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, April 30, 2010

Game 24 Recap or U-G-L-Y

Toronto 10, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 12-12
I try to look for a silver lining when the A's get so thoroughly pummeled.  In games like this its obvious what went wrong; Trever Cahill didn't look like a big league pitcher and the A's hitters made Brandon Morrow look like Walter Johnson (or, Phil Hughes).  The worst part is, though, that I don't see a silver lining.  Kevin Kouamanoff got two hits?  Meh.  Seriously, the best news is that the bullpen got a rest because Cahill and Chad Gaudin managed to get through eight innings.

I'd really like Cahill to succeed and his minor league numbers going into last year looked like he would.  His minor league K/rate was above 9 per inning and he was a groundball machine.  His control sometimes was shaky, but never awful.  I know he was rushed to the big leagues last year, but his statistical profile was of a much different pitcher.  His strikeout rate fell to about 4.5 per 9, though he still managed to get a ton of groundball outs.  He had major problems against lefties, as his FIP versus lefties was 6.52.

I was hoping that tonight's game would show us what kind of pitcher he'd be this year.  I sure as heck hope this game isn't an indicator of the rest of his season, though.  His stuff simply wasn't very good.  His sinker was constantly up in the zone and his slider was mashed for homers twice.  He gave up hard hit balls to lefties and righties alike.  To make matters worse he wasn't getting groundballs; the Blue Jays hit eight grounders, as compared with nine flyballs and three line drives off of Cahill.  I guess the best thing you can say is that he only walked one, but his command was not strong.  He consistently missed his spots and the Blue Jays took advantage by hitting the ball hard.

The A's placed Kurt Suzuki on the DL and they called up Josh Donaldson to take his place.  They also sent Matt Carson to AAA to make room for Cahill.  Presumably, the A's will call up Vin Mazzaro and put Justin Duchscherer on the DL in a couple days.  Also, Michael Wuertz looks like he'll be ready to rejoin the A's next week.

The A's best chance at a victory comes on Saturday with Gio Gonzalez facing Dana Eveland.  The A's winning the last two games of the series would salvage this road trip a bit, so here's hoping they look better tomorrow and Sunday.

Brad Ziegler, Ryan Howard, and A's Attendance

A couple days ago Brad Ziegler made some comments on Twitter about attendance at A's games.  The comments were his initial reaction to the idea of a boycott of the Diamondbacks because of Arizona's new immigration law.  To be clear, he wasn't trying to make a statement on Arizona's immigration law (even though the topic is increasingly germane to a baseball blog.)  In both his initial comments and in a clarifying letter, he expressed his feelings about playing in mostly empty stadiums.  Obviously, players want to be playing in front of packed houses and I'm sure it's frustrating when there's no one there to support you. 

I totally understand Ziggy's general premise that it sucks that the A's don't draw bigger crowds.  What I don't understand is the extent to which people pine for roster stability when they talk about attendance at A's games.  Maybe I just shouldn't look at the reader comments on certain websites because knowing what some A's fans are thinking stupefies me.  I get that fans want to root for the same players year after year.  I sure as heck would have loved for the 2005 A's to have had Hudson, Mulder, Zito, Giambi, Tejada, Chavez, Damon, and Ramon Hernandez.  But I know what I'm getting being an A's fan, and short of having a team full of superstars, I want a team that can win.

Which brings me to Ryan Howard.  Tens of thousands of words have been written about his 5-year $125 million contract, and there's no better piece on the deal than Jonah Keri's. The part of Keri's post that got me thinking about the A's is the difference in opinion between analysts and Phillies fans, even those who are analyst-oriented.  By any objective measure, Philadelphia is overpaying for Howard.  The only real question is how bad of a deal did they get.  Many Phillies fans though, even smart ones, don't necessarily hate the deal.  Why not?  Well, because Howard's a really good player and it's fun to have really good players on your team. And, who cares how a bunch of multi-millionaires spend their own money?  Fans' criticisms of the deal smartly focus on how devoting so much money to Howard may impede their ability to keep the Phillies' other stars. 

You see, the Phillies can pay for Ryan Howard and, for now at least, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, and Roy Halladay.  Maybe they won't be able to afford Jayson Werth or Shane Victorino in a few years, but a team of Utley, Howard, Hamels, and Halladay is as good of a core as you could hope for.  The A's simply don't have the resources to pay for four superstars.  No amount of shopping at the Gap or going to games or buying jerseys is going to fix that.  Even a brand new ballpark won't fix that.

It's foolish for A's fans to expect to sign all of the good players they produce to long term contracts.  It's just as foolish for me to try change other fans' expectations for how the team should act.  However, I think that we should be able to agree that the A's should do what gives them the best shot at winning.  And for the A's, that means roster turnover and a lot of young players.  I just wish that A's fans longing for roster stability would understand that this would mean rooting for a team full of Bobby Crosbys, Kirk Saarloos', Scott Hattebergs, and Jason Kendalls.  Sure we'd be familiar with the players, but we'd be complete strangers to the idea of post season play.

Game 23 Recap or What the Buck Happened?

Toronto 6, Oakland 3 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 12-11
The good news is that if you took away John Buck's offensive contributions the A's would have held the Blue Jays to one run.  Normally, if you do that you win the game.  Unfortunately, Buck had the most surprising three home run game since Jose Reyes did it in 2006.  The bad news is just about everything else.  Justin Duchscherer was ineffective and is now hurt.  Kurt Suzuki is probably going to go on the DL.  The A's offense was bad (and was really, really bad after the third inning).  The bullpen is strained after pitching over twelve innings in the past three days.  At least the Rangers lost...had they won each team in the division would have had 11 losses. 

After Buck's second home run, Adam sent me an angry text, railing on Geren for bringing in Jerry Blevins to face Buck.  I'm not going to defend the move, but I will say that the short outings by Sheets and Braden the previous two nights put Geren in a bit of a tight spot.  When replacing a starter so early he'd probably like to go with Tyson Ross or Chad Gaudin.  Ross, however, had pitched the day before and has yet to appear in games on consecutive days.  Gaudin had pitched an inning in each of the previous two games and was probably not available to pitch more than an inning.

This is an area where I think Geren's bullpen management philosophy is wrong.  Yes, when the starter goes only 3.1 innings you're going to need some pitchers to eat up innings to finish the game.  But there's no rule that says the first pitcher you bring in has to be the one who gets the majority of the remaining innings.  As it turned out, the Blevins-Buck at bat was the turning point of the game.  This is obvious both from a casual perspective and according to Fangraphs' leverage index for the game.  Theoretically, Bailey should have pitched in that situation, but more realistically, Ziegler or Gaudin would have been better options. 

Maybe Geren didn't really expect much from Buck and was more concerned with Travis Snider and Fred Lewis, both lefties, coming up next.  And for that, its hard to blame him; Buck is a career .234/.296/.409 hitter.  If Geren really wanted a lefty, Breslow has had more success against righties in the past, though Buck homered off of him later too.

The real concern for the A's is what the news of the day means for the team going forward.  Maybe Duke isn't hurt that badly (I don't have a good feeling about it, though) and maybe Landon Powell and Jake Fox can be an effective temporary duo behind the plate.  I'd say the only two things to take away from the game itself are this: 1) the most important situation could come at any situation in the game and 2) sometimes the unexpected occurs to beat you and well...that's life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Uh oh...

Now it looks like the Duke is hurt...the injury bug is spreading rapidly through this ballclub.

Cahill, Donaldson on their way to Toronto, Suzuki to DL?

Via Mychael Urban, the A's are calling up Trevor Cahill to start tomorrow's game against the Blue Jays.  Most likely, the A's will send down Steve Tolleson to make room.  This is not a huge surprise, but the other pending move is.  Apparently catcher Josh Donaldson is on his way up to the big club and will be activated pending Kurt Suzuki's MRI results, but all indications are that Suzuki is on his way to the DL.

Donaldson, 24, was acquired in the 2008 Rich Harden deal and has hit well since his acquisition --- a .330/.391/.564 line in high-A in 2008 and a .270/.379/.415 line in AA in 2009.  This year at Sacramento he's at .269/.320/.522, showing decent patience and good pop so far.  PECOTA projects him to post a .239/.321/.388 in the majors this year, which isn't horrible for a catcher.  His reputation puts him as a league-average defender, and he's certainly looks like a solid backup to Suzuki in the future.

Zack wrote about him in the Six-Year Outlook on catchers, so check that out for more information.

Game 22 Recap or The Little Things Matter...Sometimes

Tampa Bay 10, Oakland 3 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 12-10

When I hear a manager or columnist talk about the "little things that don't show up in the boxscore" I tend to roll my eyes.   I tend to think that things like the sacrifice bunt, hitting behind the runner, and sound baserunning are called little things because they actually are little things.  The first half of last night's game made me rethink the importance of the little things.  The second half reminded me why I am quick to dismiss the power of things that don't show up in the boxscore.

Let's start with the little things.  If the game had stayed close, as the score through four and a half innings seemed to indicate, then the first few innings would have deserved a lot of scrutiny.  Dallas Braden looked shaky right off the start, but the A's defense really didn't do him any favors.  Braden got into some trouble in the first, giving up an infield single to Carl Crawford and a seeing eye single to Ben Zobrist.  Crawford's single was plain bad luck, but I was a bit surprised that Kouzmanoff couldn't get to Zobrist's grounder.  Perhaps if Crawford not been on first, Pennington would have been playing more in the hole and had a play on the ball, but the ball was hit softly enough that it looked like someone should have made a play.  Pennington did make a nice play on Longoria's grounder to get Zobrist out at second. 

