Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 11/5/11

The Athletics have been the subject of recent conversation among sports fans and non-sport fans alike because of the popularity of the movie Moneyball. Billy Beane’s merit as a general manager has also been widely discussed. Has “moneyball” been successful? If so, then why have the Athletics not won a ring during his tenure as general manager or made the playoffs since 2006? There are many ways to tackle those questions. Coming into 2011, many analysts picked the A’s as a sleeper team in the American League West due to a strong young pitching staff, and a solid core of veteran position players. As we know now, things went horribly wrong for the A’s. Trevor Cahill’s 2010 BABIP of .236 proved unsustainable, and Brett Anderson had Tommy John surgery in July. Players like David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui had terrible years by their own standards, and Opening Day first baseman Daric Barton found himself in AAA Sacramento by the end of June. Josh Willingham, the A’s best player last year, will probably be leaving via free agency, along with the likes of Coco Crisp, DeJesus, and Matsui. While Beane could look outside the organization to replace those players, he has a number of intriguing in-house options.

Over the past several years, Beane has traded for an interesting selection of players who were once top prospects who have lost some of their luster. Of the four players I’m going to focus on, two were top prospects at the time Beane acquired them, and two had seen their stocks fall considerably. The three true outcomes apply heavily to three out of the four players. For those who don’t know what that means, three true outcome players are those who have a high percentage of plate appearances ending in a walk, home run, or strikeout. Three true outcome players tend to be hulking bat-first corner outfielders or first basemen. Willingham, despite ranking 7th in the MLB in TTO% (Three True Outcome%) at 41.7 according to Fan Graphs, is not one of those players. The fun part about all of this is that these players could be viewed as pretty much interchangeable, as most of them play the same position. Their names are: Kila Ka’aihue, Michael Taylor, Chris Carter and Brandon Allen.

Let’s start off with the guy who has the most MLB experience – Brandon Allen. Allen and Jordan Norberto were acquired at the trade deadline from the Arizona Diamondbacks for reliever Brad Ziegler. Allen was drafted by the White Sox and traded to Arizona for reliever Tony Peña. For a little while, it seemed as if Allen was going to be the Diamondbacks’ first baseman of the future after he destroyed pitching in the upper minor leagues. Yes, AAA Reno is part of the hitter’s paradise otherwise known as the Pacific Coast League, but an ISO of .267 in 2010 is certainly nothing to scoff at. Allen also played some left field for the Diamondbacks in 2010, and it seemed that the Diamondbacks would eventually choose his potent bat over Gerardo Parra’s strong defense. However, lack of production for the big club compounded by Parra’s solid offensive season and the presence of Paul Goldschmidt made Allen expendable.

Allen’s major problem in the MLB has been his strikeout rate. In 367 plate appearances over parts of three seasons, Allen has struck out over a third of the time. His inability to make contact has resulted in a triple slash line of .210/.297/.383, which screams utility infielder, not power prospect. Allen struck out “only” 26.4% of the time at AAA last year, but that number was 34.9% in the MLB. However, his TTO% in the show was similar to AAA. Last year, Allen’s TTO% at AAA was a ridiculous 47.1%, compared to a 44.1% in the MLB. The reason it was so high in AAA was because Allen walked much more frequently in the minors than he did between the A’s and Diamondbacks. Although Allen only hit six homeruns in 195 MLB plate appearances this year his power is legit. He managed hit one into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium in August, a feat matched only by someone nicknamed “Russell the Muscle”.  When Beane acquired Allen from Arizona two things immediately entered my mind. The first was that Allen would have the opportunity play everyday since the A’s first base situation was very weak. The second was that maybe the A’s had given up on Chris Carter, another power hitting first base prospect whose career path is very similar to Allen’s.

