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. Eduardo Rodriguez dazzles in major league debut

    May 28, 2015, 11:39 PM EDT

    ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 28:  Eduardo Rodriguez #52 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Texas Rangers in the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 28, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Red Sox prospect left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings in his major league debut against the Rangers on Thursday.

  2. Rockies prospect David Dahl requires surgery on spleen after outfield collision

    May 28, 2015, 10:51 PM EDT

    rockies logo

    Rockies prospect David Dahl suffered a “massive laceration” in his spleen following an outfield collision Thursday and required season-ending surgery.

  3. Video: Josh Hamilton doubles in first at-bat back in Texas since returning to Rangers

    May 28, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT

    ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 28:  Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers smiles on base after hitting a double against the Boston Red Sox in the second inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 28, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Hamilton got a rousing ovation from the home crowd in his return to Texas.

  4. Diamondbacks expected to call up Jarrod Saltalamacchia on Friday

    May 28, 2015, 9:05 PM EDT

    Miami Marlins v New York Mets Getty Images

    Jarrod Saltalamacchia was cut loose by the Marlins earlier this month after proving to be a disappointment in his three-year, $21 million contract, but the Diamondbacks are ready to give him a shot.

  5. MRI shows no structural damage in Scott Kazmir’s shoulder

    May 28, 2015, 8:22 PM EDT

    OAKLAND, CA - MAY 17:  Scott Kazmir #26 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago White Sox in the top of the first inning at O.co Coliseum on May 17, 2015 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Kazmir left his start yesterday against the Tigers after three innings with shoulder tightness, but it sounds like he might not have to miss much time.

  6. Masahiro Tanaka expected to rejoin Yankees next week

    May 28, 2015, 7:40 PM EDT

    WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees works out prior to the Yankees baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Washington Nationals/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Tanaka has been sidelined since April 23 due to a right forearm strain and right wrist tendinitis.

  7. Struggling David Ortiz will get a couple of days off to work on his swing

    May 28, 2015, 7:01 PM EDT

    <> during the sixth inning at Fenway Park on May 24, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Getty Images

    The 39-year-old Ortiz has just one hit in his last 20 at-bats and is batting an uncharacteristic .216/.303/.377 with six home runs and 18 RBI across his first 43 games this season.

  8. Indians place Carlos Santana on paternity leave list

    May 28, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT

    carlos santana getty Getty Images

    The Indians placed Santana on the paternity leave list Thursday following the birth of his daughter.

  9. Daniel Nava goes on the disabled list with a sprained thumb

    May 28, 2015, 4:52 PM EDT

    ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game One Getty Images

    Nava has struggled all season, hitting just .159 with zero homers.

  10. Chris Sale dominates the Orioles

    May 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Seven and two-thirds innings, 12 strikeouts and nothin’ else doin’.

  11. Pirates top-100 prospect Nick Kingham undergoes Tommy John surgery

    May 28, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT

    Nick Kingham Pirates AP

    Kingham cracked top-100 prospect lists last season and this season.

  12. Jon Jay ready to return, will add to Cardinals’ outfield logjam

    May 28, 2015, 12:16 PM EDT

    jon jay getty Getty Images

    Jay has been out since May 10 with a wrist injury.

  13. The Big Unit: Wide Angle Watcher

    May 28, 2015, 11:53 AM EDT

    Rush

    I don’t do requests and even if I did, I would’t do Rush requests. But you all have broken me down.

  14. Grant Balfour is leaning toward retirement

    May 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Grant Balfour Getty Images

    He just opted out of his deal with Tampa Bay.

  15. Alex Rodriguez is the all-time AL RBI champion. Sorta.

    May 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez pumps his fist as he runs the bases after breaking Willie Mays' record on the all-time home run list after hitting his 661st home run in the third inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium in New York, Thursday, May 7, 2015.  (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) AP

    Where is the asterisk-applying crowd when you need ’em?

  16. The Brewers Double-A team’s 55-game road trip is actually going quite well

    May 28, 2015, 9:19 AM EDT

    Old Bus

    In other news, Taco Bell restaurants in Southern League towns are experiencing record sales.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. J. Hamilton (3514)
  2. D. Wright (2945)
  3. J. Lucroy (2792)
  4. A. Garcia (2705)
  5. Y. Puig (2676)
  1. J. Cueto (2660)
  2. R. Castillo (2569)
  3. M. Adams (2526)
  4. P. Fielder (2362)
  5. B. Harper (2327)