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. Josh Collmenter threw the first shutout of the 2015 MLB season last night

    Apr 18, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Josh Collmenter AP

    It’s safe to say that nobody would have guessed this one.

  2. Settling the Score: Friday’s results

    Apr 18, 2015, 8:51 AM EDT

    Bartolo Colon AP

    A quick recap of a busy Friday around MLB, including the exploits of Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon.

  3. Josh Hamilton’s teammates say he’s in great shape and ready to play

    Apr 18, 2015, 7:17 AM EDT

    Josh Hamilton Josh Hamilton

    There are, increasingly, two Angels camps when it comes to the Josh Hamilton matter: Arte Moreno and everybody else.

  4. Josh Hamilton’s California house is for sale

    Apr 18, 2015, 6:49 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 6.46.17 AM

    When Angels owner Arte Moreno was asked if Josh Hamilton would ever play for the Angels again, he said “I will not say that.” With this listing, perhaps Hamilton is saying so himself.

  5. Ruben Amaro on Andy Oliver’s decision to elect free agency: “I think it was a very foolish move on his part, but that’s OK.”

    Apr 17, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT

    Andy Oliver Andy Oliver

    Ruben Amaro seems a little upset that Andy Oliver didn’t want to start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

  6. Mets will bring back Rafael Montero as a starting pitcher near the end of April

    Apr 17, 2015, 10:50 PM EDT

    Rafael Montero Rafael Montero

    The Mets will be stretching out Rafael Montero as a starter at Triple-A Las Vegas before bringing him back to the majors for a spot start against the Marlins.

  7. Mike Trout hit his 100th career home run to become the youngest member of the 100 HR/100 SB club

    Apr 17, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT

    Mike Trout Mike Trout

    Mike Trout became the youngest to join the 100/100 club with a two-run home run on Friday night.

  8. Make that two: Alex Rodriguez hits second homer of the night, giving him 658 for his career

    Apr 17, 2015, 9:17 PM EDT

    Alex Rodriguez Alex Rodriguez

    Alex Rodriguez has two home runs on Friday night, leaving him two round-trippers shy of tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run leaderboard.

  9. Video: Matt Carpenter leaps over Brayan Pena to score on a sacrifice fly

    Apr 17, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT

    Matt Carpenter Matt Carpenter

    Matt Carpenter made a cool maneuver to score the tying run in the bottom of the first against the Reds on Friday night.

  10. Ubaldo Jimenez was ejected, wrongfully, for hitting Pablo Sandoval with a pitch

    Apr 17, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT

    Ubaldo Jimenez Getty Images

    Neither side was warned, but Ubaldo Jimenez was ejected for hitting Pablo Sandoval with a pitch on Friday evening.

  11. Alex Rodriguez hit his 657th career home run

    Apr 17, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT

    a-rod reuters yankees Reuters

    A-Rod is now three home runs away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run leaderboard.

  12. The Tigers are 9-1. Does that mean anything?

    Apr 17, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT

    Jose Iglesias, Nick Castellanos, Ian Kinsler, Andrew Romine Jose Iglesias, Nick Castellanos, Ian Kinsler, Andrew Romine

    Since 2000, how often have teams that started 9-1 went on to have playoff success?

  13. Mark Buehrle is considering retiring after the 2015 season

    Apr 17, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT

    Mark Buehrle Mark Buehrle

    Mark Buehrle, baseball’s timeless left-hander, is reportedly considering retiring after the season.

  14. Mike Scioscia is concerned that Josh Hamilton is not “getting the help he needs”

    Apr 17, 2015, 5:28 PM EDT

    josh hamilton angels getty Getty Images

    Well, he’s certainly not getting the support of the Los Angeles Angels.

  15. Twins put Brian Duensing on disabled list, call up Caleb Thielbar

    Apr 17, 2015, 4:16 PM EDT

    Brian Duensing Getty Getty Images

    Duensing had an ugly outing Thursday in which he turned a blowout into a save situation for closer Glen Perkins.

  16. Jose Reyes has a cracked rib, will try to avoid disabled list

    Apr 17, 2015, 3:41 PM EDT

    jose reyes getty Getty Images

    Ryan Goins, who was called up from Triple-A, is expected to be Reyes’ primary fill-in at shortstop.

  17. Mets demote Rafael Montero to Triple-A

    Apr 17, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT

    Rafael Montero AP

    And call up infielder Danny Muno.

  18. Pirates activate Chris Stewart, send Tony Sanchez to minors

    Apr 17, 2015, 2:17 PM EDT

    Tony Sanchez Getty Images

    Sanchez was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. D. Span (3215)
  2. B. Gardner (3167)
  3. D. Salazar (3155)
  4. D. Mesoraco (3109)
  5. C. Gomez (3015)