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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beyond the Box Score Power Rankings

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

Monday, June 28, 2010

Game 77 Recap or Thank You, Pirates

Oakland 3, Pittsburgh 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 37-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Game 76 Recap or Cahill Finally K-Hill

Oakland 5, Pittsburgh 0 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 36-40

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

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

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

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

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

A's deal Patterson to Red Sox

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

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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Game 75 Recap or Well That Was Fun

Oakland 14 , Pittsburgh 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 35-40

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 25, 2010

Games 73 and 74 Recap Or The Hunt for Silver Linings

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

A's Current Record: 34-40

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Belated - Crisp back, Patterson gone

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

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A's trade Fox to O's

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

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

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

Cincinnati 6, Oakland 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 34-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Game 71 Recap or Three Runs Good Enough This Time

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

A's Current Record: 34-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A's Current Record: 33-37

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 19, 2010

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

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

A's Current Record: 33-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 18, 2010

Game 68 Recap or Geren's Gaffes

Chicago 3, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 33-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

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

Chicago 6, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 33-34

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Is/Was Sam Demel?

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

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

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

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

Game 66 Recap or A Comedy of Errors

Oakland 9, Chicago 5 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 33-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A's Trade for Conor Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 14, 2010

Games 63-65 Recap or The Giants Return the Favor

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

A's Current Record: 32-33

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fox DFAd upon Suzuki's return

According to Susan Slusser, DH/poor defensive infielder/outfielder/catcher Jake Fox will be DFA'd to make room for Kurt Suzuki's return from the bereavement leave, meaning Landon Powell will stick as the primary backup catcher.  Fox didn't hit, putting up a line of just .214/.264/.327 (.242/.288/.387 v. L), and with Powell outperforming him in a small sample size offensively (and being a real catcher), there was no room left to carry Fox on the roster.

If he clears waivers (Slusser thinks he won't, I think it's 50/50 --- he hasn't stuck with a team before, and after his bad start, I can see him passing through), he'll go to AAA.

In other news Coco Crisp is going to start a rehab assignment soon in AAA, and the A's shuffled their rotation to give Braden and Sheets extra rest, with Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro going on normal rest to start next week.

Recap of the brutal weekend will be up this evening.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Game 62 Recap or Cahill Awesome, Singles-Fest Continues

Oakland 6, Anaheim 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 32-30

The A's and Angels reprised their singles war, this time with the A's coming out on top.  This time, the teams combined for 15 hits, 12 of which were singles.  The A's, complemented the one-baggers with four walks, two steals, and no GIDPs and put up six runs.  Meanwhile, the Angels only scored one time as they walked just once, went 0 for 1 stealing bags, and hit into one double play.

The big story of the game was Trevor Cahill, as he went a career best eight innings.  His sinker was obviously working very well, as he induced 14 grounders, compared to 8 flyballs plus line drives.  What made this the best start of his career, though, was his control and his secondary pitches. 

Cahill will probably never be a pitcher that racks up the strikeouts, and if he's going to only strike out about 5 per 9, he needs to limit his walks.  While a lot of pitchers can be successful walking about 3 batters per 9, Cahill can't really afford to have that many baserunners with his pitch to contact approach.  A K/BB ratio of 4:1, like he had yesterday would be ideal, and he can only do that by walking only one or two guys per outing.

The sinker is Cahill's bread and butter pitch, with good reason.  The pitch has a solid 10 inch horizontal drop and looks really hard to hit.  What made him so dominating yesterday, though, was his change up and his curve.  For his career, he'd thrown his change for strikes less than 60% of the time and his curve for strikes less than half the time.  Last night, his change up was in the zone 78% of the time and his curve found the zone 68% of the time.  More impressively, he got the Angels to swing and miss at his curve 18% of the time, where for his career that rate is closer to 9%.

The A's aren't always going to win when they scratch out just 8 singles and a double.  They will however, always have a chance when Cahill pitches like this.  Thankfully, they were able to string together the hits and mix in some walks and steals to salvage a split of the series.  The A's head across the Bay to San Francisco to face the Giants, who they swept in late-May.  A season sweep is probably (way) too much to ask for, but it sure would help the A's in the standings after they were only able to tread water in their head-to-head matchup with the Angels.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Game 61 Recap or It's Raining Singles Part II

Anaheim 7, Oakland 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 31-30

The A's found themselves on the wrong end of a singles-driven laugher, as 13 of the Angels 16 hits were one-base hits.  Dallas Braden, who is still battling ankle and foot problems, as well as forearm tightness, allowed ten singles and a double and was charged with 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings.  While the defensive/pitching side of things wasn't pretty, the A's lack of offense really gave them no chance yesterday.

