Billy Beane

After sacrificing two top prospects, the A’s are now all in for 2014

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A’s general manager Billy Beane was famously quoted in Moneyball saying “my #@!% doesn’t work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs.”

He couldn’t possibly have made it any more clear Friday that he no longer feels that way.

In trading his preseason No. 1 and No. 2 prospects to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, Beane was trying to give a team that’s been baseball’s best for three months a better chance of being its best in October.

It was easily the boldest move Beane had pulled off since he traded Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith to the Rockies for Matt Holliday following the 2008 season. That deal proved to be one of Beane’s worst, as Holliday was traded again for a disappointing haul at midseason and the 2009 A’s floundered to a 75-87 record.

This time, the A’s cashed in one of the game’s 10 best prospects in 2012 first-round pick Addison Russell, plus 2013 first-round pick Billy McKinney. It’s a huge blow to a minor league system that hasn’t been churning out a lot of talent. In fact, the only A’s draft picks to suit up for the team this year are Sonny Gray, Sean Doolittle (a first baseman-turned-closer) and Dan Straily. Straily was also sent to the Cubs as part of the deal.

In return, the A’s acquired half of their upcoming postseason rotation, bumping Jesse Chavez and Tommy Milone to also-ran roles, if everything goes according to plan. Chavez will most likely stay in the rotation for now, but given that his career high for innings is 130 (and he’s at 103 right now), the A’s might have been surmising that he’d wear down. Milone, who has a fine 3.55 ERA this year, is likely to get bumped to the pen or to Triple-A.

It’s curious that the A’s didn’t instead target an ace like David Price or Cole Hamels if they were willing to part with Russell. But there’s no denying how effective Samardzija and Hammel have been this year. They both had ERAs a bit under 3.00 for the Cubs, with practically identical strikeout rates (103 strikeouts in 108 innings for Samardzija, 104 in 108 2/3 innings for Hammel). But neither have the October track record another GM might have preferred. Samardzija, a career Cub, has never pitched in the postseason. Hammel has made three postseason starts with a 4.80 ERA. One concern with him is that he’s never topped 180 innings. Right now, he’s on pace to pitch 200 in the regular season alone.

So, the A’s are certainly a better team now. But they were almost certainly October-bound whether or not they made the trade. Perhaps they were worried that the Angels, who look like the AL’s second best team, could overtake them in the AL West, putting them in a wild card game. Clearly, their chances in October are much better if they avoid that fate. Still, Samardzija and Hammel only move the needle so much in the postseasson, and the long-term future doesn’t look so healthy.

As terrific of a job that Beane has done finding bargains like Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Chavez, John Jaso and others, the price to keep all of those players in arbitration is about to go through the roof in the coming years, and Beane is going to have to pull off more miracles to supplement his core talent if the farm system isn’t up to the task. Now not only are they going to pay Samardzija about $10 million next year (Hammel is a free agent at season’s end, Samardzija has one year of arbitration left), but they lost the chance to save about $5 million at shortstop by replacing Jed Lowrie with Russell.

If it were anyone except Beane in charge, I’d say the A’s window is now this year and next, with a bleak period to follow. But maybe he’ll keep it going. And if he can bring a world championship to Oakland before then, then that long-term price hardly matters.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]