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Monthly Archives: May 2013

I grew up in the middle of baseball’s steroid era, when offense reached new heights every year and a new record seemed to be set every year. One of the game’s most exclusive clubs is the 500 home run club–after Babe Ruth became the first member in 1929, the next seven decades saw only 15 new players join the club. Then Mark McGwire hit his five hundredth home run in 1999, and the floodgates opened. I’ve seen 2/3 as many players join the 500 home run club–10–in the last fourteen years as joined it in its entire prior history.

The point is, for a while we lived in baseball’s Gilded Age, when every team seemed to have a true superstar, someone who was a lock for the Hall of Fame. Some teams had two or even three–Smoltz, Glavine, and Chipper on the Braves, or Bagwell and Biggio on the Astros. The inflated power of the age sapped the Hall cases to be made for some players, relegating sluggers like Albert Belle and Fred McGriff to the Hall of the Nearly Great.

For some years my team, the A’s, had a true superstar. For a couple years we had several: Giambi left, and Tejada stepped up; when he left, we looked to Eric Chávez to carry the banner–talented as he was, the body couldn’t quite hold up, and we were left with a bizarre caravan of aging sluggers. There was Frank Thomas in an unlikely renaissance season, then Mike Piazza, Mike Sweeney, Hideki Matsui, and even another Giambi sighting.

The A’s haven’t had a true superstar–a Hall of Famer, someone who’s the best in the game at something for a long time– in years. (I’m not counting Matt Holliday’s overnight stay.) This left me thinking: what’s the rest of the league look like, in terms of Hall of Fame chances? There are some obvious choices, and some difficult choices for the future committees.

In this week’s edition we’ll examine the AL–NL soon to come.

Bold indicates a projected Hall of Fame player

Underline indicates a player with a decent case for the Hall of Fame

Italics indicates a player with a lot left to do, ie likely on the outside looking in

AL East:

NYY: Cano, Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera, Ichiro, Sabathia, Pettite, Teixeira

Jeter’s not my favorite, but despite the hate he’s long since secured his spot. A-Rod
should make the Hall, unless steroid rage keeps him out. Rivera is the best to ever play his position. Ichiro has like 10,000 hits. Cáno is by far the youngest of the group, but he’s hitting like few second basemen ever have while also fielding the position at an elite level. Pettite is one of the hardest cases on here. His peak years were in the height of the steroid era, when you could have a 4.50 ERA and not worry about your job. He’s an extreme opposite compared to someone like Felix Hernandez: as a pitcher on the early-aughts Yankees, you were guaranteed 15 wins just by showing up for work. His numbers don’t quite work out, but baseball-reference readers using Elo FanRater number him the 57th best pitcher of all time, squarely in range of the Hall. However, he was never the best in the game, something you’ve got to be able to do to make it to the Hall. Sabathia’s also a tough case: he gets tons of credit for being an “old-timey” ace in these years of reliance on specialized bullpens. Checking out his b-ref page, we see lots of black ink and bold: that’s a good sign. Right now it looks like his career WAR will get to 72, the average for HoF pitchers, but his “7-year peak” currently sits well below the Hall average. We’ll have to wait and see about Sabathia. Finally, Teixeira’s quick decline means the switch-hitter is unlikely to be able to make a good case.

BOS: Pedroia, Ortiz

Dustin Pedroia does not strike me as the kind of player who is likely to be able to sustain his key skills well into his 30s–a near-must if you want to make the Hall. His smallish frame and aggressive instincts seem to portend injuries and the kind of quick decline that has struck other power-hitting second basemen like Chase Utley and Bret Boone. However, we have to respect what he’s done so far, and he does have an MVP award, which is a ticket into the conversation in its own right.

Ortiz’s late start, mid-career swoon, and positional inflexibility make it likely he’ll be left out. But maybe the voters who leave out Manny–convicted steroid user–will vote his onetime companion and outspoken steroid critic Ortiz in.

BAL: Wieters

Okay, it’s a possibility. Dude was a megaprospect. If he continues to hit and pick up Gold Gloves, you never know. Oh, he’s hitting .220 this year? Hm. Next!

