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Can 81 + 3 = 90?

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"Excuse me -- this ball has too many references to dead Greek mathematicians."
"Excuse me -- this ball has too many references to dead Greek mathematicians."
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

"Can 81 + 3 = 90?" is a question that has confounded mathematicians for centuries. I believe it was Euclid who first posited, "On its face, 81 + 3 cannot equal 90, but hang on, I feel peckish for a sandwich right now." To which the great Pythagoras replied, "But how can a number even be on its face?" This was considered to be an especially odd comment in light of the fact that Euclid had not been born yet.

As the A's are currently shaping up, the number 81 sticks in my head like the phrase "utterly average"...

Danny Valencia, Marcus Semien, Jed Lowrie, Yonder Alonso: Would anyone describe any of those players as exceptional or terrible? No, they are the epitome of an average infield, each with equal strengths that offset their weaknesses and equal weaknesses that offset their strengths.

Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley may have above-average cred, as may Josh Reddick, weighted down (literally?) by an uninspired DH situation led by $21M of mediocrity. Billy Burns and Mark Canha? A lot like the infield, with some offsetting strengths and limitations that portend a solid contributor but not any sort of a star.

The current starting rotation has the trappings of a .500 team as well. Sonny Gray is a worthy #1, while Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, Rich Hill, and Kendall Graveman lead the middle and back of the rotation to the envy of most teams. On the flip side, lacking is a true #2 SP who can be counted on for both health and productivity.

The bullpen is a wild card, as bullpens tend to be, but all indications are that it has gone from a disaster of epic proportions to a possible strength or at least one that is, well, middle of the pack. The bench is fine. It's a team that looks like it can beat anyone and lose to anyone. About a .500 team on paper right now.

What would the impact be if the A's were to indeed land Scott Kazmir? Would the A's potentially be contenders for a playoff spot, or would the addition of a very good player simply improve an average team to a slightly above average one? 84 wins and 90 wins are a lot different in baseball.

In a vacuum, a stat like WAR suggests that the addition of a 3-WAR player elevates a team from an X-win team to an X+3 win team, yet my feeble brain tends to see domino effects where algebra prefers simple addition. Add a legitimate #2 SP to the A's rotation and suddenly the back of your rotation slots into luxury positions: Hill and Bassitt become back of the rotation treats, Graveman might even start the season at AAA giving enviable depth when that first injury hits.

Perhaps the improved rotation allows an average-ish offense to be "usually good enough" instead of "usually not quite good enough" and maybe a more rested bullpen stays healthier and more effective. Everything kind of falls neatly into place when you take a single, but also key, hole such as a #2 SP and fill it.

Now the flip side is that your #2 SP makes zero impact 80% of the games, and Scott Kazmir is not going to make Stephen Vogt hit any better, nor is he going to improve Danny Valencia's range any. But intuitively, when I look at a team relying on Hill and Bassitt to "really step up" or Hahn to be healthy, it feels more than 3 wins different from when I see #3 SPs slotted in at #4, #4 SPs slotted in at #5, legitimate depth at AAA, and an area of strength (the rotation) instead of yet more averagosity.

Does the domino effect of turning average into a strength, creating depth, and taking pressure off other areas, translate into more than the added WAR? I tend to think so and while I wouldn't pick a Kazmir-included A's team to win 90 I would also not be shocked if they did, even though the current team looks to me like the poster child for .500.

I believe it was the great mathematician Archimedes who said, "I am ending this article because I have nothing more to say."