Monthly archives: September 2006
Well, in the words of Professor Higgins after he passed off Eliza Doolittle as a duchess at the Embassy Ball, thank God that's all over with.
I don't mean to imply that I did not take the requisite pleasure out of the Athletics winning the AL Western Division -- believe you me, we were a-hootin' and and a-hollerin' something fierce over at the Michaels homestead Tuesday night. Besides, if the sight of a swim-goggle-wearing Bobby Kielty dousing teammates with whatever alcoholic beverage he can get his hands on doesn't bring a smile to your face, you've got deeper issues than either I or baseball can address.
But when you put yourself on the brink of clinching a title in dramatic fashion on Friday, and then you spend the next three days floundering about -- including blowing a three-run ninth inning lead -- well, the mood can change from "We did it!" to "What took you so long?" awfully quickly.
Still... regardless of fashion, we won. And if the last two years have taught A's fans anything, it should be that advancing to the playoffs is almost entirely preferable to not.
And when you think about it, it's kind of appropriate for the 2006 Athletics to clinch the division title in a sort round-about "We'll get to it when we get to it" manner, at least from my perspective. Of the A's teams of recent vintage -- let's go back as far as the run of above-.500 seasons that began in 1999 -- this has easily been, for me, the most maddening team to follow. Baseball is a streaky game, but the A's have taken that to its most illogical extreme this year. They set the tone early for what kind of year this was going to be when, on Opening Day, they found themselves on the business end of one of the most savage beatdowns I've ever had the misfortune to witness in person; naturally, Oakland followed that up with a stirring walk-off win.
There have been days when I think they can't be beaten -- where they could be trailing in the late innings by multiple runs, and I have every confidence that they're going to pull it out. And then there are days when I'm just grateful that the A's can't be relegated to the Pacific Coast League. And of course, just when I resigned myself to a disappointing season -- which I feel obliged to do every now and again just so to remind myself to derive some pleasure out of watching the games and not because I'm a horribly faithless fan, at least not entirely -- the A's would resume winning in convincing fashion.
Or to put it another way, in the past week, I've taken to having internal debates in full public view and poor Ken went momentarily apocalyptic taking comfort in the reassurance of natural disaster documentaries. And we're supposedly balanced individuals, hardened by experience and blessed with the wisdom that comes with age. Supposedly. This is what the 2006 Athletics have reduces us to -- imagine the team's effect on lesser men.
For the record, my two favorite teams in this eight-year span of winning baseball have been the 2002 Athletics and the 2005 edition. The 2002 team was, of course, kind enough to win 20 consecutive games, which is simply a mind-boggling feat. They also had a charismatic front-man, three starters at the height of their superpowers, and a bullpen that, more often than not, got the job done. The fact that this was also the team that purged Oakland of the last remaining whiff of Giambis also makes me favorably inclined to commemorate its feats through song. As for the 2005 Athletics, any team that finds itself 15 games under .500 and rallies back to remain in the playoff chase until the last week of the season deserves our admiration. That team had every excuse to curl up and die at various points during the season, and it didn't -- and a lot of that set the foundation for the success we've been able to witness this year.
Other random thoughts on this final weekend of the regular season:
• The A's playoff roster is beginning to take shape, and it appears the team is inclined to not carry an extra pitcher in the first round of the playoffs. Smart move -- Oakland is much more likely to need the likes of D'Angelo Jimenez or Hiram Bocachica to pinch run for Frank Thomas or Eric Chavez in tight, late-inning situation than it would the likes of Ron Flores or Brad Halsey to absorb the final innings of a multi-run blowout. Besides, if you're using that 11th or 12th pitcher in a best-of-five series, odds are the breaks are not going your way.
• At this particular moment, I find myself on the hopefully optimistic side of the ledger for Oakland's playoff chances -- a condition for which I entirely credit Rich Harden's return from the DL. It is impossible to overstate how much Harden's presence improves the A's outlook, and not just because he's one of the 10 best pitchers in the American League when healthy. No, Rich Harden's availability to pitch is also good news because more Harden means less Joe Blanton. Sure, Blanton might work his way into the middle innings of a game here and there, but having him not start improves our fortunes considerably.
(Then again, maybe I should keep this under my hat. I was listening to the Baseball Prospectus Radio podcast last week -- and by the way, I don't take it the least bit personally that not one minute after I show up on Baseball Toaster, BP Radio host Will Carroll announces his departure... not troubled by that at all -- when one of the callers inquired about whether the Dodgers should trade for Joe Blanton in the off-season. Yes, fans and general managers of non-Oakland-based baseball teams -- you need to trade for Joe Blanton. You covet Joe Blanton. Pay attention only to his gaudy win total -- disregard all other statistical measures of his performance, especially his declining strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio and his swollen Runs Allowed numbers. You should also ignore his demeanor on the mound and his poor body language. Just look at those 16 wins -- Joe Blanton, like Storm Davis before him, is all about the winning. Now, surrender you finest prospects for him.)
