I See What You’re Doing Over There… and I Like It (’05- Present)
The length of this post is due to the fact that A's GM Billy Beane has enjoyed a great deal of success by putting together a roster of Theo Epstein's "leftovers" and "unwanted parts" from his tenure as Boston's GM. A quick look at Beane's everyday roster reveals that 25% of his guys either came up through Boston's organization (Moss, Reddick, Lowrie, Lester) or spent a good chunk of time there while younger (Crisp). This selection of players is really what fueled the idea for this series in the first place. So let's get down to some long winded player histories.
1st Base: Brandon Moss
Moss never got much of a chance with Boston, amassing just 115 Pas over two seasons, while mostly playing both corner outfield spots. His overall offensive production was solid, however, posting an OPS just north of .800, but was mainly blocked from regular playing time by Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew in left and right, respectively. Moss would spend time with Pittsburgh (’08-’10) and Philadelphia (’11) before finally finding an everyday, productive role with Oakland in 2012. Maybe it was all the familiar faces from 2008 that made Moss feel at home, as he joined fellow Red Sox teammates Coco Crisp and Bartolo Colón on the surging A’s roster. Even Jed Lowrie and Jon Lester got in on the ’08 reunion after coming over in ’13 and ’14, respectively. It’s easy to say that Oakland’s core is the beneficiary of unwanted or unneeded parts by Boston’s front office at this point, with Moss being the big power bat of the bunch. His line of .257/.340/.508 has been a big reason why the A’s have had so much success going on 3 seasons now, although there is cause for concern. Since the All Star Break, Moss’s bat has completely vanished. While some will be quick to point out that the loss of Cespedes to Boston (more on that beast in a bit) and the lack of lineup protection may be the cause, Fangraphs Chris Mitchell actually presents some data to the contrary: Moss is still seeing pitches in the same areas, but he’s swinging at 6% less of pitches in the zone and 6% less of pitches outside the zone. Maybe he’s too busy wistfully remembering the days of watching Cespedes from the on deck circle? Bottom line: Moss can’t afford to slump offensively, as his defense grades out pretty poorly; despite excellent offensive contributions, he’s only averaging 2.3 WAR a season overall (per Baseball-Reference). Still, he’s the best 1st basemen on this mutant baby squad of A’s and Sox.
Middle Infield: Jed Lowrie
Although he has predominately spent most of his time at Short since making his major league debut, Lowrie has played a fair amount of 2nd base as well. While not being particularly amazing at either on defense, he’s not so bad that he’ll kill you every night; over his career he sports a 0.2 UZR/150 at SS and 1.6 UZR/150 at 2nd (per fangraphs). His bat is where he gives teams value playing from the 6 spot on the diamond, as he’s hit .260/.329/.412 over the course of his career. After spending 188 games with Boston over the span of three seasons and being blocked by OUTSTANDING HITTER and scumbag Julio Lugo and later MarcoScutaro, Lowrie was shipped to Houston along with Kyle Weiland for relief pitcher and current Pirates closer Mark Melancon. He then came to the A’s in a deal with the Astros revolving around slugging centerpiece Chris Carter the following year.
Starting Pitcher: Jon Lester
In one of the more bizarre “win now” moves I’ve seen, the A’s traded for two months of a bona fide ace. The bizarre part was, they traded their bona fide 4th hole hitter, who’s under contract for at least one more season, in Yoenis Cespedes (who just barely missed this squad… but give it a couple more years, and he could easily vault past Dave Henderson). Rather than gawk at what they gave up though, I’m going to go ahead and gawk at what they got: at age 30, Lester is probably one of the top 3 left handed starting pitchers in the game right now (the other two being Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale). While his career ERA of 3.58 (nearly identical to a career FIP of 3.59), spanning from ’06 to present, is very good, it doesn’t tell the whole story of the pitcher that Lester is. After struggling a bit with command and homerun tendencies in ’12 and ’13, his career numbers were inflated by a 4.28 ERA over 418.2IP (3.84 FIP). The amazing part of the A’s and Red Sox swap, though, is that Lester has actually made Oakland better according to WAR (if you’re a slave to such statistics) than they would have been if they had stood pat with Cespedes. Lester’s WAR since coming over to Oakland is a sparkling 1.9 over just 69.2IP. Cespedes? He’s been good too, just not as good, checking in with a 1.4 WAR over his first 44 games with Boston. While there is much that can be said about comparing an outfielder that plays every day to a pitcher that only gets the ball every fifth, sabermetrics are inclined to siding with Lester over Cespy.
