clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Not just lottery tickets: Athletics first baseman acquisitions since 2011

New, 8 comments

Looking back since 2011, the Athletics have needed to acquire a few first basemen since the magic that was Daric Barton's 2010 season faded away. We know Brandon Moss, but who were the ones that didn't make it, and who are the ones still trying?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Since 2012, 12 players have started at first base for the Oakland Athletics: Brandon Moss, Chris Carter, Daric Barton, Kila Ka'aihue, Adam Rosales, Brandon Allen, Brandon Hicks, Nate Freiman, Shane Peterson, Stephen Vogt, Alberto Callaspo, and Kyle Blanks. None of these players were drafted by the Athletics.

Continuing my look back at the last few seasons of acquisitions, we'll find that the A's have essentially given all of their first base acquisitions a look.

  • July 31, 2011: Brandon Allen traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks with Jordan Norberto to the Oakland Athletics for Brad Ziegler.
  • September 27, 2011: Kila Ka'aihue traded by the Kansas City Royals to the Oakland Athletics for Ethan Hollingsworth.
  • November 19, 2011: Brandon Moss signed to a minor league deal and invited to spring training.
  • April 19, 2012: Brandon Allen selected off waivers by the Tampa Bay Rays. Was designated for assignment to make room for Daric Barton on the 25-man roster.
  • June 7, 2012: Kila Ka'aihue designated for assignment. Brandon Moss recalled from Triple-A Sacramento.
  • July 12, 2012: Matt Rizzotti signed to a minor league deal.
  • March 23, 2013: Nate Freiman, Rule 5 draft selection, claimed off waivers from the Houston Astros.
  • April 6, 2013: Stephen Vogt traded by the Tampa Bay Rays to the Oakland Athletics for cash.
  • July 30, 2013: Alberto Callaspo traded by the Los Angeles Angels for Grant Green.
  • May 15, 2014: Kyle Blanks traded by the San Diego Padres to the Oakland Athletics for Jake Goebbert and Ronald Herrera.

A refresher on the concept

The A's have not necessarily drafted the best player in the past, because the best player might not sign for what the A's are willing to spend. This will be diminished somewhat with the bonus money caps in place for the amateur draft in the current incarnation of Baseball's labor agreement, but it merited a mention in Michael Lewis' Moneyball, where in the 2002 draft Jeremy Guthrie was the top pitcher on Billy Beane's "if money was no object" draft board, represented by agent Scott Boras:

If the team didn't pay whatever Boras asked, Boras would encourage his client to take a year off of baseball and reenter the draft the following year, when he might be selected by a team with real money. The effects of Boras's tactics on rich teams were astonishing. . . . By finding the highest bidders for his players before the draft and scaring everyone else away from them, Boras was transforming the draft into a pure auction.

Billy couldn't afford auctions. He had $9.5 million to spend and Boras had let it be known that whichever team drafted Jeremy Guthrie was going to cough up a package worth $20 million--or Guthrie would return to Stanford for his senior year. The Cleveland Indians had agreed to pay the price, and so the Indians would take Guthrie with the twenty-second pick.

So I have taken to looking back at the last three years of player acquisitions to see how many trades it takes to find the diamonds in the rough that Billy Beane and his staff have turned up, making up for the signing bonuses the A's could not previously pay. At first base, we will find it did not take very many.

Baseball Prospectus has, behind its paywall, a way to split the advanced statistics on its website into batter handedness and into major or minor league level and rank the players according to whatever chosen statistics. Baseball Prospectus has a statistic similar to wOBA, called "True Average" or "TAv," which is scaled to batting average rather than on base percentage. Mark L. Smith of Talking Chop explains:

It is Baseball Prospectus' offensive metric. Like wOBA, TAv is a scaled metric, but instead of scaling it to look like OBP, it is scaled to look like BA. There are, however, some key differences:

  • It doesn't need a "+" metric because it's already scaled to league, park, and era. A .270 TAv in 2013 is the same as a .270 TAv in 1999. .260 is good, .300 very good, and anything above .330 is elite.
  • It's also a bit like SIERA in that it's a bit more complicated than its FanGraphs counterpart. All outs and bunts aren't equal, and strikeouts, for example, is a slightly more damaging out than a normal out. I believe it also accounts for double plays hit into.
Which is better? Again, TAv is likely better. It takes more into account - strikeouts and hitting into double plays are more damaging than other outs. But yet again, the difference between it and wOBA probably isn't great[.]

