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

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Good News, Bad News, Site News

Good news:  With two wins in Detroit so far, the A's are in first place.

Bad news:  Justin Duchscherer is officially out for the year

Site news:  Adam and I are both traveling and have limited internet access this weekend.  Regular postings will resume Monday or Tuesday.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ben Sheets and the New Normal

Tommy Rancel at Bloomberg Sports has a post up about Ben Sheets, noting that Sheets' strong May could be the result of a greater willingness to go to his change up.  Having watched Sheets all season, it's clear that he isn't the pitcher he was before missing all 2009 with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow.  With each start it becomes more and more likely that his pre-2009 stuff is gone and that he'll need to become a different type of pitcher to have success in the majors.

Below is a table of Sheets' pitch selection from the 2008 season when he made 31 starts with a 3.09 ERA and 3.94 xFIP:

Ben Sheets: 2008 pitch selection
TypeCountSelectionVelocity (mph)Vertical (in)Horizontal (in)

And here is a table indicating the effectiveness of each pitch:

Ben Sheets:  2008 results by pitch type
Type Count Selection Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FA 1864 62.6% 67.5% 49.9% 6.9% 22.4% 20.6%
CU 850 28.6% 64.2% 43.6% 11.2% 15.1% 17.4%
CH 235 7.9% 59.6% 47.7% 12.3% 12.3% 23.0%
SI 27 0.9% 33.3% 29.6% 14.8% 14.8% 0.0%
FF 1 0.0% 100.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

As you can see, Sheets was mainly a fastball-curveball pitcher, throwing one of those two pitches over 90% of the time.  According to Fangraphs' pitch type value data, his 93 MPH fastball rated as one win above average per 100 fastballs thrown, while his curve and change up were each a notch below average.  He was able to throw his fastball, curve, and change for strikes, throwing each pitch in the zone between 60 and 67% of the time.

So far this season he's been significantly less effective than in 2008, but there are signs that he's turned things around.  His year-to-date xFIP is a mediocre 4.66, but his xFIP for May is a respectable 4.05, a figure which includes his disastrous May 2 start, in which he gave up 9 runs in 3.2 innings against the Blue Jays.  Below is a table of Sheets' pitch selection for 2010:

Ben Sheets: 2010 pitch selection
Type Count Selection Velocity (mph) Vertical (in) Horizontal (in)

FF 505 53.8% 91.4 9.40 -4.66

CU 303 32.3% 78.7 -5.47 6.00

CH 93 9.9% 84.7 5.24 -5.38

SI 35 3.7% 89.8 6.50 -8.12

FC 2 0.2% 84.9 4.81 0.74

And here is the effectiveness of each pitch:

Ben Sheets:  2010 results by pitch type
TypeCountSelectionStrikeSwingWhiffFoulIn Play

Three things jump out at me.  First, is the loss in velocity of Sheets' fastball; he's lost nearly 1.5 MPH off his average fastball without picking up extra movement.  Secondly, he's throwing his fastball less frequently, which is a good thing considering the loss in velocity of the pitch.  Lastly, he's been more effective with his curveball, getting a bigger vertical and horizontal break and is using the pitch more frequently.  He's missed the strike zone more with his curve (and the rest of his pitches) than in 2008, but he's also getting more swings and misses.

In his last 4 starts, in which he's given up only 7 runs in 25 innings with 29 strikeouts, he's mixed in his change up a bit more, which seems to have helped him be more effective.  Here is his pitch selection from his four starts between May 8 and May 23:

Ben Sheets: Pitch selection - May 8 to May 23
TypeCountSelectionVelocity (mph)Vertical (in)Horizontal (in)

 And here is the effectiveness table:

Ben Sheets: Results by pitch type - May 8 to May 23
TypeCountSelectionStrikeSwingWhiffFoulIn Play
With his velocity down, perhaps permanently, it appears that Ben Sheets is learning to succeed with lesser stuff.  His curve is slower with a bigger break and he's using offspeed stuff much more frequently.  His control has not been what is once was, though, and that may be a bigger factor in his decreased effectiveness than his loss of velocity.  Still, there's hope that better command is in his future.  Pitchers coming back from prolonged absences frequently have their control come back to them last.

It remains to be seen if the A's $10 million investment will pay off.  While Ben Sheets will almost certainly be a different pitcher than he was before his most major injury, he may not be a worse pitcher thanks to a more balanced mix of pitches a better curve ball.

Note:  All data is from Texas Leaguers wonderful PITCH f/x database.

Game 48 Recap or Thank You, Orioles!

Oakland 7, Baltimore 5 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 25-23
Last night I was at a dinner party and basically made everyone watch this game with me.  None of the other guests were A's fans, or Orioles fans, so I felt a little bad about it.  When the O's went up 5-2 in the seventh inning we were oh so close to turning to the Lakers-Suns game.  Thank goodness (for me at least) that we didn't, because I would have missed the A's most improbable wins of the season.  According to Fangraphs, going into the top of the eighth, the A's had just an 8% chance of winning the game.  At the time, I would have put the A's chances at under 5%.

A couple of my buddies told me not to worry because the Orioles bullpen would likely blow the game, but I was pretty sure that the A's offensive ineptitude would rule the day.  It came down to a battle between a very movable force (the O's pen) and an easily stoppable object (the A's hitters).  Mark down a win for the easily stoppable object with a big assist from Fortuna.

The A's opened the inning facing Orioles starter Brad Bergesen who had pretty much dominated the A's in the first seven innings.  The main blemish on his record was a two run homer allowed to Gabe Gross in the first.  He entered the seventh having given up only two hits and three walks and had thrown only 80 pitches.  He gave up a very soft grounder to Adam Rosales that couldn't have been more carefully placed in the 5.5 hole.  Mark Ellis then lined a legitimately hard hit single to center, driving Bergesen from the game.  Rajai Davis and Daric Barton made outs, but then the fun began.

Mark Hendrickson, who came on to retire Barton, got ahead of Ryan Sweeney 1-2 before leaving a pitch up in the zone that Sweeney dunked into left.  This brought in Rosales from second and brought up Kurt Suzuki with two on and two out.  Why Dave Trembley didn't go to Cla Meredith at this point, I have no idea.  Zook reached on an infield single, knocking a grounder off of Hendrickson's foot that dribbled between first and second.  Jake Fox then hit an easy groundball to Cesar Izturis and it looked like the Orioles would get out of the inning.  The ball took a crazy hop, though, as the last hop bounced twice as high as the one right before it.  Izturis couldn't handle the bounce, allowing Fox to reach on another infield single.  Trembley finally went to Meredith, who promptly gave up a bases clearing double to Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Over the course of a season you're going to get some lucky wins (and losses).  This will almost certainly rank as one of the luckiest wins of the season.  In the deciding eighth inning, the A's hit only two balls well, yet managed six hits and five runs.  This lucky inning was helped along by odd managerial choices by the Orioles and allowed them to overcome a just-average start from Gio Gonzalez and a meltdown from Tyson Ross.

The A's took two of three from the Orioles, a team they needed to take advantage of.  The A's face a much bigger test, taking on the Tigers and the Red Sox before heading back to the Coliseum.  We'll see if the A's can tread water on the road against these tough opponents.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Game 47 Recap or Why You Don't Show Up Five Minutes Late

Oakland 6, Baltimore 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 24-23
Adam and I have this friend who absolutely hates being late to ballgames.  This seems to be one of the only things that can really get him worked up.  While I don't have the same passion for making sure my butt is in my seat for opening pitch, I also like to make sure I get to the game on time.  I'll never understand those people who waltz into the ballpark an hour after the game.  Last night, I sat in a section that had some sort of summer camp come to the game, but they arrived in the fourth inning and left in the seventh.  I'm glad that I was spared being surrounded by four busloads of 14 year olds for most of the game, but why even go to the game if you miss more than half of it?

Anyways, I ended up getting to the park about ten minutes late last night, which will happen when you've got to drive from DC to Baltimore to catch a Wednesday night game.  On my way to my seat I caught a glimpse of one of the TVs in the ballpark and saw a big, right handed guy ground out.  I assumed that it was Kevin Kouzmanoff and settled into my seat thinking that the A's gotten a runner or two on, but had failed to score.  It wasn't until Trevor Cahill stepped to the mound that I saw that the A's had actually put up four runs in the first.  And that is why you don't show up late to a baseball game.  I might as well have gone home at that point, given that the A's are now 20-1 in games where they've scored four or more runs. 

Although I missed it, and it's a pretty obvious point, Adam Rosales' homer explains perfectly why the A's need some sort of power in the lineup.  His three run blast increased the A's win expectancy from 60% to 80%, all but putting the game away in the first inning.  It takes a ton of singles and walks to have that kind of impact in the first inning.