Braden got out of the first untouched, but the second was another story.  To start the inning, Braden left a pitch up in the zone to BJ Upton who lined a double to right-center.  With one out, Gabe Kapler flipped a pitch on the outside corner into left field putting runners on the corners.  The next hitter, John Jaso, nubbed a grounder to Daric Barton at first.  Upton was running on contact and was trying to score.  Barton threw home...well he tried to throw home, but his throw was high and wide and went past Jake Fox.  Any non-terrible throw would have gotten the out at the plate, but as it was, the Rays had scored and had runners on first and third again.  Jason Bartlett followed with a pop up to shallow right.  Second baseman Adam Rosales seemed to have the ball the whole way, but he pulled up short and let the ball fall to the ground.  Rosales seemed to have been scared off by Ryan Sweeney, but Sweeney wasn't particularly close to Rosales.  Physical errors do happen and there's not much you can do about them.  Still, the A's very well could have escaped the inning without the Rays scoring had they simply been able to execute.

The Rays defense gave the A's a run in the fourth, but took one away in the fifth.  Sweeney led off the fourth with a double.  With one out, Kouzmanoff hit a routine grounder to short, but Barlett airmailed the throw, allowing Sweeney to score.  In the fifth, Eric Patterson led off with a single.  Adam Rosales followed with a double to left, but Carl Crawford threw Patterson out at the plate. 

In the end, none of this really mattered because the Rays pounded Braden and Tyson Ross in the fifth and added two homers off of Brad Kilby in the sixth.  Braden didn't look good at all; he walked three, struck out one, and gave up a number of hard hit balls.  Add in the fact that the Rays got a couple of grounders to find holes and that's a formula for a disastrous start.  Tyson Ross had his first bad outing as well, facing 6 batters and allowing 4 of them to reach base.  Meanwhile James Shields dominated the A's the rest of the way.  In seven innings he struck out 12 and walked only one. 

This game aside, the news on the injury front is a mixed bag.  Barton homered in the first - hopefully an indicator that his injured hand isn't going to be a problem.  Kurt Suzuki, however, was a late scratch from the game and has now missed four games in a row.  Jake Fox, who Ray Fosse keeps calling Eric Fox, has been surprisingly not-too bad behind the plate, but terrible in the batters box.  Hopefully Suzuki can come back soon and the rest of the A's get better by getting the heck away from the Rays.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Game 21 Recap or A Matter of Inches

Tampa Bay 8, Oakland 6 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 12-9

The oft-cited cliche that sports come down to a matter of inches (and as Al Pacino would say, life is a game of inches) has become cliche for a reason --- it's often true.  Last night's game was a perfect example, as it, and a little bit of history came down a to a few inches here or there.

Take Cliff Pennington, who had the game of his young career, going 4 for 5 with a home run, two doubles and 4 RBI, including a huge 3-run homer in the 3rd after the A's went down 4-0.  The only blemish on his record was getting picked off on a phantom tag in the first.  But, this could have been an even more memorable game, as Pennington's 6th inning double was really a triple, which would have meant that Pennington would have hit for the cycle.  Granted, yes, it was the right call that it was a ground-rule double, but I've always hated that the umpires don't use their discretion to award extra bases --- that was a clear triple and not only was Pennington robbed of his cycle, but the A's lost a crucial run.

Take the A's 3rd inning, where they mounted a great comeback after Ben Sheets gave up 4 runs in the 2nd (2 with 2 out) --- after scoring 4 to tie the game, Landon Powell crushed a ball deep to right with 2 on, but it died about 2 feet short of the fence.  A 3-run HR there would have been huge and also knocked Wade Davis out of the game.  But the difference between a harmless flyout and a 3-run bomb there was just a matter of feet.

Take Pat Burrell's go-ahead 3-run HR off Sheets in the 3rd --- it was a decent shot but just barely got out.  A couple of feet shorter, and it would have been a harmless out rather than the knockout blow.  Granted, Sheets did not look particularly great (though his velocity was up a tick, at 93-95 if the Rays' radar gun is to be believed) and gave up two homers and a lot of hard-hit balls.  He hasn't looked like a $10 million ace as of yet, but I do think after a year off he needs some time to get back to form.

So, the A's scored more than 4 runs and lost a game for the first time all year, and I feel like every time that happens will feel like this game --- a waste of offense.  How often are you going to get 9 TB from Cliff Pennington or a 4 for 4 night from Adam Rosales?  One final note -- Daric Barton had his worst game of the year, going 0 for 5 and made outs in two huge 2nd and 3rd, 2 out situations.  It might be a coincidence, but he does have a broken finger --- if his effectiveness continues to diminish, the A's should think about DLing him.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Breaking News - Anderson out 4-6 Weeks

via Buster Olney.

Not good.

Quick A's Links

- An interview with director of player development Keith Lieppman which sheds some light on the state of the A's farm system (especially on some of the guys working their way back from injury) and who they might turn to this season if need be.

- A profile on the most hustlingest of all the A's, Adam Rosales --- as much as I find false hustle annoying, it is hard not to find it endearing when it's on your own team.

- Susan Slusser's twitter feed --- a really great resource for up-to-the-minute A's news.

- An interesting tidbit on Brett Anderson's mound position from Fangraphs.

Anderson to DL, Ramirez out, Powell, Tolleson up

The A's made a couple of roster moves before today's game, placing Brett Anderson on the DL with left elbow inflammation and a strained forearm and sending walk-prone reliever Edwar Ramirez to Sacramento.  They brought back Landon Powell (with Suzuki's injury, he got a start today) and called up infielder Steve Tolleson, who will make his major league debut when he first plays for Oakland.

Tolleson, 26, is likely to be an unfamiliar name for most A's fans -- he was claimed this offseason off waivers from the Twins system, after spending 5 seasons in that farm system.  The son of former big leaguer Wayne Tolleson has played primarily 2B and SS, though this year he's been logging a lot of time at 3B as well.  He has a career .278/.370/.403 line in the minors, including a hot start in Sacramento this year at .333/.439/.500.  He looks to be a decent utility infielder type, though his stay with the big-club may be short, as they will need to recall a starting pitcher when Anderson's turn next comes up -- unless they send Powell back to AAA when Suzuki's 100% healthy again.

Which brings us to the real question --- Zack earlier asked how the A's would replace Daric Barton (who is in tonight's lineup, but may miss some time if the injury acts up or hampers his effectiveness), but even more important is the question of how the A's will replace budding ace Brett Anderson.  Hopefully Anderson's stay on the DL will be short, but forearm/elbow problems can be serious and the A's are sure to treat him with kid gloves.  We'll know more after the MRI he is scheduled to undergo tomorrow - keep your fingers crossed.

The A's have quite a few options to replace him in the rotation, starting with two guys currently on the roster - Chad Gaudin and Tyson Ross.  Both have logged a lot of time starting, but I don't think they'll turn to either nor do I think it'd be the right move.  Ross has been so good out of the pen, and Gaudin has always been more effective as a reliever because of his righty/lefty split (3.96 FIP v. R, 5.13 v. L).  If they do go with one of these two, they'd likely call up Henry Rodriguez to fill out the pen -- Rodriguez, who tops at between 98-100 MPH, is off to a great start in Sacramento (7.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 12 K).

More likely, the A's will turn to one of Trevor Cahill or Vin Mazzaro --- the latter has pitched effectively at Sacramento, in 4 starts he's 1-1 with a 1.86 ERA in 19.1 IP (8 BB, 21 Ks), but the former was decent all year in the majors as a 21 year-old rookie last season.  He's only made two starts since returning from a non-throwing shoulder injury, but if the A's are convinced he's healthy, they'll probably turn to him.  If not, they'll go with Mazzaro.  Hopefully, in either case, it's only for a few starts, as they really cannot afford to lose Anderson for an extended period of time.

How to Replace Barton?

Daric Barton has a small fracture on the middle finger of his right hand.  He made the trip to Tampa and will be re-evaluated today.  Because he wasn't immediately DL-ed, I guess it's possible that this is less of an issue than I think, but I fully expect Barton to miss some time, perhaps even a couple of weeks.

Barton has been the best A's hitter by far.  His .488 OBP is second in the AL and he is one of two A's with SLG percentages over .400.  On a team with so few threats at the plate, the A's need to replace him with someone (or more likely someones) who can actually hit.

The solution depends on how much time Barton will miss.  If Barton only misses a few games and does not need to go on the DL the A's can probably get by with Chavez and Fox splitting time at first, with the other getting at bats at DH along with Eric Patterson.  As much as I'd like to see Chavez return to his early 2000s form, the odds are against it.  Fox is no sure thing either and as questionable as it was to have them split DH duties, relying on them both and Eric Patterson is dicey.

The A's only other real option is to look to AAA for the answer.  Perhaps if Dallas McPherson or Sean Doolittle were healthy, they'd be options.  McPherson, however, is out with a strained hamstring and Doolittle is still battling knee problems and has yet to make his season debut.  That leaves Chris Carter as the A's only alternative to playing two of Chavez, Fox, and Patterson every day.

There is no doubt that Carter represents the future for the A's either at first base or DH.  But there are two huge reasons not to call him up now.  The first, is that he simply may not be a good major league hitter right now.  His .290/.347/.522 line in Sacramento certainly isn't bad, but it certainly doesn't scream "promote me" either.  He's struck out 19 times and walked only five times in 17 games.  It's not entirely clear that he'd outhit Patterson right now.  Patterson hit .307/.376/.494 last season in Sacramento.