I hate watching Joe Saunders pitch against the A's because I have no idea how and why they can't hit him.  Saunders' xFIP this season is 5.31 and the stuff he throws really seems to support that number.  Still, he's thrown a complete game in both of his last two starts against Oakland and has given up a total of one run.  Last night he gave up only six singles and a double, with almost all of that damage coming from Daric Barton.  The A's simply had a tough time making good contact, and when they did hit line drives, as Mark Ellis did a couple of times, they found the Angels' gloves.

The A's need all sorts of help offensively, and there's good news and bad news on the injury front.  The bad news is that Rajai Davis won't play until Friday at the earliest.  Davis is nothing without his speed, so I really hope he comes back strong from his hamstring strain.  On a more positive note, Travis Buck is getting closer to going on a rehab assignment.

The A's look to salvage a split with the Angels and avoid falling to .500 and three games out of first since last month.  They go up against Ervin Santana, who has been rounding into form lately.  Hopefully, Trevor Cahill, who has also been strong as of late can put up another quality start.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Draft Day Two: Rounds 2-30

Here's a rundown on some of the interesting players the A's drafted yesterday.  For a full list, click here.

Round 2 - Yordy Cabrera, 3B, Lakeland Senior HS, FL
The A's got great value here, as Cabrera was rumored to have been eyed by several teams at the end of the first round.  At 19, he is a bit older than most high school seniors, which is not ideal as his physical tools are further along than his baseball experience.  He does, though, have very highly rated tools and is the son of a former minor leaguer.  He played shortstop in high school, but the A's announced him as a third baseman, where most scouts thought he'd end up eventually.  He's a big kid, listed anywhere between 6-1 and 6-3 and between 200 and 220 pounds, with a powerful arm, so strong that he has draftable pitching talent as well.  Offensively, his calling card should be power, as his size and strength have the potential to turn into home run abilities.  Video here.

Round 3 - Aaron Shipman, CF, Brooks County HS, GA
Shipman is a very raw talent, but has the physical abilities to be an impact player.  He has very good speed and a projectible frame.  Physically, the only question is how much power he'll develop.  As a ballplayer, though, he has a long way to go.  He's the definition of a project player, a guy who is just as likely to be an all-star in eight years as he is to be out of baseball.

Round 4 - Chad Lewis, 3B, Marina HS, CA
The A's nabbed another high school third baseman in the 4th round, picking Lewis out of a Southern California high school.  You can't find a description of him that fails to mention that he looks like a powerful third baseman.  See for yourself here.  Like Cabrera, he's a former shortstop, so he should be able to stick at third.  His hitting ability may be more advanced than Cabrera's, but he may not have the same power potential.

Round 5 - Tyler Vail, RHP, Notre Dame HS, PA
Vail is a 6-1, 190 pound righty out of Pennsylvania.  He currently works in the high-80s and has hit 95 on the radar gun, so the potential to add velocity as he fills out is there.  Vail is committed to play at the University of Maryland, but doesn't figure to be an especially difficult sign.

Round 6 - Tony Thompson, 3B, University of Kansas
Entering the year, Thompson was looking like a potential first rounder.  A broken kneecap at the start of the 2010 collegiate season slowed him down, though and he had a bit of a rough junior year.  Even before his injury there were concerns about his agility, so a move to first base may come down the line.  Offensively he's fairly advanced and has some power potential.  Video here

Round 9 - Antwoin (AJ) Kirby-Jones, 1B, Tennessee Tech University
 AJKJ is a bit of a stathead curiousity, as his raw numbers are interesting, if not somewhat impressive.  He's already a bit of a three true outcomes type, hitting .383/.531/.847 with 26 homers in 209 at bats.  There are caveats galore, as one might expect from a guy with these numbers drafted so late.  Obviously, the fact that he went to a small school that played in the Ohio Valley Conference, one of the weakest D-I baseball conferences.  He also struck out a whopping 53 times, or about 20% of his PAs (he also walked 58 times).  Lastly, he's only listed at 5-10, which is not the typical build for a power hitter.  In all likelihood, AJKJ flames out, but there's a chance he can have a Cust-ian career.  Regardless, it should be interesting to see how he develops.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Game 60 Recap or It's Raining Singles

Oakland 10, Anaheim 1 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 31-29

This was a big game for the A's --- they clearly had a disadvantage in the pitching matchup and losing would guarantee the Angels a split at worse in the series.  When your team wins a game like this, especially in a relatively painless way (at no point did the A's have less than a 50% chance of winning on the WPA graph), it feels like you're playing with house money.

