Il Custino has cleared waivers and accepted a minor league contract, which means, among other things, that the Sacramento River Cats are going to have a late-90’s style home run derby of a season.
I’m going to pepper some hindsight at Billy Beane and call this a risky but awesome and depth-ensuring roster-shuffle. Jack Cust is now effectively the backup DH, and that is some crazy luxurious rad shit.
The A’s biggest problem for the last few years has been the constant waves of injuries, meaning their biggest challenge has been to provide depth at each position.
Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis, and Ryan Sweeney are the starting outfielders this year. Each a legit CF, they combine for possibly the best defensive outfield in baseball, and they’re no slouches at the plate, either (especially if Raj carries on with his fluke-busting parade). All our bench players, starting with Gabe Gross, can back them up in the corners. So can Travis Buck (who, even though I like him better on the bench than Patterson, will be back at AAA after Coco’s return). So can heavy sluggin’ prospect Michael Taylor. This is all to say that Cust should not, and does not, figure into the A’s outfield depth chart anymore. The only way to keep him on the team was to put him in line for the DH slot, and Beane did so. Perhaps he belonged first in line over Chavez, but that would have meant cutting Eric. Beane had to insult either the affable Chavvy or the dour lumberjack, and he made the difficult but sensible choice.
The starting rotation is excellent; Pterodactyl T. Cahill and his buddy (Archaeopteryx?) V. Mazzaro wait in the wings, amassing massive run support in Sacramento. The bullpen is an embarrassment of riches, and it will be a tough call whom to send down once Joey Devine and Michael Wuertz return from the DL. Daric Barton, hoping to outrun Rhinoceros Chris Carter, is playing like crazy at 1B. Cliff Pennington, nerdily-named slick-fielding SS, is hitting with power – last night he turned on a pitch way inside and knocked it out. Had he ripped off his sleeves and flexed while trotting the bases, he would not have been completely unjustified. Adam Rosales can do that too, and would like to be doing it every day. When Rosales homers he doesn’t flex, he sprints.
Anyway, a week or so into the season, the Athletics are 6 and 2 and playing with gusto. The opening day roster is dominating defensively and exceeding expectations offensively. They have better than usual depth and flexibility at just about every position. And they are just playing circles around the Mariners and Angels right now.
Not having followed this game closely, I can only offer superficial boxscore reactions. Saunders, serviceable starter that he is, gives up runs to a decent lineup, and especially the real good part of it. —Unsurprising; —There’s always tomorrow; and —Gosh, it’d be nice to have a real shut-down starting pitcher somewhere in the rotation.
I did watch a bit of the “Condensed” replay on the magic phone, and one thing jumped out immediately: sweet damn, those are some purty uni’s the Twins are sporting this year. Do those come with the new stadium ?
Howie K .330/.450 ticker — 2 for 4 last night, .375/.375 for the season.
E Aybar 35% get-to-first-base rate/100 runs scored ticker – reached base twice in five chances last night, reaching base 55% and on pace to score 162 runs for the season.
For the second time in as many career games as Leadoff Man, he begins the Angels’ offensive turn by drawing a walk. It’s almost proof that someone can simply decide to become a different player.
- 2008 — Likelihood of an Erick Aybar walk per plate appearance: roughly 4%
- 2009 — Likelihood of an Erick Aybar walk per plate appearance: roughly 5.5%
- 2010 so far — Likelihood of an Erick Aybar walk per plate appearance: 40%
It’s enough to make a Daddy Aybar proud.
Last night’s Twins–Angels game demonstrated quite literally how the Angels defeat good teams: the offense generates 5 or more runs and their pitching bends without breaking. I don’t expect a ton of victories with 3 (us) and 1 (them) in the runs column; yesterday’s 6-3 seems more like it. I do expect plenty of 5-4 defeats with postgame hand-wringing over missed RISP opportunities and starters failing to reach the sixth inning. In short: Nice job, offense, we’re gonna need you.
