It’s about damn time.
Yesterday morning at approximately 9am, the Oakland Athletics made the call for Barry Zito to reclaim his rightful position in the locker room of the green and gold. At 37-years of age, Zito spent the 2015 season with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, where he made 22 starts and two relief appearances, earning a respectable 3.46 ERA.
The reason for him not being called up for such an extended period of time was because there was simply no room for him in the rotation or bullpen. With so much young and unproven talent on the Triple-A roster and an opportunity for them to gain experience on the major league level, it was difficult to justify Zito taking a roster spot away from someone who might need it – despite all the fans wanting him in Oakland.
However with Jesse Chavez going down with a rib fracture that will end his season – along with a multitude of other injuries that have plagued the pitching staff – Zito will finally get his shot. Although he is slated to come out of the pen – per Assistant GM David Forst – I believe their could be a chance A’s fans could see the veteran left-hander take the hill one last time as a starter.
In fact, there might even be a chance he could be slotted for September 26th game against the San Francisco Giants, meaning a duel between his former teammate and soon-to-be-retiring Tim Hudson. It would be the perfect send off for the both of them and to put icing on the cake, ‘early 2000’s Big 3 member’ Mark Mulder will be in attendance. “I hope Zito gets to pitch in that game,” said Mulder per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. “That would be neat for him and Huddy. And the atmosphere will be great.”
The only reason that I could imagine Zito not starting that game would be because of the injury trouble he has sustained this season. He didn’t pitch much in August for the Sounds, although did come into relief in the final game and threw one inning, ending the game the only way one could imagine Zito doing it, with a curveball.
Even Beane, who was the one who stated multiple times that it didn’t look like Zito would be making his way up to Oakland due to the limited roster space said that he did fancy the idea of a Zito-Hudson matchup. “We originally made the decision not to call Barry up because he hasn’t thrown much in the last month,” he said via John Hickey’s blog Inside the A’s. “Very soon thereafter I heard that Huddy might be making his last start here. I’m not all that nostalgic, but I thought that might be a nice reunion, too.”
The good news is that even if Zito isn’t up for starting the game – due to injuries or other personal reasons – manager Bob Melvin I’m sure would understand the importance of the moment to get Zito into that September 26th game for at least an inning. Either way, this is something that NEEDS to happen and is something that would give A’s fans in 2015 something positive to remember.
In a year that hasn’t seen much of anything go right for the Athletics, allowing the fan base to relive the franchises most memorable years of the millennia by watching Zito climb the hill one last time against Hudson would make for a story book ending to two magnificent careers. For A’s fans, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson are more than names. They are representations of a great period for the franchise and they have an opportunity to ends their careers on the very mound they started on. It is these types of moments that you can’t script that make baseball such a timeless tradition.
Now all that’s left is for it to come to fruition.
While I will admit it’s been difficult lately to find much to get excited about with the Oakland Athletics, I would whole-heartedly suggest tuning into tonight’s matchup against the Houston Astros at 7:05 PM PT. Scott Kazmir is coming back to Oakland and hopefully to a standing ovation, while Sonny Gray will be on the bump for the green and gold. Getting to watch two good friends go after each other on the ball field is one of the all time greatest opportunities for a classic.
There isn’t anybody else you would rather beat more than your friend and the fiery arms on the mound tonight epitomize the true meaning of familiar competition. Having been together on the A’s in 2014 and half of 2015, the two grew close as a teacher and student. Last season was Gray’s first full one in the MLB and Kazmir being there from the beginning took Sonny under his wing – partially because I think he saw a lot of himself in him. They also were responsible – until Samardzija and Lester came – for leading the rotation as they also did the first half of this year.
Yet, since going to Houston, Kazmir has struggled a bit, which is to be expected going from a pitcher-happy O.Co Coliseum to a batter-friendly Minute Maid Park. In August, he had a 1-4 record over five starts with a 3.96 ERA and was only able to go 4.1 innings in his start last week against the Seattle Mariners. His buddy Gray also has had a tough couple of outings, culminating in his worst start of the season against the LA Angels on September 2nd. He gave up a season-high six earned runs through only five innings, getting tagged with his seventh loss of the year.
So with both pitchers having subpar performances recently, it should only intensify tonight’s matchup even more and here’s why. With neither having their best stuff as of late, tonight will be a game they will both look to lock in on and hopefully get each other back on track. While it can be difficult to break out of a rut – as both are looking too – there is no better way to reverse ones poor performance than to have a personal challenge.
Oh, a little trash talk also helps too.
According to Kazmir on MLB.com, “With Sonny up there, he’s already been texting. Once we figured out exactly when he was going to pitch, that’s when the trash talking started.”
However, apparently it’s been going on since the trade as Kazmir told Oliver Macklin, “As soon as I got traded, [there] was trash talking,” he said. “It was, ‘I can’t wait ‘til you get back here.’”
Although neither is sure who really instigated the banter, both have still have some fun with it. “I don’t think you want to pitch on Tuesday,” Kazmir said he told Gray in a text message.
Well tonight is a chance for Gray and Kazmir to try and silence the other and I would recommend watching CSN Bay Area tonight in order to see it. There’s nothing like buddies duking it out, and with two of the best in the league out on the bump, it should be nothing but fun.
Mike Gallego was doomed. He’d been doomed since May 25th. That was the day the Oakland Athletics brought in former third base coach Ron Washington. It just didn’t feel right with the way the direction was headed all season and no matter when it happened, it seemed his ending was inevitable. No matter whether it was three days ago, three months ago, or even three months from now, he was going to get the boot. The justification was the tipping point. Basically, how would the A’s find a reason to fire him? They did so in the form of critiquing his base running decisions and manager Bob Melvin summed it up when he said, “We are at the top of the league in guys getting thrown out at home and we’ve had a lot of one-run games.” He went on to speak on the matter taking some of the blame off of Gags and putting it on himself in the only way a nice guy like Melvin could.
