At the end of a long weekend that went by much too fast, as another absurd week of paper-pushing, traffic, and tension quickly closes in, I re-read The Stranger. In closing, Albert Camus writes, “I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a ‘fiance,’ why she had played at beginning again. Even there, in that home where lives were fading out, evening was a kind of wistful respite. So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again.”
Reading that, I was suddenly able to burst through my Sunday night anxiety. So here we are for another edition of Fantasy Baseball Existentialism. Last week, I read Joshua Ferris’ novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. The novel relates here because there are elements of existentialism and baseball. The main character is a Red Sox fan who is struggling to stay in love with the team after they’ve disappointed him by winning two championships, which creates nostalgia for a lifetime of the club’s familiar letdowns.
Ferris writes that, “Baseball is the slow creation of something beautiful. It is the almost boringly paced accumulation of what seems slight or incidental into an opera of bracing suspense. The game will threaten never to end, until suddenly it forces you to marvel at how it came to be where it is and to wonder at how far it might go. It’s the drowsy metamorphosis of the dull into the indescribable.”
On Friday night, when news broke that the Chicago Cubs had sent Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija (henceforth The Shark) to the Oakland A’s for top prospects Addison Russell , Billy Mckinney, and pitcher Dan Straily, the indescribable had happened. I couldn’t believe it. Billy Beane and Theo Epstein—two sabermetric darlings who had seen their careers go stale until Beane’s A’s rose again in 2012 (they haven’t stopped rising two-plus years later) and Epstein left Boston to begin the long, slow rebuild needed in Chicago—had pulled off a blockbuster well in advance of the deadline. Meanwhile, another so-called sabermetric GM, Andrew Friedman, had been unable to get Russell for David Price, and it would seem unlikely that he’ll be able to get a prospect as good as Russell before the deadline.
From a fantasy perspective, the bet here is on Hammel and The Shark excelling in Oakland. While it may seem logical to expect some regression for The Shark given his move to the DH league and for Hammel given his underwhelming career numbers compared to this season, the reality is that no pitcher goes to Oakland and regresses these days except for Jim Johnson.
Scott Kazmir’s resurrection began last year in Cleveland, but he’s excelled with a 2.53 ERA over 18 starts with Oakland. Jesse Chavez had a 5.99 career ERA before coming to Oakland; his ERA is 3.48 over the past two seasons. Drew Pomeranz had a 5.20 ERA over 34 career appearances with Colorado before posting a 2.91 ERA so far this season for the A’s. Bartolo Colon had a 4.00 ERA in 2011 for the Yankees, a 2.99 ERA over two seasons with Oakland, and a 4.04 ERA so far this season with the Mets. Brandon McCarthy had a 4.56 ERA before coming to Oakland, a 3.29 ERA in two seasons with the A’s, and a 4.75 ERA since leaving.
The A’s play in a pitcher-friendly stadium and have the league’s second-ranked defense per Defensive Efficiency, after finishing second last year and third in 2012. So I wouldn’t be quick to sell either Hammel or The Shark in fantasy; instead, I’d be looking to buy. Beane chased Tim Hudson and Kazmir this offseason, and both have been outstanding. He turned up gems in McCarthy, Colon, and so far, Pomeranz and Chavez as well. If Beane buys pitching, you’d be wise to follow his lead in fantasy.
Given the A’s recent history with pitchers and their exceptional defense, don’t bet on regression for Jason Hammel or Jeff Samardzida. The cost of doing business was extremely high for Oakland, as one executive told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that Russell is “Barry Larkin with power.” Thus, be sure to pick up Russell, too, particularly in a keeper league because Barry Larkin with more power sounds like a Hall-of-Fame caliber shortstop worth building around.
Mark Reynolds graduated from Dominican University of California in 2008 with a degree in Political Science. Since graduating, he's been "blogging" about baseball and other topics.