("Braving New Territory: wOBAddy, How Does It wRC?" Nov. 23, 2013)

Baseball Prospectus considers a .230 TAv to approximately represent replacement level.

What I have done is taken each non-pitcher the Athletics signed or traded for since July 2011 and will give you their TAv broken down into year, handedness, and classification (MLB, Triple-A, etc.), providing only those lines where a player acquired at least 100 plate appearances. I will also provide where that TAv ranks among those with at least 75 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, and 150 plate appearances against right-handed pitching, or where their TAv would have ranked if they qualified, and compare it against that season's .260 TAv.

Brandon Allen

Nico had this to say about whether Brandon Allen will save the franchise at the 2011 trade deadline, "He won't, but he might be quite good."

LHB Brandon Allen Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2010 24 AAA .327 90 19 67 28% .301 207 37 115 32%
2009 23 AAA .329 57 32 153 21% .285 169 107 181 59%
2009 23 AA .308 82 61 158 39% .308 190 49 170 29%
2008 22 AA .271 64 121 141 86% .312 120 34 188 18%
2008 22 A+ .314 99 40 144 28% .302 263 43 192 22%
2007 21 A .238 151 194 155 125% .287 409 88 185 48%
2006 20 A .228 134 186 140 133% .216 286 277 161 172%

Allen showed an ability to hit against both sides of the plate at the minor league level, a quality highly desirable for a first baseman. Unfortunately, it did not continue in the brief time he was up in the big leagues in 2011 before being waived and sent to the Tampa Bay Rays in April of 2012:

LHB Brandon Allen Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2014 28 AAA .330 82 27 156 17% .256 293 212 205 103%
2013 27 AAA .189 86 256 141 182% .299 398 53 188 28%
2012 26 AAA .281 38 115 186 62% .248 91 232 180 129%
2011 25 MLB .155 56 283 159 178% .281 139 102 190 54%
2011 25 AAA .282 118 94 155 61% .300 301 53 196 27%

Allen has continued to toil away in Triple-A, but the consistency he previously enjoyed on both sides of the plate has disappeared. He was strangely so-so against right-handed Triple-A pitching in 2014, yet impressive against left-handed pitching. Allen has not been on a 40-man roster since running out of options in 2012.

Kila Ka'aihue

The A's picked up Kila Ka'aihue at the end of 2011, and a few weeks into the 2012 season, Alex Hall had these notes on what we received:

Kila's minor league track record was inconsistent, and politely suggested "4-A slugger." He has essentially dominated at every level of the minors, but only when he was a little bit too old for each level. He killed High-A-ball pitching at 21, AA at 24, and AAA at 25+. According to that trend, he should be able to just destroy Major League pitching when he's 35. After getting jerked around by GM Dayton Moore (not like that, perv), blocked by Mike Jacobs (inexcusable), and then passed by Eric Hosmer (totally understandable), he was mercifully released and washed up on Oakland's Island of Misfit Toys.

LHB Kila Ka'aihue Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2011 27 MLB .231 26 229 159 144% .227 70 297 190 156%
2011 27 AAA .332 106 16 155 10% .263 282 183 196 93%
2010 26 MLB .258 47 174 171 102% .227 159 304 188 162%
2010 26 AAA .354 103 2 67 3% .379 170 1 115 1%
2009 25 AAA .283 171 104 153 68% .330 379 16 181 9%
2008 24 AAA .379 43 3 147 2% .335 94 12 190 6%
2008 24 AA .267 53 132 141 94% .404 319 1 188 1%
2007 23 AA .223 61 230 159 145% .296 192 60 188 32%
2007 23 A+ .221 63 203 138 147% .305 186 43 196 22%
2006 22 AA .232 62 197 153 129% .222 294 270 175 154%

Look at some of those rankings. In 2010 he was the best hitter in Triple-A, but replacement-level in MLB. In 2011, his game against right-handed pitching disappeared.