• Does it worry me that the A's have yet to score a run against the Angels in two games. Yes, but only in the sense that I also worry each morning as i drive to work that my house will be a burnt-out husk by the time I return in the evening. For one thing, the last two games have been started by John Lackey and Ervin Santana, both of whom the A's have gallantly decided not to hit all that well against this season. For another, the A's aren't really playing for anything and have fielded a lineup populated by a good number of Sacramento River Cats. So I don't take this as a portent of our impending doom.
It might be a good idea, however, for the A's to squeeze a run home against either Joe Saunders or Dustin Mosley in the next 48 hours if this Era of Good Feelings is to continue on my end.
What Me Worry About
Over on Baseball Prospectus, Nate Silver runs a quick and dirty analysis of the playoff rotations, and concludes that the A's rotation is the worst of all the AL playoff teams, with an expected ERA of about 4.23.
This is mostly because Barry Zito is scheduled to be the #1 starter, and Silver's formula hates how many walks he gives up. The interesting thing is that if you reverse the A's rotation, so that Barry Zito is #4, and Dan Haren is #1, then the A's expected ERA drops to 3.99, second best only to the Twins.
And neither of those is the rotation that you'd really want if you ignored the numbers, and went by how each pitcher has looked lately: Rich Harden pitching in games 1 and 5.
But still, the rotations of the Yankees, Tigers, and A's are all so close, it doesn't really matter that much. Players don't usually throw an average game in the playoffs: they'll have a good day or a bad day, and the chips will fall where they fall. The only certainty out of any of those calculations is that you should try to avoid facing Johan Santana if at all possible.
* * *
A lot of the playoff analysis I've seen so far keeps saying that the A's need to win with their pitching, because their offense is terrible. Well it was terrible, before the All-Star break. But since then, it's been quite good, as a whole. And the most interesting thing about the A's offense is that, while no one outside of Frank Thomas has any really impressive numbers, the lineup as a whole is extremely balanced.
I'm going to list (in OPS order) the AVG/OBP/SLG since the All-Star Break for the usual suspects in the A's lineup. Can you tell which player is which?
It's not very easy to tell them apart, is it? You can probably pick out Thomas and Kendall from their SLGs, but otherwise, they all look an awful lot alike. The lowest OBP in that lineup is .346. The lineup doesn't have a ton of power, but it doesn't really have any OBP holes, either. That gives the lineup an interesting dynamic: a rally is almost as likely to burst forth at the bottom of the lineup as the top.
* * *
So I'm not actually all that worried about the offense in the playoffs. Unless they're facing Santana, I think they'll get their runs. I'm also not worried about the defense, and I'm not worried about middle relief.
I do worry about these three things: (1) the starting pitchers haven't looked very good lately, (2) neither has Huston Street, (3) unlikely disasters. I think the first two are capable of correction. The third, I dunno.
And so it was...the Angels lost to Texas, and the A's beat the Seattle Mariners, and clinched the AL West, avoiding the massive choke I feared.
The last time the A's beat their jinxes and won the World Series, there was a massive earthquake in the Bay Area.
Obviously, then, there is a connection between natural disasters and jinxbusting.
So I guess I'll need to make a list like this one of shows to watch during the playoffs.
Here Comes The Choke
Huston Street blows a three-run lead in the ninth. I can't take it anymore. I'm fasting the rest of the regular season.
Scenes from a Non-Clinching
My first thought, as Vladimir Guerrero's blast cleared the fence in center field to give the Angels a 5-0 lead in Sunday's final home game for the A's was, "Well, on the bright side, at least we're giving our playoff opponents a false sense of optimism."
Later, as the Angels plated a few more runners while the A's managed to eek out a solitary run from a leadoff triple, my thought was, "Hold on there, bub... who said we're even making the playoffs?"
There are two ways to view everything that happened after Marco Scutaro's game-winning base hit landed in center field and the smoke cleared from another fantastic post-game pyrospectacular:
The Optimistic View: The A's were facing a worthy dangerous foe with its back to the wall these past two days. While it would have been nice to clinch at home, it's not as if these were do-or-die games for the A's; they were for Anaheim, and the Angels responded accordingly.
The Pessimistic View: It may not have been a do-or-die game, but the A's sure played like it was, in that they failed to win. When was the last time the A's were able to put away an opponent -- the Reagan years? Maybe this team ought to realize that its track record in games where it can put the nail in the coffin of a hated opponent doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
The Optimistic View: John Lackey and Ervin Santana are not exactly chopped replacement-level pitchers. These are quality starters who flat-out pitched great games. Tip your hat to them, and try again Monday in Seattle.
The Pessimistic View: What kind of pitchers do you think the A's will be facing in the playoffs? You think Detroit's going to all of sudden bench Kenny Rogers or Justin Verlander in favor of surprise mystery guest Sidney Ponson? At some point, the A's bats need to come up big, even against quality starters who are making great pitches. Especially against those guys.
