Archive for the ‘Oakland A’s’ category

The Oakland A’s Bargain Basement Sluggers, Part II

February 25, 2017

Yesterday, I wrote a post listing the minor league veterans the A’s turned into major league stars over the last 25 years.  Today, I will state some of my thoughts about the A’s success in locating these kinds of players.

First, the A’s focus on these kinds of players was largely a matter of desperation.  The A’s had three periods, from 1988 to 1992, from 2000 to 2006 and finally from 2012 to 2014, where the team was really good.  Those teams were largely built around prospects that A’s developed themselves mostly through the Draft and amateur signings.  The A’s, however, simply didn’t have the financial resources to compete every year for long periods of time.

You will note that many of the years the players I listed in yesterday’s post played for the team occurred during the periods when the A’s weren’t particularly good.  In other words, when the A’s didn’t have a player they had developed themselves to build around at a position, they looked for somebody cheap they could get a couple of good, or at least adequate, seasons out of until they could develop a younger prospect they could control for five or six seasons.

The A’s financial woes were the main reason Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane got into statistical analysis, the whole Money Ball thing, first.  Starting with Berroa, they realized that sluggers who drew walks but didn’t hit for much of an average and struck out a lot were undervalued and could be obtained cheaply.  Perhaps even more importantly, they realized that minor league veterans who consistently hit in the minors but hadn’t done much in limited major league opportunities, would eventually hit at the major league level if they got more significant opportunities.

That’s certainly no longer the case, as other teams have a much better idea of what these kinds of players are worth. In fact, the success the A’s had in finding Brandon Moss and Stephen Vogt probably had more to do with the A’s greater emphasis because of financial considerations to continue to acquire and give opportunities to these kinds of players, while wealthier teams continued to hire more reliable major league veterans.  I would bet that if I were willing to do the research, the A’s have run through a great number of these kinds of players who never did break through at the major league level.

In fact by 2012-2013, when the A’s found Moss and Vogt, the team had reportedly move on to defense as an under-valued skill around which to obtain affordable talent.  Five years later, most of the other 29 teams have caught up with that angle too, and now teams are looking at pitch-framing, defensive shifts (which make sure-handed, but not very rangy defenders look better), and other more esoteric analyses in order to find a competitive advantage.

One thing that is also interesting to note is that once the A’s had located and developed these kinds of players into stars, they didn’t have much success trading them away for new talent.  The A’s ultimately traded away each of Geronimo Berroa, Matt Stairs and Marco Scutaro.  Stairs and Scutaro had long major league careers after the A’s traded them away, and, while Berroa did not, he certainly looked like a valuable commodity at the moment the A’s traded him mid-season in 1997.  However, the only player of any value the A’s got in return for these three was Jimmie Haynes, a starting pitcher that I bet even many A’s fans don’t remember well today.

Billy Beane famously claimed that the reports that other teams didn’t want to trade with him because he was allegedly such a sharp trader didn’t have a lot of basis in fact.  Many teams have done well in trades with the A’s during Beane’s reign in Oakland, and the trades of Berroa, Stairs and Scutaro are certainly examples.

The Oakland A’s Bargain Basement Sluggers, Part I

February 25, 2017

Earlier this off-season, ESPN’s David Schoenfeld wrote an article to the effect that older sluggers like Brandon Moss were having trouble finding contracts because teams were looking for the next Brandon Moss, i.e. minor league players past the age of 27 who could give a team a few productive seasons at a very low price.  At the time, I opined that the failure of these players to sign so far this off-season had more to the do with these players coming to terms with what teams were willing to pay them, rather than teams trying to find the next player of this type, because. as a practical matter, the next Brandon Moss isn’t so easy to find.

Ultimately, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Moss $12 million for two years, roughly ten times what the next Brandon Moss found now would cost his team in 2017 and 2018.

Schoenfeld’s article also drew attention from fangraphs, which wrote a piece on who would most likely be the next Brandon Moss in 2017.  Not surprisingly, about half of the players fangraphs identified will be playing in Japan or South Korea next year, because they are the kind of no-longer-prospects that NPB and KBO teams look for each off-season.