“But I think too, and this is my fault, it’s been a little uncomfortable as far as the infield dynamic — when you bring a guy in to do some things, and when you have a guy who’s been here a while. I just felt like it was a little bit uncomfortable to the point that this was a direction we were going to go at the end of the season anyway. And we came to that conclusion and therefore we made the decision at this time, as opposed to wait to end of the season.”
What that quote says to me is that his hand was forced by someone else *cough* Billy Beane *cough* and as the manager – technically having to make the final decision – he had to answer for it. Oakland’s General Manager has always had his hand in everything and this matter remains no different. Washington is Beane’s guy. Always has been since he ran the third base box from 1997-2006. Nothing can change that and once Beane brought him on earlier in the year to ‘purely help the defense’ he was bound to end up back there.
I do think this delves a little deeper into to the head honcho though. It shouldn’t be seen as he simply hates Gallego because I don’t think he does, but it does have something to do with Beane’s inability to deviate from ‘the path’ he has set the A’s down upon. When Billy traded for Marcus Semien this offseason, he immediately sent the message that Marcus would be his starting shortstop and no one could change his mind about it. No matter how poorly Semien has performed, he’s always remained the starter. Now while I don’t think that he should be replaced and in my opinion is the best option at the spot, it just proves how hell-bent Beane is on having things look the way he wants them to.
He wanted Semien to be the shortstop so badly that he brought in – essentially – a personal coach in Washington to help him with his defense. With Wash, Marcus has certainly made leaps and bounds and because of his ‘progress,’ this gave Beane the excuse to promote him to his former position of third base coach. All that was needed was an excuse to get Gags out and as Melvin told the press a few days ago, leading the league “in guys getting thrown out at home” was the perfect opportunity.
While Washington may be a better man for the job, Gallego didn’t deserve what he got, no matter the inevitability. Beane has a way he goes about his business and his ‘anyone is expendable’ motto has apparently spilled over to the base coach area – which by the way, I have never heard of in the middle of a season. Whether you think it was fair or not, all A’s fans can do is trust the motto will lead to eventual positive outcomes.
It’s not too often fans gets to witness their team partake in a historical ass kicking, which is precisely what the Oakland Athletics received yesterday in their season-worst 18-2 loss against the Baltimore Orioles. The 26 hits the Green and Gold staff surrendered were the most ever allowed since the team moved to Oakland, as well as the most in A’s franchise history since they gave up 29 back on April 23, 1955. It’s ironic considering that ’55 club went 63-91, which is about the pace this current team is looking to finish. I’m hoping that the 2015 squad won’t be remembered like their 50-year ago predecessors because as one of my friends mentioned last night, “weren’t they the Elephants back then?” Well no, but I could see why they might be a forgettable bunch. Besides that season being the first in Kansas City after moving from Philadelphia, I’d be highly surprised if anyone born after the Korean War years would be able to name any of the players. Vic Power? Gus Zernial? Tom Gorman? Enos Slaughter? Ring any bells? Didn’t think so (and those were their top players!). That flamboyant foursome sounds about as intimidating as “The Crickets,” which was a music group from the 50’s you’ve also probably never heard of.
Anyways, back to the lesson at hand. Sometimes you have to appreciate the suffering ad hardship every team endures from time to time. Now while Oakland this year has seemed to wallow in poor performance more often than fans may care to remember, you have to be able to see past just the outcome of the game. Whether its knowing that the only way is up or even at times finding A’s games comical, fans can still find the light within the beatings like the one Oakland sustained yesterday. Specifically watching the 9-run, 5th inning, I saw the symbolic “rock-bottom” of 2015, but I also found some entertainment value.
Amongst the flurry of follies and foolishness that took place in one inning at Camden Yards, I found myself still enjoying the game. It was like watching the “Major League” Cleveland Indians at the beginning of their season, where nobody could get an out if they tried. Coco Crisp served the role of “Willie Mays” Hays, colliding with shortstop Marcus Semien out in left field on an easy pop up. Kendall Graveman and Dan Otero co-played the early version of Rick Vaughn, giving up the combined nine runs – along with 10 hits – and failing to really command the strike zone. Even Bob Melvin got in on the “fun” – of course – filling the managerial position of Lou Brown, and giving his ball club a stern talking to after their worst defeat since he took over the reigns in 2012.
Being a punching bag for a day can serve as a lesson, however it’s seemed like this lesson has been delivered over and over throughout the 2015 season. My hope is that the reiterated exercise of losing sparks a fire underneath this young club for the near future because it is easy to see the considerable collection of talent and potential for greatness. “S*** happens,” but its just unfortunate that motto has essentially been the slogan for this 2015 season and especially yesterday afternoon.
All they need to do now is flush it.
As we begin the week after the Trade Deadline, we now have had a couple of days to sit back and think about the moves that have transpired. It certainly was one of the most (if not the most) hectic trade periods we’ve ever witnessed and so I felt some teams deserved special recognition. Without further ado, here are my MLB Trade Deadline awards:
The “Most Improved/Holy S**** This Had Better Work” Award – Toronto Blue Jays
It’s hard to argue with the Blue Jays transactions, after they acquired arguably the two most marquee players on the market this season. Troy Tulowitzki brings offensive firepower unlike most at a premier position and David Price brings a clear-cut #1 starter-type arm, which the Blue Jays were lacking. Adding Ben Revere was also a great move considering he’s one of the most underrated outfielders – that’s what you get when you play in Philadelphia – and can be a true leadoff bat. However, at 54-52 and currently not even a wild card team (1 game back) it is a huge risk. With Price coming as a ‘rental,’ this season will ultimately be viewed as a travesty should they not even reach the wild card game. It’s the proverbial ‘chips are all in’ situation, where you’re praying for that spade on the river to complete your flush. Because if it doesn’t come, all you got to protect your entire life savings in the pot is a piss poor jack staring at your opponents pair of kings he’s had since the hands were dealt.
