Thursday, March 31, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: 2011 Prediction

As a sports fan, I was an especially spoiled child.

I told this story a few years ago, so here's the abbreviated version: the 1980 Oakland Raiders were the first sports team I ever followed…and they went on to win the Super Bowl in January 1981. For reasons that can best be described as overly simplistic and kinda-sorta geographic, I became an Oakland Athletics fan – even though I was born and raised in Southern California and have never lived in the Bay Area – starting with the 1981 team.

Those A's began the season with 11 straight wins. 30 years later, I vividly remember them leading off an episode of This Week in Baseball in mid-April and the Sports Illustrated
cover story (which I was able to afford with some of my birthday money).

The first baseball team I ever followed would finish the strike-stained 1981 regular season with MLB's second best overall record. They defeated Kansas City in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Yankees in the ALCS. By the end of the 1980s, the A's were baseball's best team -- winning the World Series in 1989, along with three American League pennants and four division titles from 1988-92.

As a sports fan, my seven-year-old son Jalen has had a more challenging childhood.

2008 Oakland Athletics were the first team he ever followed. His first ever favorite player was... Bobby Crosby. And, since IF-OF Eric Patterson wore #4, my then four-year-old son began his odd bonds with whichever player's jersey matched his age (the next year Matt Moss Holliday and the remains of Nomar Garciaparra wore #5; in 2010, Jalen became intimately acquainted with the triple-A Sacramento River Cats -- primary employers of OF Travis Buck who wore #6 during his brief stays in Oakland).

I want my son to have a team that he vividly remembers 30 years from now.

The 2011 Oakland Athletics could be that team.

Will they win the World Series? Probably not, but a lot can happen to an active roster between now and the end of October, so let's not think that far ahead.

This A's team is improved on offense with the additions of OF
David DeJesus and OF Josh Willingham. A full season from OF Coco Crisp in the leadoff spot would set the table for a solid, if unspectacular, middle of the order. It's not a stretch to think C Kurt Suzuki will bounce back after a season in which he was miscast as the number three hitter and 1B Daric Barton is already one of the better number two hitters in the AL.

Oakland's defense is the best in the division. 2B
Mark Ellis and SS Cliff Pennington are a terrific keystone combination, while Barton and 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff handled the acres of foul territory at the Coliseum and vacuumed everything down the lines. Crisp is Gold Glove caliber in centerfield and should make up for some of Willingham's shortcomings in left field.

Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez are as good as any other top three starting pitchers in the American League. Dallas Braden isn't an ace -- and doesn't have to be here -- but, he's a perfectly cromulent back of the rotation arm. The bullpen will have to weather the short-term loss of closer Andrew Bailey, but it's deep and stocked with several malleable arms from both the left and right sides.

The Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers won't roll over, but it remains to be seen if the Halos can turn around their offense or if the Rangers -- defending American League champions -- can enjoy a repeat performance of last year's superlative starting pitching and production from injury-prone sluggers Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler.

For the Oakland Athletics to win the American League West, they'll need to hit, pitch and stay healthy.

For the first time in five years, the Oakland Athletics will do these things better than anyone else in their division.

I've already promised my son that we'll fly up to Oakland for a playoff game if the A's win the division.

OK, exact words to Jalen?

"...when the A's win the division."

Be that team, Oakland.

Prediction: 88-74, 1st place

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Brett Anderson

Acquired: Traded from Arizona (with 1B Chris Carter, SP Dana Eveland, SP Greg Smith, OF Aaron Cunningham and OF Carlos Gonzalez) for SP Dan Haren (December 14, 2007).
Contract: Four years through 2013 (team options for 2014 and 2015).
Position: Starting pitcher; starting playa.

2011 Projected ERA: 3.53

2010 Season: In Anderson's final 16 starts of 2009 -- seven of which came against eventual playoff teams -- the rookie southpaw posted an impressive 3.03 ERA. Expectations were further raised when Anderson cobbled together a solid start to his 2010 season (2.35 ERA, no home runs allowed in 23 April innings) and signed a long-term contract extension. A-a-a-and then he missed most of the next three months with a forearm strain and elbow tendinitis. From July 30 (his for reals return from the disabled list) until the end of the season, however, Anderson threw 81.2 innings over 13 starts with a 2.98 ERA. It's hard to draw any hard and fast conclusions from Anderson's overall 2010 numbers. His strikeout rate per nine innings fell from 7.7 in 2009 to 6.0 last year, but his groundball-to-fly ball ratio took a sizeable step in the right direction (1.49 to 1.94) while his xFIP was essentially identical between his freshman and sophomore seasons. These stats don't tell much of a story in an injury-abbreviated season, so let's see what we can glean from these numbers: one Twitter picture plus two women and twenty singles in each hand can never end well.

2011 Over/Under: I know this is a violation of small sample size laws or arbitrary end points or some other statistical oversimplification...but, over his last 35 starts (essentially a full season's worth dating back to July 6, 2009) Anderson's ERA is 2.91. Every "sleeper" list (from fantasy leagues to AL Cy Young consideration) should have Anderson firmly entrenched towards the top. In fact, it's been nearly 20 years since any sleeper was effective enough to bring home a championship. I think we're long overdue. UNDER.

By the Numbers: 11 – The number of days after signing his contract extension on April 16, 2010 that it took for Anderson to land on the disabled list. While he and former A's starter Rich Harden aren't the least bit similar, I remember being ridiculously excited with the promise and potential of Harden several years back. In July 2003, m'man Smitty and I were in attendance at Angel Stadium for Harden's first MLB win. Unfortunately, Harden's legacy in Oakland was a litany of injuries. Hell, the Athletics signed Harden as a free agent this past offseason and he got hurt during the first week of Spring Training. He didn't even make this year's "30 A's in 30 Days" feature. Do you want this to be you, Brett? Do you?

Surefire 2011 Prediction: 20 wins. American League Cy Young Award.

Old School Rap Track for the Season: Nobody Does It Better, Nate Dogg featuring Warren G.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TBG Beats: "What's Love Got To Do With It", Warren G. featuring Adina Howard

I must confess...I'm an unabashed fan of Twitter. It's helped me get this lightly-read blog in front of a few more eyes and provides an opening into the creativity of some wonderfully thoughtful and funny people.

That said...Twitter can be a stupid jerk sometimes. If you're on it, you know its faults. And, none of them is worse than the intentionally-spread false celebrity death rumors that pop up there from time to time.

Earlier today, "RIP Jackie Chan" was a trending topic. I was in between meetings when I saw it and some obscure, possible blog fodder immediately crossed my mind. Thankfully, though, Chan is alive and well.

I like Chan well enough. I've seen most of his American movies and obviously appreicate his otherworldly stunt work. But, my most lasting memory of Jackie Chan is from a 15-year-old music video -- from a time when Chan, Warren G. and Adina Howard(!) were pop culture commodities.

I still can't decide if this is a really good bad song or a really bad good song.

Glad you're still with us, Jackie.

You too, Warren.

Adina's still alive, right?

30 A's in 30 Days: Brandon McCarthy

Acquired: Signed as free agent (December 13, 2010).
Contract: One year through 2011 (eligible for arbitration after 2011).
Position: Fifth starter;
Mr. Glass II.