I still like 27 year old Jabari Blash, whose .914 OPS in 646 AAA at-bats suggests he’s a major league player, even if he hits .220 at the MLB level.  However, the Padres successfully passed him through waivers in January, so my opinion is apparently not shared by any of the other 29 major league teams.

Anyway, it’s all got me thinking about these kinds of players and the team, the Oakland A’s, that has made them famous.  What follows is a list of the players at least 28 years old the year they broke out in MLB, whom the A’s obtained for essentially peanuts in the last 25 years.

1.   Geronimo Berroa (28 years old in 1994; signed as free agent).  Berroa is the first of these players I remember the A’s finding.  He had three and a half terrific seasons for the A’s in which he hit 87 HRs with an on-base percentage well over .350, before the A’s traded him to the Baltimore Orioles.

2.  Matt Stairs (28 in 1996; free agent).  Stairs had one of the great major league careers for a player who didn’t have even 200 plate appearances in a season until his age 29 season.  In four and half seasons with the A’s, Stairs hit 122 HRs and posted the high on-base percentages the A’s were hoping for.

3.  Olmedo Saenz (28 in 1999; free agent).  Saenz was never an every day player in his four seasons with the A’s, but he was a valuable bench player who posted an OPS over .800 in three of his four seasons with the team and who could play 3B when needed.

4.  Marco Scutaro (28 in 2004; claimed off waivers from Mets).  Scutaro wasn’t a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, but he was an older, undervalued minor league player whom the A’s acquired for peanuts.  He gave the A’s four strong seasons in what turned out to be a long and successful major league career.

5.  Jack Cust (28 in 2007; cash purchase from Padres).  Cust was perhaps my favorite player of the bunch, mostly because he was such an extreme example (at the time) of what the A’s recognized as an undervalued player.  Cust didn’t hit for average, and he struck out a hell of a lot; but in his four seasons with Oakland, he slugged 97 HRs and walked 377 times.  Only a decade later, this type of player is common in MLB, to the extent that teams can find them. There were so many one dimensional sluggers who had a hard time finding contracts mainly because none of them drew walks like Cust, Stairs or Berroa.

[I don’t know what the A’s paid the Padres to get Jack Cust, except that it was peanuts by MLB standards.]

6.  Brandon Moss (28 in 2012; free agent).  Moss is actually the least representative player on this list, as he played regularly, if unproductively, at the major league level in 2008 and 2009.  When he finally put it together for the A’s, he hit 76 HRs in three seasons, before the A’s traded Moss to the Indians.

7.  Stephen Vogt (28 in 2013; cash purchase from the Rays).  It’s somewhat difficult to know whether catchers count, since this is the non-pitching position at which players tend to develop at the latest age.  Even so, he was past the age 27 when the A’s acquired him, he’s hit 45 HRs in his four seasons with the A’s, and he likely cost the A’s peanuts to acquire.

Honorable Mention.  Frank Menechino (29 in 2000; selected from White Sox in minor league portion of Rule 5 Draft 12/97).  Menechino had only one season as an every day player for the A’s (2001), and he hit only .242.  However, he was a 2Bman with a little pop and a .369 OBP that year.  The A’s won 102 games in 2001, so one has to assume that Menechino had to have done something right.

 

The Glut of Power-Hitting 1B/DH Free Agents

February 4, 2017

One of the things that has most captured my interest this off-season is the glut of power-hitting 1B/DH free agents, and the long slow dance that has been going on as teams have fully realized they can sign these guys for relative bargains if they just wait long enough.

Early in the off-season, it seemed likely that at least the best of these guys would do well in what was a generally weak free agent class, but it sure hasn’t turned out that way.  Edwin Encarnacion, who was probably the best of the bunch, made a whole lot less than the Blue Jays offered him before the season ended.  Mark Trumbo, MLB’s 2016 home run leader, also notably signed for a whole lot less than anyone expected when the 2016 ended.