Strange to see a lineup with Aybar leading off, and pleasing to see him draw a walk to begin the home team frame.
Chone Figgins terrorizes the A’s all night! Gosh, we miss you already.
When was the last time we had a full-time DH who amounted to an offensive threat ? Brad Fullmer ? M-A-T-S-U-I-L-A-N-D, is there a cease and desist from the Walt Disney Company’s typographical counsel in your future ?
Brandon Wood striking out for the third time in the bottom of the sixth after working a 3–0 count, yikes.
The MLB app on the iPhone with radio broadcast is the most splendid modern-technology-as-retro-technology gadget ever. If Bob Starr were announcing, I’d swear I was nine years old all over again, in bed with my radio-as-pillow (the 2nd best ever of the aforementioned).
I’m expecting a lot from Howie Kendrick this season if he’s to earn his reputation as “future batting champion” blah-blah everyday second baseman of the next decade. Batting seventh in a decent lineup like he is, he’s going to have to hit .330 and slug near .500 to justify trading Sean Rodriguez. When you have a reputation as a 23-year-old that projects to future batting title glory, you’d better hit .330 pretty effortlessly in your late twenties, or else your parent club was foolish not to trade you when your former reputation was still intact. More on this as the season progresses, and as Mr Rodriguez (tonight’s starting 2nd baseman for the Redacted Rays) demonstrates his merit as a major leaguer.
Fresh as a baby’s cheek, the new baseball season promises an exciting battle for AL West supremacy. Are these promises genuine ? Throughout the latter half of the aughts, the Angels have been the most consistent performer, winning the last three division championships, and five of the last six (finishing 2nd to Oakland in 2006). Their reputation for running first-to-third, for having a solid bullpen, for marching out a consistent starting pitcher 1-to-5 — these workman-like attributes belie the more obvious reality: division domination. For the years 2007–2009, the Angels have won the West by an average of 12.5 games. More meaningfully, they’ve separated themselves from their 2nd place division runners-up more than any other division champion for two years running (+21 games in 2008, +10 in 2009), and were 6.5 games ahead of the Mariners when the 2007 season ended.
However: unlike, say, the Braves during the nineties, the Angels seem to receive lukewarm prognostications for success at the beginning of each season. Twenty-ten predictions repeat this ritual, as at least half of the baseball analytic community are betting against them to finish on top: the Mariners and Rangers getting about an equal share of predictive favor, with a few outlying votes going to the A’s. But that last part makes the outlook for this season a more exciting one than in season’s past: clever people who think about baseball often, and substantially, can think of a scenario in which each of the four teams (yeah, it’s funny out left — the AL West is Led Zeppelin to every other division’s Fleetwood Mac) will triumph. My sense is that the anything-can-happen anticipation for followers of the Westerners is more pronounced than in recent years past. Let’s focus on the anythings that can happen to the LAA.
Looking at the fine print of last season’s outcome, key indicators contributing to regular season success:
- Bobby Abreu played the entire season, despite his advanced age, and played at about his expected peak.
- Torri Hunter had a career year, until he was injured for a month, and then played very well in August and September.
- Erick Aybar emerged from offensive liability to offensive asset, and avoided injury for the first time in his career.
- Kendry Morales can be a damn good hitter for a full season, and we thank you.
- Chone Figgins enjoyed a career year offensively and defensively.
There were also plenty of dissapointing performances (Vlad aged, bullpen was mediocre, starting pitching was fine but not world-beating, Howie Kendrick, Ervin Santana) and just as many expected ones (Juan Rivera, Mike Napoli, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, John Lackey played, more or less, as their prior numbers and career trajectories suggested they would). If we can agree with most folks that the AL West will be stronger this year versus last, then I’ll casually pronounce that a 2010 Angels season with as many exclamatory bullet points will win the division by 5 games instead of 10. And because one of last year’s expected performers was a vital one — John Lackey — we’ll have to figure out the likelihood that his production will be replaced by either a new guy (Joel Pineiro: very unlikely) or a reëmergent mainstay (Ervin Santana: less unlikely), and if not, we can’t help but drop that 5 games to an even lower number. First, let’s tackle comparable bullet points for a best-case 2010.