TB: Longoria,

It’s obviously too early to tell whether David Price will be able to sustain his success. But Evan Longoria looks like the real deal. Check out his b-ref “similar batters” chart. True it lists Hank Blalock. (People really thought Hank Blalock would be awesome!) But it also says Mike Schmidt (and Scott Rolen)! Longoria doesn’t have Schmidt’s power, but he’s similarly the complete package at third base, hitting for average and power while playing phenomenal defense. It looks like he’ll be putting up 5+ win seasons for as long as he can stay healthy; he’s on pace for 7 this year.  He’s well on his way to joining the notoriously-third-base-lacking Hall.

TOR: Reyes

He stole 78 bases one time, but he’s also only been in the top 10 for position player WAR once in his career, which has probably already peaked. Next.

KC: Tejada

Miggy has an MVP, which is a rarity for shortstops: only fourteen have done so, making it the position with the fewest MVP awards. Of the shortstops who won MVPs, four didn’t make the Hall (not counting as-yet-ineligibles like Jimmy Rollins and A-Rod), including the amazingly-named Zoilo Versalles. Miggy will likely join that group. While his peak was pretty great, his career line will end with a 107 wRC+, which won’t be enough for a shortstop who neither ran nor fielded too well.

CLE: Giambi, (Santana)

Jason Giambi was frankly a beast during the mid-aughts, putting up several seasons with .470 OBPs and monster power. Unfortunately, he was totally on steroids at that point, and his case was borderline anyway. Unlikely. Carlos Santana is a catcher who, like Wieters, could gain a case mostly by virtue of being a catcher.

DET: Cabrera, Verlander, Fielder, Hunter

Miguel Cabrera is a good enough hitter that someone made an argument he is the best hitter in the history of baseball. Was it a good argument? No. But the fact that it was made tells you this guy is headed for the Hall. Verlander’s only got 129 career victories as of today, but he’s only once posted an ERA+ below 125. As an undisputed ace and one of the only pitchers to win an MVP, he’s got a good case already, as evinced by the Black Ink Test–he’s been a league leader in several categories throughout his career.

Fielder is a great hitter, if he were Hall-bound he’d have an average closer to .300 than .280 for his career. Torii Hunter is a stealth candidate based on his shelves full of Gold Gloves, but while that worked for Ozzie Smith it’s unlikely to do the same for the longtime Twin.

MIN: Mauer

Catchers who can hit like Mauer (135 career wRC+) are few and far between. For Mauer’s Hall case, look no further than his 7-year peak of 35.9 bWAR, slightly above the average Hall of Fame catcher’s 7-year peak of 33.2 bWAR. If he can stay healthy for several more years, he’s got a great case.

CHI: Peavy, Konerko, Sale

All unlikely. Sale obviously just started. Konerko has the best case, but he was never an MVP candidate, really, and lacks the oomph typically associated with the award.

LAA: Pujols, Trout, Hamilton

The days of comparing Josh Hamilton to Mickey Mantle seem to be gone. Mike Trout’s performance last year put him in pretty historic company. Check this out if you have any doubts about Pujols. Oh wait, I meant this metric, which suggests he’s one of the five best first basemen of all time.

SEA: Hernandez

He’s a great pitcher, a true ace whose skills have grown over the years. But his Hall case is going to be unfairly hurt by the fact that he has played for a losing franchise his whole career, meaning he’s only got one season with more than 14 wins. If voters can look past wins–as they did in awarding him a Cy Young–then there’s a compelling case to be made.

OAK: None

HOU: None

TEX: Beltre, Berkman, Darvish, Kinsler, Nathan

Unsurprisingly, the best teams in baseball–NYY, BOS, TEX, DET–all have multiple candidates for the Hall. Darvish is just starting out, but he obviously has mind-blowing potential. Kinsler is a slow climber up the second-base charts. It’s an unfair comparison, but with one more premier-level season he’ll pass Bill Mazeroski–yes, a Hall of Famer–in career value. Nathan only became a relief pitcher after several years of promise as a starter with the Giants. He could very well end his career in the top five in saves, but he’d probably need to go beyond that to 450 or 500 to garner a bid.