The “Michael Keaton Most Underappreciated Performance” Award – Pittsburg Pirates
Until recent memory, the Pirates – along with Michael Keaton – have been tossed aside and forgotten for the past 15 years. Both had a comeback in 2014, marking their respective reemergence to the figurative stages they so obviously were meant to play on. However, this year with the moves the Bucs made at the deadline, they have a chance to flip the script on the academy and take home the trophy. While these moves may have not seemed quite so impactful – considering the rest of the big names floating around – they in fact managed to strengthen each possible weakness they might have. Aramis Ramirez gives them a bat at a position, which has been unproductive due to injuries, Joakim Soria can be the 8th inning man to closer Mark Melancon, and both J.A. Happ and Michael Morse can provide depth. Probably the most important part is the Pirates didn’t have to try to commit suicide – financially of course – to receive the credit they deserve for their efforts.
The “Any Coen Brothers Movie Anti-Climactic Ending” Award – New York Yankees
Any time you sit down to watch an Ethan and Joel Coen film, you know the story will build suspense before being stripped of it in the most diluted way plausible. Well this trade deadline, all I heard was about the amount of action getting ready to take place in the Bronx, concluding with a measly addition of the 2009 draft bust known as Dustin Ackley – sorry M’s fans. While this anti-climax might seem a little less satisfactory than that of a Coen brother’s feature, there is still a chance for positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes. The Pinstripes currently hold a strong division lead in the AL East (6 games) and look to be headed for a playoff berth, which is not a bad ending. So while their mid-season acquisition won’t turn too many heads, the 2015 path for the New York Yankees appears to be a lit one. Even with the 4th oldest team in the baseball, maybe this isn’t No Country for Old Men.
The “LeSean McCoy I’m Cheap as Hell” Award – New York Mets
This award applies more to a team involved in a trade that didn’t occur, but they deserve it nonetheless. The New York Mets let Carlos Gomez fall through according to Milwaukee Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricort and a source of his, in this manner: “The source said the Brewers then were asked to put some money in the trade to cover part of what’s remaining on Gomez’s contract, including a $9 million salary next year. Considering the talent level of Gomez and his reasonable contract, the Brewers understandably declined to put any cash into the deal. It was only then, according to the source, that the Mets came back and said they were calling off the deal because of concerns over Gomez’s medical records.” Now I don’t know about you, but that seems awfully fishy. It was almost like when the former-Eagles running back LeSean McCoy left a 20-cent tip at a restaurant in Philadelphia, “as a statement.” C’mon man. Unless the waiter hawks a loogie in your tomato soup, you have an obligation – as a man that hauls in 10+ million dollars a year – to drop (minimum) a $10 bill on the table and walk out. It’s like saying Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon along with Saul Katz can’t afford to pay a couple million more to get, in my opinion, the best outfielder available in the trade market. Is it too soon to ask if Bernie Madoff was in on the deal?
The “Inglourious Basterds” Award – Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves
A part from the fact that the Dodgers are involved – so the title would automatically fit – this bundle of meaningless talent headlined by Jim Johnson, certainly hammers it home (he gave a game-tying home run yesterday to no ones surprise). The one scene I’m naturally drawn to when analyzing this trade is the underground pub scene where a massive bloody shootout occurs and everyone dies except one guy, who gets shot moments later so it doesn’t matter anyways. The firefight neither hurt nor benefited either side; it was just a massive waste of life. Now while the MLB version of this obviously doesn’t directly represent a loss of life, it just seems like with 13 bodies moving across the country there would’ve been a bigger impact as a result. Yet, only one guy (Mat Latos) is actually being brought on by a ball club to contribute, and in similar fashion to the final victim of the German standoff, will likely be rendered useless after the season anyways.
The “Green (and Gold) Citizen Recycling” Award – Oakland Athletics
If you take a look at the Bay Area, you can’t tell what recycles more, GreenCitizen at 1971 Shattuck Avenue or the Oakland Athletics at 7000 Coliseum Way. The only difference is that one organization uses the process of recycling to create useful materials for its business partners with waste, while the other uses up-and-coming talent. I understand we’re all products of our environment and right now two greedy old geezer owners limit the A’s options, but every time they recycle a team it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. It doesn’t help that the O.Co Coliseum they’ve been so desperately looking to rebuild/replace serves as the metaphorical recycling center – it smells like one too. Hopefully the new material/talent brought in will be able to get them back to a serviceable/competitive level, however it just seems like it will be a matter of time until fans see those young players get shopped the moment they begin to perform above a certain level.
Age: 20 Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 6’ 7” Weight: 190 lb.
Drafted out of Cypress Hill HS in the 3rd Round of the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft
Casey Meisner, much like the other two prospects the Oakland Athletics traded for from the Houston Astros – Jacob Nottingham and Daniel Mengden – is a piece still a few years away. Coming into the 2015 season, he ranked #15 on MLB.com and #21 on FanGraphs within the New York Met’s farm system. Also, much like Nottingham, if the rankings were redone today, Meisner would likely see a considerable rise (possibly cracking the top 10). Either way he will head to Stockton to join the rest of the talent the A’s have compiled in the last few days. He will likely not be the last, so let’s take a look.
