2 OAKLAND ATHLETICS

April 05, 2009

Cycling Back Tothe Top
As it did 10 years ago, the club can lay the foundation for a pennantcontender

TO DEMONSTRATEwhat it was like pitching for Oakland last season, righthander Sean Gallagherpretends to toe an imaginary rubber and then starts shaking. "You'repitching scared," Gallagher explains. "They get a guy on second base,and you're thinking, He can't score, he can't score. Then you give up a run andyou're like, Oh, my God, they can't score any more, they can't score any more.As much as you wanted to tell people that it didn't affect you, itdid."

The 2008 A'spaired a solid if stripped-down rotation with a very bad offense, to disastrousresults. Not only did they lose 86 games for the second year in a row, but theyalso jeopardized the confidence of young pitchers who were supposed to becometheir foundation. "If we keep scoring two runs a game," general managerBilly Beane said after the season, "it's going to be terrible for theirdevelopment."

So Beane swungthe boldest trade of the off-season, shipping closer Huston Street, lefthandedstarter Greg Smith and centerfielder Carlos Gonzalez to Colorado in Novemberfor power-hitting outfielder Matt Holliday, who is entering the last year ofhis contract. The deal surprised no one more than Holliday himself, who assumedhe was ticketed for St. Louis. When he finally got around to asking Beane why asmall-market team that lost 86 games would want him, he was satisfied with theresponse. "Billy told me they pitched really well and wanted to addoffense," Holliday says. "He felt the team was close."

By trading forHolliday and signing free agents Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera, Oaklandwon't have one of the majors' worst offenses anymore. But the pitching staff,which allowed the third-fewest runs in the American League last season, remainsits future. After Justin Duchscherer—out until at least mid-May after havingelbow surgery this spring—Gallagher and Dana Eveland there is a glut ofstrong-armed prospects such as Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro,none of whom are older than 22. The A's will be careful to limit the innings oftheir young starters; of the three top prospects, only Mazzaro (171) threw morethan 125 innings in the minors last season. Anderson, however, who has notpitched above Double A, was so impressive this spring that he will likely beginthe season as the fifth starter.

To limit the wearon his young starters, Bob Geren has a deep bullpen that he can stretch out.Last season closer Brad Ziegler pitched 39 straight scoreless innings and hadfive multiple-inning saves, Joey Devine (whose ability to miss bats makes him afull-time closer-in-waiting) had an 0.59 ERA, and middle reliever Jerry Blevinsheld lefties to a .193 batting average.

On July 11 theA's were only four games behind the Angels in the AL West. Then they lost 44 oftheir last 68, worn down by injuries and salary-dumping trades. (BetweenDecember 2007 and last July, Beane dealt his three best pitchers—Dan Haren,Rich Harden and Joe Blanton.) But there was an upside to it all. Those tradeshelped position Oakland to be unusually aggressive this off-season, when somany other teams were counting their nickels. Outside of the Yankees, no onehelped themselves more this winter than the A's, and few teams were hit harderthan the Angels, their primary competition in the division.

The A's aretrying to turn back the clock to 1999, when righthander Tim Hudson made hismajor league debut, followed by lefty starters Mark Mulder and Barry Zito thenext season. Oakland finished second in the division in '99, then made theplayoffs in each of the next four seasons, winning more than 100 games twice.The only remaining links from that era to this one are Giambi and Eric Chavez,who both helped create the team's play-hard, party-hard persona.

Asked if the A'scan replicate that identity, Chavez says, "Oh, it can definitely happenagain, but when we were young, we produced, and we produced right away. Thatwill be the key for this group. Some young guys come up here, get talked abouta lot and then bounce back and forth from Triple A. The good ones come up, youtalk about them, and they stick."

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

If ever there wasa perfect team to go with a closer-free bullpen, it's the 2009 A's, who have abunch of good righthanded relievers—all essentially interchangeable in terms ofskill level but differentiated by skill set. Second-year sidewinder BradZiegler (left) is a soft-slinging ground ball machine; Joey Devine keeps theball down but also has a mid-90s fastball; veteran Russ Springer has allowedonly a .173 batting average and a .250 slugging percentage to righties the lastthree years; and Michael Wuertz, late of the Cubs, is effective againstlefties. Manager Bob Geren can use Springer and Wuertz to play matchup, whileemploying Devine and Ziegler interchangeably (and frequently for multipleinnings) regardless of whether a save situation exists. It's time to stoprunning a bullpen based on conventional roles and start running it to wingames.

THE NUMBERS

DON'T LIE
.392

Averaged 2008on-base percentage of Jason Giambi (.373) and Matt Holliday (.409). TheMoneyball A's lacked efficiency in their signature stat last year, a .318 OBPthat was tied for the majors' second worst. The addition of those two patientsluggers, plus shortstop Orlando Cabrera (.334 OBP), is a huge upgrade over thebenched Bobby Crosby (.296) and the departed Emil Brown (.297) and CarlosGonzalez (.273).

The Lineup
With 2008 statistics

Manager BobGeren
THIRD SEASON WITH ATHLETICS

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

RYAN SWEENEY CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 242 .286 5 45 9
ORLANDO CABRERA

[NEWACQUISITION]

SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 87 .281 8 57 19
JASON GIAMBI

[NEWACQUISITION]

1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 82 .247 32 96 2
MATT HOLLIDAY

[NEWACQUISITION]

LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 20 .321 25 88 28
ERIC CHAVEZ 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 260 .247 2 14 0
JACK CUST DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 99 .231 33 77 0
KURT SUZUKI C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 245 .279 7 42 2
MARK ELLIS 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 216 .233 12 41 14
TRAVIS BUCK RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 277 .226 7 25 1
BENCH
NOMAR GARCIAPARRA

[NEWACQUISITION]

IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 284 .264 8 28 1
RAJAI DAVIS OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 221 .243 3 19 29

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Justin Duchscherer 86 10 8 6.0 1.00 2.54
LH Dallas Braden 162 5 4 5.2 1.42 4.14
RH Sean Gallagher 113 5 7 8.0 1.53 5.15
LH Dana Eveland 166 9 9 6.3 1.48 4.34
LH Brett Anderson (R)* 192 2 1 11.0 1.16 2.61
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Joey Devine 101 6 1 9.7 0.83 0.59
RH Brad Ziegler 75 3 11 4.5 1.16 1.06
RH Russ Springer

[NEWACQUISITION]

218 2 0 8.1 1.13 2.32

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie
*Double A stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
June 23, 2003

Nobody in baseball history has scored more runs,stolen more bases, drawn more walks or provided more entertainment (some of itunintended) for so many teams than Rickey Henley Henderson, the greatestleadoff hitter ever, a superstar so big that his middle and last names becamesuperfluous. "I don't know how to put into words how fortunate I was tospend time around one of the icons of the game," says San Diego Padrescloser Trevor Hoffman. "I can't comprehend that yet. Years from now,though, I'll be able to say I played with Rickey Henderson, and I imagine itwill be like saying I played with Babe Ruth."
—TOM VERDUCCI

For free access to all Athletics stories andphotographs from the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOJOHN BIEVEROUT OF THIN AIR As a Rockie, Holliday batted 77 points and slugged 190 points lower on the road than he did at Coors Field. PHOTOBEN MARGOT/AP (ZIEGLER) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)