By Jason Wojciechowski on June 30, 2015 at 7:55 PM

EDIT: I have learned that my queries in this article aren't really any good. I don't want to get into it, but the short is that they result in a (skewed, though in a way I don't recall) sample rather than anything comprehensive. I still like the Shea Hillenbrand comp, but basically just throw anything I even imply is "analysis" in the garbage.

Sonny Gray got sick and spent last night in the hospital, so he couldn't pitch today as he was scheduled to. The hypothetical man in the A's bullpen is Drew Pomeranz, but he pitched last night, so he was in no position to make a start. Nobody else in the 'pen is a starter, even on a part-time basis. Thus, the A's had to call for help from the minors in the form of Chris Bassitt.

Thus on top of thus, the A's needed to make a 25-man move. One thing they could have done, as suggested by friend-of-the-blog @ThanksBilly on Twitter, was send down Kendall Graveman. He started last night, so they could ship him out, have him miss one turn in the rotation, and bring him back after the requisite ten days in the minors. That's not a bad idea. I like that idea. Graveman's been pitching well, so you'd have to sell him on it, make sure he knows this is an emergency situation and he's on an arm-protection plan anyway (presumably) so the pitches he doesn't throw now, he can throw in September, when the A's have clawed themselves back into the periphery of the Wild Card chase.

But the A's didn't want to do that. Which leaves sending down a position player, because no manager in 2015 can have a short bullpen for a day. Heaven forfend! With Sam Fuld out of options and everybody else on the team at least a part-time starter, that left Max Muncy, who doesn't really have a role at this point anyway. As others have pointed out, he's not going to start vs. RHP over Brett Lawrie because what's the point of having Brett Lawrie if you're going to platoon him? You want his defense in any event. And he's not going to start over Ike Davis or Stephen Vogt at first because he isn't as good as them. And he's not going to platoon with Billy Butler at DH because ... well, that one I don't have a great reason for. Because Butler is making eight figures, I guess, and it'd be kind of embarrassing, even if it's already a little embarrassing for everyone involved that he's got a .259 True Average, a figure that'd be fine out of a second baseman but is very much the opposite of fine for a DH. But that's not going to happen, the platoon-Butler plan, so here we are with Muncy, no playing time, no role. Down he goes!

After Bassitt makes his start, Muncy can't come right back up, and the A's are short on infielders, with four for three spots, and most days all four are in the starting lineup, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Andy Parrino rejoin the 40-man roster at the expense of Arnold Leon or Jake Smolinski or Angel Castro come Wednesday. And if that happens, when does Muncy come back? Maybe after a Ben Zobrist trade, unless the A's get a major leaguer back in that deal? It's entirely possible that Muncy is in Nashville until roster expansion, which means it's entirely possible that the books are more or less closed on his rookie season. (He's not over the 130 at-bat playing time mark for rookies, but he has been on the big-league roster for more than 45 days, so by service time, 2015 spells the end of his rookie status.)

If this season is all she wrote for Muncy, it's not a great season: 88 plate appearances, a 77 OPS+, a 27 percent strikeout rate. We know rookies have ups and downs, but we also know that sometimes we're seeing the truth. The question, then: how often does a player have a poor rookie season, even in very limited time, yet go on to become a productive player? The Baseball Reference Play Index is here to help. I found 64 players who started their career with a sub-80 OPS+ in at least 80 plate appearances, yet went on to have a career of at least 2,000 PA and at least 5 bWAR. Twelve of those players are still active:

Player Positions bWAR
Adrian Beltre 3B 79
Torii Hunter CF/RF 50
Adrian Gonzalez 1B 41
Aramis Ramirez 3B 32
Brandon Phillips 2B 27
Carlos Gomez CF 23
Michael Bourn CF 23
Nelson Cruz COF/DH 19
Miguel Montero C 14
Brian Dozier 2B 13
Alex Avila C 12
Adam Lind 1B 10

The thing to notice about this list is that it has a lot of players who you can forgive being bad hitters. Hunter, Gomez, and Bourn are or were center fielders of some defensive repute; Beltre and Ramirez play the hot corner adroitly; Phillips and Dozier are middle infielders; and Montero and Avila don the tools of idiocy. This leaves Adrian Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, and Adam Lind as models for Muncy, and even Gonzalez is a much better defender than Muncy is reputed to be (and was in any event a no. 1 overall pick in the draft -- those guys get chances on chances).