The A's continued to manufacture runs with 2-out singles (not exactly a sustainable model of offense, but hey, I'll take it for now), scoring 1 run in each of the first 3 innings in that way, with Jack Cust, Eric Patterson and Gabe Gross providing the hits.  The A's definitely got lucky with the 3rd run, as Ryan Sweeney looked to be out at the plate (and Eric Patterson looked like he got picked off 2nd the next inning) and it proved to be a pretty important run.

Vin Mazzaro looked better than I've seen him this season, walking none (though his command wasn't great) and showing above-average stuff, giving the A's 5 innings before handing it off to the bullpen.  The Angels rallied in the 5th, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with 0 out (and Mike Ryan missed a homer by about 18 inches), but Mazzaro got out of it allowing only 1 run, thanks in part to the Angels' impatience.  Having the 3-run lead made me feel a lot more comfortable than if it had just been 2.  In the 7th, the Angels put 2 on with 2 out, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate, but Jerry Blevins got a big strikeout of Erick Aybar.  The bullpen pitched great overall, putting up 4 scoreless innings with 5 Ks and 0 walks.  Tyson Ross looked good in a low-leverage situation, and the A's managed to save Wuertz and Bailey for the remainder of the series.

Thanks in part to Mike Scioscia leaving in Jered Weaver in a little too long, Kurt Suzuki finally broke the game open (after 11 singles and just 3 runs) with a 3-run HR.  The A's scored 4 more off Trevor Bell, including a 2-run bomb off Jack Cust, and ended up with a season-high 18 hits (including 4 from Suzuki and 3 each from Patterson & Sweeney).

One bit of news --- with Rajai Davis nursing a sore hamstring, the A's called up Matt Carson (who was up briefly this year) and sent down Henry Rodriguez, going back down to 12 pitchers.  Gabe Gross played CF today instead of Ryan Sweeney, which surprised me initially, but taking a quick look at fielding numbers, it was actually probably the right call (and boy, Eric Patterson has terrible UZR #s in the OF).  Good to know.

Choice Notes

If you're a fan of puns, the A's really couldn't have made a better *ahem* pick.  Here are some links while we wait for the draft to resume at 9 AM.
  • Here's some video of Michael Choice in action.  Too bad the clip packages includes footage of him striking out while playing for Team USA.
  • Here's an interview with him.  Thankfully, he looks much more comfortable on the field.
  • Some comps that people are throwing out are: Jesse Barfield, Danny Tartabull, Ron Gant, and Greg Vaughn.
  • Although UT-Arlington isn't exactly a baseball powerhouse, 8 current and former major leaguers have gone there, including Hunter Pence and John Lackey.
  • The A's plan on starting Choice out in center, but very few people believe he'll stick there.
  • You can find a list of the best available talent in the draft, here, here, and here.  Some of these players fell due to signability concerns, so we'll see how aggressive the A's are in taking these players. 

Game 59 Recap or Try Swinging

Anaheim 4, Oakland 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 30-29

I coach a Little League team and I've never once thought to compare the 11-year olds I coach to the A's...until last night.  As with any youth baseball team there are a couple players who can't really hit.  As coaches, we really just want to see them get one hit over the course of a season.  It kills me to see these kids go up to the plate with the bat glued to their shoulders hoping for a walk.  I want to scream, "SWING THE BAT ALREADY!", but in all honesty, the pray-for-a-walk strategy is probably a winning one for these kids.

While waiting for walks may work in Little League, that doesn't fly in the majors.  I'll be the first person to argue the importance of plate discipline and walks, but plate discipline isn't about just about getting walks.  It's about not swinging at pitches outside the strike zone and taking advantage of hittable pitches in the zone.  Major league pitchers throw strikes, and you have to hit them to be successful.  And you have to swing to hit them.  Last night, the A's simply looked at too many pitches.