The Optimistic View: All we have to do is win the three-game series against Seattle, and this thing is all wrapped up, no matter what the Angels do. And in case you've forgotten, we're 15-1 against the Mariners this year.
The Pessimistic View: Again with Seattle. Are they receiving some sort of at-large bid into the post-season that I'm not aware of?
The Optimistic View: The baseball season is a 162-game grind. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. You can't get too wrapped up in a single game.
The Pessimistic View: If you don't be quiet, I'm going to stab you in the eye with this spork.
The Optimistic View: ...
The Pessimistic View: Much better.
Which side of the divide I fall on varies from hour to hour.
This is about the time that Ken would post a fantastic photo or two of the day's events. I'll follow suit after the jump, though I warn you, Ken has much better seats than I do as well as a much better camera.
So I went to Friday night's game, which featured the return of Krazy George. That's all right, I suppose. I never really got into the guy, but the majority of the folks in the crowd seemed thrilled by his return, and I'm in no position to argue with them. Me, I'd get more geeked over the return of this guy. But if a guy banging a drum is what does it for you, more power to you.
What I am less sanguine about is The Wave, which Krazy George claims to have invented and which brought him to Oakland on Friday as part of a 25th anniversary celebration of The Wave's debut. (Just so that I'm clear here: The Wave gets its own silver anniversary celebration at the Coliseum, but the actual folks who won the division title in 1981 do not? Got it.) I do not like The Wave because it seems to occur without rhyme or reason. Home team is at bat? Do The Wave. Home team in the field? Do The Wave. It seems to be less a spontaneous display of excitement and interest in the game on the field, and more of a "Hey, look at me! Look at me!" move by whatever bored fan tries to get The Wave started. Still, other folks seem to like it, and, the last time I checked, nobody appointed me The Arbiter of All That Is Right and Good About Fan Behavior. And so when The Wave winds its way toward me, I just sit and my seat and keep my focus on the game, which is sort of the reason why I'm in the stadium in the first place.
What I also do not like is that, more often than not, The Wave seems to be a harbinger of very bad things -- almost inevitably, once the fans begin a wave, the team they root for experiences some manner of meltdown on the field. Indeed, that seemed to be the case Friday night. Krazy George came out to lead the fans in The Wave in the bottom of the sixth, right after the Angels had tied up the score by plating two runners and nearly scoring a third had Vladimir Guerrero decided to slide into home to avoid Jason Kendall's tag. (Nice to see that play work in the A's favor for once.) It should surprise no one that as The Wave worked its way around the stadium that Oakland went quietly in the sixth and that Howie Kendrick led off the seventh with a homer to give Anaheim a short-lived 3-2 lead. Now, I'm not so superstitious as to believe that The Wave actually caused these things to happen. But it sure does make people look foolish when they do happen.
Future A's promotions: Nick Swisher will break a mirror before every at-bat. A giant ladder will be erected over the A's dugout, forcing Oakland batters to walk under it on their way to plate. Stomper will be replaced by a black cat. And every Wednesday is Indian Burial Ground Desecration Night brought to you by the good people of BART.
No, as a rational man, I will acknowledge that The Wave plays no role in the outcome of a baseball game. But you know what does? Sending your closer out for a fourth game in as many days when you have a perfectly acceptable alternative already on the pitcher's mound. More juvenile rantings about that after the jump.
Mark Ellis Breaks Bat, Loses Arms
So I didn't get to see the A's clinch the division today. Shoulda figured. I'm a jinx when the A's play the Angels. After the game, my wife asked me the last time I saw the A's beat the Angels in person, and I failed to come up with an answer. As far as I know, I may have never seen the A's beat the Angels in person. I know I'm at least 0-for-my-last-7 or so, including one game in Anaheim. My very first ballgame ever was an A's-Angels game in 1974, and the Angels won that one too.
Today's loss probably had more to do with John Lackey than me, however. (And now, we interrupt this blog entry to present this Johnny Carson routine:)
Lemme tell ya, John Lackey was really good today.
How good was he?
Darin Erstad Is Photogenic
Darin Erstad may not be able to provide much impact on a ballgame anymore, but he still seems to be able to provide some nice photos. Today's example:
This play kept Milton Bradley on first base, and saved Orlando Cabrera from yet another error on his stat sheet.
Eric Chavez: Firebrand!
Eric Chavez has been a regular part of the A's lineup for eight seasons now and, thanks to a long-term contract, figures to be in Oakland for the foreseeable future. He is outstanding with the leather -- he's just about a lock to pick up his sixth consecutive Gold Glove in the off-season -- and he's pretty proficient with the bat, too, some injury-related slumpage this year notwithstanding.
He also has a tendency to say really puzzling things if you point a microphone at him.
Chavez's career of confounding oratory got off to a promising start early on when, just prior to Game Five of the 2000 Divisional Series, he pronounced that the Yankees would be well advised to surrender meekly as it was Oakland's turn to rule over the rest of the American League. That Chavez's comments were being broadcast on the Coliseum DiamondVision as the Yankees took battling practice probably played very little part in New York's six-run first inning -- getting to face Gil Heredia for a second time will fluff up the ol' run total -- but it was probably one of those instances where Chavez would have been better served by offering up bland pronouncements about "taking it one game at a time" and "just going out there and doing our best."
