Why Did the A’s Bid for Iwakuma?

When it was announced that the A’s had won the bidding for Japanese RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, there were generally two reactions:

1. Who knew the A’s had any money?

2. Why are they spending it on a pitcher, when their starters had the lowest ERA in baseball last year?

In fact, as reports grew over the weekend that the A’s may have been the high bidder, speculation began to grow about the A’s acquiring Iwakuma in an attempt to collect depth to make a trade for a hitter. This may actually be their plan, but I’d suggest an alternative theory – the A’s starting pitching actually did need improvement.

Yes, they posted a 3.47 ERA, just ahead of St. Louis and San Francisco for the lowest among rotations in baseball last year. However, bringing back last year’s group wasn’t likely to offer the same success, as their 4.24 xFIP tied them for just the 13th-best mark in the game. The driving force behind the low ERA from their starters – a .275 BABIP (lowest in baseball) and a 74.7% LOB% (5th highest) are things that are less predictive than core performance markers such as walk rate and strikeout rate.

That doesn’t mean it was all luck, of course. Part of the A’s low BABIP (and it’s result, a lot of stranded runners) was almost certainly due to the defensive prowess of their position players. The A’s had a team UZR of +38.9, led by the best defensive infield in baseball and an outfield that often contained multiple center fielders. Their ballpark, which has the most foul territory of any in baseball, also helps keep their BABIP down. However, no matter how good your defense is, or how big your park, no team has been able to sustain an ERA three quarters of a run lower than their xFIP for any length of time. There was likely some good fortune mixed in there as well.

The ability to take advantage of the context doesn’t just belong to the pitchers Oakland already has on their roster, either. Iwakuma will benefit from the park and the defense in a similar way, but also offers the potential to be a better starter than everyone on the staff not named Brett Anderson. As a strike-throwing groundballer from Japan, the comparisons to Hiroki Kuroda are natural, and Kuroda has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since arriving in the states two years ago.

The A’s almost certainly understand that Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, and Trevor Cahill were not as good as their ERAs suggest. They very well may be planning on selling high on one of those three, hoping to use their traditional numbers to acquire a position player that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain. However, there’s also the possibility that the A’s recognize that they’re not going to get the same production out of their rotation in 2011 as they got a year ago, and they were simply taking a proactive step to upgrade an area of the roster that is likely to regress next year.




Print This Post



Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


62 Responses to “Why Did the A’s Bid for Iwakuma?”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Jeremy says:

    Didn’t they make big offers to Beltre and Scutaro last year? Also they outbid everyone for Ynoa.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • PL says:

      They finished in second place for Aroldis Chapman too.

      It was reported that they offered Beltre 3/36 and Scutaro 2/18 and Furcal 3/40, not to mention the gigantic overpay of 1/10 for Ben Sheets last year. Newer owner Lew Wolffe has been trying to spend money for years, its the players who have refused to come play in Oakland.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • T-Bone says:

        No, they didn’t finish second with Chapman.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Matt Defalco says:

        Toronto was second for Chapman. It was basically a foregone conclusion at the end that the Jays were going to get him until the Reds came out of nowhere.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • PL says:

        @T-Bone @Matt Defalco

        Take up this “Toronto was second” nonsense with Buster Olney:

        http://twitter.com/Buster_ESPN/status/7613351749

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • T-Bone says:

        Noted. I had heard from multiple sources (newspaper articles at the time) that Toronto had finished second, after they jumped the bidding into the mid-twenties. The Jays apparently didn’t drop out right away after the bidding continued to escalate.

        Although vague, I’ll take Olney’s tweet as a reason to think the A’s finished second. It’s no more vague than the newspaper reports of the time that suggested the Jays were “finalists” in the bidding.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Holier says:

    Well, Cahill could always gain another 47 runs with his fastball this year and defy regression.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. tbr says:

    “Who knew the A’s had any money?”

    You mean you didn’t notice all the money Billy Beane threw around last winter? $5.25 plus a signing bonus to Coco Crisp coming off multiple shoulder surgeries in 2009? $10 million to Ben Sheets when he didn’t pitch at all in 2009? Looks like a man with money to burn to me.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jacob Jackson says:

      In his defense, the Crisp signing looked very smart at the time and still looks smart.

      He took the only legitimate center fielder off the 2011 FA market by tacking on a team option when he signed him in 2010.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Danmay says:

    Two notes:

    1. While their peripherals suggest that a 3.47 ERA shouldn’t be expected I think it is at least worth acknowledging that Anderson, Cahill, Gonzalez, and Mazzaro could all improve with another year’s expirience.

