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Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Oakland A’s have had a pretty illustrious start to the second millennium. There has been reason to celebrate and reason to cry. We wish Jeremy had slid and we wish Jason had stayed. The A’s endured highs and lows throughout the 00s, and the 10s have already brought losing seasons as well as a division title. They’ve collected individual hardware, too, from various Rookies of the Year–Grieve, Crosby, Street–to Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers (Eric Chavez). We even had a couple of MVP years thrown in. Since this has been such a wild decade, it stands to reason we’ve had some pretty wild players. Here’s one take on the Oakland A’s All-Decade Team.

c – Kurt Suzuki

The A’s had a lot of different catchers after Ramon Hernandez left after the 2003 season. There was Adam Melhuse, Jason Kendall (those were weird years), Rob Bowen… Mike Piazza, if you want to count him… and then we had Kurt, who was a decent enough hitter and who received lots of praise for handling the pitching staff well.

1b – Nick Swisher

In 2001, his last season in Oakland, Jason Giambi put up 9.2 WAR. Of course no one has measured up compared to that. We’ve not really had a traditional, mashing first baseman since then. I could put Frank Thomas here, who enjoyed one impressive season in Oakland before riding off into the sunset, but that would be a lie–he couldn’t play the field at all at that point in his career. Daric Barton would be the next choice, but luckily Swish played enough games at first that I feel okay about slotting him here rather than the outfield. Swisher came up with the A’s and made an immediate impact, hitting 22, 35, and 21 home runs in his first three full seasons.

2b – Mark Ellis

Ellis was the longest-tenured Athletic during the 00s decade, playing with the club from 2002-2011. Ellis played exemplary defense at second base and, given his longevity, he’s the only choice for the position.

3b – Eric Chavez

Out of all the homegrown stars that graced the Coliseum during the glory years of the early 00s, Chavez was the one to receive a big contract extension. In 2004, after winning a Silver Slugger in 2002 and Gold Gloves in each of the last four years, he signed a 6-year, $66 million extension. As our luck would have it, he would never play more than 90 games in a season for the A’s. But we’re not here to remember that–we’re here to remember the massive power, highlight-reel defense, and all-around good guy that seemed destined for endless 30-homer, Gold Glove, 5-win seasons.

ss – Bobby Crosby

As sad as it is, this is another position where we really don’t have the greatest choices. After Miguel Tejada took his MVP award and rode east towards the big bucks, the A’s best shortstops have been Marco Scutaro, Bobby Crosby, and Cliff Pennington. Scutaro didn’t have his best offensive years in Oakland, but he was a fan favorite and always seemed to have a clutch hit up his sleeve. Pennington played great defense, but he did just get traded away last year because he couldn’t hit worth a lick. So I’ll give this spot to the erstwhile Bobby Crosby, another Rookie of the Year who failed to launch. He’s somehow 8th all-time for Athletics shortstops WAR, but the bulk of that value was garnered during a 235-game stint when he piled up 6.5 WAR, including 3.7 in only 84 games in 2005. There’s no way to tell for sure what happened to delay and ultimately forestall the realization of Crosby’s full potential, but we’ll always have those great years.

lf – Jack Cust

Cust smacked 97 home runs as the A’s dirt-cheap cleanup hitter from 2007-2010. While he certainly didn’t gain any style points–he led the league in strikeouts from 2007-2009–he got the job done. Yoenis Cespedes would ideally be in this spot, but he’s only got one season as an Athetlic under his belt to Cust’s four.

cf – Coco Crisp

Crisp has been the team’s leadoff man for four very solid years, providing veteran leadership and a spark at the top of the lineup. An easy pick, though Mark Kotsay’s 2004 season is the single best by an A’s center fielder in the last decade (.314/.370/.459).

rf – Josh Reddick

Reddick has struggled offensively this year, but he shows great promise, and he is a top-5 right-fielder, no questions asked. Obviously this pick is somewhat premature based on the fact that, like Cespedes, he is just starting out his career as an Athletic. However, who else are you going to pick? Milton Bradley? Bobby Kielty? Eric Byrnes? Jermaine Dye?

dh – Frank Thomas

The Big Hurt will always be remembered as a member of the Pale Hose, and rightfully so. A surefire Hall of Famer and a hell of a lot of man, the dude could rake, and did so even after leaving the White Sox in 2007 to join the A’s. He hit 39 home runs on his way to a 139 wRC+, which is the best offensive season the A’s have seen in the past decade, as far as I can immediately remember. For some context, though, that was only his 12th best season by that metric!

sp1 – Barry Zito

Because he remained with the A’s longer than any other member of the Big Three, I’ll put Zito on the list, even if it feels like his days as an Athletic are long, long gone. It’s true that the signs of mediocrity were already there–could a pitcher with a FIP of 4.89 in his contract year land the kind of bucks Zito did today? But it’s also true that Zito was productive for the A’s, picking up 14, 11, 14, and 16 wins in his 2003-2006 years. In the come-and-go nature of the organization, Zito was a stalwart, and for that we’ll reward him with the #1 spot in this rotation.

sp2 – Rich Harden

You might never guess it, but it’s Harden–not Zito–who leads the A’s pitchers in WAR over the 2003-2013 period. Of course, WAR is quite favorable to strikeout pitchers, and striking people out is one thing that Rich Harden never had any trouble with. I’ll never forget the day I watched the hard-throwing Canadian debut; it was the first time I’d understood how baseball worked, with prospects always on the cusp. His career was also a rough lesson in showing that prospects don’t always pan out, and even when they do, they don’t always stay healthy. Still, no Athletic was nastier over the last ten years.

sp3 – Dan Haren

Haren came over for Mark Mulder right before Mark Mulder turned into a pumpkin. Now Haren’s returned the favor by turning pumpkin on the Angels and Nationals. However, in his three years with the A’s he won 14, 14, and 15 games, leading the league in games started in 2006 and 2007.