Daric Barton was actually the A's primary first baseman after Brandon Allen got shipped out, and then when Barton was optioned to Sacramento, Ka'aihue was the primary first baseman for four days before getting designated for assignment to make way for Brandon Moss.

LHB Kila Ka'aihue Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2013 29 AAA .213 72 234 141 166% .396 158 1 188 1%
2012 28 MLB .288 39 95 165 58% .233 100 271 184 147%
2012 28 AAA .338 79 19 186 10% .285 226 93 180 52%

Ka'aihue moved on to play baseball in Japan. He finished his second season with the Hiroshima Carp this year.

Brandon Moss

By the numbers alone, Brandon Moss was just minor league filler when he was signed after the 2011 season, with Kila Ka'aihue, Daric Barton, and Brandon Allen expected to compete for the first base job. Someone that never turned it on in his chance at the Big League level, yet showed inconsistent flashes of power, especially against righties, in Triple-A.

LHB Brandon Moss Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2011 27 AAA .314 138 31 155 20% .307 317 34 196 17%
2010 26 AAA .221 96 110 67 164% .282 244 69 115 60%
2009 25 MLB .223 62 242 168 144% .235 362 279 190 147%
2008 24 MLB .274 71 140 186 75% .244 192 236 181 130%
2008 24 AAA .250 44 177 147 120% .327 137 14 190 7%
2007 23 AAA .283 184 88 143 62% .290 372 80 196 41%
2006 22 AA .300 197 82 153 54% .292 413 73 175 42%

Then a funny thing happened, from Albert Chen's May 30, 2014 profile on Brandon Moss in Sports Illustrated ("In Oakland, Brandon Moss emerges as unlikely star for Athletics"):

Moss found out that it was assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi who was his impassioned advocate in the Oakland front office, pushing for the A's to give Moss a shot. "For someone to stick out his neck for a 28-year-old who had done nothing with 600 at-bats in the majors, that's bold," Moss said. What Zaidi had seen were Moss' numbers at Triple-A Sacramento. "The difference in flyball rates, walk rates, isolated power, there was an obvious change," Moss said. "Those numbers changed because there was an obvious change in approach over a two-year period. It's something I did work on. I felt that what gave me the best chance to succeed was to hit the ball in the air."

The rest is history.

LHB Brandon Moss Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2014 30 MLB .297 101 88 170 52% .286 479 87 183 48%
2013 29 MLB .244 88 215 175 123% .345 417 9 190 5%
2012 28 MLB .280 62 113 165 68% .349 234 6 184 3%
2012 28 AAA .269 84 146 186 78% .353 140 5 180 3%

Matt Rizzotti

Matt Rizzotti is the only one in this group that did not get to the Major League team, and he retired from baseball after spending 2012 in Midland, his third season in Double-A. Rizzotti's previous Double-A numbers suggest he should have been at Triple-A at some point in his career. So what happened?

Rizzotti was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 2007, the penultimate year of Pat Gillick's tenure as general manager before handing the team off to Ruben Amaro Jr. Amaro, in turn, basically gave Rizzotti no clear path to the major leagues as soon as he gave fellow left-handed first baseman Ryan Howard his monstrous extension that will take Howard through 2016 or 2017. Besides Howard, Jeff Larish and Cody Overbeck were ahead of Rizzotti in Triple-A at the end of 2011.

LHB Matt Rizzotti Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2011 25 AA .381 168 3 148 2% .314 419 29 195 15%
2010 24 AA .356 41 7 112 6% .360 174 1 133 1%
2010 24 A+ .281 42 71 106 67% .356 53 5 155 3%
2009 23 A+ .180 36 264 143 185% .296 364 65 186 35%
2008 22 A .308 93 47 142 33% .306 339 37 185 20%
2007 21 A- .271 68 18 23 78% .303 181 33 93 35%

Matt Rizzotti was granted his release from the Phillies, and signed a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins at the end of 2012 spring training. He got as high as Triple-A before he was released, and then signed with the A's on a minor league deal.

