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Springtime Storylines: Should Athletics' fans be freaking out about the bullpen yet?

Mar 29, 2010, 3:05 PM EDT

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The San Jose Athletics (forgive me; just tryin’ it out)

big question: Should Athletics’ fans be freaking out about the bullpen yet?

Maybe a full-blown freakout is premature, but you can commence nervous twitching, that’s for sure.  The A’s pen was clearly the strength of the team last year, leading the AL with a 3.46 ERA. Going into the spring it looked to be returning intact plus adding Joey Devine who will soon be coming back from Tommy John

But then the injuries began happening: Devine had a setback that’s going to keep him from coming north with the team at the end of the week. Craig Breslow, Mike Wuertz and Andrew Bailey have all been injured in the early going too. Bailey and Breslow came up with bum elbows they’re testing out today and Wuertz has a sore shoulder that is still not improving and may keep him from Opening Day.  No one expected the A’s bullpen to have another season as good as last year’s — they were pretty stellar after all — but they’d probably rather have slightly less effective versions of last year’s bullpen cast than to have to trade for and sign Yankees’ castoffs Edwar Ramirez and Chad Gaudin, respectively.

Normally this wouldn’t be a tremendous cause for concern as even winning teams see a lot of bullpen changeover from year to year. But the Athletics are far more dependent on their pen and have enough questions elsewhere — see below — that if the bullpen is a source of trouble instead of a strength, Oakland’s slim chances of contending more or less evaporate.

So what else is going on?

  • There have been a handful of stories this spring about the return of small ball.  Given that there remains a much stronger correlation between homers and scoring and, well, whatever small ball is and scoring, these stories are overstated.  But if anyone truly is going to live or die by small ball, it will be the A’s. Their offense took off in the second half last season, mostly on the power of stealing and bunting and hitting and running and that kind of thing. If they’re going to score runs in sufficient quantities this year, it will be via the same methods, because there really isn’t any power on this club.
  • Justin Duchscherer and Ben Sheets are high risk, high reward guys on the front end of the rotation, but there are a lot of young arms on this team, many of them with considerable upside. Brett Anderson is one, and he’s joined by Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzaro and Josh Outman. All of them have flashed quality and all of them have been horrifying, but that’s young pitching for you. Ultimately the A’s rotation strategy is going to be the same as an insect’s reproductive strategy: throw out a ton of youngins and hope enough of them survive to keep things moving along.

  • Eric Chavez is healthy for the first time in years and years and is going to be a utility guy. Now that no one expects anything out of him anymore he’ll probably hit 25 homers or something.
  • The whole San Jose thing is presumably going to be resolved sometime this year. If I had to guess it will be resolved in the form of that special committee Bud Selig put together releasing a report that says Oakland is no longer a viable home for the the team, followed by a big payoff to the Giants to allow the team to move to San Jose. When that happens, the last six people in the city of Oakland who actually care about the A’s will abandon the team. If a baseball game happens at the Coliseum and there’s no one there to see it, does it count in the standings?

So how
are they gonna do?

I think that if Sheets and Duchscherer are healthy and effective, two of the young arms take a big leap forward (do arms leap?), and the bullpen’s health scares turn out to be a lot of nothing this could be a downright frisky team. The odds of all of those things happening aren’t stellar, however, and I don’t place enough faith in the Athlectics’ offense to be able to cover for any pitching problems.

Prediction:Fourth place, AL West. But if it’s any consolation, I think the Athletics will be the best last place team in baseball.

here for other Springtime Storylines

  1. Melo - Mar 29, 2010 at 3:32 PM

    Since the Athletics have been averaging 75 wins a season over the past three years and haven’t improved for 2010, what difference does it make. The price of beer, hotdogs, and admission seem more important.

  2. APBA Guy - Mar 29, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    I wonder if Lew Wolfe will be putting his tarp on the lower deck this year.
    Every team has its rosy scenario coming out of Spring, but the A’s slide into irrelevance has coincided with the arrival of the current ownership group. We don’t know the real financial situation, but from the outside the owner’s behavior reminds me of the movie Major League: let’s disparage the ballpark, disparage the city and then cry poor when no one shows up so we can justify moving the team.
    For me it’s the same distance to San Jose as it is to Oakland. And the Mausoleum is a dump compared to AT&T, etc. But when the sun’s out, and the sky is blue, the field is a damn beautiful sight. It’s never been the stadium that’s kept me away. It’s the owners who keep jacking the price every year while fielding a AAA team. We’ve had the same payroll as the Twins (until this year), and I haven’t seen anyone lately in an A’s uniform who resembles Joe Mauer, or Jason Kubel at least.
    Where is the money going really?

  3. scatterbrian - Mar 29, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    “When that happens, the last six people in the city of Oakland who actually care about the A’s will abandon the team.”
    Careful Craig, those six people are an extremely thin-skinned group. There was a post today on Athletics Nation that got deleted because it was calling out A’s fans for their lack of attendance. I believe they call it baiting at AN, and their over-zealous mods love deleting things like this, which is just silly. Sure the fans on AN are obviously more passionate than most, and even though the details weren’t exactly correct, the writer makes a good point: if more fans went to see the A’s, they’d have more money to spend on the on-field product. And this isn’t a recent issue; even when the team was killing it in the early part of the decade, the A’s attendance remained middle of the pack.

  4. scatterbrian - Mar 29, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    I understand what frustration, but the park is a dump and the city is poor, and fans don’t show up. How is that Wolff’s fault?

