Current Series

7/30, 5:05 PST
Oakland (Lucas Harrell) @ Chicago (Brett Anderson)

7/31, 1:10 PST
Oakland (John Danks) @ Chicago (Dallas Braden)

8/1 1:05 PST
Oakland (Gavin Floyd) @ Chicago (Gio Gonzalez)

Previous Series:
Texas 3, Oakland 1
Oakland 3, Texas 1
Texas 7, Oakland 4

Friday, July 30, 2010

Games 99-101 Recap or Slim Just Left the Building

Texas 3, Oakland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Oakland 3, Texas 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Texas 7, Oakland 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 51-50

Despite playing three close games with the AL West leading Rangers, the A's lost one or two more than they needed to in order to keep their remote playoff hopes within a dream's reach.  Now, according to Baseball Prospectus, the A's odds of reaching the playoff sits between 1 and 5 percent.  With the Rangers acquiring Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman, these low figures may even be overstating the A's chances.

Even though this series probably was the death knell for the A's postseason hopes, there were several promising performances that bode well for next season and beyond.  First and foremost were the pitching performances of Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill.  Gio managed to stay neck and neck with Cliff Lee for six innings, though he did struggle a bit with his pitch count.  Gio's final line of 6 innings, 1 run, 8 baserunners, and 6 Ks was nice to see given that he was pitching in Texas, a place where A's starters always seem to wither.   Trevor Cahill did even better, going eight innings while giving up only one run on two hits.  He also struck out 4 and walked 3.   Key to his success was getting groundballs; he got 13 in all and gave up just two line drives.

It really can't be said enough, the development of Gio and Cahill is the key to the A's ability to compete in the near future.  A rotation that includes Brett Anderson, Gio, Cahill, and Dallas Braden gives the A's a strong core of talent on the mound.

And then there's the hitting.  Eight runs in three games at Texas is simply not going to cut it.  It's a pretty obvious sign that you're not actually a contender when Matt Carson and Matt Watson are getting key at bats in one of the most important series of the year.  (They should really just be allowed to count as one switch hitting outfielder named Matt Warson as I don't think anyone really knows the difference between the two.)  Yes Cliff Lee is amazing, and expecting a win against him is probably a little crazy, but even against CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis the A's couldn't muster much offense.

We'll see what storylines emerge as the rest of the season progresses.  I think battling the Angels for 2nd place is a worthwhile goal and I'll also be watching for growth from Cliff Pennington, Adam Rosales, and Daric Barton and awaiting the potential call ups of Chris Carter and Michael Taylor (which I really don't think should happen until the AAA season is over). 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Games 93-95 Recap or Are the A's as Good as the Red Sox?

Boston 2, Oakland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Oakland 5, Boston 4 (10) (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Oakland 6, Boston 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 48-47

The short answer to the question in the title of the post is "no."  But, there's a pretty good argument that the A's are about as good as Boston right now.  Obviously, there's the results of the past series, where the A's beat the Sox twice in three games and outscored them Red Sox by two runs over the series.  And there's the fact that Eric Patterson, who the A's cut, played in two of the games for the Red Sox.  Of course, most of this has to do with the injuries Boston is currently dealing with.  Their DL looks worse than even the A's.  Jason Varitek, Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell, Jeremy Hermida, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Josh Beckett are all sidelined, meaning the Sox were down to their third best catcher, 5th and 6th best OFs, and backups at second and in the rotation.

The bullpen really carried the A's throughout the series, something they haven't exactly done to date.  Don't get me wrong, the bullpen has been perfectly fine so far this year, but they haven't dominated the way I thought they might considering the years that Andrew Bailey, Michael Wuertz, and Brad Ziegler had in 2009.  Against Boston, the bullpen pitched 10 scoreless innings, allowing the A's to survive Gio Gonzalez' poor start on Wednesday and Dallas Braden's short stint on Tuesday, and to stay alive in the pitcher's duel on Monday night.

None of the A's starters were particularly dominant, but the depleted Red Sox offense couldn't take advantage of the mediocre showings of the A's starting staff.  Ben Sheets' line from Monday looks fine -- 6.2 IP with 2 ER, but he only struck out two and gave up a fair number of fly balls and line drives.  Dallas Braden, coming off of the DL to make Tuesday's start, also struggled.  He couldn't make it out of the fifth and gave up 10 hits.  He did strike out 6, which is encouraging, but 11 baserunners in under five innings is not a recipe for success.  Gio's start was also mediocre at best; he gave up four runs in six innings and only struck out three.

Offensively, the A's were pretty lucky in scoring their runs until yesterday's game, when they actually hit the ball well.  Monday night's scoring came off of a solo shot by Rajai Davis.  On Tuesday they managed to score five times, despite getting just 6 hits.  The five walks they took helped, as did their aggressiveness on the basepaths against Tim Wakefield.  They scored the four runs in the third thanks in large part to a double steal and a passed ball.  In their lone legitimately solid offensive performance, the A's scored six times, getting homers from Jack Cust and Matt Watson (his first in the majors) in addition to 10 other hits and 5 walks.

Although their playoff chances keep getting slimmer and slimmer, it's nice to see the A's beat a good team for once, instead of pounding on the dregs of the AL and in turn getting pounded by the elite teams.   With the White Sox coming to town, the A's have a chance to prove themselves yet again against a team with actual playoff hope.  We'll see if the A's can keep winning games and keep their playoff chances alive for at least a few more days.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ryan Sweeney Out for the Year

It looks like Ryan Sweeney's season is over as he will undergo surgery on one or both of his knees and should be at full strength to start next season.  The procedures are not supposed to have long term effects, but its hard to say that season-ending knee surgery won't change Sweeney's career path at all.

In the meantime, we're likely to see more of Gabe Gross and Matt CarsonMichael Taylor's been hitting well of late in AAA, so he may be in line for a September call up.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Games 90-92 or The Royals Are Who We Thought They Are (And so Are the A's)

Oakland 5, Kansas City 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Oakland 6, Kansas City 5 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Oakland 9, Kansas City 6 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 46-46

With the A's five game win streak, they've reached the .500 mark for the first time since mid-June.  They were aided by series' against the Pirates, Orioles, Indians, and Royals over that stretch, but .500 isn't the worst place in the world to be at this point in the season.

Friday's game was a replica of any number of A's wins this year:  very good pitching with just enough offense.  Gio Gonzalez did his best Trevor Cahill impression, going seven innings while giving up one run on seven hits.  He struck out just three, but he also walked only one Royal and managed to induce 14 groundballs.  While the low K total isn't the best sign in the world, perhaps if Gio trades some Ks for more grounders and fewer walks he'll be more effective in the long run.

Offensively, the A's were able to take advantage of a couple of Kansas City miscues to score five runs.  They did this despite not hitting the ball especially hard off of Zack Greinke, and in spite of the fact that Daric Barton continues to bunt like its 1899.  Barton's latest shennanigans took place with the A's up by three in the third inning with runners on first and second.  Even though Greinke's a dominating pitcher, Barton's really got to swing the bat there to try to break the game wide open.

Game two of the series was far less typical of the A's season, with Trevor Cahill getting knocked around and the A's scoring off of Royals closer Joakim Soria to take the lead in the ninth.  Cahill only had one bad inning, giving up five runs in the second; the big blast being a Yuniesky Betancourt grand slam.  After giving up a Scott Podsednik triple immediately following Betancourt's blast, Cahill retired the next 16 Royals in a row, before Betancourt struck again with a double that helped chase Cahill in the seventh.  After the second inning, Cahill did what he had to do to keep the game close and the A's took advantage, scoring single runs in the sixth, seventh, and ninth to take the victory.

Yesterday's game was basically a blow out, even if the final score shows only a three run margin.  The A's jacked three homers, and magically more than doubled their average offensive output by scoring nine runs.  Adam Rosales continues to show that he's a valuable player, starting at first base and homering in the process.  Jack Cust also continued to prove that the A's made a mistake starting the season with him in AAA and is now batting .287/.388/.441 on the year.  Kevin Kouzmanoff also homered.