More importantly, though, is the effect that a callup would have on Carter's development.  Combined with last year's AAA numbers, he has barely over 100 AAA plate appearances and could seemingly use at least another half season there.  Player development is far from an exact science, but normally, rushing prospects hurt their development.  Whatever the reason, if the A's call up Carter before he's ready, they risk him not turning into the impact level hitter they expect him to be.  Given that he is a bit of a high risk prospect, mostly because of his high strikeout totals, I'd err on the side of caution and not call him up until it was clear that he was ready.

What then, do I recommend the A's do?  First, even despite the A's lack of alternatives I'd be careful with Barton's hand injury.  He finally seems to be living up to the promise he's shown in the minors.  If he were to rush back and aggravate the injury the results could be disastrous both for this season and for Barton's career.  Because I don't think Carter is ready for the majors, I'd roll the dice with the non-Carter options for as long as it is tenable.  It's time to see if Fox and/or Patterson can be everyday players and if Chavez can be a healthy and productive DH.  If after a month or so they haven't proven they can hit major league pitching, and if Barton isn't back, and if Carter is ready (or at least near-ready), that is when they should think about calling up Carter.

Maybe my worrying is for naught and Barton is fine and the fracture on his finger isn't too severe.  But given the A's track record with injuries in the past - and the fact that they haven't shown much improvement this year (see Ellis, Mark) - I really hope they're sure he's healed before Barton sees the field again.  Yes, it'd be nice if the A's could plug Chris Carter right into Barton's lineup spot and assume he'll go Jason Heyward on the league.  But games aren't won and prospects aren't made by wishing really hard.  There are no ideal solutions to this problem, but the A's sure could make things worse by making the wrong choices.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Game 20 Recap or The Return of Chavvy (for one game)

Oakland 11, Cleveland 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 12-8

An interesting stat popped up on the A's broadcast today when they scored their 4th run of the game in the 4th inning.  With the win on Sunday, the A's are now 11-0 this season when they score 4 or more runs, and 1-8 when they score fewer.  Obviously, it's an artificial cutoff where most teams will have similar splits, but I do think it speaks volumes about how well the A's have pitched this season that they've won every single game thus far in which they've scored 4 or more runs.

And the A's again pitched quite well today, though probably not well enough to deserve the shut out.  It's often awesome to watch Gio Gonzalez pitch, because his stuff is really excellent and when it's all working you can see the makings of a future ace, but his inconsistency also makes it often frustrating to watch him.  He had one tough inning when 2 walks helped to load the bases (and the game was still 2-0 at the time) but got out of it and then retired his final 9 hitters.

While I haven't been a proponent of the Eric Chavez experiment, I must admit it's really nice to see it when he's contributing (and he's been pretty bad so far this year) just because of how good he used to be and how hard it's been for him to get back to this point.  That being said, it's just that type of thought process that's going to keep him on the team for longer than he should.  But for one day, it was pretty great to see him hit well.

Clearly a very solid game overall (and I have to mention Eric Patterson showing some legit power with a deep HR to CF and an opposite field 3B off the wall) but there was some bad news after the game --- Daric Barton fractured a finger on his diving catch into the Indians dugout.  While I love the effort and it was a great play, it was when the game was already essentially over and Barton is definitely now the A's best hitter -- he has a .488 OBP for crying out loud -- and they cannot afford to lose him.  He may not miss very much time, but that combined with the injury to Brett Anderson cast a dark cloud over an otherwise solid 6-4 homestand.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Game 19 Recap or Seems Like It Could Have Been Worse

Cleveland 6, Oakland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 11-8
Brett Anderson's last 24 hours have been a bit of a roller coaster.  He looked great during his start yesterday, but then had to leave early with what was first described as elbow or forearm tightness.  A significant injury to Anderson would have been way worse than an A's loss, but the news from this morning seems to indicate that Anderson's injury was merely a forearm cramp. 

Anderson is apparently on track to make his next start, which is great news for him and the team.  Except for the early-ish exit, yesterday's results are what I've come to expect from Anderson, who probably should be considered the A's ace.  His command was a bit off in the early going as he fell behind half the hitters he faced in the first two innings.  However, he managed to escape any harm in the first two frames and looked really good the rest of the way.  The double to Mike Redmond in the sixth that led to a run was costly, but was the only extra base hit Anderson gave up.  His final line was 6 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 5 Ks, and 1 walk.  Through 6 innings he had thrown only 80 pitches and without the forearm cramp would have been able to pitch at least into the seventh.

That would have been nice for the A's, as the Indians were able to jump all over the A's bullpen.  Chad Gaudin pitched a perfect seventh, but, with the help of Craig Breslow, gave up two runs in the eighth.  Edwar Ramirez let the Indians put the game far out of reach as he gave up three more runs in the ninth.  Michael Wuertz will likely be ready to rejoin the A's this week and I'd have to imagine that Ramirez' hold on a job with the big league club is precarious.  His control is just not good enough to be a successful reliever.  He walked three batters (again), two of whom scored.  For the year, he has now walked eight batters in ten innings.

In the end, the failure of the A's bullpen doesn't really matter as the offense managed to only score one run.  When opposing pitchers don't give them free passes the A's can't really score.  And Fausto Carmona, looking like a much different pitcher than the last two years, challenged the A's hitters and had great control.  He pitched into the eighth inning and did not give up a walk.  He threw first pitch strikes to 20 of the 29 hitters he faced and 70 of his 103 pitchers were in the strike zone. 

The A's might fare better today against Justin Masterson.  Masterson has had some problems with control so far in his career, so the A's may actually score more than a couple of runs today.  Those runs, along with a solid outing by Gio Gonzalez, would certainly help the A's finish their long homestand above .500.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Game 18 Recap or The King of Doublin'

Oakland 10, Cleveland 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 11-7

Well, the A's current record is 11-8, I suppose, and it's never fun to come home and see the A's lost, but I can relive the happy moments from last night's win, a 10-0 romp over the Indians.  The game was actually much closer than that for most of it --- the A's were only leading 1-0 in the 6th, and the Indians by all rights could have been leading.

Justin Duchscherer ended up with 6 shutout innings, but allowing 9 baserunners and walking 4 while only striking out 2 is not usually a recipe for success.  His command was a little off, but I (and the A's announcers) thought he was getting squeezed by home plate umpire Doug Eddings (full disclosure, I think Eddings is a subpar umpire), especially after the confrontation they had in the 1st inning.  But the Duke got through it by inducing a groundball double play in all of the first 4 innings, effectively killing all Indians rallies.  The infield defense looked slick and the Indians were definitely deflated by the DPs.

The A's got on the board in the 4th inning thanks to a well-placed 2-out Kouzmanoff RBI single and then took advantage of a rapidly tiring Jake Westbrook, putting up a quick 3 spot in the 6th thanks to a double, single and Kurt Suzuki's 2nd HR in as many days (and 3rd in 4).  The game was essentially in hand at that point and when the A's added 6 runs in the 9th (thanks mostly to very sloppy defense) the rout was on.

A very pleasant victory (Tyson Ross continues to impress and Brad Kilby looked nasty --- he should definitely stick if he keeps it up) but (spoiler alert) since the A's have already lost today, it's not all lollipops and rainbows.  Luckily for me, Zack will be writing up the recap of today's loss so I can just savor yesterday's win.


Flip, Flop, Flyball had an amusing post about the Braden/A-Rod incident.  Check it out.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Powell down, Kilby up

The A's sent C Landon Powell back down to AAA, going to 13 pitchers with the addition of lefty Brad Kilby.  With Jerry Blevins dealing with back spasms, the A's wanted to get another lefty in the pen to neutralize the Indians' left handed bats (Sizemore, Choo, Hafner, Branyan).  Powell had yet to appear for the A's in the few days since his call-up.  Kilby was excellent in his short stint with the A's last season (0.53 ERA, 17 IP, 4 BB, 20 K) and had a 1.69 ERA in 5 games at Sacramento this year.

Devine, Wuertz delayed

While the A's bullpen has been pretty uniformly excellent (3.14 ERA, 3.57 xFIP, 52 Ks in 51.2 IP), there seemed to be reinforcements on the way in 2009's stud Michael Wuertz and 2008's stud Joey Devine but it looks like we'll have to wait a little longer for both to rejoin the big club.  Wuertz was potentially going to rejoin the club earlier this week, but has been battling a "dead arm" and despite throwing a scoreless inning on Wednesday night for AAA Sacramento is still ticketed for more rehab appearances there.  Expect him to rejoin the team in the beginning of May.

The news on Devine is much worse, as he suffered his second setback in extended spring training, causing the A's to shut him down indefinitely.  He still hasn't faced live batters, so he appears to be months away, and given the long layoff, may not be in a position to help the A's this season.  The A's bullpen has plugged along without these two but if they could come back at full strength, they might just sport the best pen in the AL.

Game 17 Recap or I'll Trade a Triple Play for a Win

Oakland 4, New York 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 10-7

The A's managed to avoid getting swept and salvaged one game of the series thanks to a huge 3-run homer from Kurt Suzuki and effective pitching from Dallas Braden, who gutted out 6 innings despite being sick enough to receive an IV after the game.  Despite being handed 6 walks by C.C. Sabathia they didn't really hit him particularly well and didn't show a ton of patience (outside of Barton, who had 2 great at-bats) --- Sabathia's walks were mostly a result of his wildness rather than anything the A's were doing.  But Suzuki's HR was enough to get the win, and that's all that matters.

Braden was walking a fine line all game, relying heavily again on his low 70s change up that just screams "hit me" when it's up in the zone (and Teixeira took a low and outside one way over the LF fence) and worries me against good hitters.  Against a club like the Yankees, though, to escape with just 2 runs, both on solo homers, was impressive.  His command was good all day and he did just enough to keep them off-balance and get a lot of routine flyballs.  Ziegler and Bailey finished with 3 quiet innings, which is exactly what you want out of your bullpen.

