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The Curse of the Former Athletics: Astros double down on ex-Oakland players

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Will the curse continue? If so, which teams have the biggest contingents of former Athletics players?

Chris Carter burninated the A's last year.
Chris Carter burninated the A's last year.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics suffered from a variety of curses and hexes last year, but perhaps none proved more prevalent than the Curse of the Former A's. Throughout the year, from start to finish, players from Oakland's past performed dramatic feats to vanquish the present-day team. Some came from likely sources, while others caught us all by surprise.

Here is a quick run-down of the obvious instances of the Curse:

- 3/31, Nick Swisher: Opening Night, top 9th. Johnson already allowed a run to score. Swisher knocks in an insurance run to seal the 2-0 victory for the Indians.
- 4/21, Donnie Murphy* and Kevin Kouzmanoff: Tie game vs. Rangers, 8th inning. Murphy singles off of Doolittle to score Kouz with the eventual winning run.
4/22, Michael Choice: A's lead 4-3, 9th inning. Gregerson gets two outs but allows an RBI double to tie the game. Choice comes up next and knocks in the runner from 2nd. Rangers win, 5-4.
5/23, Steve Tolleson: Scoreless game vs. Toronto, 2nd inning. 2-run homer off of Kazmir, A's lose 3-2.
6/10, Collin Cowgill: Bottom of the 14th vs. Angels. Jeff Francis serves up the walk-off solo homer with two outs and two strikes.
6/16, Donnie Murphy: 2-2 game, 4th inning. Murphy hits a 2-run homer to take the lead. Rangers extend lead to 10-2, Murphy homers again, and they win 14-8. Pomeranz punches a chair in frustration and breaks his hand. (Michael Choice also homered in the game, and Colby Lewis recorded the win as the opposing starter.)
6/24, Bartolo Colon and Chris Young: Colon throws 8 innings, allowing 1 run on 4 hits with 8 Ks, and even hits a single (one of two hits all year). Young homers twice for Mets, off Kazmir and Johnson, in the 10-1 shellacking. He homered again the next day, too, off Gregerson.
- 6/30, Rajai Davis: A's led 4-1 entering 9th. Tigers load bases against Doolittle, Raj hits a walk-off grand slam.
7/28, Chris Carter:
A's led 2-0 in 3rd. Carter hits 3-run homer off Chavez to take the lead. They walk him next time up, and the next batter homers behind him. Astros win 7-3.
8/10, Kurt Suzuki and Josh Willingham: 1-1 game, 8th inning. Gregerson pitching. Suzuki doubles in a run to take the lead, Willingham homers to score him. Suzuki drives in another run in 9th. Twins win 6-1.
8/26, Chris Carter: A's lead 2-1 in 8th. Carter hits 3-run homer off Gregerson, A's lose 4-2.
8/27, Chris Carter: A's lead 5-3 entering 9th. Carter homers off O'Flaherty, but A's hang on to win 5-4.
9/5, Chris Carter**: A's lead 3-2 in 6th, Shark pitching. Carter, having already driven in a run earlier, hits 2-run homer. A's lose 4-3.
9/25, Colby Lewis: With the A's fighting for every win to get into the playoffs, Lewis tosses seven innings of 1-run ball. The Rangers win 2-1.
9/30, Josh Willingham: Wild Card game, 9th inning, 7-6 A's, Doolittle pitching, 1-2 count. Willingham hits a popup to right that somehow falls in for a pinch-hit single. Jarrod Dyson pinch-runs, gets bunted to second, steals third, and scores the tying run on a sac fly.

* Murphy went 4-for-11 with a homer and 3 RBI in the series. He hit four home runs all season, and three of them came against the A's.
** Carter hit .281/.382/.703 with 7 homers in 18 games against the A's, his most long balls against any opponent. And I didn't even mention the game when he hit a two-run single in a 3-2 win.

Out of that list, there are 10 games that you can reasonably say could or would have been wins without the timely contributions of former A's. Make it 11 if you want to give Willingham's hit a lion's share of the credit for that Wild Card comeback, though that seems a bit of an exaggeration. And while three of those game-winners were courtesy of Carter, a legitimately good hitter, you also have names like Murphy and Tolleson mixed in there, not to mention Raj Davis hitting a walk-off grand slam. That happened, in real life.

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Does this happen to other teams as much as it happened to Oakland last year? Probably not, given that I don't remember a run of weirdly specific bad luck like this for past A's teams. Does it happen more to the A's because they have more roster turnover, and so there are more former A's out there than former Angels and former Mariners? It's possible, but I doubt we really have that much more turnover that it would make such a huge difference. Do we just consistently have such good players that most of the league's quality performers passed through Oakland at some point? As fun as that would be to believe, it's certainly not true, and some of the culprits weren't big stars anyway. Again, Murphy and Tolleson are on that list up there, and if they were famous for those hits against the A's then that would make exactly one thing they were famous for.

Nope, I don't think there's anything to this except plain ol' statistical variation, with a big coincidental fluctuation in one specific thing (former teammates beating old team) that will disappear as the big computer in the sky generates its next batch of random numbers for us. Or it's a curse. It's probably a curse. I've seen a lot of movies, and it's always a curse. The smart sciencey guy (or girl!) always tries to explain it away with logic and skepticism and possibly thick-lensed glasses and/or an impressive beard. Then it turns out to be supernatural, and the sciencey guy looks like a big idiot.