Scott Kazmir has lost a lot off of his fastball.  His fastball sat at about 90 MPH all night, as it has all season.  This is a good 1-2 MPH down from two or three years ago.  With the loss in velocity, has come a loss of effectiveness, his fastball has gone from a very effective pitch, worth 0.84 runs per 100 pitches in 2008, to a bad one, worth -0.63 runs per 100 pitches so far this season.  Despite this, the A's didn't take advantage of Kazmir's diminished stuff.  He threw 84 fastballs last night, 58 for strikes.  The A's only swung at 40 of the fastballs.  Here is a chart of the fastballs that the A's took last night.

There are plenty of hittable pitches that the A's simply watched; pitches that were 90 MPH fastballs.  What's more, if you're going to complain about the strike zone, you better be right.  I'm looking at you, Jim Skaalen and Daric Barton.  Eric Cooper actually seemed to calling a pretty accurate zone, especially on balls on the inside and outside corners.

To be completely fair, the A's swing rate at Kazmir's fastball was roughly the same as what Kazmir's opponents have been doing all year, so perhaps watching the game clouded my judgment a bit.  But, even in the first inning, the A's should have seen the dangers of taking too many pitches.  Rajai Davis, Kurt Suzuki, and Kevin Kouzmanoff all took at least one strike and fell behind in the count before eventually striking out swinging.

The A's had wasted of their more favorable pitching matchups of the series and will have to try to do damage against Jered Weaver, a much better pitcher than Kazmir, tonight.  Maybe hoping for walks will work, but if they see any hittable pitches, I'd prefer they take their licks.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A's Draft

The A's take Michael Choice, OF, UT-Arlington with the 10th overall pick.

There were a bunch of surprises with the first nine picks as Christian Colon, Barret Loux, Matt Harvey, Delino Deshields Jr. all went higher than most people anticipated.  I wonder if the A's considered taking Chris Sale or Grandal here.

More on the draft later.

Game 58 Recap or W-U-E-R-T-Z Spells Relief, R-O-S-S Spells Heartburn

Oakland 5, Minnesota 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 30-28

Continuing on a theme from Friday and Saturday, the A's concluded their series with the Twins by playing another game that tightened up in the late innings.  This time, Oakland prevailed, as Michael Wuertz came on to close the game with Andrew Bailey unavailable.

The A's held a 5-2 lead after three innings thanks to their patented Death by Singles attack.  They scored two runs on the first on a walk and three singles and perhaps could have added more had Rajai Davis not been thrown on trying to steal second.  They added another run in the second, deviating from the gameplan a bit, by banging two doubles.  In the third, they went back to their slap happy ways, chasing Twins starter Nick Blackburn with four more singles, which resulted in two runs.

Gio Gonzalez made his 5-2 lead hold up, looking quite good in the process.  He relied heavily on his fastball and curve, and had especially good control of his fastball.  Nearly 75% of his heaters were thrown for strikes and he walked only one batter in seven innings.  He also struck out four and induced 12 grounders.  Unfortunately, he did throw 117 pitches in the game, which is a questionable number to let him throw.  Craig Breslow really should have come into the game one batter earlier, entering to face the left-handed hitting Denard Span and saving Gio five more pitches.

The bullpen was a mixed bag.  Breslow pitched OK, retiring two of the three batters he faced, Tyson Ross allowed a two run shot to Delmon Young to put the Twins within one.  As Adam pointed out below, Ross has struggled of late and probably shouldn't be pitching in high leverage situations for now.  Bob Geren might have realized this, because as soon as Ross gave up Young's homer, he went to Blevins who finished the eighth.

Wuertz came on for the save and pitched great.  He struck out Nick Punto on four pitches and struck out Justin Morneau after a pretty good battle.  Wuertz didn't throw a single fastball to Morneau, instead feeding him a steady diet of sliders and a pair of changeups for good measure.  He then made a great grab on a liner off the bat of Denard Span that looked ticketed for center field.

Despite avoiding a sweep, the A's have now won just two of their last six games and each of those victories have been one run games.  We'll see if they can right the ship against the Angels for what is probably the biggest series of the year so far.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Has Tyson Ross turned into a pumpkin?