Suzuki had pretty much the biggest disparity in results you could possibly have between at-bats, hitting a 3-run HR in the 1st and then, in a very similar situation with 2 on in the 6th, hit into a rare 5-4-3 groundball triple play.  It was the first triple play of any kind for the Yankees in over 40 years and the first the A's have hit into in 16.  I've seen triple plays before off line drives, but never off a grounder before --- it was just a perfect storm of a hard hit ball right next to the 3rd base bag and a relatively slow runner and a very clean play from A-Rod and Cano.

As far as the controversy between Dallas Braden and A-Rod (covered here), I don't have a ton to say except that Dallas overreacted and A-Rod responded pretty much how you'd expect given his reputation.  I've never heard of the unwritten rule that hitters aren't supposed to step on the mound (though I guess it makes sense) and I think Braden was fired up to get a huge DP from Cano to end the inning.  If A-Rod had responded in a classier way, I would have to take his side (as hard as that would be) but his post-game interview that included a dig at Braden (about how he has only a handful of wins) evens the scales a bit.

Bottom line, the A's eked out a win against the best team in baseball and can hopefully end the homestand strong against the Indians.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Zack Was Wrong (Updated)

This will probably happen dozens of times this year, but it turns out I was wrong about something.  Looks like having Jai Miller is worse than having an empty spot on the 40 man roster.  The A's have designated him for assignment.  At Sacramento, he was 4 for 34 with 3 walks and 19 strikeouts.  Yikes.

I'm not sure if the A's are making room on the 40-man roster for someone else or not, but will update this post if they are.

UPDATE:  The A's placed Travis Buck on the DL and called up Matt Carson from AAA.  Carson needed to be added to the 40-man roster, which is why Jai Miller was designated for assignment.  Carson was hitting .357/.400/.464 in Sacramento.

Game 16 Recap or At Least We Didn't Get No-Hit!

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

A's Current Record: 9-7
Phil Hughes pitched a great game last night...probably.  Why do I say a guy who had a no hitter through seven, walked two, and struck out ten probably pitched a great game?  Because the A's offense gave Hughes a fair amount of help putting up such an impressive line.  I don't want to take away too much from Hughes' performance, he did pound the strike zone, throwing 70 of his 101 pitches for strikes and his fastball had both velocity and movement.  He did make mistakes, though, and the A's failed to capitalize.  He left some fastballs up in the zone - Chavez' flyout in the fifth comes to mind - and the A's just couldn't make any hard contact.  If the Doug Fisters and Jason Vargases of the league are going to give the A's a hard time, then when a guy with the stuff Hughes has throws strike after strike, the A's have no chance.

The good news coming out of the game was Ben Sheets.  While he still didn't look especially dominating or sharp, he kept a very good offense in check.  He still threw too many pitches out of the strike zone, 40 of his 96 pitches were balls, but for the most part he kept the ball down and didn't give up too many hard hit balls (unfortunately he gave up two in a row in the fourth).  He also looked strong in his last inning of work, getting A-Rod, Cano, and Posada out in order in the sixth.  In his previous starts he seemed to wear down in the fifth and sixth innings.

Unfortunately, the bad news from yesterday, even excluding the A's offensive performance, outweighs the good.  Mark Ellis was placed on the DL with a strained hamstring.  Travis Buck was a late scratch from the game with an oblique injury and Jerry Blevins had to leave the game early with back spasms.  Adam Rosales has looked pretty good in place of Ellis this past week, but I'd much prefer Ellis out there as the regular with Rosales playing only occasionally.  Buck can probably be replaced with Gabe Gross, but Buck looked like he was starting to hit the ball harder with a home run and a hard line drive out on Tuesday.

It'd be nice if the A's could salvage a win today against CC Sabathia, but I'm not confident they will.  We'll see how Braden fares against the Yankee hitters.  He'll have to be almost perfect because I don't expect the A's to put up a lot of runs against Sabathia.  At least the Yankees have used both Chamberlain and Rivera in consecutive games so they might get a crack at the back end of New York's bullpen.  This assumes that Sabathia doesn't just throw a complete game, which, given how the A's offense has looked the past few days, isn't at all out of the question.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Game 15 Recap or Dude, Where's My Control?

New York 7, Oakland 3 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 9-6
What an ugly game.  As much as I'd like to blame the Yankees for dragging out the length of games as Joe West suggested, it's not really their fault when opposing teams issue ten walks as the A's did last night.  The battle for biggest offender last night is pretty tight between Gio Gonzalez and Edwar Ramirez.  Gio walked more guys, five in 4.1 innings, but Ramirez' four walks in a mere two innings, including three walks in the seventh, was also pretty impressive.  I think with after that performance he may as well print out directions/buy a bus ticket to Sacramento to have handy when Michael Wuertz is done with rehab.

Ramirez' walk party was bad, but not unexpected.  Gonzalez' command issues, while also not out of the blue, was way more disappointing.  He's such a frustrating pitcher to watch.  Last night his fastball was in the mid-90s and his big curve made a couple of appearances.  He was just so inconsistent and the Yankees took full advantage of it.  After getting two quick outs in the first, he fell behind 3-0 to Teixeira before allowing him to double.  He then walked A-Rod and lost Cano to a walk after a pretty good battle.  Yes, Barton probably should have handled the grounder by Posada that extended the inning, but Gonzalez had a good shot to get out of the inning before Posada even came to the plate.

I know you can't just tell a guy to throw more strikes or do much to magically improve a pitcher's command.  But I think it would help Gio to pitch inside more often, especially to right handed batters.  He only hit one batter last year and in the minors, he hit two in 2007 and two in 2008.  For a pitcher who has shaky control, this seems to indicate an unwillingness to pitch inside.  There's no reason for him to aim for the outside corner so frequently when there's a pretty decent chance he'll miss his spot anyways.  This hurt him the most against A-Rod and Teixeira.  Yes, they're good hitters, but I'd rather Gio challenge them with his stuff than have him try to place a fastball on the outside corner.

His control got him in trouble again in the fifth.  With one out he walked Nick Johnson and Teixeira, at which point Bob Geren made a pitching change.  He brought in Craig Breslow who gave up a long home run to A-Rod.  I know there may be some hand-wringing about the decision to bring in Breslow to face Rodriguez, but the decision is imminently defensible, if not ideal.  You definitely want a lefty facing the bottom half of the Yankees lineup which featured three lefties and two switch hitters.  That is why Breslow was the first man up in the bullpen.  Geren probably assumed that Gio could at least make it to Cano or through the fifth inning, which may have been a mistake.  However, Breslow actually had a lower FIP against right handers last year than against lefties, so he's probably the guy you want to have warm.  This game turned on a lack of execution by the pitchers and not Geren's decision making.

The A's offense today didn't look as bad as I had feared they would.  They only scored three runs, but they got a lot of baserunners and even hit two home runs.  Travis Buck's line drive double play really killed the A's as did Kevin Kouzmanoff's weak at bat against Joba Chamberlain with the bases loaded in the seventh.

The best news for the A's is that they knocked Javier Vazquez out early and both Joba and Rivera made appearances in last night's game.  The A's will need every edge they can get going into the last two games.  Tonight, they'll face apitcher with the stuff to potentially shut them down (Phil Hughes) and one on Thursday who is very likely to do so (C.C. Sabathia).

Quick thoughts

Caught the beginning of the game on YES here in New York, and the Yankees' announcers mentioned that even though Vazquez's fastball has been mediocre this year, he should challenge the A's because they are not a threatening lineup.  Essentially what I've been saying --- this is a team that can often be beat by simply throwing strikes.  Yeah, they did hit two HRs off of him but the point stands.

On the other side of the bump, Gio Gonzalez obviously struggled with his command (though I didn't watch much past the 1st inning) and is exactly the type of pitcher who the A's would be able to score runs off.  It's way too early to pull him, especially with how good his stuff has looked --- but keep in mind Trevor Cahill made his first AAA start last night and though he was mediocre (3 BB, 2 R in 3.2 IP) if he starts to perform in Sacramento, Gio will have to watch his back.

Zack will post a proper game recap later in the day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Can Rajai Davis Hit?

On April 23, 2008, the Giants waived Rajai Davis.  He had opened the season by going 1 for 18 with a walk.  At that time his future looked bleak.  The Giants opted to hang on to Dave Roberts and Eugenio Velez instead of him, and it was uncertain if he'd catch on with a major league team.  He was never a highly touted prospect, and at 27, unlikely to improve much in the future.  And, at first glance, a run-of-the-mill speed and defense guy.

He looked to most teams like a fourth or fifth outfielder at best and the A's claimed him off of waivers to fill exactly that role.  For the rest of 2008 he was used as a part-time outfielder, full time pinch runner and defensive replacement.  He appeared in 101 games for the A's, managing only 207 plate appearances.  He emerged last season, though, as a full time starter and hit .305/.360/.423.  He also stole 41 bases in 52 tries and played outstanding defense in centerfield.  Last season's output earned him the leadoff position on this year's squad and the A's rely on him to jumpstart the offense; Davis has scored 12 of the A's 62 runs this year.

Because he's such an important cog in the A's offense, it'd be really nice to get a handle on the answer to this question: How good is he with the bat?  Is he the practically perfect leadoff hitter from 2009 or the guy who couldn't beat out Emil Brown for regular playing time in 2008? 

