Sonny Gray

Moneyball and Bubba

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I wrote a little something about the Oakland A’s and, as you might expect, it has me thinking a bit about the Kansas City Royals. Specifically, it has me thinking about Bubba Starling.

Three years ago, the Royals took Bubba Starling with the fifth pick in the amateur draft. The Royals were kind of in a weird spot. They had the fifth pick and they really liked four pitchers. All four — Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy — were taken before the Royals selected.

That left the Royals kind of stuck. I’m still not entirely sure they were sold on Bubba Starling … but he was a local kid. No, more than that, he was a local legend. He was a 6-foot-4, 180-pound phenomenon. He was such a good football player that Nebraska desperately wanted him to be their quarterback. He was such a good baseball player that some scouts thought he should be the No. 1 overall pick. He had tremendous raw power, fantastic speed, and he was a Kansas City kid (well, Gardner, Ks., which is about 45 minutes away). There were many in Kansas City who never forgave the team for passing on another Kansas City kid named Albert Pujols. Passing on Starling would have caused days of fury.

So, what could the Royals do? If one of those four pitchers had been there, they might have passed on Sterling and taken the heat. But with those four gone, they had run out of ideas (which is a shame because pitcher Jose Fernandez went in the first round of that draft). When the Royals drafted Starling, my good friend Sam Mellinger wrote in the Kansas City Star that he had a chance to change baseball in Kansas City forever and that the Royals may have just drafted their most important player since George Brett.

I thought at the time that what Sam wrote was pretty ludicrous — you just don’t talk that way about baseball players drafted out of high school no matter how talented they might look. But in retrospect, it was more than ludicrous. The Royals made a terrible mistake taking Bubba Starling with that pick. And it is a mistake the Oakland A’s never would have made in a million years.

[MORE: Moneyball II in Oakland isn’t exactly what you’d think]

I learned about 10 million things when talking with Oakland’s Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi, who is utterly brilliant and will be a GM very soon. But one thing that sticks with me most is how the A’s will spend countless hours and endless energy trying to avoid traps. People who run baseball teams are constantly running into traps. This player throws 100 mph but can’t throw strikes — hey, take a chance. This player wants more money than he’s worth but can help the team — hey, take a chance. This player can’t hit yet but his attitude is off the chart — hey, take a chance. This player is a local legend and people are saying he’s a future star — hey, take a chance. All of these are traps.

The A’s take chances too … but they are very careful to make bets they believe in. And the A’s would NEVER bet on Bubba Starling, not even if he grew up inside O.co stadium. Starling has power, he has speed, he has extraordinary athleticism … and he strikes out three times as much as he walks. That’s all the A’s need to know. The A’s will never, ever bet on young players who are that overmatched in the strike zone. That’s not to say that those players always fail — some develop plate discipline and become good players. Some become stars. But the A’s don’t have the money or resources to bet on longshots. And make no mistake: Players who strike out three times more than they walk are longshots.

In a way, this is the Billy Beane “we’re not looking to sell jeans” philosophy. He tries to build an organization that does not care how a player looks and, instead, cares about how a player performs. Bubba Starling can do things that make your jaw drop. He can unload 500-foot home runs, he can steal bases standing up, he can leave you awestruck. But he can’t hit, and the A’s would never bet that he will learn. The Royals did.

I’m not sure you could do much better in describing the difference between the Royals and the A’s than this.

In the 2011 first round, the Royals took Bubba Starling — a spectacular local athlete whose supporters called him “toolsy and raw.” The Royals, because they’re the Royals, didn’t care enough about the raw part He’s currently hitting .186 with a .286 slugging percentage in Class A Wilmington with 61 strikeouts against 22 walks.

Later in the 2011 first round, the A’s took Sonny Gray — a gifted pitcher with a dazzling curveball who led Vanderbilt to their first College World Series. Some scouts were down on him because he’s only 5-foot-11. The A’s, because they’re the A’s, didn’t give a damn about that. He’s currently 6-1 with a 2.45 ERA.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 24:  Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on August 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
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Rich Hill made his long-awaited Dodgers debut last Wednesday, out-dueling Giants starter Johnny Cueto. The lefty hurled six shutout innings, yielding only five hits (all singles) with no walks and three strikeouts. Of the 81 pitches he threw, a whopping 32 (39.5 percent) were curves compared to 41 fastballs.

That’s been the trend for Hill over his career, spanning parts of 12 seasons: highly reliant on the curve. It’s worked out well since resurrecting his career last year with the Red Sox and continuing it this season before the Athletics sent him along with outfielder Josh Reddick to the Dodgers on August 1.

As we’ve noted in this space several times, the Dodgers have dealt with more than their fair share of injury woes, including to ace Clayton Kershaw. The club has used 30 different pitchers, including 14 different starters. Yet they enter Tuesday’s game against the Rockies a game and a half ahead of the Giants for first place in the NL West. While the NL East, NL Central, and AL West races aren’t particularly interesting at this point, the NL West division race figures to be one of the most enthralling over the final month-plus of the season.

Hill will oppose the Rockies’ Tyler Anderson at Coors Field in an 8:40 PM EDT start. The second-place Giants will send Johnny Cueto to the hill at home to oppose the Diamondbacks Zack Greinke in a 10:15 PM EDT start.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) @ Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez), 7:05 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer) @ Philadelphia Phillies (Jerad Eickhoff), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago White Sox (Anthony Ranaudo) @ Detroit Tigers (Daniel Norris), 7:10 PM EDT

Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler) @ New  York Mets (Seth Lugo), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Andrew Albers) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 7:10 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Edwin Jackson) @ Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran), 7:10 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Jake Odorizzi) @ Boston Red Sox (Drew Pomeranz), 7:10 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks), 8:05 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (James Paxton) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 8:15 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT

Tim Tebow’s workout: power, speed but not much else

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Tim Tebow is, as we speak, working out for some 40 scouts from 20 organizations and an untold number of members of the media. So far he has run and jumped and thrown and, in a moment or two, will take his hacks. First BP swings, then live, full-speed BP off of a couple of former major leaguers.

His 60 yard dash time was supposedly excellent. On the 80-20 scouting scale he’s supposedly in the 50-60 range, according to people tweeting about it who know what they’re talking about. The guy is certainly big and strong and in amazing shape and that’s not nothing.

Also this:

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That’s from MLB’s Twitter, which provides us with some more in-action shots.

Here he is playing right field out there in the distance someplace:

UPDATE: Tebow’s workout is over. On the “pro” side, based on the assorted tweets of journalists in attendance, many based on quick conversations with scouts in attendance, Tebow’s power was described as “nuclear,” and graded out at an 80 for at least one scout. That’s as good as it gets. The speed in the 60, as mentioned above, was also excellent.

On the “con” side was his fielding, which was considered sub-par, with a scout saying that his routes were circuitous and inefficient and his arm, while alright, was nothing special, especially for a guy of his obvious physical strength.

As far as non-power hitting goes, it was also not great. His stance was very, very wide and did not leave much room for adjustments, scouts said. This was born out by his being fairly consistently baffled by former big leaguer David Aarsdma’s changeup, at which he swung-and-missed three of four times. He was one for six in simulated at bats against minor league journeyman Chad Smith, with that one hit being a single. He also drew a walk.

Maybe that power — both hitting power and star power — is too great for an organization to ignore. Maybe someone takes a chance. But as a prospect Tim Tebow sure sounds a lot like a big strong fast guy who probably doesn’t have a ton of baseball skills.