Relief Pitcher: Andrew Bailey
Originally, I had intended to use Keith Foulke as the third relief pitcher for this squad, but then remembered his ungraceful exit from Boston and decided against him. I’m not a huge fan of Bailey, either, but he has had a few very dominant seasons with Oakland. In 2009, his rookie season, Bailey burst onto the scene with the A’s by making an All Star appearance, posting a sub-2.00 ERA, and winning Rookie of the Year. He also posted a 9.8 K/9 and 0.876 WHIP over his 83.1 innings of work. His next season started out strong again, making another All Star team and posting a 1.47 ERA, albeit over just 49IP. This was the first year that injuries started to plague Bailey, as he hit the DL twice; once for an intracostal strain, and then again to have loose bodies removed from his pitching elbow. In 2011 he put up a decent ERA of 3.24, but spent more time on the DL due to a forearm strain and was limited to 41.2 innings that season. If you’re starting to notice a trend, it’s because there’s a trend.
Somehow, Billy Beane managed to land outfielder Josh Reddick in a trade that involved Bailey as the centerpiece and A’s 4th outfielder Ryan Sweeny. Once Reddick was given the chance to play every day, he took off with it by producing solidly on both sides of the ball (and may have won one of the roster spots on this team, were it not for its already insane outfield depth). Bailey wasn’t all that impressive in Boston, as he battled more and more different injuries (a thumb that needed to be surgically repaired and shoulder surgery, to name a couple of the main ones). He only tossed 44 innings in his two years in Beantown, to the tune of a 4.91 ERA, before being non-tendered after the ’13 season. There’s definitely still time for Bailey to get what was once a promising career back on track (he’s currently under contract with the Yankees through next season), shoulder surgeries are never easy to come back from, and his long list of injuries outside of that are worrisome as well.
Starting Pitcher: Bartolo Colon
This is the story of a biogenetically enhanced frog-man and his quest to pitch solid baseball for the duration of his existence.
When Colon’s Major League journey began in 1997 with the Cleveland Indians, he was still a tadpole (how are these frog jokes doing? No? Okay). From that year through 2002, his final year in Cleveland, he put up a solid 3.85 ERA (4.02 FIP) over 1146.2 innings. Considering that it was one of the richest power hitting eras that sport has ever seen (gee, I wonder why…), Colon was a big part of the Indians’ success during the late ‘90s to early ‘00s.
After signing a four year deal with the Angels before the start of the ’04 season, Colon rewarded his new team with a Cy Young award in ’05. Injuries hurt him the next two years, however, and it started looking like his career was winding down. For the two remaining years that Colon had in LA, he posted just 140IP.
2008 saw him with a limited number of innings yet again, although that year it wasn’t due to injuries; after signing on with Boston in late February on a minor league deal, Colon (after failing to make the team out of spring training) was called up to the big league club in mid-May. He tossed just 39 innings for the Red Sox, putting up a 3.92 ERA, before abruptly leaving the team for the Dominican Republic to attend to “personal stuff”, as Manager Terry Francona put it to MLB.com. The departure landed Colon on the restricted list in September, and after the end of postseason play, he filed for free agency.
Colon posted similar numbers the next season with the White Sox as he did with Boston the year before, and in 2010 he didn’t pitch at all. Due to discomfort in his shoulder and elbow, Colon sought surgery. Undergoing a procedure that used stem cells to repair the torn and damaged ligaments, the ageless fat one has managed to be productive ever since. Colon gave back to back solid seasons for Oakland during the ’12 and ’13 seasons (making an All-Star appearance in the latter) a sub 3 ERA, 342.2IP, and a PED suspension. I didn’t say it was all good for Colon in his time with the A’s…
I think this pick just goes to show what the pitching depth for this team looked like when I went to put together the roster; Colon is a good pitcher, don’t get me wrong. In fact, for just about any rotation, he is probably still a decent number three, probably number four, even today. He also loves making hitters produce flies. Because he’s a frog-man. FROG-BASEBALL HUMOR!!!