A sweep of the Royals is not at all surprising, though the heat and humidity took a toll on the team.  Daric Barton had to miss Sunday's game, and Ryan Sweeney missed the series with balky knees.  On the other side of the injury coin are Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson.  Braden will return to the A's on Tuesday, while Anderson has started his rehab stint and may be back later this month.  With the Red Sox coming to town the A's get to prove that they may be better than a .500 team and can actually do damage against a legitimately good team.  I wouldn't bet on it, but with the A's facing two of the Red Sox weaker starters, they do have a chance to surprise.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Site News

Obviously this page has been dark for a while and I apologize for the unannounced outage. I recently took a new job and I'm working 90+ hours a week and Adam is similarly busy studying for the bar exam. We do want to continue posting here, but daily posts look to be a thing of the past (for now). Instead, we'll do series recaps instead of game recaps and we'll try to swing by and add commentary once or twice a week.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Games 84, 85 and 86 Recap or the A's are definitely worse than the Yankees

New York 3, Oakland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
New York 6, Oakland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
New York 6, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 41-45

I didn't watch any of these games because, living in New York, they were blacked out on MLB.TV and I don't have cable (and didn't want to watch in a bar surrounded by Yankees fans), and I have to say I'm pretty happy about that decision.  The A's simply cannot hit against good pitching, and Javier  Vazquez, C.C.  Sabathia and A.J.  Burnett proved that rather convincingly.  Giving up 15 runs to the Yankees is about what you'd expect, though I would've liked to seen better performances from Trevor  Cahill (definitely not pitching in the All-Star game anyway b/c he goes on Sunday, but probably did not impress Girardi) and Gio  Gonzalez against the best team in the league.

These games are discouraging because it shows just how far away the A's are from being a legitimate contender.  Other than Kurt  Suzuki, there's not a single player in the A's lineup who would start for the Yankees (and that's w/ moving Posada to DH), or come even close.  Most of the team wouldn't even make their active roster.  They are simply a step below the Yankees (a great team, no shame in that but it's not close enough, nor does it seem as it will be anytime soon) and while they do have some strong young pitching, that's not enough.

Just so these posts aren't all negative, Cliff  Pennington has been hot, raising his season averages to .260/.332/.383, about what we'd expect, and worthwhile as a SS with average defense.  He was due for a bump as his BABIP was really low given his line-drive rate and has normalized a little bit.  Coco  Crisp has been great since his activation from the DL (.288/.355/.538), boosting his trade value quite a bit, and singlehandedly trying to keep the A's offense afloat.  Their pitching staff has been excellent -- as of today, they've allowed the 3rd fewest runs/game in the AL -- but they've scored the third fewest runs per game.  It's the same old story (good pitching, bad offense), and while I'm sick of writing it, I guess we better get used to it.

Games 82 and 83 Recap or the A's are probably better than the Indians

Cleveland 5, Oakland 4 (10) (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Oakland 3, Cleveland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current record: 41-42

Yes, this is basically a week late, and as such, rather than talk specifically about the games, I wanted to evaluate where the A's stand relative to the rest of the league, and using the Indians (one of the league's worst) and Yankees (one of the league's best) as benchmarks seems about right.  The A's ended up taking 2 of 3 from the Indians, losing a winnable game in extra innings (which featured a fine 2010 season debut from Clayton Mortensen) and then winning a classic 2010 Oakland A's game thanks to Vin  Mazzaro's best start of the season.

The series left the A's at about .500 (spoiler alert -- not so much anymore), which is essentially where we saw them coming into the year --- a .500 team that needed some breaks to contend, which the A's really haven't had.  Their record matches their run differential as well as their third order record (from Baseball Prospectus).  The emergence of All-Star Trevor  Cahill and Gio  Gonzalez has been offset by the injuries to Justin  Duchscherer (predictable) and Brett  Anderson (not as much).  They also need the division to be mediocre all-around, but the emergence of Texas has made the A's a longshot to contend at this point.

It's been pretty clear that they can beat bad teams --- going 7-2 against the Pirates, Orioles and Indians --- but also that they have not been able to consistently beat good teams --- going 1-11 in the past month against the Giants, Reds, Cardinals and Yankees.

The Indians are in rebuilding mode, and without Shin-Soo  Choo or Grady  Sizemore, their lineup is pretty pitiful --- devaluing Mortensen and Mazzaro's starts.  Looking at their future, though, shows some promise that the A's simply don't have on the offensive side of the ball.  Carlos  Santana (already hitting a ridiculous .286/.425/.583) is a superstar in the making, and if Sizemore returns healthy, along with Choo, that's a championship level middle of the order.  Asdrubal  Cabrera (also hurt) is an above-average infielder and Matt  LaPorta is still well regarded.  Their pitching is well behind the A's, however --- but I do feel jealousy pangs every time I see elite young hitters on other teams, because the A's simply don't have any.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Tyson Ross optioned, Ross Wolf in

Just a day after Tyson Ross got an article in the Wall Street Journal (well worth reading, about how he lives at home), the A's made it moot by optioning him to Sacramento. He was a valuable member of the bullpen in the beginning of the season but struggled the past two months and the A's want him to go back to being a starting pitcher. This is the right move --- if Ross is just gonna be a mop-up man for a mediocre team, better try to extract more value out of him if possible.

Wolf was acquired from Baltimore for Jake Fox, and has had a very solid year in AAA, with a 1.99 ERA and a 2:1 K:BB ratio, including 7 solid appearances for Sacramento since being acquired.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Watson, Carson up, Jackson DLed, Mortensen sent down

Conor  Jackson was placed on the 15-day DL and the A's called up two outfielders, Matt  Carson, who is up for the third time this season, and old friend Matt  Watson, who last played in the majors in 2005 with the A's.  They cleared an extra roster spot by sending Clayton Mortensen down to AAA, as the 5th starter spot is not needed until after the All-Star Break.

Jackson had cooled off after a hot start (though some of that could have been his hamstring problem) --- he's at .267/.365/.311 in his 14 games with the A's, not exactly allaying any doubts we have about his power returning after his bout with Valley Fever.  Carson has 9 ABs with the A's this season and is hitting a very solid .301/.376/.534.  The most interesting part of the transaction is Watson, though --- a 31 year old journeyman, he was just signed by the A's out of an independent league (he played in Japan in 2007, Korea in 2009 and all through the minors and indy ball the past few years) and has been raking at Sacramento with a line of .313/.358/.600.

I remember talking with Watson's wife and maybe his brother or brother-in-law or something similar at spring training in 2005 and talking about the financial struggles of a journeyman minor leaguer, so it's nice for me to see him get some big-league time after 5 years.  It's not likely to be long, but you never know.

Also, over the past few days the A's claimed pitcher Jeff  Lyman off waivers from the Braves, signed Boof  Bonser to a minor league deal and signed a top Venezuelan prospect for $2.2 million (always nice to see the A's spend money).  Lyman, 23, is a San Francisco native and a former 2nd round pick who has been working out of the bullpen and struggled at the AAA level --- I guess if you have a 40-man spot open for him that's fine, but he seems pretty fungible and is at AA right now.  Bonser made a couple of appearances for the Red Sox earlier this year and still throws hard, but if he sees time in the majors, it probably isn't a good sign for the A's.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Game 81 Recap or Rare and Awesome Play Saves the Day

Oakland 3, Cleveland 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 40-41

An oft used cliche about baseball is that in every game you'll see something you've never seen before.  While I'm not sure that every game does have something that is interesting and unique, last night's key moment sure was special. 

With the A's winning 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Gio Gonzalez gave up three two-out singles to load the bases.  Indians' catcher Mike Redmond then lined what appeared to be another single to right, bur Ryan Sweeney made a great heads up play to throw Redmond out at first.  I don't think I've seen a right fielder throw a batter out at first base in an American League game before (I feel like I've seen pitchers get thrown out at first on grounders to the outfield) and I've definitely never seen it come at such a crucial time in the game.  Had Sweeney not thrown Redmond out at first, the Indians would have had the bases loaded with two outs, trailing by two.  Instead, the inning ended with the A's 3-0 lead intact.

