.

Blez:  Emil seems to be one of those guys who has had good at bats when he has runners in scoring position. 

Beane:  His RBIs reflect that, but I still think that from a macro standpoint we’re still looking at a small sample size.  ‘Course every time I say this I think of those years where the Angels were incredible with runners in scoring position.  The Twins were always historically good.  I do think there is a certain style that lends itself to being good in those situations.  Obviously contact hitters are going to be good.  And those two teams because they had a lot of contact hitters were very good.  I remember when Ichiro, one the first years he was over here, he hit something ridiculous with runners in scoring position.  Now for a whole season it was remarkable what he did, but I think the next year he came down closer to what his career average was.  Every once in a while you have an aberration where an individual or team will keep it up for a whole year.  But by and large, I think a team or the individual are going to return to their level.

Blez:  You don’t sound like you’re a believer in clutch hitting then.

Beane:  I’ll tell you what, I used to rib my assistants more than anything whenever Marco (Scutaro) would come through.  I would tell them that we’d need to put Marco in for any of those situations. 

Blez:  He’s a really good example of a lot of A’s fans believing in clutch hitting because he seemed to prove himself a better hitter in those situations.

Beane:  I think his style of hitting worked well in those situations.  He was a good high fastball hitter and usually at the end of the game you have guys who have good arms and aren’t afraid to challenge guys.  That fit Marco as a hitter because he was a good high fastball hitter with a nice short stroke.  I think after a while you do start to believe in yourself in that situation, so yeah, he actually was a guy that I wanted up at the end of the game.

Blez:  This is my last question, but it’s a big one.  I know you probably don’t want to jinx yourself, but if this team somehow wins the AL West or even remains in contention for the AL West crown down to the final days of the season, is this your Sistine Chapel or Ninth Symphony?

Beane:  (laughing)  Oh God you can’t ask me that.  You’re probably right in that I don’t want to answer that in that we have so far to go. 

Blez:  I’m just saying hypothetically that if you guys are right there at the end of the season would you stand back and say, “This is my masterpiece.” 

Beane:  No, no, no.  I think a few people would be laughing at that comparison.  There is nothing in sports that can compare. 

Blez:  I’ve actually been there and it is breathtaking. 

Beane:  You were the guy flashing pictures, weren’t you?  (laughing)

Blez:  No but my wife’s aunt was trying to sneak some pictures and a small Italian lady came over and yelled at her.  (laughing)

Beane:  If I see a photo appear on AN, I’m going to know that you were the guy.  (laughing)  It’s been a balance.  We started out well, we have to respect that.  And we’re a major league franchise.  If there are opportunities, you have to seize them.  You mentioned the signing of Frank.  I have a responsibility to grab those opportunities but we’re really trying to build something that has legs and is long-term. 

Blez:  So let’s say you get closer to the July 31st trading deadline and you realize this team has hung with the Angels and even the Rangers as they suddenly appear to be making a climb, but you’ve hung right in there with those two teams and you’re right in the thick of things.  Do you make a decision to go for it?

Beane:  If we have a chance to win, we always have to take that opportunity.  But if it’s there you’re foolish not to do that.  Getting back to your original question, Tyler, it’s a ridiculous comparison (laughs).  We’ve accomplished nothing.  We’ve had a nice start and we’ve put some really nice players in the system.  We’ve had a positive start to the beginning of the season.  People who might not have been optimistic about the franchise or at least seen the situation we’re trying to create when we started this whole thing…

Blez:  Maybe are having their eyes opened?

Beane:  Yeah, exactly.  And that’s all that we’ve really accomplished.  We have so far to go.  We have so many things to go through and such a difficult road ahead of us that that’s the farthest thing from my mind.  I should say that I’ve very happy where we’re headed and the direction that we’re going in.  And there’s going to be some changes along the way and if somewhere along the way there’s an opportunity to win now or next year, it’s my personality to go ahead and grab that opportunity.  But we have a long way to go.

Blez:  I’ll just say this.  If the A’s wind up winning the AL West this year, my only post the day they win it will be a photo of the Sistine Chapel and an embedded MP3 of the Ode to Joy. 

Beane:  We do have a long way to go and I did say at the beginning that we didn’t have any expectations, but we also don’t have any limitations.  And that still stands now.  Our debate and you guys have it as well, is that we say that we’re going with young players and if we sign some veterans it throws everyone for a loop.  But if there’s a gap there we want to fill it up.  We’re trying to create an organization that gets back to having a group of young players who come through.  But if that group of young players comes along and there’s an opportunity out there tomorrow, you know what, you put yourself in a position to trade some young guys if you think you can win.  Then you have tough decisions to make.

Blez:  Good tough decisions though.

Beane:  Yeah because that means your team is playing well and the decision on whether to move a young player or not isn’t always easy, because we’ve moved some really good ones.  But in looking back and viewing those opportunities that it created for us, it’s something we’d do again. 

Blez:  I appreciate your time as always.

Beane:  Always my pleasure, Tyler.  And never compare anything I do to the Sistine Chapel.  (laughs)

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  I didn't do a good job of phrasing that last question to Beane.  What I meant when I asked him the question was more along the lines of, "If the A's win the the West, would this be the biggest accomplishment in your professional career?"  I essentially was making the comparison that the Sistine Chapel was Michelangelo's masterpiece of his life's work as was the Ninth Symphony for Beethoven (although music historians would argue the Fifth or possibly the Seventh as being better).  I explained what I meant to Beane after I'd shut the recorder off.  Bad phrasing on my part. Hope you enjoyed regardless of my poor phrasing.  - Blez]