Meisner’s first three seasons in professional baseball have been consistently trending upwards, culminating in his current breakout season. After being eased into starting (pitching) in his first year at the pro level in the short-season Gulf Coast League – fifth on the team with 35 1/3 innings – he performed well in 2014 with the Low Single-A Brooklyn Cyclones. Through 13 starts, he tossed 62 1/3 innings while striking out 67, posting a 3.75 ERA and only surrendering 18 walks. He carries a career 2.6 walks per nine innings (BB/9), which is highly impressive.
This year Meisner really came into his own, starting in the Single-A South Atlantic League and dominating the competition over his 12 starts. Through 76 innings, he registered a 2.13 ERA (fifth in the league) and although his K’s dipped slightly (66), his base on balls total remained low (19). Along with a 7-2 record, he earned himself a call-up to High Single-A ball in the Florida State League, where he’s outperformed expectations as the youngest starter on the staff. Over his six starts, he’s led the St. Lucie Mets with a 2.83 ERA through 35 innings.
The only area of concern has been the amount of contact he’s allowed this season. Batters are hitting .256 against him (very respectable) in High Single-A, up from .212 from Single-A. That combined with a slight BB/9 rise (3.6), Meisner’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) has climbed all the way to 4.72 (has steadily risen each season). However, while this statistic offers an interesting measurement of how good a pitcher is “supposed” to be, he combats it by doing one thing very well, leaving runners on base. The league average left on base percentage (LOB%) ranges from 70-72%, but Meisner’s hovers around 80%. It is an undervalued skill that obviously has helped him and hopefully will continue to do so.
Coming out of high school, Meisner was sitting 88-92mph with his fastball and is now 90-94, maxing out at 95. He’s also got a curveball and a changeup. According to FanGraphs, his pitches rank as such: Fastball 55/60, Curveball + 45/50, 45/50 Changeup, 40/50 Command. To put that in perspective, these types of numbers were similar to those of LHP Steven Matz – made his MLB debut before the All Star break – who looks to prime to become a quality arm.
His curveball is his only plus-pitch – although I’ve also read it needs some fine-tuning – and the area he has the most room for improvement in will be with his changeup. It currently stands as his least developed pitch. As for his the fastball, it might have a chance to increase in velocity with his young age and frame not having filled out yet. The flipside however with this, “typical super-lanky pitcher” according to FanGraph’s Kiley McDaniel, is “with so much projection it’s hard to say exactly what Meisner’s upside really is.” The reason for the right-handers projection being so difficult is likely due to his size. A super-lanky pitcher – especially with a high ceiling like his – normally comes with command issues, however he breaks that mold. As a result, he doesn’t really fit in any typical category and outliers can difficult to judge.
Meisner is a guy who’s long-term role is difficult to project, but based on his ability to remain on a upward trending path, I could definitely see a future middle-of-the-rotation guy. The Mets seemed to know what they were doing drafting him in the early rounds and selecting a ‘high-risk high-reward’ pitcher, and so far it’s been more of a reward. He’s still two, maybe three years away from the show, but a name to remember down the road that one day will hopefully contribute to the Green & Gold.
Age: 22 Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 6’ 2” Weight: 190 lb.
Drafted out of Texas A&M University in the 4th Round of the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft
Daniel Mengden was supposed to be the supplementary piece in terms of this trade. Not many will take a second look at this guy – due to Jacob Nottingham – but he does bring a solid set of skills to the table. The primary reason many scouts overlook him is because he doesn’t posses a plus pitch. However, over his first two seasons in professional ball, he has proved he possesses other abilities that can contribute to a winning equation. Sounds like an Oakland Athletic already so here’s a look at him.
Before I say anything, he’s got an Green & Gold mustache if I’ve ever seen one, top notch. Now, coming out of a four-year university (Texas A&M), he has accelerated through rookie ball and now on to the High-A Lancaster JetHawks in the California League. Much like Nottingham, he will move over to the Stockton Ports and have the pressure to perform.
Although he sustained a back injury in 2014 that only allowed him to throw 11.0 innings while in rookie ball and Low-A, he certainly made up for it once moving to the Astros Single-A affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits. Through 38.2 innings, Mengden maintained a 1.16 ERA over eight appearances (six starts) with 36 strikeouts and only walking eight. The most impressive part may have been the fact he only surrendered one home run over his eight starts.
Mengden’s performance got himself a midseason call up to the California League, which is where he’s now found his first bitter taste of disappointment. Continuing his role as a starter, he’s tossed 49.2 innings while registering a 5.26 ERA and giving up an astonishing 59 hits. He had an especially tough time adjusting to the hitter-friendly west coast where through the All-Star break – he threw 26.2 innings – of the High-A season, batters hit .330 off him and his ERA ballooned to 6.91. From there, he used a couple appearances out of the bullpen to help regain some confidence and since the break – he’s thrown 23.0 innings – he has actually performed well, posting a 3.91 ERA and hitters are only tagging him at a .258 clip.
Despite his ups and downs, one encouraging part of his game has remained consistent, his walk ratio. Mengden is a guy that attacks the strike zone, no matter how good or bad his stuff on that particular day. His walks per nine innings ratio (BB/9) has fluttered around 2.0 throughout his early professional career, which is a good sign. His strike percentage (strikes/pitches thrown) this season hovers slightly above 60%, which is about average, but has been consistent every time he toes the rubber.