The players who signed early did well.  In fact, the contracts that the Blue Jays gave Kendrys Morales and the Rockies gave Ian Desmond now look like wild over-pays with the market playing out the way it has.  Desmond’s deal didn’t make any sense when it was announced, but it looks even worse now, in spite of the fact that Desmond can play a lot of positions other than 1B.

Another of the remaining musical chairs was taken away today when the Tampa Rays signed Logan Morrison for one year at $2.5 million and another million in performance bonuses.  That leaves the Texas Rangers as the only team left virtually certain to sign one these guys.  They seem set on signing Mike Napoli, once Napoli agrees to the one year deal the Rangers want to give him.

That leaves Chris Carter, the NL’s 2016 home run leader, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Lind, Billy Butler, Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard with few obvious landing spots.  I’ve heard of the Mariners, the Marlins and the White Sox as possibilities, but that would still leave at least three of these guys looking at minor league offers at best.

Chris Carter has floated the idea of playing in Asia in 2017, a first for a reigning MLB home run leader.  Another sign of how bad the market for these guys is is that the Minnesota Twins just designated Byung-ho Park for assignment because they don’t think anyone will claim him because he still has three years and a total of $9.25 million left on the deal signed last year that has already cost the Twins more than $15 million when the posting fee is included.  I don’t think the Twins are writing Park off so much as convinced that no one will claim him even at this modest remaining commitment.

A KBO team, most likely the Samsung Lions, reportedly offered Mark Reynolds a $3 million one year deal, but Reynolds decided to re-sign with the Rockies on a minor league deal.  If that KBO team is willing to pony up similar money for another of these guys, I would have to think at least one of them will be playing in South Korea next year, because he sure won’t be getting a better offer in the U.S.

As a final, only tangentially related note, the Rays also signed Rickie Weeks to a minor league deal.  I’m disappointed, because it means the San Francisco Giants could have signed Weeks to a minor league deal also.  Weeks’ left field defense was terrible last year, and he hasn’t played 2B since 2014, but he hit pretty well last year, and I expect his left field defense would get better with more experience.  An experienced right-handed power hitting outfielder was something the Giants sure could have used, particularly on a minor league commitment.

Mark Trumbo Finally Signs

January 20, 2017

With Jose Bautista and now Mark Trumbo finally signed to new contracts, the dam might finally have burst on all the lead-footed sluggers still on the free agent market.

I wasn’t surprised at the fact that Bautista ultimately received only a one-year deal.  He is going into his age 36 season and coming off a down year, so the multi-year nine-figure contract he and his agent were making noises about before the season ended always seemed more like trying to goose up the market than anything else.  At the end of the day, he still beat the $17.2 million qualifying offer, and he can’t be QOed again next off-season.

Trumbo’s contract, however, surprises me.  Not necessarily the fact it’s only three years, but definitely the fact that it’s only about $37.5 million.  Trumbo is going into his age 31 season, and he led all of MLB with his 47 dingers.  I really thought he’d get something closer to the four-year $57 million deal Nelson Cruz got two off-seasons ago, at least $43M or 44M for three seasons.

Trumbo was probably hurt by the fact that there are cheaper similar options still out there.  Even so, Nelson Cruz has made the Mariners look like geniuses as he has continued to pound the ball the last two seasons.

Dave Schoenfeld of espn.com wrote a post a few days ago suggesting that teams are less willing to sign aging one-dimensional sluggers like Brandon Moss, because teams are now looking for the next Brandon Moss.  I thought it was kind of a dumb article, because while poor teams like the A’s, who specialize in finding the next Brandon Mosses, will look to sign undervalued 4-A players, other teams will always be on the look-out for proven sluggers at the right price.

The problem with finding the next Brandon Moss in the minor leagues is that it is an incredibly uncertain proposition in terms of any one player (or even two or three) you might put your money on.  Somebody will become the next Brandon Moss, but a majority of candidates for the role sure as hell won’t.