2011 Projected ERA: 3.65

2010 Season: In a year in which Texas won the American League pennant; Brandon McCarthy didn't pitch for the Rangers even once during the regular season or playoffs. He posted an 8.03 ERA in four Spring Training starts and found himself at AAA-Oklahoma City when April arrived. After four starts, he landed on the disabled list with a right scapula stress reaction. After missing a month, McCarthy returned to the mound on June 3rd. He pitched two innings before returning to the DL with inflammation in his right shoulder. On June 19, in his first start back, McCarthy pitched two innings...before visiting the DL again on June 22 with more shoulder inflammation. With a mastery of the disabled list that hadn't been seen
in a Generation, McCarthy was recalled by the Rangers on July 29...and immediately placed on the 60-day DL! (OK, so Texas made the move to open a spot on their 40-man roster. I won't let the facts get in the way of a historically disabled season.)

2011 Over/Under: McCarthy is an extreme fly ball pitcher who, it's believed, can only be helped by Oakland's hitter-unfriendly ballpark. He's also suffered an almost comical list of serious injuries over the course of his career. In 2009, he suffered a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade...twice. In 2008, he didn't make his first appearance until late August after being sidelined with forearm inflammation. Three weeks later, his season ended with a strained flexor tendon in his middle finger. In 2007, he missed nearly a month with blisters on his pitching hand and then...a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade. Take the OVER on that projection (assuming it's ERA and not games started).

By the Numbers: 49 – Prior to the 2005 season, Baseball America named McCarthy the 49th best prospect in all of baseball -- well ahead of Cole Hamels (71), Ubaldo Jimenez (82), Jonathan Papelbon (91) and Huston Street (97) -- and anointed him the starting pitcher on their Minor League All-Star first team. "Generation K"? McCarthy's practically

Surefire 2011 Prediction: The most starts McCarthy has made in a Major League season is 22 (with Texas in 2007). He won't make 22 starts with Oakland in 2011. He just...won't.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Survival of the Fittest, Mobb Deep

Monday, March 28, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Trevor Cahill

Acquired: Drafted in second round (2006).
Contract: One year through 2011 (eligible for arbitration after 2011).
Position: Opening Day starting pitcher;
worst death stare ever.

2011 Projected ERA: 3.67

2010 Season: Cahill's 18-win season sparked an interesting debate between stat-centric sabermetricians and old-school fans. The mainstream consensus was that Cahill delivered on his minor league hype (#11 on Baseball America's 100 Top Prospects list in 2009) as the 22-year-old was the youngest Oakland starter to win at least 18 games in almost 30 years. He made the All-Star team and received a bit of
Cy Young buzz as the calendar turned to September. On the stat side, the argument was that Cahill's unsustainably low BABIP was the reason for his "breakout" season and that he may not be as awesome as his ERA indicates. These facts, however, aren't in dispute: Cahill's groundball rate was 56%, he found success with his curveball last year after ignoring it for the most part during his rookie season and his strikeout rate was a mediocre 5.4 per nine innings. Old school vs. new school…sports-entertainment's least interesting feud rages on.

2011 Over/Under: Oakland manager Bob Geren has tabbed Cahill for the Opening Day start against Seattle. The "ace" expectations are in place which probably means the analytic A's are rewarding Cahill for last year's top-level performance and ignoring his less impressive peripherals. That projected 3.67 ERA seems awfully high for a groundball pitcher who's blessed with a strong defense behind him and a home park that generally doesn't help out hitters. Take the UNDER.

By the Numbers: 21 years, 251 days – Vida Blue was the youngest Opening Day starting pitcher in team history as he got the nod in 1971. Overall, OF Claudell Washington (20 years, 220 days in 1975), OF Rickey Henderson (21 years, 106 days in 1980) and 3B Eric Chavez (21 years, 119 days) were the youngest to ever start for the A's on Opening Day. Who was the oldest? DH Reggie Jackson (40 years, 324 days in 1987) followed by SP Tom Candiotti (40 years, 213 days in 1998) and 2B Joe Morgan (40 years, 196 days in 1984). Hey, YOU try writing 30 different player reviews without liberally lifting from the media guide once or twice…or thrice.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: Cahill will oppose Seattle's King Felix Hernandez on Opening Night. Hernandez -- in 17 career starts -- is 9-4 with a 2.87 ERA against the Athletics with 110 strikeouts in 114.1 innings. And, it won't matter. Oakland's kinda-sorta improved offense combined with the Mariners' inarguably awful lineup will result in a 3-2 win for Cahill in the first game of the season. He'll go six-plus innings, giving up one run and striking out six. The game will not sell out. Sigh.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Same Song, Digital Underground featuring 2Pac

Sunday, March 27, 2011

TBG Desert Travel Diary -- Part II: Museums, Water Slides and Champagne

20,000 nicky-nicky bruthas in the corner... Of the cell block, but they come from California... Population is none... In the desert and the sun... -- "By the Time I Get to Arizona", Public Enemy

Saturday, March 12

For the second straight Spring Training vacation, That Bootleg Family stayed at
The Westin Kierland in North Scottsdale. Like everyone else in this challenging economy, we're trying to be as fiscally responsible as we can. However, there remain five items that are always worth overpaying for: (1) wedding photography*; (2) wedding florist**; (3) a really good steak***; (4) bras and panties****; (5) vacation lodging. Simply put, a seven-year-old boy needs room to be a seven-year-old boy. If my son Jalen wants to use a kid-sized padded bat and foam-rubber baseball while turning the "living room" area of our hotel room into Yankee Stadium, I won't get in his way. Literally. I'll be in the bedroom familiarizing myself with the NFL Network -- which my cable provider doesn't offer in San Diego -- or determining where the hair ends and extensions begin on one of the area's local news anchors. You can't do this in a Motel 6.

* -- Don't cheap out on wedding photography, my unmarried friends. The extra cost is directly connected to experience, professionalism and quality. I've seen some low-rent wedding albums over the years. I've also seen this.

** -- And, while I'm on a roll, men folk...let's agree to collectively avoid those $9.99 supermarket bouquets on Valentine's Day. Cool? Cool.

*** -- Growing up, the steaks at Sizzler were the gold standard for this gourmand. While I was in college, Black Angus was where the elite would meet to eat meat -- but, for me, not until payday. With a little more disposable income, I soon discovered the $35 bone-in rib eyes at admittedly pretentious locations such as
Mr. A's, Morton's and Fleming's. And, they were good.

**** -- I needed a fifth "worth overpaying" item, so I asked Mrs. Bootleg. This was her contribution. I probably shouldn't put my wife's undergarment preferences out there for the world to read, so I'll just accept the virtual high-fives from my male audience and move on.

On Saturday morning, after our first night in Scottsdale, I tweeted:

Lifelong streak of restless sleep during the first night in a hotel continues. I blame the unfamiliar bed or the possible boogeyman under it.

20 years ago, I made the mistake of sharing the "unfamiliar bed" lamentation with my some of my best friends. They deservedly turned it into one of the longest-running, insulting in-jokes of our collective clique. Did it compare with the open shame of my other friends? M'man Smitty was
obviously balding by the age of 16. Vig once admitted to a crush on Kate Hudson's grandmother. And, JP would probably like a mulligan for this 10th grade makeover.

I've eschewed my usual time-stamped travel diary format because the first four hours of my Saturday morning were spent in a parental tug-of-war with my son Jalen. I wanted to take him to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix followed by an entire afternoon in the hotel swimming pool. Jalen, however, suggested a convoluted "swimming pool -- museum -- back to the swimming pool" plan. "We can do it", Jalen insisted. "The pool opens at 9:00 AM!" He then slipped on his swim trunks and forlornly stood by the front door. By mid-morning, he had me rooting for the return of Jim Crow.

Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) was recommended to me by TBG reader and Arizona resident, Ms. Kristen. With Mrs. Bootleg shopping at the nearby Kierland Commons, I opted to roll the dice on Jalen's surprisingly agreeable track record with museums and my unfailingly enjoyable experiences while meeting TBG readers for the first time. Jalen was still pouting about the swimming pool when we arrived at the museum, but after five minutes (four and a half of which were spent on the below mixing board) Jalen asked, "Can we come back tomorrow with mommy?" He soaked up every exhibit, but absolutely lost his mind at the Experience Gallery -- a room full of instruments that the kids (and their dads!) are encouraged to play. And, Ms. Kristen couldn't have been nicer or more considerate in the few minutes we spent with her (continuing my eight-year streak of meeting readers who aren't killers or crazy people). MIM will never again be associated with an unlistenable musical experience. (For obvious reasons, the last musical instrument pictured is my favorite.)

We picked up Mrs. Bootleg -- who was weighed down with bags from local mom n' pop storefronts such as Ann Taylor Loft and Victoria's Secret. My wife even engaged in some self-medication during her retail therapy, treating herself to a champagne lunch as she mingled with North Scottsdale's beautiful people. The only things missing were
theme music and the opening credits.

Jalen did get LOTS of quality time with the swimming pool and water slide. Since I'm a self-taught swimmer with terrible technique and Mrs. Bootleg is a black woman, our son is unquestionably the best swimmer in the family. I do, however, make the skin-tight Body Glove top rock, y'all.

Dinner plans with two of Mrs. Bootleg's friends were unfortunately scuttled. In hindsight, it might've been a challenge for Jalen to meet this couple since, as my son succinctly put it: "But, they don't have any daughters!" Instead, we scoured the casual dining scene and hit up Chick-Fil-A. I mention this because I tried the Spicy Chicken Sandwich Deluxe for the first time. Let's see how quickly I can get into "TBG Eats" mode. Current weight: 159.8 lbs. From Chick-Fil-A's website: a boneless breast of chicken seasoned with a spicy blend of peppers, hand-breaded, pressure cooked in 100% refined peanut oil and served on a toasted, buttered bun with dill pickle chips, green Leaf lettuce, tomato and pepper jack cheese. Decent, but when will the fast food industry recognize that processed cheese and fried chicken should be segregated today, segregated tomorrow, segregated forever? Grade: 3 (out of 5).

The evening ended with a hall pass from Mrs. Bootleg and beers at Papago Brewing Company with JP. Located in the middle of an extensive strip mall, its no-frills appearance belies the glorious high-end nectar that's brewed within. I spent the night with their
El Robusto Porter. I was a little embarrassed ordering it sans accent, but my ersatz Spanish experience wasn't as awkward as ordering this.

Next: Good friends, good times, great beers, passed out!

30 A's in 30 Days: Tyson Ross

Acquired: Drafted in second round (2008).
Contract: One year through 2011 (not yet eligible for arbitration).
Position: Fifth starter? Long reliever? Harbinger of DOOM.

Note: Brandon McCarthy was named the team's fifth starter yesterday.

2011 Projected ERA: 4.31

2010 Season: I was at Phoenix Municipal Stadium with my family on March 18, 2010 when Tyson Ross
introduced himself to the world -- by way of the 9,000 fans who were in attendance that day. Ross entered the game in relief and struck out seven Diamondbacks over three full innings of work. Maybe it didn't make him household name, but Ross' performance all but assured the 22-year-old non-roster invitee a spot on the Opening Day roster. Ross had been a starting pitcher in the minors (with no Triple-A experience and only nine appearances at AA-Midland in 2009), but he pitched out of the bullpen for Oakland in 2010. He was used in mostly low leverage situations during seven April appearances. On May 11, he was sporting a respectable 3.32 ERA over 19 innings with 14 strikeouts. Four days son Jalen and I drove up to Anaheim to see our A's play the hated Angels. Justin Duchscherer was the scheduled starter. As the A's took the field in the bottom of the first, it was hastily announced over the PA system that Ross would be the emergency starter, replacing the injured Duchscherer. Jalen read the look on my face perfectly: "Are you sad because now we're gonna lose?" Ross was actually solid through the 3 2/3 innings, but as he passed the 50-pitch mark (which, to that point, was the most he'd thrown in any previous relief appearance) he collapsed...spectacularly. From that start until his final appearance in early July: 7.52 ERA, 20.1 innings.

2011 Over/Under: We can all agree that Spring Training statistics are meaningless, right? OK, with that out of the way...have you SEEN Ross' Spring Training statistics?! He's given up just one run in 15.1 innings! It remains to be seen if he's won the fifth starter spot (erstwhile White Sox and Rangers SP Brandon McCarthy was considered the front-runner as late as last week). If Ross pulls off the upset -- and his MLB innings are better managed than that night in mid-May -- I'm taking the UNDER.

By the Numbers: 1975 – Not that these things matter, but I'd be lying if said I wasn't curious: when was the last time the Athletics produced a homegrown, African-American starting pitcher? Off the top of my head, I think it was Mike Norris. He made his debut in April 1975 and won 58 games for the Oakland over a 10-year career. Norris was infamously plagued by drug problems and arm trouble -- missing six full seasons (1984-1989) due to one or both issues. He was one of my favorite players when I first became an A's fan and his 1990 comeback -- though, ultimately anti-climactic -- was a big deal to me. You only have to emulate SOME of this stuff, Tyson.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: Ross wears number 66 because he stands 6'6". This will be beaten into the ground by every opposing broadcast team when he pitches. By the end of the season, the only team meme mentioned more often will be "there's a LOT of foul territory here in Oakland".

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
I Got 5 On It, Luniz featuring Dru Down, E-40, Richie Rich, Shock G, and Spice 1

Saturday, March 26, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Gio Gonzalez

Acquired: Traded from Chicago White Sox (with OF Ryan Sweeney and SP Fautino De Los Santos) for Nick Swisher (January 3, 2008).
Contract: One year thru 2011 (not yet eligible for arbitration). Position: Starting pitcher; alliterative nickname imminent.

2011 Projected ERA: 3.99

2010 Season: Gonzalez enjoyed a breakout 15-win season, finally capitalizing on the promise implied by his pedigree (2004 "sandwich" pick after the first round, involved in three "top prospects-for-proven commodity" trades, career minor league K/9 rate: 10.3). From 2008-09, Gonzalez threw a combined 132.2 innings with Oakland posting a 6.24 ERA, 1.704 WHIP and per nine inning rates of nearly 10 hits, 5.5 walks and 1.5 home runs. Last year, in just over 200 innings, his WHIP fell to 1.31 while his nine inning rates dropped to 7.7 hits, 4.1 walks and 0.7 home runs. He received some much needed normalization on BABIP, as well, dropping from an egregiously unlucky .360 in 2009 to .274 last year. Most notably, Gonzalez showed much less overt negative emotion on the mound when he didn't have his best stuff or wasn't getting calls. His tired, frustrated histrionics often reminded me of another native Floridian. Scroll to the 3:00 mark
in this clip and you'll see what I mean.

2011 Over/Under: That's a surprisingly high projected ERA. Admittedly, there are some in the sabermetric community who weren't entirely swayed by Gonzalez's 2010 performance. His 92 walks were second most in the American League, his strikeout rate per nine innings fell from the mid-nines (2008-09) to 7.7 last year and he remains susceptible to patient teams that lay off his curveball (he had two terrible starts against the Yankees last year and one against the Red Sox). But, Gonzalez's walk rate per nine innings has steadily dropped since his debut. In addition, he made strides by reducing his
line drive rate and increasing his ground ball percentage. Take the way UNDER on the projection. This kid's the real deal, yo.