Not only did Gonzalez get a bit lucky with that play, he was pretty lucky to be entering the sixth with a shutout.  His control was spotty, especially in the beginning of the game.  He walked two batters in the second and another pair in the third before he settled down; after the third, he didn't walk another Indian.  Craig Breslow and Andrew Bailey finished the game for Gio.  Breslow retired the four batters he faced and Bailey pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

At the plate, the A's scored their three runs on six hits and five walks.  They could have broken the game open, though, as they left the bases loaded in the first and the sixth.  Strangely, they struck out 5 times against Mitch Talbot, a guy with a career K/9 of under 4.5.  While strikeouts generally aren't any worse than other types of outs, since the A's rely heavily on getting singles, they need to get the ball in play more than most teams to get base runners.  Striking out once an inning, especially doing it against a finesse pitcher like Talbot, is not good news for the A's.

All in all the three runs was enough and they've pulled back to within a game of .500.  Halfway through the season we have a pretty good idea now of what the A's are.  A team that can definitely beat the dregs of MLB, but are probably not good enough to compete in the surprisingly good AL West.  A midseason review will be coming sometime this week.

Braden scratched, Mortensen to make the start

via SFGate:

"The A's have decided on the most sensible course of action and scratched Dallas Braden from tomorrow's start; he'll now get more than two weeks and potentially nearly three to rest his left elbow. Nicely done, no need to risk further issues for Braden for just one start.

Clayton Mortensen, having a very nice (10-2) season at Triple-A Sacramento will come up to start tomorrow. The A's have not made the move yet, but there's no reason not to put Braden on the DL since he won't be needed until after the break."

The smart, conservative move here --- the A's need Braden to be healthy and one start is not worth further damage to his elbow.  Apparently, Conor Jackson may also need to be DLed, but Daric Barton was healthy enough to play yesterday.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Game 80 Recap or A's Prove They Can Hit Minor League Pitching

Oakland 8, Baltimore 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

You can't complain too much about an 8-1 win -- and there were a bunch of good things to take away from the game.  However, most of the good performances need to be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Not only are the Orioles the worst team in the AL, their lineup last night, especially the pitchers they used, were barely major league quality.

The one unqualified success was, yet again, Trevor Cahill.  He went seven innings, giving up just one run on four hits, and although he struckout just four, he also walked just one batter and 13 of the 20 balls hit off of him were grounders.  His only mistake was to Corey Patterson to lead off the game, who doubled and came around to score on two productive outs.  After that, Cahill allowed just one batter to reach second base.  Somewhat surprisingly, Cahill has turned into the A's most reliable starter as he's allowed more than three runs just twice this year in 13 starts.  He, and maybe Gio Gonzalez, are the only two guys that when they take the mound I feel the A's have a good shot at winning, no matter how poorly the offense performs.

As for those hitters, on the surface it looks like the A's had a good day at the plate.  They roughed up the Orioles for 8 runs on 15 hits and walked 5 times.  Cliff Pennington and Ryan Sweeney each had four hits (seven singles) and Jack Cust doubled twice and drove in two runs.  Obviously 21 baserunners is a good thing, but almost all of the damage was done against O's starter Jake Arrieta and Frank Mata, a pair of pitchers who started the year in the minors.  Arrieta, despite being a pretty good prospect, has struggled mightily so far in his brief major league career and Frank Mata has more or less proven he doesn't belong in the big leagues. 

It's good to see the A's taking care of business and going 5-1 against the Pirates and O's.  I guess for all my disappointment for the A's falling out of the AL West race, these last two series provided a good reminder that things could be (much) worse.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Games 78 & 79 Recap or Two Games, Many Oddities, More Geren Criticism

Tuesday: Oakland 4, Baltimore 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Wednesday: Baltimore 9, Oakland 6 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 38-41

Unfortunately, I was unable to get to Baltimore for these games (and won't be attending tonight's game either). While I'm upset that I may not get to see the A's again in person this year, the fact that the A's played two really ugly games makes me feel a little less bad about not catching them in person. The way they played they could have easily dropped both games, although they got lucky enough that they also could have won both.

The story of Tuesday's game was Vin Mazzaro. Initially, Dallas Braden was scheduled to start, but was scratched because of elbow stiffness (luckily, Braden is likely to make his start on Saturday). Mazzaro then went 6 innings, walked 6, while striking out just 2. And though he gave up just 3 hits, 2 of them were doubles. Despite all this he gave up just one run and earned the victory. As evident from the high walk total, Mazzaro had a very tough time with the strike zone, throwing almost half of his 98 pitches for balls. What's even stranger is that Mazzaro only got one double play ball and did not benefit from outs on the basepaths either.

As is often the case, the A's offense was just good enough, riding a season high 4 steals, on top of 11 hits, to score four times. Coco Crisp was the star of the game, as he was a homer short of the cycle, walked once, and stole two bases. Unfortunately, Coco was the only A's hitter to knock an extra base hit as the rest of the offense continued its singles-only stylings. The offensive oddity was Kurt Suzuki's three RBI, despite the fact that he didn't hit the ball out of the infield cleanly on any of his RBI at bats. An infield single, RBI groundout, and single off of Miguel Tejada's glove accounted for his big RBI day.

Last night's affair was especially ugly. made worse by questionable bullpen management from Bob Geren. Granted, he was not given the best of circumstances, as Ben Sheets was shaky and Brad Ziegler gave up a rare home run to a right hander in a critical situation.

Ben Sheets labored through six innings (though to be fair, with the amount that guy sweats, it always looks like he's laboring). He gave up four runs, three earned, but was done in by the long ball as he allowed solo dingers to Adam Jones and Corey Patterson. The bullpen went out and gave up three more homers as the staff's five homers allowed tied a season high.

Perhaps the bullpen would have performed a bit better had Geren deployed them a little better. He seems deathly afraid of letting any reliever pitch on back to back nights, no matter how few pitches was thrown the previous night. Furthermore, he still allows Ziegler to face lefties and it bit the A's right on the backside yesterday. Entering the bottom of the seventh, the A's had a two run lead, thanks to the A's six run fourth inning. The O's had Tejada (R), Nick Markakis (L) , and Ty Wigginton (R), due up, with Luke Scott (L) ready to bat if any Oriole reached base. At this point, Ben Sheets was at 104 pitches and definitely could have faced at least one more batter. Instead, Geren brought Ziggy into the game, who retired Tejada, but walked the lefty Markakis, which brought the tying run to the plate. Had Sheets stayed in the game to face Tejada, Sheets or a lefty could have faced Markakis, with Ziegler facing Wigginton (or not coming into the game at all depending on the situation).

If Geren decided that Sheets was done, though, then his first bullpen choice was less than ideal, but defensible. Ziegler rarely gives up homers to righties, so it was tough to imagine Wigginton tying the game with a two-run blast. What was just stupid was bringing in Cedrick Bowers to face Luke Scott. Bowers should really be the A's mop up man (and probably should even be in AAA so the A's can carry an extra bat on the bench). Jerry Blevins should have been available as he threw just 8 pitches on Tuesday. Bowers faced Scott after Wigginton's jack, and Scott promptly gave the O's the lead with a solo shot of his own. For good measure, Bowers struggled through the rest of the inning, allowing a single and a walk before getting the final out of the inning. Tyson Ross' struggle in the eighth, and the A's inability to score in innings that didn't start with the number 4 may have made all this moot, but you can never know how the game would have played out had they escaped the inning with the lead (or in a tied game).