LHB Matt Rizzotti Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2012 26 AA .175 63 239 136 176% .319 223 23 177 13%

Rizzotti may have been a year or two too old for Double-A, but the A's might have given him more time in 2013 if he wanted. Of course, by that point, the A's had already found their left-handed batting first baseman in Brandon Moss, and were developing another in Stephen Vogt.

Rather than find another club, however, Rizzotti returned to his old high school, Archbishop Molloy in Queens, New York, as assistant coach after the legendary baseball and basketball coach Jack Curran passed away.

Nate Freiman

Six-eight Nate was a double castoff. Not good enough for the San Diego Padres to protect him from the Rule 5 draft after making the Texas League All-Star Team, and not good enough for the Houston Astros to retain on their major league roster in a year where they played Chris Carter, Brett Wallace, and Carlos Pena at first base.

RHB Nate Freiman Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2012 25 AA .387 129 3 136 2% .299 452 52 177 29%
2011 24 A+ .361 141 10 142 7% .272 477 133 174 76%
2010 23 A .293 86 30 52 58% .277 261 89 132 67%
2009 22 A- .231 72 36 28 129% .336 249 8 83 10%

Nate Freiman was always going to be, in 2013, used only against left-handed pitching, but you can see that given time he could still be acceptable against right-handed pitching.

RHB Nate Freiman Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2014 27 AAA .269 100 132 170 78% .329 264 12 183 7%
2013 26 MLB .293 162 83 175 47% .150 46 344 190 181%

And in Triple-A, Freiman was remarkably good against right-handed pitching. Can that be sustained? Where do the A's want him to figure that out? Freiman has two option years left, which means he'll likely be in Nashville to give it another go.

Kyle Blanks

The Daric Barton Experience finally ended on May 15, 2014 when the A's shipped Daric Barton to Sacramento to become a legendary River Cat and acquired Kyle Blanks from the San Diego Padres. In Blanks, they picked up a big right-handed batting first baseman and corner outfielder that had demonstrated an ability to hit against both hands of pitching at every minor league level, but had trouble adjusting to Major League righties.

RHB Kyle Blanks Age Class
TAv
v. LHP
PA
Rank
(min.
75 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
75 PA)
%
TAv
v. RHP
PA
Rank
(min.
150 PA)
.260 Rank
(min.
150 PA)
%
2013 26 MLB .294 118 81 175 46% .232 190 280 190 147%
2011 24 AAA .425 39 1 155 1% .338 113 9 196 5%
2011 24 AA .336 74 22 148 15% .246 127 250 195 128%
2010 23 MLB .354 31 14 171 8% .208 89 328 188 174%
2009 22 MLB .237 46 215 168 128% .330 126 16 190 8%
2009 22 AAA .392 66 4 153 3% .335 209 13 181 7%
2008 21 AA .242 111 184 141 130% .354 448 8 188 4%
2007 20 A+ .307 131 52 138 38% .309 430 35 196 18%
2006 19 A .282 92 104 140 74% .273 254 116 161 72%

Blanks, however, has been plagued by the injury bug. After impressing for several weeks with the Athletics, Blanks experienced a calf tear. He was looking good in a rehabilitation assignment before experiencing a further injury that shut down his year for good. Blanks is still under arbitration, and he's out of options, which means spring training is a make-it-or-break-it time for him.

Conclusion

As for left-handed batting first basemen, the A's floundered a bit with Brandon Allen and Kila Ka'aihue after realizing Daric Barton was not going to return to his 2010 form. Brandon Moss and to a lesser extent Stephen Vogt filled in that hole and will do so for awhile longer. Vogt's primary position is catcher, of course, and Moss plays corner outfield as well, and they could make way to allow John Jaso to play first base if he decides the dangers of concussions as the backstop is too great. Once they're gone, the next great hope is home grown Matt Olson, fresh off his 37 home run campaign in the California League.

For right-handed batting first basemen, the jury is still out. Can Kyle Blanks stay healthy? Will Nate Freiman turn his minor league success on both sides of the plate into Major League success if called upon?