Skip to content

Moneyball and Bubba

Jun 3, 2014, 10:44 AM EDT

Sonny Gray AP

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Yovani Gallardo extended his scoreless innings streak to 29 and a third

    Jul 3, 2015, 9:11 AM EDT

    Yovani Gallardo Getty Images

    He has a 2.56 ERA and a 72/31 K/BB ratio over 102 innings on the season.

  2. The Braves get a walkoff win against Max Scherzer

    Jul 3, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT

    Cameron Maybin Getty Images

    He wasn’t hit hard, but the Braves hit ’em where they weren’t.

  3. Settling the Scores: Thursday’s results

    Jul 3, 2015, 6:38 AM EDT

    Scott Kazmir Getty Images

    Scott Kazmir dominated the Mariners last night.

  4. Dodgers designate Brandon League for assignment

    Jul 2, 2015, 11:28 PM EDT

    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 08:  Pitcher Brandon League #43 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during the game against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium on April 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) Getty Images

    League hasn’t pitched in the majors this season due to a shoulder injury.

  5. Reds GM Walt Jocketty says he’s not trading Todd Frazier

    Jul 2, 2015, 10:39 PM EDT

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 25:  Todd Frazier #21 of the Cincinnati Reds on deck in the seventh inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 25, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Reds are expected to be sellers, but GM Walt Jocketty said Thursday that third baseman Todd Frazier isn’t going anywhere.

  6. Matt Boyd pulled from start after failing to record an out against the Red Sox

    Jul 2, 2015, 9:23 PM EDT

    TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 2: Matt Boyd #46 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after giving up a three-run home run in the first inning during MLB game action to David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox on July 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

    After pitching into the seventh inning in his major league debut against the Rangers last Saturday, Blue Jays left-hander Matt Boyd failed to record an out in his start tonight against the Red Sox.

  7. Freddie Freeman won’t return from wrist injury before All-Star break

    Jul 2, 2015, 8:26 PM EDT

    NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 14:  Freddie Freeman #5 of the Atlanta Braves in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 14, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Braves 10-8.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Freeman hopes to return right after the All-Star break, but he acknowledges that it’s a “best-case scenario.”

  8. Archie Bradley has no structural damage in shoulder

    Jul 2, 2015, 7:28 PM EDT

    Archie Bradley Archie Bradley

    Bradley has been out for a month with right shoulder tendinitis.

  9. Cardinals place Jon Jay on disabled list with nagging wrist injury

    Jul 2, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT

    cD05ODdlNmNhY2MwMjRlZWQzNTJhM2ViYTQ1Y2VlY2YzOCZnPTc3MGY5MjU2OTgyMDlhMTEzNjQwN2M5MDc4NTYyYTMx Getty Images

    Jay has already had one stint on the disabled list this season due to his nagging wrist injury.

  10. The Dodgers sign Trevor Cahill

    Jul 2, 2015, 5:02 PM EDT

    Trevor Cahill AP

    Cahill was designated for assignment by the Braves earlier this month after allowing 23 runs in 26 innings.

  11. Breaking: Cardinals fire their scouting director, likely due to the Astros hacking scandal

    Jul 2, 2015, 4:29 PM EDT

    ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 3:  Seats sit empty prior to a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium on June 3, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The director, Chris Correa, has admitted to hacking into the Astros system.

  12. Orioles sign suspended reliever Chris Perez

    Jul 2, 2015, 4:16 PM EDT

    Chris Perez Getty Getty Images

    He still has to serve a 50-game suspension for a “drug of abuse.”

  13. George Springer sent to the disabled list, not expected back for six weeks

    Jul 2, 2015, 3:24 PM EDT

    George Springer Getty Images

    He fractured his wrist last night as a result of an Edinson Volquez fastball.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. M. Moore (3725)
  2. J. Hamilton (3513)
  3. G. Stanton (3240)
  4. M. Cain (3165)
  5. J. Ellsbury (3144)
  1. H. Ramirez (3096)
  2. B. Harper (2871)
  3. M. Sano (2832)
  4. J. Fernandez (2780)
  5. S. Matz (2609)