Trevor Cahill made the offensive explosion hold up, pitching solidly through six innings.  Although his strikeout and walk totals were a bit disappointing (he had three of each), he looked more impressive than those numbers indicate.  First, he gave up only two hits, one of which was a bunt single.  He also got a few swings and misses on his fastball, which the stadium gun had at as high as 94 MPH.  Even if you don't believe that reading, which I don't, the whiffs still means he's setting hitters up well enough to make his fastball an effective pitch.  He'll need to continue to get hitters to whiff on his fastballs if he wants to develop strong K rates.

On the injury front there's some good news and bad news.  The good news is that Brett Anderson is expected to make a start for the A's Saturday in Detroit.  Dallas Braden, battling a sprained ankle, is set to make his start Sunday against the Tigers.  The bad news is that Coco Crisp is heading to the DL again with a strained intercostal muscle.  This is the same injury that sidelined Kurt Suzuki for a couple weeks.  Landon Powell will take Crisp's spot on the roster.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Game 46 Recap or Camden Yards is Pretty, A's Offense is Not

Baltimore 5, Oakland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 23-23

I finally got the chance to see the 2010 A's in person last night and even though the result of the game was disappointing, I had a really good time.  A good deal of my enjoyment came from Camden Yards itself, which is my second favorite stadium I've been to.  Having seen 90% of my baseball games at the Colisseum, I tend to overlook how great it is to watch a game in a beautiful ballpark.  Because of this, I'm pessimistic about the impact that a new A's stadium, wherever it is located, will have on attendance.  Last night's visit to Baltimore, though, reminded me that a team's stadium matters --- and if done well, can matter quite a bit.

As for the game itself, there isn't much to say that hasn't already been covered in recaps of other A's losses.  Getting eleven baserunners is great and all, but if only two of those runners are the results of extra base hits, you're not going to score all that many runs.  Even with Jeremy Guthrie struggling with his command, the A's couldn't make hard contact.  Gabe Gross was the only A's hitter to get an extra base hit as he doubled twice, one of those two baggers, though, was a looping, luckily placed flyball.  The A's need to supplement their singles and walks with power.  The A's only have 25 home runs to date, last in the AL; the impotent Mariners offense passed the A's yesterday.  If Jack Cust can't provide power --- and all seven of his hits this year are singles --- the A's will have to look elsewhere for someone to jumpstart the offense.

The one annoying thing about being at the game instead of watching it was that I had no idea why Dallas Braden left after four innings.  His control had been shaky, though I thought he and Guthrie were victims of a small-ish strike zone, but his pitch count was low.  The reason for his short outing turned out to be a sprained ankle, which could also have been the reason for his faltering control.  Hopefully he'll take his next turn in the rotation, or otherwise we may seen Tyson Ross get another start.  Yesterday, Ross' control was worse than his two walks indicate.  Less than half of his pitches were in the strike zone and his wild pitch in the sixth was very, very wild.  His wildness forced the A's to go to use three relievers; had he been able to throw strikes, he could have given the rest of the pen a break.

Michael Wuertz was also disappointing last night, allowing a home run to Nick Markakis and an RBI double to Matt Wieters that put the game far out of reach.  It's early, but lefties are crushing him so far this year.  Of the 11 lefties he's faced, 4 have hits, two of which were doubles and one was a homer.  He's walked two and struck out one.  Hopefully this is an anomaly, since last year he displayed no platoon split whatsoever.

In injury news, it looks like Coco Crisp may be headed back to the DL with his injured side muscle.  There's still a chance that he'll be able to play through the pain, though, so I may see him in action when I head back to Oriole Park tonight.  Hopefully the A's will give me more to be excited about than just a nice stadium. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Introduction to the 2010 Draft

MLB's amateur draft is only a few weeks away and while the A's front office has been studying the landscape for over a year now, I'm just now making myself familiar with some of the players that will be drafted.  Here's a quick rundown on the 2010 draft.

  • The A's have the 10th overall pick in the draft.  They neither gained nor lost compensatory picks for free agent signings, so will have one pick in each round of the draft.
  • There's some guy named Bryce Harper that's supposed to be pretty good...
  • After Harper, the next best player is probably Jameson Taillon, a high school pitcher out of Texas.  The best high school position player is probably Manny Machado, a shortstop from Florida.  Neither of these players will be available when the A's pick.
  • There are a number of college pitchers who will likely be drafted in the top ten.  The names to watch are Drew Pomeranz (Mississippi), Anthony Ranaudo (LSU), Deck Mcguire (Georgia Tech), and Chris Sale (Florida Gulf Coast).  Pomeranz could be drafted as high as #2 overall and will certainly be gone by the time the A's pick.  It's also unlikely that Sale will be available.  Ranauado could drop because of injury concerns as could Mcguire because of differing opinions about his ceiling.
  • The best high school pitchers after Tallion are Dylan Covey from Pasadena, Karsten Whitsen, from Florida, and AJ Cole, also from Florida.  These pitchers could go anywhere from fifth overall to twentieth, so one or more of these guys may be available to the A's at ten.
  • The first four-year college player taken will probably be Yasmani Grandal (Miami (FL)).  Grandal is a good defensive catcher, but probably a worse offensive prospect than Buster Posey was two years ago.  Grandal could go as high as fourth or as low as the middle of the first round, so he may or may not be available when the A's pick.
  • After Grandal, the best college hitters are third baseman Zach Cox (Arkansas), shortstop Christian Colon (Cal State Fullerton), and right fielder Michael Choice (University of Texas-Arlington).  At least one of these players, and perhaps all three, will be on the board at 10.
  • The pickins are a bit slim in the high school crop of hitters.  Machado may very well be the only prep hitter drafted in the top ten this year.  Third baseman Nick Castellanos of Florida and outfielders Josh Sale of Washington and Austin Wilson of North Hollywood are the other high school hitters who could go early in the first round.
  • John Sickels at Minor League Ball has a pretty good rundown of the top draft prospects.  Info on the top college pitchers can be found here, here, here, and here.  Info for the top high school pitchers can be found here and here.  Info for the best college hitters can be found here and here.  And info for the best high school hitters can be found here and here

Monday, May 24, 2010

Game 45 Recap or Sweep Sassy Molassy

Oakland 3, San Francisco 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 23-22

The A's wrapped up their homestand with a sweep of the Giants and find themselves above .500 and only 2 games behind Texas in the AL West.  As usual, pitching was the story of the game, as Ben Sheets and Jonathan Sanchez both had very strong outings.  Sheets got more support from his defense and bullpen, giving the A's the 3-0 win.

For the third time in four games Sheets struck out 8 batters --- and for the third time in four Sheets starts, the A's won.  Bob Geren attributed Sheets' recent success to a new cutter, but I think his success stems from an overall sharpness that he was missing earlier in the year.  I know sharpness is vague, but today's game was a good example of what I mean. 

Sheets did not have his best fastball early, but his curve was working very well.  Early in the year, he was hanging a lot of breaking pitches, something he's been doing much less frequently as the season's gone on.  As the game progressed he did pick up some velocity to his fastball, and successfully mixed in his change later on.  His command looked as good as it has all season, as he walked only two Giants and 60 of his 97 pitches were strikes. 

Sheets' strong start, along with some great defensive helped the A's survive another tepid offensive performance.  Mark Ellis made a great leaping catch with two on and two out in the fourth inning to keep the game scoreless and Rajai Davis got a great jump on Aubrey Huff's long flyball in the ninth.  The A's offense needed the help because they weren't able to do much at the plate.  They managed only five singles and a double (along with six walks), and were a little lucky to get even three runs, especially given Daric Barton's annoying tendency to bunt way too frequently.

Hopefully this stretch of good outings from Sheets represents a return to form for him.  He won't always face lineups as bad as the Giants', but it looked like the stuff he showed today would play against any team.  After playing very well at home, we'll see if the A's can do anything on the road.  They start a 10 game road trip tomorrow, that includes tough series in Boston and Detroit.

Monday Morning Notes

A couple quick notes before recapping yesterday's game...

  • Apparently, Eric Chavez is not considering retirement and will try to rehab his ailing neck.
  • The A's signed John Halama to a minor league deal.   The llama in the above photo is (probably) not named John Halama.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Game 44 Recap or Gio's Dallas Braden Impression

Oakland 1, San Francisco 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 22-22

People like to call soccer "The Beautiful Game," but I think 1-0 baseball games are as good as it gets in sports.  Sure I would have liked to see the A's score more than one run, but I also love games that are well pitched, especially when the end result is an A's win.  Both Matt Cain and Gio Gonzalez pitched exceptionally well, but the Giants defense let Cain down so Gio got the win.

