Tough standards for midseason trades 

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
Jon LesterJason Getz/USA TODAY SportsThe Jon Lester trade was a strong move, but it could be judged harshly based on the postseason.
Some midseason trades are remembered as the finishing adornment for success -- at least after the final pitch was thrown. The Blue Jays swapped a couple of prospects for David Cone in a stunning late-season trade in 1992, and because Toronto went on to win the World Series and the deal worked as designed, nobody ever cared that one of the two prospects surrendered was Jeff Kent, who went on to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

The Giants traded for Hunter Pence in July 2012, and because San Francisco dogpiled at the end of the World Series, we remember Pence as the perfect addition at the perfect time, and the aggressiveness of general manager Brian Sabean as pivotal. In 1996, the Yankees traded for Cecil Fielder, and he was important to what the team accomplished late that year. There’s almost no way the Yankees would’ve won the World Series in 2000 without a trade for David Justice that summer, because there were times that Justice seemed to carry them.

But there is the dark side of midseason moves, of course. Almost all of them are thought out and built on logic and sound analysis, yet many of them don’t work as intended.

I remember sitting on the set of "Baseball Tonight" after the trade deadline in 2007 and echoing the prevailing sentiment that the Red Sox were one of the big winners of the midseason dealing period, because they had landed the reliever perceived to be the best available -- Eric Gagne.

Where Phillies can make a bold move 

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
Ken GilesBill Streicher/USA TODAY SportsThe Phillies should promote Ken Giles to closer, despite Jonathan Papelbon's success.
Ken Giles will be the Phillies' closer one day because he appears to have a chance to be one of best relievers in baseball. Hidden amid the rubble of the Phillies' 2014 season, Giles made his debut June 12 and has been completely dominant, striking out 41 of the 104 batters he has faced -- Craig Kimbrel-like numbers, among others.

There are more.

Only Aroldis Chapman, Kelvin Herrera and the Reds' Jumbo Diaz have had a higher average fastball velocity than Giles' 97.1 mph.

He has allowed only four runs in 28⅓ innings. He has allowed one homer. Opposing hitters have a .541 OPS against him. Three baserunners have tried to steal against him, and all three have been thrown out. He has faced 60 right-handed hitters this season and struck out 26, with only three walks. Among relievers with at least 20 innings, only six have a better ratio of strikeouts to walks than Giles, whose mark is 6.83. He has a strikeout rate that places him in the neighborhood of Kimbrel and Dellin Betances, as David Murphy writes.

Giles has been so overpowering, so effective, that his presence has provided an opportunity for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro to turn Jonathan Papelbon

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Jerry ReinsdorfAP Photo/David BanksJerry Reinsdorf won't have nearly the same power under new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
Some of those who were in the room in last week’s contested election of the next MLB commissioner are still trying to figure out what happened, and why it happened the way that it did, with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf fighting with virtually no chance of success.

Reinsdorf pushed Tom Werner as a candidate when the vote was stacked heavily in favor of Rob Manfred by a 2-1 margin, and folks with other teams say they would’ve understood better if Reinsdorf had simply presented Werner as an alternative to Manfred -- and then quickly retreated, in the face of overwhelming dissent.

But that’s not how it played out. Reinsdorf kept the fight going, even as the Rays and Brewers jumped on board and joined the Manfred camp, putting him within a single vote of being selected. Reinsdorf then mentioned that there were other qualified candidates in the room who were not up for election -- and somebody then asked why Reinsdorf, a member of the search committee, hadn’t pushed forward those other would-be candidates before.

As it played out, rival executives say, there were only two sure outcomes:

1. Manfred would be elected.
2. At the end of the process, Reinsdorf lost a lot of influence.

For years, Reinsdorf has been regarded as the second-most powerful man in the sport, given his relationship with deal-making commissioner Bud Selig. But in the midst of the process for choosing the commissioner, the decision was made in the room to allow Manfred to choose his own executive committee -- which Reinsdorf has been a part of in the past.

“He’ll be treated like everybody else now,” one rival executive said.

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K.C. bullpen overwhelms, as a routine 

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
Wade Davis, Salvador PerezAP Photo/Charlie RiedelNow a member of the bullpen, Wade Davis brings extra velocity.