    2. “Who knew the A’s had any money”? I would guess that most Fangraphs readers are aware of the money coming off of Oakland’s books.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dustin says:

      For those that don’t, the A’s are no longer paying Eric Chavez $12 million+, Ben Sheets $10 million, and to a lesser extent, Justin Duchscherer $1.75 million this year.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Kevin says:

    If they trade away Braden or another 3,4,5, pitcher, they could potentially go up in both arenas, assuming Iwakuma pans out as a #2 starter. That sounds like good ‘big picture’ scope from BB.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. SF 55 for life says:

    With the defense the A’s have they could conceivably out pitch their FIP/xFIP for the next couple of years. Maybe not at the same level, but I think their defense is THAT good. With the way many organizations are now understanding the importance of defensive independent pitching statistics it is probable that the market for those types will be inflated to a level where the A’s can no longer invest. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to get pitchers who pitch to the A’s strengths? Meaning ground ballers (playing into their ability to pick it in the infield) who don’t necessarily have a good FIP/xFIP. Sure they won’t necessarily be “good” pitchers but they could achieve good results and they shouldn’t cost too much because of the way teams are starting to overvalue DIPS. For example pitchers like Brad Bergesen, Paul Maholm, Nick Blackburn, Chris Volstad, etc. How much could those types cost in a trade?

    Now I don’t necessarily understand this signing, I’m guessing that they will move a starter in a trade, probably one of the ones who was “lucky” this season, for a bat. They freed up a lot of salary when Chavez’s contract ran out add in Ben Sheets as well and they have a considerable amount of money left over.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Flharfh says:

    Maybe the A’s are going to go after Prince Fielder with their SP depth? Maybe a blockbuster deal of multiple SPs for Fielder and Casey McGhee?

    Fielder immediately becomes the best hitter in their lineup, McGhee the third or fourth best. Fielder can DH and spell Barton at 1B, McGhee fills a hole at 3B.

    The Brewers get at least two major league ready SPs back from the A’s, (or one and prospects) exactly what they want. Plus, 3B is open for Matt Gamel, though they would need to sign a stopgap at 1B (a Branyan or Laroche type?)

    A’s lose a little at the back end of the rotation, but they immediately become contenders in the AL West with a solid rotation and hitters Fielder, McGhee, Barton, Ellis, Suzuki, etc.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • SF 55 for life says:

      I don’t see this happening at all. Fielder is going to be an extremely tough sell to other teams. He is clearly going to ask for Ryan Howard-like money. He really isn’t worth anything near that amount, especially considering his body type. He will probably end up being a DH one day.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Anonymoose says:

        Ah, yes. Blatantly wrong, unsubstantiated claims. Seems to be par for the course for anybody talking about Fielder outside of Milwaukee.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • PL says:

      Daric Barton will be 25 next year, there’s no reason why he would need rest from playing a position that requires zero running skills. Fielder would be an expensive upgrade over Cust at DH. The Brewers simply do not have what the A’s need (a corner OF, a better hitting 3B).

      I’m thinking Beane is pulling a target out of nowhere. Colby Rasmus? David Wright? I think he has enough to get a player like that. Beane’s looking for that game-changer that the Rangers had (Hamilton) that the A’s didnt last year. Oakland played replacement-level players in the corner OF spots for the most part of last year, if you subtract Hamiltons 8 WAR and replace him with a Raj Davis-type, then all of a sudden the A’s and Rangers become very a close pennant race in 2010. If they pull off a coup and get Crawford they would turn into a serious title contender in 2011.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Nick T says:

        So the A’s are a Josh Hamilton away from contention? Good luck finding that animal. It’s nowhere to be seen.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ptbnl says:

        The A’s/Rangers race would also have been tighter but for the unbalanced interleague schedule; the A’s went 4-8 against the Giants, Cardinals and Reds, while the Rangers went 10-2 against the Astros, Brewers and Marlins.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • alexmullen4180 says:

        and getting David Wright may have gotten a bit easier because of the relationship between him and Sandy Alderson

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Anonymoose says:

        The Athletics could use a player like McGehee. It’s the Athletics who simply do not have what the Brewers need (i.e. pitching that’s worth giving up core players)

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DickAlmighty says:

        I think you mean Fielder would be a MASSIVE upgrade over Cust at DH. Jack Cust stinks. And he’s getting stinkier every year. He’s the classic late-bloomer-early-fader. Other than Billy Beane (who has a man-crush on Cust), I’m not sure there’s a GM in the game who’d give him more than the league minium.

        I don’t think the A’s can get Fielder, because I think the Brewers are going to ask for the moon and the stars to get him, and because Beane doesn’t tend to overpay in trades (the Matt Holliday deal notwithstanding), but the idea that Fielder is merely an “expensive upgrade” over Cust is dead wrong. Fielder would be a major, major boost to the A’s offense. McGahee would be a nice add (although I fear him being Keith Ginter Part Two), but getting Fielder and McGahee would mean the A’s would have to empty their entire farm system… and that’s not happening.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • PL says:

        @DickAlmighty

        Beane sent Jack Cust down in favor of Jake Fox this season, so saying “Beane has a mancrush on him” makes you look like a clueless fool. He was forced to use him, and Cust rewarded him by being the 4th best DH in baseball this year, even after missing 6 weeks due to poor front office decisions.