Gonzalez started the game a bit shaky, but was brilliant from then on.  He allowed a single in the first and a hit and a walk in the second, but retired the last 22 batters he faced.  He went eight innings, the longest outing of his career, while striking out five.  The three baserunners he allowed in the first two innings were the only Giants that reached base against him all day. 

Both his stuff and his command were very impressive today.  58 of his 95 pitches were strikes and he was efficient enough to get through eight innings easily and possibly could have pitched the ninth.  Gio was also more dominating than his five strikeouts indicates.  The hack-happy Giants frequently swung early in the count, offering at pitches on the corners and making weak contact. 

With just the one run lead, things got a bit interesting in the ninth when Andrew Bailey came in to save the game.  With one out, Edgar Renteria reached on an infield single.  Freddy Sanchez struck out, bringing Pablo Sandoval to the plate with two outs representing the go ahead run.  What followed was an epic battle, with the sold out crowd going crazy (that was great to hear).  Sandoval ended up walking, but Bailey got Bengie Molina to strike out to end the game.  Although Bailey allowed two baserunners, his performance was very impressive.  He threw 30 pitches, 20 of which were strikes.  Of those 20 strikes, nine were whiffs and six more were foul balls.  For comparison's sake, Matt Cain had only seven swing and misses in eight innings and Gio had only eight.

As much as I dislike interleague play, I can't help but enjoy these A's-Giants games, especially when they're played in Oakland.  The big crowds are great to see and hear and are great for the team's pocketbook.  We'll see if interleague play continues to be a crowd pleaser when the Pirates come to town next month (hint: it won't). 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Game 43 Recap - Two bloops and a blast...without the blast

Oakland 6, San Francisco 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 21-22

I have to admit that Barry Zito is still one of my favorite players, if not my favorite.  When he was on Oakland, I always like Tim Hudson better, but there's something endearing about Zito's struggles since he signed in San Francisco and how much of his personality he has laid bare in the media.  I also have a large contrarian streak and when the entire Bay Area turned against him when he signed the massive contract and then struggled it made me want to see him succeed even more.

So it's always been bittersweet to see him against the A's (especially because they have absolutely owned him -- he's now 0-4 with an 8.85 ERA against them) because I like to see him pitch well and obviously want the A's to win.  So yesterday's game turned out pretty well for me --- the A's got an easy win, and Zito looked pretty decent despite what his line ended up as.

The A's got to Barry for 3 runs in the 3rd thanks to some spectacularly lucky bloop doubles (and a misplay by Andres Torres) by Cliff Pennington and Rajai Davis, which was enough for Trevor Cahill.  Cahill continued his recent solid run, walking only 1 in 6.2 innings, striking out 4 and getting a decent number of ground balls.  He's now had 4 straight decent starts, with the last two being the best he's looked all season.

3 quick observations to close:
1) Nice to have Coco Crisp back, he had a hard-hit deep double off Zito and looked good in center.
2) Santiago Casilla...what an obscure reference.
3) Brad Ziegler --- lefties were 2-2 off him, and righties were 0-4.

Ellis activated, Chavez to DL - UPDATE

Well, the A's managed to avoid making a tough decision by putting Eric Chavez on the DL with "neck spasms".  I think that's code for "we don't want to release him yet."  Gabe Gross, you have gotten a reprieve....

UPDATE: Chavez is actually hurt, and his career may be over (AP via ESPN):

Oakland put Chavez on the 15-day DL on Saturday because of what he calls two bulging disks in his neck...Manager Bob Geren is optimistic Chavez could return this season. But the six-time Gold Glove third baseman says he might be done after several injury-plagued years.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Crisp activated, Powell demoted

Instead of making a rehab appearance tonight in Sacramento as planned, Coco Crisp was activated from the DL and will start in center field against the Giants.

To clear a spot, the A's demoted Landon Powell, once again leaving Jake Fox as the primary backup to Kurt Suzuki.  Powell hit .231/.362/.282 in 13 games for the A's.  He also caught a pretty special game.

Most interestingly, the A's now face a roster crunch when Mark Ellis returns, probably early next week, assuming his rehab at Sacramento goes well.  Much like the end of spring training, the A's will either have to go to 11 pitchers (and demote Cedrick Bowers), demote Adam Rosales (and he's played well enough that this might not happen), or have to designate someone for assignment.

It won't be Fox, because he has to catch, and it's unlikely to be Jack Cust.  That leaves 4 candidates --- Rajai Davis, Eric Chavez, Eric Patterson and Gabe Gross.  I don't think it will be Davis because of how solid he was last year and what his speed and defense offer off the bench (if the A's stick with a Cust/Crisp/Sweeney OF).  Chavez has been pretty bad, but I don't think it will be him purely for sentimental reasons.  Patterson has some versatility and has shown some pop.  Gross seems to be the odd man out, as he's hit just .254/.286/.288 in 64 PAs and had just a .681 OPS last season for Tampa Bay.  He seems to be behind Patterson on the depth chart given the amount of starts each has had, and Patterson has better speed and can play more positions.  It looks to me like the Gabe Gross era in Oakland is going to end, and was about as memorable as the Jeff DaVanon/Danny Putnam/Ryan Langerhans eras.

First Quarter Grades: The Pitchers (Updated)

The A's pitching is the reason for the moderate amount of success they've had so far.  They've allowed 4.4 runs a game, which is good for 6th in the AL, and have overcome injuries to Brett Anderson, Justin Duchscherer, Michael Wuertz, and Joey Devine.

Let's get to the grades (ordered by innings pitched). We'll kick things off with Mr. Perfect, Dallas Braden.

Dallas Braden - A+
Braden's given the A's everything they could have hoped for this season and more.  ERA in the threes?  Check.  Eating innings?  Check.  Impeccable control (third best BB/9 in the majors)?  Check.  Oh, and perfect game?  Check. 

Ben Sheets - C+
Sheets is a tough case.  He's had some good starts and some bad ones, though his bad starts have been really bad and his good starts haven't been particularly inspiring.  His ERA is an ugly 5.66, his strikeouts are down, and his walks are up.  Still, he's taken the ball every fifth day after missing all of 2009.  He's clearly not the pitcher he was before the injury, but maybe he can learn to succeed with the diminished stuff he has now.

Gio Gonzalez - B+
Coming into the Spring Training Gio had to battle Trevor Cahill for the fifth starter job and didn't win it until the last days of the Spring.  He's responded by pitching quite well, posting a solid 4.05 ERA so far.  He's still struggled a bit with his control and his pitch efficiency, but I'm quite pleased by how he's performed so far and optimistic about what he'll do the rest of the year.

Justin Duchscherer - INC
Well, I'd probably give Duchscherer a B for his work in the first quarter of the season.  He was able to make five starts, three of which went really well.  Extrapolate that to a full season and you've got 20 starts from Duke.  Unfortunately, these five starts are quite possibly the last that he's made in 2010 and potentially his last ever in the big leagues.  Here's hoping for a comeback, but things are not looking good so far.

Tyson Ross - A-
Yes his ERA is a mediocre 4.39.  But he's become a life saver after being a surprise addition to the A's Opening Day roster.  He looked quite good out of the pen and quickly rose from mop up duty to pitching in tight spots late in games.  His emergency starts have been less than stellar, but he was able to provide some innings when they were badly needed.  He looks to have a solid future in Oakland, maybe not as a starter, but he has the makings of a quality pitcher.

Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill - INC
Like Duchscherer, Anderson had a handful of good starts before landing on the DL.  Thankfully, Anderson's recovery is going much better than Duke's.  He's thrown off a mound and is on track to return in about two weeks.

Cahill essentially took Anderson's place in the rotation and has made four starts so far.  His first was disastrous, giving up 8 runs in five innings.  His last three starts, however, were pretty decent.  He's still not striking many batters out, but he is getting a ton of grounders and his control seems better than last year.  Hopefully, he can replicate his recent success because Cahill will likely be in the rotation for as long as Duke is out, which could be the rest of the year.

Brad Ziegler - B+
Ziggy's been successful when Geren's deployed him against righties.  Right handers are hitting just .157 off of him and have yet to homer.  Unfortunately, Geren's used him too frequently against lefties in tough spots.  They're hitting .262 off of him, have walked four times, and homered twice.  There was some hope that he'd improved against lefties, but he is what he is --- a great weapon against right handed hitters.