The final two we’ll consider are especially interesting cases. Lance Berkman is one of the greatest switch-hitters of all time. (The third best in terms of offense only, according to that writer.) He sits in a precarious position behind Jason Giambi–dismissed above–and Tony Perez–already in the Hall–on the first base JAWS leaderboard. (Of course he played many years in the outfield, too.) His career OPS+ is, notably, higher than Prince Fielder’s, despite Fielder being in his prime and Berkman presumably on his way out. All of the players ahead of Berkman on that list are pre-decline and probably Hall of Famers. While he didn’t hit for crazy power, he’ll end up with more than Orlando Cepeda (376), another first baseman in the hall. His best skill was always getting on base–career .4017. If you check out the leaderboard for career OBP, all the modern era hitters above .400 are in the Hall (or likely headed there–though Todd Helton is another tough case). We’ll have to see whether this is enough for Berkman.

The case for Beltre has already been laid out well here.

Totals:

11 probable,

It would be really interesting to see a historical graph of how many Hall of Fame players were in the majors at any given time, to see how this total might stack up against other decades’ best.

Finally, check this guy out:

I had never heard of Bobby Gritch, but he posted one of the strangest 8-win seasons I’ve ever seen. He had a career year in 1973 as a 8.3-win second baseman for the California Angels–but he hit only .251 that year! How’d he do it, then? Well, with defense, mainly–3.9 dWAR–as well as speed (17 steals), some power (12 homers), endurance (700 PAs) and extraordinary on-base skills (.373 OBP, a Votto-like .122 jump over his average!).

Ben Zobrist before Ben Zobrist, I guess.

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I got a job in Washington, DC. I’m sure it’s a nice place, but it’s not the Bay. I’ve got until July 4 to cram in as much Cali as possible and be a tourist in my own town. Suggestions are welcome. I hope you all can help make these happen!

2nd Edition–suggestions from my dear readers and things I forgot the first time through that, yes, should definitely be added to the list:

  • Ocean Beach bonfire–preferably while watching a gorgeous Pacific Ocean sunset
  • I’ve never seen the bison in Golden Gate Park!
  • 21st Amendment in SF
  • Lunch at Chez Panisse
  • A play at Cal Shakes (or elsewhere)

Brown on brown the walls around,

And high mountains rise behind them;

This is the leaving-place, which I will

fasten myself to from across a hundred years.

 

Passing over the present tense,

The streetlights watch our parting.

Lords of circumstance, they

Bow to the rising and eternal sun.

 

A dream, and better than

a thing that happened.

After tonight’s win at home against the first-place Texas Rangers, the A’s are even at .500 with a 20-20 record. While this has been a bit of a letdown after such a hot start, the first quarter of the season is officially a wash–which means we haven’t already put ourselves in an enormous hole, the way the Angels (10 GB) and Blue Jays (9.5 GB) have. ESPN puts the Angels and Jays at a 5.5% and 2% chance to make the playoffs, respectively–truly quite removed from the preseason projections that picked them as league favorites. That same projection calls the A’s for a 31% chance to make the playoffs (page is dynamic; numbers as of 5/13).

The FanGraphs projections are similarly lukewarm. But you have to remember that these are projections, not predictions; while they’re forward-looking, they’re based on numbers from the past. That means it’s no surprise that the A’s–.500 to this point–are predicted to end the season at 81-81. After last season, that’s not what the club is aiming for any more–but it’s also a sober, realistic prediction for a team that has showed us just as many flaws as reasons to be excited.

Let’s take a look.

5 Things I Don’t Like

1. Pitchers Are Giving Up Home Runs…–The A’s pitchers seem to give up two or three homers per game. It’s not really quite that bad, but the A’s have allowed 1.18 HR/9, bad enough to be the 7th highest number in the majors. You can’t do everything well, of course, but if you’re going to pick something to do well, preventing home runs is a start. Last year, the only team that allowed a top-10 HR/9 to make the playoffs was the Yankees. The last game I went to featured Tom Milone starting, and he gave up solo homers to Trout and Trumbo in a game we ended up losing by one. Keep one of those in the park, and we could still be playing! Our team HR/FB% is actually the 10th-lowest in the majors, so if that regresses we could give up even more taters. Who are the primary culprits? As you might have guessed, it’s basically everyone in the rotation, with Jarrod Parker doing the worst–he’s been giving up 1.99 HR/9!