Chris Carter is also a product of the White Sox farm system. In December of 2007, the Diamondbacks thought highly enough of Carter to trade former first round pick Carlos Quentin for him straight up. Less than two weeks later, Carter was on his way to Oakland with Brett Anderson and Carlos Gonzalez among others, for Dan Haren and a minor league reliever. In 2008, Carter destroyed pitching in high A ball and reached AAA for a cup of coffee in 2009 after a strong showing in the Texas League. Coming into 2010, Carter was ranked the 28th best prospect by Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him 33rd. Despite being below average defensively, Law wrote, “even in Oakland’s ballpark he should be good for 30 homers a year and a solid on-base percentage by his peak.” Carter continued to mash in 2010, and hit 31 homeruns off AAA pitchers before being rewarded with a promotion to Oakland.

Carter made his MLB debut on August 9th and promptly went hitless in his first twenty plate appearances, while striking out nine times. A week after being called up, Carter had been optioned back to Sacramento. He resurfaced about a month later and went hitless in his next thirteen plate appearances before finally notching his first against Tony Peña. Carter finished the 2010 season with a paltry .186/.256/.329 line in 78 plate appearances. To take one positive out of his cup of coffee in the show, Carter struck out only twelve times in his fifty September plate appearances, after his poor showing in that department in his August cameo. Carter’s prospect stock fell going into this year and he did little to regain his previous status. After Daric Barton’s struggles led to a ticket to AAA, Carter was recalled in late June to provide an answer to the A’s lack of productivity from their first basemen. He tanked once again in a small sample size, hitting .133 with no extra base hits in 32 plate appearances before joining Barton in Sacramento. Carter’s conclusion to the 2011 season included a thumb injury and more futility in a few September at bats, leaving his future in doubt.

Carter’s TTO% in AAA this year was a robust 42.1%. He struck out in about a quarter of the time and despite the thumb injury, managed to hit 18 home runs in 344 plate appearances. In a full season of AAA ball last year in 2010, Carter’s TTO% was 43.8. Much like Brandon Allen, Carter’s minor league power hitting prowess hasn’t translated to the MLB. However, unlike Allen, Carter suffers from a terrible BABIP in the major leagues. Allen has a BABIP of .305 in the show, while Carter’s is very low at .225. Granted, the sample size is small and there are signs for hope in Carter’s line drive% of 37.5. The A’s had Carter play left field in the past and despite the fact that he isn’t known for his glove, a little versatility can’t ever hurt. However, Carter will never be relevant if his ability to hit baseballs a long way with regularity does not translate to the MLB.

Unlike Carter and Allen, Michael Taylor is not a product of the Chicago White Sox farm system, and does not play first base. He is by far the best athlete of the group and the player who is least likely to produce one of the three true outcomes. The Phillies drafted Taylor in the 5th round of the 2007 draft, and after struggling in his short-season debut he quickly became one of the team’s top prospects. He split 2008 between the Sally and Florida State leagues, destroying pitching in both places and finishing with a .346/.412/.557 line over both levels, with nineteen homeruns and fifteen stolen bases. Taylor didn’t slow down in 2009, posting a .333/.408/.569 line in AA, before holding his own in 128 AAA plate appearances at AAA to end the season. It seemed as if Taylor and Domonic Brown were going to form an impressive tandem in the Phillies’ outfield for years to come. However, it was not meant to be. In the 2009 offseason, Taylor was traded to the Blue Jays with Kyle Drabek and Travis d’Arnaud for some pitcher named Halladay. Taylor’s stay in Toronto didn’t last long, as he was traded to Oakland later that day for prospect Brett Wallace.

Coming into the 2010 season, Taylor had a lot of hype attached to his name. Baseball America ranked him the 29th best prospect in the game, one slot behind Chris Carter and Keith Law ranked Taylor 24th. In Law’s write up, he noted that despite the fact he ranked Brett Wallace higher on his list, Taylor had the potential to have a higher impact because of his ability to save runs in the field. However, Taylor took step backward in 2010, hitting only .272/.360/.456 with six home runs in the usually hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. He rebounded nicely in 2011 at Sacramento, regained some of his lost power and posted an ISO of .183 compared to .122 in 2010. Taylor got a cup of coffee in Oakland in September, hitting .200 with a home run in 35 plate appearances. Taylor posted a TTO% of 35.5 in AAA last year, the lowest percentage of the four players. Unlike Carter, Allen and Ka’aihue, Taylor is recognized for his athletic potential and his ability to steal bases. While Taylor’s star potential from the Philadelphia system has since faded somewhat, he would be quite beneficial to the Athletics’ outfield if he can replicate his 2011 season at AAA for the big club.