  5. Old Gator - Mar 29, 2010 at 10:01 PM

    Funny but we ask ourselves the inverse of that question down here in Macondo all the time. The park is nice, if a bit exposed to the elements – and we have elements – but there’s plenty of money here (not per capita so much, but the high rate of new immigration into Macondo and utter lack of manufacturing jobs pulls the average way down), while the Feesh have one of the highest per capita television and radio audiences of any team in the league. But we hate our ownership and love to spite it so we stay home a lot.
    I’m not sure I grasp how the territory issue plays out in San Francisco, but then a lot of things are strange in the Bay area anyway – you know, like those people out there are really part fish like the residents of Innsmouth in Arkham Parish or the humanoid aliens in The Santaroga Barrier. It can’t just be from neuroses from sitting on a fault network. I mean, if you look at a map San Jose is three or four times as far from The City as Oakland is. And you will notice that just as many cars can use a six lane highway to cross level ground as they can to cross a bay. If the As aren’t sucking fans from the Giants from close enough to be seen with good binoculars, how are they going to impact them from across the curvature of the Earth?
    Having said that, I can’t deny I’d love to see what Billy Beane would do if they filled his playpen with real money.

  6. Joey B - Mar 30, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    “Given that there remains a much stronger correlation between homers and scoring and, well, whatever small ball is and scoring, these stories are overstated.”
    I never quite got these comparisons. You can play small ball and still have Bay in your lineup, or you can play long ball and still have Ellsbury in your lineup. The way to win is to optimize the individual skills of each player.
    “Prediction:Fourth place, AL West. But if it’s any consolation, I think the Athletics will be the best last place team in baseball.”
    Still no respect for the Mets? Mets should have a better 4th place record by 5 games (assuming you agree the Mets will beat out the Nats).

  7. Joey B - Mar 30, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    “And this isn’t a recent issue; even when the team was killing it in the early part of the decade, the A’s attendance remained middle of the pack.”
    Yup. They’ll always be inequities, since some cities are richer than others, but I’m nor overly sympathetic when fans won’t attend games, whatever the reason. The A’s averaged 89 wins per year for the past decade, 1st four times, and a wildcard once. That’s about as successful as any team not named the NYY or RS.
    You can only get what you pay for. Asking the A’s to increase the payroll is like asking a pub that you never go into that they should stock your favorite champagne.

  8. APBA Guy - Mar 30, 2010 at 1:59 PM

    The fact is the A’s attendance as recently as 2005 averaged 26,000 fans, more than 50% above last year’s attendance which was 17,000 the same as 1999. That’s what 3 years of losing does, when added to Wolfe’s incessant complaining about Oakland, the venue, etc.
    Investigate the revenue numbers for a minute. Overall revenue was
    $ 146M in 2007 (Forbes)with payroll of $ 80M. By 2009 payroll DROPPED to $ 56M but revenue had RISEN to $ 160M (Forbes) due to higher ticket, parking and concession prices plus greater revenue sharing income.
    Where is the money going? It isn’t to payroll and players. It isn’t to park improvements. That’s all under ownership control. That’s my point.

  9. scatterbrian - Mar 30, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    The problem is that the 26,000 average in 2005 was 8th in the AL. In 2006, when the A’s won 93 games and went to the playoffs for the fifth time in seven years, the numbers dropped to 24,400 avg. and 12th in attendance. Then three years of losing (which was 76, 75, and 75 wins–losing records yes, but not exactly doormats) results in fewer fans going to games. Meanwhile, teams like the Royals and the Pirates have been comparable attendance-wise yet have a long recent tradition of sucking, while the A’s have had recent sustained success. It seems A’s fans have short memories.
    As for the payroll, I’d like to see the team invest in players too, but there haven’t been many that a) fit the teams needs, and b) fit into a realistic budget. Let’s look at free agents the last two years.
    In the 2007 off-season the big signings were Torii Hunter (5/$90M), Aaron Rowand (5/$60M), Andruw Jones (2/$36.2M), Carlos Silva (4/$48M), Francisco Cordero (4/$46M), Jose Guillen (3/$36M), Luis Castillo (4/$25M).
    2008 had Mark Teixeira (8/$180M), CC Sabathia (7/$161M), AJ Burnett (5/$82.5M), Derek Lowe (4/$60M), Francisco Rodriguez (3/$37M), Oliver Perez (3/$36M), Raul Ibanez (3/$31.5M), Milton Bradley (3/$30M), Adam Dunn (2/$20M), Edgar Renteria (2/$18.5M).
    This year was Matt Holliday (7/$120M), John Lackey (5/$82.5M), Jason Bay (4/$66M), Chone Figgins (4/$36M), Randy Wolf (3/$29.75M), Placido Polanco (3/$18M), Joel Piniero (2/$16M).
    I left out Rafael Furcal (3/$30M), Randy Johnson (1/$8M), Adrian Beltre (1/$10M), Marco Scutaro (2/$12.5M) and Aroldis Chapman (6/$30.25), all of whom had serious offers from the A’s that were rejected. This is why the A’s overspent to land Ben Sheets.
    The A’s could not afford Teixeira or Sabathia, so they aren’t useful for this discussion. But among the rest, many of which are bad contracts, there’s not one player/contract I wish the A’s signed except for Figgins and possibly Dunn. And they’ve clearly made efforts to sign free agents, it just hasn’t happened.
    Personally, I prefer the A’s not spend money at all as opposed to spending it on bad players. Unfortunately there are fans who equate payroll with front-office commitment.

  10. Melo - Mar 30, 2010 at 5:45 PM

    There are operating costs for teams that go well beyond team payroll. It’s kind of funny that you mentioned Forbes as a source because they have the A’s listed as #26 in revenue and value among all the MLB teams. It sounds to me like the A’s could more than double their revenue if they moved to San Jose with a new stadium. Increased revenue means a higher team payroll, sometimes.

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