Brandon Moss’s value as a major league player over the last three seasons, working backward, has been $ 11.2M, $3.8M and $19.7M according to fangraphs.  You would have to reasonably expect that his value will be somewhere between $3.8M and $11.2M in 2017.  He’ll be 33 next season, so the lower figure is certainly the safer bet.

What I am trying to say is that the reason Moss hasn’t yet signed is because his current ask as a free agent is too high, rather than because teams are looking for an undervalued 4-A player they can pay the major league minimum.  Once Moss’s ask comes down to $3 or 4 million on a one-year deal, at least one team that needs a left-handed power bat and whose in-house analytics value Moss’ likely 2017 performance similar to fangraphs will sign him for that amount.

Although all 30 major league teams as a whole don’t always act rationally, they do most of the time.  If there are even two team for whom Moss would fill a need, who estimate Moss’ likely 2017 performance at $4 million or more, and who can afford to pay $4 million, he’ll get a one year deal for right around $4 million.  Most teams would rather pay $4 million for a relatively sure thing than the minimum for a guy who is less likely than not to become the next Brandon Moss, if they can afford to pay the $4 million.

It’s bottom feeders like the A’s who keep looking for the next Brandon Moss, because they have to.  And you can only find these guys consistently if your analytics are better than just about everyone else’s.

Slugging It Out in South Korea: The Best Foreign Hitters in KBO History — 2016 Update

October 9, 2016

The 2016 KBO regular season has ended, so it’s time to update last year’s post on the best foreign hitters in the KBO’s history.  KBO only began allowing foreign players in 1998, and it’s is a young league, starting play only in 1982.  What that means is that the records for foreign players are very much in play.

Initially, KBO teams brought in mostly hitters; and the foreigners, at least at first, hit a lot of home runs.  As the league improved, KBO teams began to realize in the second half of the 2000’s that North American pitchers were worth more to them than the hitters.  So much so that by 2012 and 2013, there were no foreign hitters in the league at all.

KBO teams expanded the roster space for foreigners from two to three in 2014 (four for the expansion KT Wiz) with the requirement that one of the three be a position player/hitter.  Foreign hitters have been back in the league the last three seasons and have fully taken advantage of an extreme hitters’ league.  However, most of them have not yet been in the league long enough to challenge the foreign player records set in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Batting Average  (2,000 at-bats)

Jay Davis .313

Hits

Jay Davis   979

Jay Davis had far and away the best career of any foreign hitter in the KBO, with Tyrone Woods as the only other player in the conversation.

The problem is that very few foreigners have had long careers in the KBO.  Until the last few years, when increased revenues made bigger salaries possible, the foreigners who played in KBO were clearly a cut below the foreign players who signed with Japanese NPB teams.  They tended not to maintain their initial KBO performance levels for long — three full seasons was a long KBO career for a foreigner — or they moved on to greener NPB pastures.  NPB still offers greener pastures for the best KBO players, as NPB teams simply can offer bigger salaries based on greater revenue streams than KBO teams can.

Home Runs

Tyrone Woods   174

Jay Davis   167

Eric Thames  124

Cliff Brumbaugh  116

Tilson Brito   112

Karim Garcia   103

Felix Jose     95

In the early days (late 1990’s and early 2000’s), KBO teams paid foreigners to hit home runs.  The most prolific was Tyrone Woods, who blasted 174 dingers over five KBO seaons and then moved on to the NPB, where he blasted 240 HRs in six seasons.  Woods never played even one game in the major leagues, and there are some reasons to believe that PEDs may have had something to do with his tremendous Asian performance, at least by the time he reached NPB.

Eric Thames is the best of the hitters to join the KBO since the foreign player roster expansion in 2014, and he’s averaged more than 40 home runs per year in his three KBO seasons.  My guess is that Thames returns to MLB (he’s already a proven MLB hitter with a .727 OPS in 684 career plate appearances) or joins Japan’s NPB in 2017 (the Hanshin Tigers reportedly have great interest).