Odds are its somewhere in between.  His numbers from last year look very fluky.  The .423 SLG was 15 points higher than his minor league slugging percentage and the .305 batting average matched his minor league output.  He also had a BABIP of .361, which is high, even for a speedy guy like Rajai.  But his 2008 numbers were also a fluke.  In 226 PAs his BABIP was only .285 despite hitting line drives at a higher rate than he had in 2007 and higher than his 2009 figure.  Davis has clearly defined strengths and weaknesses; he can't hit for power (he has 33 home runs in nine professional seasons), he can run very fast (he has 351 pro steals), and he can also hit for a pretty decent average.  He hit .305 in the minors which translates roughly to a .280 major league average. 

Its Davis' plate discipline that has been inconsistent and his offensive success relies heavily on his ability to take a walk and swing at good pitches.  Throughout the minors and with the Pirates, Davis was able to draw walks in 8-10% of his plate appearances.  In 2008, that number dropped to 3.5%.  That year he also swung at 36% of pitches out of the strike zone.  In 2007 that number was under 20% and last year it was 30%.  So far it looks like the 2008 version of Rajai Davis is playing.  He's walked in only 3% of his PAs and has swung at nearly 39% of pitches outside of the strike zone.  The normal early season, small sample size caveats apply, but this is not a good sign.

Davis has to be more patient at the plate.  Because he's so dangerous on the basepaths pitchers are going to give him pitches to hit so they don't walk him.  He's got to put those balls in play to be successful while accepting any free passes that come his way.  Rajai's glove and his legs will only carry him so far.  If he continues his hacktastic ways he may very well lose some playing time when Coco Crisp comes off the DL.  And if Gabe Gross, Travis Buck, Michael Taylor, or even Matt Carson makes enough of an impression, Davis may be relegated to the fourth or fifth outfielder role he seemed destined for in 2008.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Minor League Update

AAA - Sacramento

The bulk of important names to know in the organization reside at AAA and we'll start this off with the two names that will mean the most to the A's in both the near and long-term future, Chris Carter and Michael Taylor.  Carter has gotten off to a solid start at .324/.359/.568 in 9 games and could get the call to the majors as soon as this week if Daric Barton's injury is more serious than initially thought.  He has only walked once thus far, and the A's may want to leave him down there if Barton is only out a week or two.  Taylor has carried his spring struggles into the regular season, hitting .238/.319/.452 in 11 games, but he has shown good power (5 XBH) and patience (5 BB).

Veteran Dallas McPherson (.250/.310/.593, 12 Ks in 7 games) just went on the DL or he may have gotten a callup to replace Barton.  As far as members of the '09 big league club go, Jack Cust is struggling in a small sample size (.179/.343/.214 in 8 G), as is Landon Powell (.217/.280/.435 in 6 G), but brief call-up Matt Carson is off to a fast start (.378/.417/.489 in 11 G).  Catching prospect Josh Donaldson, getting most of the playing time over Powell at C is at .242/.297/.455 with a pair of HRs.  Eric Sogard, part of the Kouzmanoff trade and perhaps the first in line to get a call-up if Mark Ellis gets DLed, is struggling with a .211/.268/.237 line so far.

On the pitching side, nominal 7th starter Vin Mazzaro had 2 good outings and 1 bad one for an overall line of 1-1, 2.51 ERA, 14.1 IP, 12 H, 4 BB, 15 K and 8th starter Clayton Mortensen has also had 2 solid starts (2-0, 3.46 ERA, 13 IP, 15 H, 5 BB, 12 K).  In a perfect world, these guys wouldn't see time in the majors, but it's pretty likely we'll see them up at some point.  6th starter Trevor Cahill is making his debut tonight and likely won't be a candidate to return to Oakland until May.  Bullpen candidates Brad Kilby (4 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) and Henry Rodriguez (4 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K) have looked sharp thus far.

AA - Midland

The A's top prospect at the level, Jemile Weeks, has gotten off to a fast start for Midland, with a .342/.419/.579 line in 10 games and could get the call to AAA relatively soon.  Former top pick Matt Sulentic has struggled while repeating the level, hitting just .171/.256/.171 so far.  The pitching staff is somewhat devoid of notable prospects at the moment, with Pedro Figueroa (2 GS, 0-1, 4.09 ERA, 11 IP, 11 H, 4 BB, 10 K) the top one at this level.

High-A - Stockton

2009 1st rounder Grant Green has started quick with a .326/.356/.512 line in 10 games.

Low-A - Kane County

19 year old catching prospect Max Stassi has looked great so far in full-season ball, hitting .297/.372/.541 in his first 10 games, while toolsy fellow 19 year old Rashun Dixon has also started fast at .306/.419/.472.

Notable prospects Sean Doolittle, James Simmons, Fautino De Los Santos and Michael Ynoa have not made their debuts yet this year.

Game 14 Recap or Finally, an Off Day

Baltimore 8, Oakland 3 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 9-5
Going into this series I was looking forward to the Anderson-Matusz pitching matchup the most.  The game pitted two of the AL's best young lefties against each other in what I had anticipated would be a tight pitching duel.  In the end, neither pitcher was dominant, though Matusz was impressive in picking up the W.  Anderson's start was merely OK and not quite as bad as his final line indicated (6 runs, 5 earned, in 5 innings).  He got the Orioles to hit a ton of groundballs - 14, compared to 4 line drives and 4 fly balls - and didn't walk a batter. But he did only strike out two, and gave up doubles to Ty Wigginton and Nolan Reimold that scored two runs apiece.  Had the defense helped Anderson out a bit more - the A's made a couple of errors behind him and maybe could have gotten to a couple of the grounders that ended up as hits - he may have held the O's in check a bit better.

Matusz showed why he he's a contender for the Rookie of the Year award.  He struck out eight A's, including the first three of the game, while walking only one.  Though he gave up three runs, the A's managed only one extra base hit off of him, Kevin Kouzmanoff's RBI double in the sixth.  Matusz never gave the Oakland a chance to make a comeback - after the Orioles scored three runs in the third, the A's never had a win expectancy over 25%.

As disappointing as this game was, it isn't the A's performance that worries me the most.  It's the injuries.  Daric Barton and Cliff Pennington left in the middle of the game and Mark Ellis still hasn't returned from his hamstring injury.  Barton left the game after being hit in the elbow by a Matusz pitch and Pennington got hurt when he dove back to first on a pickoff play when Garrett Atkins stepped on his wrist

There's no indication that any of these injuries are in serious; Barton had an X-ray, the results of which where inconclusive, and Pennington's X-rays were negative.  Ellis says he should be ready for Tuesday's game, but he also said that he'd be ready by this weekend.  The A's chances in the near future look worse if any of these three have to miss more than a couple games.  The A's can't afford to lose Barton and his .474 OBP and Adam Rosales can only fill in for one of Pennington or Ellis at a time.  The A's couldn't ask for a better time to have a day off, but perhaps this isn't the best time for the Yankees to be coming to town.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Game 13 Recap or Sweeney FTW

Oakland 4, Baltimore 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 9-4
Ryan Sweeney had himself a heck of a day yesterday and the end-of-game celebratory scrum was a fitting ending.  One of my favorite features at Fangraphs is their stat called Win Probability Added (WPA).  What WPA does is measure how much each player contributed (or detracted from) his team's likelihood of winning.  WPA is calculated by taking the sum of the win expectancy differences between the start of each play a players is involved in (hitting or pitching) and crediting the hitter and the pitcher with that amount.  The winning team's WPA as a whole will be .500 while the losing team's will be -.500.  While WPA has limited predictive value as its entirely context dependent, it's a fun stat to look at.

Take Sweeney's performance yesterday, for example.  His WPA was .565, meaning his performance was enough to win the game by himself and make up for the a lot of the negative WPAs (can you say, Kouzmanoff?) put up by the rest of the A's.  Sweeney's traditional stat line looks impressive enough (2 for 2, 2 BBs, 3 RBI), but he was able to rack up rack up a high WPA by excelling in situations that mattered.  In his first two plate appearances he singled and walked, accumulating .046 WPA.  He made his third plate appearance in the bottom of the fifth with one out and Rajai Davis at third.  He hit a sac fly which increased the A's win expectancy by another 2.8%.  His two out walk in the seventh added another 0.33 to the A's chances of winning.

The story of Sweeney's day, though, was his game winning hit.  Facing Orioles (temporary?) closer Jim Johnson with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with the A's down 3-2, Sweeney worked the count full.  Sweeney then brought home the tying and winning runs with a line drive into right center.  That one at bat raised the A's win expectancy from 54.1% to 100%.  That pretty much defines clutch hitting right there.

Sweeney's hit made up for the rest of the A's shortcomings yesterday.  Justin Duchscherer pitched OK, but couldn't finish the sixth.  The bullpen faltered a bit, wiith Brad Ziegler failing to bail out Craig Breslow in the 8th.  And the A's offense was its predictable, frustrating self. 

It's funny that the A's walk-off win yesterday was a distant third in terms of exciting games yesterday.  While walk-offs are exciting to watch, I'd feel a lot better if the A's beat up on some teams too.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Game 12 Recap or Dallas "The Ace" Braden

Oakland 4, Baltimore 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 8-4

Last year Dallas Braden was probably one of the five worst Opening Day starters and probably the worst pitcher the A's sent out on Opening Day since Gil Heredia in 1999.  That's not to say he was a bad pitcher, but injuries and the A's reluctance to start a rookie were the main reasons for Braden getting the Opening Day nod.  Even after pitching pretty effectively last year, I didn't really think he should have started the second game of the season.

If Braden keeps pitching like this, though, the idea of him being an Opening Day starter won't seem like a fluke at all.  It's obviously much too early in the season to say whether or not Braden's reached a new level of performance, but it's entirely possible that he has.  He's striking out two more batters per nine innings than last season and has increased his groundball rate from 36% to 46%.  I know we're dealing with small sample sizes here, but he also looks like a different pitcher.  His changeup has been devastating so far and he's been unafraid to throw it.  Last night he threw it almost as frequently as his fastball.

