Baseball, more than any other professional sport, is a game of delayed gratification. In football, when you draft a player, he’s able to be a starter in the very next season. In basketball, top draft picks are routinely studs, and the league is led by guys who have recently turned pro.
In baseball, prospects marinate for years and years before they’re ready for the pros. That waiting time can be excruciating, and is filled with boring stopgaps, mediocre seasons, and 7-2 losses, the most boring score.
For a team in baseball purgatory, there’s little a team to do. Like the A’s have done so far this offseason, purgatory is filled with small, mostly inconsequential moves combined with waiting. Sometimes, the only way out of mediocrity is waiting. That’s the A’s strategy right now, and it’s not wrong, but it’s not exciting.
Let’s change that! Let’s get some ideas going for the A’s organization to manufacture some excitement and hopefully, some organizational assets.
The idea: Find the next Brad Ziegler
In the past ten years, there have been 36 relievers who have thrown 500 plus innings. If you sort by ERA, the best pitcher over that stretch has been Joe Nathan, an absolute stud who will inevitably garner Hall of Fame votes. Second best is Jonathan Papelbon, another stud who’s likely to be discussed by Cooperstown, in addition to being likely to offend most normal humans. Third up on the list? None other than Brad Ziegler, former Athletic and longtime submariner.
Ziegler’s story is fascinating for so many reasons. He got hit in the head with a line drive, twice. He wasn’t particularly good before turning submarine, and became a stud immediately after. There are still unanswered questions, though.
Question 1: Why did the A’s decide to convert him to a starter? We’ve got answers!
Ziegler still isn't 100 percent certain why the Athletics decided to convert him,
although he said he occasionally dropped down to a sidearm angle as a starter in the minors.
Really Brad? You're not sure?
Question 2: Why haven’t they tried it with anyone else?
You’d think after the A’s had such success the first go around creating one of the league’s best relievers for damn near a decade they’d try again. Of course, submariners aren’t rare and they aren’t always successful, but sometimes they are. Darren O’Day just got paid cause he’s been Ziegler esque for a long time.
It also just seems like the logical route for any pitcher without the stuff to get by. Submarine pitching is completely different than normal pitching, and someone who otherwise isn't a big league talent could find his way in the league with this one weird trick.
In order to find the next Ziegler, we need to figure out what made the OG Ziegler so successful. What do we know about him?
-He wasn’t good enough to succeed as an overhand pitcher
-He’s capable of throwing mid-80’s from a low arm slot, he’s not some soft tosser
-Solid control, which should lend itself well to a drastic change
Zach Neal: Neal doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he’s got a few notches in his favor. For one, his control is solid. He’s already a groundball pitcher and his arm slot is lower than your typical pitcher.
It’s unlikely someone who had such a successful cup of coffee last season (at least ERA wise) would be willing to make such a drastic change, and odds are Neal will see some big league innings with the A’s. Long term, though, his big league options look slim and without stuff that translates to the pen, going drastic might be his best option.
Raul Alcantara: It won’t be Alcantara due to that lack of options problem, but he throws a good hard fastball that is far too straight. That seems to be his biggest problem, and automatic movement that should accompany an extreme arm slot would do him well. His command is probably shy of the criteria we’re looking for, but the dude needs movement.
Corey Walter: So far, I’ve given you two unlikely candidates. The third is slightly more likely based almost solely on a lack of information. Maybe I shouldn’t be a GM.
Anyway, based on this picture of Walter, he throws from a somewhat lower arm angle. Last year, his walk rate was low (3.7%, though it’s been substantially higher before) so he’s got the command down, maybe. There doesn’t seem to be much out there in the way of video or scouting reports on the A’s former 28th round pick, which in and of itself is Ziegler-esque. Walter probably won’t crack the bigs if he stays the course, and that’s why he is a candidate for this totally inane idea.
The idea: Get funky with deliveries
There are many ways to get hitters out, and most great pitchers use some sort of deception to find success. Baseball’s best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, has objectively great stuff. His fastball is fast, his curveball dives, his slider induces swings and misses at a remarkable rate, and he’s able to pinpoint those offerings pitch after pitch. But his fastball isn’t that fast, his curveball sometimes hangs, and he actually throws meatballs at a fairly high rate.
What makes him so good then? We still don’t know exactly why he’s the best of the best, but there’s something to him that elevates him from guy to great stuff to generational talent.
I’m not saying it’s his funky motion featuring that aesthetically pleasing pause. But I’m saying it might be his motion with that unusual hitch. Johnny Cueto, another ace, is known for the many motions and quirks he utilizes while pitching, and he too gets great results.
The caveat here is that both of those guys have tremendous talent. You can’t circumvent the whole "having good stuff" thing by having wonky mechanics. But it might be worth a try!
The A’s do have a guy with an unusual motion on their team, and there’s reason to think that motion has helped him get outs. Deception can come in many forms, and strange motions is quite possibly an underrated vehicle used to fool hitters.
Finally, much like converting someone to the Ziegler mold should be a low risk proposition at it would only be applied to someone who otherwise wouldn't have a shot at landing in the bigs.
The idea: Beat the shift with impeccably placed bunts
For some reason, the A’s saw the second most shifts in baseball last year, having 1671 plate appearances end against the shift. That number is particularly remarkable when you consider the A’s made outs at the third highest rate in baseball - a remarkable 27.7% of their times at the plate ended with the shift on, as there is apparently no mercy in baseball.
We’ve all seen those huge holes open on a quarter of the infield, and we’ve all though, I dunno, maybe someone on our outrageously terrible offense should get creative and take the easy (relatively speaking) way on.
Everyone, especially those named Yonder Alonso.
In the cold and rainy days of late January, where exciting moves and actual baseball are equally distant, stupid trade proposals and zany baseball ideas are all we have to get by. So help us out, and give us your best creative idea in the comments, regardless of how unlikely it may be!