sp4 – Brett Anderson

Hard to give a spot to someone who is hardly ever healthy, it seems, but when he’s healthy he’s been great. Despite missing considerable time, Anderson’s 6th in WAR for Athletics pitchers over the 2003-2013 period. Though his best season was his rookie year in 2009, it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 25, only one year older than Jarrod Parker. Hopefully he can get healthy and come back and really earn this spot.

sp5 – Trevor Cahill/Jarrod Parker/Gio Gonzalez/Bartolo Colon/Brandon McCarthy

The surprise here is that this spot is so hard to fill. Though it seems like the A’s have quality pitching every year, they haven’t had any true aces, and hardly have anyone who is screaming to be included as the fifth pitcher in this All-Star rotation. (Heck, it’s even hard to feel good about Anderson in the fourth spot.) Still, the fact that you couldn’t really go wrong by picking any of the above names gives an indication of the number of good arms that the A’s have been lucky to have over the last decade. Of course the hope is that Jarrod Parker can break through and join the ranks of–or even surpass–the guys ahead of him on this list, but as of now, given the tear he’s been on Bartolo Colon might be the best pitcher in the AL West, so we’ll have to see.

rp1 – Justin Duchscherer

Something of a favoritism pick, but the Duke was our All-Star in 2005 and 2008. While he wasn’t a household name or anything, Duchsherer sported a wicked 12-6 hook and had an ERA under 3.00 during 4 separate years. Of course, only one of those came as a starter, when he went 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 22 starts. I still wonder whether stretching him out ultimately ended his career–he’d only pitch in 5 more games after 2008–but for that time, he was great.

rp2 – Grant Balfour

While I believe Ryan Cook is ultimately the best reliever on the A’s today, and some would argue for Sean Doolittle, this spot belongs to Grant Balfour. As the heart and soul of this A’s bullpen, he puts everything on the line for the team, and has now been successful in something like 35 straight save opportunities.

rp3 – Andrew Bailey

Rookie of the Year in 2009, Bailey saved 75 games for the A’s in his first three years as a pro, even posting a sub-2.00 ERA in his first two seasons. An easy choice.

rp4 – Huston Street

Sense a theme? Street won Rookie of the Year in 2005 and gave the A’s four high-quality seasons, pitching over 70 innings in three of them. You could argue for Ryan Cook here.

I am finally in my bed. I stretch my legs out under the covers and lean my head back into the pillow, sinking as I do so. I haven’t slept but maybe seven hours in the last two days, and I didn’t make up for the lack of quantity with higher quality–no, this was sleeping-bag on hard floor sleep, sleep with a sweatshirt for a pillow, sleep that leaves your collarbones crying for days. I’d just driven back from Santa Barbara, six hours with In-N-Out, after celebrating a friend’s graduation (and celebrating with great abandon). I was exhausted, and for a moment I thought, maybe I should just stay in tonight.

That thought didn’t last long. There was a buzzing in my head that wouldn’t abate–thanks, shitty club with a terrible sound system. I needed melody to counteract the white noise of dying frequencies. I like to say that I try to surround myself with people who say, “yes.” It was time for me to live up to my own standards. I needed to get my ass up and over to San Francisco to see Torres.

I tried to sleep on BART, listening to Four Tet’s Pink with a black sweatshirt over my head. I set an alarm in case I fell asleep–no rookie mistakes here. I couldn’t sleep, though, and so I pretended I was asleep. It amounted to the same thing for everyone but me.

* * * * *

I walked out the wrong end of the Civic Center stop, which is par for the course, found Mike, and walked to 155 Fell. A line had formed, and not a big or particularly rowdy one–probably an effect of the Sunday evening date. Mike and I made our way in. The Rickshaw is longer than it is wide, with a bar that opens up to an area that can probably hold a couple hundred people packed. On this night I don’t think more than a hundred showed up, though, so even though I sat through the opener it wasn’t hard to find a prime place to stand once the co-headliners came on. I hadn’t realized it when I bought the ticket, but it was a double bill, with Lady Lamb and Torres sharing top billing and support being provided by Paige & the Thousand. Paige, who mentioned that she used to sing with Noah & the Whale, played a competent but short set that Mike described as “arena Neko Case” (probably a bit of an upsell, but gives you an idea).

When Lady Lamb the Beekeeper came on, I had no expectations, because I’d never heard her play. This isn’t common for me–I usually try to do my research before a show–but the wild weekend had precluded that possibility. Yet, after this experience, I might try to let myself be surprised a little more often. Frankly, Lady Lamb knocked me flat. She opened with an a cappella invocation that set the haunting tone for the rest of the night, her guitar resting for the only moment that night.

The whole set was played solo, which contributed immensely to the vibe. My grasping-in-the-dark equations for her sound that night were Janis Joplin meets Moldy Peaches, or, at times, a female Jeff Mangum who knew more than 3 chords. Joplin, because Lady Lamb could wail when she wanted, and the songs had that dark character I can only honestly associate with the blues. Moldy Peaches–who I admittedly don’t listen to–because of the innocent tumble-down lyricism of “Milk Duds” and admittedly cutesy inflections to “Crane Your Neck.” Jeff Mangum because of the multisegmented songs and the chanting, wild incantations that found their way into her lyrics–see “I’m a ghost and you all know it.” Her guitar playing also occasionally reminded me of Isaac Brock’s more melodic moments; the noodling before “Bird Balloons” finale sounds like something from This Is a Long Drive, and that wasn’t the only time I was reminded of the boys from Issaquah. “It’s a goddamn joke that we can hurt so much even in the sun,” Lady Lamb wailed at one point, and the sentiment might have fit in on any number of indie-rock records on the wimp-twee-emo spectrum of the last twenty years.

click for official website

Despite the comparisons, when Lady Lamb walked off, I felt confident I’d seen something I’d never seen before. I felt renewed. Her style was unique (after having listened to a couple cuts on YouTube, I think I actually prefer her sound without a full band, too). I can’t say whether it was the circumstances or something that I’ll continue to connect to in her music, but in that moment, she had prescribed me a wonderful medicine for a disease I hadn’t even known was afflicting me. I certainly wasn’t tired anymore.

