A's Front Office Q&A: Farhan Zaidi, Part 3

Last week, we spoke to Oakland A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi about a wide-range of Oakland A's-related topics. In the first part of the interview, we spoke about the draft. In the second part, we discussed the A's philosophy on player development. In this third part, we talk about the impact of injuries, the value of power and more...

To read parts one and two of this interview, please click here and here.

OaklandClubhouse: I know the injury situation for the A's this season has been very trying, both in the major leagues and in the minors. At the major league level, at least, it seems like a number of the players who have been hurt came into this season with pretty significant injury histories. Is that something that as a front office you take into account when building a team in the off-season or are you really hoping that all 25 guys are going to make it through the entire season healthy?

Farhan Zaidi: I think that injuries, even in this day and age when people are trying to study them, are so inherently unpredictable that you can't plan for them. I see what you mean about the team having some players with injury histories. We go about setting up the team the same way every year no matter what, which is we have an idea of who our 25-man roster is and we have an idea of who are going to be the everyday guys, who are going to get 500 at-bats and who are going to be the guys who fill-in in case of injury.

The first thing you want to do, that first line of defense, those guys that you have on your 25-man roster bench, should be guys that you feel comfortable with playing every day. Since I have been here, we have made a point of having that kind of a bench. Then beyond that, you want to have in Sacramento a good mix of guys who you want to develop who you think have a good chance of a long-term future with the team, and also guys that have experience in the big leagues and have experience in Triple-A that you can count on to come up and be productive contributors for short stretches when you do have those injuries.

I think we sort of built the team the same way that we have in every other year, it's just that we have had to reach further and further into that depth. There is definitely a trickle-down effect that is felt really all the way down to A-ball and that is sort of an unfortunate consequence of the injuries that we have. I think every year, the responsible thing is to build the team and assume that you are going to lose some games due to injuries. It would have been hard to predict that we would have had the injury problems that we have had, and as a result of that, we had to make some moves that we weren't planning on making.

That said, while I want our guys to be healthy and I do think that those guys on that ideal 25-man roster are the guys who give us the best chance to win, the injuries give opportunities to other players and gives us an opportunity to see some guys who wouldn't have otherwise been given a chance to be in the big leagues, so even though it isn't the best situation, you try to take the positive out of it. I think some guys had opportunities that they wouldn't have otherwise had if we had been totally healthy.

OC: Is Santiago Casilla, in particular, a guy who has taken advantage of an opportunity he wouldn't have necessarily had otherwise?

FZ: Yeah, definitely. He is a guy who has sort of been on the cusp for a long time. Everybody really believes in this guy's stuff and our player development people have always believed that he had the ability to be a really good pitcher in the big leagues. I think it was a couple of factors: one, he is in his last option year and next spring, he was going to be out of options. We really wanted to take an opportunity to get an extended look at him at some point and with all of the injuries in the bullpen, we had that opportunity.

I think from Santiago's perspective, he knows he has been on the cusp. When this opportunity came up, he started pitching like he really knew the importance of this opportunity and he's really pitching like he knows that this is a big opportunity and if he produces, he is going to stay here. He's been outstanding.

He is a perfect example of what you were talking about. Even though we were in a situation where he was in his last option year and he is a guy who our player development people really like and believe could be a good big league pitcher, he wasn't on the 25-man roster coming out of the spring and he was actually in the mix with three or four other guys in Sacramento to be called up. It really took this cascade of injuries to get him to the big leagues and now he has established himself, at least so far, as a mainstay in the bullpen.

OC: It has been interesting for me to watch both Jack Cust and Adam Dunn in this [A's-Reds series last week], as they are both kind of similar players. There has been a lot of talk about the value or devalue of strikeouts for hitters. How much value do you place on the strikeout totals when assessing players like Cust and Dunn?