The A's look to take the series tonight, then head to Cleveland to face the AL's second worst team. The A's still have a shot at using a soft part of the schedule to leap back above .500, but the ugly ball they've played so far in Baltimore doesn't bode well for the rest of the road trip.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beyond the Box Score Power Rankings

These rankings use advanced statistics in an attempt to create an objective power ranking, measuring the strength of a team thus far and going forward.  The good news: The A's rank 11th in baseball.  The bad news: That's only good for 8th in the AL (the league adjustment is pretty huge here, maybe a tad too high), and they are projected to only win 77 games and finish 3rd in the AL West to the Angels' 80 and Rangers' 93.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Game 77 Recap or Thank You, Pirates

Oakland 3, Pittsburgh 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 37-40

Ah, the hapless Pirates, the cure for whatever ails your team.  When Pittsburgh arrived in the Bay Area, the A's were in the midst of a season-worst tailspin, falling to 6 games under .500 and further out of the picture in the AL West.  Three games later, I feel a lot better about the team even though they only gained 1 game on the Rangers --- winning will do that to you.

This was a game that the A's has absolutely no business winning --- they managed just 3 hits, walked more guys than they struck out, and looked pretty listless against the worst team in the majors.  Thankfully, the Pirates suck and also gave the game away.

Gio Gonzalez has started to establish himself as a solid major league starter (and along with Trevor Cahill, has basically kept the A's afloat recently) and going against a lineup with 3 legitimate major league hitters (McCutchen, Doumit and Jones), I was expecting more.  He did throw 6 shutout innings before the Milledge HR that knocked him from the game, and his overall line looked okay, but he walked 4 and struck out just 2 (with only 47 strikes out of 87 pitches).  Against a better team, it would have been a mediocre outing at best --- which is why Geren pulled him so quickly.  Unfortunately, Brad Ziegler gave up two rare hits to righties and blew the save --- but the decision-making was sound.

The A's only scored any runs thanks to the generosity of the Pirates --- the first run was particularly reminiscent of Little-League as Cliff Pennington walked and then scored all the way from first on two throwing errors on an errant pickoff play.  The next run was thanks to a walk then a dropped flyball, then a misplay by the pitcher Ohlendorf on a Pennington "single", then another walk to force in a run.  That the A's failed to score any more with the bases loaded and 0 out is illustrative of how poorly they played.

Finally, the winning run was absolutely perfect --- after catcher Jason Jaramillo botched a foul pop-out with two outs in the 8th, Kurt Suzuki made him pay (and made Ray Fosse look prescient) by pounding a solo HR into the left-field bleachers.  Gotta love second chances.  Andrew Bailey didn't look too sharp, giving up a leadoff single (erased on a Jaramillo GIDP...not a good 10 minutes for that guy), and another walk before the game ended perfectly --- with Pedro Alvarez at first, Jose Tabata hit a sure-fire single to right...before it struck Alvarez as he was running to 2nd, an automatic out to end the game.

So, the A's took care of business against the Pirates and now get to face the AL-worst Orioles while the Angels and Rangers go against each other.  They have a chance to gain ground here --- realistically the gap has got to be around 5-6 games at the most by the All-Star Break to avoid going into full-fledged selling mode.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Game 76 Recap or Cahill Finally K-Hill

Oakland 5, Pittsburgh 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 36-40

I don't think there's a better game to watch for 70's era throwback jerseys than the A's and Pirates.  The A's gold jerseys are awesome, though I suspect if I had to see them more than a once or twice a year I'd consider them to be hideous.  Put that together with the Pirates' black and gold jersey, including black pants and silly looking hat and you've got a very visually appealing game.  I also like how the A's broadcast had the throwback graphics and even Duane Kuiper's goofy hair and mustache.  Sure it was silly, perhaps even outright stupid, but it really was a lot of fun.  Throw in the actually results of the game and this game was probably even more fun to watch that Friday night's blowout.

Until recently, calling Trevor Cahill, Trevor K-Hill has been a reminder that he didn't actually strike guys out than it was an intimidating nickname.  Last year his strikeout rate was just 4.53 per nine and through May his strikeout rate remained below 5.0.  In June, though, he's upped his strikeouts big time, culminating in last night's 10 K masterpiece.

As excited as I was to see Cahill pitch so well, Bob Geren absolutely should not have sent him out for the eighth inning.  Through seven innings he had thrown 101 pitches and the A's had a safe 5-0 lead.  I know that 100 pitches isn't a magic threshold and that the 113 mark isn't an abusive total, but there really is no reason to risk any sort of injury.  To start the eighth the A's had a 98.2% chance of winning and those odds would be very similar with the A's finishing the game with Cahill + Bailey as if they had gone with Bullpen + Bailey.

Another thing I'd like to point out was Daric Barton's at bat in the first inning.  He came to the plate with Coco Crisp on first, but Crisp stole second to move into scoring position.  Too many times this year Barton has bunted a fast runner from second to third in the first inning, and this has been the source of much consternation, most notably from Joe Posnanski.  This has frustrated me to no end, but hopefully yesterday's performance will show him the error of his ways.  Instead of bunting, and even in lieu of trying too hard to pull the ball to advance the runner, he mashed a double the opposite way, giving the A's the early lead with a good chance to add on.

With one more game against the Pirates and an upcoming series in Baltimore the A's have a chance to sneak back up towards .500.  At the beginning of the year I would have been happy with a .500 record halfway through the year, but unfortunately the Rangers and Angels have both played better than I expected.  Nonetheless, it'd be nice to see the A's around the .500 mark, even if the A's playoff hopes are really, small.  As unlikely as it is, its always possible that the Rangers and Angels could struggle a bit, and if they do, it'd be a shame if the A's weren't in a position to take advantage of it.

A's deal Patterson to Red Sox

Well, I was apparently wrong that no other team would want Eric Patterson, because not only did the Red Sox trade for him, but according to Susan Slusser, a few other teams were interested as well.  Why, I have no idea, but hey, the A's got a not-so-horrible prospect, LHP Fabian Williamson in exchange.  Williamson has fringy stuff and at 21 in high-A is on an average developmental curve.  He had good numbers in low-A last season (2.42 ERA, 108 IP, 3 HR, 53 BB, 104 K) but was in a pitcher's league and did walk a lot of guys.  In high-A this year, his walk rate has stayed the same but his K numbers have dipped (just 40 in 65.1 IP) and he now moves to the hitter-friendly California League.  How he navigates that as well as the move up to AA will illustrate whether he has any kind of a future.

The odds are Williamson won't pan out, but just like with the Jake Fox deal, I would have been happy with anything in return for a non-factor like Patterson, and Williamson looks to be a decent prospect (John Sickels gave him a C, so pretty much a organization depth kind of a guy who occasionally turns into something), so I have to be happy with the deal.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Game 75 Recap or Well That Was Fun

Oakland 14 , Pittsburgh 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 35-40

Blowouts are rarely fun to watch, but last night was truly an exception to that rule for me.  After not scoring more than four runs in over a week, it was nice to see the A's really pummel someone.  Maybe I'm a bad person for really enjoying the A's pouring on the hits against the hapless Pirates, but the experience was therapeutic in a way. 

Despite the fact that they failed to homer, the 14 runs was a season high and the 17 hits was good for their second best output of the year.  Part of the A's success can be attributed to good situational hitting as they hit three sac flies, another season best.  More importantly, though, was their ability to hit the ball hard; they hit 9  line drives and 14 flyballs.

The other good news from the game was the pitching.  Although Ben Sheets allowed four runs in six innings, he struck out a season-high 9 batters and didn't walk anyone.  He did give up a number of hard hit balls, but the high strikeout total is definitely encouraging.  The other bright spot was Michael Wuertz, who pitched a very impressive ninth inning, getting a ground out and two strikeouts while throwing 10 of his 13 pitches for strikes.  Yes, it was the epitome of mop-up duty, but his ability to throw strikes and miss bats was good to see.

Obviously the Pirates aren't a strong team, and beating them to a pulp isn't a particularly impressive achievement.  Nonetheless its good to see the A's take advantage of a weak opponent and to get everyone involved in the offense.  Every A's starter besides Rajai Davis had at least one hit and seven of the starters reached base at least twice.  With Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez pitching the last two games of the series, the A's have a good chance at a sweep, especially if they can come close to replicating yesterday's success at the plate.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Games 73 and 74 Recap Or The Hunt for Silver Linings

Tuesday: Cincinnati 4, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Wednesday: Cincinnati 3, Oakland 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 34-40

With this pair of losses, the A's now haven't won a game not started by Trevor Cahill in 14 games.  These losses fall squarely on the shoulders of the offense, which managed just 14 hits in the 18 innings, good for a measly two runs.  The A's are simply hitting the ball without authority; they're making plenty of contact, having struck out just eight times over the past two games, but they also had just two extra base hits.  The bad is obvious *cough* hitting *cough,*so let me note what went right on Tuesday and Wednseday.

First and foremost was the starting pitching.  Dallas Braden and Vin Mazzaro each pitched well; Braden went six innings with three earned runs and Mazzaro went seven, giving up just two runs.  Both pitchers displayed excellent control, walking a batter apiece and each threw over 60% of their pitches for strikes.  Mazzaro also was able to generate the groundballs he needs to be successful, getting 13 of the 25 batters who made contact off of him to ground out.

The other bright spot on the mound was Tyson Ross, who had an impressive outing on Tuesday.  Ross kept the A's in the game (theoretically, at least) by pitching the final two innings and keeping the A's within two.  He's looked much better after his rough spell in May, albeit he's been pitching in low-ish leverage situations for the past few weeks.  Since June 2 he's given up just three runs in eight innings while striking out 8 and walking three.  With Michael Wuertz struggling a bit (and perhaps a guy who may be traded), it'd be nice to see if Ross can regain his early season form and work his way back into pitching in crunch time.

The other bright spot of late has been Conor Jackson, who added one hit on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday.  So far he's hitting .345/.441/.414 and though much of his success has been singles-driven, at this point I'll take what I can get.

Hopefully with the Pirates come to town the A's can end this embarrassing stretch.  If ever the A's needed a series against one of the NL's weaker teams, now is the time.  That being said, with the way the A's are currently playing, I wouldn't be shocked to see the A's lose two, or even three games this weekend.  If the A's can't get some Ws now, the rest of the season may be even uglier than we had expected.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Belated - Crisp back, Patterson gone

In an effort to avoid writing about how the A's season is effectively over (losing 8 games in the standings in less than two weeks will do that to you), I just wanted to mark the end of the Eric Patterson era, at least for now.  I speculated weeks ago that Gabe Gross would be the first to go in a roster crunch, but I'm glad to see the A's decided to let Patterson go instead.  His numbers had dipped to an atrocious .204/.255/.408 clip (.224/.301/.340 career) and with his lack of average defensive ability at any position had become essentially worthless.  He was designated for assignment to clear room for Coco Crisp's return from the DL.

I would be pretty surprised, though, if another team claimed Patterson and most likely he'll be outrighted to AAA and probably make his way back up tot he A's at some point.  If this season and the performance of the offense has shown us anything, it's that trading for and acquiring quad-A players just is not a way to build a team.  Consider Patterson another casualty on what hopefully is Billy Beane's path to learning that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A's trade Fox to O's

Well, the A's managed to get something for Jake Fox, who was designated for assignment earlier this week --- getting cash and minor league pitcher Ross Wolf from the Orioles. 

Wolf is 27 (only a couple of months younger than Fox) and actually appeared in the majors for Florida in 2007, getting absolutely lit up (14 G, 12.1 IP, 11.68 ERA, 2.19 WHIP), but has been reasonably effective at the AAA level in his career (255.1 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, ~2:1 K:BB ratio).  He's having a fine season at AAA-Norfolk with a 2.11 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 38.1 IP with 26 Ks and 15 BBs.  He's nothing more than organizational filler, an emergency quad-A type of guy, but considering the A's could have lost Fox for nothing, it's nice to see something halfway decent in return.

Game 72 Recap or Offense, Defense, Bullpen Let Gio Down

Cincinnati 6, Oakland 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 34-38

One of the biggest factors in whether a team wins or loses is the performance of its starting pitcher.  It really says a lot about how the A's are playing right now that Gio Gonzalez pitched so freaking well and the A's still lost.  The title of this post isn't really an exaggeration; Gio was awesome and basically everything else the A's did was bad.

Gonzalez had arguably his most impressive start of the year, with his May 22 duel with Matt Cain being the other contender for that title.  He pitched seven innings and struck out a season-high nine batters.  He also walked only one.  Almost as impressive was his ability to induce groundballs - and weak contact in general.  The Reds managed just five flyballs and one line drive off of him.  Unfortunately, a Cliff Pennington error to lead off the game led to the sole run that Gio gave up.  When he's on -- and even sometimes when he's off -- Gio's stuff just looks extraordinarily hard to hit and that was certainly the case last night.  Unfortunately, he was one of the few A's who was impressive last night.

As usual, the A's hitters were anemic.  Despite striking out just twice against Reds starter Mike Leake, they managed only four singles and a double off of him, which resulted in a lone run.  Nick Masset and Arthur Rhodes held the A's without a baserunner in the seventh and eighth and gave the ball to Reds closer Francisco Cordero with a one run lead.  Luckily, Kevin Kouzmanoff was able to send the game into extra innings thanks to a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth, but the A's extra innings offensive performance was an exercise in frustration. 

After the A's bullpen imploded and gave up four runs in the top of the 10th -- more on that later -- the A's got their first three men on base and Ryan Sweeney came to the plate as the tying run.  All he did, though, was ground out, allowing a run to score, but then Kouzmanoff came up as the tying run.  He also grounded out, bringing Jack Cust to the plate as the tying run.  Cust struck out...shocking, I know.

Obviously, the A's wouldn't have been in such a tough spot if the bullpen didn't give up five runs in the ninth and tenth innings.  Andrew Bailey got the first two outs of the ninth, but a walk-steal-single sequence gave the Reds a one run lead.  In the tenth, after Kouz' homer, Michael Wuertz gave up a solo shot to Ramon Hernandez and retired one of the next two Reds.  Not to be outdone, Cedrick Bowers came in and gave up back to back dingers to Joey Votto and Scott Rolen.  This gave the Reds a four-run lead that the A's couldn't come back from, even given a pretty decent head start in the bottom of the inning.

It really stinks that Gio's great start was wasted.  I guess the silver lining is that his performance indicates that he'll have more good starts in the future.  Let's hope the A's provide him a little extra support next time out.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What's the Matter with Wuertz? Is He a Bum?

Last year Michael Wuertz had a dominating season, putting up an ERA of 2.63 and striking out 102 batters in just 78.2 innings -- a rate of 11.67 K/9, good for fifth among all pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched.  The A's rewarded Wuertz with a 2 year $5.25 million contract in the offseason and expected him to be a key part of the bullpen this year. 

Unfortunately, his season got off on the wrong foot and he missed almost all of Spring Training and all of April with a shoulder injury.  Things haven't been much better upon his return as he's allowed 8 runs in 11.1 innings.  I know its early, but its not just his ERA that is ugly, there are some disturbing trends in the underlying data.

One of Wuertz' bugaboos going into the 2009 season was his control.  In every year between 2004 and 2008 he walked at least 4 per 9, except in 2006 when he lowered his walk rate to 3.54.  Not coincidentally, he posted middling ERAs between 3.50 and 4.00 in every year except for '06, when he posted a 2.66 ERA.  So far in 2010 he's walked 7 batters in his 11.1 innings (one intentionally), which translates to a BB/9 of 5.56.  It's his command of his fastball that's really let him down so far.  Last year he threw his heater for a strike 60% of the time and this year his fastball has found the zone only 48% of the time.

