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.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

Associated Press
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 11, Nationals 5: The Mets were down 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth and all they did was put up a nine-spot. The damage: a two-run Todd Frazier single, a two-run Juan Lagares double, a bases-loaded walk to Michael Conforto and then a grand freakin’ slam by Yoenis Cespedes. Ryan Madson was the most victimized in terms of runs allowed that frame with six, Sammy Solis put two on with walks, one which forced in the run, and both of the guys he walked scored, and  A.J. Cole gave up the salami. Anyone get the number of the bus that hit the Nats?

Athletics 12, White Sox 11: Who doesn’t want to watch nearly six hours of the White Sox and Athletics? At least this one was kinda exciting, with the A’s trailing 6-1, 9-4 and 10-8, before taking the lead and then giving up a tying run in the ninth before Matt Olson singled in Marcus Semien with two outs in the 14th for the win. There were 33 hits and 18 walks in this game, issued by 18 — EIGHTEEN — pitchers. James freakin’ Shields got the loss, pitching in relief. A total of 556 pitches were thrown. Lost in this was Yoan Moncada hitting his first career grand slam, scoring three times and driving in four, Olson finishing with four hits and three RBI, and Jed Lowrie driving in three. This wasn’t baseball. It was test cricket. They were stopping for tea on the field and should’ve broken the thing up over three or four days.

Braves 7, Phillies 3: One of the reasons the Braves signed Jose Bautista to play third base yesterday was the seemingly reasonable belief that Ryan Flaherty‘s hot start to the season is not sustainable. Perhaps he took some personal umbrage at that because last night he drove in four, three of which came on a three-run homer that put the Braves up 3-1 in the fifth and the fourth of which came via an RBI single to extend their lead in the eighth. Dansby Swanson homered, backing Brandon McCarthy‘s one-run ball into the sixth.

Twins 2, Indians 1: When you’re playing on backup generators you probably want to conserve energy, but hey, sometimes games go 16 innings and you need to keep the lights on for five hours and thirteen minutes of play. That’s baseball. Jose Berrios and Carlos Carrasco dueled for seven scoreless innings and the teams’ relief corps fired bullets for six more before each team broke through for a single run in the fourteenth. Two innings later the Twins got to Josh Tomlin, a starter pressed into service, with an Eddie Rosario single, a Jason Kipnis error that allowed the runner to make it to third and and then a walkoff single from Ryan LaMarre, scoring Rosario. Following Francisco Lindor‘s homer on Tuesday night, Rosario getting to celebrate the winning run made it a couple of great games for Puerto Rico natives.

Pirates 10, Rockies 2Josh Bell drove in three runs and the Pirates rattled off 13 hits in all. The Rockies are last in the NL in hitting. Which is totally what you expect from the Rockies, right?

Tigers 6, Orioles 5: Machado hit a walkoff homer to win a game in which the Orioles played. Unfortunately for O’s fans it was Dixon, not Manny, and Dixon plays for Detroit. That came after a wild eighth and ninth, in which each team scored three and Luis Sardinas tied it with a solo shot off Shane Greene before Machado’s heroics. Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario and John Hicks also homered for Detroit. The O’s have lost five straight.

Rays 4, Rangers 2: Jake Faria allowed one run over six innings to get his first win since last July and the Rays rode a three-run sixth inning, powered by Daniel Robertson’s RBI double, C.J Cron’s RBI single and an Adeiny Hechavarria‘s sacrifice to victory. Play of the game, though, came from this Rays fan, who reached over the railing to grab a ball, interfering with a ball in play, and then reached into his pocket to throw back a different ball:

I’m struggling to think of what, exactly, his plan was when coming to the ballpark yesterday. Did he think he’d catch some historic ball in a rando Wednesday Rangers-Rays game and had the decoy to throw off the people he expected to mob him? What was going on in this dude’s head? Either way, the play was called a double due to fan interference and the fan was moved to a different section and given a warning. To be fair, it probably would’ve been a double anyway. He now has a super valuable, I’m sure *looks at the box score* Renato Nunez ball to call his own. He can probably retire off of that bit of swag now. Or something.

Brewers 2, Reds 0: Zach Davies tossed six and a third three-hit shutout innings and Eric Thames hit a two-run homer for all of the game’s scoring. Thames has abused the Reds recently, having hit a two-run shot off of them the day before. He has 58 homers in his career. Eleven of those have come against Cincinnati. He didn’t have the play of the day, though. Christian Yelich did, snagging a ball that first hit off of Hernan Perez‘s glove:

 

Blue Jays 15, Royals 5: Teoscar Hernandez had four hits, including a two-run home run, finishing a double short of the cycle and Curtis Granderson hit a grand slam and the Jays swept the Royals and sent them to their eighth straight defeat. Toronto, meanwhile, is off to its best start since 2009.

Giants 4, Diamondbacks 3: Arizona came back from a 2-0 deficit in the eighth and ninth to force extras but Brandon Belt‘s two-run homer — his 100th career dong — broke the tie in the tenth and the Giants held on to break their four-game winning streak.

Red Sox 9, Angels 0: Boston continues its scorching hot start, moving to 15-2 on the season. Rick Porcello continues his own personal hot start, moving to 4-0 and dropping his ERA to 1.40 with six shutout innings. Mitch Moreland and Rafael Devers each drove in four, Devers via a grand slam and Moreland via two RBI singles and a homer of his own. J.D. Martinez went 4-for-5 and knocked one over the fence as well. The Angels, who came into this series pretty hot themselves, have been outscored 19-1 through the first two games of the series.

Astros 7, Mariners 1: Gerrit Cole allowed only an unearned run in seven innings of work and the Astros’ bats woke up with a six-run seventh inning. George Springer and Marwin Gonzalez each drove in a couple, Carlos Correa and Brian McCann each knocked in a run and the seventh scored on an error.

Dodgers 13, Padres 4: The Dodgers sweep the Padres behind a ten strikeout night from Kenta Maeda and a shellacking of Padres starter Luis Perdomo. Corey Seager went 4-for-5 with three driven in. Max Muncy, who I am not convinced is an actual baseball player as opposed to a character played by, I dunno, Peter Falk in a light Neil Simon-esque comedy from the 1970s, hit a homer.

Cardinals vs. Cubs — POSTPONED:

In the twilight glow I see them
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain
When we kissed goodbye and parted
I knew we’d never meet again
Love is like a dyin’ ember
Only memories remain
Through the ages I’ll remember
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain