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.

Amanda Hopkins is the first full-time female baseball scout in over 50 years

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SEATTLE (AP) Nearly two years ago, Amanda Hopkins’ phone rang. It was a call she dreamt of receiving, one that broke barriers and made her a part of baseball history.

Almost immediately, her competitiveness took over.

“She put a sign up on her bedroom door saying, `Stay out, we’re opponents,”‘ recalled her father, Ron Hopkins, a special assistant to the general manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “In other words, my bedroom is off limits to you, there is info in here. I got a kick out of it.”

The 24-year-old Hopkins is now about to complete her second year as an area scout for the Seattle Mariners. Her responsibility is the Four Corners area of the Southwest, taking her to destinations like Greeley, Colorado, and Hobbs, New Mexico, two of the more challenging places to get to from her base in the Phoenix area.

She is also the first full-time female baseball scout in more than 50 years, breaking through a barrier that required diligence on her end and willingness by the Mariners organization.

Yet, Hopkins does not view herself through that prism or want to be viewed as a trailblazer. She’s a scout . That’s it.

“I think if anything people are more shocked sometimes when I will go meet with a player in the office or something like that. Maybe they just know, hey the Mariners’ scout is coming in to meet with you today and they walk in and they’re like, `Oh.’ That kind of thing,” Hopkins said. “It’s usually more of like a shocked look. But then they’re more curious, they’re like, `How’d you get into this?’ And they kind of like want a brief rundown of how I got to where I am. All the players, all the coaches, are incredibly respectful to me.”

While she is believed to be the first woman to work as a full-time baseball scout since Edith Houghton in the middle of the 20th century, Hopkins has been around baseball since she was a child.

She traveled with her father to games, regularly making trips to the Alaskan Summer League or the Cape Cod League in summers. She would run the radar gun and pass along the speeds to her dad when she was as young as 8. It was obvious early on she possessed the same critical eye as her dad.

“She learned at an early age the difference between a curveball and a slider. As she got older it just sort of grew on her,” Ron said.

“I’d go out with my dad and they’d be like `Oh what do you want to do when you grow up?’ And I’d tell them, `I want to be a baseball scout,”‘ Amanda said. “It’s like this little girl telling them that and it’s like, `Oh that’s cute. She wants to be like her dad.’ But really, I think it was kind of like she’ll grow out of it. That’s kind of what everyone thought.”

Instead, her passion for the job only grew. She majored in psychology while playing softball at Central Washington University, yet that failed to satisfy her desire to be around baseball.

“The whole time I was in there I wanted to be a baseball scout,” Hopkins said. “And I remember probably my freshman year, sophomore year, I was like I really don’t want to do anything but that. So why am I trying to almost talk myself out of it and find a different path?”

Hopkins served as an intern in Seattle’s baseball operations department in the summer of 2014, but worked mostly with amateur scouting. A year later, she was sponsored by the Mariners to attend scout school and about a month after returning she got the offer.

“I was a little nervous myself because I knew she was going to be breaking a little bit of a barrier and she was pretty young,” said Tom McNamara, who hired Hopkins and is currently a special assistant to the general manager with the Mariners. “I went into Jerry (Dipoto’s) office and I had a lump in my throat and I said, `This is what I want to do.’ And he was all for it. He didn’t even hesitate.”

When she was hired in December 2015, Hopkins was reluctant to talk about her place in baseball history. She wanted more experience as a professional before talking about a career that was just getting started.

“She was down in Arizona in the beginning and I would check on her and finally she said, `Tom, I’m OK. You don’t need to check on me every other day,”‘ McNamara recalled.

Hopkins was part of a panel earlier this week about women in baseball organized by the Mariners. She is starting to get comfortable with the history she has made. But she doesn’t want that to be her entire story in baseball.

“I have so much to learn still. This is such a profession that takes so many years to fully understand and you’re continually learning,” Hopkins said. “My dad, 40 years into scouting, is still learning something every time he goes to the park. So I definitely think that I just want to be the best area scout I can be right now. But I love the scouting aspect of it. I really think that I want to stay in the scouting side of the game.”

Derek Jeter is a Dad

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I’m sure you’ve all been wondering about this — actually, someone in the comments the other day was wondering about it — but the wondering is over: Derek Jeter and his wife Hannah are now the proud parents of a baby girl. Her name is Bella Raine Jeter. She was born yesterday. The delivery, sources within the New York press corps tell me, was “classy.”

You’ll be shocked to learn that the news broke via the Twitter feed of The Players Tribune, which Jeter owns. I eagerly await a ghostwritten column from the baby in the next couple of days. Something like “Being Born Was an Amazing Experience, by Bella Jeter.” Or maybe one of those “Letter to My Younger Selves” feature they do sometimes.

Anyway, congratulations, Captain. Now get to the business of proving your sister wrong.