The Royals' bullpen got some needed relief Sunday, in the form of 12 runs of offense. So Greg Holland wasn’t required to crank up and do the thing that's his equivalent of Superman jumping into a phone booth, and Wade Davis didn’t have to ease his way into his work. Kelvin Herrera, who hasn’t allowed a run in almost two months, did take an inning, his fastball reaching 100.2 mph, his sinker averaging about 95 mph.

“These guys are something to watch,” Royals bullpen coach Doug Henry said Sunday morning, and Henry gets to see them up close, all of their habits, their different routines.

The Kansas City bullpen is probably the difference

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My first season in MLB - Spanish 

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
Jose AbreuDan Hamilton/USA TODAY SportsAdam Dunn has been a strong presence for Jose Abreu during his rookie campaign.
Guest bloggers are stepping in for Buster Olney this week to write the lead item. Today's guest blogger is Chicago White Sox rookie outfielder Jose Abreu; this version is presented in his native language.

Primeramente debo comenzar por agradecer a Dios por haberme permitido alcanzar mi sueño, el sueño de toda mi familia: llegar y ser parte del mejor béisbol del mundo; por darme la oportunidad de mostrar cada día lo que soy capaz de hacer con las habilidades y condiciones con las que me bendijo; y por estar en una organización como la de los Medias Blancas y estar rodeado de tantas personas buenas que me han ayudado en todo este proceso que he vivido esta temporada.

La verdad es que no ha sido tan fácil como mucha gente piensa, pero tampoco ha sido tan difícil como me lo pude haber imaginado. La clave, como siempre he dicho, ha estado en mantenerse trabajando, en disfrutar lo que somos capaces de hacer cada día y en no conformarnos.

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My first season in the major leagues 

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
Jose AbreuDan Hamilton/USA TODAY SportsAdam Dunn has been a strong presence for Jose Abreu during his rookie campaign.
Guest bloggers are stepping in for Buster Olney this week to write the lead item, while Buster still has his news and notes below that. Today's guest blogger is Chicago White Sox rookie outfielder Jose Abreu.

First of all, I need to thank God for allowing me to reach my dream, the dream of my family: That is, being part of the best baseball league in the world; for giving me the opportunity to show every day what I’m capable of, thanks to the abilities given to me by him; and for being in an organization like the White Sox that has allowed me to be surrounded by so many good people that have helped me during the process this season.

Truth is, things haven’t been as easy as a lot of people might think. But they haven’t been too tough, either. The key, like I’ve always said, is to keep on working, enjoy the things you are capable of doing, and never settle for less.

Back when I was a kid and started playing baseball, my father always advised me that I had to be devoted in order to be good, to become whoever I wanted to be I had to work real hard every single day. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

That advice from my father, who is also named Jose, is like a Holy Scripture to me. I work intensely every day, to be prepared for every single game.

When I played with Cienfuegos or with the Cuban national team, I worked nonstop. Did it every day, even when I had a long trip ahead, traveling by guagua (bus), to every city in our schedule.

When I arrived in this country, my daily preparation became easier, because of all the training facilities that exist. In my first days here, I kept on working, preparing myself so I wouldn’t waste this new opportunity that the Lord gave me, to pay the team back for the trust they gave me, and to honor all the efforts and sacrifices made by my family.

Taking advantage of all the benefits that I’ve bumped into since I arrived in the big leagues has been an easy task, same thing as being able to keep my focus about the work I have to do, about all the positive things that have happened to me, and everything I’ve achieved in this time. Honestly, I never thought I could achieve all these things, like being Player of the Month, Rookie of the Month, an All-Star, but that’s what God has chosen for me, and I accept that in a humble way.

But like I said, despite having all these great things, I haven’t lost my focus, because I always remember another piece of advice from my father: “You must have a plan for everything you want to achieve. You must stick to that plan and work on it, so things can happen." And it’s been like that. I’ve always stuck to my plan, where hard work is everything.

I have met some great people that have helped me to improve all the resources in my work and preparation, people with great experience that have been gracious enough to provide some advice, and have also allowed me to use some of their examples.

Paul Konerko -- who unfortunately will retire after this season -- and Adam Dunn have been two key people that have guided me in this transition process.