Craig Breslow - B+
Breslow's been death to left handers so far this season.  He's faced 31 lefties and given up only 5 hits; he's struck out 12 and walked only 2.  Unfortunately, he's been less successful against righties, facing 35 of them, giving up 7 hits, two homers, walking five, and only striking out five.  Coming into the year I thought he'd be better against righties, though we're still looking at a small sample size.  At worst, he and Ziegler make a strong late inning pair, setting up for...

Andrew Bailey - A-
Perhaps I'm punishing Bailey for the high expectations I had given his superb 2009 campaign.  After all, he's pitched 15.2 innings and his ERA is 1.15.  Still, there are a number of troubling trends, most notably his strikeout rate.  He's only fanned 8 batters so far, and though it's in a small number of innings, I'd obviously like that figure to be much higher.  I'm not worried yet, but if he's not striking out more guys by midseason, I may be concerned.

All others - INC
Chad Gaudin and Edwar Ramirez pitched poorly early in the season and have recently been designated for assignment.  Vin Mazzaro, Michael Wuertz, and Cedric Bowers haven't pitched enough innings to judge their performances.  Jerry Blevins has thrown 14 innings, but those were mostly low leverage situations and I don't feel justified giving him a grade yet.  Brad Kilby and Henry Rodriguez have also made brief appearances with the A's so far.

UPDATE:  The A's have released Chad Gaudin and outrighted Edwar Ramirez to Sacramento.

Game 42 Recap or Jeremy Spoke in Class Today

Detroit 5, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 20-22

Well, after a brief respite against the woeful Mariners, the A's offensive struggles have returned (8 runs in the last 7 games against non-Mariners teams), as they managed only 5 hits and 2 runs against Jeremy Bonderman and 3 relievers.  With the Giants coming to town, I don't expect this to change --- they face Zito, Cain & least they miss Lincecum.  There won't be a change in performance until there's a change in personnel, whether that means waiting for Crisp, Ellis and Buck to come back, or calling up guys from Sacramento, the A's offense is just simply not good enough to compete on a daily basis.

Their best rally against Bonderman came in the 3rd, thanks mostly to command issues --- Bonderman walked 3 and forced in a run on Kurt Suzuki's HBP, but Jack Cust couldn't get the job done with the bases loaded and 2 out.

Tyson Ross pitched decently, striking out 4 and walking 1 in 4 innings, but gave up some hard-hit balls that led to three runs.  Vin Mazzaro looked fairly good, sitting in the 92-94 MPH range with good control (1 BB in 5 IP), giving up only a 2-run HR to Miguel Cabrera, and Cabrera's pretty good at baseball so I can forgive that.  A decent tandem start but 5 runs allowed is going to mean a loss almost every game with the A's offense.  Cabrera's 5th inning HR put the nail in the coffin, and though the A's scored a late run and got the tying run to the plate in the 9th, the outcome was really never in doubt.

Early next week Zack and I will discuss the state of the A's offense, and if it continues down this path, I'll have a lot to say.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Game 41 Recap or Verlander Dominated? Shocking!

Detroit 5, Oakland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 20-21

The A's fell under .500 again as they were predictably destroyed by Justin Verlander and the Tigers.  Sometimes it's hard to tell if the A's offense is this inept or if they take some games off.  If anyone deserved to take the night off it was Dallas Braden, who started last night's game despite being hospitalized on Tuesday because of his vomiting. 

Despite being sick, Braden pitched exceedingly well.  He held the Tigers without a run through six innings, but allowed a Brandon Inge homer followed by a Gerald Laird bunt single before being removed from the game.  (After the game, Braden received IV fluids).  Braden certainly wasn't dominating --- he struck out only two --- but his performance certainly should have given the A's a chance to win.

Unfortunately for him, the Braden's teammates couldn't do anything to help him out.  Michael Wuertz came in from the pen after Braden came out and promptly allowed Laird and two more runners to score.  This put the game far out of reach as the A's were unable to muster anything against Verlander.  The A's only run came in the eighth, when they were already trailing 5-0.  Two singles and two productive outs created the lone A's run. 

Analysts always have a hard time discussing the value of makeup and a player's intangibles.  Since its not quantifiable its sometimes easier to pretend that these things don't exist.  But players have personalities and their personalities do effect performance.  Everything about Dallas Braden suggests that his success so far has had as much (or more) to do with his brain than his body and tonight's performance was just another indicator of that.  As long as he didn't harm himself and the team by exacerbating a medical condition by pitching when he really shouldn't have, I couldn't be more impressed with what he showed on the mound.

First Quarter Grades: The "Hitters"

The A's have played 41 games so far, so we're one-fourth of the way through the 2010 season.  Now seems like an appropriate time to start evaluating the team so far.  As a whole, despite all the frustrations I've had with the way things have gone so far, I can't complain too much about where the A's stand.  Right now they're second place in the AL West, three behind the Rangers.  According to Baseball Prospectus, the A's have a 22% chance of making the playoffs, a figure similar to the odds I would have given them right before the season started.

Individually, though, performance has been spotty, especially on the offensive side of the ball.  Below, I've given each position player a grade.  I'll evaluate the pitchers tomorrow. 

A quick note on my grading criteria, which I hope isn't too hippie-dippie.  In determining each player's grade, I took into account both the expectations I had for him going into the season and the opportunities they've had so far.  I will, however, penalize players who have reduced playing time because they're performance merited it.  There's no reason to penalize Landon Powell for not hitting 10 homers so far when he was only expected to be a backup catcher and has only 47 PAs on the year, but docking Rajai Davis for not getting 100% of the PT in center field because he's been so bad is entirely justifiable.

Lastly, I've decided that a grade of C+ is roughly average.  This is arbitrary, but I feel like less of a jerk putting that plus sign next to the C.  Let's get to the grades (in order of plate appearances).

1B Daric Barton - B+
I'd like to give Barton a higher grade, given that he's been the A's best hitter so far.  However, the title of Best Hitter on the A's means as much as the title of best movie in the Fast and Furious franchise; sure there's redeeming qualities to say, 2 Fast 2 Furious (amount of fury, presence of Ludacris), but you'd sure as heck rather be judging the Indiana Jones movies.  Barton's high OBP, currently .386, is great, but his lack of power limits his value and makes me question the sustainability of his on base prowess.

SS Cliff Pennington - B
Pennington had a hot April, so much so that he moved from ninth in the batting order to leadoff and caused me to get super excited about his future.  He's had a rough month and his overall line is down to .231/.315/.354, which isn't good, but tolerable from a shortstop.  Plus, his BABIP is an oddly low .272, given his speed and line drive rate.  He has the makings of an average big league shortstop, but he's hasn't quite put it all together so far this season.

3B Kevin Kouzmanoff - D
Kouz has been one of the worst everyday third basemen in the majors.  Luckily for him, Brandon Wood, Aramis Ramirez, Jose Lopez, and Pedro Feliz have all been much worse at the plate.  Strangely, three of the five worst third basemen so far reside in the AL West.  Right now, Kouzmanoff, who was supposed to provide power in the middle of the A's lineup, isn't looking that much better than Jack Hannahan. 

RF Ryan Sweeney - B-
Oh, Ryan Sweeney, you with your consistent high batting average and frustrating inability to do anything else with the bat.  He's not useless offensively, as his OBP sits at .352, good for second on the A's.  He's also continuing to be good with the glove and his health has spared us more Jake Fox/Jack Cust in the outfield than we've already seen.  Still, a .300/.350/.390 hitter can only be so valuable, no matter how good the defense or how much the swing looks like it should generate power.

CF Rajai Davis - D
The good news: Davis is outhitting Grady Sizemore and Adam Jones.  The bad news:  Davis' line so far is .248/.285/.307.  He's been good on the basepaths with 13 steals in 15 attempts, but overall he's been a big disappointment.

2B Adam Rosales - B+
Like Pennington, Rosales got off to a hot start and is now cooling off some.  And again like Pennington, while his overall line doesn't look that good, his.263/.326/.380 line isn't bad for a second baseman.  He's striking out in over 25% of his at bats, which is way too high for a guy with such limited power.  Still, he's done a solid job in the place of Mark Ellis.

DH Eric Chavez -F+
I tried to think of a way not to give Chavez an F, so here it goes: Ken Griffey Jr. is way worse.  There's not that much else to say, he's not hitting for average, walking, hitting for power, or running well (or playing the field at all).  I guess this makes him a 0-skill player and that just makes me sad.

C Kurt Suzuki - B+
He's been great when he's been healthy, but unfortunately he missed a couple weeks with an intercostal strain.  He probably won't sustain his .267/.345/.480 batting line, but he hopefully won't miss another chunk of the season either.