* * * * *

By now it’s been awhile and I haven’t even mentioned Torres, which is on purpose. If this is a concert review I should give you an idea of what it was like to see the show. As with any ethnography, I have to own up, at some point, to the fact that my perspective is limited, my reportage biased.Bias may not be the right word, though; it implies insincerity, or more precisely inaccuracy. We may say a cricket fan is biased against enjoying a baseball game, but that does not make his or her displeasure any less real, does it?

* * * * *

All of this is to say, I found Torres (TORRES?) awesome the first time I heard Come to Terms” a couple months ago, and little has changed in the intervening months.

click for official website

I would call her music revelation, but revelation comes from the sky. And this music isn’t airy. It’s earth music, grounded and physical. Mackenzie Scott, the be-hatted frontwoman of Torres–she may be Torres, it’s always hard to tell in these situations–made mention of her Georgia roots, and she crossed the Appalachians to go to school in Nashville. These songs crackle with the same old staticky magic that haunts those old, old mountains (sometimes literally; there’s a generous helping of string squawk on record and live, and I have zero problem with that). Scott’s voice is warm and moves between registers with familiarity. The songs were excellent: she blew through her incredibly strong record and even added a delicate, lovelorn, frighteningly intimate solo cut apparently written days ago. While there is certainly a dark tinge to the record, it’s by no means one-dimensional, with sing-song lullabyes like “Don’t Run Away, Emilie” and “Moon & Back” balanced by bluesy rockers “Honey” and “Winter.” The beginning of “Chains” even had me exclaim out loud, “witch house!” If anything, the next step for Torres will be in combining these many sides to create songs that don’t always follow the familiar soft-loud-soft formula. In concert she showed signs of doing so, turning up the volume for an impressive solo on “Waterfall” that doesn’t show up on the record. Noise, during this show, was always purposeful.

The origin of the music seems, to me, sort of similar to EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints, in that they both seem to invoke ghosts left and right. Just as EMA called out to her great-grandparents in “The Grey Ship,” Scott takes the long view, too, noting in “When Winter’s Over” that “even the leaves grow weary of the trees,” then describing on “Come to Terms” that “just because the two of us/will both grow old in time/don’t mean that we should grow old together.” It’s startling maturity from someone who is, frankly, my age.

And that’s just the thing. This show felt special, it felt different from many other shows I’ve seen, and less because of the music and more because of my own relationship to the music. They were peers. This is an artist who’s done something very impressive, but whose situation I can still relate to. The backing band looked stiff at times, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was their first tour. It was Scott’s first time in California. Scott allowed herself a rock-star move or two–starting with her back to the crowd before wheeling around for the first verse of a song–but she also spent a long time tuning between songs, suffered a false start, and needed the bassist’s help to program her keyboard. While I know some people find such moments amateurish, I find them endearing and genuine, serving to bring the performer and audience closer. It was the sort of show where you feel like you can see the genesis of every song, the absentminded plucking that turned into a riff, the corny journaling that becomes the lyrics shouted back by fans. In one milieu, the transparency of the process might not seem so great, but at this point in my life, I think it engendered an even greater connection.

At one point she asked the crowd whether we liked sad songs. In the front row, I leaned over and told Mike: “Nobody should ever worry about me killing myself. I get too much from feeling sad.” I might have imagined it, but I think I saw Torres smile.

After reading Juvenal’s Third Satire, I was struck by the degree to which his lamentations seem relevant today, especially the themes of corruption and inequality. I decided to copy out some lines and I’ll be linking each line to a current-events news story.*

 

*if I actually followed through on ideas I’d be linking each line to a current-events news story.

 

 

“What should I do in Rome? I am no good at lying.

If a book’s bad, I can’t praise it, or go around ordering copies.

I don’t know the stars; I can’t hire out as assassin

When some young man wants his father knocked off for a price…

Who has a pull these days, except your yes men and stooges

With blackmail in their hearts, yet smart enough to keep silent?”

* * * * *

“Put on the stand, at Rome, a man with a record unblemished,

No more a perjurer than Numa was, or Metellus,

What will they question? His wealth, right away, and possibly, later,

(Only possibly, though) touch on his reputation…

His word is as good as his bond–if he has enough bonds in his strongbox.

But a poor man’s oath, even if sworn on all altars,

Has no standing in court.”

* * * * *

“If you’re poor, you’re a joke, on each and every occasion.

What a laugh, if your cloak is dirty or torn, if your toga

Seems a little bit soiled, if your shoe has a crack in the leather,

Or if more than one patch attests to more than one mending!…

All the best seats are reserved for the classes who have the most money…”

* * * * *

“In a great part of this land of Italy, might as well face it,

No one puts on a toga unless he is dead.

But here, beyond our means, we have to be smart, and too often

Get our effects with too much, an elaborate wardrobe, on credit!

This is a common vice; we must keep up with neighbors,

Poor as we are. I tell you, everything here costs you something…

Put this in your pipe and smoke it–we have to pay tribute

Giving slaves a bribe for the prospect of bribing their masters.”

* * * * *

“Who, in Praeneste’s cool, or the wooded Volsinian uplands,

Fears the collapse of his house? But Rome is supported on pipe-stems,

Matchsticks; it’s cheaper, so, for the landlord to shore up hi sruins,

Patch up the old cracked walls, and notify all the tenants

They can sleep secure, though the beams are in ruins above them.

No, the place to live is out there, where no cry of Fire!

Sounds the alarm of the night, with a neighbor yelling for water.”