[+] EnlargePaul Konerko
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastPaul Konerko's work ethic has provided a strong model to follow for Jose Abreu and other young White Sox hitters.
Konerko’s leadership has given me security and confidence. He is a person who never loses his temper, a hard worker who loves to study his batting with great detail. His work ethic has set an example for me, and it has helped me to keep my plan rolling, improving it every day.

From Konerko, I’ve learned how to take advantage of all the pitching analysis that is available, although I must confess that I’m not the type of guy who likes to read too much of that, since I’ve got my own method to analyze pitchers. But it’s a tool that we have, and eventually, it can help.

Both Konerko and Dunn have helped me to stay relaxed, to avoid feeling pressured when things don’t go my way, to avoid the frustration after failing to achieve something that I think I could have done easily.

Dunn is always looking for different ways to keep the team in good spirits, so we cannot lose the battle against pressure. I still laugh every time I see Phil, the toy chimp he’s got in his locker. There was one time when he brought a toy bird that made a very weird noise. The first time I heard that bird, it really scared me a lot. Now, I just laugh.

The way Konerko and Dunn handle every situation helps the team. It has helped me to control the different scenarios that might happen at this level, both on the field and inside the clubhouse.

I think that both Konerko and Dunn have provided examples that have helped me to complement my plan, the very same plan taught by my father that has been improved. I hope to be able to follow their examples, and continue to take advantage of every single opportunity, as long as the Lord allows me to do so.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes ...

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A day in the life of a reliever 

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
Burke BadenhopTommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsWhat's a day in the life of a reliever like? Ask Burke Badenhop.
Guest bloggers are stepping in for Buster Olney this week to write the lead item, while Buster still has his news and notes below that. Today's guest blogger is Boston Red Sox reliever Burke Badenhop.

“What time’s the national anthem?”

I always have to ask because I know I’m going to be late getting ready. Punctuality is something I’m working on. But missing the anthem is breaking a team rule and results in an earful from my teammate Craig Breslow. It's certainly not how I wish to start a game. After honoring America, a rookie grabs the candy bag and we head off to the pen.

At the onset of the game, every reliever hopes the starter is sharp, settles into the game and is economical with his pitch count. No one likes early phone calls down here. Short starts will wreak havoc on a pen. The wear and tear of today's game can easily haunt you for the better part of a week. On the other hand, a spectacular start or a complete game can put all the pieces back in place for a bullpen. So we all sit, sipping our energy drinks during the early innings, willing the starter to find his rhythm.

Somewhere between the third and fifth innings, the back end of the bullpen shows up. We seven pitchers assembled comprise the Red Sox's bullpen. The setup guys, the closer and other bullpen veterans greet everyone and find their places. These guys have earned their late arrival. They’re the ones the team leans on in the tight spots, when we need to get out of a jam, when tonight’s game is on the line. They get some extra time to prepare and relax in the clubhouse, knowing they won't be called upon in the early innings.

Although a team might have the same seven relievers from the night before, a manager's bullpen could be different every night depending on who's available. Some relievers might be “down,” meaning not available that night under any circumstance. A "down" guy could be nursing a sore arm or simply shouldn’t pitch because of his recent workload.

Others "could use a day" -- meaning they are available but hopefully won't be called upon. A day of rest would do them a world of good, but if the right situation occurs, they’ll pitch. Some guys are available for multiple innings because they’re fully rested, while others have enough gas in the tank for only a hitter or two. Every manager must take his relievers' availability into consideration and works with what they have that night.

There’s a saying that holds true for a reliever: "You’re pitching either too much or not enough." When you pitch, you tend to pitch a lot. When you don’t pitch, you tend to sit a lot. It’s these peaks and valleys that I believe lead to so much variability in reliever performances from year to year. The guys who can manage it the best are the ones who stay in this game the longest.

As the night progresses and our starter begins to tire and lose effectiveness, the phone calls start. Eventually bullpen phones are going to be the only land lines left in America. I usually have a pretty good idea who is going to be called on after assessing the situation on the field. Even if I don’t think my name is going to be called, I prepare like it will be. It’s best to always be prepared to pitch and be surprised when you don’t. The last thing I want is to be caught unprepared -- physically or mentally.

But it is my name that's called.