Since then, it's been a progression of what-me-worry? quotes in the midst of losing streaks, which probably speaks well of the equanimity with which Chavez handles the ups and downs of life but does little to fire up the paying customers. My personal favorite Chavez quote came from earlier this season, right before the Giants came across the bay for the interleague series, when Chavez expressed his desire that Barry Bonds hit his 714th career home run during his stay in Oakland. Bet the starting pitchers for those three games loved reading that quote.
I'm recounting all of this, because Chavez served up another doozy of a sound-bite in Susan Slusser's game notes column:
Chavez had a different take from most of his teammates about when to clinch the division title. Clubhouse consensus was to try to do it this weekend at home, but Chavez, who like the rest of the A's did not enjoy watching the Angels win the West at the Coliseum the past two years, thinks Oakland should turn the tables on the Angels.
Well, that's an interesting theory. Considering that Chavez uttered it prior to Friday's game, that would mean in order for his dream to come true, the A's would essentially have to get swept at home by the Angels to complete the final homestand of the year, and then maybe win a game or two in Seattle. And while this was happening, the Angels would have to run the table, gaining a little bit more confidence that they could catch Oakland with each win -- all so that the A's could maybe repay Anaheim in kind for the last two years.
Like I said, an interesting theory. Here's another interesting theory, one I came up with all by myself -- How about winning it now?
Or to put it another way: Please stop talking, Chavvy.
Look, I went to last night's game, and I have tickets for Sunday. And I hope, that as I listen to the radio broadcast on my way to a social obligation in Santa Cruz, Ken Korach is describing the triumphant sight of the A's celebrating a division title-clinching win. It is not because it is my heart's desire to see a starting lineup populated by Hiram Bocachica, D'Angelo Jimenez, and Jeremy Brown. Rather, it is because I've come to the conclusion that it is better to wrap things up when you can than it is not to.
You would think that a guy on a team that's gone 0-for-9 in games where a win would have advanced them to the next round of the playoffs might have grasped this concept as well.
But you keep thinking there, Chavvy -- that's what you're good at.
I Need Some Antacid Or Something
We're ahead! We're tied! We're behind! We're tied! We're ahead! We're about to win! We're tied! We're about to lose! We're still tied! We win!
My stomach is full of knots.
With their victory tonight, the A's have clinched their second straight MLB Heavyweight of the Year crown. Texas can still catch up to the A's in wins, but the A's will have fewer losses, and would thereby win the fewest-losses tiebreaker.
Tomorrow, the A's will try to clinch the AL West title as well. I'll be there, camera in hand, hoping to witness an AL West clincher for the second straight year.
Mass Heavyweight Eliminations
With the A's victory over Cleveland this afternoon, every non-AL West team has been eliminated from any further MLB Heavyweight title bouts. (See Catfish Stew sidebar for details.)
The A's and Angels have 10 possible title bouts remaining, while the Rangers and Mariners can have six each. Only the A's and Rangers remain in the race for Heavyweight of the Year. The A's have 27 victories, while the Rangers have 22. Because the A's have fewer losses, just one more title bout win by the A's, or one title bout loss by the Rangers, would clinch a second straight Heavyweight of the Year title for the A's.
One piece of good news for the A's: if the Rangers do come from behind and win the Heavyweight of the Year, it would mean that the A's would get at least a tie in the real AL West standings, as three Rangers victories over the Angels would reduce the A's magic number to win the AL West to 1. So A's fans can calm their nerves with the assurance that they will likely win at least one title or the other, if not both.
One final note of interest: although the Heavyweight title stayed in the AL for most of the year, the New York Yankees did not have a single title bout.
I'm Still Nervous
With the A's victory today versus Cleveland, the A's hold a seven game lead over the Angels, with ten to play.
And yet, the Angels still control their own destiny. They don't need any help from any other team to win the AL West. How weird is that?
If the Angels win their last ten games, they will finish no worse than a tie for first place.
* * *
Man, seeing Rich Harden back out there again was sweet. Seven strikeouts in three innings? Wow. When I watch batters swing through that 87mph changeup, I just get all giddy happy. Please, please, please stay healthy.
Some Post-Break Numbers
I had a nice long post three-fourths written earlier this morning, but my browser window just suddenly closed on me, and poof!--it was gone. I think there's a conspiracy behind this mysterious disappearance. Somebody doesn't want you to know what I know. I'd explain more, but then I'd have to write the darn thing over again, and there's no time.
Instead, I'll just present this little chart of some post-break numbers for the AL playoff contenders. I checked these numbers to see how good the A's hitting has been since the All-Star Break, in comparison to their competitors. Answer: pretty good.
Interesting: the stat that separates the top three teams from the second three is mostly OBP. On the other hand, the stat that separates the top three teams from each other is mostly slugging percentage.