* * * *

“Codrus owned one bed, too small for a dwarf to sleep on,

Codrus had nothing, no doubt, and yet he succeeded, poor fellow,

Losing that nothing, his all. And this is the very last straw–

No one will help him out with a meal or lodging or shelter.

Stripped to the bone, begging for crusts, he still receives nothing.

Yet if Asturicus’ mansion burns down, what a frenzy of sorrow!

Mothers dishevel themselves, the leaders dress up in black,

Courts are adjourned. We groan at the fall of the city, we hate

The fire, and the fire still burns, and while it is burning,

Somebody rushes up to replace the loss of the marble,

Books, chests, a bust of Minerva. To him that hath shall be given!

This citizen, childless, of course, the richest man in the smart set,

Now has better things, and more, than before the disaster.

How can we help but think he started the fire on purpose?”

* * * * *

“Here in the town the sick die from insomnia mostly.

Undigested food, on a stomach burnign with ulcers,

Brings on listlessness, but who can sleep in a flophouse?

Who but the rich can afford sleep and a garden apartment?

That’s the source of infection… When his business calls,

The crowd makes way as the rich man is carried high in his car.

He gets where he wants before we do; for all our hurry

Traffic gets in our way, in front, around and behind us…

Such a mob, and what if that cart of Ligurian marble

Breaks its axle down and dumps its load on these swarms?

Who will identify limbs or bones? The poor man’s cadaver,

Crushed, disappears like his breath…

Newly come to the bank of the Styx, afraid of the filthy

Ferryman there, since he has no fare, not even a copper

In his dead mouth to pay for the ride through that muddy whirlpool.”

* * * * *

“If you don’t make your will before you go out to have dinner,

There are as many deaths in the night as there are open windows.

There goes your hell-raising drunk, who has had the bad luck to kill no one,

But here are the young hoodlums, all steamed up on wine, keep your distance!

Shut up your house or your store,

Bolts and padlocks and bars will never keep out all the burglars,

Or a holdup man will do you in with a switchblade.

Here is how it all starts, the fight, if you think it is fighting

When he throws all the punches, and all I do is absorb them.

What can you do when he’s mad and bigger and stronger than you are?…

If you try to talk back, or sneak away without speaking,

All the same thing: you’re assaulted, and then put under a bail bond

For committing assault. This is a poor man’s freedom.

Beaten, cut by fists, he begs and implores his assailant,

Please, for a chance to go home with a few teeth left in his mouth.”

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark, sequels; Star Wars, sequels
  2. Upstream Color
  3. Blade Runner
  4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  5. The Manchurian Candidate
  6. The Shining
  7. Alien
  8. Taxi Driver
  9. Chinatown
  10. The Birds
  11. Stroszek
  12. There Will Be Blood
  13. Black Swan
  14. The Lives of Others
  15. Rear Window
  16. Dr. Strangelove
  17. A Hard Day’s Night
  18. My Neighbor Totoro
  19. Princess Mononoke
  20. Memento
  21. Strangers on a Train
  22. Dial M for Murder
  23. GoodFellas
  24. Pulp Fiction
  25. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
  26. Los amores perros
  27. The Usual Suspects
  28. Blowup
  29. The Master
  30. Babel
  31. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  32. Man on Wire
  33. The Great Escape
  34. Help!
  35. The Fugitive
  36. The Departed
  37. Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus
  38. Primer
  39. Fargo
  40. City of God
  41. wall-E
  42. Wristcutters
  43. Being John Malkovich
  44. Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind
  45. Donnie Darko
  46. Vertigo
  47. Annie Hall
  48. Cool Hand Luke
  49. Monty Python’s Life of Bryan
  50. Bandé a Part
  51. Submarine
  52. The Tree of Life
  53. Amelie
  54. All the President’s Men
  55. Network
  56. Schindler’s List
  57. Brick
  58. Reservoir Dogs
  59. Winter’s Bone
  60. Children of Men
  61. Lars & the Real Girl
  62. Little Miss Sunshine
  63. The Squid & the Whale
  64. Saving Private Ryan
  65. Michael Clayton
  66. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  67. Shawshank Redemption
  68. Hard Candy
  69. Syriana
  70. The Thin Red Line
  71. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  72. Bonnie & Clyde
  73. Ghostbusters
  74. Die Hard
  75. Barton Fink
  76. Django Unchained
  77. Requiem for a Dream
  78. Contact
  79. Spring Breakers
  80. (pi)
  81. Mud
  82. Enemy of the State
  83. 12 Monkeys
  84. Eraserhead
  85. 28 Days Later
  86. Anchorman
  87. Borat
  88. Fight Club
  89. Hotel Rwanda
  90. Snatch
  91. totally incomplete list subject to revision without notice

It’s a formula Oakland Athletics fans know well: scuffle through the first two months of baseball, and tear it up for the rest of the season. Less than a month ago, the A’s were 20-22, and it looked like they would continue the tradition of playing .500 ball well into June. Maybe it’s just more fun to chase than be chased. Not so fast. The A’s are a little early this year on their annual torrid streak.
In little more than the blink of an eye, the A’s have surged to 12 games over .500 at 37-25. Ladies and gentlemen, the Oakland A’s are 16-3 over their last nineteen games. That is reason enough for happiness. But the real rejoicing should come from the fact that this streak is no fluke.
Over the last 162 games, guess which baseball team has the most wins? The World Champion Giants? The runner-up Detroit Tigers? Blue-chippers like the Cincinnati Reds or Texas Rangers? No, no, no, no: the Oakland A’s are 104-58. Taking into account the fact that season endings and beginnings aren’t wholly arbitrary–players change teams, obviously–this is still pretty amazing, as you have to go back to the 2004 St Louis Cardinals to find a team that played that well over the course of a regular season. At this point, no one should be treating the A’s as a fringe contender.
You don’t go 16-3 without some luck. But you also don’t go 16-3 without some talent. What have the A’s done so well over the last nineteen games?