Of the other 52 players on the list, here are those with Muncy-like defensive value:

Player Seasons PA bWAR
Paul Konerko 18 9505 28
Aubrey Huff 13 6786 20
Vic Power 12 6459 15
Ollie Brown 13 4012 11
Kevin Young 12 4352 6
Fernando Tatis 14 3468 6
Deron Johnson 17 6619 6
Shea Hillenbrand 7 3816 6
Harry Simpson 9 3138 5

Don't forget: These are the success stories. There are four figures worth of players who had a shitty enough rookie season to qualify for the initial list, and out of all those, the 64 from which the above two lists are culled were the only ones who had a successful career by the arbitrary definition I chose.

But Shea Hillenbrand! Two All-Star Games, nearly $20 million in career earnings, 229th in career hit-by-pitches ... that's a career to aspire to even if, okay, maybe he didn't have the best reputation as a teammate. Still.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on June 29, 2015 at 7:46 PM

The A's are, as the kids say, forked. Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds have them, before tonight's game (which, to be fair, the A's are winning 4-0 in the second inning as I write this), under 5 percent, the lowest odds in the AL West and second lowest in the American League (White Sox). This from a system that liked the team before the season and still expects .508 baseball going forward, a smidge better than the Astros' expected winning percentage. The problem is the 10-game hole they've dug in the division and/or the 7 1/2-game hole they've dug in the Wild Card. That's a lot of games to make up in half a season even if your underlying roster is more Dodgers than Phillies.

With those holes and with the non-waiver trade deadline approaching in just over a month, many of us have been pondering Ben Zobrist trade scenarios; he, along with Scott Kazmir, is the obvious candidate to get shipped out for a prospect or two. The Cubs have apparently been hard on the A's to acquire him, and they've certainly got prospects out the ears. But Billy Beane isn't getting Addison Russell back for two months of Zobrist.

So who could we expect? What does a player like Zobrist, with a contract and service-time situation like Zobrist's, get traded for these days?

Here's where I started, the Baseball Prospectus transaction browser. I narrowed down to trades and just started scrollin', looking for position players who were pending free agents and were still something like starting-quality players. I examined as far back as 2011, and I was only interested in June or July trades, since that's the type we're looking at for Zobrist. Offseason deals are a whole other beast, as are waiver trades. So what do we have in terms of semicomparable moves?

The bWAR column below is the three years prior to the trade plus whatever was accumulated in the season in which the trade was made. Asdrubal Cabrera's bWAR column, then, lists 2011-13 plus the Cleveland portion of his 2014 season. The "Cash?" column indicates whether the trading team had to kick in part of the salary to get the deal done.

Player Money bWAR Return Cash?
Carlos Beltran $19.3M 15.8 Zack Wheeler Yes
Asdrubal Cabrera $10M 10.4 Zach Walters Yes
Stephen Drew $10.1M 4.3 Kelly Johnson Yes
Rafael Furcal $13M 10.1 Alex Castellanos Yes
Chase Headley $10.5M 16.0 Rafael De Paula & Yangervis Solarte Yes
Ichiro $17M 10.8 Danny Farquhar & D.J. Mitchell No
Carlos Lee $18.5 3.3 Matt Dominguez & Rob Rasmussen No
Derrek Lee $7.3M 9.5 Aaron Baker No
Shane Victorino $9.5M 14.7 Josh Lindblom, Ethan Martin, Stefan Jarrin No
Kevin Youkilis $12.3M 17.6 Brent Lillibridge & Zach Stewart Yes
Ben Zobrist $7.5M 15.8 ??? ???