His fastball has also lost a bit of zip, averaging only 89.3 MPH this season compared to 91.0 MPH in '09.  As a result, the whiff rate on his fastball has dropped from 4.4% to just under 3%.  His slider is also less effective, though its unclear whether this is because of his weaker fastball or a change in his slider.  In 2009, Wuertz threw his slider with an average velocity of 85.8 MPH, with 3.58 inches of vertical break and -0.02 inches of horizontal break.  So far in 2010, his slider's only averaged 83.8 MPH.  The vertical break of the pitch has been close to its '09 level at 3.42 inches, but its horizontal break has averaged 0.60 inches.  Whatever the cause, his slider has gone from being worth 2.63 runs above average per 100 pitches last season, to being worth 2.31 runs below average per 100 pitches this season.

Obviously an 11 inning sample is too early to make any hard conclusions about Wuertz so far, but his control and velocity are down, which has led to not-so promising results.  Based strictly on the numbers, it seems that Wuertz may still not be 100% healthy, though there haven been no reports that his arm is still bothering him.  Perhaps he's still rounding into form and missing Spring Training really hurt him.  Either way, it's pretty clear that Michael Wuertz right now is not the same pitcher he was in 2009.  We'll have to keep an eye on his control and his velocity to see if he becomes that guy again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Game 71 Recap or Three Runs Good Enough This Time

Oakland 3, St. Louis 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 34-37

As I noted earlier today, the A's seemingly play only two types of games: low scoring games where they win, and low scoring games when they lose.  After filling the road trip with games of the latter type, they close the trip the way the opened it, with a game from the column A.  As in the first game of the week, the key to the game was Trevor Cahill.

Although Cahill got a no-decision, he looked very good, allowing just two solo homers to Matt Holliday -- and two other hits -- over six innings while striking out seven and walking none.  He threw just 91 pitches and probably could have gone out for the seventh had he not been removed from the game for a pinch hitter in the top of the inning.  (Pretty much the only thing I like about having the DH is that I like to see pitchers go deep into games without regard for their (in)ability to hit.  I have no idea about Cahill's bunting skills, so its hard to know if bringing in Eric Patterson to hit for him was the right move...though judging from Cahill's sac bunt in the third -- and with the benefit of hindsight -- leaving Cahill in might have been the right move.)

The A's offense guessed it: just good enough.  I expected the A's to do more (perhaps foolishly) against Jeff Suppan as they only managed two runs off of him.  They did chase him from the game in the fifth and managed seven hits off of him, but a caught stealing, a pickoff, and a lack of timely hitting allowed Suppan to escape with just the two runs allowed.

As much as we've picked on Bob Geren over the past few days...and the more I think about it, the less I like his removal of Cahill...he is willing to bring in Andrew Bailey in the eighth inning (though not as willing as we'd like).  Bailey came into the game in as tough of a situation as can be, with runners on the corners with Albert Pujols at the plate.  Bailey got Pujols to fly out to left and then pitched a perfect 9th to seal the deal.

I'm glad the A's ended the roadtrip on a good note, but I still feel that this trip marked the end of contention for them.  Being three games under .500 is about where I expected them to be at this point, but the Rangers' eight game lead is quite a hole right now.  Unless the A's have a very strong week against the Reds and Pirates, we may very well start to see rumors about the A's trading away some of their pieces.

Game 70 Recap or Something Something Singles...Something Something False Hope

St. Louis 4, Oakland 3 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 33-37

Its often said that all stories (books, movies, plays) follow one of seven basic plot structures.  For the 2010 A's, it seems like there are only two different story lines for the games.  The first is: A's score a handful of runs, pitch well enough to win.  The second is: A's pitch moderately well, can't overcome only scoring a handful of runs.  Yesterday's game couldn't have followed script number two any more perfectly, although the ninth inning rally was a nice plot twist.

Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright shut the A's down for the first 8 innings, allowing just one unearned run on five hits and one walk.  The run came in the first, and may not have happened had Yadier Molina not thrown the ball into left field trying to catch Rajai Davis stealing third.  Wainwright wasn't dominating in the traditional sense, as he struck out just four.  The A's, though, were unable to manage very many hard hit balls off of him, managing just four line drives off of him, one of which was hit by Ben Sheets.

Sheets also did pretty well on the mound, going seven innings and giving up four runs.  Like Friday night, the big blow came off the bat of Matt Holliday, whose two run homer in the seventh turned a close 2-1 game into a 4-1 game that at the time felt like 100-1.  Although he only struck out two and walked four, 11 of the 23 balls in play against him were grounders and he got through seven innings throwing just 94 pitches.  If nothing else, he looked relatively impressive in front of a team that may be interested in trading for him next month.

The A's made things interesting in the ninth, using a walk and three singles off of Ryan Franklin and Jason Motte to draw within one, but those runs were too little, too late.  The A's face Jeff Suppan in the series finale today.  If the A's can't hit Suppan, who has 7.20 ERA in 32 innings this year, the offense is even worse than I thought.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Game 69 Recap or Ziegler Faces Lefty, A's Lose

St. Louis 6, Oakland 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 33-36

I try to avoid being overly dramatic, but this road trip is looking like the beginning of the end for the A's playoff chances this season and maybe for Bob Geren's tenure as A's manager as well.  With Geren still facing questions about the managerial mistakes that Adam pointed out yesterday, he continued his questionable decision making last night and the A's suddenly find themselves three games under .500 and seven games out in the AL West.

The A's managed to score four runs in the second inning off of Chris Carpenter, who started the game looking surpirsingly shaky.  In addition to scoring the four runs on five hits in the second, they could have added more as Kevin Kouzmanoff struck out with the bases loaded to end the first inning.  Despite the promising start, the A's added only three more baserunners the rest of the way.

Vin Mazzaro kept the A's in the game, going 5 innings, allowing 4 runs and leaving a tied ballgame.  The results were not ideal, but he didn't look that bad.  His major mistake came on a pitch to Matt Holliday in the first that Holliday smashed into the seats for a two run homer.  Holliday got to Mazzaro again in the fifth, as he and Albert Pujols both had RBI singles in the frame.  Mazzaro did walk three, but he also struck out five, and sometimes good hitters like Holliday and world class ones, like Pujols, are going to beat you.

Even though the A's didn't even threaten to score any runs after the second, it would have been nice for the A's to have had a shot at maybe going into extra innings.  The bullpen allowed two runs, negating such a chance, and Geren's bullpen management was the reason for the runs the Cards got in the seventh.

I know that with Michael Wuertz struggling a bit, it makes the A's pen a bit more difficult to manage, but as we've noted at least six or seven times on this blog, Brad Ziegler just shouldn't be facing lefties in critical situations.  After pitching a perfect sixth, he gave up a leadoff double to Brendan Ryan.  The left handed hitting Skip Schumaker was next and Geren should have gone to Craig Breslow.  I don't care that Holliday and Pujols were going to bat next.  You have to get Schumaker out first and Wuertz could have pitched to those two guys (or totally unrealistically, but ideally it could have been Bailey).  Schumaker roped a ground rule double and the A's chances of winning basically disappeared right there.

The A's obviously have time to evaluate their playoff chances before having to make any serious moves.  Still, its hard to see the A's climbing back into contention with Geren continuing to make odd bullpen choices and the offense seemingly incapable of hitting home runs.  Conor Jackson's looked good so far (knock on wood), but his addition may have been too little too late.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Game 68 Recap or Geren's Gaffes

Chicago 3, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 33-35

This was the worst loss of the year, hands down, because of how important the game was (the Rangers won again, dropping the A's to 6 behind in the division), how badly the A's needed a win, and how Bob Geren absolutely gave the game away.  One of the worst managing jobs I've seen from a usually competent manager --- it's not like NL rules are too difficult to understand.

Starting from the beginning --- Jack Cust was once again in the lineup in the outfield, and while I obviously understand the need for offense, benching Ryan Sweeney (also one of the A's better hitters) with a flyball pitcher like Dallas Braden on the mound was a mistake.  If anything, Conor Jackson should have been benched if he wanted Cust in the lineup.  Sweeney would enter the game in the ninth, so it wasn't that he was hurt or anything.