LF/2B Eric Patterson - C-
Looking at the numbers it's really hard to figure this guy out.  He has the highest SLG on the A's, but he's also hitting only .222.  He's not walking at all and is striking out in over 27% of his plate appearances.  Obviously some of these numbers are the result of a small sample size, but which figure is it?  His low BABIP?  His high SLG?  His low OBP?  All we know for sure is that he didn't exactly seize the day when Travis Buck went down and that may have been his last opportunity for every day at bats in the majors.

UT Jake Fox - D
Fox's only value so far has been his positional flexibility.  Given that every position he plays he plays poorly, that's not saying much.  I had hopes that he could be a solid hitter who could DH most days, but spend some time behind the plate or in the outfield if necessary.  Things haven't gone that way, though.  He hasn't hit at all and been even worse at the plate than Chavez.

All others - INC
Mark Ellis and Travis Buck get incompletes because they hurt themselves early in the season and have yet to come back.  Ellis may be back soon, but there's no timetable for Buck's return.  Gabe Gross, Landon Powell, and Josh Donaldson have got some playing time off the bench, but not enough to make any conclusions about.  Similiarly, Jack Cust's return to Oakland has been to short to evaluate.  Steve Tolleson and Matt Carson both had short stints with the A's.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Game 40 Recap or It's a Walkoff

Oakland 6, Seattle 5 (10) (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 20-20

Objectively, this was one of the more exciting games the A's have played this year, with a couple of late comebacks and lead changes and then a walk-off in extra innings.  From my perspective, games like this just up my stress level and make losses even more upsetting --- thankfully the A's managed to pull this one out.  But give me a nice, easy, win any day of the week.

The A's managed a season-high 16 hits, with 11 against King Felix, who I expected them to have a hard time with but was struggling with his fastball command all game.  Not to hammer this point home, but the dark cloud to the silver lining is that they only managed 6 runs (3 off Hernandez) because of their singles-heavy offense (they did knock 4 doubles, but only Barton's was hit particularly hard).  Ryan Sweeney had 4 singles, and Kurt Suzuki and Rajai Davis each added 2 singles and a double.

Ben Sheets looked pretty shaky, and he still has to adjust to being a guy with a 90-92 MPH fastball (his average velocity this year of 91.2 is down about 2 MPH from his Brewers days) -- whether that means throwing more breaking balls or sacrificing some velocity for movement, he needs to do something.  He gave up a homer to light-hitting Rob Johnson on a straight fastball right down the middle, and giving up 12 runners and 4 runs to the Mariners (an offense EVEN WORSE than the A's) is not a great sign.

As Zack pointed out yesterday, Geren has finally figured out not to use Ziegler against lefties, and made the right call again yesterday, replacing him with a lefty.  The question is why he went to Jerry Blevins (who has struggled all season) instead of Craig Breslow --- Breslow pitched the 10th and got the win, so he was apparently available.  Blevins gave up two hits that led to the blown save (which should not go to Bailey...all he did was give up a sac fly) after the A's rallied from a 4-3 deficit.

The A's also benefited from an odd play in the 5th when Jack Cust nailed Rob Johnson at 3rd base before Casey Kotchman could score, negating a sure run --- a heads-up play by Cust and a horrible mistake by Johnson --- a slow-running catcher should not be making the 3rd out at 3rd base.  Ryan Sweeney also made an excellent throw to nail Kotchman at 2nd on his game-tying hit in the 6th.

The A's also lost 2 runners on the bases, one of which wasn't really their fault (Daric Barton was doubled up off 1st in the 8th by Michael Saunders when the umpires did not make a clear call on whether Saunders caught the ball) but one of which was awful.  Adam Rosales was picked off of 3rd with 1 out when he strayed too far with his secondary lead.  This is the 2nd time that I've seen Rosales' overanxiousness cost the A's --- the other was when he rounded 1st too far and got thrown out in a similarly important situation.  What both situations had in common as how unnecessary it was for Rosales to be so far off the base.  He needs to dial it down a notch --- it's all well and good that he hustles, etc., but when it starts to hurt the team, that's when I start to care.

All in all, the A's are back to .500 and 1/4 of the way through the year with all the injuries they've had, I'm happy with where they stand.

Six Year Outlooks: 3rd Base

Third base is the one position where the A's don't have any obvious options beyond what they have at the major league level.  And depending on what you think of Kevin Kouzmanoff, you could say that the A's don't have any appealing options at any level.  This isn't to say that the A's third baseman in 2013 will necessary come from outside the organization, though.  They have a number of long-term options at second base, including Adam Rosales and Adrian Cardenas, who have both played third base in the past.  Still, third base is an organizational weakness - one that may be best addressed via trade or free agency.

Kevin Kouzmanoff
Opening Day Age: 28
ML Service: 3+
Contract Status: 2010 - $3.1 million (1st of 3 arbitration eligible years)
FA Status: Eligible after 2012

At one time, Kouzmanoff looked like he could be a big-time offensive force.  In 2006, he hit .389/.449/.660 in AA (where he was old for the league) and .353/.409/.647 at AAA.  He never approached those numbers in the majors and coming into this season had established himself as a moderate power source with a low OBP.  Defensively, he rates as average to slightly above average, regardless of what I think of his weird-looking throwing motion.

Heading into the season, projection systems predicted Kouz to be roughly a .260/.310/.430 hitter.  He's off to a rough start so far, posting an OBP under .300 and a SLG well under .400.  He very well may pick it up a bit and reach his projected numbers, but there's not a whole lot of upside here.  At best, Kouzmanoff is a 2-3 win player, the type of guy who could be a good team's sixth or seventh best hitter (unfortunately he's currently hitting in the middle of the order for the A's).

He's making $3.1 million this season, his first arbitration year.  We'll see how he performs the rest of the year, but the A's will face a tough decision this offseason regarding whether they want to tender Kouzmanoff a contract for 2011.  He'll likely earn about $4 million in arbitration next year, which isn't a figure that would break the A's payroll, but is also more than you'd want to spend on a fringe starter with no upside.  Either way, it's hard to see him on the A's roster past 2011.

Adam Rosales
Opening Day Age: 26
ML Service: 1+
Arb Status: Eligible after 2011
FA Status: Eligible after 2014

You can find my full assessment of Rosales in the second base six year outlook, but he's likely to spend time at third base for the A's in the future.  He played 57 games at third for the Reds last year and was roughly average defensively.  His bat isn't close to what you'd like out of a third baseman, although he is outperforming Kouzmanoff at the plate so far this year.  Ideally, Rosales would fill a super-sub role, backing up every infield position, but he wouldn't be the world's worst stopgap option at third, so long as he's cheap (which he will be through at least his first arbitration season).

Jake Fox
Opening Day Age: 27
ML Service: <1
Arb Status: Eligible after 2012
FA Status: Eligible after 2015

When the A's acquired Fox this offseason, they expected him to be able to mash as long they could find a place for him in the lineup.  He's a butcher basically everywhere in the field and the A's have played him at catcher, left field, third base (for only 3 innings so far), and DH, but he simply hasn't hit.  I'm sure it's tough to hit when you're not in the lineup every day and playing a bunch of positions, but Fox's failures at the plate puts his roster spot in jeopardy.  With Mark Ellis and Coco Crisp set to come off the DL in a couple weeks, Fox may be playing out his last days with the A's.  He's out of options and sending him to AAA would require passing him through waivers, but given his performance thus far, perhaps no team will claim him.  Unless he turns it on offensively, it's hard to see Fox with much of a future with the A's.

Adrian Cardenas
Opening Day Age: 22
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: Late 2010 to Early 2011

Like Rosales, a full write-up on Cardenas can be found in the second base six year outlook.  And also like Rosales, Cardenas' bat profiles much better as a second baseman.  He's been pretty bad offensively so far in AAA and has limited experience playing third, so I don't expect him to be exactly what you want from a third baseman any time soon, if ever.  But assuming Jemile Weeks emerges as a starting second baseman, third base is the next logical destination for Cardenas, who does still possess some offensive upside.

6 Year Outlook
The A's don't have a lot of internal candidates for the title 3B of the Future.  If the A's don't look outside of the organization for solutions down the road, the person who ends up manning the hot corner once the A's tire of Kouzmanoff is probably playing another position.  Perhaps it will be Cardenas or Rosales, or maybe one of the A's shortstop prospects if Cliff Pennington keeps up his solid work. 

If the A's do turn to outside options to play third, they may find the free agency well pretty dry.  Brandon Inge and Jorge Cantu top the list of free agents for next season and Aramis Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Casey Blake are the only intriguing names on the following year's free agency list.  All of these players have major flaws.  Whether they try to solve the third base problem internally or not, it looks like the A's will have to get creative if they want decent production from the position.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Game 39 Recap or What Are These Runs You Speak Of?