Whenever my name is called, I take a deep breath, blow it out and take a couple of seconds to “turn it on.” Turning it on is getting focused, getting a bit weird, getting my mind on the only thing that matters: making pitches.
Burke Badenhop
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBadenhop has his own little ritual to "turn it on" when his name is called.

I take my jacket off and grab a baseball. Most baseball players are completely different people on the field than they are off it. If I have to be ready quickly, I frantically fire fastballs and hope to get a slider or two in before being called into the game. If I have time and am preparing for a certain hitter two or three batters away, I pace myself more. All the while I’m taking inventory of how I feel. Am I staying tall? Am I on top of my sinker? Is my slider worth throwing today? Am I locating my changeup? As I loosen, I also try to make adjustments to get the most out of what I have that day. Maybe I need to loosen my grip on my changeup.

I might have to really focus on keeping pressure with my middle finger for my slider. Maybe my sinker is running too much that day and I need to pick a different spot to aim when throwing it away to a lefty. When the umpire signals for me, I chuck one last sinker, low and away, hopefully, and blow through the bullpen door to the outfield grass and toward the mound.

If the phone rings and someone else is called upon, I will continue to stretch and try to stay out of the way while they warm up. I certainly don’t take my jacket off at this point. If my jacket is on, I’m anonymous. No one knows who I am if they can’t see my name or number on the back of my jersey. As soon as someone takes his coat off, the fans loitering around the pen reach for their phones. Google is awesome, but not when you're sitting in the bullpen. Fans quickly discover many things about a player -- all providing ammunition for the local heckler. We hear all sorts of taunts and jeers while someone's warming up.

Some unoriginal fan yells, “My grandma throws harder than you!”

“Does she have an agent?” I reply.

The phone will ring some more. Some guys will warm up and get into the game. Others might warm up two or three times and never be called upon. We will protect a lead or do our best to keep our team close for a late-inning comeback. A win will lead to a happy clubhouse after the game. Everyone who pitched this night lines up to high-five the players coming in from the dugout. I’ll take care of a few things postgame to help me prepare for tomorrow. That might involve an arm stretch, icing or jumping in the cold/hot tub. It won't be long before I'll be asking what time the anthem is. And I swear I won’t be late this time.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes …

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Stats versus strengths for Kershaw 

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
Los Angeles DodgersAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillA.J. Ellis, left, and Clayton Kershaw have forged an excellent working relationship.
Guest bloggers are stepping in for Buster Olney this week to write the lead item, while Buster still has his news and notes below that. Today's guest blogger is Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis.

Almost exactly two hours before he takes the mound every fifth day, Clayton Kershaw lays out the precise game plan he intends to use for each hitter in the opposing starting lineup.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and I sit on each side of a training room table as Kersh runs through the batters. Honey and I always come to those meetings armed with information on the tendencies of our opponents: We not only look at what they have done against left-handed pitchers both recently and historically, but how they’ve approached at-bats against our ace specifically.

To fully prepare for his start, Kersh studies the scouting reports we print out prior to each series, and then he goes back and finds the two pitchers most similar to himself, such as Madison Bumgarner and Cole Hamels, and watches their starts versus the given opponent in their entirety. Although Honey and I have done the work and are prepared, Kersh leads the meeting. We try to help by offering up small tidbits on a particular hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, and by filling him in on any personal history that stands out. Kershaw’s tone is always serious. He keeps the conversation brisk. It’s now my job to remember his plan of attack and call pitches accordingly.

In the three years I have been humbled to catch Kersh, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and not offer up information that goes against his typical arsenal of pitches. Even though the stats may lead me in a different direction, we are both keenly aware that his strengths are what separate him from the rest. Except for when we forget.

Interleague play usually takes away the most valuable tool of setting any game plan: data on head-to-head matchups. In the recent Freeway Series with the Angels, Kersh and I both fell victim to this trap. Kershaw hadn’t faced the Angels since 2011, and had a limited history with the majority of the Halos. It’s no secret across baseball that Kersh loves to pound right-handed hitters inside. His combination of angle, deception and command make it extremely hard to square up an executed fastball on the inside corner.

