Oakland Athletics Media Day Interview- Farhan Zaidi, Director of Baseball Operations
Here is the interview that was done with the Director of Baseball Operations for the Oakland Athletics, Farhan Zaidi. People got right into questions about Grant Green, what are some of the metrics that the A’s are looking at now, and the surprise that Brandon Moss has been for the team. So check out the transcript and let me know what you think:
Question: “Farhan, one guy i’m curious of in the system is Grant Green. Obviously, former number one draft pick who moved around a lot this year. Curious to know how you feel about his future in the field and at the plate?”
Farhan Zaidi: “Coming out guns blazing here” (Laughter) “Uh well look you know the reason we drafted Grant and one of the reasons we still feel great about him as a prospect is his hitting ability. I mean, as someone who does a lot of our analysis, I know you look at a lot at how a guy’s minor league stats translate to the major league level. Major league equivalents, which you guys are all familiar with I’m sure. You know, there are some guys who’s talent kind of just exceeds or projects past what you get on those MLE’s. If you look at what Grant did in Triple-A this year versus what he did in Double-A, he cuts his strikeouts down a lot and his numbers were up across the board. I think that was more in line from with what we were expecting out of him then what we saw of him last year in double A. He can hit and we’re just trying to figure out defensively A- Where he can be an asset to the team and B- how to fit him into our needs.
There is sort of two different levels of prospects. There’s sort of guys in maybe A ball and below where you just want them to be where they are most comfortable or where their value is maximized. Then you have guys that are in Double A and Triple A when you really start having to look at your big league depth chart and saying where is this guy gonna play for us. And you know with Grant, we are sorta trying to answer the latter set of questions. I mean it’s becoming more immediate and he’s a guy that I think will be in camp with us next year with a chance to make the team.
So right now I couldn’t tell you what position he’s gonna play or how he fits in but the fact that he’s moved around this year has really given us a lot of options which is always a good thing.”
Question: “Can you see that there’s a possibility that he’s competing for some kind of role next year?”
FZ: “Yeah absolutely, given the year that he’s had.”
Question: “Carter and Donaldson are two guys who’ve had a struggle for year ago even in Triple A and just suddenly this year just clicked. Any idea what it was and how they turned the corner? Was it some kind of mental thing or some kind of adjustment? ”
FZ: “Yeah, I don’t know, it’s sort of I think been a lesson to us and I think something that hits all front offices at one point or another. Is that you can just try and give guys as much rope as possible because ya know this transition from Triple A to the Big Leagues is so tough. ya know sometimes it comes down to what a guy does in his first 3 or 4 at bats after he comes up. If a guys has a good game when he comes up, he can just kinda build off that momentum and go from there. And if he goes 0 for 4 with a couple of punch-outs you can get in a downward spiral. So I really think that with those guys, I think that if you go back and literally look at the first game after they came up and started succeeding I think they were able to do some positive things and build on that. And I don’t mean to reduce it to such a simple thing but that’s how it is sometimes. I was having a conversation with somebody about this the other day, and I said these guys, we traded for Chris Carter in the off-season of 07-08 and we got Donaldson in the Rich Harden deal with the Cubs and I haven’t thought about that one in a while.
Comment: “You barely remember that one” (Said in jest)
FZ: “Yeah so, ya know he was a catcher at the time too so I think that one is you just, sometimes it’s a matter of just clicking and getting to a sort of different level of comfort for these guys. Which I think they have gotten at and I think for us it’s just a lesson that you just want to give these guys as many opportunities as possible because sometimes it’s just chance or good fortune that they get on or build some sort of positive momentum.
Question: “Similarly, its seems like it’s almost been a strategy going after these former top prospects like Moss and Blackley. Is that something that you guys are going for if you can’t get a current top prospect but we can get a guy who was supposed to be awesome 3 years ago?”
FZ: ” I wouldn’t say its a strategy so much that guys like that. When there is a guys we liked at some point, whatever that point was, we try to valuate why we like them, how they might look different now, and how they might do with a Bi League opportunity if they got it.
Ya know, Brandon Moss was a guy that when we signed as a minor league Free Agent. We looked at what he did in the second half of the year in Triple A last year. He went to winter ball, if you line up his numbers with Yoenis’s numbers in the Dominican Winter Ball Playoffs, I mean Brandon Moss was the best player in that playoffs by a mile. Then he came into Big League camp and he was our best hitter and we started saying you know this might be a case where something just clicks with a guy. That’s sort of where as an analyst you sort of have to throw whatever 2012 projections you had made for Brandon Moss out the window. Because guys do change, something clicks with guys and at that point you know, sorta being able to update your priors about a guy there is no one formula for how to do that. You kinda just have to take the information as it comes in and go with it and Blackley was a guys who we picked up to be a ling reliever in the pen for us. He did well and built that momentum and became a guy who made a lot for important starts for us.
There is no, umm, it’s probably giving us a little too much credit to say it’s a strategy. But every pick up that we make is sort of based on an accumulation of a lot of information and data that we are using and evaluating theses guys.”
Question: “This year and next year, even with Braden and McCarthy going down and Colon being gone, there is no lack of depth or wealth in the system. There seem to be 10 guys competing for 6 or 7 bullpen spots. Is there any kind of secret sauce that you got going on? What is that?”