Oakland 8, Seattle 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 19-20
NOW! That's What I Call Offense!  Excuse me if I get a little excited about an eight run game, but that figure surpasses the A's run total of their last five games combined and they haven't scored this many runs since April 25.  They tied their season high for homers in a game (with a pathetic two) and for hits (with a respectable 15). The most surprising part of the offensive attack was that the A's managed to put eight runs without the benefit of a single walk.  (The Onion AV Club has an interesting and surprisingly fair-minded retrospective on the NOW That's What I Call Music! franchise.)

Just as every A's hitter participated in their offensive slumber party last week, this breakout was also a team effort.  Every hitter, except for DH Jake Fox, had a hit, and five A's had multi-hit games.  Daric Barton led the way going 3 for 4 with a double and a triple, and Kouz and Adam Rosales went deep.  The A's benefited from facing Ryan Rowland-Smith, who has been pretty terrible all season, but it was nice to see the A's rough up even a bad pitcher.  They had done nothing against the mediocre Joe Saunders, and were dominated by average pitchers like Joel Pineiro and CJ Wilson.

I expected a better start from Gio Gonzalez given that he was facing the worse-than-the-A's Mariners offense.  His lack of control hurt him as he walked four, and two of those base runners came around to score.  He also only struck out four Mariners and induced only 7 grounders (compared to 12 flyballs + line drives).

The good news from the pitching side is that Bob Geren may be learning how to use his bullpen.  The eighth inning started with Jerry Blevins facing the left-handed hitting Ichiro and the switch-hitting Figgins.  Blevins gave up singles to both batters he faced and Geren brought in Brad Ziegler to face the right-handed hitting Gutierrez and Lopez.  After retiring both these hitters, Geren brought in Craig Breslow to face Griffey.  So after letting Ziggy get beat by lefties two times in the Rangers series, perhaps Geren learned his lesson of never allowing Ziegler to face a lefty in a crucial situation.  Granted, even if Geren did learn this lesson, he still may need a tutor to help him determine what defines a crucial situation.  When Griffey came to the plate the A's were up 8-4, there were two outs, and there was only one runner on.  Fangraphs gave the A's a 97.7% chance of winning at that point, and that doesn't factor in the fact that Griffey can't hit anymore.  Still, progress is progress.

You can probably discount the A's performance a bit because of their opponent, but this win counts too.  The A's are going to have to take advantage when playing weaker teams if they want to keep pace with the Rangers (and maybe Angels).  Today's game presents a bit more of a challenge, with King Felix taking the mound for the M's.  Hopefully, the A's bats will stay awake for at least a few more games.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Games 37 & 38 Recap or A Bad Weekend

Saturday: Los Angeles 12, Oakland 3 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Sunday: Los Angeles 4, Oakland 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 18-20
There's not much to say right now about the state of the A's other than their offense is performing terribly, scoring a total of 5 runs in their last 5 games, all losses.  Sure, they're not this bad, but this is a very weak offense, with no regular slugging over .400 (Eric Patterson is at a fluky .507), and only one (Barton) with an OBP over .340.  The returns of Cust and Suzuki should help, but these type of stretches will happen from time to time with the way the offense is constructed.

Saturday's game started well, thanks to a Howie Kendrick error and a Eric Patterson home run, but the A's quickly saw the 2-0 lead evaporate as Tyson Ross tired -- after retiring the first 11 batters, he wouldn't get another out, giving up 2 singles and a Kendry Morales 3-run bomb.  The Angels then put up 9 runs on Jerry Blevins and the now-departed Chad Gaudin, making it into a laugher.

Sunday's game was at least a quick death, as the A's mustered only 5 runners off of Joel Pineiro, who went the distance.  It was 1-0 until the 6th, when Bobby Abreu's 2 run HR clinched it.  It speaks to the state of the A's offense that a 3 run lead felt about the same as the 9 run lead the day before.

The silver lining of the weekend would have to be Trevor Cahill's performance --- 7 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, and most importantly 0 walks and 15 groundouts (vs. 3 flyouts).  This is the type of start that Cahill can potentially give every time out, and while his last 2 starts were as good superficially, this was by far the best he's looked all year.  Even a 4.50 ERA or so from him will help stem the loss of Duchscherer and this was an encouraging step.  Also encouraging is that the Rangers also got swept, leaving the A's still only 2 games back with the Mariners coming to town.

Moves Roundup

Duchscherer's season may be over, Suzuki back, Rodriguez, Bowers up, Donaldson down, Gaudin gone

via the Chronicle:

"Justin Duchscherer left little doubt Saturday night that his season is probably over, and that also might mean the end of his A's career.

"It's very similar to the other time, when I had to have the surgery," said Duchscherer...If I have to have surgery, I'm done for the year, and obviously that's not an option I want to explore unless absolutely necessary."


Well, I said to Zack at the beginning of the year that I expected Sheets and Duke to combine for 1 healthy season (~30 starts or so), and that's looking like an optimistic prediction.  Duke gave the A's 5 solid starts before giving out, and not only is his A's career likely to be done, his career in general is in jeopardy.  He certainly has proven his body cannot hold up as a starting pitcher, so any comeback should be in the bullpen.

The A's brought back Henry Rodriguez (who probably never left), and recalled journeyman lefty Cedrick Bowers who will be around until Vin Mazzaro in all likelihood takes the ball in Duchscherer's next spot in the rotation.  Bowers, 32, appeared in 5 games for the Rockies in 2008 (and got lit up) and the last two seasons at AAA has shown himself to be an erratic strikeout pitcher who suppresses home runs.  He had a combined line of 125.2 IP, 88 H, 6 HR, 88 BB, 141 K, and this year at Sacramento has been more of the same, with 17.2 IP, 10 H, 0 HR, 8 BB, 26 Ks.  His wildness makes him untrustworthy in any high-leverage situations so expect him to see limited action in mop-up duties as the 3rd lefty behind Breslow and Blevins.

Gaudin was the victim of some gopher-itis and a very high BABIP (.432), with a very solid 20:5 K:BB ratio in 17.1 IP, his FIP (5.93) and xFIP (3.91) were much better than his ERA (8.83).  But after yesterday's debacle, it's not surprising he was shown the door.

The A's do get some good news with the return of Kurt Suzuki, and Josh Donaldson, as expected, got sent back to AAA after getting his first taste of the bigs.  He looked overmatched most of the time, but did hit a bomb, so he's got that going for him, I guess.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Duchscherer Scratched, Ross Starting Tonight

Justin Duchscherer was a late scratch from tonight's start and Tyson Ross has taken his place.  Ross last pitched on Tuesday, when he went three innings and got the win.  I'd guess he'll probably be limited to about 50 pitches or so, so let's hope he can get through four or five innings.

Game 36 Recap or Some Runs Would Be Nice

Los Angeles 4, Oakland 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 18-18
Unfortunately, Dallas Braden couldn't follow up his perfect game with a second one.  Even if he had come close, though, the A's still likely would have lost because their offense is putrid right now.

In the last 27 innings, the A's have scored two runs.  During this stretch, they've managed 19 hits, which isn't horrible, but only four of them have been for extra bases.  15 singles stretched over three games isn't going to score many runs unless they're accompanied by a healthy number of doubles and homers.  A singles-only offense only works if the team is getting nine or ten a game, and that simply hasn't been happening.

The frustrating thing is that the A's haven't been facing that good of pitching.  Derek Holland, CJ Wilson, and Joe Saunders are not guys who should dominate a major league lineup.  Holland was just called up from the minors, Wilson is a converted reliever, and the A's roughed up Saunders for seven runs in early April.  Perhaps calling up Jack Cust will solve some of the issues, but the A's offense sure looks bad with Sweeney out and Barton slumping.

Braden did pitch a very good game, which was marred only by a spotty sixth inning.  Overall, he threw eight innings, giving up four runs, seven hits and a walk, while striking out five.  In the sixth, he gave up three of the hits (including a bunt single) and his only walk.  The big blow was Hideki Matsui's homer with two outs and two on.  Braden isn't consistently getting ground ball outs; his groundball rate is41.5%, which is better than last year, but not ideal either.  Braden will likely always be somewhat of a flyball pitcher, and he's going to give up some homers.  He just has to hope that most of them come with the bases empty.

I'd still qualify his follow-up to the perfect game a success, but the A's offense couldn't even provide him with a hint of support.  We'll see if the A's can turn it around offensively, but it's really hard to be optimistic right now.  The A's offense has such a small margin for error that if one or two pieces aren't working right, bad things happen.  Right now, no one is going good and the results have been disastrous.