As for his stuff, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo’s take on Mengden via mlbtraderumors.com, is that, “he doesn’t ‘wow’ scouts with pure stuff but features a solid four-pitch mix, with his curve and changeup trailing his fastball and slider.” His draft profile, which was comprised by MLB.com, says this about his four pitch combination: “His best offering is a fastball that usually ranges from 88-94 mph, though it can get straight at times. His slider is a close second, arriving at 82-85 mph and featuring some sharp bite when he stays on top of it. He also throws a downer curveball that isn’t quite as consistent as his slider, and he has the confidence to use his fading changeup in any count. Mengden may not have a true plus pitch, but he could have four average offerings”
As for the final report, Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs feels the 22-year old has a contributors role moving forward. “You’re looking at a lower risk, possibly quick-moving back-end starter type.” A scout McDaniel spoke with felt that, “Mengden’s stuff has been more fringy to average this year and he looks like a middle reliever or long man on some days, then like a solid back-end starter on others.”
Taking all of this, I could see Mengden being most effective – in the major leagues – as a reliever. Not necessarily a long-relief, but a guy that because of his ability to throw lots of strikes and rev up the velocity if necessary. I want the most out of him and I just don’t see an inning-eater being the answer because the A’s have a ton of those. I believe if the newest Stockton Port could develop his slider into a plus pitch, we could see make plenty of impact as a late-innings guy at the big league level.
Jacob Andrew Nottingham
Age: 20, Position: Catcher
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6’ 3”, Weight: 227 lb.
Drafted out of Redlands HS in the 6th Round of the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft
“The Sheriff of Nottingham” (everyone needs a nickname) is supposed to be the prize of the trade and for good reason. Still just 20 years of age, he has amazing size for a catcher and contributes heavily with his bat. It’s rare that a player with plus power – which he has demonstrated – also can hit for average. Over his short three-year career in the minors he has grabbed the attention of many and using the raving review he’s received, I have compiled an all-you-need-to-know report about the newest addition to the Oakland Athletics farm system.
Last year playing for the Greeneville Astros of the Appalachian League in rookie ball, he caught the eye of evaluators with his smooth stroke and advanced offensive approach, something not found amongst most catchers. These batting traits he carries are not ones the position he plays tends to develop, its either you have it or you don’t. Nottingham’s got it.
After slashing just .238/.325/.385 in two years of rookie ball, he exploded in 2015. Nottingham absolutely wrecked the Midwest League on the Quad Cities River Bandits (Houston’s Single-A affiliate), slashing .326/.383/.558, while blasting 10 home runs in just 59 games. Easily earning himself a mid-season call up to High-A ball in the California League – known for grooming hitters – he continues to impress. Before being traded, he batted .324 while posting a .974 OPS and while it’s just been 17 games, there’s reason to believe the positive trend is not a fluke.
While playing for the River Bandits, according to FanGraphs.com, “Nottingham produced the third-best isolated-power figure (a .217 ISO, specifically) across all of Class-A.” The crazy part is his ISO number – measuring a hitter’s power and how often a player hits for extra bases – is up nearly 70 points in High-A. Another comforting trend is his strikeout percentage (SO/PA) ratio. Although his on-base percentage (OBP) has never fluttered below .300 (lowest is .307), he did have a problem early on with striking out often. His SO/BB reached its peak in 2014 when it ballooned to 27.0%, but in just a year’s span has lowered all the way down to 18.5%.
The only knock on the kid has been his defense. FanGraph’s Kiley McDaniel who recently asked a scout about Nottigham’s defense ability the scout told him, “Nottingham gets a little too high or low on himself based on offensive results, and there are some mechanical issues to work out behind the plate, but this is normal for a 20 year old.” Whether or not he’s going to become a Gold Glover – he wont – makes no difference. The A’s have shown they have no problem sticking with ‘offense-first’ type catchers the last couple years: Stephen Vogt, Josh Phegley, Derek Norris, John Jaso. McDaniel’s final projection states, “Nottingham could be an above average everyday catcher.”
However, ESPN insider Keith Law feels the newest member of the A’s organization was a steal. In his glowing review, he sees Nottingham as a potential star so long as he can stay behind the plate. Law continues to project the future catcher as someone with a 70-grade raw power – on an 80-point scale – who could eventually develop into a 20 to 25 home run per year guy.
Now that’s a reason for Billy Beane to go after him and he expressed it yesterday during an interview on 95.7 The Game on the Damon Bruce Show. “We think that at this stage in his career, he’s got the potential to hit in the middle of the lineup,” he said. “An offensive player at a position that’s typically defensive is something that’s very hard to find, so we’re excited to have him.”
A’s fans should be excited too.
Every year I tune in to the All-Star Game to enjoy the best talent of the first half duke it out in a hard throwing, fancy accessory wearing competition. The overall ‘production’ this year was taken to new heights with a Red Carpet Show involving trucks escorting each All-Star and their families to the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Most of the day I was able to tune in on MLB Network, with the most entertaining segment going to Chris Rose and Kevin Millar’s interview with Stephen Vogt and Nelson Cruz (Vogt’s Chris Farley impression is dead on and Cruz’s eyebrows are flawless) on Intentional Talk.
As a result, I was a tad late joining Fox Sports for the pregame. Sorry, I got stuck watching Brian Kenny, Pedro Martinez, and Al Leiter doing a pretty entertaining interview with Josh Donaldson. Apparently, their MLB Network colleague Sean Casey caught one of Donaldson’s home runs last night during the derby and proceeded to talk a little too much trash to Josh during today’s morning batting practice about his power. This prompted Donaldson to tell him he doesn’t talk to anyone who’s been thrown out from left field running to first. Ouch.