By the Numbers: 751 – Gonzalez has been traded three times in his career. Two of the players involved in those deals (Jim Thome and Nick Swisher) have hit a combined 751 home runs over the course of their careers. I suppose one could argue that this factoid doesn't really mean all that much. Tell you what: throw me a bone on this one and feel free to deduct an equal amount of Gonzalez's cool points for once being part of trade that involved aging SP Freddy Garcia as the "proven" centerpiece. Cool?

Surefire 2011 Prediction: Gonzalez hails from Hialeah, Florida. This necessitates the return of the birthplace-based, alliterative nickname. By the end of the season, I have no doubt that my one-man marketing campaign to move "Gio Gonzalez,
The Hialeah Hammer" into the MLB lexicon will be a rousing success. And, before y'all get any opportunistic ideas, I'm also going to trademark "The Hialeah Heater". And, possibly "Razor Ramon". That one just rolls off the tongue.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Rico Suave, Gerardo Mejia

Friday, March 25, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Dallas Braden

Acquired: Drafted in 24th round (2004).
Contract: One year thru 2011 (eligible for arbitration after 2011).
Position: Starting pitcher;
Curt Hennig

2011 Projected ERA: 3.66

2010 Season: Braden arguably put together the most memorable season in team history by a starting pitcher with a losing record (11-14) since
Brian Kingman went 8-20 for the A's thirty years ago. His perfect game on Mother's Day (May 9th) would probably crack the top five of my all-time favorite Athletics moments. On the season, Braden reduced his walk rate to just 2.0 per nine innings while starting a career-high 30 games. His gutty, inspiring performance on the mound went a long way towards overhauling his image. Early last year, Braden was the aggressor in a juvenile feud with the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez over one of the game's most ridiculous unwritten rules. In follow-up interviews on the subject, Braden was practically cutting pro wrestling promos. His perfect game was a universal face turn -- leading to appearances on David Letterman, HBO's Real Sports and the cover of Sports Illustrated. His Twitter feed, however, is the equivalent of a social media steel chair straight to my face.

2011 Over/Under: Braden has improved in several important peripheral areas over the past three seasons, despite a K/9 rate that's seems entrenched in the low fives. Last year, the average velocity of his fastball was just south of 87 mph, so he continued to rely on a terrific change-up and the defense behind him. There's a lot of feel and guile in his game -- "Dallas Eckstein", if you will -- and while we're probably watching his professional apex, there's no reason why he can't keep it going. UNDER.

By the Numbers: 1990 – I've
previously explained how I ended up missing most of Braden's perfect game. But, on June 29, 1990, I caught all of Dave Stewart's no-hitter against Toronto from beginning to end. That was also the year my family bought our first VCR. There are still old VHS tapes boxed up in a closet at my mom's house and I can still remember a few of the games that I recorded in their entirety. There was the Felix Jose is our future game. There was the Brian Holman almost perfect game. There was the ALCS clincher against the Red Sox. Greatest regret of my life? Not recording Stewart's no-hitter. Of my life.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: A's beat writers will continue to insist that Braden's postgame quips and quotes are positively Charles Barkley-ian. I will continue to doubt this.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Yellow Brick Road, Luniz

Thursday, March 24, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Michael Wuertz

Acquired: Traded by Chicago Cubs for IF Justin Sellers and OF Richie Robnett (February 2, 2009).
Contract: Two years through 2011 (with club option for 2012).
Position: Right-handed middle reliever; possibly ruined middle reliever.

2011 Projected ERA: 3.07

2010 Season: In 2009, Wuertz was one of the most dominant middle relievers in the American League. Armed with a ferocious slider; he led AL relievers in strikeouts (102 in just 78.2 innings for a K/9 rate of 11.67) and made a team-leading 74 appearances for Oakland. Unofficially, to my untrained eye, Wuertz also led the team in "warming up in the bullpen" appearances – regardless of whether or not he got into the game. The stat-minded A's front office appreciates reliever volatility better than most organizations, but they still signed Wuertz to a two-year contract after 2009. In 2010, he came to Spring Training with shoulder tendinitis and didn't make it back to the big league roster until May 3. Wuertz was handled with kid gloves – only pitching eight innings total in May. He reversed six weeks of mediocrity with a solid stretch from mid-June through mid-August (1.56 ERA, 20 Ks in 17.2 innings), even drawing rumored trade interest at the July deadline. I'm not sure how real these whispers were as our boy-genius GM was manically manipulating the media around this time, playing public poker with names like Craig Breslow and Ben Sheets (before he got hurt). Wuertz went cold again over his final 12 appearances, posting a 5.06 ERA.

2011 Over/Under: This spring, shoulder tendinitis has once again slowed Wuertz. He made his first in-game appearance on March 15 and is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season – despite reports that Wuertz still hasn't found the snap to his slider. Much has been (over) written about Oakland's bullpen depth and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the A's allow Wuertz a few more weeks to build up arm strength in Arizona after breaking camp this weekend. Take the OVER and remember: multi-year contracts for middle relievers are almost always a sucker's bet – like extended warranties, "deluxe" edition CDs/DVDs with a superfluous second disc and
Guinness Black Lager.

By the Numbers: 3 – Only three relievers in team history have recorded more than 100 strikeouts in a season: Rollie Fingers (1972-73, 1975-76), Dennis Eckersley (1987) and Wuertz (2009). In baseball's long history of "one of these things does not belong" statistical hiccups; this bit of trivia is second only to the Hank and
Tommie Aaron record for most combined home runs by two brothers.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: Wuertz's inconsistency will continue to the point that he joins T.J. Matthews, Jim Mecir and Kiko Calero as once-effective relievers whom A's fans eventually turned on. Trust me: the boos from 8,000 frozen souls on a 52-degree July evening can cut to the bone.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Tha Crossroads, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Grant Balfour

Acquired: Signed as free agent (January 18, 2011).
Contract: Two years through 2012 (includes club option for 2013).
Position: Late inning right-handed reliever; all-time Australian-born strikeout king.

2011 Projected ERA: 2.54

2010 Season: Despite six years and 99 days of MLB service time, Balfour has only made two Opening Day rosters -- first in 2009 and then again last year. He missed the entire month of August with a rib cage injury, but his final numbers were still just a few steps behind his breakout -- and low BABIP-driven -- 2008 campaign. Most of his 2010 statistics were a superlative small-sample size smorgasbord, including a .176/.230/.266 slash line vs. right-handed hitters (122 plate appearances), a .465 OPS with runners in scoring position (65 PAs) and a .181(!) OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs (28 PAs). The surefire personal highlight of his season? On September 15, he fanned the Yankees' Austin Kearns and passed former big-league journeyman Graeme Lloyd on the career strikeout list for Australian-born pitchers. Lloyd, though, can still lay claim to being half of MLB's first all-Australian battery (with catcher Dave Nilsson in 1994). For those who don't know, Nilsson was signed as an amateur free agent by the Brewers in the height of America's brief
pop-culture exchange program with Australia.

2011 Over/Under: Balfour's career has been the epitome of reliever volatility. Over his first four seasons (cumulative totals: 92.2 innings, 80 appearances) his ERA was 5.44. In 2008, it was 1.54 (58.1 innings, 51 appearances). In 2009, it rose to 4.81 (67.1 innings, 73 appearances) and last year it was 2.28 (55.1 innings, 57 appearances). Obviously, there aren't any solid conclusions from this data relating to how Balfour will perform this season. But, based on Balfour's bizarro Bret Saberhagen gimmick, I'll take the OVER.