Before making 2 starts: 19.1 IP, 19 H, 7 ER, 1 HR, 6 BB, 14 K
After: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 7 ER, 1 HR, 6 BB, 1 K

Now, correlation isn't causation, and I can't tell you about how his arm feels, etc., but there is a pretty clear effectiveness divide since his two spot starts.  I took a cursory look at his pitch-FX data, but there's just not enough of a sample size during his struggles to see any pattern in the noise.  Clearly, he should not be used in high-leverage situations until he re-discovers his old form, and if he continues the way he has the past two weeks, a trip to the DL or back to Sacramento may be upcoming.

The A's bullpen as a whole has gone through a recent rough patch, and getting Ross back to his original form as a valuable long-man/middle innings guy will go a long way in solving the problem.

A's Draft Targets

The terrifying thing about having a blog is that any predictions you make can look very, very silly down the road (though, no prediction I make could possibly be as bad as this one).  Even though MLB's Entry Draft is just a trap for an amateur analyst/fan like me to make predictions that turn out to be horribly wrong, I'm going to go ahead and run full steam ahead with an analysis of who I hope the A's draft (and who I hope they avoid) in the first round.

Last week, I wrote a brief introduction to some of the big names of the draft, but a couple of things have changed since then.  First, it' s become a little more clear who will not be available by the time the A's pick.  Second, some players have played their way into discussion for the A's pick, while others are sliding down draft boards.

Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Jameson Tallion, Drew Pomeranz, and Chris Sale will all definitely be gone before the A's pick.  Also, it appears that Yasmani Grandal, a catcher out of the University of Miami (FL) has reached an agreement with the Royals and will be drafted fourth overall.  After these six guys, it's really hard to say what will happen.  The consensus is that the talent level of this year's draft is relatively flat.  As one GM told Peter Gammons, "there's virtually no difference between the fourth and 44th picks." 

With that in mind, I'll do my best and try to shed some light on some of the players the A's seem to be targeting with the 10th overall pick.  Of the remaining players that may have a chance to fall to the A's, I've ranked them in my order of preference.

1.  Karsten Whitson, RHP, Chipley HS, Florida
This is the guy I really hope the A's take.  Whitson throws in the low-90s and can reach 95 MPH.  What I like most about him though is that he already has an advanced slider and has a projectible frame and may add some MPH to his fastball.  He also is a pitcher, as opposed to a thrower, which many high school hurlers are, and does not have the signability issues that some of the other top high school pitchers have.  Even apart from the financial aspect, I think he's the second best high school pitcher in the draft, and perhaps not all that far behind Taillon.

2.  Michael Choice, OF, University of Texas-Arlington
This year's group of college hitters is a bit thin, but Choice is one of the few guys with the chance to be an impact bat.  He as plenty of power and has shown good plate discipline.  He's a bit more raw than other college players as UT-Arlington is not a traditional baseball powerhouse.  He also does not project as a center fielder in the majors, but a lot of people are calling him a "classic power-hitting right fielder."

3.  Justin O'Conner, C-SS, Cowan HS, Indiana
I know that a lot of people, myself included, have penciled Max Stassi in as the successor to Kurt Suzuki, but there is no reason to draft for need, especially in the first round.  That being said, a team that drafts O'Conner will have a lot of choices when it comes to placing him on the diamond.  He currently plays shortstop, and apparently isn't too bad there yet.  What makes most scouts envision him as a catcher in the big leagues is his tremendous throwing arm.  I'd have to imagine that if catching doesn't work out for him, a move to third base could be in the cards.  His arm is so good, that some scouts, at least entering the year, liked him as a pitcher (though virtually everyone now thinks that the mound is a last resort scenario now). O'Conner also has a quality bat with a ton of power potential.  

4.  Christian Colon, SS, Cal State Fullerton
Colon is a bit of a safe pick, with slighly lower upside than a lot of other players on this list.  None of his tools grade out as exceptional, but he is average to above average in all aspects of the game.  Most scouts think he can stay at shortstop and can move across the diamond to second if necessary.  Power was a question for him coming into the year, but his power seemed to emerge this season at Cal State Fullerton.  He also was one of Team USA's best player's last summer, displaying an ability to hit with a wood bat that bodes well for his future as a pro.

