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Wheat/Chaff Reports Hit Mid-Alphabet!

Oakland Athletics v Minnesota Twins
“This is sine language for ‘I need to learn trigonometry.’”
Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

If you haven’t followed our riveting saga, you can check out earlier Wheat/Chaff editions here. Suffice it to say, so far Chaff is winning but if the post-season has taught us anything it’s that it’s never over till it’s over and the underdog reigns supreme.

It has also taught us that your closer shouldn’t throw 3-2 “chase” changeups to .165 hitters who are just trolling for a walk because they can’t really hit — but we’re not here to talk about the past. We’re here to talk about young players trying to establish themselves on a 112 loss team.

Ryan Noda

Noda’s obvious flaws obscure his many strengths. The two flaws which stand out most are his 34.3% K rate and his tendency to have, every couple of months, a truly wretched day in the field at 1B.

Luckily, the 63.7% of the times he does not strike out Noda is quite productive at the plate and about 29 days out of the month he is a fine 1Bman. What does it all portend?

Noda will always strike out a lot. Hopefully he can get the K rate down a touch, maybe under 30%, but it’s never going to be low. But it’s not to be taken lightly when a rookie posts a .364 OBP while also flashing big time power. To the Eyeball Scout, Noda’s stat line might only show 16 HR but this is a 25-30 HR hitter waiting to happen.

Noda also just flat out hits the ball hard (when he hits it). Normally I would characterize a .47 BABIP as “unsustainable” or fluky but with Noda it’s not the result of a bunch of lucky bloops or bouncers through the hole. As hard as the ball comes off his bat and as deep as the outfield has to play him to all fields, Noda should be able to maintain high BABIPs for years to come.

Show me a hitter whose OBP is over .360 and can slug 25+ HR and I’ll show you a batter who helps his team a lot no matter what the K rate. As is Noda is a worthy top of the order bat, and if he Ks less than 30% of the time he’s a potential All-Star.

In the field, I like Noda’s defense more than the metrics do. (Noda pretty much rates as an average defensive 1Bman.) He has range — including great range on fly balls, which plays up at the Coliseum — he picks low throws, his arm is strong as well as generally accurate.

And I’m not sure how well the metrics pick this up but he has turned countless safeties into outs through his ability to stretch and do the splits to go get throws well in front of the bag.

Add to that Noda’s versatility in that he seems like a perfectly accomplished COFer, meaning if the A’s ever unearth a good player they need to put at 1B Noda could probably seamlessly transition to the outfield. At the very least he offers his manager more options when pinch hitting and pinch running.

I see Noda expanding his power while maintaining his strong OBP, while hopefully finding just enough of a 2-strike approach to trim the Ks down a touch. He’ll still strike out a lot but I think he’s one of the few A’s youngsters who belongs on a competitive team and was really only made available because he’s not Freddie Freeman.

Verdict: Wheat

Brent Rooker

Despite the 30 HRs, it’s not an easy call with Rooker because defense is in fact a thing and Brent moves less like a rook and more like a pawn. Does a man whose best position is DH do enough at the plate to overcome his glove-y limitations?

Power alone is never enough, but Rooker also possesses a keen enough eye to maintain a solid BB rate (9.3% in 2023). As with Noda, the combination of power and patience bodes well.

Here’s the thing about Rooker’s ability to recognize pitches and lay off the “chase slider”: it comes and goes to leave Rooker as one streaky emmer-effer. When he’s in a funk, he swings early right over the same bad slider again and again until the umpire gently urges him to return to the dugout because no one ever excelled with the count 1-3. When he’s on he’s spitting on that slider and launching strikes hither and yon. (The ones that go yon are especially nice, but the ones that go hither are kind of fun too.)

Rooker’s swings, and stats, from week to week and month to month are a bit bi-polar but his aggregate stats actually seem about right for what you can expect from this slugger: .246/.329/.488 with 30 HR and 172 K. How good is that? In 2023 it translated to a 127 wRC+, which is enough to keep you in the big leagues if you can at least fake it in the outfield.

Rooker is not good in the outfield and he is in a fact a bit bad, but he’s not horrific or anything. He has very limited range but decent fundamentals and a fine enough arm. It might amuse you to know that Rooker kicks booty in COF over a similar type of hitter and fielder whose season is still going: Nick Castellanos (-9 DRS to Rooker’s -4, -10.1 UZR/150 to Rooker’s -5.4).

I actually think Castellanos is a pretty good comp for Rooker (though Rooker both walks and strikes out more), and the Phillies’ RFer has accumulated 13.5 career WAR in an up and down career carried mostly by his bat. Rooker is just flawed enough to fall into Oakland’s lap, but just good enough to be worth hanging onto as the team (hopefully) improves.

Verdict: Wheat

Esteury Ruiz

I’m not going to write a lot about Ruiz because it would just be repeating things I have said so many times in various threads and articles: that what stands out to me about Ruiz is how few things he does well — or even “not terribly”.

Dude can steal a base, that’s for sure. But he can’t, apparently, hit the ball as hard as literally anyone else in the league, he can’t play CF as well as literally any other CFer, he finished his rookie season with a 4.0% BB rate that makes puppies whimper, and he couldn’t quite get himself to a .100 ISO (.091).

One can hope, and even pray daily, that Ruiz uses his rookie season to make major overhauls in many aspects of his game, and he wouldn’t be the first young player to make a leap from his first season to the next. But he has to improve in so many different ways that it’s hard to say “Yeah that’s what I see happening.”

It has been fashionable to compare Ruiz to former A’s CFer Rajai Davis because in 2009-2010 Rajai was super fun and exciting on otherwise dull squads, even though he was really a pretty mediocre player and more of a “weak platoon 4th outfielder”.

But honestly, right now the comp is unfair to Rajai, who was an average defensive CFer and not a -17 DRS dreadful one. Currently, Ruiz is “Rajai Davis without the defense,” which is sad if you recall how often Rajai had to outrun his own bad reads just to be average.

It’s pretty damning that late in the season the A’s moved Ruiz over to LF in favor of Lawrence Butler, who is no great shakes in CF himself. As a LFer, you now need yet more out of Ruiz’ bat. Maybe you’re banking on a Juan Pierre type of player, only Pierre made a ton of contact striking out at just a 5.8% rate that allowed to spray his way to a career .295 BA.

Sure, with just more patience, harder contact, better reads and better routes, Esteury Ruiz could really be something. And if we had some ham we would totally have ham and eggs if we had some eggs.

Verdict: Chaff, epic fails by Keith Leipmann and David Forst

Hey, we won 2 out of 3 this series! Tyler Soderstrom and Ken Waldichuk are still ahead, and this month 84-win teams are way better than 100+ win teams. Stay tuned...