2. Defense A Let Down–The A’s currently rank 27th in fielding by UZR. That’s not good. It’s even worse when you consider that the outfield was supposed to be excellent. Josh Reddick, right fielder extraordinaire, has been kept off the field by problems with health and, um, hitting the ball, but Chris Young–supposedly a great fielder–has often looked confused in the field. Céspedes has filled in adequately in Crisp’s absence in center field, but there are still plays like the one I saw in April against the Angels where he fell over at the warning track and allowed an out/double turn into a triple. (He had a terrible play last night that allowed Lance Berkman–Lance Berkman!–to get to third, and he also looked totally lost on a ball that ended up going over the wall in the 10th.) The biggest culprit is Jed Lowrie at short, who’s currently got a -6 rating.  He’s never had such a bad season in the field, which suggests that either a) this is a small-sample issue, and therefore nothing to worry about, or b) the result of his various injuries wearing on his body (his range doesn’t seem to be excellent, but according to his b-ref page, it isn’t down from previous years, either).

3. Lack of Starting Depth–We’ve already seen Brett Anderson miss several starts. While he’s probably the best pitcher on the staff, Dan Straily is a good fill-in on most nights. Straily’s at the stage where he absolutely owns AAA but can’t quite string together enough quality starts at the big league level to force anyone to call him up permanently. So we’re relatively covered if one starter goes down. But what about two? The AAA team has some high-performing arms, but none I’m excited to slot into the rotation just yet.

4. 8-9 Production–According to my brother, as of 5/13, the A’s were getting an OPS under .700 from their 8 and 9 hitters. That’s terrible. For reference, an OPS over .800 is quite good, over .750 good, over .700 playable, but under .700… not so much. Eric Sogard, namesake of my fantasy baseball team, is hitting a meager .230 with zero power for a 66 wRC+. While the top 2/3 of the order has been pretty solid, you don’t want to just punt the last two batters.

5. Céspedes at the Plate–Look, I love Yo as much as the next guy. He is amazing to watch when he’s on. I know he has 7 HRs… but his approach has, if anything, gotten worse. He does not appear to realize that he is strong enough that he doesn’t need to swing out of his shoes. His .ISO is up from last year to .240, which would be great except that he’s walking at the same rate as Eric Sogard. True, his BABIP is at .200, which is unbelievably low for someone who hits the ball as hard as he does. Looking at his batted ball info supports the idea that something has changed. Céspedes is hitting more fly balls than he did last year, as his GB/FB has gone from 1.01 to 0.73. This could be behind his ISO/BABIP swing, for relatively intuitive reasons: ground balls are harder to field and therefore more likely to be hits, but they also don’t go as far and are therefore less likely to be extra base hits. It’s a tradeoff a power hitter has to make, but Yo has gone too far, and he’s not making enough contact to make it worthwhile, anyway. His plate discipline has not continued to improve, as many thought it would. The 2013 average for contact on strikes swung at is 86.5%; Yo is only making contact with 79%. He’s also swinging at 32% of pitches out of the zone, versus 28.6% for league average. So he’s compounding his problem by not only failing to make contact on good pitches to hit, but also swinging at one’s he shouldn’t swing at, anyway. Yo’s physical talent is enormous. In a game against the Angels earlier this year I saw the full spectrum. Early in the game Yo was on first for a ball hit deep into the outfield. He rounded third in a full sprint and ran right through Mike Gallego’s stop sign. He was safe by at least ten feet. There is no one in baseball I’d be more scared of as a catcher. It was a subtly electrifying play. Then, in the 9th inning, with the A’s down one, Ernesto Frieri plunked Céspedes with no one out. He went to first and promptly stole second. He was safe by a mile–which was a problem, because he was so safe that he was out. Let me explain: he had the bag stolen easily, but he was going so fast that he overslid second base by about six feet and was tagged out. It probably cost the A’s the game, because two batters walked and then someone hit a fly ball that would have scored him from third. To recap: he’s got the talent. But he doesn’t know how to slide, something most of us learned as ten year olds. The people who said he could be an MVP weren’t wrong. But they’re not right yet, either, and they won’t be right until his mindset is right.