Maybe Billy Beane knew something when he predicted before last year's playoffs that the winner would be the team that hit the most home runs.
Take That, Kenny Williams!
Three run homer.
And the crowd starts chanting "MVP! MVP!"...not because they think he will or should win the AL MVP, but because they like him, they really like him, and "MVP" is a lot easier to chant than "Comeback Player of the Year! Comeback Player of the Year!" which is what he really should win.
Three cheers for Frank Thomas!
And the AL West lead is up to seven, and the AL West magic number is seven, and there are seven games left against the Angels, and seven games left against Not-The-Angels.
Catfish Stew has been brought to you by the number 3, the number 7, and the letters M, V, and P. See you tomorrow!
Kids On Strike: Free Tickets Available
When my kids heard that today's giveaway, the A's poker set, was for adults only, they got all huffy and refused to go to the game. Either that, or they just wanted to fast Joe Blanton.
In either case, I suddenly have two extra tickets for the game I need to give away. As I write this, I'm about to leave.
Update: You missed a good game. And a poker set. The poker set has two decks of cards (with Bobby Crosby and Huston Street on the backs), about
The Fastest Fast
My Dan Haren fast ended as soon as it began. Haren threw eight shutout innings, and Huston Street closed out a 1-0 victory over the Twins in the Hubert H. Humphrey House of Horrors.
Even though the A's had held a lead in all six games between the two teams in Minnesota this year, it was the first time the A's had held on to win.
Now that Haren's fixed, I'm not sure whom I should fast next. My first thought was Dan Johnson, but then I view the fasting as wanting to see players perform the way they're capable of performing, and I'm not sure Johnson is really capable of performing better. I think he might just be your prototypical AAAA player, and what we're seeing is what we should expect. Maybe Zito or Blanton needs to get snapped back into shape, instead. I'll think about it.
Here at Catfish Stew, we have been tracking the Oakland A's completely unbelievable bad luck in coin flip situations. Today, MLB set the home fields for playoff tiebreakers. The A's lost their 10th consecutive coin flip, this time to the Anaheim Angels. If the A's and Angels finish tied at the end of the regular season, the Angels will host the tiebreaker.
Consider this: the A's are 0-for-their-last-9 in playoff-advancing games, and 0-for-their-last-10 in playoff tiebreak coin flips. That, by itself, is a 1-in-524,288 longshot. Then throw in Kirk Gibson, two sucky players named Hatcher, and--for your only World Series victory in 30 years--a major earthquake, and you gotta start thinking that somebody up there has a really wicked sense of humor about the Oakland A's.
And yet, although we might have been given some bad breaks, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
* * *
For instance, although I'm sure everything worked out fine because I've never heard about any airplanes crashing into the San Francisco Bay wetlands, but I still feel fortunate that I wasn't on this plane. That looks scary.
* * *
Also scary: yet another Moneyball/What's-So-Great-About-Billy-Beane article has popped up, this time on by Jon Heyman at SI.com.
Ho hum. You know, as an A's fan, should it matter to me if Billy Beane is a great GM or not, or if Ken Macha is a great manager or not, or if Lew Wolff is a great owner or not, if I am at least confident that they are competent?
I think all three are, at a minimum, competent at their jobs. The rest is gravy. (Or at least, it should be, but I suppose that won't stop me from barking when I feel they're making mistakes.)
* * *
I mean, imagine if the A's were owned by Charles Wang. If he ran the A's the way he's running the New York Islanders, Billy Beane might have been hired back in 1997, but he would have been fired two weeks later, and replaced as GM by the A's sixth starter, Dave Telgheder, who would have immediately signed up-and-coming star Ben Grieve to a 15-year contract that would today, even several years after Grieve's career went down the tubes, still have six years left on it.
There but for the grace of God go I. Charles Wang was actually my boss for about three hours back in 1994, when Wang's company, Computer Associates, purchased Ingres, my employer at the time. CA, as they love to tell you themselves, is a great place to work. You get free breakfast and day care! Unfortunately, I was childless at the time, so I didn't get to take advantage of the day care, but on the first day that CA took ownership of Ingres, I did receive a fat, sticky pastry to coat my stomach with, just before they showed me the door.
I'm not sure why they let me go, but now I think it pretty much went like this: OK, Tech-Support-Kid, here we go--heads, you're the new VP of Database Engineering, tails, you're fired. Oops, sorry, kid.
Maybe I coulda done some wicked cool things with that database, instead of watching it rot into irrelevance from afar, but then again, if that had happened, Charles Wang would have been my boss for more than three hours. Shudder.
* * *
More shuddering: if the coin flips in my life had gone differently, I might have been the guy who figured out that if you turn the energy flow in a refrigerator backwards, you will finally know where to put all the dung and dead Indians. Or even worse, I might have been the QA guy for that product, instead of the inventor. Ewwww.