And this is not to say his established level of performance was bad.  In 2008, he made 10 starts and had a 4.57 FIP.  Last year his FIP was 3.73 and most systems projected an ERA in the low 4s from Braden this year.  I don't imagine Braden will finish the season with an ERA under 3, but an ERA in the low to mid 3s isn't out of the question.

Braden, despite his strong outing, was somewhat lucky to get the win as the A's offense was once again frustrating.  They looked like they were getting to O's starter Kevin Millwood early.  They got three hits off of him in the second inning and three more in the fourth.  At this point the A's had scored four runs and had gotten Millwood's pitch count up.  But the A's managed just two singles the rest of the way, looking especially bad in the sixth inning as Millwood struck out Jake Fox, Adam Rosales, and Cliff Pennington.

The A's face off against Jeremy Guthrie today, and maybe the bats will wake up a bit.  Last season, Guthrie made two starts against the A's, giving up 11 runs in 5.1 innings.  If not, they'll have to hope that Justin Duchscherer can continue his strong start to have a shot to clinch the series victory today.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Anderson Extension

Earlier tonight, Brett Anderson agreed to an extension that will keep him in Oakland through at least 2013.  The deal guarantees him $12.5 million and could keep him in green and gold through 2015.  The A's hold a team option for 2014 for $8 million with a $1.5 million buyout and a team option for 2015 for $12 million, also with a $1.5 million buyout.  If both options are exercised, the deal would be worth $31 million for six years (including this season).

The A's are getting an incredible value for Anderson's services, but the biggest reason for this is because of his service time.  Anderson would have been under team control through 2014 anyways, though he almost certainly would have been a Super-Two, meaning that Anderson would have been eligible for arbitration four times, starting in 2011.  To determine if the A's got a good deal we have to compare this signing to pitchers who received contract extensions with the same amount of service time.

In 2004, Brandon Webb signed a three year, $3.3 million contract after completing his rookie season.  The deal bought out two of Webb's likely four arbitration years and included a $4 million option for his third arbitration season.  The deal did not include his fourth arbitration season or any years of free agency.  In 2008, James Shields signed a four year $11.25 million deal after 1.5 years with the Rays.  That deal bought out Shields' three arbitration years and includes options for his first threeyears of free agency.

This deal appears to be in line with those other deals.  The A's will be paying Anderson a tad more than Shields will be making, and they only have an option for one year of Anderson's free agency, not the three that the Rays have for Shields.  Anderson, though, has more upside than Shields did.  Anderson's FIP his rookie season was 3.67.  Shields put up a 4.39 FIP in his rookie season and a 3.86 FIP in his first full season.  Additionally, Shields was never as highly rated as a prospect as Anderson had been and Shields was 27 when he signed his deal, whereas Anderson is just 22.

Since it appears that the A's paid the going rate for Anderson, the only question left is whether or not it was the right decision to commit $12.5 million to him.  The answer is a clear yes.  There's a boatload of upside to this signing with minimal downside.  The biggest risk in a deal like this is health.  Anderson has not yet crossed the so-called injury nexus, but even if he suffers a catastrophic injury, the most he is guaranteed in any one season is $5.5 in 2013.  This deal can't cripple the team.  Plus, there's no special indication that Anderson is any more (or less) likely to get injured than anyone else.  Some might guess that because he throws a lot of sliders he may be more likely to get hurt, but there's no real evidence that this is true.

I think the most likely scenario is closer to best case scenario than the worst case scenario.  Anderson's stuff and track record make him one of the best young pitchers in baseball and it'll be nice to have him under team control through at least 2013.

The Most Awesome Thing You'll See All Day

Joe Posnanski has a great post up on his blog that's about, well, like all of my favorite posts of his, is about a lot of things.  This one's about home run trots, Molinas, movies, and Jose Guillen.  It also has pictures of bullpen cars.  Trust me, it all makes sense.  But take a minute and read the post and take special note of the fourth picture.  I tend to agree that bullpen cars shouldn't bring pitchers to the mound from the bullpen - it looks a little silly to have professional athletes chauffeured onto the playing field.  There is, however, one overwhelming reason to bring them back - they look really, really cool.

The main gist of the post is home run trots and Posnanski Adam "Pete" Rosales in it.  Stephen Drew hit an inside-the-park home run this year and circled the bases in 15.84 seconds.  Rosales hit the ball over the fence and "trotted" around the bases in 15.86 seconds.  When I saw it I thought that he was almost sprinting around the bases.  I was wrong - he was actually sprinting around the bases.

I have mixed feelings about watching guys like Rosales play.  I like what he brings to the team in terms of talent; his track record indicates that he'll be a good utility infielder and maybe a capable starter.  That's not what I'm talking about here.  I'm talking about the aesthetics of the game.  I'm probably in the minority, but I'm not automatically won over by "hustle" guys.  Don't get me wrong, I hate watching guys dog it for no good reason, but I think the praise that certain Charlie Hustle types get is unwarranted.

From a purely visual standpoint, I prefer ballplayers who look smooth.  Guys who look like they could hit three homers in a game without breaking a sweat.  Guys who look cool.  That was one of the fun things about watching Barry Zito pitch (at least when he was going well).  His delivery was graceful.  How could he make batters look foolish while (seemingly) putting in so little effort?  I loved watching Rickey Henderson because even with all of his base running antics, his fake steals, and his hard slides, it looked like he did everything with ease.  He always seemed to be in control, despite the incredible speed with which he moved.  Same with McGwire's swing.  A lot of times it looked like he was casually waving his bat through the zone - then, boom, a 450 ft homer.

I think my enjoyment of grace and simplicity of motion explains why I don't find hustle guys to be visually appealing to watch.  It's the wasted motion that I find distracting, and to a certain extent, ugly (in a visual sense, not a moral one).  It's Nomar fiddling with his batting gloves.  It's Eric Byrnes crashing into the fence chasing a ball that lands ten rows deep.  And to a certain extent, it's Adam Rosales all out sprinting, when a simple trot would suffice.

Players cross over from visually unpleasant to watch, to downright annoying when their hustle appears to be contrived.  I'm sure that most hustle players who run all out all the time do so because that's just how they play the game.  But there are times when it doesn't seem genuine, and when I sense that's the case, the hustle guys really irritate me. 

Byrnes is the perfect example of this.  His overexcited style of play directly led to bad outcomes, like NOT TOUCHING HOME PLATE IN THE 2003 ALDS, which is the tangible side effect of doing everything at a breakneck speed.  But what made me hate watching him, was that he seemed like a caricature of a hustling ballplayer - as if his main goal was to always move as much and as fast as possible, instead of winning ballgames.  I very well could be wrong about his motivations and may be letting the fact that he had long hair and a surfer image cloud my judgment of him.  But even if I'm wrong about the sincerity of his game, I'll never enjoy the look of it.

In theory, I'd like every player to be hustling all the time.  It's just that the way some players do it by constantly moving, which makes me nervous to watch.  And this brings us back to Adam Rosales.  I don't hate watching him (yet) and I'm not exactly sure why.  I know I've only seen him play a handful of games, but when a ground gets hit to him he doesn't frantically shuffle his feet for no apparent reason.  He makes aggressive, but not stupid turns around first after singles.  When doing things that matter , it actually looks he's in control.  Maybe Rosales will break the mold for me, being a guy who's all-out style of play I can actually enjoy with my brain as well as my eyes.

Game 11 Recap or The DH says, "Hit Me!"

Oakland 6, Baltimore 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 7-4

I haven't ever heard anyone call David Hernandez, "The DH," but he certainly helped boost the A's offensive output last night.  He didn't pitch particularly poorly as he gave up seven hits while walking one and striking out six in five innings.  But he did allow the A's to actually hit the ball with authority; they hit nine line drives in the game, six off of Hernandez, after combining for only five in the previous two games.

Normally, I'd say that the A's success against Hernandez could be attributed to the type of pitcher he is.  Unlike Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, guys with fringy stuff who pumped strikes into the zone, Hernandez usually has quality stuff, but can't locate it.  But last night, Hernandez actually displayed pretty good control as he walked only one.  That the A's hit the ball hard, resulting in four doubles in the first five innings, can't even be attributed to Hernandez falling behind hitters.  Barton's double in the first came on a 2-2 count, Chavez' double in the second came on an 0-1 count, and Sweeney's double in the fifth came on a full count.  Only Rosales' double in the 4th came on a clear hitter's count (2-0) and even then he turned in a nice piece of hitting, taking a pitch on the outer half off the plate for a scorching line drive into deep right.

The A's may lack home run power, but they are tied with the Red Sox for second in the AL in doubles.  The A's will have to maintain their ability to hit two-baggers if they want to prevent pitchers from using the Fister/Vargas strategy of letting the A's get themselves out.

Ben Sheets' overall line looks pretty good, 6 IP, 0 runs, 5 hits, 4 Ks, 3 BBs, but with each start I get increasingly anxious about two things.  The first is that he seems to tire as he approaches the 100 pitch mark, or even earlier.  I don't know if this will be a permanent issue or if it will take a while to build up his stamina after missing all of last season.  It's entirely possible that in a few more starts he'll regain the ability to pitch deep into games, but it's also possible that those days are over.  The second thing is a bit more troubling; his stuff, even early in the games isn't that good.  His fastball has not been the dominating pitch it was during his prime in Milwaukee and he's given up a lot of hard hit balls in all three of his starts.  Last night the Orioles got four doubles off of him, all of which were hard hit balls.  If his stuff doesn't come back, he may have to reinvent himself in the way that Pedro Martinez did late in his career.  There's definitely still time for him to regain his strength and the sharpness of his pitches, but despite his ERA, he's not the same pitcher he was with the Brewers yet.