By the Numbers: 7 – When you're sitting in your frigid field level seats this summer, fellow A's fans, impress your friends with this fun fact -- last year, Balfour didn't allow a run in the seventh inning until September 6th. He threw 19.2 scoreless seventh innings to start the season before the streak ended in Boston. Oh, don't look at me like that. Useless trivia is the backbone of baseball and oftentimes the only way to get through an American League game.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: I'll make it through the first two months of "Do you really want a relief pitcher on your roster named Grant [pause] Ball Four?" jokes from opposing broadcasters before I punch my living room wall.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Don't Stop What You're Doing, Puff Daddy featuring Lil' Kim

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Brian Fuentes

Acquired: Signed as free agent (January 19, 2011).
Contract: Two years through 2012 (includes club option for 2013).
Position: Emergency closer, occasional closer, closer for now.

2011 Projected ERA: 3.12

2010 Season: After a season in which he saved an MLB-leading 48 games in 2009, Fuentes' 2010 might've been better -- even with 50% fewer saves and a late August trade (necessitating a shift in job description from closer to middle reliever). Fuentes injured his back while recording an Opening Day save for the Angels and was promptly placed on the disabled list. He ensured his candidacy for "worst April ever (
non-deceased division)" when he returned to the active roster on April 21, only to blow a save that day against Detroit. Hey, I said his 2010 season might've been better than 2009...stay with me here. In the first half, Fuentes posted spotty ERAs in April (3.86), May (5.63) and June (4.66), but -- like most short-inning relievers -- those numbers were skewed by one or two ugly outings. From July 1 through the end of the regular season, Fuentes recorded a 1.05 ERA and struck out 20 batters in 25.2 innings. I said "might've been", dammit!

2011 Over/Under: I've always had an irrational aversion to left-handed closers. Call it "southpaw prejudice". Yes, I know that John Franco, Billy Wagner and Randy Myers are all in the top ten for career saves. But, as a fan, I've always felt a LOT more comfortable with the gun-slinging right-hander on the mound in the ninth inning. (And, don't get me started on the A's Arthur Rhodes Experiment in 2004.) Anyways, since Fuentes hasn't posted an xFIP under 4.50 in either of the past two seasons, I'll take the OVER on that ERA projection.

By the Numbers: 1 – I don't know why I buy the Oakland A's media guide every year. Maybe because it only costs ten dollars. Maybe because I need to know the Opening Day lineup for every A's team since 1968 (Shooty Babitt! Phil Plantier!) or who holds the A's rookie record for most walks allowed in a single season (Eric Plunk, 102). Whatever the reason, after I buy the media guide, I spend the next several days devouring every page and factoid. For example, did you know that Brian Fuentes only allowed ONE extra base hit to a left-handed hitter last year? This has been "By the Numbers". Thanks for reading.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: With incumbent A's closer Andrew Bailey almost certain to miss the start of the season -- and his increasingly questionable long-term health -- Fuentes will record enough saves this year (15-18) to get within shouting distance of the number ten spot on Oakland's career saves leader list (Bill Caudill, 37). No one on that list is a left-hander, by the way. Really, y'all...this media guide pays for itself.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Killing Me Softly, The Fugees

Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 Spring Training Travel Diary -- Part I: Flying, Driving and a Frayed Labrum

I'm countin' down to the day deservin'
Fit for a King
I'm waitin' for the time when I can get to Arizona...

-- "By the Time I Get to Arizona", Public Enemy

Friday, March 11

4:30 AM -- I've been under the covers, wide awake, for the past 30 minutes waiting for the alarm clock. As most of you know, my lifelong irrational aversion towards air travel was born out of the 1980s when plane crashes and hijackings made more appearances on the nightly news than Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings put together. Then, about five years ago, I overslept and missed the San Diego-to-Los Angeles leg of a cross-country business trip to Washington DC. My omnipresent pre-flight anxiety has become quite the psychological dichotomy: I'm afraid of flying, but I don't want to miss my flight. This is how it started with
Harvey Dent.

5:15 AM -- My usual scalding-hot shower is followed by the medicinal monotony of my
Neti pot, allergy meds and asthma inhaler. The routine is somehow soothing and gives me a chance to ease into the day at my own pace. Our flight to Phoenix is still more than three hours away. Hard to believe that our shoebox-sized second bathroom can be such an effective buffer from...


My seven-year-old son Jalen has exploded through the closed door, giddily revisiting our itinerary for the first time today and the 200th time this week. I've commissioned a
reenactment of this moment by a local collegiate acting troupe. So much for "soothing".

7:00 AM -- I was never a huge fan of the sitcom Seinfeld. In fact, during its groundbreaking run in the 1990s, I didn't watch the show. My Thursday night broadcasting dance card was
actually quite full. In syndication, I caught up with the show's assortment of pop culture moments. The only one that really stuck with me was the episode in which Jerry and Elaine debate the appropriate gratuity for the skycaps who handle luggage at curbside check-in. Since then, I've always tipped five dollars per bag. I put the tipping question out on Twitter. Based on the responses, I'm grossly over-tipping. Whatever. I've never had a piece of luggage lost when I check-in at the curb and I'd like to believe the gratuity has something to do with it. We checked three bags, so I tipped the skycap $15. Based on his response ("Oh, wow. Thank YOU, sir!"), I'm grossly over-tipping. I've still never had a piece of luggage lost, though.

11:00 AM -- It was a wonderfully uneventful flight. We took off on time at around 8:45 AM and landed in Phoenix at 10:55 AM local time. As we waited to deplane, a gentleman sitting behind us noticed Jalen's "Athletics" t-shirt and politely initiated some baseball-related conversation. I mentioned to him that while we were excited about our vacation; I was disappointed to pull my son out of Little League for the weekend. Without missing a beat, the gentleman replied, "I'm missing Little League, too, and I'm the manager! I left the line-ups with my coaches and told my son where he'll be playing before I left. Everyone understands. It's Spring Training! This is my 'guys weekend'!"

For the record, I've never missed a game that Jalen played in.* That alone won't win me any "father of the year" awards, but I've got to finish ahead of that guy, right?

* -- In the interest of full disclosure, I should once again mention (before Mrs. Bootleg beats me to it) that I did miss ONE day of visitation while Jalen was in the neo-natal intensive care unit for five weeks after his premature birth. I fell for the ol' "give your man permission to be absent when you're really just testing him" bit.

11:10 AM -- We've made our way to baggage claim. Much to my surprise, there actually IS a
socio-political position here in Arizona that my family and I can get behind! Vote "Yes" on Proposition 51!

11:45 AM -- Mrs. Bootleg handled the reservation of our rental car. She went with Thrifty – a company that allows customers to pick their vehicle from rows identified by size (e.g. SUV, sedan…) after you've paid and filled out all the paperwork. Mrs. Bootleg then outsourced this innocuous choice to our son. The ONLY choice in our row was a Ford Escape. There must've been a dozen of them – six were silver, five were white and one was red. And, Mrs. Bootleg let Jalen choose. This is the same little boy who copyrighted the five-minute remix to "Eeney Meeney Miney Mo". He's now meticulously examining each vehicle as if it were a crime scene.

12:00 PM -- We're on our way to Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the 1:05 PM game between the Athletics and Dodgers. It's Oakland's chance to exact some exhibition season vengeance on Los Angeles for the
1988 World Series AND the two A's losses I've witnessed live at Dodger Stadium – first in 2000, then again in 2009. Mrs. Bootleg has programmed our destination into her cell phone's GPS feature.

12:02 PM -- And, we're lost. A new record! Somehow, Mrs. Bootleg had mistakenly charted a route across the continuous United States. I pull into an industrial area parking lot so that my wife can figure out her phone. The same phone she's had for six months. I bite my tongue and hold off on any overt show of annoyance. If I say anything now, it'll take away from my patented "exasperated spousal sigh" when Mrs. Bootleg reveals the invariably simple error that created this confusion.

12:05 PM -- "Oh, I forgot to input 'Phoenix' as the city!" I manage to exhale my ensuing sigh for a full five seconds. Also, a new record.

12:50 PM -- We've arrived at the stadium, parked and made the l-o-n-g walk across the overpass. Near the main gate, I spy a sign highlighting a handful of former Major Leaguers who are signing autographs along the concourse. Pete LaCock?! This is the reason
cell phone cameras were created, kids.

1:30 PM -- The game is underway, but Jalen and I have made our annual trip to the in-stadium "Kids Pitch Zone". Three pitches for one dollar with radar gun bragging rights at stake. Jalen breaks 30 mph after topping out at 29 mph last year.

Meanwhile, with my first pitch, I hit 51 mph on the gun. On my second pitch, I feel a pinch in my right shoulder. 48 mph. I'm shaking my arm loose, knowing I probably shouldn't take my third pitch. "Can I have your last pitch, daddy?", asks Jalen considerately. "No. Move.", I sweetly respond. On my third pitch...ouch. Yeah, I probably shouldn't have taken my third pitch.

2:00 PM -- There's a gimmicky ice cream stand manned by a regional company called
Sub Zero. Back in the 1980s, the frozen yogurt fad made inroads on the traditional ice cream industry's frozen dessert monopoly. Over most of the past two decades, the Dippin' Dots conglomerate has tried to sway American taste buds with their gummy, icy and inedible BBs. Sub Zero's 21st century twist on something that didn't need to be changed combines liquid ice cream ingredients into a stainless steel bowl, followed by a blast of liquid nitrogen. It makes for a great visual, but who will it impress after the first visit?

"That was AWESOME! Can we buy some more ice cream and watch him do it again?"

OK, besides a certain seven-year-old.

2:30 PM -- I've stumbled across a sausage stand and order a bratwurst. I ask for it with grilled peppers and onions which evidently offends the culinary sensibilities of the chef. "You want my advice?", he offers. "Take it plain with just mustard." Great. I've only recently been exposed to the
good-natured mocking that accompanies those of us who still put ketchup on a hot dog. Now, I've been eating bratwurst wrong for all these years? Who writes these food rules?

3:30 PM -- No, really…we did watch the game. Intently! The A's defeated the Dodgers, 9-2. Oakland's starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez alternated shakiness with dominance and centerfielder Coco Crisp walloped a long home run. It had already been a long day, so we drove over to our hotel in North Scottsdale and settled in relatively early. Quality father/son time, accomplished.

Maybe there'll be time for you tomorrow, Mrs. Bootleg.

Next: The museum! The swimming pool! The brewery! And, no baseball?!

30 A's in 30 Days: Andrew Bailey

Acquired: Drafted in sixth round (2006).
Contract: One year thru 2011 (eligible for arbitration after 2011).
Position: Closer; two-time All-Star; 2009 AL Rookie of the Year; healthy?

2011 Projected ERA: 2.64

2010 Season: On a superficial level, Bailey enjoyed a solid sophomore season (25 saves, 1.47 ERA). Beneath the surface, however, there may be cause for concern. After leading the A's in relief innings pitched in 2009 – his first full season in the bullpen after primarily starting at the minor league level since being drafted in 2006 – Bailey was slowed by a series of injuries. He pitched through a sore knee in April and May, but a ribcage injury sent him to the disabled list almost immediately after the All Star Break. Bailey returned and pitched effectively into September before a balky elbow truncated his campaign. He didn't give up a run in his first 12 appearances (through May 8) and surrendered just three earned runs in his final 25 innings (June 10 through September 17) while striking out 27. But, his strikeouts per nine inning rate fell from 9.8 to 7.7 and his
xFIP (I know, I know…witchcraft!) of 3.80 was more than 2 ½ times his ERA.

I completed this write-up prior to Bailey's spring training appearance on March 14. He left in the bottom of the sixth inning with a forearm muscle strain that looked a lot worse at the time. There's been no official word, but Bailey is expected to start the season on the disabled list. I'm leaving the "over/under" segment unchanged, since my primary point (will he finish over or under his projected ERA?) remains unchanged -- Aaron

2011 Over/Under: I'm in the overwhelming minority here, but I really believe the A's are more worried about Bailey than they're letting on. Bailey had three bone chips and three bone spurs removed from his right elbow in the offseason. He's being brought along slowly – all parties insist he's fine and will be ready on Opening Day – but, that didn't stop Oakland from giving LHP Brian Fuentes (who's averaged 30 saves/season since 2005) a two-year deal with escalating incentives for games finished. Bailey's career splits are identically terrific against right and left-handers, so it's not like he needed a southpaw closer co-star. I'm taking the OVER as I rue the possible return of the "roller coaster" closer – previously manned by Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch, Octavio Dotel and Huston Street.

By the Numbers: 4 – Since Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley was traded away in February 1996, eight different relievers have led the team in saves in a single season. Of those eight, only Billy Taylor led the A's in saves for more than two consecutive seasons. He was Oakland top closer for four years (1996-1999). Bailey had led the team in saves over the past two years, but with residue of offseason surgery and an expected raise via arbitration after 2011, Bailey might not get the two additional seasons he needs to tie Taylor.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: Bailey will never top his collection of
national and local commericals from 2010. Not this year...not ever. Nipple clipper.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Smokin' Me Out, Warren G.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Joey Devine

Acquired: Traded from Atlanta (with P Jamie Richmond) for OF Mark Kotsay (January 14, 2008).
Contract: One year thru 2011 (eligible for arbitration after 2011 season).
Position: Recovering flame-throwing reliever; answer to hundreds of useless trivia questions.

2011 Projected ERA: 3.60

2010 Season: Devine missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. So, let's fill this space with some random trivia. Devine was the first Atlanta Brave to reach the big leagues in the same season he was drafted since Bob Horner in 1978. From 1990-2005, only four players made their MLB debut before September 1 in the same year they were drafted -- including the face of the A's mid-1990s nadir, Ariel Prieto! Devine surrendered grand slams in his first two MLB appearances (a first, according to the Elias Sports Bureau). He gave up Chris Burke's NLDS-ending home run in the 18th inning at Houston. And, Devine's 0.59 ERA in 2008 with the A's is the lowest (minimum 25 IP) in history.

2011 Over/Under: Devine is still building back his arm speed, reapplying the polish on his breaking pitches and, at this writing, working through a "dead arm" period. Even though he's pitching in spring games, it's conceivable that he's one of the relievers temporarily squeezed out when the A's break camp. He famously struggled with the strike zone in Atlanta and if he's slow to find his command -- like many pitchers, post-Tommy John -- it could get ugly. He'll never post a sub 0.60 ERA again, but 3.60 seems way too high. Take the UNDER.

By the Numbers: 3 – The number of A's pitchers who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009. Devine was joined by SP Josh Outman and SP/RP Dan Giese. Outman made it back to camp and competed for the fifth starter spot before his demotion to minor league camp on Sunday. As for Giese...his was simultaneously the saddest ending AND
best story of the three.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: Perhaps due to ineffectiveness or injury rehab or too many butts in the bullpen; Devine will split time between Oakland and AAA-Sacramento -- pitching more innings in the minors than in the Majors.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Straighten It Out, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth

Saturday, March 19, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Josh Outman

Acquired: Traded from Philadelphia (with IF Adrian Cardenas and 1B/OF Matt Spencer) for SP Joe Blanton (July 17, 2008).
Contract: One year through 2011 (not yet eligible for arbitration).
Position: Possible fifth starter; certain stirrups and socks

2011 Projected ERA: 3.77

2010 Season: Outman missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2009. My son Jalen and I were sitting in the field level seats at San Diego's PETCO Park when Outman left his June 19, 2009 start against the Padres with two outs in the second inning. Entering that season, Outman had shuffled between the bullpen and starting rotation with many scouts projecting him for a relief role due to his lack of strong secondary pitches. In early May, he joined the A's rotation for good and held batters to a .194 batting average over a nine start stretch. He was even getting some casual All-Star Game consideration from fans when he went down. For those who don't know, Outman's injury was only the second most
gut-wrenching loss of that evening (third paragraph).

2011 Over/Under: Interestingly enough, during Outman's breakthrough half two-fifths of a season in 2009, his
xFIP was nearly a full run higher than his ERA. Maybe you embrace esoteric statistics and maybe you don't, but it IS commonly accepted that a pitcher's command is one of the last things to return after Tommy John surgery. In 442 minor league innings, Outman's walks-per-nine inning rate was 4.3. He's been better at the big league level – in nearly 350 fewer innings – but, I'll take the OVER in what could be an up and down 2011. He's already acknowledged the likelihood of starting the season at Triple-A.

By the Numbers: .150/.209/.225 – It's a VERY small sample size, you guys, but Outman's career slash line against left-handed hitters (in just 87 plate appearances) is ridiculous. When I first became an A's fan, the
Oakland rotation was entirely right-handed. The late 1980s Bash Brothers teams only featured a single southpaw starter, Curt Young. I was spoiled by Barry Zito and Mark Mulder over the past decade, so Outman had damn well better pitch to the unattainable expectations I've established for him.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: In a surprising upset, the season-long Josh Outman puns from fans and broadcasters won't make me as physically ill as the play on words that'll follow A's reliever Grant Balfour around for all of 2011.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Everyday Struggle, Notorious B.I.G.

Friday, March 18, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Craig Breslow

Acquired: Signed off of waivers from Minnesota (May 20, 2009).
Contract: One year thru 2011 (eligible for arbitration after 2011).
Position: Left-handed set-up reliever; STILL
the world's smartest man.

2011 Projected ERA: 3.04

2010 Season: Breslow established career-highs in innings pitched (74.2) and strikeouts (71) – leading the Athletics in both categories, along with games pitched (75), by a wide margin. He was almost equally effective against right-handed and left-handed hitters, with most of his opponents' OPS difference (.637 (RHH); .586 (LHH)) coming from a 40-point gap within his still-impressive on-base percentage splits (.285 (RHH); .245 (LHH)). His month-by-month performance was obviously inspired by the intellectual protagonists in Revenge of the Nerds. In the opening month (April ERA: 4.70), Breslow was kicked out of the dormitory and forced to live in the gymnasium. In May (ERA: 0.71), he found acceptance within the black fraternity, Lambda Lambda Lambda. In June (ERA: 3.60), the Alpha Betas released several pigs into his party. In July, Breslow made gains (2.84 ERA) with a panty raid and some liquid heat. But, by August (6.10 ERA) he was staring at a burning "NERDS" sign on his front lawn. Breslow finished strong during the final month (1.65 ERA) in the
climactic musical number.

2011 Over/Under: The A's haven't always been conscientious with the workloads of their relievers. They pitched
Billy Koch into an early grave, allowed septuagenarian Alan Embree to throw a career-high number of innings in 2007 and may have ruined Michael Wuertz by riding his lights-out slider over 74 in-game appearances and (unofficially) 500 "warming up in the bullpen" episodes in 2009. Relief pitchers are, of course, inherently volatile. And, Breslow's 2010 xFIP (an esoteric stat that correlates well with future ERA) was 4.37 -- far above his actual 3.01 ERA. Take the OVER on that above projection.

By the Numbers: 2, 3 – Breslow double-majored at Yale University (biochemistry and molecular biophysics). I briefly majored in journalism, then English, before obtaining a degree in marketing from San Diego State University. There's still time to catch me, Craig.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: I will find the county fair that produced this
novelty magazine cover. I want mine to say "AA-MAZING AARON!" with me stealing third base. Y'know, what...? Just Photoshop me into this.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Brain Damage, Eminem

Thursday, March 17, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Brad Ziegler

Acquired: Signed as free agent (June 18, 2004).
Contract: Signed through 2011 (eligible for arbitration after 2011).
Position: Situational right-handed reliever; an appalling influence on my seven-year-old son.

2011 Projected ERA: 3.44

2010 Season: The normalization of Brad Ziegler continued last year. His record-breaking career-starting scoreless innings streak in 2008 – combined with his affable, approachable personality – made Ziegler an instant favorite among A's fans. In 2009, he posted numbers that were better than they appeared on the surface, but still an expected regression in some areas from the year before. In 2010, Ziegler took several more small steps backwards. His walks per nine innings topped 4.0 for the first time (4.15), while his groundball percentage (54.4%) and groundball-to-fly ball ratio (2.02) were easily the lowest of his three-year career. Inducing groundballs – and a reliance on the A's excellent infield defense – has been Ziegler's primary mutant power at the Major League level. Is this the start of
Decimation Redux or just typical reliever volatility?

2011 Over/Under: It is grotesquely oversimplified to state that Major League hitters eventually figure out sidearm or submarine-style pitchers. All pitchers, regardless of how they throw, have to make adjustments at this level and they're ability to do so is just one of the factors that determines success and longevity. That said; it sure SEEMS like sidearm or submarine-style pitchers enjoy a relatively shorter peak. Cla Meredith and Chad Bradford come to mind as pitchers who were tremendously effective for just a season or two, before settling into solid – albeit unspectacular – careers. I'm taking the OVER based entirely on my unsubstantiated data.

By the Numbers: .800, .912 and 1.034 – Ziegler's OPS against left-handed hitters in 2008, 2009 and 2010. His career OPS versus righties is a much more impressive .565. Southpaws such as Tony Fossas and Jesse Orosco enjoyed long careers in the bullpen as relievers brought to face just one left-handed hitter, but their
right-handed equivalents seem to flame out much faster.

Surefire 2011 Prediction: My seven-year-old son, Jalen, has been fascinated with Ziegler's sidearm delivery for years. During our illicit games of "living room baseball" – when my wife's not around – Jalen will contort his right arm in a way that kinda-sorta mimics Ziegler's throwing motion. At some point during the 2011 Little League season – inspired by Ziegler – Jalen will sidearm a throw to first base. The resultant two-base error will lead to taunting and booing until my throat is sore.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
Ain't Sayin' Nothing New, The Roots

Featuring Nate Dogg

Nathaniel ("Nate Dogg") Hale Nate ("Nathaniel Hale") Dogg passed away last night from complications brought on by a pair of strokes he suffered -- one in 2007, another in 2008. He was 41 years old.

Nate Dogg's music meant a lot to me. And, yes, I can appreciate -- even embrace -- the irony of that statement. He was an undeniably limited artist who played the role of second banana on even his greatest audio achievements. His harmonizing (holding long, low notes for profanities, vulgarities and miscellaneous misogynistic slurs) was easy to lampoon -- as m'man Nick'a and I did frequently during our run in my old Friday Music News Bootleg weekly column. And, even I can't defend the zoot suit, spats and bowler hat ensemble Nate Dogg wore during his Harlem Nights days with
Death Row Records.

But, Nate Dogg was part of the west coast's burgeoning commercial rap scene in the early 1990s. The sonic epicenter just happened to be my hometown of Long Beach, California. Nate Dogg had achieved a modicum of notoriety for his work on Dr. Dre's seminal album The Chronic, but his first real break came in 1993 on the weed anthem "Indo Smoke".

1993 was also the year in which I got my own s**t together. Many long bus rides across town to work or to school or to the next bus stop, so I could transfer to another bus were accompanied by my omnipresent Sony Walkman and a backpack that -- at any given time -- was two parts college curriculum and 20 parts cassette tapes.

Personally and professionally, the summer of 1994 was the best time of my life to that point. It coincided with Warren G's multi-platinum album Regulate...The G-Funk Era. There was no place in Long Beach where one could escape the Nate Dogg-infused first single, "Regulate". Everyone in my city was OK with this.

For obvious reasons, Long Beach -- the sixth-largest city in California and second-largest in Los Angeles County -- was slow to collectively celebrate its gangsta rap roots. Snoop Doggy Dogg and his impending murder trial weren't being trumpeted by our chamber of commerce. But, Nate Dogg (mostly by way of Warren G) were seen as less threatening peddlers of the parental advisory label.* In turn, Long Beach -- a city with staggeringly stark delineations along ethnic and economic borders -- pretty much unified behind these guys.

* -- Mrs. Bootleg often tells the story of her unsuspecting mother buying a copy of Warren G's album for herself in 1994 and her freaked-out reaction over the lyrics. When you're convincing old black women to buy your rap album (which included clearly-identified skit titles on the back cover like "Gangsta Sermon" and "'94 Ho Draft") you're having a good year.

I moved to San Diego in 1995 and enrolled at San Diego State University. Comically homesick, the highlight of my first few months was my roommate's booming stereo system that could be heard from one end to the other on the second floor of Zapotec Hall. I was able to bring Long Beach 100 miles south and Death Row was gracious enough to release Tha Dogg Pound's Dogg Food album...featuring m'man Nate on "Let's Play House".

By the start of 1997, I'd met the future Mrs. Bootleg. But, in even better news, Nate Dogg's debut album was finally set to drop! I vividly remember walking through a Wherehouse Music and seeing one of those CD placeholders on the shelf that promised "Nate Dogg -- G-Funk Classics, Volume I, Release Date: January 14". But, I didn't know at the time that Death Row Records had lost their distribution deal with Interscope. The embattled label would never release his album. A shame, because the first single ("Never Leave Me Alone") was really good.

I finished college in December 1997. The once untouchable west coast gangsta rap scene had long since surrendered its scepter back to the east coast as lyrical dexterity once again ruled the airwaves. In the summer of 1998, Nate Dogg finally released his first album. He paired his shelved original with a second album of new recordings and called it G-Funk Classics, Volume I & II.** At 31(!) tracks, it was bloated, already a little dated and inadvertently underscored Nate Dogg's vocal shortcomings.

And, I absolutely LOVED it.

I felt like it validated my loyalty -- almost as if it were made only for me. Judging by the album's poor sales (peaking at #58 on the Billboard 200 charts), maybe it was. Oddly enough, the out-of-print album is tremendously popular today on the secondary market. Not long ago, it was selling on eBay for $70-$80. I bought a copy the day it was released. Years later, I found the ultra-rare clean version (which literally omits ALL of the lyrics on one of the tracks, leaving only the instrumental) in a used CD shop for six bucks. And, I still have the CD single for "Nobody Does It Better".

** -- Can we all agree that the double CD is Tupac Shakur's greatest legacy? I love the guy's body of work for the most part, but is there any other aspect of today's rap game that Pac influenced?

In the years that followed, Nate Dogg would achieve his greatest success. He basically established a "hooks for hire" gig that allowed him to pair up with whomever was the hottest hip hop commodity at the moment. "Featuring Nate Dogg" became the de facto surname of several artists from 1999 through 2003. He parlayed this musical ubiquity into a record deal with Elektra, but after releasing 2001's Music & Me -- a CD that was so bad, even I won't acknowledge its existence -- Nate Dogg gradually faded away. His never-released second album on Elektra does include the criminally slept on "Get Up", though.

I specifically asked the DJ at my wedding reception to play this song for the introduction of the wedding party. I've drunkenly called m'man Nick'a and left several consecutive voice mails full of boozy Nate Dogg crooning. And, believe it or not, when Jalen was a baby, I'd try to soothe him with negligibly less boozy Nate Dogg crooning.

I lost a part of my life's story with Nate Dogg's death.

Ain't no fun.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

30 A's in 30 Days: Steve Tolleson

Acquired: Claimed off waivers from Minnesota (February 1, 2010).
Contract: Signed through 2011 (not yet eligible for arbitration).
Position: Utility infielder; second-string, second-string player.

2011 Projected BA/OBP/SLG: .266/.333/.419

2010 Season: Tolleson spent most of the season at AAA-Sacramento where he shuttled from shortstop (54 games played), third base (13), second base (5) and the outfield (6). His 339 plate appearances and 80 games played only placed 7th and 8th on the River Cats, respectively, but with a wink and a nod toward sample-size caveats; Tolleson finished second on the team with a .915 OPS -- .332/.412/.503. (Pacific Coast League caveats require much larger lip service.) After a brief call-up to Oakland in late April, Tolleson spent the rest of the season on the Major League roster when he was recalled on August 13 to replace injured utility infielder, Adam Rosales. Tolleson didn't play much, but he did record back-to-back two-hit games against Toronto and a three-hit game against the Mariners. Fine...YOU try finding an interesting hook for a guy competing for the 25th and final spot on the A's roster. Go ahead, I'll wait. And, I did it without even mentioning
his father.

2011 Over/Under: Sweet Christmas! We've had Tolleson, 27, for a full year and I'm just NOW noticing his career minor league on-base percentage is .374 (2,471 plate appearances)?! This guy's actually being forced to compete with minor-leaguer Eric Sogard, 24, for a bench role while Adam Rosales continues his slow recovery from offseason ankle surgery? Furthermore...hey, wait a tick. Sogard's career minor league on-base percentage is .380 (1,990 PAs)?! Have I just written 250-some words about the wrong guy? Well, regardless who wins the roster spot, I'm concerned enough about Rosales' injury that either guy could play/produce enough to hit their OVER.

By the Numbers: .293 – The career slugging percentage of Steve's dad, Wayne Tolleson. Wayne's
Baseball-Reference page sums up decades of managerial groupthink on the subject of middle infielders. He came to the plate 378 times with the 1984 Texas Rangers and hit .213(!)/.276(!!)/.251(!!!). The 1987 New York Yankees gave him 398 plate appearances and watched him slug .241! Remember the '87 Yankees? They finished fourth in the AL East and blamed Rickey Henderson (.291/.423/.497; 17 HR, 41 SB) for their failures. 398 plate appearances! Wayne Tolleson!

Surefire 2011 Prediction: Let's have some fun with the final hitter -- Tolleson (or Sogard) will finish the season with more plate appearances than incumbent utility infielder Adam Rosales (ankle) and one of them will perform well enough to push Kevin Kouzmanoff out of the everyday third base job.

Old School Rap Track for the Season:
What U See is What U Get, Xzibit