Cust returning, does this spell the end of Chavez?

Via Mychael Urban:

breaking news: Jack Cust just confirmed he's been promoted and will be in uniform in Anaheim on Saturday

Cust, after a very slow start, has hit well at Sacramento --- his overall line is .277/.444/.436, but has a .508 OBP in May and a .304/.495/.493 line v. RHP.  Naturally, this leads to the obvious conclusion that Cust will slide into Eric Chavez's role at the primary DH v. righties, and with Chavez sporting an anemic .247/.298/.355 line, it is a move that needs to made immediately.  Listen, we all love Eric Chavez and he's shown a hell of a lot of heart coming back from all his injuries, but picking him over Cust was the wrong move in April and the experiment has to end if the A's want to field their best team.

Justin Duchscherer is also being activated to start tonight's game in Anaheim, which means the A's have two moves to make.  With their 9 man bullpen, the obvious move is to cut that down to the normal 7, and the two obvious candidates to head back to AAA are Edwar Ramirez and Henry Rodriguez, which means the decision on what to do with Chavez won't have to come until Mark Ellis or Coco Crisp is ready to return.

Assuming Cust takes over at DH, Chavez has very little defensive value and will be primarily a left-handed pinch-hitter, and with Gabe Gross and Eric Patterson or Travis Buck on the bench, eventually he will be redundant.  This might mark the beginning of the end of the Eric Chavez era.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Game 35 Recap or Foiled by Geren's Pen Usage, A's Short Bench

Texas 2, Oakland 1 (12) (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 18-17
Just like in Tuesday's game, Bob Geren made a bunch of questionable decisions in an extra inning game.  And once again, the moves may not have mattered in the final outcome.  Still, the A's manager's questionable bullpen moves and their short bench have hampered their ability to win games.

The reason I say Geren's decision making didn't have an affect on the final outcome of the game is because of the A's offensive ineptitude.  Perhaps they reached their series limit after scoring seven runs on Tuesday; they've scored only two runs in the last 21 innings.  Yesterday, they managed only seven hits in twelve innings, only one of which went for extra bases (Jake Fox's eighth inning double).

The sorry offensive performance wasted Ben Sheets' second consecutive good start and a couple magic acts from the bullpen, though the pen probably could have avoided double duty as escape artists had Geren learned from his mistakes on Tuesday night.  Someone should write "Don't Let Ziggy Face Lefties" on Geren's hand.  Ziegler faced three lefties in the bottom of the ninth inning, and retired only one.  The A's lived to see extra inning only because Cliff Pennington was able to throw out David Murphy at home with runners at the corners and one out. 

Geren didn't make any bad substitutions with his position players, but his short bench didn't give him any flexibility at all.  With Sweeney out with an illness, the A's had a two-man bench yesterday.  After Eric Patterson pinch hit for Landon Powell in the ninth, the A's were committed to Jake Fox in the outfield the rest of the game.  Although the game ended with Fox unable to get to a flyball to left that most outfielders would have gotten to, there really wasn't much Geren could have done to avoid that scenario.  You could argue that it was unnecessary to use Patterson to hit for the switch-hitting Landon Powell, but had Powell reached base, Patterson would have (or at least should have) run for him anyways.

I'm not so sure why the A's have been so insistent upon their current roster construction.  The options on the 40-man roster are limited, especially given that Matt Carson is on the minor league DL.  But Steve Tolleson was available and would have been more useful to the A's than say, Edwar Ramirez, over the past few days.  Unfortunately the A's will continue to play with a short bench for a while longer.  Saturday, the A's have to make a couple roster moves to make room for Justin Duchscherer and (hopefully) Kurt Suzuki.  But, the they'll likely send Ramirez and Donaldson down to make room for the DL returnees, leaving the composition of the bench intact.  It will likely take Mark Ellis and/or Coco Crisp getting healthy for the A's abandon the ludicrous three-man bench.  

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Game 34 Recap or So That's What Home Runs Look Like

Texas 10, Oakland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 18-16
After two exciting games in a row, the A's put up a stinker last night.  From the manager on down, the A's simply didn't do anything well.  Geren put together a weird, borderline stupid lineup, Gio Gonzalez got crushed, and the hitters couldn't string together enough singles to score any runs; the only bright spot was Eric Patterson's meaningless pinch hit homer in the eighth.

Last night's lineup was just asking for trouble.  I understand that Geren wanted to go heavy on the righties, but come on.  Jake Fox in left AND Josh Donaldson at DH?  Ridiculous.  Josh Donaldson doesn't belong in the major leagues and should really only be getting starts at catcher to rest Landon Powell (a job I think Fox can do).  Donaldson's simply overmatched at the plate; he's 1 for 19 and has struck out 9 times without a walk.  There's no reason for him to be in the lineup, especially at DH..

And what's Jake Fox doing in the outfield?  Maybe he can play out there when groundball pitchers like Cahill or Mazzaro are on the mound, but he really has no business out there most days.  He looked bad enough on the successful play he made on Josh Hamilton's line out in the third (Steve Bitker noted Fox's "interesting" route he took to the ball), but his diving attempt of Kinsler's double in the fourth was just horrible.

Gio Gonzalez needed all the help he could out there as the Rangers were hitting him hard all night.  Even in the first he gave up two doubles and two pretty hard hit outs, but managed to escape unscored upon.  He unraveled a bit in the fourth after Fox's misplay and his own balk allowed two runs to score.  Gio couldn't get out of the fifth as Michael Young opened with a single and Josh Hamilton followed with a homer to drive him from the game.  The A's bullpen followed by imploding, allowing 6 runs, including 4 homers in 4 innings.

It really didn't matter though, as the A's offense was impotent.  Help may be on the way, but not as soon as initially thought.  Kurt Suzuki is now targeting a Saturday return (there was hope that he could return today) and both Mark Ellis and Coco Crisp will begin rehab assignments next week.  Suzuki can't get here fast enough, because although Landon Powell is doing fine as Suzuki's backup, Donaldson really needs to be in AAA getting regular at bats and NOT DH'ing for the A's. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

You know you're a big deal when...(ctd.)

Because I can't get enough Perfecto-mania...

Here's a better image of the new Bradenia.

Also, check out Dallas Braden on The Late Show after the jump.

Game 33 Recap or From Perfection to Insanity

Oakland 7, Texas 6 (13)(WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 18-15
Well that sure was crazy.  The odds that Dallas Braden would throw a perfect game were 1 in 15.2 million.  I wonder what the odds are that Eric Chavez would homer, Landon Powell would steal a base, and Tyson Ross would get an at bat in the same game. 

Any 13 inning game with four blown saves (three by the A's) will have controversial managerial moves and this game was no exception.  In watching Bob Geren over the past few years I'd have to say that bullpen management is what he is worst at.  Unfortunately for him, choosing which pitcher pitches in a given situation is the most visible thing a manager does.  The A's bullpen should be fairly easy to manage, especially now that it has nine guys in it.  But Geren once again made a bad move which led to a chain of crazy events.

The first eight and a half innings were typical of what we've seen so far from the A;s, with Chavez' two run homer, his first since 2008, being the biggest oddity of the night.  The Rangers had managed only two runs off of Trevor Cahill, Jerry Blevins, and Brad Ziegler, while the A's had managed to score three.  Heading into the bottom of the eighth, Ziggy was on the mound set to face righties Elvis Andrus and Michael Young.  Lefty Josh Hamilton was due up third.  Ziggy retired Andrus, but hit Young.  Geren left the right hander in to face Hamilton, who promptly gave the Rangers the lead with a homer.

Geren absolutely cannot have Ziegler facing Hamilton in that situation.  Although Hamilton's splits aren't horrendous, Ziegler's are.  Maybe if the bases were empty it'd be OK to leave Ziggy in the game where Hamilton could only tie the game, but that was not the situation at hand.  The right (and seemingly obvious) move is to go to Breslow there and have Bailey ready to face Guerrero.  I really have no idea why Geren wouldn't go to a lefty there.

In the top of the ninth against the lefty Darren Oliver, Chavez reached on an error.  Gabe Gross ran for him and Adam Rosales followed with a single.  Jake Fox then hit for Eric Patterson at which point the Rangers went to right handed closer Neftali Feliz.  The A's, because of their nine man bullpen, were left with just Josh Donaldson on the bench, who really has no tactical value; he can't hit, run, or play any position besides catcher.  After Feliz hit Fox, the A's retook the lead on singles by Landon Powell and Cliff Pennington. 