The A’s acquired Kila Ka’aihue a little over a month ago from the Royals. He had been in the organization since 2002, when he signed out of high school. Ka’aihue’s rise through the Royals’ system was a slow one, as he stalled at AA for a couple years before posting a line of .314/.463/.624 with 26 home runs in 376 plate appearances for Northwest Arkansas in 2008.  Those numbers, combined with an impressive showing in 33 games at AAA Omaha led to Ka’aihue’s September call up. He started the 2009 season in Omaha and didn’t reach the big leagues after not performing as well as expected. Ka’aihue regained his stroke in 2010 at Omaha, posting a .322/.465/.601 line with 24 home runs in 416 plate appearances with a TTO% of 43.6%. Aside from a two game stint in the big leagues in early May, Ka’aihue got the call in August and was the Royals primary DH for the rest of the season, while also getting some starts at first base. He did little to justify the playing time though, putting up a .217/.307./394 line in 206 plate appearances, which raised many questions about Ka’aihue’s future.

Ka’aihue entered 2011 with a lot to prove. He was about to turn 27 and was beginning to be labeled as a “AAAA” player. In order to fend off a promotion for top prospect Eric Hosmer, Ka’aihue was going to need to hit like he had in Omaha in 2010. At the conclusion of Spring Training, Ka’aihue was penciled in to split time with Billy Butler between first base and DH. He did just the opposite, hitting .195 in just under 100 plate appearances. Hosmer on the other hand hit .439/.525/.582 in his first 26 games at the AAA level. Hosmer’s ridiculous start combined with his prospect status and Ka’aihue’s terrible start made it easy for the Royals to swap the two players in the beginning of May. Hosmer never looked back and will probably be the American League Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, Ka’aihue toiled away in Omaha, posting an ISO of .161, which was his worst in a full minor league season since 2006 during his first crack at AA. Hosmer’s prowess combined with Billy Butler being one of the best hitters in the league made Ka’aihue expendable and he was waived and eventually traded to Oakland at the end of the 2011 season.

So, who makes the biggest impact this season? I’m going to say it’ll be Michael Taylor. I’m probably unqualified to say that because he is the only one out of the four players I have never seen play. However, Taylor’s athleticism combined with the fact that he has sucked the least in the big leagues out of the other players leads me to believe that he is the right pick. The fact that he is a primary outfielder who won’t hurt his team in the field also helps his case. It will be interesting to see who is the A’s starting first baseman come opening day. The organization seems to have an infatuation with Daric Barton, who adds value with his glove and ability to get on base, but is more of the Casey Kotchman variety than Prince Fielder. His skill set reminds me of personal favorite Scott Hatteberg, which could be the explanation why the A’s are high on him also. Oakland has now attempted to let Chris Carter run with the first base job on two separate occasions, so it remains to be seen if he will get a third try. My guess is that Brandon Allen will be the man come opening day, but he will be on a short leash. If Ka’aihue were to turn into the 2012 version of Jack Cust, the ultimate three true outcome player, the A’s would probably be ecstatic, since they are in desperate need of power production. Ka’aihue would be ecstatic as well, because he is probably the player from the group who is most rapidly running out of chances. If he fails in another extended try, the cries of “AAAA” will be louder than ever. There can be a solid argument made for playing time for Carter, Allen, Ka’aihue and Taylor. However, I would be very surprised if we see each of the four players in the lineup at one time, since something tells me that the days of playing the outfield are over for both Carter and Allen. Look out for these four players when Spring Training rolls around, since it would be surprising if Oakland goes on a free agent spending frenzy. If two of the four players breakout this season, Beane will look like a genius. If none do, the A’s will once again have to dive into the scrap heap with their fingers crossed.

-Cohen

 

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