(Hey, look, I didn’t even mention the fact that Josh Reddick and Chris Young have been terrible!)

5 Things I Like

1. No Free Lunch–Remember those Yankees I mentioned above, with the high HR/9? Well, they only walked 2.68/9, so they stayed away from the 3-run homer. Luckily, the A’s are not giving up a ton of walks as a team–only 2.78/9. Jarrod Parker is an egregious offender on this point, as addressed above, but others are picking up the slack.

2. Bullpen Picking Up Where It Left Off–The A’s bullpen has been great to start this year, continuing its streak of excellence that dates back to the tail end of last year. Despite a couple shaky innings, Grant Balfour has saved 23 in a row. Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle remain shut-down relievers who are probably even better than Balfour (both have ERAs in the 1.00-2.00 range, though Doolittle has a FIP in the 3.00s). Jerry Blevins has given us quality innings, and Evan Scribner and Chris Resop have been decent if not spectacular. I believe the bullpen will need one more arm before the season’s over, partially because you can never have too many arms and partially because the bullpen has seen an abnormally high workload thus far in the year–130 IP by the bullpen is fifth in the league. Luckily, a bullpen arm is usually the easiest thing to come by.

3. Donaldson and Norris–Both of these are guys who were big contributors as rookies last year, and have been able to step up their contributions as sophomores. Donaldson in particular is outperforming expectations: according to ZiPS, he’s the fifth-most-improved player in baseball. In large part this is due to a return to form in terms of plate approach. He didn’t walk much last year, but if you watch him now he’s back to a battle-ready mindset, ready to foul pitches off until he gets one he likes. Norris, on the other hand, looks much more ready for the big leagues after a terrible first year, and is also walking at a high rate (.380 OBP).

4. Steals!–The A’s are back to their old Moneyball formula when it comes to OBP. But stolen bases were never part of their game during that era. Now? While their rate has slowed with the absence of Josh Reddick (5 SBs), Coco Crisp (8 SBs), and Chris Young (5 SBs), the A’s are still 8th in the league in stolen bases with 26. It’s not just stolen bases that are piling up, but also runs from players making smart but aggressive choices on the basepaths. Last night Derek Norris and Daric Barton scored on consecutive balls to the outfield from second, even though they’re the catcher and first basemen (not usually the quickest players on the field). My point is that the A’s don’t really have anyone on their team who will really cost them on the basepaths, and thanks to their speed and some typically aggressive third-base-coaching from Mike Gallego, the A’s are currently 3rd in FanGraph’s Baserunning metric. This is smart coaching and playing that is leading directly to runs. Awesome!

5. InjuriesOkay, it might not make much sense for injuries to be in the “Things I Like.” But here’s my perspective on it: we’ve had four outfielders miss significant time already with injuries (Reddick, Cespedes, Young, Crisp). But we’ve fought through it, weathered the storm. Our plan of valuing depth and flexibility worked well–Moss was able to slide to the outfield on some days, Smith stepped up and hit very well against lefties considering his lifetime splits, Céspedes and Young both played all over the outfield when necessary. The way I see it, we’ve missed out on Reddick, Crisp, and Young’s production for the past month or so, and that means we can only go up. Maybe that’s somewhat convoluted logic, but I think there’s some truth in it. Anderson’s not been himself either. We may have been playing at 75% so far. If we can be at 90% the rest of the way, we’re going to be very good.

5 Questions for the Rest of the Season

1. Is Hiro Nakajima a real person?–Seriously, does he exist? I’ve never seen him play. Supposedly he plays for us. I’m not buying it. It shouldn’t be that hard for a Japanese All-Star to outplay Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard, should it be? And yet… here we are.