The A's will face three pitchers in Millwood, Guthrie, and Matusz, who have the ability to throttle the A's offense (though, you could say that about a lot of pitchers in the league).  I'm particularly looking forward to Sunday's Brett Anderson-Brian Matusz matchup, which features two of the top young lefties in baseball.  The Orioles aren't that bad of a team, their horrific start not withstanding, so I wouldn't be counting on a series win just yet.  Hopefully, though, the A's can rack up some W's against the O's before the Yankees come to town Monday.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Game 10 Recap or The D.A. says Case Closed

Seattle 4, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 6-4

Maybe it's because I'm in law school or I'm a sucker for nicknames and silly catchphrases, but apparently when David Aardsma closes a game the Mariners announcers use the phrase that I named this post after, and though the A's had to lose for me to hear it, I kind of like it.  Anyway, to the game itself...

Like last night's game, this one brought the A's weaknesses to the forefront, as they again got essentially dominated by a fringy soft-tosser, this time lefty Jason Vargas, who tops out between 86-88 MPH with very mediocre secondary offerings.  He beat the A's the same way Doug Fister did yesterday, by throwing strikes and daring the A's to beat him.  It only happened once, when Jake Fox (one of only two real HR threats if you can even count Kouz as one) took him deep to center to give the A's an early 2-0 lead.  Fox later flew out deep to right field, and while it was an out, it was nice to see him flash some power that the rest of the lineup is lacking.

The A's nursed the 2-0 lead into the 5th inning, when Gio Gonzalez fell apart after a decent start to his outing.  His propensity for long at-bats sent his pitch count climbing and though he wasn't hit too hard (a Milton Bradley broken bat single tied the game) and his command wasn't that off, he did still walk 4 guys in 4.2 IP.  And I have to question the decision to throw the 3-2 changeup to Franklin Gutierrez that loaded the bases with 1 out.  I know it's a 2-run lead and Gutierrez has some power, but that's Gio's 3rd best pitch and I feel you have to challenge a guy with 92-94 MPH heat and make him beat you rather than load the bases with 1 out.

Chad Gaudin came in and got the final out of the inning (after walking Eric Byrnes) but then gave up two runs in the bottom of the 6th, which pretty much ended it as far as I was concerned with the way the A's were hitting.  Brandon League and Aardsma quickly mowed through the A's, retiring 9 of 10 batters to end it.

When the A's started the road trip, I would have been satisfied with a 3-3 result, but to lose the last two has been a bit disappointing.  While it is early to make wholesale changes to the offense, keep in mind that Baseball America named AAA Sacramento's lineup as the best in the minors before the season and it's only improved with the addition of Jack Cust this week.  This recent article has a lot of interesting tidbits (Sean Doolittle, not doing well in rehab) and does give some hope that the A's will get some offensive reinforcements as the season wears on.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

DTGG Season Preview: Putting It All Together, or Yes Oakland, the AL West Title Is Your Only Chance at the Postseason (But It's Not a Bad Shot!)

So this last installment of DTGG's Season Preview is a bit late, but the first week and half of action did a good job of demonstrating how the A's can win the AL West (pitching) ... and how they can lose it (hitting).

Before I stupidly predict the AL West standings (doing the predicting is stupid, hopefully, the predictions themselves won't be), I want to discuss why I focus almost exclusively on the A's chances to win the West and not on their wild card chances.  The reason is simple; the three best teams in the American League are in the East.  Heck, it's possible that the three best teams in either league are in the AL East.  Only the Phillies, and maybe the Cardinals, are better than the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays.  I guess it's theoretically possible that two of those teams falter, but short of catastrophic injuries, I don't know how it would happen.

So that's the bad news.  The A's are playing for one playoff spot instead of two.  But, there is good news.  As we've seen from the rest of the season previews (and the first handful of games), the AL West lacks a clear frontrunner and may very well feature four teams that end up within a couple games of each other.  But, despite all this, and despite Adam's infinitely more scientific projection, I'm going to try to predict the AL West standings, even if I know them to be unpredictable.

                  RS      RA     W     L
Oakland    770     720    86    76
Anaheim    825     780    85    77
Texas        790     750    85    77
Seattle       675     690    79    83

I may have subconsciously been overly optimistic about the A's  Maybe I'll be docked some analyst-cred here, but I think I've picked up enough fan points to balance it out.  All kidding aside, I think the runs scored and runs allowed totals will end up being fairly accurate, even if the standings don't end up looking like this.  These numbers, though, don't tell the whole story, as each team has both risks and mitigating factors that alter the chances that they exceed (or fall short of) these win totals.

A's Risk Factors
  • Pitching staff health
  • Regression by Rajai Davis
  • Stalled development of Daric Barton, Ryan Sweeney, and Cliff Pennington
A's Mitigating Factors
  • Rotation depth
  • Potential contributions of Michael Taylor, Chris Carter, and Adrian Cardenas
  • Continued development of Daric Barton, Ryan Sweeney, and Cliff Pennington
Angels Risk Factors
  • Aging offensive core
  • Rotation depth
  • Over-reliance on Scot Shields and Jeff Mathis
Angels Mitigating Factors
  • Breakout seasons from Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick
  • Front office's ability/willingness to make a big trade (Adrian Gonzalez?)
Rangers Risk Factors
  • Injury prone stars in Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, and Rich Harden
  • Non-development of Julio Borbon and Chris Davis
  • Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson not making successful transition from Japan/bullpen
Rangers Mitigating Factors
  • Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson making successful transition from Japan/bullpen
  • Potential contributions from Justin Smoak or Tanner Scheppers
  • Development of Neftali Feliz
Mariners Risk Factors
  • Reliance on Milton Bradley, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mike Sweeney
  • Rotation depth
Mariners Mitigating Factors
  • The returns of Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard
  • Um...Michael Saunders?
I think this list best explains why I think the A's can win the AL West.  They rely the least on their risky players and their mitigating factors match up perfectly with those risks.  Should Daric Barton suck, the A's could turn to Chris Carter.  Should the A's lose two starting pitchers to injury (*cough* Ben Sheets *cough* Justin Duchscherer), the A's can turn to Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, or later, Josh Outman.

Meanwhile, the other three clubs all seem less well equipped to handle injuries or poor performances by the players that are likely to get hurt or play poorly.  The Angels, despite probably being the most talented team, rely heavily on older players (Hunter, Matsui, and Abreu), and probably could not survive down years or injuries to any of those guys. The Rangers are already dealing with an injured Ian Kinsler and neither Julio Borbon nor Chris Davis have hit at all so far.  While Justin Smoak may eventually replace Davis, Texas has no obvious solutions should Borbon and Kinsler continue to struggle.  We've seen how bad the Mariners offense can be, and they have no internal solutions to fix it.

Maybe my faith in the A's offense being roughly league average is a bit optimistic, and maybe my view of the Mariners, Rangers, and Angels have been skewed by their records so far.  But, it's clear that the A's at least have a shot at the postseason this year, which is all you can hope for.

Game 9 Recap or Fisted!

Seattle 3, Oakland 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's current record: 6-3

I'll start by taking issue with a little of what Zack wrote in the last game recap, which is that if the A's keep pitching well then it doesn't matter how bad their offense is --- this game would be Counter-Example A to that assertion.  The A's got a beautifully pitched game from starter Brett Anderson (6 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) who has now started the season with 12 scoreless innings.  Granted, the Mariners' offense is weak to quite weak, but Anderson was in command before tiring in the 6th (2 BBs and a HBP with a DP sandwiched between that kept it scoreless).  His bread and butter pitch -- the slider down and in to righties -- was working all game, getting a number of his strikeouts and swinging strikes.

On the other side of the ball, Doug Fister, a command and control righty who tops out in the high-80s, absolutely throttled the A's, throwing 8 innings of 3-hit ball with 0 walks and 4 strikeouts.  Now, this is EXACTLY the type of pitcher the A's will have problems with all year --- it really says something when they get dominated by a fringy 5th starter yet draw 6 walks off King Felix and make a generally solid Ryan Rowland-Smith look erratic.  The A's are a weak offensive team -- this, we know -- but their style of offense makes them particularly susceptible to guys like Fister who pound the strike zone.  They have good patience, hit singles and have little power, meaning that Fister can throw strikes without having to worry about giving up too many extra-base hits, and the A's are going to have a tough time stringing together 3 hits to score a run.  It's not like he was getting a lot of groundballs (12 to 10 flyballs) or weak contact, just a lot of routine outs.  It's no coincidence that they got 2 walks off David Aardsma in the ninth after not drawing one all game against Fister.

Which brings us to the game-losing decision that Bob Geren made in leaving in Brad Ziegler to face Milton Bradley.  With Chad Gaudin ready to go, there was absolutely no reason to leave Ziggy in to face the switch-hitting Bradley.  It should be very, very clear by now that he should not face left-handed batters (career FIP against LHP: 4.99, career FIP against RHP: 2.57, career K:BB against LHP: 26:33, RHP: 62:21) and though he doesn't give up many homers either way, you had to expect Bradley would do something good against him there.  That Gaudin struck out both batters he faced made Geren's decision look even worse.  Why wait to take him out?  It's always worse to wait one batter too long than take a guy out one batter too early.

In the end, it's always a shame to waste a shutout performance from your starter, but this is a game that we'll see again all year -- good pitching combined with weak hitting off a guy who shouldn't have these types of outings against major league teams.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Game 8 Recap or All Hail the Duke!

Oakland 4, Seattle 0 (WPA graph from Fangraphs)

A's current record: 6-2
The past few game recaps have focused on trying to figure out how good the A's offense is.  But after today's game I may have found the answer...who cares?  If the A's keep pitching like they did yesterday, they could have the worst offense in the history of baseball and still win all their games.

Justin Duchscherer gave the A's their best start of the season so far and showed why the A's decided to bring him back this year.  Duchscherer went 7.1 innings and gave up only two hits and two walks.  He also struck out four.  He finished the game throwing only 96 pitches, 60 of which were strikes.  He did give up 11 flyballs, compared to 8 ground balls, but the Mariners were generally unable to make good contact; Gutierrez's double was the only threatening flyball that Duke gave up.

Jerry Blevins and Andrew Bailey retired the five batters they faced, continuing the strong work of the bullpen.  So far the pen has exceeded the high expectations I had for them.  The bullpen's ERA is 1.93 in 23.1 innings.  The starters have been no slouches either; their ERA is 2.94.  Combined, the A's team ERA is 2.61, good for first in the majors.

It's hard to separate how much of the pitching staff's success can be attributed to their strength, or the Mariners' weak bats.  After all, the A's have played 5 of their 8 games against Seattle.  That the M's scored only 8 runs in their three games at Texas indicates that the A's are taking advantage of a poor offense to make their pitching staff look so good.  The A's next six games are against the M's and the O's, neither of which have started the year strong.  The first good offense the A's will face comes next week in the form of the Yankees.  If the A's can shut them down, their spot atop the team ERA leaderboard will be justified.

I can't completely ignore the offense, which manages to simultaneously frustrate me and give me hope.  The best news is that it looks like Cliff Pennington may have more power potential than people think.  Most projections have him hitting five or fewer home runs, but I think he may reach double digits.  If he gets a ball he can pull he can yank it into the seats from either side of the plate.  Pitchers will likely start throwing him more soft stuff away, so we'll see how he adjusts.

As for the frustrations, you'd like to see the A's score more than four runs when they get handed 7 walks, including three in one inning.  Four runs in Safeco isn't the worst offensive output in the world, but they were millimeters away from not getting their last two runs.  Had Rob Johnson been able to hold onto Gabe Gross's foul tip with two on, two strikes, and two outs in the top of the 7th, his 2 RBI single never would have happened. 

I like the A's chances for the rest of this series.  The pitching matchups look favorable for the A's and although Mark Ellis may rest his sore hamstring for the rest of the series, Adam Rosales looks to be a suitable replacement.  If the A's manage to win the next two games, they'll have put the Mariners into a pretty big hole in the AL West race.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Game 7 Recap or A Tale of Two Games in One

Oakland 9, Anaheim 4 (WPA graph from Fangraphs)

A's current record: 5-2

Watching Dallas Braden when he's going well is as entertaining as it gets.  Seeing hitters flail at his change-up reminds me of how much I enjoyed watching batters freeze or buckle when facing Barry Zito's curve.  There's something about watching major league hitters look foolish against 70 MPH pitches that really tickles my fancy.

The thing about Braden, and most other soft tossers as well, is that their margin for error is small.  He gave up a couple hard hit balls in the first inning that led to the Angels scoring two runs.  After getting Erick Aybar to ground out to start the bottom of the first, Braden tried to run a 3-1 fastball in on Bobby Abreu.  The pitch was not inside enough, nor was it hard enough, and Abreu hit it into the right field stands.  The location of the pitch wasn't horrible, yes it was a bit high in the zone, but was only a couple of inches from the inside corner.  But when you're throwing 86 MPH fastballs, though, those inches matter big-time. 

After the rough first inning, Braden settled down and pitched four perfect innings before allowing a run in the 6th.  Although he only struck out one Angels in those four frames, he got six ground ball outs and none of the fly balls that were hit were particularly threatening.  He also did well to escape major damage in the bottom of the sixth.  After the first two batters of the inning singled to set up a first and third, no out situation, he gave up only a sac fly to Torii Hunter to keep the A's in the game.

Braden was fun to watch, even if he didn't dominate the Angels the way he did the Mariners on Tuesday.  The A's offense, on the other hand, was downright painful to look at through the first six innings.  Joe Saunders retired all but two of the batters he faced through six innings; he walked Rajai Davis in the first and gave up a solo homer to Adam Rosales in the second.  It was hard to see why Saunders was having so much success; he only struck out two and was consistently falling behind in the count.  The A's just couldn't make any hard contact and until the seventh inning, it looked like he'd cruise to a relatively easy win.

That wasn't to be, though, as the A's led off the seventh inning with three straight hits that closed the deficit to one run and knocked Saunders from the game.  Mike Scioscia brought in Kevin Jepsen, who immediately struck out Jake Fox.  Jepsen, though, couldn't get out of the jam as Rosales gave the A's the lead for good by taking a 96 MPH fastball the other way to drive in two runs. 

Anaheim turned to Scot Shields in the eighth and the A's managed to put the game out of reach.  Davis started the inning with a walk and a steal.  So far, so good.  Barton sacrificed him to third.  Meh, with a one run lead late in the game I'm OK with playing for one insurance run, but it was still only the seventh and Barton has been the A's best hitter.  While this wasn't the choice I would have made, it was defensible.  Doing it in the first inning, though, was just stupid.

Now the A's have one out and a runner on third.  Ryan Sweeney walked.  Good.  Sweeney attempted to steal 2nd.  Eh, not the worst decision in the world - Shields looked slow to the plate, Napoli is either the world's worst defensive catcher or slept with Mike Scioscia's wife, and Kouzmanoff is somewhat likely to hit into a double play.  BUT he got a terrible, terrible jump and got thrown out at second.  Shields didn't speed up his delivery and didn't throw a particularly easy pitch for Napoli to handle.  Nevertheless, Sweeney was about by a mile.

Thankfully, the A's lucked into scoring three more runs in the inning.  Mark Ellis reached base on an error by Brandon Wood, even though replays showed that he was actually thrown out at first.  This allowed Davis to score from third.  Fox and Rosales walked and Gabe Gross singled to give the A's a 7-3 advantage.  They tacked on two more in the ninth and put the game further out of reach.

I think this series did a lot more in exposing the two teams' weaknesses than it did highlight their strengths.  The Angels bullpen is mediocre at best and Scioscia is only making things worse by relying so heavily on Scot Shields.  The A's offense struggles against good pitchers, but in this series at least, was able to make up for it by beating up on average (or worse) arms.  It's nice to have had early success against division rivals and we'll see if they can keep it up in Seattle.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Game 6 Recap or You Can't Trick Me into Thinking the A's Offense Is Good

Anaheim 4, Oakland 3 (WPA graph from Fangraphs)

A's current record: 4-2
Yesterday I said that the A's could do a lot to assuage my concerns about their offense by scoring a bunch of runs off of Jered Weaver.  I had been concerned that the A's run of success at the plate would stop once they faced a good pitcher and that their lack of power would haunt them.  Well, after Weaver and three relievers held the A's to three runs on six hits, I'm just as worried as ever that the A's offense simply isn't good enough.

That's not to say there weren't good signs in tonight's game.  Eric Chavez had another double, this time a hard hit opposite field double off of Kevin Jepsen.  Jered Weaver hung a breaking ball up in the zone to Kouzmanoff, who swatted it into the seats.  And the A's as a team had their fair share of quality at bats, driving Weaver from the game after making him throw 111 pitches in 6 innings.

The problem, though, is that these promising signs and small feats aren't enough to make a bad offense (like the one the A's potentially have) into a good one (like the one I wish they had).  Yes, good offensive teams work the count and get starters out of the game after 5 or 6 innings.  But they also don't get completely dominated by good (but not great) pitchers and take full advantage of the soft part of their opponents' bullpens.  Other than Kouz' homer, the A's managed to only get one runner past first base in Weaver's six innings.  And although they scored two runs off of the Angels' bullpen, had Mike Scioscia better used his bullpen, the A's may never have tied it.

Going to Jepsen in the 7th was fine, but bringing in Shields in the 8th seemed crazy to me - especially when I reminded myself of his numbers from last year.  He was hurt for most of the year, but the innings he did pitch were poor.  His FIP was over 5 and his ERA was over 6.  He walked more guys than he struck out.  Perhaps Scioscia wants to keep Shields as the primary setup man, but wasn't that the role they paid Fernando Rodney $11 million over the next two for?  Granted, Scioscia did end up using in a tie ballgame in the night...but the game may not have been tied had Rodney pitched the eighth.  And with the Angels being the home team, there was no need to save their closer, Brian Fuentes, for a save situation only.

The A's were lucky even to have been in such a close game.  Ben Sheets' second start of the season was quite shaky.  In 6 innings he allowed 10 hits and 3 walks, while only striking out one.  Anaheim left ten runners on base in the first six innings and left the bases loaded in the fifth.  A lot of the hits that Sheets allowed were hard hit balls; only a few of the 10 hits he gave up were cheap.  I guess we can credit him with pitching well under pressure and turning in a quality start despite not having his best stuff.  Well, I hope that wasn't his best stuff.  His fastball wasn't getting out of the low-90's, and his curve, while sharp at times has certainly been better in the past.  It's tough to judge anything from two starts, but it certainly seems as if Sheets is still trying to find the stuff that made him an ace for the Brewers.  Let's hope he finds it, or learns how to deal without it.

The rubber match of the series is tomorrow, featuring a matchup between lefties Dallas Braden and Joe Saunders.  It'll be interesting to see how Braden fares coming off of his amazing 10 K performance last time out.  Will he stick with the change-up that brought him many of those whiffs or will the Angels be expecting it?  We'll see how much a fluke that start was as the Angels offense will present a much tougher challenge than what Braden saw against the Mariners.