5.  Josh Sale, OF, Bishop Blanchet HS, Seattle, Washington 
Josh Sale is constantly compared to Travis Snider, and while most comparisons between prep prospects and other players with similar backgrounds are superficial, this one seems apt.  Like Snider, Sale is from Washington state and is not particularly athletic.  And also like Snider, if Sale is going to make up for that shortcoming its going to be because of his bat, which is probably the best power out of all high schoolers.  I'd prefer the A's draft one of the previous five guys on this list, though, as Sale's lack of tools other than power concerns me.  That being said, the chance that he turns into an impact hitterwould make this a forgivable pick.

6.  Alex Wimmers, RHP, Ohio State University
The A's have had success taking players from the Big Ten (Nick Swisher, Mark Mulder) and I think Wimmers could have a similar amount of success in the majors.  While probably not a future ace, he complements a low 90s fastball with a great change up and a decent curve.  He likely doesn't need a lot of time in the minors, which is also a plus.  His lack of top notch velocity has him lower on some mock drafts than this, but I think he has enough fastball and good enough secondary stuff to warrant a top-10 pick.

7.  Austin Wilson, OF, Harvard Westlake High School, California
If Sale's combination of risk and upside make me nervous, than drafting Wilson would make me very queasy.  Wilson is the ultimate risk/reward type player and has a strong commitment to Stanford.  His size and his skills remind scouts of Andre Dawson, but he is very raw at the plate.  That being said, he has skills on top of skills and a tremendous work ethic.  Wilson will almost certainly be available when the A's draft and getting a guy with this kind of superstar potential has to be intriguing, but I highly doubt that they'll actually pull the trigger.  I don't blame them, as the mere act of placing him on this list is tough for me; I don't know if I'd actually be able potentially waste a top-10 pick on a guy who may not sign and who may very well be a bust.

8.  Deck Mcguire, RHP, Georgia Tech
McGuire is another college pitcher that may hurry through the minor leagues.  Most people have Mcguire ahead of Wimmers, but I think Mcguire is a tick below the Ohio State righty.  Though both pitchers work in the low 90s, McGuire doesn't have a dominant second pitch, instead, featuring a pretty good curve and a pretty good change. 

These are the eight players who I would be fine with the A's drafting, assuming that none of the top six players fell to the A's at 10.  There are also a couple of players who some mock drafts have going in the early to mid first round that I hope the A's avoid.  They are:

Zach Cox, 3B/2B, University of Arkansas
Some people have Cox going as high as number 5 overall, which I would be more than happy with, just so the A's wouldn't be tempted to take him.  I'm no saying that I'm certain he'll be a bust, its just that he has so many question marks for a guy who doesn't seem to have the potential to be a star.  At best, he seems like a Bill Mueller type player, which is valuable, but that's what I think his ceiling is.  In a lot of ways, Cox is like Dustin Ackley, but slower and less athletic.  Given Ackley's rough pro start, and the likelihood that Cox would have to be a third baseman in the majors, the questions about Cox's power potential, make me question whether he should be drafted in the first half of the first round.

Kolbrin Vitek, INF-OF, Ball State University
Vitek's future defensive home isn't set, as he may end up at second, third, or even center field.  While he has the ability to be fine at any of those positions, its his bat that concerns me.  Like Choice, he has not played against top collegiate programs, but unlike Choice, there's the very real chance that he doesn't have, or doesn't develop power.  While Vitek is a good athlete with good speed and good baserunning instincts, he's not a burner, so if he doesn't develop power he's like a slower Rajai Davis.  A slower Rajai Davis is not a valuable player.

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Archbishop McCarthy HS, Florida
A third baseman with a questionable ability to hit for contact and a concern that he may never develop power PLUS a signability concern?  No thank you.

Matt Harvey, RHP, University of North Carolina
While he throws the hardest out of all the college pitchers in this year's draft, he's had command problems throughout his three years at UNC (and in the Cape Cod League last summer).  He also is more or less a two-pitch pitcher right now and would need to develop a third pitch to avoid being relegated to the bullpen.  I've seen mock drafts where he goes as high as number 6 overall to the Diamondbacks, but I really don't think the A's should take on this kind of risk.
Finally, there's Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, LSU, who is the big question mark.  Coming into the year he looked like Ranaudo would be the second overall selection, right behind Bryce Harper.  Ranaudo, though, has battled injuries all season and when he has pitched has not been especially effective.  He's pitched well as of late, so presumably he still has the stuff that made him such a hot prospect six months ago.  That being said, the injury concerns, combined with the fact that Ranuado could very well return to LSU for his senior season to rebuild his stock may outweigh his pitching talent.  This decision needs to be made by a handful of scouts, a medical director, and someone with knowledge of his intentions, not a guy with an internet connection and keyboard.