2. Will the A’s make a big trade, and, if so, at what position?–My personal favorite has been the idea that we could get Chase Utley. By my reckoning, the A’s biggest needs are at 2B, RP, and SP. We could use a right-handed first-base-type, too; I like Nate Freiman and Daric Barton fine, but an upgrade on that side of the platoon would be nice. I think we’ll acquire another reliever at some point, perhaps someone who can do long relief. A starting pitcher would be the biggest gamble (how would Cliff Lee like to return to the AL West?).

3. Who Will Be The Big Call-Up?–Maybe the question isn’t who, but when. Grant Green seems like he could help out on the offensive side pretty soon, but he doesn’t have a ton of experience at second base, so the A’s are keeping him at AAA for now to get more defensive experience. The guys we’ve seen from AAA so far–Michael Taylor, Daric Barton, Luke Montz–aren’t so much prospects as players who’ve shuttled back and forth over the past several years. If Chris Young’s injury continues to linger, perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of Michael Choice, the slugging outfielder who is now with the RiverCats. I should note that I actually don’t think the RiverCats are that much worse than the Houston Astros, which I actually mean as a compliment. RiverCats we could see towards the end of the year include Sonny Gray, Andrew Werner, Bruce Billings (potential starters), Hideki Okajima, Pedro Figueroa and Dan Otero (relievers), Nakajima, Green (Infielders), and Choice and Jeremy Barfield (outfield).

4. Will the Real Jarrod Parker Please Stand Up?–Parker’s been not-so-good so far this year. That can change–we know he’s got it in him. The problem is, quite simply, command. He’s been all over the place, allowing both a really high walk rate and more homers than before. As Jeff Zimmerman put it, “He looks a little lost out there.” He’s been somewhat better in recent starts, but that’s not much when your season ERA is in the sixes. Parker was projected for a mid-threes ERA and fifteen wins by ESPN. His changeup is still good, and his fastball velocity is the same, but the command just isn’t there. His potential is good enough that he could still meet those expectations, but it’s going to take a lot.

5. Who’s the Competition?–It looks like the Angels are falling apart as we speak, but I’m not counting them out quite yet. We obviously should be gunning for the AL West crown, just like last year, but realistically one of the Wild Card spots is what we’re aiming for. And thanks to some great starts in the AL East and Central, we’ve got more competition so far than we thought we would have. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles all look excellent, and the Indians have put together a balanced roster that absolutely tore through the last month (aided by some terrible umpiring, I know). The Royals, Angels, and Devil Rays lurk as potential spoilers. It’s a crowded field. More than half the AL remains in the hunt so far. That’s a good thing–it’ll remind us every series counts. Now let’s beat the Rangers.

Dear Hayden:

Thank you so much for applying for the Presidency of Davidson College. This year we received a record number of applications, and there were a number of highly qualified individuals we were forced to turn down this year. Unfortunately, we cannot offer you the Presidency of Davidson College.

Should you decide to apply again, we believe your extensive track record of deeply ethical, impressively intellectual, and honor-driven behavior would be strengthened by membership in the Presbyterian Church-USA. Rigorous scientific studies have shown that uniquely Presbyterian behaviors–such as believing that certain people are predestined for eternal damnation, entirely absent of their own free choices–are directly correlated with Presidential efficacy. Until then, we will regard your highly moral behavior as suspiciously motivated and somehow half-rate, and will be forced to disregard any of your numerous meritorious accomplishments that may make you the best candidate for this entirely non-religious job.

Irish may apply. Catholics, Methodists, Buddhists and other sorts of heathens need not.

Should you be disappointed in our decision, please remember that we are only instruments of God’s will, so therefore take up your petition with Him in your chosen manner.

Sincerely,
The Trustees of Davidson College

For almost ten years, the Oakland Athletics had a very good idea who was going to play second base on any given day. From 2002 to 2011, Mark Ellis provided excellent value at second base as an excellent gloveman and solid contributor to the offense.

Mark Ellis

That he never won a Gold Glove in Oakland remains a travesty, and while he wasn’t an excellent hitter by any means, he had almost as many seasons with 100+ wRC+ (4) as <100 wRC+ (5). He was a dependable, valuable contributor to the team.