Thames can earn more in either place (his reported 2-year $3 million KBO deal which ends this year is about as high as it gets for a foreign player), and he also ended the 2016 KBO season suspended for the last eight regular season games and the first play-off game, after being arrested for a DUI.  His blood alcohol level reportedly tested at .056, which would be legal in California (.08), but not in South Korea where the cut-off is .050.  If I were an MLB or NPB general manager, I would not be particularly concerned about the incident, unless, of course, it happens again.

Cliff Brumbaugh played briefly for the Rangers and Rockies in 2001 before starting a successful seven year career in South Korea and Japan.  You probably remember Karim Garcia and Felix Jose, who both had significant major leagues careers, and you may remember Tilson Brito, who played in 92 MLB games in 1996-1997 for the Blue Jays and the A’s.

Runs Scored

Jay Davis    538

RBIs

Jay Davis   591

Tyrone Woods   510

As you can see from the above numbers, the KBO records for foreign hitters are ready to be broken in all categories, because so relatively little has been accomplished by foreign hitters to date.  It’s mainly a matter of whether any of the post-2014 crop of foreign hitters hangs around lot enough to add their names to the above list in a few more years’ time.

Assuming that Eric Thames does, in fact, leave, one good bet to make the lists one day is former San Francisco Giants’ prospect Brett Pill, who has been remarkably consistent in his three year KBO career.  He’s played well enough to keep being invited back, at least so long as his salary demands are reasonable, but not so well that he’s likely to return to MLB or move up to NPB.

Bits and Pieces

June 28, 2016

Kris Bryant today became the youngest player in Cubs’ history to hit three home runs in one game, topping Ernie Banks.  His 16 total bases set an all-time Cubs record.

I sure hope Bryant makes the Cubs pay through the nose when the time comes. However, if the Cubs win a couple of World Series between now and the time Bryant becomes a free agent, the past history probably won’t matter.

One of the things that suggests long-term success for Bryant is that he isn’t isn’t a meaty power hitter.  He’s tall and rangy with modern-day big-man hand-eye coordination.  His height could mean future joint problems, but his body-type isn’t the kind that puts additional weight stress on them.

Meanwhile, Kris Bryant’s game obscured the fact that Cy Young Candidate Jake Arrieta had his worst start of the year, at least in terms of earned runs allowed.

Jeff Samardzija, National League Pitcher?  Neither espn.com nor Baseball Reference list Samardzija’s stats against AL team vs. NL teams.  I would bet dollars to donuts this is something that at least some MLB teams track, because if you can identify marginally successful pitchers in the other league who would be better in your league, you can get talent on the cheap.

Meanwhile, perhaps not surprisingly, Samardzija is getting his brains beat out by the A’s tonight.

Tim Lincecum Wins First Start for the Angels

June 19, 2016

Tim Lincecum won his first start for the Angels tonight.  He was good, allowing one run in six innings pitched, but he wasn’t that good, walking two and striking out only two.

Like most Giants fans, there is a special place in my heart for Timmy, and I’m certainly rooting for him to come back and have a late career surge that makes him a possible Hall of Fame candidate.  However, my left brain says it’s just not going to happen.

Everything I’ve seen so far in Tim’s comeback from last year’s hip surgery says to me that Tim is the basically the same guy he was before the injury:  a pitcher who once had great stuff who really knew how to pitch but didn’t have the greatest command due to a pitching motion that provided great deception but was hard to replicate consistently, but now has below average stuff with the same problematic command but is still major league useful because of his deception and his inherent ability to pitch.

His first start with the Angels is, in my mind, entirely consistent with a guy who can still no-hit a team like the Padres, but who is going to struggle against teams with more than two elite hitters because his stuff and his command just aren’t good enough.

I will certainly keep rooting for Tim, particularly when he can beat an NL West team in inter-league play, and not at all when it can somehow cost the Giants anything.

Tim is perfect for the 2016 Angels, a team desperate for starting pitching.  I expect Tim to be better than any other option the Angels have for at least the next couple of months.  You can look at their AAA pitchers at Salt Lake City and see for yourself.