The trouble is the Angels have a bunch of great hitters who feast on pitches on the inner half. So in our pregame meeting, we decided to scrap Kersh’s strength and try to work the outer half of the plate toward those hitters' statistical weaknesses. Three innings and three earned runs later, we both realized we compromised our typical game plan in favor of the numbers our computer spewed out regarding hitters' results versus left-handed pitchers who probably do not own two Cy Young Awards or pitch with the will and ferocity Kersh does.

Realizing the error of our ways, we went back to what Kersh does well, and he cruised the rest of the way. After giving up seven hits and striking out just one batter in his first three innings because of our dumb game plan, Kersh allowed no hits and struck out six in his final four frames. Lesson learned.

As a catcher who loves the cerebral side of this great game, I enjoy the patchwork process of preparing a series for each pitcher on his start date. Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus set the example in his two years as a catcher with the Dodgers for exactly what I need to do. To avoid information overload, Brad taught me to run through this checklist:

1. How aggressive is the hitter on the first pitch?
2. Does that change with runners in scoring position?
3. Where exactly does the hitter do his damage?
4. On what types of pitches?
5. In or away?
6. Ahead in the count only?
7. What are the hitter's two-strike chase zones on both fastballs and off-speed pitches?

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images"He's a brilliant encyclopedia of information, and he's always looking for more research to gain an advantage," A.J. Ellis says of Zack Greinke.
Whereas we've learned that Kershaw needs to stick with his strengths and do what he does best regardless of the situation, this is a checklist that intrigues Zack Greinke. He’s a brilliant encyclopedia of information, and he’s always looking for more research to gain an advantage. He especially wants to know, and hopefully avoid, the specific areas where each hitter’s power is located. Zack is the most inquisitive student of the game I've ever met, and he breaks down video as well as anyone I've caught.

Zack studies the two-strike chase zone numbers intently. With the arsenal of pitches at his disposal combined with his ability to locate, he relentlessly attacks these zones with two strikes.

All of this information is vital to Honey and I as we try to determine a way to get major league hitters out. I mention Honey again because I must admit that I'm unable to memorize all of these figures as the game and series progress, so I rely on him to give me his notes mid-game. His help is invaluable.

But at the end of the day the question ultimately comes to this, as it did with Kersh versus the Angels: Am I going to rely on a set of numbers, or on my pitcher's strengths? Just because a hitter can do damage against a left-hander's slider in general doesn't mean I'm not calling Kersh's slider. If a hitter has great numbers against split-fingered fastballs, I am still going to work in Dan Haren's split. I've learned there has to be a marriage of stats and strengths. I try to find that balance every time I throw a sign down.

As the game progresses and relief pitchers trot in, the focus always seems to trend toward strengths. Most relievers don’t offer up a big variety of options in their repertoire, but they make it up for it with the velocity and movement of the pitches that they do throw. These last few crucial innings of a game usually turn into a battle of my best against your best. We don’t overthink it. Even if the best fastball hitter in the game is in the box with the game on the line. I’m still going to call for Kenley Jansen to throw his invisible fastball right by him. Those moments are what makes baseball so great.

The caveat in all of this is how fortunate I am to be on the receiving end of this incredible pitching staff. All of my starters have the ability to be creative and adapt from start to start. They can all locate multiple pitches, which affords me the ability to match up their strengths with the stats. Their strengths also change and can be adjusted as a particular game goes on. This speaks to the athleticism and pitch-making ability these starters have.

The relief corps is a collection of seasoned veterans who have each battled through every possible scenario. They each possess put-away weapons for all types of hitters. But when it comes down to it, and the bases are loaded with two out and it’s time to make a pitch, be assured the batting averages, slugging percentage and hard-hit stat rates are all pushed aside, as my teammate on the mound shuts out all the noise and sticks with his strength.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes …

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The real reason pitchers get injured 

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
Matt BuschmannAP Photo/Gregory BullMatt Buschmann says typical injury prevention steps, such as limiting pitch counts, are ineffective.
I've been in professional baseball since 2006 and every year there seems to be a rash of injuries that plague pitchers. This inevitably leads to an eclectic mix of baseball people comprising a panel trying to explain the injury epidemic on local and national baseball television shows. Each time I catch one -- and there were several in 2014 due to a slew of spring training injuries -- I'm left shaking my head in frustration.

The entire segment is generally spent discussing quick fixes or "magic bullet" ideas. The panel runs through the usual rhetoric of limiting pitch counts, scaling back innings and fixing bad mechanics. It’s as if completely arbitrary pitch counts or simple mechanical fixes are going to save elbows everywhere. That's lunacy.

Understanding pitching injuries at the professional level and trying to limit them is an incredibly complex task. Small, simple fixes on the surface are not going to solve anything other than give plausible deniability to higher powers when they have to explain to the media why a pitching prospect got hurt. "We did what we could, we limited his innings and pitches,” they would say. “Sometimes these things just happen."

To better figure out this challenging situation, it would help to understand the baseball system as a whole in this country. Next, it would help to understand the systemic weaknesses of injury prevention at the professional level.

Baseball's pitcher development system

Let’s start with baseball’s developmental system in the United States.

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Life as a player for the Oakland 'Mathletics' 

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
Sean DoolittleJuan DeLeon/Icon SMIThickly bearded All-Star Sean Doolittle ranks high in at least one of his favorite "stat categories."
Baseball is a game of numbers, and we at the Oakland Athletics keep track of everything. From the number of hits in a given number of at-bats to the number of runs allowed to the number of stolen bases, there are numbers for evaluating every aspect of the game.

As far back as 1964, when Earnshaw Cook published the book "Percentage Baseball," baseball statisticians have been providing us ways to get as deep into those numbers as possible to determine just how valuable a player might be. In 1971, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) was formed in Cooperstown, New York, and lent both its acronym and advanced mathematical functions to analyze the game. Bill James, the pioneer of sabermetrics, defined them as a way to provide an objective view of baseball.

Sabermetrics finally let us enjoy baseball the way it was meant to be enjoyed: with a TI-89 graphing calculator.

Many of you are familiar with the movie "Moneyball," which chronicles the Athletics' use of sabermetrics to successfully assemble a winning team on a decidedly small-market budget. By thinking outside the box and favoring players' on-base percentages over their batting averages, those A's were able to build a productive lineup of affordable players en route to a 20-game win streak and a division title.

Since then, the use of sabermetrics has continued to change the way players are evaluated. Metrics such as OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) and wOBA (weighted on-base average) provide a much more comprehensive and accurate evaluation of a hitter's overall productivity than, say, batting average. Meanwhile, the wRC (weighted runs created) and wRAA (weighted runs above average) categories help quantify a player's total offensive value to his team in the form of runs created over the course of a season.

Just as metrics for hitting have advanced past on-base percentage, pitching metrics are going far beyond earned run average. WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) measures the number of baserunners a pitcher allows, on average, per inning. FIP (fielding independent pitching) and xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) assess a pitcher's abilities based on results he can "control" -- K's, BBs, HBPs and HRs allowed -- and have proved to be very reliable predictors of future performance.

And it turns out WAR is good for something after all. The wins above replacement category quantifies a player's overall contributions to his team and quantifies how many wins a player is worth to his club, compared to a league-average stand-in.

Although these might be some of the more commonly used calculations in evaluating a player's value, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

The A's use of advanced statistics

The Athletics' front office has remained on the cutting edge in its use of sabermetrics to evaluate players. From the offseason right up until the July 31 trade deadline, the A's have signed several free agents and negotiated several trades -- and some of these trades and deals left even the most patrician baseball folks scratching their heads.

So exactly which metrics do the A's value most when assessing potential players? I think I've finally figured it out:

BDP (beard dependent pitching): While FIP eliminates defense and focuses on strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed, BDP assesses a pitcher's value in relation to the league average by isolating outings during which the pitcher has a beard.

WPA/3+C (win probability added with three-plus catchers in the lineup): Athletics manager Bob Melvin is a former catcher, so he values backstops and looks for ways to get as many into the lineup as he can. By playing Stephen Vogt in the outfield or at first base, either Derek Norris or John Jaso can get behind the dish while the other slides into the DH spot. It's worth noting that Josh Donaldson made his major league debut as a catcher and did not convert to third base until 2012, so there are instances when the A's have four players in their lineup who are capable of getting behind the plate.

