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.