- Bobby Abreu plays the entire season, gets on base about 40% of the time, and scores 100 or so runs. Unlikely.
- Torri Hunter plays most of the season, catches lots of balls, hits 30 home runs, and smiles perpetually. Unlikely.
- Erick Aybar gets on base 35% of the time, runs the bases well, scores 100 runs, and avoids injury. Maybe.
- Kendry Morales gets 500+ at-bats and slugs .600 effortlessly. I’ll take that bet.
Whoops, Chone Figgins doesn’t play here anymore! Possible alternatives:
- Brandon Wood plays great third base and hits 20 home runs. Again, maybe.
- Mike Napoli puts it all together, throws out 25% of baserunners, hits 30 home runs. Possible.
- Godzilla-san stays healthy, gets on base 35% of the time, and hits 25 home runs. Unlikely.
Summarizing the above, the players who wear Angels uniforms have to produce more than their past performance suggests they will (especially the young guys who’ve never really put it all together consistently: Aybar, Wood, Kendrick, Napoli) or the real good, old players have to be not old for one more season. Unfortunately for the purposes of prognostication, those old players can be really good, but are all at the age when really good players suddenly stop being really good. Hunter, Abreu, and Matsui, and even Rivera, are all potentially very good; it’s also very easy to imagine all of them spending most of 2010 injured, ineffective, or both. That’s not the kind of imagining that one likes to bet on.
I haven’t mentioned the starting pitching, probably because in many ways the rotation was a mess in 2010. One promising young starter was tragically killed; the staff ace missed over a month due to injury; and the pitcher with the lowest ERA during the 2008 season missed almost half of the year, and he struggled when he did pitch. It’s not hard to imagine that the starting rotation in aggregate will achieve at least comparable performance levels in 2010. It is hard to imagine that Weaver, Saunders, Santana, Pineiro, and Kazmir will all play most of the year and post sub-4 ERAs, and hence will comprise the league’s most effective starting rotation.
These observations can be paraphrased thusly:
- Last season’s success is owed more than anything else to a very productive offense.
- Predicting a similar offensive output in 2010 is a risky business.
- There is little evidence to suggest that other factors — pitching, defense, speed — will tip the scale either way. I’m expecting the status quo.
- The division has probably become stronger, and all things being equal, last season’s 97 win team is this season’s 93 win team (though still the division champion).
- 2009 was not all smooth sailing; the team succeeded despite an often mediocre bullpen, much experimentation within the starting rotation, and nominal contributions from the quondam-dreadlocked one.
But things will not turn out equally, which is why we will watch the games. If Hunter, Abreu, Rivera, and Matsui perform as they have in the recent past and avoid injury, and if the starting rotation is a real strength, and if Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick are above league average at their positions, and if the bullpen avoids last season’s two-plus months of suck, then the adventures of a new season will turn in fortune’s favor, and the Angels will approach 100 wins, and clinch the division in mid-September. If all of the elderly underperform, — and especially if they don’t perform at all due to injury — if Pinerio is a 5+ ERA, sub-200 innings investement sink, if Santana’s arm falls off, if Kazmir is unreliable and often on the shelf, if Brandon Wood is traded to the Blue Jays for Edwin Encarnacion, if Maicer Izturis takes over 2nd base and Howie Kendrick is traded to the Salt Lake Bees; well, then we can expect a losing season, and a possible last-place finish.