FZ: That's a good question. It is never going to be atheistically pleasing to watch a guy strikeout. Whatever people believe, we do sit and watch every pitch of every game, as well. We do see everything that everyone else is seeing. The most expensive tool on the marketplace right now is power. We are not in a position where we can just go out and sign a player who is going to be able to hit 40 homeruns for us. For that matter, when we are drafting at the back-end of the first round, we are not going to have a chance to draft guys like Prince Fielder or Beau Mills or those kind of guys who are considered as sure of things as you can have to become power hitters down the road. I think we have to be creative where we find power.

Jack is a guy who has always hit for power and he has always walked a lot, which is something that we like. Actually, there are certainly situational times when you have runners in scoring position and less than two-outs where a strikeout is a difficult thing to swallow. At the same token, most of Jack's strikeouts are strikeouts where he is making the pitcher throw five or six pitches, and we have always seen the value in that, as well.

We value guys who have quality at-bats, long at-bats and who make the pitcher work. That is certainly something that he has done. I haven't looked at the numbers, but I believe that he is among the league leaders in pitches per plate appearance. Obviously, he has his share of swings and misses in those pitches, but I can count on one hand the number of power hitters who don't strikeout much. With him, his strikeout numbers have been high but when you throw-in the walks and the homers, we think it is a very valuable package.

OC: With guys like Jack Cust, Chris Denorfia or Chris Snelling, who you have picked up through trades this season, or guys like Ruddy Lugo, Chad Gaudin or Lenny DiNardo, who were available on waivers, how much research goes into those players when you make a move for them? Are they players you have been looking at for awhile usually, or is it a matter of looking to see what notes you have on a player when his name comes up?

FZ: Most of the guys that we pick up are guys we have followed for awhile. Very rarely does a guy show up on waivers that we are not familiar at all with and we talk ourselves into claiming him.

An example of a waiver claim for us is Lenny DiNardo, who we picked up in February. He is a guy who we had asked for in a number of trade talks with Boston, so we had a long history with him. Another aspect of having a long history of following a player is that you are evaluating him on his overall history and overall track record and not just what he has done lately. Let's face it, a lot of guys who end up on waivers or who become available in other ways are there because something has happened recently – because of a drop-off in performance or an injury or both, which I think was the case with Lenny. He was hurt last year and he still pitched and pitched poorly, so I think as a general rule, the guys that we pick-up are guys who we have a good knowledge of, at least historically.

You still have to make the decision in that moment. When we picked up Lenny, we had to say: look, the guy did not throw hard last year, he had injury issues last year, he had a really high ERA last year with the Red Sox, and you can't just totally discount that, but at the same token, you have to say to yourself, if this guy was good for Boston last year, he wouldn't have been available on waivers. If he did get back to what his track record suggests that he is, he could be an important part of this team.

I think that it is very rare that we see a guy on the waiver wire that we haven't heard of and look-up his stats and say that we really like this guy.

OC: It seems like you built a lot of your starting rotation with guys like that this season, with DiNardo, Gaudin, Joe Kennedy.

FZ: Right. Kennedy is another good example. When we picked him up, he was going through the worst stretch of his career. The reason we went after him was that in 2004, if you adjust for the ballpark, he was one of the best starting pitchers in the league. We looked at his velocity reports and didn't see any drop-off that would indicate his stuff was down. Obviously, velocity is not the only indicator, but it is one indicator and certainly if we had seen a drop-off in that velocity, it would set-off some warning signals.

Sometimes you have success buying low on guys, which is what I think that we did with Kennedy and Gaudin and DiNardo. Sometimes you buy low and the guy never comes back and plays like you thought he would, but that is the risk that you have to take. The nice thing about buying low is that there isn't a lot of risk because you are buying low. It is getting the guy in the system and making an opportunity for the player. I think that is one thing that we have been very good at, is giving players opportunities when those opportunities arise, regardless of how we acquired them.

Like with Lenny, it's not like we said, well, this guy is a waiver claim so let's give the rotation spot to a guy in Triple-A because I'm not sure we want to give it to a guy who was waiver claim. Once we have a guy in the system, he is just as important as everyone else, and it is a total meritocracy at that point. If you are producing and we think you give us the best chance to win, we aren't going to hold you back.

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