A player as cheap as Ben Zobrist with as much ability as Ben Zobrist, but with as little team control remaining as Ben Zobrist, is not available on the market very often. We could dream on a Zack Wheeler-like return, but that move was seen as a massive overreach at the time by the Giants, a wild overpay in prospect cost for two months of an admittedly excellent player. But these names on the prospect lists can wind up feeling lost in time to us, so I'll turn to my stash of Baseball America Prospect Handbooks to refresh. I'll use the next year's book as the best idea of the prospect the team traded for -- from the time of most of these trades through the end of the season, they saw only about another month of performance from the prospects, versus the four months they'd already seen to that point.

Player Top 100 Rank in team Overall grade Risk
Aaron Baker No 14 50 High
Alex Castellanos No 19 45 Medium
Rafael de Paula No Not top-30 ??? ???
Matt Dominguez1 No 4 50 Medium
Danny Farquhar No Not top-30 ??? ???
Josh Lindblom2 No 8 50 Low
Ethan Martin No 6 55 High
D.J. Mitchell No Not top-30 ??? ???
Rob Rasmussen No 19 45 Medium
Yangervis Solarte3 No Not top-30 ??? ???
Zach Walters4 No 14 45 Medium
Zack Wheeler 35 1 60 Medium

Stefan Jarrin, part of the Victorino trade, was in the Arizona League for the Dodgers and never actually appeared in the Phillies organization. Or any other organization after 2012. He's now scouting for the Dodgers.

Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart were both in the majors. The former had a 123 OPS+ in 2011 but was struggling mightily by mid-2012 and he never regained his form. He'd been a prospect once upon a time but now he appears to be out of baseball. Stewart had a 72 ERA+ out of the bullpen and couldn't miss bats. He threw two games for the Red Sox, pitched most of the year in the minors, and hasn't been in the majors since. He's now in Salt Lake, and still just 28.


The dream that never dies is a Carlos Beltran return. A reasonable comparable in terms of salary and performance is Shane Victorino. And then there's the Youkilis/Headley range, where you wonder how the trading team didn't get more. At MLB Trade Rumors, I see four teams linked to Zobrist in the last month or so. What's a sample trade in each of these three ranges for each of those four teams?

High Medium Low
Mets Steven Matz Rafael Montero & Marcos Molina Hansel Robles & Wilmer Flores
Cubs CJ Edwards Pierce Johnson & Jen-Ho Tseng Neil Ramirez & Junior Lake
Nats Michael Taylor AJ Cole & Tony Renda5 Blake Treinen & Tanner Roark
Royals Sean Manaea Miguel Almonte & Bryan Flynn Christian Colon & John Lamb

I'm not suggesting that any particular one of those packages is something either the A's or the trading team would do. Some probably seem high for where they're slotted (e.g. Colon & Lamb) but I'm trying to do this in fairly basic back-of-the-envelope fashion. In fact, my overall attitude might be high -- Victorino's haul might be a sort of sub-ceiling return, a reachable upside compared to the unreachable Beltran upside, rather than a mid-level return.

But I think it's entirely possible that Zobrist is, in many respects, the most attractive player to hit the "expiring soon" trade market in years. I will note that Zobrist's price tag is low compared to most of the players in the first table above, and that it's in 2015 dollars while, say, Carlos Beltran's $19 million was a couple of years ago. This may mean that the A's can get the type of package that other teams had to pick up salary to get. Also, the advent of the qualifying offer raises the cost for the A's to sell -- they lose the ability to get a draft pick back for Zobrist if they make him the offer and he rejects it -- though I could see Beane's trade partners telling him they know his ownership will never approve making a QO offer and daring him to blink.