[+] EnlargeOakland A's
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesDerek Norris' healthy mullet has been a factor in many A's wins this season.
LOH-Wins (length of hair wins): This metric estimates how many wins a player adds to his team as the result of the length of his hair. For instance, you could look at the direct correlation between the length of Norris' mullet and the number of wins since its conception.

rfFSR (right field fan scouting report): The fan scouting report (FSR) is a metric used by sabermetrician Tom Tango that estimates a player's value based on fan observations and online voting. The rfFSR evaluates a player's value based on reports and polling of the fans in the right field bleacher section at Coliseum. Those are some of the best fans in the game, so it comes as no surprise that this metric is one of the most reliable when predicting future performance.

wOPS (weighted overhead press): This gem calculates how strong a player is to determine whether he can carry a team. In Oakland, no one player carries our team. We all have very similar wOPS numbers.


BABIP: That's batting average on balls in play, right? Wrong. It's baseball averages compared to Bip Roberts. According to, over 12 seasons, Bip Roberts held a .294 batting average and a .358 on-base percentage and had a 162-game average of 36 stolen bases per year. Roberts played his final season for the A's in 1998, but sabermetricians still use his stats when evaluating players.

HR/FB: That's home runs per fly ball, yes? Think again. It's home runs by a fullback. When you're a small-market team, sometimes you're forced to think outside the box. When you also share a stadium with an NFL team, it never hurts to see if any of their players can use their size and strength to drive the baseball out of the ballpark. No word yet on when Raiders fullback Marcel Reece will be given a chance to hit for A's scouts. And the jury is still out on whether this also can be applied to a wide receiver such as Jeff Samardzija.

Contact percentage: This metric is out of this world -- literally. This number indicates how often a player is able to successfully decode messages received from outer space (just like Jodie Foster's character in the 1997 film "Contact"). Although this is an interesting metric, it has nothing to do with baseball, so it's not a great indicator of future performance. But "Contact" is a great movie.

BB percentage: If you're guessing this particular sabermetric indicates a hitter's walk percentage, guess again. It's called "Baseball is Best." This metric helps indicate a player's intangibles because it shows just how much a player likes baseball. When a team is considering signing a player to a long-term contract, it's important to find out if baseball is the sport he likes to play the best.

Sabermetrics are becoming more popular as we continue to strive for a better understanding of the game. And as the game evolves, so will the metrics. Hmm, maybe someday there'll be a metric to quantify clubhouse chemistry (the JON/nY GoM.E.S. phenomenon?).

Critics will argue sabermetrics don't paint the whole picture. Some say a player still must pass the "eye test," and the only information a manager might need to make a decision is a past experience or a gut feeling.

Others argue there are intangibles that cannot be quantified. Or they say the formulas are becoming too complicated for people who didn't ace calculus and don't know the mathematical order of operations or how to use a graphing calculator. Sabermetrics might not tell the whole story, but the numbers never lie.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to be shoved into my locker.

And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes …

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Inside the Hall of Fame 

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
Baseball Hall of Fame A. Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesThe Cooperstown museum is certainly a sight to behold.
Buster Olney is on vacation this week, but guest bloggers will be here each day in his place. Today we have Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

On June 12, 1939, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened its doors for the first time in picturesque Cooperstown, New York. Seventy-five years later, as the museum celebrates its diamond anniversary, the definitive repository for baseball history is going strong. Close to 16 million visitors have made the pilgrimage to the baseball mecca since Babe Ruth and 10 others gave their induction speeches, christening the first sports Hall of Fame in America.

I am often asked how the museum continues to be successful, year in and year out. The simple answer is relevance. The museum is forever evolving. As America evolves, so does baseball. And as baseball evolves, so, too, does the Hall of Fame. After all, it remains our national pastime.

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Alex WoodAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillAn offseason grip change has made Alex Wood's curveball much more effective this season.
ATLANTA -- Dee Gordon is the model of improvement in major league baseball this year, evolving from a part-timer into an All-Star with a position change and a change in regimen. He explained in spring training that by eliminating hours of pickup basketball, he was finally able to gain weight he felt he needed.

This is the part of baseball for which no statistical analysis can account: A player’s ability to adapt, to make changes that can make a big difference.