Anyways, once I flicked over I figured I might as well document it from start to finish. Here’s how it went down:
4:23 pm – Wow, I guess Fox picked up a Kirk Herbsreit/Joe Buck lookalike named Kevin Burkhardt. Every cliché one-liner this guy is falling flat on makes me feel like I’m watching the announcers of ‘Celebrity Deathmatch.’ Hey look, Frank Thomas and Pete Rose (let all your hate go for about three hours) are here to save the show! Looks like Pete did something to his hair to make him look like the fifth Beatle and whomever tailored Franks gargantuan suit deserves a medal.
4:31pm – Harold Reynolds slid through to fill in while Rose headed down to the field so the first thing he leads with is his interview with Bryce Harper. Wow, Harper really surprised me when he said he hasn’t taken pre-game batting practice on the field all season, maybe he has grown up. Not two seconds after I wrote that, a question is asked about his hair and he responds with, “I double take in the mirror everyday, but you know look good, feel good, smell good, play good right. I mean I don’t know why every one makes a big deal, its pretty impressive.” Nope, take everything back; he’s still a douche.
4:39pm – The pregame crew makes their MVP Predictions with Reynolds taking Harper and ‘The Big Hurt’ going with Adam Jones. The funniest part might’ve been after Thomas justified his picked, Reynolds said every time Frank talks it’s like a hurricane. He probably said that because the big fella can’t stop huffing and puffing into the mike. $20 says he uses a CPAP machine while he sleeps. But besides that, Thomas I thought contributed the most interesting analysis of the bunch. Maybe things are looking up for Fox.
4:44pm – Take that back, here comes Joe Buck. Forget all the built up excitement. He gets the ‘ticking time bomb award’ because with Buck, you just get the feeling of when you know that one dude is bound ruin the party somehow some way, it’s just a matter of time.
4:48pm – This year the league introduced a new ‘Franchise Four Greatest Legends’ segment and it was actually really awesome. It’s basically a video paying tribute to the four best players on every team throughout MLB history. Some stuff I noticed included Nolan Ryan on three of the teams (Astros, Rangers, Angels) as well as not a lot of love for steroid guys. No McGwire, Sosa, or Clemens anywhere and even when Bonds was mentioned for the Giants it felt like it was forced. I think it may also spark some Hall of Fame discussion, because some of these supposed greatest legends – most notably Tim Raines for Montreal/Washington – have yet to be inducted. But hey, that’s for another day.
4:56pm – They finished with the (hometown) Cincinnati Reds and had Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Barry Larkin, and of course, Pete Rose all come to the middle of the field. Rose – who came out last – received an 80 second standing ovation, which despite what you may think, was cool to watch considering it may be the last one he ever gets.
5:01pm – After the old timers introduction, its time for the young guns. Going down the line I’m seeing a lot of new faces, 33 in fact. Kelvin Herrera is rocking a Dominican flag arm sleeve and I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before; respect. Holy crap Dellen Betances is tall standing next to both Stephen Vogt and Sonny Gray. I felt like I was watching Dolph Lundgren standing side-by-side with Jet Li in ‘The Expendables.’ AJ Burnett wins ‘the most likely to look the same in 20 years award,’ I mean seriously, does this guys age at all? It seems like the only way you can tell his age (38) is by counting how many more tattoos he’s gotten.
5:06pm – Jacob deGrom snags ‘the legendary flow award’ while Yadier Molina takes home ‘the best response to being booed by everyone award.’ Sorry Ryan Braun, you might’ve had a chance at that except you just sat there looking like the three kids that get pulled over in the opening scene of Super Troopers. Joe Buck tries to get back on the board by announcing Matt Holliday as the man with the best smile. Crickets. His Cardinal teammate Carlos Martinez did something to his hair not many do when going on national TV, holy Soul Glo.
5:13 – Ciara performed The National Anthem and I’m pretty sure she’s the first to ever do it in chucks. She pulled it off too. Man, Russell Wilson I got no idea how you’re going to do the whole celibacy thing, but my two cents, have the wedding next week. Also, she has an outstanding voice, so I don’t understand the back-up singers. Maybe it’s just an R&B thing.
5:19 – Next, the honoring of the four greatest living players: Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax, and Willie Mays. By the way, if you haven’t seen the selfie Barry Bonds snuck with his sleeping godfather, it’s gold. Koufax threw out the first pitch to Bench, which would’ve been a real sentimental moment if not for Joe Buck ruining it – a recurring theme if you haven’t caught on yet – by asking over the PA if Bench was going catch it bare handed, then yelling at Koufax to throw him a curveball.
5:32pm – First pitch is strike one, a good start.
5:34pm – Fourth pitch, so much for that. Mike Trout goes oppo taco of Zack Greinke. Not only was that the first leadoff home run at an All-Star Game since Bo Jackson in ’89, but that completed the ‘leadoff cycle’ for Trout with his past four first at-bats of the AGS being a single, double, triple, and now, a dinger. It was also the first run Greinke’s allowed since June 18th. It’s official; Mike Trout is the white Bo Jackson. And damn man, he’s got the neck for it too. The only other guy I’ve seen with a more defined collar is Takeo Spikes, seriously.
AL leads 1-0
5:42pm – Lorenzo Cain’s walk up song is Fetty Wap, which is fitting considering his first at-bat looked like he was swinging with one eye closed to end the first. The NL’s first AB’s were pretty ugly too. Seems like Todd Frazier used up all his magic last night. Quick note: I mentioned deGrom’s flow before the game and if he has the best hair (suck it Harper), then Dallas Keuchel has take home ‘the best beard award,’ its not even close.
5:50pm – In his second inning out there, I’m just now noticing how Zack Greinke grunts like Maria Sharapova every time he throws. Seems to be a slight resemblance as well. Bottom two, the NL gets on the board from a Johnny “the fattest shortstop ever to play” Peralta duck snort down the right field line. Also thought I heard him snorting as he ran down the line.