There's a non-zero chance that the A's take someone who I haven't mentioned, but I've covered all the likely suspects plus a few guys who haven't been linked to the A's at all (Wimmers, Wilson, Castellanos, Harvey, Ranaudo).  To recap, I really hope the A's take Karsten Whitson, and think that Michael Choice, Justin O'Conner, or Christian Colon would be solid selections.  I'd also be fine with them taking Josh Sale, Alex Wimmers, or Deck McGuire -- Austin Wilson would give me a panic attack.  I hope to heck they avoid Zach Cox, Kolbrin Vitek, Nick Castellanos, and Matt Harvey.  I have no idea about Anthony Ranaudo.

We'll see who gets the nod on Monday, and we'll see how spectacularly silly this post looks in three or four years.

Games 56 & 57 Recap or No Hope, False Hope, Bob Hope

Friday: Minnesota 5, Oakland 4 (11) (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
Saturday: Minnesota 4, Oakland 3 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 29-28
"If you think golf is relaxing, you're not playing it right." Bob Hope

The A's sure do seem hellbent on making things hard on themselves.  And if Bob Hope's quotation about golf applies at all to baseball, at least the A's are playing the game right.  Watching both games I had resigned myself to the fact that the A's couldn't score enough runs to overcome early deficits and took solace in the fact that perhaps the bullpen would be spared being taxed with high leverage situations only to watch the A's come back and tie the game on Friday and Saturday.  And in both games the A's ended up losing and the A's top bullpen arms were needed.

It's not that I'd necessarily prefer for the A's to be blown out, but if they're going to lose, they may as well set themselves up to win the following game.  And against both Scott Baker on Friday and Francisco Liriano on Saturday, the A's seemed destined to lose.  Baker was mostly dominant, pouring in strikes and allowing only 1 run, four hits, and no walks through his first six innings.  He was really breezing along until, unfortunately for him, he encountered a bit of a problem with longballs.  In the seventh he gave up a two run shot to Kevin Kouzmanoff and in the eighth Rajai Davis(!).took Baker yard for a solo shot.

Liriano was simply dominant and the A's were only able to come back against the Twins because of their bullpen.  The A's struck out 10 times against Liriano, who didn't allow a batter past first base after the second inning.  Oakland didn't do themselves any favors by reverting to their punchless ways, managing only one extra base hit against Liriano, a double to leadoff the game by Rajai Davis.

There were good signs from both of the A's starters, who both turned in average-ish starts, but kept the A's in the game.  Dallas Braden, coming off of two consecutive troubling starts (one injury shortened, one where he pitched poorly) fared well against all of the Twins not named Mauer or Morneau.  He would have escaped his outing unscathed had he not let the M&M Twins touch him up with two outs in the first and again with two outs in the sixth.  Trevor Cahill looked pretty good on Saturday, striking out 6 in 6 innings, though he did allow 4 walks, including two in a two run sixth inning.  He also didn't have to face Morneau, who sat the game out with the flu.

With the pair of losses the A's slipped into third place, behind the surging Angels.  Hopefully they can put a win on the board today before LA comes to town on Monday.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Game 55 Recap or A's Win Game, Lose Anderson

Oakland 9, Boston 8 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 29-26
Bad news first:  according to Will Carroll (link sub. req'd) at Baseball Prospectus, Brett Anderson is likely out until the All-Star break with a strained elbow.  Ryan Sweeney, who also left yesterday's game early, likely suffered a concussion in his collision with Mark Ellis and will probably miss a handful of games.  It's possible that Anderson will miss more time (or less time), so I'll wait for the results from the tests he's likely to undergo so I know how vigorously to cry in despair.

The good news is that the A's won the game and finish the ten game road trip with a 6-4 record.  The A's continued what for them constitutes hot-hitting, getting 14 hits, including four homers.  Kurt Suzuki went deep twice and now has three jacks in the last two games.  Kevin Kouzmanoff also homered for the second day in a row.  Ellis was the other Athletic to homer.  The game capped off one of their best offensive series' of the season, though the run totals don't necessarily reflect it.  In each game in Boston, the A's had at least 12 hits. and they racked up 7 homers and 10 doubles. 