Dallas Braden pitched an excellent game despite a tight elbow, and when he was taken out, I was a little confused but he said after the game the elbow was bothering him, so Geren's move to the pen made more sense once I heard that.  After Mark Ellis gave the A's the 2-1 lead with a 7th inning HR off Randy Wells (who also looked good and went a little too long as Lou Piniella let him throw 129 pitches), the A's looked primed to go to their bullpen to close out the win.

I can't fault Geren for relying on Michael Wuertz, but he's been fairly ineffective this season, hanging more sliders and giving up a lot of hits to lefties and showing inconsistent command of the strike zone.  After Wuertz loaded the bases in the 8th, going to Andrew Bailey was the right move, and he took a tough blown save giving up a sac fly and getting a strikeout to leave the game tied.

However, when Bailey was brought into the game, Geren failed to double switch, meaning Bailey's spot would lead off the 9th inning --- he had a couple of options.  He could have brought in Adam Rosales for Kevin Kouzmanoff (who had made the final out of the 8th), or he could have brought in Ryan Sweeney for either Rajai Davis or Conor Jackson, which would have made the pitcher's spot the 5th or 6th due up in the 9th instead of leading off.  Instead, he just pinch-hit Sweeney for Bailey, a decision presumably made easier because the Cubs tied the game.

Apparently he doesn't want to use Bailey for more than an inning in an effort to save him for late in the season --- which is RIDICULOUS because September's not gonna matter if the A's can't win games NOW.  And what was his genius plan if Bailey had gotten out of the 8th?  Let him lead off the 9th in a 1-run game?  Or let Jerry Blevins try and close out the game?  What a total botch.  You need your best pitcher in the game in these situations, and Geren completely blew it.

Gabe Gross deserves some blame, as well --- with runners at the corners and 1 out in the top of the 9th, he swung at the first pitch from the very erratic Carlos Marmol (19 BB and 5 HBP in 30 IP coming into the game) and popped out to foul territory --- a terrible at-bat in a crucial situation.

And then the final icing on the crap cake of a game was Blevins walking the game away, and Geren getting the assist with another dumb move.  Blevins walked Geo Soto to lead off the inning, who was then sacrificed to 2nd, bringing up Koyie Hill, who Geren decided to intentionally walk.  Yes, I know the run doesn't matter there, but it's KOYIE HILL --- the guy is hitting .236/.276/.292 with a career line of .218/.285/.302 and has been 40 runs below average for his career, which spans about 1 full season of PAs.  This is the guy to go after, and then you can walk Theriot to get to Fukudome.  Maybe if the bases aren't loaded, Blevins doesn't have to groove a fastball to Fukudome, and Fukudome doesn't get the game winning hit.  I don't understand the thinking behind what Geren did in the last two innings.

The loss is especially damaging because the A's now head to St. Louis to face 2 of the top pitchers in either league in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.  One victory in those two games would be a surprise, and I'd be shocked if the A's scored more than 3 or 4 runs combined off those two.  Already at 1-5 on this road trip, don't be surprised if the A's come home 8 or 9 back in the division, ready to sell off pieces before the All-Star break and call it a season.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Game 67 Recap or The Conor Jackson Era's First Loss

Chicago 6, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 33-34

So the Conor Jackson Era won't be perfect.  He tried his best, though, having a near-perfect starting debut for the A's, going 2-3 with a walk, a run scored and a perfect throw to the plate to nail Geo Soto trying to score in the third inning.  He was pretty much the lone bright spot in the otherwise lackluster game, one in which the A's never had more than a 6.6% chance of winning after the 6th inning --- heck, even Kevin Kouzmanoff's hitting streak came to an end.

Gio Gonzalez had arguably his worst outing of the year, giving up a season-high 6 runs, walking 3 and giving up 3 extra base hits in 5 innings, and given the A's offense, that pretty much consigned the team to a loss.  Ryan Dempster looked shaky in the first inning, unable to spot his fastball, but after that he cruised until the 7th, and ended up with a very solid start.

I don't have much else to say about the game --- Tyson Ross was inconsistent (2 walks, but 3 Ks in 2 IP) again in a low-leverage spot, so he should probably be kept to those situations in the near future.  I was surprised that Geren benched Rajai Davis after his great game on Tuesday, and I would've probably benched Cust and sacrificed some offense for defense, but it didn't matter much.  I also thought it was funny that Lou Piniella pinch hit Carlos Zambrano in a 2 on 2 out situation, as if to spite announcer Bob Brenly (who publicly ripped the Cubs, including the decision to let Zambrano hit on Tuesday) -- and Zambrano promptly struck out.

The A's look to take the series today against Randy Wells, who looks like he's struggling but whose peripherals are actually pretty similar to those in his stellar rookie season last year, if not better (3.49 FIP, 3.65 xFIP this year v. 3.88 and 4.24 a year ago) and is being victimized by a .359 BABIP.  The A's counter with Dallas Braden, who has been battling minor arm troubles and will be watched closely if he continues to struggle (he's given up 14 runs in his last 3 starts over 18 innings).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Is/Was Sam Demel?

In yesterday's trade for Conor Jackson, the A's sent reliever Sam Demel to the Diamondbacks.  While I noted that the loss of Demel isn't likely to haunt the A's, let's take a look at what they're giving up.

The A's drafted Sam Demel in the third round in 2007 out of TCU.  Though he was primarily a starter during his first two years of college, he was moved to the bullpen for his junior year and flourished as TCU's closer.  In 49 innings he struck out 71 batters while walking only 17 and gave up just one homer.  He signed quickly and made 20 pro appearances in 2007, dominating the Midwest League -- allowing just two runs in 9 appearances -- but struggling in the California League -- giving up 16 runs in 14 innings.

Sent back to the Cal League in 2008, Demel pitched well, posting an ERA of 3,36 while saving 18 games.  He struck out over 12 batters per 9 innings, but he also struggled with his control, walking over 4 per 9 while also throwing 10 wild pitches in 67 innings.  Last season, he split time between AA and AAA, posting a 0.61 ERA in 29 AA innings and a 3.62 ERA in 32 AAA innings.  His K/rate fell from the ridiculous A ball levels to around 8 per 9 in AA and about a batter per inning in AAA.  Most concerning was his walk rate, which ballooned to nearly 6 per 9 while at Sacramento.  This year he's harnessed his control and cut his walk rate to under 3 per 9 while maintaining a solid, but unspectacular K/rate (8.79). 

Demel has the potential to be a solid middle reliever, which has value, but nothing indicates that he'll be a dominant force in the bullpen.  Furthermore, while you can never really have too much pitching, the A's seem to be set in the bullpen.  Demel was already behind Henry Rodriguez, Cedrick Bowers and Brad Kilby in terms of extra relief arms and the core of the A's current bullpen is young and unlikely to change much over the next few years.  Even though Demel will in all likelihood have a major league career, I suspect that most A's fans will forget he was ever a part of the organization in a year or two.

Game 66 Recap or A Comedy of Errors

Oakland 9, Chicago 5 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 33-33

The Conor Jackson Era starts off with a win (and with a brief, unmemorable appearance from the A's newly acquired left fielder), thanks in large part to an embarrassing defensive performance from the Cubs --- The A's scored 9 runs but had just 4 RBI, not exactly a common occurrence.  They did add 13 hits and took advantage of the mistakes to put up two big innings to back Trevor Cahill.

The A's left the bases loaded in the first inning against the struggling Carlos Zambrano, he looked like he was settling down, retiring the next 6.  Cahill breezed through the first three frames, and the game was scoreless after 3.  The A's then started off the 4th with a walk to Kurt Suzuki and a hit by Kevin Kouzmanoff (who stayed hot with 3 more hits), a wild pitch and then a Jack Cust walk which loaded the bases.  Mark Ellis plated the game's first run with a single, and then things fell apart for Derrek Lee and the Cubs.  After Cliff Pennington grounded into a fielder's choice, it looked like the Cubs could get out of it with minimal damage with Cahill coming to the plate.