1. Starting pitching

Of course, it always begins with starting pitching. The A’s got away from that at the beginning of the year, as their pitching staff struggled to go deep in games and didn’t do particularly well even when they were in the game. The turnaround starts with staff “ace” Jarrod Parker. While he’s not yet a true ace, he is the guy in our rotation who gets slotted against the other team’s #1 most often–as with tonight, and his matchup against Chris Sale–and he’s certainly pitched like one recently. In the last month, Parker has 3 wins with a 2.41 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. That WHIP is key, because it means he’s walking fewer batters than he was at the beginning of the year, when he couldn’t find the plate. There’s little indication of what might have changed to key his run of success, but whatever he’s done, it’s working. The other big contributor has been Bartolo Colon, who is probably driving Bud Selig mad with his age-defying success. Colon has won his last three starts, allowing only one run in 23 innings, including a complete game. Finally, Dan Straily has also become a key contributor, and appears to finally be comfortable at the major league level now that he’s had some time to acclimate. His start Thursday night against the White Sox, in which he settled down after a rough inning and managed to go seven, marked a turning point in his maturation–Melvin clearly must have trusted him immensely to leave him out there despite a difficult fifth.

2. Setting the table
While the A’s have endured a bizarre streak of solo home runs–earlier this month they had something like fifteen in a row, and yesterday they had four–they are definitely doing a good job putting baserunners on. The top of the lineup has been especially stellar in this regard. Shoutouts have to go to Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson, and Jed Lowrie, all of whom have OBPs above .390–quite an elite level. With the acquisition of Chris Young, there was some thought that Coco would be the odd man out, but far from that, he’s become the bedrock of this offense, and since returning from injury has hit an otherworldy .340 AVG, with an .890 OPS. No one is suggesting his .200 ISO is going to persist, but in watching his at-bats it’s clear that he is never getting cheated out of an at-bat, and he fouls off 2-strike pitches like the consummate professional he must be at his veteran age. Jed Lowrie’s power is nowhere to be found, but hey, the average is nice; he has to be given serious consideration for the AL All-Star spot at shortstop, even if his arm has given me reason to think he should be playing more time at second. Finally, Josh Donaldson is the A’s MVP thus far, hitting .330 on the season with a team-leading 37 RBIs. He’s been especially hot during this recent winning streak, hitting an even .400. While I predicted a 4.5 WAR potential for him this year, no one seems to have expected quite this much out of Donaldson this soon–let’s hope it’s for real.

3. Bench contributors
Nate Freiman won the Rookie of the Month award for May, batting .351 with three doubles and a home run. True, he only had 37 at-bats, but he was great in those at-bats. Part of the A’s approach this year is to load up with bench contributors who can step up to give the A’s a platoon advantage throughout the game. Their approach, therefore, keys on guys who would typically be overlooked. It may seem like a little thing, but I really believe the improved hitting of Eric Sogard has had a good deal to do with their recent success–his average is now up to .250, which isn’t great except that when they were losing he was only hitting .200. Finally, his platoon partner Adam Rosales last night became the first player since 2004 to have two game-winning home runs in the 9th inning or later while batting out of the nine spot (Rod Barajas was the last). A random statistic, sure, but an indication that we’re getting contributions from every man on the roster.

3 Things I Like
1.    Bartolo Colon has not been fazed by the steroid controversy, and early reports suggest that this may be because the Biogenesis documents linking him to Tony Bosch’s “anti-aging” steroid business are from June 2012–in other words, they’ve caught him for the same crime they caught him for last year. Moreover, as Buster Olney has said, Bartolo Colon could be 50 before MLB resolves this thing.
2.    Céspedes is hitting home runs at a pretty great pace–1 HR per 17 ABs. Hopefully the recent power surge will be followed by more pitchers pitching around him, meaning he’ll realize he can contribute even when he doesn’t hit the ball 500 feet.
3.    My former teammate Mark Appel was taken with the #1 pick by the Houston Astros on Thursday. I played summer ball with Mark in Danville and I couldn’t be happier for him. Also, the fact that I used to relieve him is now my number two sports claim to fame, after having economics class with Stephen Curry!

3 Things I Don’t Like
1.    The MLB Draft was great for Mark Appel, but it wasn’t so great for the A’s. The Draft seems to be taking especial scrutiny this year–see articles here and here–and I’d like to point out just one, one really stupid flaw. There are lots of them. But I’m just going to mention one. Teams get compensatory picks for losing premier free agents. But don’t the teams with the most money sign the most premier free agents? Yes! And that’s why the Yankees had two post-1st round sandwich picks this year, for losing Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano, neither of whom was homegrown. You spend money, you get money, basically.
2.    It might be time to question the pitch-calling capabilities of the Oakland catchers, one of whom is young and the other of whom is not known for his defensive capabilities. Too many times Ray Fosse–a former catcher–has noted that the pitch asked for just didn’t make sense given the count. Yesterday it was a fastball belt-high and in called for by Derek Norris with men on and Alexei Ramirez at the dish. It’s not the first time. Given that the manager Bob Melvin is a former catcher you’d think these things would be quickly rectified.
3.    There’s not a third thing! The A’s are 16-3 in their last 19 games! But, if I had to pick a third thing, I’d say that I don’t like the animosity between A’s and Giants fans. It just isn’t becoming. Leave all the vicious bickering to the Northeasterners. Out West we like to have fun and support differently-minded folk. I’d like to think Bay pride is more important than anything else (Cal-Stanford aside). The rivalry between the A’s and Giants feels forced; why not just mutually agree to take out our vitriol on the actually-hated Dodgers and Angels?

Last week we examined the Junior Circuit’s potential Hall of Famers; this week, we’re looking at the National League. As before, a name in bold is a projected Hall of Famer; a name in italics is a potential Hall of Famer, with something left to prove; a name underlined is a player who is on the margins of the discussion.