All tied 1-1
6:13pm – At this point, the game takes a break to celebrate the ‘Franchise Four of the Negro Leagues’ in the form of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil, Cool Papa Bell (unfortunately they are no longer with us). It’s ironic because I actually did a middle school project on these four guys (along with others) so I felt like I could really understand and appreciate their achievements in the game. My favorite of the four was Cool Papa Bell – besides the name – because of the amazing stories about him. In Ken Burns’ Baseball, Bell was described as being so fast that he once scored from first on a sacrifice bunt. His fellow legend Paige liked to say that Bell was so fast he could turn off the light and be under the covers before the room got dark. Apparently, he also stole home … from second, twice. Dope stuff.
6:17pm – The Ernie Johnson looking, bowtie-wearing Ken Rosenthal is interviewing Dallas Keuchel. Apparently, Keuchel was an Apparel Studies major while he was attending Arkansas Univeristy, wow. My dad said he should team up with Harper to start a hair and clothing line. Ba dum tssshhh.
6:30 – Damnit, Bumgarner’s coming in. It was inevitable. Well, since the first SF Giant (not named Posey) was sent to the field, I guess it’s about that time to send the first beer to my liver. I don’t discriminate, but for a baseball game, you can’t get much better than a cool Lagunitas Czech stye pilser. Also, first Rusty Kuntz mention by Harold Reynolds followed by an awkward silence. Sexual innuendos on national broadcasts are always a cheap laugh.
6:50pm – Kershaw comes in and gives up the lead. Granted he should’ve been out of the inning after the blatant missed strike three call on Pujols, but it just continues to prove he’s the Peyton Manning of baseball. In any type of big game, I’d rather have Air Bud. I’ve also noticed Verducci literally only talks when he can fit a statistic in there, which so far has been pretty annoying. It’s a real shame too since he’s a great personality on the MLB Network. Maybe Joe Buck just brings out the worst in people.
3-1 AL leads
7:15pm – My main man Stephen Vogt comes in and strikes out on three pitches for another solid Oakland A’s All-Star showing. Unfortunately he faced deGrom who went through that sixth inning like a hot knife through butter. K’d 3, 10 pitches on 9 strikes. It was like watching that one pitcher in little league who clearly should not be allowed to throw because for any kid to have a prayer they need to start their swing before he finishes releasing the ball.
7:20pm – Andrew McCutchen leads of the bottom of the sixth with an upper deck blast, God I miss his dreads. K-Rod comes in and he still has the identical motion he did 12 years, although he did pack on about 50 lbs. since then. He wins the ‘fattest chaw award.’ Also, Trout finally gets replaced, but by pinch runner Brock Holt?! Who the hell is this guy?!
3-2 AL leads
7:41pm – In Rosenthal’s second ‘riveting’ interview of the night, Adam Jones says Mike Trout is the “White Bo Jackson.” Hey wait, that’s what I said! Next pitch Machado doubles to right center and Reynolds drops the first “look at the flicka da wrist” of the night. So far Harold has one sexual innuendo and one Chedda Da Connect reference, not his best night. Hey! Hey! Hey! It’s big Prince again with a sacrifice fly.
5-2 AL leads
7:52pm – Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik are due up, which means I’ll head to the bathroom for the next 12 minutes. If Andre the Giant’s twin brother Betances doesn’t mow these two down, I’ll be seriously disappointed. When any kind of orange & black is spotted, I feel like I’m about to watch a Lord of the Rings scene with the Elf chick Arwyn, which of course is the time when every guy in attendance immediately sprints to the nearest urinal.
8:26 – Right after the feel-good story Brian Dozier goes deep, I have to go to a quick intermission in the form of chicken ravioli. I come back just in time to see Aroldis Chapman dosing Mike Moustakas at 103mph and Mark Teixeira at 102mph … The ravioli, $5. The Lagunitas, $2.50. The look on Teixeira’s face while he walks back to the dugout, priceless.
6-3 AL leads
8:31pm – The NL gets their final run when Ryan Braun scores after leading off the ninth with a triple. Man, he really turned on the juice right there. Ba dum tssshhh. Trout picked up his second MVP in two years, although this year, “Imma have to go with the truck” he said. Solid choice after he took home the corvette last year. Tough life.
6-3 AL Wins.
‘Twas a solid game this year and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing like watching the best in the game get after it and actually compete for a full nine innings. The Midsummer Classic is always a good time.
The Home Run: “A display of power with the natural capability to capture the attention of all who behold it. Originating from a batter’s ability to hit a baseball beyond the confines of a particular park, it is an American spectacle that holds a special place in our culture.”
– Dangs (That’s me)
First witnessed in 1876, sending the ball over the fence has evolved into an American obsession. The game of baseball, no matter what time period, has based rules and regulations around the volume (or lack thereof) of home runs. In 1920, there were too few so a new baseball needed to be created in order to make it easier to hit them. In 1969, baseball determined pitchers were too effective – home run numbers were falling dramatically – so the pitcher’s mound was lowered to again, to make it easier to send the ball out of the yard.
There’s just something about seeing the ball fly at such a speed and distance that seems to stop time itself. For just those couple of seconds, everyone’s eyes in unison track the flight from bat to bleacher before erupting in either delight or despondency.
It is this unique power of the home run that the Home Run Derby was formed, a platform to showcase the most exciting part of our National Pastime. From 1985 on, each and every year a group of the leagues best sluggers are brought together to put on a show for the fans. It’s a one-of-a-kind competition because no matter how disinterested one may be in the sport itself, it’s impossible not to respect the skill and power these hitters possess. I know plenty of individuals who absolutely can’t stand to watch a baseball game, but will sit down to thoroughly enjoy the Derby.