Normally when the A's hit like this they'll win, but their bullpen let them down all series.  Despite the win, yesterday was no exception.  Hampered by Anderson's short outing, the A's relief corps struggled through the remaining 7 innings.  Vin Mazzaro, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, and Andrew Bailey finished off the game, and each reliever allowed at least one run.

Credit Bob Geren with going to Bailey in the eighth for a six-out save.  Though he was necessity was a factor in making the move, he made the smart decision to bring in Bailey in the most crucial spot of the game.  As Jack Moore pointed out, at the time Bailey came into the game, the A's win expectancy was just above 60% and the leverage index was 4.16 (meaning that the situation was more than 4 times more crucial than an average situation).  That number does not take into account that Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre, and David Ortiz were coming to the plate.  Geren did well to bring in the A's best reliever at the most crucial time, and Bailey did a great job getting them out.

The A's return to Oakland tied for first in the AL West for a crucial homestand that includes a four-game set with the surging Angels.  The impact of the loss of Anderson will be felt almost immediately, as either Mazzaro or Tyson Ross will likely have to face the Angels next week.  Before the Angels, though, comes a real tough test in the Twins, who lead the AL Central by 2.5 games.  Hopefully, the A's hot bats will make the trip back to Oakland with them, as they'll need them against the stingy Twins pitching staff.  The Twins' pitchers have walked a ML best 116 batters, a total which is almost 40 fewer than the next AL club. 

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Anderson injured, leaves game

Brett Anderson left today's Red Sox game after 2 innings with an apparent arm injury --- hopefully it's not serious but I would imagine another DL stint is in the cards, unfortunately.

Game 54 Recap or That Was Familiar

Boston 6, Oakland 4 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)

A's Current Record: 28-26
Last night's game roughly mirrored Tuesday night's game: A's jump out to early lead, A's get a lot of hits but can't tack on runs, A's give up lead, bullpen lets game get out of reach.  Other than the inability to string their 12 hits together, there are two reasons why the A's lost this game; they managed to not walk once against Daisuke Matsuzaka and the bullpen was ineffective.

While there was certainly at least one (way, way, way, way) worse umpiring call yesterday, C.B. Bucknor put on the type of performance that earned him the title of worst umpire in 2003 and in 2006.  Take a look at the called strike chart for Matsuzaka last night.

This is a bit of a mixed bag.  Bucknor gave Dice-K a couple borderline pitches at the top of the zone, but also called two pitches that were clearly right in the zone balls.  The red dot that is farthest left is the pitch Barton struck out on and was unhappy about in the fifth.  On balance, this zone doesn't look too bad, a couple of missed calls both ways, with perhaps a bit of generosity on high strikes. 

Take a look at the called strike chart for Ben Sheets, though.

Bucknor simply wasn't giving Sheets anything on the outside edge to righties; even pitches a good two or three inches over the plate were called balls.  Sheets only walked one batter, but being squeezed on the corner probably forced him to pitch closer to the middle of the plate.  I'm not accusing him of bias, as there's no motive for him to have been favoring the Red Sox, but his strike zone last night ended up hurting the A's.

The other factor that killed the A's was their bullpen, which has allowed the Red Sox to add runs late in both of the first two games of the series.  I had assumed that they were worn out at the tail end of a 10 game east coast swing, but Bob Geren has done a good job spreading the innings around.  The table below shows how many pitches the five main contributors of the A's pen has thrown each day since the roadtrip began.

  Ross Breslow Wuertz Ziegler Bailey
5/25 30 24 21    
5/26       16  
5/27 19 10 14   18
5/28       12 17
5/29   18   22  
5/31     15   28
6/1 11 22 29    
6/2 7 24   20  

As you can see, no reliever has pitched more than two days in a row, and each have gotten at least two days rest one or more times this trip.  The travel and workload probably has taken some toll on the staff, but fatigue is likely not the reason for the bullpen's recent hiccups.

We'll see how the pen, and the rest of the team, holds up, as they don't have an off day until June 14.  Although today's game caps off the long road trip, things don't get much easier when they return to Oakland.  They start off with three against the Twins, then have four against the Angels.