Monday, July 09, 2007

Are the A's Still Having More Fun?

About a month, month and a half, ago, Ann Killion's column headline blared out "A's are having more fun than the Giants". I thought it would be interesting to revisit that assertion now, using the same opportunistic, knee-jerk reaction that prompted that article.


This is the problem I have with making grand assertions during the season, there are ups and there are downs. And a whole heck of a lot of it. Today, after a frustrating 2-0 loss yesterday, blowing a 5.15 ERA pitcher's most probable best game ever in the majors, the A's are .469, 11.5 games behind the AL West leading Angels, losers in 11 of 13, 13 of 17, 23 of 32. In funner times: they were .525, 3 games above .500, 6 games behind. Ironic that the losing started around after that column came out, when they were on a hot winning streak; so I had to bring this up after their epic 9 game losing streak happened.


Still, where their overall record is, that's admittedly better than the Giants, who are now mired in last place, 14 games under .500, 12.5 games back. Even after winning the series against the NL leading Brewers, they still have the 4th worse record in the majors, putting them in line for a top 5 draft pick next year. And they are facing 38 games in the next 38 days, so things aren't going to get much better.


But the focus here still remains: Are the A's having more fun than the Giants? I guess it is all relative. They have a slightly better record, I suppose they should be having more fun, but their place in the standings is not much better than the Giants, 11.5 games back vs. 12.5 games. And that isn't really anything to crow about, that can reverse in just one day.


I don't feel that anyone should ever be having any fun at .500 nor, particularly when you are more than 5 games behind. I don't find that fun. I can understanding enjoying the good times when a team is going good, or enjoying the moments during a bad season when things are going good, like when Lincecum dominates, but to put it as "the A's are having more fun than the Giants" is just more of the kissing up to the A's that the Mercury has been doing since the A's announced they are moving to Fremont.

The Giants losing is not fun. But I've been able to enjoy how well the pitching staff has been doing. Have they been perfect? No, but that's the growing pains we have to go through when you are rebuilding, the young players aren't consistently good. But on the whole, the young players have delivered and bodes very well for the future, starting next season.

We Are Close

That's what gets my goat about some Giants fans calling for Sabean's head and/or a complete rebuild. We've already rebuilt the pitching staff. It is basically done, though we clearly still need a closer (Wouldn't it be nice if we had a closer then we won't have to worry about our leads...) and the lineup is next. Almost all vet contracts are expiring this season and next, so the lineup can be almost totally different on opening day in 2009.

A rebuild the way some fans have been calling for would trash any chances of winning over the next 2-3 years, killing a large portion of the time we control Cain, Lincecum, Lowry cheaply. By the time the rebuild is done, the three of them will soon be free agents, and perhaps tired of losing.

Getting rid of Sabean as some had called for, the new GM would clearly feel a mandate to shake things up, perhaps he goes for that trade of Cain or Lincecum for some great hitter. But then the undeniable strength of our future is eliminated, we have 3 pitchers capable of being top pitchers in Cain, Lincecum, Lowry, trading one of the two who could be aces would break that up unique strength. And who is to say that the other GM is any good, that would be speculation and wishful thinking on the part of the Sabean naysayers, all they can say is that anyone else would be better and that would by hyperbole.

Imagine once Cain and Lincecum gets things together and consistently dominate. We could go to a 4 man rotation during the playoffs and pretty much guarantee a series win, with Cain and Lincecum pitching 3 of the 5 games in the first round, 4 of 7 in the following rounds. And Lowry and Zito in there should get us a win in one of the other games, at least.

This is what I've been writing about for a while now, the way to win in the playoffs is to get multiple pitchers who can be dominant against any lineups. Like Koufax/Drysdale. Or for a more recent example, like Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling for the D-backs. Clearly Cain and Lincecum could be that for us.

But the clock is now ticking, and we can either seize the moment or squander it. As I've been stating, I think the best chance of doing that is to keep Sabean, keep his strategy going. Obviously, others strongly disagree.

But he has had a long line of success in identifying good players. He was head of scouting and player development with the Yankees, instrumental in helping them sign and develop key players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Duncan. He made a lot of key trades and player acquisitions that got the Giants winning immediately, after one of the Giants worse losing seasons in franchise history. And kept that going for 9 years, acquiring players like Jeff Kent, JT Snow, Daryl Hamilton, Ellis Burks, Jason Schmidt, and David Bell and keeping Rich Aurilia instead of trading him off, when he was a prospect in our system.

And as much as Giants fans have complained bitterly about his more recent history, I would say that overall, he did the most important things: keep Cain and Lowry, and draft Lincecum when 9 other teams had passed on him. I think people need to keep an overall perspective, he was a coach and a scout before becoming GM, so player evaluation is core to his strengths and advantages. I don't think something like that goes away just like that, particularly in someone still relatively young as he is.

And if you are GM for any good length of time, you are going to have a clunker eventually - for if you don't take some risks, you risk not getting great gains - and not all your trades are going to be home runs, some will be singles as well as outs. But the key point to focus on now is what we do have and that is, we have a rebuilt pitching staff, it is done except for closer. We will have new hitters joining us next season, and hopefully some of our hitters will continue to develop, like Frandsen, Lewis, and Schierholtz.

And if the pitchers are as good as expected, we don't need a great offense to win, we just need one good enough to support Cain and Lincecum. So even if we don't have a lot of good hitters, as many people have derided the Giants for, as long as we have enough OK hitters, we should be fine going forward. People forget that the offense, based on Bill James Pythagorean formula, should be around 47-49, which, while not great, at least would be near .500 and close enough to the leaders to think about making a run at them still. It is just a bad luck year, based on James assertion that such inequities in winning is normally balanced out over time.

So give him a year to show that he still has it, this is now time to recraft the lineup, and if he fails, yeah, then we can get rid of him, we've only lost a year, but if he succeeds, as his past history suggests, then we should be ready to compete relatively soon as long as our pitching continues to do what they have been doing for the most part.

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