At this point Geren was faced with a somewhat tough decision.  He could either leave Fox in the game in left or put Gross in left while losing the DH.  I think Geren made the right choice; there was little chance that the pitcher's spot would come up again since the most likely scenario was for Bailey to end the game in the ninth.  BUT, he really shouldn't have been in this position in the first place.  Pinch running for Chavez would probably be fine if the A's had a full bench, but with only two guys that you're willing to use, the marginal upgrade from Chavez to Gross on the bases isn't worth it.

Bailey did allow the Rangers to tie the game and the teams went to extra innings.  Daric Barton gave the A's the lead with a homer in the 11th, but Tyson Ross gave it back in the bottom of the inning to give the A's three blown saves on the night.  Geren again made a questionable decision in the 12th, allowing Ross to bat with two outs and a runner on first. 

There are several occasions where its OK to have a relief pitcher bat in a close game, but this was not one.  First, the A's still had Josh Donaldson on the bench to pinch hit.  Managers are always very concerned with having a player on the bench in case of an injury, but the fear is silly.  Yes it's possible for someone to get hurt in the middle of a game, but the odds are pretty low.  Plus, if the injury occurred to anyone except for Powell, the A's would be stuck playing someone out of position anyways.  Second, there were plenty of arms available in the bullpen, and while Ross was probably the best, there's a reason Edwar Ramirez and Henry Rodriguez are on the team.

Geren made one last crazy decision in the 13th.  After Powell walked to lead off the inning, he stole second.  That's right, the guy with two major knee surgeries that is listed at 260 pounds that had caught 12 innings so far was sent to steal.  While the play ultimately worked, it nearly didn't as a good throw would have gotten him.  Powell went on to score on Daric Barton's two out single to center and Ross finished off the Rangers in the bottom of the inning.

So the A's won, making all my complaints about Geren's moves moot.  The real problem (apart from allowing Ziegler to face Hamilton)  is that he managed the game as if he had a seven man bullpen and four man bench - not the roster he actually had.  I'm not exactly sure why the A's  have so many guys in the pen anyways and this game illustrates perfectly why there's no need for it.  We'll see how long the A's go with this roster configuration.  Kurt Suzuki may be recalled from the DL soon, but the A's likeliest move would be to send Donaldson, and not a pitcher, back to AAA.  Perhaps when Duke comes off the DL to make his start in Anaheim the roster will return to normal, but hopefully the A's overstuffed bullpen and understaffed bench won't haunt them anymore.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mid-May Minor League Update

AAA - Sacramento

Three of the A's top prospects are in Sacramento, but none of them look ready for the big leagues.  Chris Carter is doing the best so far, hitting .250/.343/.500.  Strikeouts remain a concern, as he's struck out 35 times in 116 at bats.  Michael Taylor is not off to a good start, putting up a .240/.290/.421 line so far.  Some (including myself) had hoped that either Carter or Taylor could help the big club's struggling offense, but neither look ready to fill that role.

The third top prospect in AAA is second baseman Adrian Cardenas.  He got a late start to the season and is hitting just .244/.295/.268 in his first 11 games.  Fellow second base prospect Eric Sogard, who the A's acquired along with Kevin Kouzmanoff, is also struggling, hitting .287/.347/.342.  The lack of power isn't surprising, but Sogard's going to have to hit for a higher average and walk more frequently if he wants to be a big league starter.

Jack Cust isn't exactly forcing his way back up to the majors either.  His .287/.460/.468 line looks decent, but his power is lacking and he continues to strike out at a steady clip, whiffing 27 times so far in 94 at bats.

On the pitching side, most of the promising players that have played in Sacramento this year have also played in Oakland, with Vin Mazzaro, Trevor Cahill, and Henry Rodriguez all spending time in the big leagues.  Of pitchers who have yet to see time with the A's, 24 year old reliever Sam Demel has been the most impressive, pitching 15 innings while giving up 2 earned runs, striking out 18 and walking only 4.  Clayton Mortensen's 4.66 ERA isn't pretty, but his K rate is over 7, his walk rate is under 3 and he's getting three times as many ground balls as flyballs.  Should injuries continue to wipeout A's starters, Mortensen seems capable of getting a few spot starts.

AA - Midland

Jemile Weeks continues to be the player to watch for the Rockhounds.  He's batting .304/.368/.490 so far.  His basestealing has been subpar, with 4 steals in 8 attempts, but he's been healthy which has been a concern for Weeks in the past.

Pedro Figueroa continues to pitch well, posting an ERA of 2.78 is six starts.  His peripherals are good, but not great; he's striking out 7.5 per nine and walking 3.3 per nine.  The Rockhound have a couple Grade C type relief prospects in Justin Souza, Jared Lansford, and Arnold Leon, but control problems have hampered all three.

High-A - Stockton

2009 1st rounder Grant Green has cooled off after a fast start and is hitting just .285/.319/.380.  He's also been caught stealing 4 times and has been successful just once.  His plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired as he's struck out 30 times and walked only 7 times.  Tyler Ladendorf, acquired in the Orlando Cabrera deal, is outperforming Grant Green at shortstop.  Ladendorf is hitting .325/.368/.425 and is 4 of 5 in steal attempts.  While Green is the better prospect, Ladendorf's more than organizational filler.

Low-A - Kane County

Max Stassi continues to hit well for Kane County, hitting .268/.341/.464.  That line is especially impressive considering the Midwest League's brutal hitting environment and the fact that this is his first pro season. 

Like Max Stassi, the A's drafted Ian Krol despite signability issues and were able to get a deal done.  Krol hasn't disappointed, putting up a 2.81 ERA with 25 Ks and 11 BBs in 32 innings.

You know you're a big deal when...

You're on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

You're on NPR.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Game 32 Recap or Dallas Braden's First Perfect Game

Oakland 4, Tampa Bay 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 17-15
Everything you need to know about Dallas Braden's perfect game can be found in Joe Posnanski's post about it and from the list of links Adam posted below.  On a normal day the recaps you'll find here add game analysis that you won't find in most other game stories.  But today, I'm not sure what analysis I can add.  As Braden himself told Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse after the game, "There's nothing you can say, it's perfect."  The only thing I can do is marvel at Braden's performance and personality and describe how I felt watching it.

I think I'm obsessed with no-hitters.  If a team is hitless through two innings I find myself on alert.  Despite, or perhaps because of my vigilance, I've never seen a no-hitter in person or on TV.  I've probably been to about 200 major league games in my life and I don't even remember a time when a pitcher got particularly close.  I only remember seeing a near no-hitter on TV once before, and only remember hearing one near no-hitter, this game, on the radio. 

I have no idea how any of the players, especially Braden, kept focused on the game.  I was getting nervous in the fifth inning.  Braden's break-neck pace saved me from extra stress.  Once the A's scored their four runs, they couldn't get out fast enough for me.  And, ror the last hour of the game, I had to tell myself over and over that my actions couldn't effect the game.  I was afraid that any movement at all would jinx it.  I was hungry, but getting a snack would jinx it.  I got a text from a friend mentioning the perfect game...I thought that jinxed it.

Of course nothing I did affected the game, which is good because by the eighth inning I couldn't stay still.  With each pitch I was nervously rubbing my shins and holding my breath.  Oh, and I absolutely had to get up to go to the bathroom after Upton struck out in the eighth.  It's a good thing that Fosse and Kuiper couldn't affect the game either; all attempts to avoid mentioning the perfect game went out the window.  Not only did they repeatedly say the words "perfect game," the broadcast team did not go to commercial before the top of the ninth and showed highlights of previous perfect games between Braden's warmup tosses.

My ability to think clearly and accurately interpret what I was watching escaped me in the ninth.  I was sure that Aybar's soft liner was going to drop over Barton's head.  I initially thought that Navarro's liner was a sure hit - and when I saw Patterson in line to catch it, I was sure that Patterson would drop it.  I thought that Braden would walk Kapler when the count reached 3-1.  Pennington seemed to tighten up when Kapler hit the groundball to him and I was sure he'd flub the grounder or the throw.  Of course, none of my fears were realized and Braden completed the 17th perfect game in modern baseball history.

The headline for this post jokingly implies that Braden will throw another perfect game.  The idea of him throwing a second perfect game is, of course, absurd.  But Braden's path to the major leagues is a little absurd as well.  After graduating high school he had to walk on to the team at his junior college - and when he showed up to try out, the coach had never heard of him.  When he did make the pros, his lack of velocity made him a fringe prospect, even if he put up impressive numbers in the minor leagues.  A lot of players with Braden's "me against the world" attitude can be annoying, but reading about his background makes it tolerable, if not endearing.  And frankly, it's worked for him and is probably the main reason why he's pitching in the major leagues.  So yes, Braden pitching a second perfect game is virtually unthinkable, but right now I wouldn't put anything past him.