        Take a look for yourself:
        http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=dh&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=90&type=6&season=2010&month=0

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Sam says:

      Plus if I remember Moneyball correctly, Billy Beane specifically avoided Fielder in the 2002 draft due to concerns about his body type.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • PL says:

        Which is why he signed Jeremy Brown.

        *sigh*

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        I guess they were selling jeans. They were just out of Husky size.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Paul Thomas says:

        Fielder was drafted before the A’s picked. The reason why he came up is that Beane was rooting for him to be taken early so that Nick Swisher would fall to the A’s.

        It’s hard to fault a GM for pining after Nick Swisher, who’s quite an excellent player.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. jss says:

    Neyer floats the possibility that the A’s bid was to block other teams from signing him. No idea if it’s true, but interesting.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason says:

      Doubt it. The A’s have a working relationship with Rakuten and I assume they wouldn’t want to sour that with a block of the posting process. I also would guess that Selig would come down hard on any team that did this.

      Interesting idea though. I wonder if one team will try this before rules are put into place to prevent it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Joseph says:

    Yeah, the A’s don’t have money idea should be tossed out the window. They have a crappy stadium, but that has more to do with the city than lack of funds. They were a close second in the Chapman sweepstakes, signed Ynoa, and signed a Venezuelan 3B last year for 2.2 million.

    It’s a swift move, and totally undermines the Mariners who were also the runner’s up to get Kuroda, despite usually being the assumed favorites for Japanese players moving abroad.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. scatterbrian says:

    “1. Who knew the A’s had any money?”

    Most people who pay attention to this sort of thing.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Choo says:

      The A’s are still on a tight budget overall ($60 mil or so), but they have cash to burn this winter. Eric Chavez can finally toss his Albert Belle jersey in the hamper as he’s virtually off the books in 2011 (due $3 mil). After that, they have Kurt Suzuki at $3.5 mil, Brett Anderson at $1.3, a few harmless arb cases to weed through, and a handful of role players making league minimum. That’s it. Billy Beane projects to be very busy over the next few months, especially if he’s still geeked out about the Premiership.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Tim_the_Beaver says:

    Money: see comments above (Sheets and Chavez….)

    Why pitcher: tough to see any free agent hitters that fit well, considering likely bidding wars, and aversion to long-term expensive contracts. Thus, it makes more sense to spend this 1-time fee to get a pitcher, then explore a trade for a bat.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. TexasRanger says:

    If I were them I’d dump Cahill on some poor unsuspecting gm with some offensive talent

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • PL says:

      Sin-Shoo Choo for Trevor Cahill who says no?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • R M says:

      Unsuspecting? This is another case of wannabe sabermatricians throwing around xFIP like it’s the absolute truth. Did it ever occur to you that Cahill is 22 years old and could have easily been in AA last year? 2011 means he will be year older with a year more experience under his belt. To write him off as a huge regression candidate is foolish. He obviously isn’t going to post a sub-3 ERA, but I don’t think it will be much above the 3.5-3.7 range.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Jack Nugent says:

    Hiroki Kuroda has been good no doubt, but I think calling him one of the best starters in baseball is just a slight overstatement.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Alireza says:

    Remember that the A’s benefit heavily from revenue sharing and were second to the Marlins on the MLBPA’s list for grievance filings for underspending. They spent money to avoid just such a grievance, as it would likely be sustained.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. NEPP says:

    Why would they get more pitching?

    I think the answer to that one sit right across the Bay from them. The Giants basically won using the same model as Billy Beane did when he had Hudson, Mulder, & Zito and a bunch of misc pieces on offense. The Giants may have struck lightning one time but they proved that that model DOES work occasionally.

    Besides, you can never have too much pitching.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • I would proffer another angle. To me, the A’s appear in recent years to be copying the Giants. Going after the same players, building up a nice cadre of young starting pitching, signing older free agents. They have also picked up a lot of players that the Giants had released or got rid of for one reason or another.

      There is a key difference, though. The Giants go for power arms and the closer as a key component. According to Baseball Prospectus research, teams with high K/9 pitching staffs and a closer with a high WRXL are key elements for deepening your run in the playoffs (doesn’t guarantee anything, just means that it is tied to going deeper into the playoffs). The Giants have both.

      The A’s go for soft-tossing guys and think closers are easily replaceable. The Giants starter with the worse K/9 is Cain and his rate would have nearly led the A’s. And the A’s merry-go-round at closer continues again. Plus, the Giants went and picked up power arm Casilla after the A’s let him go, and he was a key component of the bullpen down the stretch.