* * *
Instead, here I am, many years and many figurative coin flips later, sitting in a pleasant room, with a pleasant view, following a pleasant team, and devoting my time instead to some weird thing called a Baseball Toaster. And that's just dandy. What were the odds of that?
I Stand Relieved
Lord knows I don't want to get the reputation as The Guy At Catfish Stew Who Splits Hairs Over Other People's Blog Posts. "Oh, Ken? Yes, he writes these intelligent, literate posts and takes sensational photographs. And the other guy? Um... bit of a hothead. Prone to flying off at the slightest provocation. Sure, he knows his way around a hollowed-out plastic football filled with Tennessee microbrew, but otherwise, he comes across as a bit of a pill." And I'm not going to argue with you on any of those points. Man, I wish I could read something that strikes me as unadulterated bunkum and just choke it down with a Coke and a smile. But I can't. It's my curse.
The latest Thing to Set Me Off is this Drumbeat post from Chronicle baseball writer John Shea:
With an offense that ranks so low in so many categories and a closer who has been on and off the availability list and repeatedly asked to pitch in the eighth inning because the manager has more faith in him than any setup man, it's all about the rotation.
In a way, we live in a golden age for baseball writing. The Internet has made it possible for more voices to advance more ideas to an audience probably beyond Bill James ever imagined in his wildest fever dream back when he was writing the Baseball Abstract during his shift as the night watchman at a pork-and-beans factory. You want statistically-minded baseball analysis, you don't have to look for too long. You want an alternative to Plaschke-style pabulum, it's out there. Occasionally, you might even see a term like VORP sneak its way into the sports pages, should some old-guard sports editor wind up asleep at the switch.
But I think we could get a thousand statistically-inclined monkeys typing at a thousand typewriters, and we're never going to see widespread appreciation of sabermetric ideas. You just aren't going to see SNLVA or EqA on the backs of Topps cards anytime soon. There will always be dozens of columnists standing at the ready to churn out columns about how good team chemistry begets winning baseball instead of the other way around. And when it's time to hand out awards, there's always going to be some guy -- I'm going to guess that the words "John" and "Kruk" will figure prominently in his name -- who will argue that the Cy Young Award should always go to the guy who's racked up the most wins. You're just not going to come out ahead in that argument.
And so you have to pick your battles. That's why I'm focusing all of my rhetorical weaponry on the conventional wisdom mouthed by Shea up above -- this idea that elite relief pitchers should only be used in the ninth inning and only if it's a save opportunity. If I can play any part in making that line of thought go the way of the discredited science of phrenology before I leave this earth, then I will consider my life well spent.
It seems like a simple enough concept to grasp: If you find yourself in a jam prior to the ninth inning, why leave your best reliever to twiddle his thumbs in the bullpen? Bring him in at that moment, lest you find yourself with no lead to protect in the ninth. And yet, whenever a manager summons his relief ace in the eighth -- or, heaven forfend, the seventh -- the chattering classes act like he's instructed his players to take the field on unicycles and blowing slide whistles. Thankfully, whatever Ken Macha's other failings in managing a pitching staff, the understanding that going to your best pitcher when the situation calls for it is a sign of strength, not weakness is not among them.
On my never-ending East Coast Road Trip, I polished off Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders, the last chapter of which is devoted to how Joe Torre -- generally thought of as one of the more astute managers in the game today -- lost a close game in the 2003 World Series without ever employing the services of Mariano Rivera -- generally thought of as one of the best relief pitchers in history. Instead, Torre decided to use Jeff Weaver -- generally thought of as something other than a good pitcher -- while keeping Rivera in reserve for a save opportunity that never came.
Earlier this year, I watched an A's-Yankees game where Torre decided it was better to bring in Scott Proctor than a fully rested Mariano Rivera to pitch in the ninth inning of a tie ballgame. That the A's won the game almost immediately probably won't matter to the Yankees as they cruise to yet another AL East title. But, given the rate at which Oakland is squandering its division lead, that win sure will come in handy for the A's.
So I think the takeaway message here is, holding off on using your best reliever because it's not a save situation almost always ends in heartbreak. And the few times it doesn't, it should anyhow.
It's also worth noting that using the best reliever at his disposal for more than an inning at a time is hardly a new page in Ken Macha's playback. Back in 2003 -- the last time before Street's arrival that Macha could signal to the bullpen to start the ninth without setting off a wave of inadvertent cringing throughout the Coliseum -- 10 of Keith Foulke's 43 saves required him to get more than three outs. This includes a six-out save against Boston on August 12 and a five-out save against the Blue Jays later that month. Whether it's the 2003 version of Keith Foulke or the present-day installment of Huston Street, Ken Macha apparently has grasped an important facet of resource management: when you find yourself in a jam before the ninth inning and you've got a guy capable of putting out the fire, maybe you bring him into the ballgame early.
Maybe it's an idea Macha can try to pass on to John Shea. Perhaps some brochures would help him grasp the concept.