There’s a reason people show up before baseball games, just to watch batting practice. Mashing a home run is the coolest thing any ballplayer can do. A Top 10 defensive play? Ehh sure that’s pretty sweet. A 450-foot bomb in BP? That’s what everyone would rather see and anyone who says otherwise is lying. I remember in 2006 as a youngin’ being completely star struck watching the power of a 38-year old Frank Thomas sending nukes out to any part of O.Co Coliseum with the most effortless swing. I can only imagine the length of the missiles “The Big Hurt” launched in his prime.
That’s the rare function of a Home Run. The spectators have the opportunity to take a step back and appreciate the work of art that is a long ball. And as well they should, it might be the most impactful singular act in all of sports. A home run can define a game, a season, hell it even can define a player. The most memorable home run I’ve ever witnessed live was the first bomb Yoenis Cespedes – God bless his baseball-clobbering soul – hit on American soil. That ball as far as I’m concerned, has yet to land:
He went on to win two of today’s events in a row – the only man besides Ken Griffey Jr. to accomplish the feat – providing many memories to A’s fans everywhere, myself included.
Today’s 30-year anniversary of the Home Run Derby changes all of that.
In an effort to move an old-school event into the digital age, Major League Baseball has altered the Derby completely. In the hopes of highlighting their newly developed ESPN Home Run Tracker, the MLB has also tried to revolutionize the rounds with time limits, all in hopes of drawing a larger audience. For more specifics, here are the actual ‘new & improved’ rules for the 2015 Home Run Derby.
Taking a look at these new rules, I see a familiar reconstruction method. Much like in 1920 and 1969 it seems as if the league has become impatient with the process by which home runs are being hit. Only this next step in the evolution of the ‘dinger’ doesn’t have to do with its volume, but with its frequency. With the national media nowadays always wanting to cater to the attention span of a younger audience – which is slim to none – it was only a matter of time before it spread to the baseball field. Naturally, the first thing to target would be the most marketable feature of the MLB.
It all started with the new pace-of-play rules introduced at the beginning of this season. They were instituted in order to try and speed up games, which for some time now have been labeled ‘too long’ and ‘boring.’ The MLB’s infatuation with accelerating baseball has led to the attempt of quickening the Home Run Derby. Do I think it will work? Kind of. I think there a few pros, but overall, there appear to be more cons with the direction baseball is headed towards.
First, the Good:
Brackets. This was a genius idea, as head-to-head matchups always seem to rev up the competition. March Madness ‘one-and-done’ tournament style was certainly something that needed to be introduced, especially with the league trying to draw a younger audience. Advertising it as a 1 through 8 seeding system builds suspense while also generating multiple storylines. Long shots, underdogs, and upsets all become possible narratives contributing to the now, more interesting atmosphere. Here are this year’s sluggers:
Albert Pujols (1) vs. Kris Bryant (8)
Joc Pederson (4) vs. Manny Machado (5)
Josh Donaldson (3) vs. Anthony Rizzo (6)
Todd Frazier (2) vs. Prince Fielder (7)
Not going to dive too much into my thought process, but I’m picking Prince. Peterson is my dark horse.
Then, the Bad:
The time constraints this year I think put too much pressure on the sluggers. The pressure will be on each competitor to constantly swing while still blasting the majestic home runs we are used to seeing. What I don’t think the MLB took into account is that swinging non-stop for five minutes is EXTREMELY PHYSICALLY DEMANDING. For anyone who’s ever been to a batting cage, you know the feeling. Taking just 10 hacks in a row will make you sweat, nevertheless intensely trying to hit balls as far as you can for five minutes straight. Whether it’s one of the four new guys to the Derby (Pederson, Bryant, Machado, Rizzo) or the veterans (Pujols, Donaldson, Frazier, Fielder), this new time system can drain any one of them. Not to mention, there are three rounds so imagine how exhausted the finalists will be. That itself could make the event even less exciting with guys being too tired to adequately appease their viewers home run hunger.
Also, the rule-makers decided to add ‘bonus’ time if a participant can hit two home runs over 420 ft. or one over 475 ft. At least the league put a limit of 90 seconds on the ‘bonus’ time because I can guarantee every single one of these guys will park one beyond the 420 mark in every single round (should they advance). Pederson’s average home run length so far this year has been roughly 430 ft. and I personally think he’s not even in the top half of the group when it comes to power.
Now, the Ugly:
I’ve mentioned repeatedly how this year’s Derby is centered around pace, but this may also be its biggest flaw. The ultimate impact time limits will have on the derby is it takes away from the spectator’s appreciation of each home run. With the sheer volume of dingers being lifted out of Great American Ballpark, there’s no time to sit back and feel like a true fan should: admiring each and every moonshot. Instead, spectators in Cincinnati will be getting whiplash from snapping their heads back and forth between the stands and the plate, while fans at home will be getting headaches from each rapid-fire replay. To make things worse, everyone will have to endure their annual listening to Chris Berman gargle, “back, back, back” until their eardrums bleed. I personally don’t believe that’s how the Derby is supposed to be enjoyed.
The focus on tempo in this year’s Derby I think also marks a looming change on the way to the game of baseball. With the MLB attempting to revitalize the popularity of baseball, it seems as if they will stop at nothing to modernize America’s historic sport. In the process, the obsession with catering to a younger generation seems to be slowly transforming the game into a computerized competition. While I do believe this Home Run Derby contains a few improvements, the continued path of such alteration indicates a significant change to come in our beloved pastime.