FZ: (Slight laugh) “Well don’t tell us that we have too much depth because we are constantly in a state of panic about pitching. And I say that in jest but we talk about this every off-season, we don’t build a 5 man rotation. We build a 162 game rotation. These days, there are very few guys that you can just assume are gonna make 32 starts-34 starts and pitch 200 innings. I mean when you look at a lot of the projection systems out there and they usually project some regression for guys and you know they all sort of have guys for 170-180 innings max. And those are guys that are like work horse guys and we kind of have to take that view as well. But there’s really no guy that you can plug in and say alright 1 out of 5 rotation spots is taken care of. So we sort of tried to build a set of options, 8,9,10,11 deep of starting pitchers that we think ya know. if we go into a game with this guy starting we feel good about the game. Ya know, attrition takes care of more then you would ever wish it would when those games come about.
So yeah, I think we do that and I don’t think that is unique to us. I think a lot of teams think about it that way. You have to be worried about, your Triple A rotation has to be full of guys that you think can come up and do the job for you if need be because it will happen. ”
Question: (Couldn’t make out first part of Question) “Which of the young players has far exceeded your personal expectations?”
FZ: “Umm, that’s a tough one. Ya know, I would say just in terms of the immediacy of his impact I would say Jarrod Parker. Just because coming into the year, he was a guy that we thought had a really, really high ceiling. But coming off of Tommy John and spending most of last year in Double A, ya know it was and woulda been a lot to ask for him to come up and do what he did. So I wouldn’t say I’m sort of surprised by what he’s done, I’m just surprised by how quickly it happened. Because he was a guy we wanted to see start the year in Triple A where he did start. And spend a good amount of time there and sort of push the issue to get up here. Just the timetable is what’s surprised me most.
Question: “When you’re making decisions are you listening to sportstalk radio, newspapers, or expert opinions outside of your own little A’s family? Or do you just kinda make decisions in a vacuum and take all of the emotion out of it. At some point there seems like there are some decent ideas out there but there’s also a lot of crazy fans who, you have no basis for their (inaudible)”
FZ: “I just honestly, like we don’t really have time to sort of survey public opinion and I don’t mean that in any sort of derisive way. Because I agree with you, there are a lot of people out there, fans of us, or people that just write their own analyst blogs that i think do terrific work and come up with terrific ideas. But you know it’s basically our job to think about this team 24-7. So almost anything that’s out there we’ve at least thought about. We might not make the right decision about it, we might be ultimately wrong in our evaluation but there are only so many players and so many decisions we have to make and we’re just thinking about this all the time. I mean I get sent stuff by people and I do think that our sort of fans and bloggers are among the if not the smartest and most savvy in Baseball. And I’m not trying to ya know (laughs).. I think that group doesn’t always agree with things that we do and a lot of times it’s because of information that we have that they don’t have.
Even if it’s just our scouting reports, we may bet on a player that the popular opinion isn’t very string on because we have a couple of scouting reports that really liked a certain player. So there’s a little bit of Information Asymmetry there where I don’t think that we are necessarily dealing with the same set of information. Sometimes that works against us because maybe we put too much weight into those scouting reports. So I think a lot of times, I think what happens a lot is that you can really see people thinking in concert with us and sort of the logic behind some of our moves. I think our fans can often articulate better than anybody else.”
Question: “One of the biggest stories from the farm system has been the rise of Dan Straily. I would think as a (inaudible) farm system but obviously way more. Did you see this coming, or how did you expect or what expectations did you have with a guy like Straiiy coming into the year? What sort of expectations did you put on him?”
FZ: “I think if you, um, with a guy like Straily, I really think the year that he got on the radar for us as an organization was 2011. the year that he had in the Cal (Or Cow) League, where if you look at those numbers and adjust for the year and environment that was a really impressive performance. I think before that i would have said he was a good organizational guy, he had a good year in the Midwest league. last year to do what he did in the CAL league he started showing some plus stuff. Some plus velocity, he was a guy that we started saying that could be part of the plan going forward.
Now look he wasn’t in Big League camp so don’t give us to much credit. But he was a guy that I would have said at the beginning of the year I could see him spending most of his year in Double A and if he had a similarly good year move up to triple A and then sort of be on the radar. Again a little bit like Parker, I think the most impressive thing about what he’s done is just the speed and really forcing the issue. Being so good in double A we had to move up and being so good in triple A that when the opportunity presented itself we brought him up here. I wouldn’t say it’s totally out of the blue but i would say he’s totally blown by everyone’s expectations in a terrific way.”
Question: “Going back a little bit to what you talked about with Parker and relating it to what the Washington Nationals are doing with Strasburg also coming off of Tommy John surgery, considering the run that the A”s have been on heading into the post-season has there ever been any consideration for not just scaling back his innings, flat out shutting him down.”
FZ: “Yeah, I mean, I totally respect the Nationals decision to do what they did with Strasburg. I think a lot of the criticism of them that’s been out there has been a little bit unfair and again I think working in a front office you can kinda empathize with other front offices. You know cuz they have a set of information that maybe the broader public is not privy to. Whether it’s how he’s feeling, whether he’s sort of telling their manager and their front office he has some signs of fatigue. We don’t know that, um, our feeling as an organization about these guys is really just you have to take them on a case by case basis. And I just think of all the medical data out there about Tommy John guys coming back from surgery, I haven’t really ever seen anything conclusive saying a guy should not throw more than this many innings.
I trust our case by case evaluation of a player. What the doctor’s are saying about this player, what the players saying himself, what our training staff is saying. I trust that contextual information a lot more than any statistical model in this case because those models don’t capture all that information. So with Jarrod, that is what we’re going on how he feels, how the coaching staff and training staff and how our medical people think he feels. And he feels great and that is why we’ve kind of approached him the way we have and haven’t really set a hard and fast rule. I think that is the way we’re always going to do it with pitchers until somebody comes up with a model that we look at and say “Yes, that model clearly says that a guy should not throw more than this many innings.” Until that time, you just have to take each guy on a case by case basis.”
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