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.

David Ortiz: “I was born to play against the Yankees”

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 29:  David Ortiz  #34 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates after hitting a two-run home run in the eighth inning during the game against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on April 29, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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David Ortiz has used Derek Jeter’s Player’s Tribune as his personal podium all year as he says goodbye to the Major Leagues. He continues that today, on the eve of his final series against the Yankees.

In it Ortiz talks about what playing the Yankees meant to him over the course of his career. About how the fan hate was real but something he embraced. About how the series back in the days of Jeter and Pettitte and Mariano and Mussina were “wars.” He also talks about how the Yankees were basically everything when he was growing up in the Dominican Republic. The only caps and shirts you saw were Yankees shirts and how they were about the only team you could see on TV there. As such, coming to Boston and then playing against the Yankees was a big, big deal.

Ortiz says “[s]ome players are born to be Yankees, you know what I’m saying? I was born to play against the Yankees.”

And he’ll get to do it only three more times.

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 26: Cleveland Indians player celebrate clinching the Central Division Championship after defeating the Detroit Tigers 7-4 at Comerica Park on September 26, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Marlins 7, Mets 3: Giancarlo Stanton exhorting his teammates to “play the game like Jose would play the game.” The club kneeling in prayer beforehand. Dee Gordon’s right-handed hitting tribute and dramatic home run. A team which had every reason to be lost in a fog playing dominant baseball. Leaving their caps on the mound after the game. It was moving and sad but simultaneously triumphant and uplifting. A reminder of how beloved a teammate and person Jose Fernandez was to those who knew him. A reminder that people play this game and their personal bonds are tighter than we usually acknowledge.

Diamondbacks 14, Nationals 4: One of many routs last night. Here. Cubs over Pirates. Reds over Cardinals. Clinton over Trump. It’s almost as if one side showed up prepared and ready to play and the other side was clearly overmatched and out of their depth. At least the baseball teams get to do this 161 other times rather than have it be a mere three games. Oh well. Here Yasmany Tomas drove in five with a three-run homer and an RBI double. Jean Segura homered twice, driving in three. If the loss wasn’t bad enough, losing Wilson Ramos to a knee injury is something that could severely impact the Nationals’ prospects in the playoffs. Just as disastrous night all around.

Cubs 12, Pirates 2: Chicago picks up its 100th win of the year thanks in large part to a huge night from Javier Baez who drove in six with a grand slam and a two-run single. Meanwhile Kyle Hendricks continued to make his Cy Young case, scattering seven hits across six scoreless innings while watching his ERA sink to 1.99 and picking up his 16th win.

Yankees 7, Blue Jays 5: Maturity abounds as Luis Severino hit Josh Donaldson, the Jays throw at Chase Headley in retaliation and then the Yankees throw at Justin Smoak in retaliation for the retaliation. Based on the video and the game situation it did not appear as if Dondaldson was hit intentionally, but big macho baseball men gotta be big macho baseball men. After Headley was hit the Yankees had to put their big macho baseball men pants on too, apparently. They’re lucky no one was hurt. Luis Severino and J.A. Happ will almost certainly face fines or suspensions. As for the game, Mark Teixeira hit a tying homer in the ninth inning, flipping his bat and then jawing from his dugout, yelling “blown save!” to Jason Grilli. Aaron Hicks subsequently hit a two-run homer and the Yankees’ four-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth was too much for the Jays to overcome.

Indians 7, Tigers 4: The Indians clinch the AL Central, but it wasn’t all champagne and Budweiser, as ace Corey Kluber had to leave the game with groin tightness. Assuming he’s given an off day for what would’ve been his final start he’ll get a good week and a half or so of rest if he needs it before the ALDS starts. Coco Crisp and Roberto Perez homered for the Indians, and Jason Kipnis doubled in a run. The Tigers are now two games back of the idle Orioles in the Wild Card.

Brewers 8, Rangers 3Jonathan Villar homered twice and had a career-high five RBI as the Brewers put the Rangers a game back in the loss column of the Red Sox for home field advantage in the playoffs.

White Sox 7, Rays 1Justin Morneau and Carlos Sanchez each hit a two-run homer and James Shields won his first game in two months. He’s 4-11 since coming over from San Diego.

Mariners 4, Astros 3: Robinson Cano homered in the top of the 11th to give the M’s the win. He hit a homer in the third inning too. The victory moves Seattle into a tie with Detroit, two games behind Baltimore for the second AL Wild Card. Houston has droppd four of five,and is now three and a half games back in the race.

Reds 15, Cardinals 2: Cincinnati jumped out to a 10-0 lead by the top of the fourth. Four homers from the Reds, two from Adam Duvall, who was 4-for-6 with five RBI on the night. The Cards are one game out of Wild Card position behind the Giants now.

Angels 2, Athletics 1: The clubs exchanged solo shots — Mike Trout for the Angels, Steven Vogt for the A’s — but the tie was broken by Albert Pujols‘ run-scoring groundout in the eighth.