 

NL East

WAS: Strasburg, Harper, R. Zimmerman

Let’s talk about Zimmerman first. Ryan plays third base; as we’ve mentioned before, there aren’t many third basemen in the Hall. Third base JAWS suggests he’s around the 60th best third baseman ever. He’s obviously got a couple more years to go, but while he might pass Pie Traynor and George Kell (both HoF) in terms of career WAR, no one I know is suggesting his candidacy. Next.
All of us know the potential that Strasburg and Harper have. You name it, it’s been predicted for them. Harper’s first 162 major league games produced 6.9 WAR. Strasburg posted a 2.81 xFIP and a strikeout-per-nine rate above 11 in his first season. They’re both babies, basically, in terms of Hall candidacy. But they’re sure off on the right foot.

MIA: Stanton

2012 was Stanton’s best season yet, as he raised his batting average to .290 to go with his monstrous power (he slugged over .600, with a massive .318 ISO). He’s been set back by injuries so far this year, but one glance at his “similar by age” batters reveals his potential–the list includes Juan Gonzalez, Frank Robinson, and Eddie Mathews.

ATL: Hudson

Tim Hudson’s case has been explained well by ESPN SweetSpot writer David Schoenfield. It remains to be seen whether Hall of Fame voters will be willing to embrace 200 as the new 300 wins. Most of all, we don’t know whether voters even consider the kind of era-adjusted rate stats that put Hudson in rarefied company. He has the 26th best winning percentage of any pitcher. He’s 29th ever in WPA (win probability added), 29th in base-out wins saved, 26th in situational wins saved. The problem is that even I–a regular reader of sabermetric work–have to look up what these things mean. And he’s lacking in the categories everyone knows: he’s never won a Cy Young, and made only three All Star games. If Huddy–one of my all-time favorite players–makes it to 250 wins, I think his case will be very, very good. Otherwise, he’s probably headed to the Hall of Very Good.

Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are both still guys who could make a push.

(Thought experiment–people are saying Andy Pettitte is a Hall of Famer. What if Pettitte and Hudson had switched teams at the onset of their careers? Which one would we be hearing as a better candidate?)

PHI: Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Utley, Rollins, Young

None of these cases are cut-and-dried. They’re all really tough cases that frankly I don’t know what to make of. Fortunately, other people have already written about them!

Some people might even want to talk about Ryan Howard. I am not one of those people.

Here are my quick thoughts on each one:

  • Halladay: yes. Considered the best pitcher in baseball for five-plus years, one of the great competitors, lived up to pressure in the playoffs.
  • Lee: sneakily possible. He’s back to his winning ways after that baffling losing stretch last year, and with 40 career WAR, reaching 65 isn’t impossible. It’s highly unlikely voters would consider him, but he’d get my vote if he made it to 65.
  • Utley: yes, if he can come back and be at All-Star level for another 2 or 3 years.
  • Rollins: no, peak too short.
  • Hamels: too early to say, but probably no.
  • Young: no, never dominant.

NYM: Wright, Santana

Johan Santana’s name might be an easy one to forget. After all, he has hardly pitched since 2010, and the Mets haven’t really been in the spotlight recently, either. He’s now 34, and it doesn’t seem likely his body will allow his talent to play much longer. It’s likely that today’s casual fans have already forgotten how dominant he was from 2004-2007, when he led the league in WHIP every year. This leaderboard tracks career Cy Young votes. Santana “only” won two, but he’s eleventh all time in Cy Young shares. He likely won’t add 20 career wins to reach the HoF plateau of 70 for starting pitchers, but it’s worth recalling that his peak was about as good as anyone’s.

David Wright is another great case to examine. Captain America seems to have been born to hit a baseball–but that’s not the only advanced part of his game, as he’s consistently been a threat to run and ranked as one of the best glovemen at the hot corner. Ranked against his peers, Wright has been the default best third baseman in the NL since he debuted, but injuries have cost him in several years. Check out this leaderboard, which shows career All-Star appearances. Wright currently has six. Assuming he makes it this year, he’ll need three more elite years to reach ten All-Star appearances. If you check out that list, there really aren’t very many players who accrue that kind of respect without also making the Hall. His power numbers are not the same as some of his peers at the third-base position. For sake of reference, check out this graph, which compares the career WAR arcs of Mike Schmidt (the gold standard at third base), Ron Santo (perhaps towards the lower end of modern third basemen in the Hall), and current contenders Beltre and Wright.

http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?players=639,1011586,3787,1011447

As you can see, Wright definitely has work to do. Being in New York has surely helped his popularity, but based on the numbers he will have a good case if he can extend his peak into his early-mid thirties.

NL Central

CHI: None

STL: Beltran, Carpenter, Wainwright, Holliday

Wainwright has already had a couple near-misses on the Cy Young; perhaps this year is his year. He’s got a sterling track record, but he got a bit of a late start, as he’s already 31. He’s unlikely to crack 200 wins, which seems to be a minimum standard for the new generation of starting pitchers.

Carpenter does already have a Cy Young, but including him as an active player is sort of an academic exercise. He appears to be pretty much done at age 38. He had a very impressive run and if there were a Sinkerballer Hall of Fame, he’d be there. However, he had a not-so-great start to his career, and basically was league average until he got to the Cardinals in his seventh season.

Matt Holliday is a star, but he’s never been a super-star, and while it ought to be the numbers that count, perception matters too. His case is better than you might think, but this year it looks like he’s hit a wall, which could mean kaputt for his candidacy.

Beltran has seven Gold Gloves, a Rookie of the Year, and is one of the game’s best power-speed-defense players. He is one of only 38 players to join the 30-30 club (Wright is also in the club). His play in the playoffs has been exemplary, and he owns a 1.252 career OPS in the playoff over 150 plate appearances. He has 346 career home runs, eleventh all time by a center fielder; he’s likely to creep towards 400 as his career comes to a close. However, he never won an MVP, and some of his rate stats have fallen off in the last couple years. It’s very possible he will be remembered as one of the ten or twelve best center fielders of all time, but it’s not clear whether that will be enough. (Related: is Andruw Jones a Hall of Famer?)

PIT: McCutchen

Almost anyone coming off a 7.5 win season is going to end up in this discussion. Cutch led the majors in hits last year, and might have won the MVP if not for a late season swoon. Center field is hallowed ground–Mays, diMaggio, Mantle–but McCutchen is only 26, and if he continues on the track he’s on, it’s plausible we could add another M to that center-field club.

CIN: Votto

Votto has already got an MVP and remains a contender for another. For his career, he’s hitting .318/.419/.552. That’s good for the 15th-highest-ever OPS. Pretty good I’d say. However, he’s a first baseman; there’s stiff competition over there. His case could look a lot like Todd Helton’s when it’s all said and done, and Helton currently looks like he’s on the outside looking in.

MIL: Braun

Ryan Braun won the Rookie of the Year award in 2007, and has been an All-Star every year since then. He’s hit 30 homers and 100 RBIs in all but one season. He’s even stolen 30 bases twice. As long as the steroid suspicions subside, he looks like a great candidate. He does not seem to be especially well-liked, though, and given the Hall’s political nature, that could be a bigger deal than it should be. (Didn’t matter for Ty Cobb though, I guess.)

NL West

SFG: Posey, Lincecum, Cain

There are only thirteen catchers in the Hall of Fame, and I think Posey has a good chance to join them. He’s only in his third full season–remember, he lost his sophomore campaign to that gruesome leg injury–but he’s already got a Rookie of the Year and an MVP under his belt. In his age-26 season he’s on pace for about 6 WAR; if we prorate that over seven years, he should easily pass the 34-WAR peak that JAWS identifies for catchers. Moreover, like Gary Carter–the most recent catcher to join the Hall of Fame–he’s a champion, having won two World Series in his first three years.

Three years ago, Tim Lincecum would have been in italics. Sadly, b-ref lists Brandon Webb, another Cy Young winner turned bust, as his top comparison. If Timmy is in the Hall of the Nearly Great–those who, at their peak, were truly amazing, but could not sustain it–then Matt Cain is in the Hall of the Very Good, those players who are dependably above average over a long period of time. (I won’t talk about this year.)

LAD: Kershaw, Greinke, Ad. Gonzelez

Clayton Kershaw has a growing legend, apparently. As with Votto, I’m prepared to personally predict he’ll make it, just because of how clear it is that he’s willing to work as hard as possible to contribute to his team. Barring his rookie season, he’s had a sub-3.00 ERA in the last five seasons. That’s really good. How about strikeouts? He’s got those too, leading the league with 248 in his Cy Young season. As the role of the starting pitcher has changed, the standards for a Hall of Fame starter will also chane; putting up 50 WAR over 7 seasons just won’t happen as often, because WAR is a cumulative stat and starters are pitching fewer innings than they used to. That’s why adjusted rate stats like ERA+ are great for measuring players against their competition, and why things like Cy Young shares are especially helpful in gauging Hall credentials.

Despite all that, Zack Greinke did have a ten-WAR season, in his amazing 2009 campaign. However, he’s been all too mortal since then, and his cumulative stats are none too impressive (93-79 career record, for example). Adrian Gonzalez is a first baseman. First basemen do not make the Hall of Fame hitting .290 with 20 homers.

SD: None

PHO: None, though maybe Goldschmidt will keep up his torrid pace and join the conversation

COL: Tulowitzki, Helton, C. Gonzalez

Other than a sophomore slump in 2008, Tulo has reliably put up 6 wins in every one of his major league seasons. If you ignore his injury-ended 2012 season, the 42-WAR 7-year peak mark for shortstops looks eminently attainable. He also looks to be en route to a career year, as he’s got 3.0 WAR after about a third of the season. As the premier NL shortstop, he seems primed to continue winning positional awards–All Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove–for a couple more years. I think that his numbers case is likely to be sound, but I’m not sure he has the intangibles: he’s yet to win an MVP, and while he has been to the World Series it was as a rookie, and he hit none too memorably in that series. His candidacy may hinge on those positional awards, as it seems risky to suggest the Rockies–while greatly improved this year–are going to inherit the NL West.

Carlos Gonzalez is a premier all-around player who has inserted himself into the conversation through stellar Coors-driven offensive performances, but as long as Larry Walker isn’t a Hall of Famer, I don’t think CarGo will be, either.

Todd Helton offers one of the most difficult cases yet presented. His candidacy probably leans too much on OBP, his only truly elite skill. The Toddfather was definitely jobbed in 2000, when he put up a .370/.460/.700 slash line only to lose the MVP to Jeff Freakin’ Kent. He is 71st in career total bases, 77th in career RBIs, 57th in career batting average, 79th in career home runs, 41st in career walks, 29th in WPA (win probability added), but only 109th in career WAR amongst positional players. What gives? you might ask. Here’s the key: his career OPS is .961, good for 18th all time–definitely Hall-worthy, right? Well, look at his career adjusted OPS: it’s only 134 (ie 34% better than league average for the years he played), and that’s only good for 120th all time: quite good, but not good enough for a first baseman. What voters make out of the offensive environment Helton played in will have an enormous effect on whether they think he is deserving. He played his whole career at Coors Field; that will probably hurt him. He also played half his career, and his best years, during the peak of the Steroid Era, which might actually help him as he’s never been implicated (think Jim Thome–his accomplishment seems even more impressive when you realize three of the other four contemporary members of the 600 homer club were definitely on steroids). In the end, I think Helton will probably not make it, but his career has definitely been incredible.

 

Final Totals:

2 projected Hall of Famers

17 potential Hall of Famers

11 guys in the conversation

Looks like the National League has fewer projected Hall of Famers, but quite a few young guns who could move into the conversation with a couple more high-level years.