      Totally different model, then and now.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Paul Thomas says:

        Frickin’ hilarious.

        You keep telling yourself that.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Adam says:

        The A’s closer was ROY of the year in 2009. And awesome when healthy in 2010. That’s all.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • TD says:

        Copying the Giants? Really? When did the A’s sign a Barry Zito? An Aaron Rowand? A Rentaria? Granted the Giants had great pitching, but they got really lucky this year… SD losing streak, Cody Ross, and Brooks Conrad are only a few examples. Buster Posey was the only legit hitter on that team.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. jirish says:

    The A’s know how to take their drafted/signed pitchers and deliver a usable product to the ML mound. It’s what they’re good at. I love this move for them. You can never have too much pitching, and if you do, you can get yourself all kinds of non pitching goodies for the extras.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. disco burritos says:

    Do foul balls figure into BABIP? I thought BABIP used balls hit into fair territory as the denominator.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Choo says:

      Yeah, foul outs are excluded from BABIP even though a foul out is technically in play. It makes perfect sense why they do it that way, though. Because, really, who wants to be the guy debating the merits of “BABICAYL?” (Batting Average on Balls Inside the Chalk and Yellow Lines.) Not me.

      Well, maybe me. OK, I probably . . . yeah. Definitely me.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • IceBat says:

      I may be wrong, but figures like Ks, Foul ball outs, despite not being in the denominator of BABIP can still affect it, since they count for outs, and thus there is one less opportunity for the opposing team to lift a pitcher’s BABIP up.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Choo says:

        BABIP is already a rate stat so I’m guessing the results would be negligible. For example, each “opportunity missed” by the defense has a value of x. So what is x? The pitcher’s BABIP of course. What else could x be? Regressed BABIP? Sure, if we want to punish strikeout artists with low BABIPs beyond recognition.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Jeff Wise says:

    Couldn’t the A’s have also done this as part of their overall strategy? Couldn’t they have bid that high to stay competitive by blocking the Mariners and Angels from acquiring the rights to negotiate with him?

    Just a thought.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • PL says:

      If that is true then they really should have saved their money and blocked the Angels from getting Adrian Beltre and then trading Kouzmanoff to the NL.

      The Angels are pretty screwed at 3B, if they dont get Beltre they will have to trade something of value to get a decent one. Much easier on them to just buy Beltre.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. Bigmouth says:

    The Oakland A’s are bidding for talent
    Why are they bidding for talent?

    To hug the talent
    To envelope that talent
    To hug the talent
    To envelope that talent
    That talent
    That talent

    Why did the A’s bid for Iwakuma?
    Because they’re in love.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Steve says:

    Don’t we need to know the posting fee and the eventual contract before we can evaluate?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Paul Thomas says:

      The posting fee is rumored to be around $17M, while the guaranteed money in the contract is likely, according to the S.F. Chronicle’s beat writer, to be less than that.

      Probably around $30M all told, perhaps more if they go for a 4-year deal instead of a 3-year one (which would be more efficient since the posting fee is a flat-rate deal).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. dAnzac says:

    “”1. Who knew the A’s had any money?””

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but what sort of dimwits were you talking to for them to be asking this? It takes literally 20 seconds to find out who each team has under contract for 2011.

    Also, Billy has said that the A’s will be spending more in 2011. They spent $58mil last season, and have been up to $80mil in the past.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. blb says:

    With all this talk of the A’s going after Fielder/McGehee, I, for one, would like to see them stick with Barton and Kouz at the corners and go for a corner outfielder and an upgrade at DH.

    Sure, Kouz was a disaster at the plate last year, but he’s easily one of the top three defensive third basemen in baseball, if not the best. And heck, he still added 16 homers to a punchless offense. If Beane can acquire a corner outfielder who can fill the cleanup hole, getting 15+ homers from Kouz in the eight hole would be a pleasure.

    And Barton was just fantastic on defense in 2010 (giving the Gold Glove to Tex over Barton was an absolute joke). And if he can put up 30+ doubles, 10+ homers and 100+ walks again in 2011, I see no reason to bring in someone else to split time at first base. Sure, it’s unconventional, but when you can’t afford to spend $15M+ per year on a 30 home run hitting first baseman, you sort of have to be unconventional.

    That said, I’d love to see Beane pull off a trade for Colby Rasmus or Shin-Soo Choo. Hunter Pence, Chris Young and Curtis Granderson could be options as well. And of course, the A’s could go all in on Carl Crawford. Not much pop there, but Crawford could be a doubles/triples beast in McAfee.

    As for DH, you’ve got Vlad, Manny, Thome and Matsui out there, and any of those four would be an upgrade over Cust.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *