Catching up with the Oakland Athletics: Athletics Nation

This off-season The Nats Blog will be conducting a series of interviews with blogs from all thirty teams. One site a week leading up to the start of the 2011 baseball season. This week I spoke with Christy Hofmann from Athletics Nation, one of the top Oakland A’s blogs on the net, to talk about Moneyball, Godzilla, and a pair of future Nationals.

TNB: The Athletics have signed free agent Hideki Matsui to a one-year, $4.25 million contract. What are the expectations for the former World Series MVP?

Athletics Nation: My expectations for Hideki Matsui certainly include a lot of adult-themed jokes on Athletics Nation; it is well-known that Matsui not only brings his nickname Godzilla to the table, but also an extensive porn collection. However, from all the articles written–from his time in Japan to his time with the New York Yankees and his brief stint with the Angels last season–Matsui seems like a great addition to any team. My favorite part of all of his stats was the 21 home runs last season and the 28 the season before. Since the A’s elected not to keep Jack Cust as their designated hitter, expect Matsui to get a lot of at-bats. Ron Shandler projects 20 home runs for Matsui, and I agree.  Judging by his career numbers, I would expect Matsui to be the best hitter on the team in 2011.

TNB: Has Kevin Kouzmanoff worn out his welcome?

Athletics Nation: Aside from the “Koooooooooouz” cheers raining down on the A’s third baseman, there wasn’t much else to the A’s addition last season. Kouzmanoff was in an unenviable position; he was replacing long-time hot-corner defender Eric Chavez, who played all of 33 games last season; more than he played in the previous three seasons. No one should have expected anything really great from Kouzmanoff–he bats around .260 with a .730 OPS, and has only once hit over 20 home runs in his career. Ironically (or sadly, maybe), he did lead the A’s in home runs last season, knocking 16 out of the cavernous park in Oakland. However, and it’s a big one, Kouz played incredible defense in 2010. His UZR rating on Fangraphs was 2nd in Major League Baseball. It may not be flashy, but it was that good, and Kouzmanoff is a net positive for the A’s overall.

However, from an story on 1/11, Kouzmanoff does mention the hot stove rumors that swirled until Beltre signed with Texas. In his own words: “I guess you can say I am a little surprised to be with the team right now because of the interest they showed in other third basemen,” he said. “They got one third baseman, and then they tried to go out and get another one, so I feel like I’m kinda third in line now. But I think that I’m a good enough third baseman to where I wouldn’t have a problem finding a job if someone else were to come in and play third base for the Oakland A’s.”

TNB: Do you believe the “Moneyball” approach really works?

Athletics Nation: Short answer: yes. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, the A’s front office, suffering from greatly from payroll inequality, leveraged sabermetrics in favor of traditional scouting to even out the playing field, allowing a small-payroll team like the Athletics to compete with teams like the Yankees. The concept behind Moneyball is often misquoted and misunderstood, but the simple reality is that Billy Beane would have collected the Yankees superstars if he could; the problem is that the A’s didn’t have anywhere near the money the Yankees could pay, so he was forced to collect baseball players based on criteria that no one else was currently using. One of these stats was on-base percentage; which is widely used today, but wasn’t ten or twenty years ago. Beane exploited many untraditional statistics and put together a team that wasn’t rich in superstars, but somehow could win a lot of baseball games. (That, and the Oakland A’s were able to draft a considerable number of excellent starting pitchers.) Many dismiss “Moneyball” strategy on the premise that the A’s don’t have a World Series win or even appearance during the time frame, but due to the unpredictability of a short five or seven game series (likened to a crap shoot), it should be enough that over ten consecutive 162-game seasons, the A’s went to the playoffs five times, and missed a sixth appearance by exactly one game. The A’s rocketed into the playoffs at least every other year during the heyday of Moneyball, and it certainly wasn’t because they were able to sign an A-Rod. In addition, the team that has benefitted the most from the “Moneyball” concept (a sabermetric-minded front office combined with a lot of cash) has been the Red Sox; the front office turned the study of sabermetrics into two World Series titles.

TNB: Andrew Bailey, the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year, was shutdown for September to undergo a “cleanup surgery” to remove bone chips from his elbow. Will he be ready for Opening Day?

Athletics Nation: Interestingly enough, the A’s beat writer, Jane Lee, came out with a Bailey update this week, and “he was recently cleared to begin throwing again.” Bailey, who had Tommy John surgery in college, required cleanup surgery on the same elbow. He’s throwing from 60 feet, but he needs to throw from 120 feet before he can start to really pitch again. If everything goes according to plan with his rehab, he could be ready for Opening Day. However, as an A’s fan who is quite used to dealing with lingering injuries and inflated timetables, when does that ever happen? I wouldn’t bet on him being quite ready for Opening Day. Look for Brad Ziegler, Craig Breslow, Jerry Blevins, possibly Rich Harden, and the recently healthy Joey Devine to pick up some of the early season save opportunities. Spring Training will be very telling for the Bailey timeline.

TNB: And finally the question on all Nationals fans mind, who is Henry Rodriquez and Corey Brown, the players we got in return for Josh Willingham.

Athletics Nation: Judging from what I’ve seen of H-Rod, you will love him, especially in person. There is something amazingly special about seeing one of the three or four players in the Major Leagues who can legitimately throw 100 MPH. I was able to see Aroldis Chapman last season at Spring Training, and I can’t accurately describe the difference between a 90 MPH fastball and when a pitcher gets up and over 100, but I know that it takes your breath away. It’s that fast. The club has been high on Rodriguez for a long time, and many scouts have said that he will be a nasty big-league pitcher when he puts it all together. Rodriguez’s biggest issue is control; he is likely to strike out any batter at any time, but he can also walk the house in a very short amount of time. That being said, he struck out 33 batters in 27 innings last season while only walking 13. He gave up a lot of hits, but I’m guessing that if he pinpoints his control and finds his strikeout pitch, he will be an excellent bullpen addition.

Obviously, I can’t speak to Corey Brown’s success at the Major League level (he hasn’t cracked The Show yet), but wow, did he put some numbers up in Single and Double-A. He struggled in the A’s Triple-A system, but he’s still young and might have better success in the National’s system. Brown has yet to master plate-discipline (a big no-no in the A’s organization), but from all accounts, he is an incredibly fast athlete with a lot of power, has a cannon for an arm, and has been scouted as a true 5-tool player.  I would expect him to make his Major League debut sometime this summer for the Nats.