Returning to our opening theme, however. The Angels have been consistently very good for several years, and just as consistently they have been underappreciated. And here we are again. A concise description of their recipe for consistent success might look like this: plug in younger, cheaper, effective players, 1 or 2 a year (Kendrick for Kennedy, Aybar for Cabrera, Rivera for Anderson, Santana for Colon) — even if the dismissed players are more or less still effective (Troy Glaus, Bengie Molina, Jarrod Washburn).† This year’s iteration of that strategy will really test its efficacy. Replacing Vlad shouldn’t be difficult, as the team was able to thrive in 2009 with only a fraction of his potential peak production; but John Lackey is the best starting pitcher developed in-house since Chuck Finley, and Chone Figgins was an on-base machine in a lineup that doesn’t reach base prolifically. The team is essentially asking Matsui to replace Vlad, Wood to replace Figgins, and is hoping for sub-4 ERAs and 200+ innings from Weaver and Santana. Is this tenable?
Eminently. I expect 2010 to be more exciting and wide-open than in year’s past, but the most likely outcome is the Angels once again winning the division by a safe margin. Call it the Faith in Scioscia Factor. When things go wrong — and they will — the FISF reads like a Mad Magazine protagonist. This team is balanced, deep, and setup to succeed in the short-term. It’s unlikely that all of the things that can go wrong, will. And my observation of last season is that a lot of things went wrong then — it’s one fan’s sense that 2010 will play out more smoothly according to Team Plan than 2009. Most probably this is not the year that the Angels stop acting like the Braves of the yester-1990s; and most probably this is the year that they stake out a similar, epochal claim of their own for consistent success in the divisional era.
If only the Braves had more World Series rings.
† Of course I’m omitting a complementary team-building tactic, the one that includes signing the wrong center fielder — Steve Finley and Gary Matthews, Jr. come to mind — and overpriced free agent relievers — Justin Speir, Fernando Rodney, and Brian Fuentes, for example. Whatever success the Halos enjoyed during the aughts transpired despite these repeat offenses.
Tonight is the A’s home opener against the Mariners. I should be over the moon, but for the likelihood of a rainout and a heavy heart over the loss of a favorite. Mighty Jack Cust didn’t make the team this year.
A’s fans learn to root for laundry. Studs and charmers come and go and we try not to get attached. My friend Scott and I, forgetting ourselves for one shining day game last spring, confessed our Cust love to each other. While old timers cursed his copious strikeouts and low “ribbies”, we delighted in his immaculate patience and massive no-doubters. Here we had one of the game’s coolest anomalies, the three-true-outcome player, and on the relatively cheap. We fondly awarded Jack the nickname Ashby Lumber, after the A’s perennial advertising client on the a.m. dial. I expected him to be around for a while; now I feel like a Dickensian adolescent who’s made the mistake of befriending and naming a favorite barnyard goose a few days before Christmas.
The A’s dfa’d Cust in deference to a fellow lefty slugger, a goose long since nicknamed and nuzzled by fans and front office. Eric Chavez’s heartbreak story is on a different order of magnitude, or a different astral plane, or something, than Cust’s winding tale of grit and redemption. This spring Chavez has been healthy and productive. It’s an important mental health rule for an A’s fan not to get too excited about Eric Chavez, but everyone breaks this rule, every year, even while trying to de-jinx the situation with phrases like “when his back eventually explodes…”. Anyway, I’m really and truly happy he’s going to get the time at the plate he and the A’s deserve, at least for a while.
But will the spider web holding that shoulder together allow him to punch hanging offspeed stuff through the marine layer and deep into opposite field bleachers? Cust’s homers were majestic, floating storybook creatures, clubbed vertically through the soggy air with a force and ease that no other Athletic will now match. A Chavez-Jake Fox DH platoon may yield similar power numbers over the season (or whatever part of the season they may happen to endure), but that power isn’t going to look as awesome.
I’m currently watching the Red Sox and Yankees trade bullpen implosives, and we have a score that could be reminiscent of a wintery Harvard–Columbia football game 50 years ago: 8-7 Sox as I type this in the top of the 8th inning.
Nick Johnson draws a two-out walk and is replaced by a pinch-hitter. I’m not a Yankees fan, but I’ll offer the prediction that a similar turn of events will occur often throughout the season.
It’s a new season of baseball, is all.