He grounded weakly to Lee, who had a shot at either a double play (with Cahill running) or forcing the runner at home --- but booted it instead, scoring a run to prolong the inning.  On the very next play, Rajai Davis hit a grounder to short, but Lee dropped the throw, allowing 2 more runs to score.  Zambrano stopped the damage there (thanks in part to a great catch by Marlon Byrd in center), but the A's never relinquished the lead after that.

Cahill ran into trouble in the 5th and 6th, giving up 4 runs, but overall looked better than his line, striking out 5 and showing pretty good command, and really only giving up one hard hit ball (the double by Chad Tracy).  For some reason Lou Piniella let Zambrano hit for himself in a 5-4 game with a man on 2nd base (after an ill-advised throw by Jack Cust...seriously, cannot wait for him to be able to DH again) and Jerry Blevins retired him.  I know Zambrano is a good hitting pitcher, but you have Xavier Nady (who didn't end up even being used), Geovany Soto and Jeff Baker on the bench.

The A's responded by scoring 3 in the 7th thanks again in part to Cubs fielding problems --- Tyler Colvin made two errors and turned a catchable ball into a Cliff Pennington triple / error that scored two runs.  The Cubs had almost escaped damage from a bases loaded 0 out situation (that included another Colvin error) because Mark Ellis grounded into a rare 5-3-2 DP, but a wild pitch scored one, and then Pennington's 3B gave the A's back their 4-run lead.

The bullpen held the lead (Brad Ziegler just cannot face lefties --- Colvin absolutely crushed a homer off him) and the A's got back to .500.  One final note --- the A's 9th run was scored because of a heads up play by Mark Ellis -- with runners at the corners and 1 out, Cliff Pennington hit a DP grounder to second, but Ellis stopped, forcing Ryan Theriot to throw to first and then tag out Ellis for the DP, allowing the runner on third to score on the non-force play.  I love it when guys do things right.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A's Trade for Conor Jackson

The A's traded for Conor Jackson today, sending reliever Sam Demel to the Diamondbacks for the former Cal standout.  Jackson will join the A's outfield mix and will likely play almost every day until Coco Crisp returns from the DL.  Crisp may be back as early as next week, at which point Crisp, Davis, and Jackson will likely be part of a job-sharing arrangement.  This means fewer PT for Eric Patterson and Gabe Gross.

There was a time when Jackson was undeniably a solid contributor.  His first full major league season was 2006, and as a 24 year old, he put up a 109 wRC+ (wRC+ is basically "a wOBA based version of OPS+. It’s park and league adjusted and it’s on a very similar scale as OPS+.")  His wRC+ in 2007 was 115 and in 2008 it was 118.  To put those figures into context, Rajai Davis' .305/.360/.423 line last year translated into a wRC+ of 119.  So through his first three major league seasons, Jackson was a pretty good hitter, but didn't provide the ideal production you'd want from a first baseman or left fielder.  

Disaster struck last year, though, as Jackson came down with a severe case of Valley Fever and didn't play at all after May 11.  Not only did he miss months worth of at bats, his physical activity was extremely limited, to the point where he suffered substantial weight loss and atrophied muscles.  Jackson was able to start the 2010 season, but its an open question as to how much of his hitting ability he's retained.

In 42 games so far he's hit just .238/.326/.331, "good" for a wRC+ of 76.  These numbers are obviously unacceptable, especially from a corner outfielder playing half his games in Arizona.  At this point, it's simply too early to tell if he's the same hitter he was before catching Valley Fever.  In some ways he's the same hitter he was before last season.  His plate discipline stats this year are more or less the same as his career averages; he's doing just as well at laying off pitches outside the zone, and making contact with pitches in the zone as he always has.

There also doesn't seem to be much of a problem with his batted ball statistics and his BABIP of .263 indicates that he's run into a bit of bad luck so far this season.  The underlying data seems to back this up.  His groundball to flyball ratio is the highest its ever been at 1.11 (in 2008 it was 1.04), and for a slow guy like Jackson that's a bad sign.  However, he's made up for his decrease in flyballs by hitting more line drives, his line drive rate is 27%; in 2008 it was 21%.

The one thing that is obvious is that Jackson's power has yet to return.  He has just 1 home run so far and his .093 ISO is a clear indication that something is wrong; Rajai Davis' ISO this year is .09.  This lack of power is particularly disturbing, considering all the strength that he lost in his bout with Valley Fever.  While his low BABIP may be the result of bad luck, it may also simply be that he's just not hitting the ball with any authority and the line drives he's hitting are the weak variety.

As an extra bat with a little bit of upside, Jackson's certainly not a bad addition, especially considering the "production" the A's have gotten out of their left fielders so far.

Eric Patterson108.262.420
Gabe Gross118.304.356
Travis Buck38.324.375

Jackson, even if his power doesn't fully come back, should at least be able to provide better OBP skills than the above trio.

Given that the A's only gave up AAA reliever Sam Demel to get him (more on Demel tomorrow) and got cash to pay for part of Jackson's 2010 salary, this wasn't a bad deal.  The A's aren't taking on a lot of risk, and if he continues to stink it up, they can just non-tender him after the season.  If he rights himself at the plate and regains some power he's under team control for 2011. 

The biggest risk in the deal would be for the A's to think that the addition of Jackson is the cure for the offense.  In all likelihood, he's a slight upgrade over Patterson and Gross, and there's the risk that he's just as disappointing.  I really hope this doesn't preclude the A's from making a bigger splash down the line because the A's offense needs more than a marginal upgrade if they want to stay in the AL West race.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Games 63-65 Recap or The Giants Return the Favor

San Francisco 6, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
San Francisco 5, Oakland 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
San Francisco 6, Oakland 2
(WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 32-33

In the May A's/Giants series in Oakland, the A's swept the Giants in a convincing fashion, and lo and behold, the Giants did the exact same thing when the matchup shifted to San Francisco.  The A's had an early 1-0 lead against Tim Lincecum on Friday, but never led again in the series, with only a couple of glimmers of hope.

They scored just 5 runs in 22 innings off Giants starting pitching (to be fair, Lincecum/Cain/Zito is a pretty tough 1-2-3 combo to face) and that wasn't enough as their own starting pitching wasn't as sharp as they have been all year.  Sheets, Gonzalez and Mazzaro gave performances that could have been good enough to win with an average offense/amount of support (though Gio fell apart in the 6th inning, he looked okay before that) and the bullpen was relatively decent as well.  The fact of the matter is that when this team gives up 5 or 6 runs, they aren't going to win, and a pitch or two here, a crucial error there, is the difference between giving up 3-4 runs a game and winning and 5-6 runs and losing.

While Friday night's game was essentially over in the 6th, the A's had chances late on Saturday and on Sunday, and both times Adam Rosales struck out in huge situations --- on Saturday, down 1 run with the bases loaded and 1 out in the 8th, on Sunday in a tie ballgame with runners at the corners and 1 out.  Both times, Rosales could have scored a run with an out, and both times he was overpowered.  Not to pick on him (he did homer on Saturday, after all) but when he came up Sunday, all I could think about was Saturday and of course the same thing happened.

A couple of observations on players --- Kouzmanoff is finally hitting, but I still don't feel comfortable with him up there --- I think it's because his swing is so weird and never looks right.  Pennington might be breaking out of his slump with 3 XBH this weekend -- a .280/.340/.420 SS (his line last year) is very valuable, but I hadn't realized his numbers had dipped so far (.211/.290/.324) after a solid start.  His true ability is probably somewhere in between and the A's need him to not be horrible.  Mazzaro had his 2nd straight solid outing showing decent stuff and command --- he's not gonna be Brett Anderson, but it'd be big if he can be competent, because there's a pretty big drop off to the A's next option behind him.

Unfortunately, while the A's were losing, their divisional rivals had successful weekends, and they find themselves 4 back of the Rangers and 3.5 behind the Angels with a crucial trip to Chicago and St. Louis ahead of them.  The A's have had a lot of past success in interleague play and they'll going to need it to continue to avoid falling further behind.