The A's probably won't be able to add back a Daniel Robertson-like talent, but they may be able to get closer than I thought I'd find when I started this exercise. Look at that! Optimism!


  1. For Dominguez, I'll use the 2012 book because he exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2012 with a 110 OPS+ in 113 PA as a third baseman. (Two full seasons in the majors after that showed that he can't hit.) 

  2. For Lindblom, I'll use the 2012 book because he exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2012 with 71 innings of 110 ERA+ ball out of the bullpen, albeit with a 5.15 FIP. He's managed just 36 big-league innings since then. 

  3. For Solarate, I'll use the 2014 book because he exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2014 with a 102 OPS+ in 535 PA, mostly at third base. 

  4. For Walters, I'll use the 2014 book because he exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2014 with an 87 OPS+ in 137 PA mostly DHing. 

  5. EDIT: R.J. Anderson informs me that Tony Renda is not in the Nats' system anymore, having been traded to the Yankees. R.J. is, as usual, correct, and I'm, as usual, an idiot. I don't have my book in front of me, so I don't know who to replace him with. But the idea here is a lower-upside, safer pick. Think, of players already in the A's system, a Joey Wendle type. 

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By Jason Wojciechowski on June 5, 2015 at 3:02 PM

In his eighth season in professional baseball, Pat Venditte has finally received a call to the majors. The only pitcher who requires a special notation on his Baseball Reference page

will pitch out of the A's bullpen after the team finally tired of The Dan Otero Show:

Year ERA G IP H R HR BB SO HBP BF ERA+ FIP
2015 6.29 23 24.1 31 17 4 5 16 1 106 62 4.68
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/5/2015.

That's ugly. Given that he has options, it made sense that he'd go as soon as the A's decided he wasn't going to turn things around in the majors any time soon. By the way, it never dawned on me that Otero had options, but in retrospect, it's obvious:

Year Action
2011-12 offseason Contract purchased by Giants
2012 Optioned by Giants
2013 Waived by Giants, claimed by Yankees
2013 DFA'd and waived by Yankees, claimed by A's
2013 Optioned by the A's
Seven days later, 2013 DFA'd and outrighted by A's
2013 Added back to the 40-man by A's
2014 Spends entire year in the majors

Otero has only been optioned once in his career, because the optional assignment in 2013 was shorter than 20 days, which means he's still going to be optionable even come 2016 (unless another rule besides the basic three-options comes into play).

In any event, Otero heads out and the A's, rather than calling up Ryan Cook or R.J. Alvarez or Chris Bassitt (or waiting ten days and calling up Arnold Leon or Angel Castro), chose to reward the long-suffering pitcher everyone suspects of being a gimmick, but who, at 30, has given up just one homer in 33 PCL innings while striking out a batter per inning. His hit rate is a little crazy (just 19 knocks all year), but even putting that aside, he's pitched well enough for the A's to take a look and see whether his extremely underwhelming stuff will work in the majors.


Meanwhile, what the hell is the deal with Otero? I spent a number of minutes scrolling through his PITCHf/x data at Brooks Baseball, 2013-14 in one tab and 2015 in another, and I've got nothing. He added a cutter this year, but in terms of percentage usage it's basically eaten into his slider, not his sinker. The sinker is a half-tick slower than it's been, and has about half an inch less drop than it did. Maybe it's that. Maybe that's what it adds up to. The groundball rate on the sinker has fallen from 61 percent to 54, but Otero has had a total of 52 balls in play on the pitch this year. Seven percentage points means four grounders converted to balls in the air. That's one every eight innings. Margins for pitchers are thin, sure, but a lost grounder every eight innings by itself triple a man's ERA.

By the way, if you want statistical backup for the idea your eyes tell you that it isn't just bad ball-in-play luck for Otero this year: he has a 7.04 DRA, 511th out of 544 pitchers in the league, compared to 3.08 last year, which was a top-100 mark out of 692.


Drew Pomeranz is back, by the way. He'll pitch out of the bullpen because Kendall Graveman has been fine in his return from exile to Nashville. Pomeranz threw last night. Okay.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on June 1, 2015 at 9:33 PM

A loyal reader asks:

How much longer do we have Sonny before he rides off to a new team and contract, providing he's not traded for some over the hill DH and prospects?

The straightforward answer is that Gray currently has one year, 61 days of service time. He can be a free agent, assuming he signs no extension between now and then, after the 2019 season, i.e. he's got four more years in green and gold after this one.

But the provisos and assumptions! In all the range of outcomes of Sonny Gray's career from here on out in terms of off-the-field, contract, business stuff, I think him becoming a free agent after 2019 with the A's is probably the least likely. The most likely is that he's traded at some point, maybe as early as the 2016-17 offseason, maybe the 2017-18. He's still a minimum-salary player this year and next, so unless the A's see something in him physically (a/k/a quasi-medically) that makes them think he's headed for a cliff, I'd assume they'll keep him around through 2016. After that, the money situation, especially as good as he's been through the first 357 innings of his career, might mean he's headed out to collect someone else's arbitration payday.

The other end of that spectrum is that maybe Lew Wolff ponies up enough of John Fisher's money to let Billy Beane sign Gray to one of those youngster deals buying out his arbitration seasons and maybe a free agent year, maybe with some options on the end, maybe not. These are neat! These are all the rage! These are what Sean Doolittle signed in April last year, less than 12 months before his shoulder started aching and we all started wondering whether we've already seen the beginning, middle, and end of his career.

Because pitchers, man! Pitchers. And the A's have ridden Gray pretty hard, given that it's 2015 and he's, uh, a smidge undersized for a starting pitcher and also he's 25. The 219 innings he threw last year at 24 is both rare these days and reserved for the very best pitchers in the sport:

Rk Player IP Year Age Tm
1 Felix Hernandez 249.2 2010 24 SEA
2 Clayton Kershaw 236.0 2013 25 LAD
3 Felix Hernandez 233.2 2011 25 SEA
4 Clayton Kershaw 233.1 2011 23 LAD
5 Clayton Kershaw 227.2 2012 24 LAD
6 David Price 224.1 2011 25 TBR
7 Matt Cain 223.1 2010 25 SFG
8 Daniel Hudson 222.0 2011 24 ARI
9 Julio Teheran 221.0 2014 23 ATL
10 Sonny Gray 219.0 2014 24 OAK
11 Madison Bumgarner 217.1 2014 24 SFG
12 Stephen Strasburg 215.0 2014 25 WSN
13 Chris Sale 214.1 2013 24 CHW
14 John Danks 213.0 2010 25 CHW
15 Mat Latos 210.2 2013 25 CIN
16 Ricky Romero 210.0 2010 25 TOR
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/1/2015.

That's pitchers with at least 210 innings in a season, 2010-14, at age 25 or younger. We're looking at three a year, and its only been done by 12 individual pitchers other than Gray in that span. I will forgive you for noticing and dwelling on the alarming names (Romero, Latos, Strasburg, Teheran, Hudson, Cain) rather than focusing on those top five slots.

So where does this point? Do the A's think they have an all-timer on their hands, a Felixian pitcher who can stand up to the workload and do it damn well? Or are they riding what they've got while they've got it and they'll pass the endgame off on someone else, in not-unLatosian fashion now that you mention it. I'd like to think Beane and crew aren't so cynical, that Beane has a healthier respect for the humanity of his players than this narrative would give him credit for, but, like, did you see what Farhan Zaidi just helped do down in Los Angeles? Juan Uribe! The Uribear! Exiled to Atlanta! This is wrong and incorrect and bad and no good, and outside of Beane's ballyhooed friendship with Eric Chavez, we have little reason to think he's taking much account of human happiness up on his throne, moving the little tanks around his battle map.

If that's pessimistic, well, so be it. We're A's fans. We've earned it.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on May 30, 2015 at 2:32 PM

Awful news for Sean Doolittle and for the A's, as he's headed back to the disabled list, with the official listing being "strained shoulder," but the unspoken terror in all fans' minds being "he was never healthy in the first place and now he's going to need surgery and we're not going to see him again until late 2016, if ever."

Things would feel bad enough if Doolittle had come back from his initial injury throwing his usual 94 mph heat, blowing dudes away and roaring like a weird ginger-bearded bull. But he did not. He came back throwing barely 90. Like, on occasion touching 90 is what we're talking about here. We made noise about how it'd make him a better pitcher because he'd have to finally really work on his changeup and/or slider, and we mumbled about how his deception was still the same, and we pointed at the high point from which he was starting and convinced ourselves that even if he lost some percentage of his effectiveness, even if this turned him into something other than a top-ten reliever, he'd still be a valuable pitcher, an ace setup man or something, since you've only got to be around the 40th-best reliever in baseball to be an ace setup man.

And here we are. One game. One inning. Ice-blue radar gun readings. And a return trip to the disabled list.

Baseball isn't fair.


At least Angel Castro gets something out of the whole mess, though, as he's being recalled to take Doolittle's spot. He should only last as long as it takes Edward Mujica or Eric O'Flaherty to get healthy, and the first of those two to return should be back in a week or so.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on May 26, 2015 at 8:25 PM

Finally! Sean Doolittle has come back! To Oakland!

Okay, frankly, he's not the most Maivian player on the A's (that, with all due respect to Josh Reddick, is probably Brett Lawrie), but it's good to have the A's ace reliever back on the squad. In case you've been under a rock, what he's done over the last three seasons:

ERA G SV IP H R HR BB SO HBP BF ERA+ FIP
2.97 175 25 179.0 131 61 12 32 209 2 693 130 2.20
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2015.

He strikes everyone out, never walks anybody, doesn't give up homers, and just generally pitches like an ace reliever. Here, you want a cool list?

Rk Player FIP IP
1 Craig Kimbrel 1.52 191.1
2 Aroldis Chapman 1.67 189.1
3 Greg Holland 1.83 196.1
4 Kenley Jansen 2.09 207.0
5 Sean Doolittle 2.20 179.0
6 Jake McGee 2.31 189.1
7 Koji Uehara 2.32 174.2
8 Matt Harvey 2.33 237.2
9 Andrew Miller 2.37 133.1
10 Clayton Kershaw 2.39 662.0
11 Danny Farquhar 2.42 126.2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/26/2015.

That, friends, is a list of all pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched and at most a 2.50 FIP from 2012-14. It is, in other words, a cool list. As I promised.

There are some reasons to worry about Doolittle's return. Specifically, his velocity, which normally goes like this:

Word on the street is that he's more in the 90 range in his rehab. Everyone loses velocity over time, and you use the tactics at your disposal to make up for it. Not everyone, however, loses 5 mph overnight. Doolittle hasn't sounded worried in his quotes, and thinks the velocity will come with more work; he also believes that his movement and deception are still there. I'm always less optimistic than ... well, than basically anybody, but I certainly hope he's right on all fronts and that he's back to the 95 mph beast we've come to know and love.


Angel Castro heads out to Nashville to make room for Doolittle. He threw three innings for the A's in his stint, walking three, striking out three, and giving up one homer. Also five other hits. This all added up to just one run, but that's not a distinguished run of work overall, which isn't surprising given his pedigree and past minor-league work, though it is, of course, a bit sad. He's on the 40-man roster now, so the money he'll get in the minors is a lot better than what he'd get otherwise, and as a human matter, I hope that 40-man roster slot means he gets a few more shots to throw some major-league pitches before it's all over, but we shouldn't expect much. That's baseball, tragically enough.

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