And while we're on the subject of nitpicking a single throw-away sentence in a weblog post, just who are these setup men that Ken Macha supposedly has no faith in? Kiko Calero, who leads the team in appearances? Joe Kennedy and his rapidly descending ERA? Justin Duchscherer, who filled in so ably for Street during his absence (five saves in as many opportunities)? True, Macha doesn't seem to have much faith in Chad Gaudin, but that's somewhat inexplicable, considering he had a 20 1/3 inning scoreless streak going up until Saturday night (when no pitcher wearing an A's uniform was covering themselves with glory). I mean if you can point out these unreliable relievers, John, we'll give 'em a talking-to.
The 2006 Athletics are a flawed team in many ways -- bullpen reliability is not one of them.
The Macha Algorithm Fails Again
Back in May, the A's lost a game I thought they shouldn't have lost, and I went on a rant about Ken Macha's pitcher removal algorithm:
It's like Macha won't trust his pattern recognition tools at all, and requires rational, empirical proof that X is Y before he'll act on it.
Count Saturday's game as yet another failure of Macha's algorithm. Esteban Loaiza was not sharp, (perhaps he was feeling a little improperly scrambled), and anyone with eyes could tell. He had yielded four runs in the fourth, another in the fifth, and with the game tied 5-5 in the sixth, gave up a one-out hit to B.J. Upton, and then walked the #9 hitter, Ben Zobrist.
Now, c'mon, if you're yielding runs left and right, and then walking a guy like Ben Zobrist, who's hitting .236, clearly, it's not your day. Not only that, but now it's September, and you've got a 40-man roster to play with, so there's no risk of burning out your bullpen. It's time to take Loaiza out, and bring in somebody else, who might be having a better day. Right?
Oops, nope. Because that's not what the algorithm says to do. Check it, is it true that Loaiza:
1. Hasn't maxed out his pitch count? Yup.
Well, then, by all means, (4) leave him in the game!!!
Therefore, Loaiza faces Rocco Baldelli, who promptly singles to give the Devil Rays the lead.
OK, now here comes the really weird part. Carl Crawford, a left-handed batter, is up next. Brad Halsey, a left-handed pitcher, has been throwing in the pen. Now, surely, Macha must replace Loaiza, right? After all, points 2 and 3 of the algorithm are no longer valid.
No! He doesn't! Macha leaves Loaiza in there to face Crawford, too!
Now I'm really confused. What kind of a *@#&$*(@*&$#(*@&*$(#@&*(@ #$ing stupid pitching change algorithm is that? When #1-3 don't apply any more, start flipping a coin to see if you should remove the guy or not?
Crawford, of course, singles in another run, and the game is lost right then and there. Argh.
Well, at least the Angels lost, too. Angels fans could probably point out some stupid thing Mike Scioscia did to lose that game for them, too. Maybe all the dumb managing just evens out in the end. Joe Torre lets Derek Jeter bunt too much, uses his second-best reliever over and over again until his arm falls off, and won't use Mariano Rivera in a tie game; Jim Leyland keeps playing Neifi Perez several times a week; Ron Gardenhire wastes months of the Twins' season throwing Juan Castro and Tony Batista out there every day; Ozzie Guillen is a mad genius, but mad nonetheless; and all of these teams would have clinched a playoff spot already if only Earl Weaver had been their manager. So maybe I should forget about it, and go to bed.
As Seen Today on MLB.tv
Between innings, MLB.tv showed this word scramble:
After a few seconds, they showed this:
Hint: HE PITCHES IN THE AL WEST.
After a few more seconds, they didn't show this, but they should have:
Hint: WE SPELLED HIS NAME WRONG WHEN WE SCRAMBLED IT.
Overheard on the Devil Rays' TV broadcast: "There's nothing worse than a cantankerous banana."
* * *
Same broadcast, after a 2-2 curveball misses in the dirt to Frank Thomas, this dialogue could be heard in my office:
Joe Magrane: "Now would be a good time to challenge Frank Thomas with a high fastball around the letters."
Ken Arneson: "You go ahead and do that."
High fastball indeed follows on the next pitch, as does a two-run homer.
OK, I resisted fasting Dan Haren before, but I gotta do it now. He was terrible today against the Devil Rays. He just keeps leaving pitches out over the fat part of the plate.
I'm not watching/listening to Dan Haren pitch until he throws five consecutive scoreless innings.
Flipping the Double Play
I think I'll throw some happy thoughts up here, so we can look away from the ugliness of the A's getting swept by the Rangers.
Here's a slideshow of a nice double play turned by Marco Scutaro and Mark Ellis on Sunday.
After a game like last night's 5-4 loss to Texas, I'd normally be frightened that the A's division lead is now going to quickly shrink to nothing. Bah. Frightened, schmightened.
* * *
Here's a test of your ability to imagine the impossible: try to picture in your mind the love child of Zza Zza Gabor and Richard Simmons.
You'd get a woman who speaks in a strange, affected accent, calls everyone around her "Dahling", has so much energy she can't sit still or stop talking for one second, and when she really gets excited, can't help but share her energy by getting everybody else to stand up and cheer along with her.