OK, so it's definitely a curse. Was it just a one-year thing? A spiritual slap on the wrist, for some small transgression like not letting Carter get a single plate appearance in the 2012 ALDS? Or is this going to be a thing now, one that we have to look out for at the onset of every series? Better to be safe than sorry. Let's take a look around the AL to see who has the most former A's. To avoid being too sciencey, I accumulated these lists by simply looking up and down the current 40-man rosters for each team and picking out the names that I saw, then subjectively deciding if they counted or not. If I missed anyone, feel free to correct me.

Team # of former A's Players
Astros 7 Chris Carter
Luke Gregerson
Jed Lowrie
Pat Neshek
Brad Peacock
Dan Straily
Max Stassi
Angels 3 Collin Cowgill
Grant Green
Huston Street
Rangers 3 Michael Choice
Colby Lewis
Adam Rosales
Rays 3 Grant Balfour
David DeJesus
John Jaso
Tigers 3 Yoenis Cespedes
Rajai Davis
Ian Krol
Blue Jays 2 Josh Donaldson
Steve Tolleson
Indians 2 Brandon Moss
Nick Swisher
Mariners 2 Nelson Cruz
Seth Smith
Twins 2 Tommy Milone
Kurt Suzuki
White Sox 2 Jeff Samardzija
Michael Ynoa
Yankees 2 Stephen Drew
Chris Young
Orioles 1 Ryan Webb
Red Sox 1 Craig Breslow
Royals 0 Nope

(Players I intentionally omitted: Danny Farquhar, who pitched in nine games over two different stints for the A's farm; Edwin Encarnacion, who was only here in between offseason waiver claims; Daric Barton, who isn't on Toronto's 40-man; Geovany Soto, who signed with the White Sox but isn't on the 40-man and has to earn a job this spring; and Alex Hassan, who had more front page posts on AN than at-bats for the A's.)

Uh-oh. The Astros have clearly doubled down on the Former A's strategy in an effort to grab every advantage they can in the AL West. I think we just got Moneyball'd, y'all. We already know Carter destroys Oakland pitching, and now Lowrie will get his shot too. Stassi will probably be in the minors most of the year, but he's made it into 10 MLB games and is 9-for-27 so far. I can already see Straily, Neshek, and Gregerson combining for a shutout. And what's worse, the next two teams on the list are also division rivals, the Angels and Rangers. The names on those teams aren't scary, but that's the scary part. Remember Donnie Murphy. Always remember.

The Indians, Mariners and Tigers lineups look downright terrifying now, with that kind of expAtriate muscle. The LOL award goes to the Yankees, who managed to land the two worst ex-A's on the whole list.

That's 33 former A's in the AL, or a few more if you really stretch. The Astros are the clear outlier here, with more than double the runner-up. Respect the 2015 Astros. Fear them.

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What about the NL?

Team # of former A's Players
Braves 4 Alberto Callaspo
Jonny Gomes
Jim Johnson
Josh Outman
Cubs 4 Chris Denorfia
Jason Hammel
Jon Lester
Ryan Sweeney
D'Backs 3 Trevor Cahill
Cliff Pennington
Brad Ziegler
Dodgers 3 Brett Anderson
Andre Ethier
Brandon McCarthy
Nationals 3 Jerry Blevins
Gio Gonzalez
Blake Treinen
Giants 2 Santiago Casilla
Tim Hudson
Mets 2 Bartolo Colon
Anthony Recker
Padres 2 Derek Norris
Tyson Ross
Brewers 1 Shane Peterson
Cardinals 1 Matt Holliday
Marlins 1 Dan Haren
Phillies 1 Aaron Harang
Rockies 1 Carlos Gonzalez
Pirates 0 Nope
Reds 0 Nope

(Players I intentionally omitted: Yunel Escobar, who was an Athletic for four days and never suited up for the team; Kila Ka'aihue, who isn't on Washington's 40-man; and A.J. Cole, who spent a whole season in Oakland's farm but was basically just on loan from Washington in between trades -- it doesn't really feel like he was ever a part of our organization.)

The A's are playing the NL West in interleague this year, which is a bummer because that's one of the NL divisions with the most former A's right now (28 total: 11 West, 11 East, 6 Central). On the other hand, it's mostly pitchers, and the curse seems to mostly apply to batters hitting clutch homers. Note that pitchers like Gio, Hudson, Balfour and Peacock got lit up by Oakland. Still, look out for Carlos Gonalez, Derek Norris, and Andre Ethier. And of course Cliff Pennington, who will be the one to actually hit the walk-off.

Two NL teams lead the way with four players: the Cubs and the Braves. The Cubs might have the most overall quality in addition to their quantity thanks to Lester. On the other hand, the LOL award isn't even close in the NL, going to the Braves in a landslide thanks to their additions of both Jim Johnson and Alberto Callaspo. That those two, last year's Oakland F's, managed to wind up on the same team this winter is proof that the baseball gods have a sense of humor. The pair combined for negative-2.8 bWAR last year (negative-1.8 fWAR), and Atlanta is paying them $4.6 million. Add in Jonny Gomes, and they're at negative-3.3 bWAR (negative-2.1 fWAR) for $8.6 million. Go home Braves, you're drunk.

I'm really glad that we're not playing the Braves this year because I couldn't handle seeing Johnson pitch out of a tough 10th inning jam followed by a Callaspo walk-off to end it. I might have a stroke.

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What do you think of the Curse of the Former A's? Does it tickle your superstitious side or is it all a bunch of mule spit? Either way, which team's contingent of ex-A's makes you the most nervous entering the season? Is there anyone who isn't yet on this list who you're worried about once they sign or get added to a 40-man, like Barton or Kila? Will you contribute to our Kickstarter to fund an early retirement for Donnie Murphy (currently a free agent) so that he'll never play against the A's again?