That era ended in 2012 when Ellis–older, and, after some bumps and scrapes, now an injury concern–left for the LA Dodgers. The A’s had been anticipating Ellis’ departure for several years, and spent their 2008 first-round pick on Jemile Weeks. Weeks, selected 13th overall out of Miami, developed right on schedule and moved into the second base position perfectly in the latter half of 2011.

Weeks seemed to be the sparkplug the A’s had been looking for to put at the top of the lineup: he hit for an excellent average (.303), got on base (.340), and stole bases (22 in 97 games).

2012 began with Weeks firmly entrenched as the team’s second baseman of the future. That label has since disappeared. Weeks went into a tailspin in 2012 and never hit the ground: popup after maddening popup left his speed unused, and he was out of the big leagues by the time the A’s turned things around on their way to a division title.

If you had looked closely, you might have seen the warning signs: a .350 BABIP inflated his average considerably, and his small stature led to an embarrassingly thin .083 ISO. This might have been tolerable if he’d been as adroit a fielder as Ellis, but he wasn’t; his arm wasn’t strong enough to make his range relevant.

The A’s cobbled together a solution that worked for the rest of 2012. They traded for Stephen Drew, and moved Cliff Pennington–an excellent defender with a longer track record than Weeks–to second base. But both of those players were gone by 2013. Scott Sizemore–my favorite for the job–was quickly and sadly lost to injury.

So far, the A’s have basically punted the second base position, plugging in a variety of AAA regulars–Andy Parrino, Adam Rosales, and Eric Sogard–while occasionally moving Jed Lowrie to second while one of those plays short. Sogard and Rosales have emerged as defense-first solutions whose bats are just good enough to remain playable.

Is there a solution? And, if so, is his name–as many seem to believeGrant Green?

Green was, like Weeks, a first-round pick out of a top-tier baseball school–this time, the University of Southern California. During college, Green played shortstop, but concerns about his potential to stick at the position emerged quickly, and the A’s proactively moved him to second–and then third, then outfield (echoes of Upton’s), and finally, with Weeks’ failure, back to second.

Grant Green

Grant Green

However, the point was rarely his defense, because Green is a line-drive machine. In college, he led USC in average and OBP, and his hitting skills led him to be ranked the A’s #4 prospect in 2012 (#98 overall). After college, he won the Cape Cod League’s 2008 MVP award. His 2010 season in high-A–his first full season as a professional–put scouts on notice, as he slugged 20 HRs and posted a .260 ISO that was far above anything he’d posted before.

That was probably (mostly) the product of an offense-boosting environment, as scouts note his power is more of the gap-hitting, doubles variety. One went so far as to compare Green to Michael Young. If he has a weakness, it may be impatience (walking only 6% of the time last year), but that’s a skill one can learn; every indication is that he has the natural-born-hitter part already down.

Projection systems believe Grant would be an immediate upgrade to the team’s offense. ZiPS suggests a .270/.311/.404 line for a 98 wRC+, which is certainly an upgrade on Eric Sogard’s 68 wRC+ so far this year. For that reason, Green has snuck into JP Breen’s 2013 Second Base Tiered Fantasy Rankings,  slotting into the sixth tier with the possibility of “double-digit homers and stolen bases” if promoted to the Bigs.

Given that there’s not much to suggest that either Sogard or Rosales has much unrealized potential with the bat, it stands to reason that the main reason Green is being held back could be defense. Check out Green’s baseball-reference page, scroll down to the fielding stats, and you’ll see what I mean: the man has only played 46 games at second base as a professional (and presumably very few in college or high school).

It’s understandable that the A’s would want to give him some more seasoning, especially considering that defensive limitations were the reason he was moved from short in the first place. However, the A’s are in the playoff hunt this year, and will be looking for any edge they can get. There’s a crowded picture in the infield right now, but Green’s offensive potential makes him stand out from the rest. Once the A’s think Green is ready to play second base at the major league level, we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.

It’s not a Klosterman hypothetical, but I was asked this by a student the other day:

If you could only save one book in the world from destruction, what book would you choose?

A dire situation, don’t you think? I certainly hope it never comes to this. And yet the question has an undeniable allure. The question isn’t really the same as “what is the best book of all time,” or “what is your favorite book of all time.” You have to consider the fact that this book is all that humanity will have to start over with. Twilight might be your personal favorite, but you’ve got to pick with posterity in mind, for God’s sake! This is going to be the seed of all future literature.

There’s one technicality let’s get out of the way immediately: many, if not all, of the books worth inclusion in this conversation are already stored digitally in one place or another, rendering the question of whether a physical copy survives more or less moot. Therefore, for the purposes of this conversation, I’ll assume that no physical data storage survives–including books, hard disks, CDs, anything–except the vessel of your choice. (We can’t pick the Encyclopedia Britannica because it is multi-volume.)

Literature? you might ask. What about the sciences! The sum total of human knowledge! The compendium of academic endeavors!

Yes, I can imagine that, in the face of whatever apocalyptic force has caused the near-total destruction of literary achievement, it would be useful to have science on our side. Should some scientific subfield be particularly relevant to fighting this malevolent force, I would of course yield to choose a seminal text from that subfield. Perhaps anti-book aliens are attacking and we believe there is some microbiological weakness of theirs that we can exploit, and hence I save a book on biological weapons delivery systems. But let’s assume the force of destruction is general and nonspecific, the erasure of books is totally anonymous and non-reversable, it just happens.

But is still a central reason why I would be less than likely to choose a scientific text. Sciences are currently at their most advanced, correct? Then is it not reasonable to say that the mental knowledge of the collected experts in a given field is greater than the knowledge collected in any given bound text? Take the question of trigonometric tables. Without trigonometric tables–the calculated values of sine and cosine, etc–many applications would fall apart. But! Even if we don’t have trigonometric tables memorized, thousands of people would be able to recall the basic maths concepts that would allow us to quickly reconstruct such a table. Because concepts are more important than specific wording in science, it seems even more likely that the wild majority of the important data in science–the concepts–could be retained. It is true that the evidence–the raw observations, recorded in so many lab notebooks–might be gone, but if the concepts are correct, then the observations can be observed once again (it’s the books that are going away, not the fundamental forces of physics).

I’m banking on the idea that scientists would have no trouble remembering their concepts and would not mind rewriting their texts.

That leaves us with literature. Oh, literature.

For the reasons I’ve mentioned above, anything likely to be memorized is out. That means the Quran, for example, is out. So are the works of Shakespeare–somewhere in the world, at any given moment, there is a theater company performing Titus Andronicus. A quick Web search reveals that there are plenty of people who memorize portions of the Bible, but few if any who actually have the whole thing down–still, the original is a patchwork quilt, so it could be made anew in the same way.

The ideal candidate for preservation would have to be evaluated on the following characteristics:

  • beauty;
  • a beneficent impression upon the new society;
  • inclusivity (a larger text is likely to contain within it many more stories, and hence more capacity for impact, than a shorter text)

Emily Dickinson’s poems would score well in the first criterion; Peter Singer’s Ethics, in the second; and Aesop’s Fables well on the third.

With those things in mind, I came up with the following (inexhaustive) list of candidates:

  • Ovid’s Metamorphoses
  • Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass
  • John Milton’s Paradise Lost
  • MLK’s collected works
  • Thoreau’s Walden
  • Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov (I love The Possessed and Crime & Punishment, but both are too contemporary and political; we want something with timeless themes)
  • the Mahabharata (picked over the Ramayana, which from what I know of it is a bit more essentialist, concerned with doing the duty of your particular station in life, which is too conservative for my taste, but hey, the Metamorphoses could probably be accused of the same thing, so if you want to put it on the list, go ahead)
  • Melville’s Moby Dick (which I haven’t read, but from what I know seems like it might fit our criteria)
  • Bernard Williams’ Ethics & the Limits of Philosophy
  • the Odyssey (over the Illiad, which is more war-focused)
  • Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations
  • I don’t know enough about Chinese or East Asian literature to venture a guess at whether anything would work well here, though I’m sure there must be candidates
  • An anthology of some sort, for example, The Oxford Book of Modern Poetry, or something like that; this may be cheating, though, depending on how you read things. This would probably be the best choice unless you decided it wasn’t allowed by the spirit of the question.

I don’t know what I would pick. Do you?

 

 

 

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