That's who I sat next to at the A's game last night, way up in the right-field corner of the second deck.
Every time the A's got a couple of runners on base, Zza Zza Simmons would stand up, turn around at her section, and shout, "OK, Dahlings, it's time to do the wave! One, two, three...GO! Wooooooooooooooo!"
Now that was truly frightening.
Moneyball, Part 2: The Cliché Comes To Life
Moneyball is a raincloud, and A's bloggers are Eeyore. The book follows you where ever you go. It's difficult to come up with an interesting angle on the A's that hasn't been covered by Moneyball, or by the seven hundred billion gazillion essays about Moneyball that followed Moneyball. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can manage to scrounge up a few sticks, lean them up against each other like a tent, and crawl under. It's better than nothing, but you still get wet.
Even more annoying than Moneyball and essays about Moneyball, are discussions about essays about Moneyball. There exists a sort of Moneyball corollary to Godwin's Law. Whenever there's an online discussion about the A's, someone will inevitably bring up Moneyball. Which is fine, until someone else inevitably feels compelled to say, "They missed the whole point of the book!" Nothing follows from that point but the beating of dead horses.
Of course, by discussing this, I have now written an essay about discussions about essays about Moneyball. And when you enter your comments below...
In other words, Moneyball has become cliché. There's nothing left to add to it, except to start making jokes. As Mark Liberman at Language Log wrote about my Eskimo-word-for-slump joke, "stereotyped rhetoric repeats itself, first as cliché, then as irony."
The Swisher Fast Is Over!
With this walk:
My Nick Swisher fast (see sidebar, at bottom) is finally over. He had an extra-base hit (a double) and a walk in the same game.
The fasting has worked wonders, especially with Kendall and Loaiza, but really, there isn't anybody on the A's who is stinking now, except maybe Antonio Perez. Should I do a Perez fast?
Nah, what's the point?
Boston? I Hear It's Not Much of a Baseball Town
"The Boston gig has been cancelled..."
My never-ending East Coast road trip took me to Boston last week, for the duration of the A's series against the Red Sox. This was a new experience for me, as, most of the time when I'm on the eastern seaboard and the A's are back at home, Oakland games are but a rumor to me. (The scourge of East Coast Media Bias becomes a lot easier to figure out when you realize that the clock has struck midnight and the A's are still in the sixth.) I figured this would be a neat opportunity -- watching a telecast from an A's game while embedded behind enemy lines, as it were.
Special double bonus: Unlike the A's TV package -- "We'd love to cover your game, Mr. Wolff, but that Cops/Real Stories of the Highway Patrol contract we have is unbreakable!" -- every single Red Sox game is on TV. (This is the advantage of co-owning your own cable outlet.) And, as I know from my two years of living in the wilderness of Southern California when I subscribed to the MLB Extra Innings package to keep up on the A's, NESN's Sox telecasts are actually quite enjoyable. The games are slickly produced. Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy comprise perhaps my favorite broadcast tandem -- they are engaging without stooping to rampant homerism, they are knowledgeable without being overbearing, and they can switch easily between light-hearted banter and paying attention to the action on the field. Even if you don't happen to share my appreciation of their work, you have to admit that the Remy-and-Orsillo pairing is a sight lot better than three days of "He gone!" and "Put it on the board... yes!".
So my plan was this: Attend hour after hour of work-related meetings by day, have a pleasant dinner afterwards with colleagues, and then retire to my room to watch the A's-Red Sox tilt while enjoying a nice adult beverage before I drifted off to sleep.
The only problem with my plan: I was apparently booked to stay at one of the few hotels in the greater Boston area that does not include NESN among its TV channel offerings.
So, given that I was in the Boston area for the entirety of the A's-Red Sox series and that every pitch of every game was available on a local cable channel, would you care to guess what amount of those three games that I was able to watch? Go on -- guess. There are no prizes, except for the satisfaction of being right.
The answer, friends, is the last four innings of Tuesday's 2-1 win. And the only reason I saw that was because a co-worker, taking pity on me after hearing the above rant, used Slingbox and a MacBook running virtualization software to pick up the A's telecast on Channel 36 from back in the Bay Area. (According to Major League Baseball, that makes me and my pal dirty, stinking thieves. According to me, Major League Baseball can cram it sideways.)
Sure, I could have left my nice hotel room and found a local tavern equipped with NESN. But keep in mind that we're talking about a game being contested around the witching hour and that I was ostensibly in Boston for a business trip -- hanging out at bars until 1 just so you can see the A's put the wood to the Sox is not a recipe for feeling at your freshest the next morn. In theory, I could have also paid to get the game on MLB.TV, though I suspect I would have been subject to blackout restrictions. Plus, there's something having to pay for something that would otherwise be free if I were staying at a hotel a quarter-mild down the road that kind of sticks in my craw. And we all know how uncomfortable craw-related injuries can be.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Ken: catfish AT zombia d.o.t. com
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