“Architecture and war are inseparable. Architecture is war. War is architecture. I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms.

I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home, no family, no doctrine, no firm place to call my own, no known beginning or end, no “sacred and primordial site.”

I declare war on all icons and finalities, on all histories that would chain me with my own falseness, my own pitiful forms.

I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and moments that are as lifetimes, and forms that appear with infinite strength, then “melt into air.”

I am an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody, the silhouette against the darkening sky. I cannot know your name. Nor can you know mine.

Tomorrow, we begin together the construction of a city.”

Last weekend, I spent more time in the beautiful city of San Francisco than I did at home in Danville. I slept there on Friday and Saturday, and ate all but one of my weekend meals in the city. As the year has pressed on, more and more of my friends have saved up enough to move into the city, so I’m never lacking for people to visit or, God forbid, things to do (insert busy San Franciscan joke here). The point really is that, for a bit, the city was on my mind–not just this city particularly, but the idea of a city.

My thoughts were in large part sparked by an exhibition of work by the experimental architect Lebbeus Woods. SFMOMA is closing for renovation, and finished out their time in the old building by holding a free weekend that culminated in a 24-hour celebration extravaganza. One wing of the second floor was currently dedicated to the work of Woods, whose influence stretches far beyond the two or three buildings built to his credit; take one look at his hallucinatory sketches and you’ll understand why. He draws forms that are buildings in theory only, somehow figuring out a way to make right angles seem organic; in the above form, I’m reminded of a wolverine with its hair on end, or perhaps a beaked eagle. In creepier moments it’s easy to call his work insect-like. In other, bleaker sketches, the organic element fades away, but it never seems to really leave; if his sketches seem mathematical, it would be because they suggest the stochastic beauty of kinetic randomness, not the elegant order of the golden mean.

(A slight aside: the most impressive thing about viewing his work is the sheer volume of it, the tactile link to the single draughtsman who begat all of this stuff. In an astounding variety of media, it seems he worked in singleminded pursuit of his architectural vision, which in light of the work seems less important than the sheer fact of his production. I suppose I am saying that, while the content of his work was impressive, the fact of his having done that work was even more impressive. Perhaps especially so for me personally, given my propensity to think of an idea, then drop it before seeing it through to physical manifestation.)

The declaration quoted above was part of a series of collages depicting the relationship between architecture and war–rubble-strewn cities, bombed-out buildings, the aggressive upward explosion of towers and impersonal nature of both modern forms and the bomb. Philosophy or anti-philosophy, it is hard to say, but the bombast grabbed my attention and the content held it. I quickly found echoes of a familiar nature.

To be at war with… all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms.

Woods begins with rejection. First he rejects the authority of the present, the institutions that would claim their power is intrinsic or permanent. He holds no fixed creed, he has no “sacred and primordial site” (perhaps because for him the potential for such a site is omnipresent). Implicit, though, is a second rejection, one of any teleology at all, a basic remonstration of Platonic forms and the idea that there are fixed uses or ends to things in the world. This he shares nominally with Nietzsche, but Nietzsche–despite rejecting teleology vehemently–did, in a sense, have his own idea of the telos of humankind, which was a natural evolution towards the coming of the Over-Man. I do not think Woods shares such a vision.

For one, it is clear that, while defiance must come from the individual, creation must arise between individuals. Stealing a term from a friend, we might call this co-creationism: the idea that we construct our universe in dialogue with one another. This stands in slight opposition to the tradition that one might expect, given the individual-centric vision that dominates the beginning of the statement. In Camus’ rebellion-tinged existentialism, it is Sisyphus himself who decides to love the boulder, or not; in other words, the decisions of existence are in the minds of the singular. Woods takes a step away from this, retaining the element of individual rebellion while insisting that creation–the construction of a citytakes place in social intercourse, not the mind. Indeed, the individual remains unknowable–I cannot know your name, nor can you know mine–and it is only through cooperative construction that the facts of the world come into play. It’s a little fuzzy on how exactly this happens if each of us is individually unknowable, but it’s still an energizing, inspiring idea, the thought that it’s only in interaction, transfer, alterity, that we can be productive, be alive.

The metaphor of the city holds rich resonance in Western culture, signifying the ongoing project of human civilization and its quest for harmonious integration. At the beginning of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, I think, it is agreed that politics is the highest art; politics being the science (it is called a science in my translation, anyway) of ruling a city. And of course Aristotle’s teacher Plato wrote the Republic, which seeks to define the ideal city. In time, Christian rewrites–Augustine’s City of God–emerged, changing the inflection of the work but retaining the metaphor of the city as symbolic of human civilization. The Enlightenment can even be charted by examining the effects upon urban planning, which gave us regular, gridded streets with logical names, inscribing the rational values of the time onto the built environment (cf Washington, DC’s ABC-123 system).

All of this is to say that, when Woods says, Tomorrow, we begin together the construction of a city, I believe we should read the declaration on at least two levels, that of his job as a literal architect but also in terms of his position as a constant co-creator of human civilization.

I’ll end by noting that, while I think Woods diverges from Nietzsche quite severely (despite surface-level similarities), his commitment to co-creation and the human project puts him squarely in line with Isaiah Berlin, the great philosopher of the twentieth century. Like Woods, Berlin believed deeply both in the inscrutability of the individual and the necessity of working together on the project of humanity. The city is a great proving ground for such an idea, especially one as busy and diverse as San Francisco, where we are everyday confronted with difference and challenged to constantly revise our own ideas of the world. Woods’ philosophy, like his architecture, reflects a belief that we must be always in motion, mentally as well as physically.

Woods, Berlin, and I agree–no value system is absolute, and it is the challenge of our time to work to understand one another despite these differences. It is only through mutual negotiation that progress can be made. It is a message our times sorely need.

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