Atlanta Braves pitcher Alex Wood -- who starts on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN) against Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals -- is another example of this. For him, throwing a fastball and a changeup came easily, but his curveball was always problematic and inconsistent. Sometimes it would spin sharply, sometimes it wouldn’t, and sometimes he could command the pitch and sometimes he couldn’t.

He tinkered with different grips, he explained Saturday, and during the offseason, he found something while playing catch with his former college teammate, Kyle Farmer, who is now a catcher in the Dodgers’ organization. Wood started using the tip of his left index finger as the primary lever, rather than the first knuckle, and gripped a different part of the baseball, using the seams for traction.

He had a better feel for the ball throwing it this way, and a better curveball, which was confirmed by a moment in spring training. With a two-strike count, Wood threw the curve to David Ortiz, who watched it spin right over the plate for Strike 3.

With his new curveball -- which he’s using about 50 percent more than he did last season -- Wood feels that he now has a third pitch for which hitters have to account, and cannot simply dismiss.

“Just being able to throw it whenever I need to throw it, for the most part, and for an out pitch against left-handers and right-handers has been a big improvement this year,” said Wood, who has a 2.96 ERA this season in 15 starts, with 88 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings.

Here are some other players who made small adjustments that have had yielded colossal results this season

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To-do list for new MLB commish 

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
Bud Selig, Rob ManfredAP Photo/Bebeto MatthewsRob Manfred, left, will succeed longtime MLB commissioner Bud Selig.
Editor's Note: This column originally ran last week. It has been updated based on news that Rob Manfred has been named to be the next MLB Commissioner.

Major League Baseball's owners might have had more unanimous votes under commissioner Bud Selig in the past 20 years than the Politburo, which says a lot about Selig's unique ability to wrangle and cajole and convince. MLB isn't structured in a way that makes for strong central authority, and yet Selig built consensus.

The fact that the next MLB commissioner and Selig's successor, Rob Manfred, didn't have unanimous support on the first ballot could be the first sign of the significant challenges that him.

If you think U.S. presidents have a difficult time governing without the backing of the House or Senate, you have an idea of what Manfred will face as Major League Baseball moves toward the expiration of its current labor agreement at the end of the 2016 season. Manfred will have to try to forge a new labor agreement while also dealing with in-fighting between owners. Incidentally, this was the recipe that led to the players' strike of 1994.

And beyond that, the to-do list seems to grow by the day for Selig's successor.

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Finding value on the waiver wire 

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
Cole HamelsAP Photo/Alex BrandonStarter Cole Hamels, boasting a 2.42 ERA this season, was placed on waivers by the Phillies.
Think of baseball’s waiver claim process as you would government funding: By the time everybody has taken their piece of the pie and it reaches the end of the line, there really isn’t much left.

This is what’s happening in the first days of August, executives say, as the first wave of players passes through waivers. Many teams are aggressively making claims on players for reasons attached to their respective circumstances, and if you are at the back of the waiver-claiming line in each league -- if you are the Athletics -- you are left with a choice of Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder, should you choose to make a move. Good luck with that.

It’s not only about trying to get better for this year, and the claims are being made by non-contenders as well as contenders, executives report.

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Timing key in Cubs' call-up 

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
Javier BaezAP Photo/Chris CarlsonJavier Baez has hit .310 with 12 homers and a 1.063 OPS over his past 30 games.
If this all plays out the way the Cubs hope, their collective journey will reflect that of Javier Baez, with failure preceding great success. The middle infielder started terribly in Triple-A this year, but as player development executives will tell you, this is a good thing, really. Because slumps in the big leagues are inevitable when your swing isn't right or you struggle to adjust to how pitchers are adjusting to you, and you have to learn how to dig your way out.

Baez did that at Triple-A Iowa, gradually learning to lay off pitches out of the strike zone, learning that if you ignore the slider in the dirt, it gives you a better chance to get pitches in the zone. This is a message reinforced by the Cubs' new minor league hitting guru Manny Ramirez, who seems to have had an immediate impact on the young players he has worked with and has been impressed with Baez's skills, which have blossomed.

Think of Baez as the college freshman who got a lot of C-minuses in the first marking period but now has graduated from Triple-A with honors: Despite being more than five years younger than the average player in the league, Baez racked up 23 homers and a .510 slugging percentage.

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