Monthly archives: June 2007
Half of a season, half of an offense
The A's begin a three-game series in New York today against a Yankee team that's struggled every bit as much as the A's have this year. New York is in third place in their division, three games under .500, while Oakland is also in third place, but two games over .500. Both the A's and Yankees have gone 3-7 over their last ten games.
At the conclusion of the series, the A's will have played 81 games -- the halfway point of the season. Behind the Mariners by 3.5 games, the A's will still be in third place no matter the outcome, but could make up some ground against a struggling pitching staff in the Bronx.
Even though it's unsettling to be hovering right around .500 at the midpoint of the year, this is familiar ground. Here are the A's records after 81 games in each of the past five seasons:
While the A's were a healthy 11 games over .500 three of those years, the last two have shown that as long as they're close to .500, a stretch run can save the season. With Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street due back soon, the bullpen's recent woes should be addressed (and Ruddy Lugo and Colby Lewis can be relieved of their duties).
The offense however, is still an issue, as Philip pointed out. While not terrible (see Sox, White), this isn't a playoff caliber offense at the moment. The A's started off the season completely lacking the ability to score runs, but have since begun to come around. Since the end of April, the A's have actually had a slightly above-average American League offense -- but not by much.
If more and more of Jason Kendall's plate appearances are taken away by Kurt Suzuki and Mike Piazza, I'd expect to see a boost in offense. Right now, the A's have a National League lineup with the equivalent of a pitcher hitting in the ninth hole.
The other offensive concern is shortstop. The combination of Bobby Crosby and Marco Scutaro has given the A's a .225/.277/.336/.612 line. That .612 OPS from SS is 27th in all of baseball -- only the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Cubs have received less production from that position. Crosby did have a good month of May (.291/.342/.437/.779), but so far in June, he's been one of the worst hitters on the team, slumping badly (.189/.252/.274/.526).
So what's the solution? My guess is that is would have to involve Kendall losing his playing time to actual hitters, Crosby remembering how to lay off the pitches down and away, someone discovering a cure for RISP disease, and Larry Davis actually keeping players healthy. I'm not even going to mention that Eric Chavez is underperforming expectations, because any more, that's the norm.
Hey, at least it's not all doom and gloom, though. Dan Haren still has a sub-2.00 ERA...
Game 75: Apparently The Offense Was DFA'd, Too
Not that there's ever a good time for your offense to go in the tank, but the A's sure picked the least opportune moment to have a bout of the ol' Can't-Hits in the wake of the Jeremy Giambi-ing of Milton Bradley. Whatever you might think of Bradley's flaws -- the ability to stay ambulatory for one, the ability to play well with others for another, and his failure to properly curtsy in the presence of Billy Beane, apparently -- he certainly had no problem swinging the bat when healthy. You can't say the same for the A's the past couple of days, especially after Oakland managed all of two hits after the second inning in Monday night's loss to Cleveland.
Another thing that you really can't pin on Bradley -- he tended not to take losing with a them's-the-breaks attitude. The same cannot be said of many of the remaining denizens of the Oakland clubhouse. A stark reminder was provided just two days after Bradley's dismissal for crimes against humanity, during Saturday's loss to Apu Nahasapeemapetilion's favorite squadron. In the sixth inning, Orlando Hernandez struck out Eric Chavez on a 53-mph eephus pitch. Chavez walked back to the dugout with the hint of a mile on his face. Hey -- we all love eephus pitches. We also love to see our star players give the appearance of being disappointed, irritated and/or resolved to do better the next time when they fail to deliver in a tight ballgame.
Earlier this year, in the 2007 edition of what is rapidly becoming the San Francisco Chronicle's annual "This is the year Eric Chavez finally delivers, by golly" article, Chavez declared: "I'm a pretty darn good player." There are two ways to look at that self-assessment -- you either see a player confident in his own abilities and able to tune out the petty carping of the peanut gallery, or you see a player who hasn't delivered on that 30-homer potential since 2002, looks increasingly unlikely to do so at any point in the future, and seems pretty cool with that, so long as the checks clear on the 1st and the 15th of each month. If you fall into that latter camp, then the sight of Chavez unable to suppress a whimsical grin after striking out in a taut ballgame should probably go on his plaque when he's inducted into the Hall of Pretty Darn Good outside Duluth, Minnesota.
Anyhow, let's dispense with Game 75 in the same I-got-somewhere-else-to-be fashion that the A's hitters took at the plate Monday night after the jump.
Day O' Updates: Star of the Game
Let's change the subject from the Milton Bradley -- the A's would sure appreciate that -- in part because the situation remains in flux (Bradley's traded to Kansas City! Nope, he's injured again!), in part because I hate being asked to wildly speculate, and because I don't much care for the free pass Billy Beane has gotten on this and I'm bound to say something impolite. The way some A's fans treat Oakland's GM makes the ancient Israelites' treatment of the Golden Calf look like a low-key fan club. What was it that Vida Blue once said about Alvin Dark? I knew he was a religious man, but he's worshipping the wrong god?
I'm inching closer to being impolite, aren't I?
We're not going to talk about the action on the field either -- not with the A's getting trounced Friday (keep it close, boys, maintain dignity), wasting another excellent Joe Blanton outing Saturday (maybe you shouldn't leave your feet in that situation, Travis Buck), and going through the motions (at least for the first two innings) of today's game. So what can we talk about, giving these restrictions and the fact that I'm in a lousy mood after being involved in an auto accident yesterday where the other drive went across a double yellow line to smash into us and then, when we requested that he pull over to exchange insurance information, sped off in the opposite direction? (To be fair, by driving off, he probably gave us all the information about his auto insurance that we were going to get.)
Let's check the progress of an arbitrary stat that I made up that beginning of the year.
Readers of the increasingly infrequent Game Summaries will know that I name a Star of the Game for each contest. Here's how I described it in that very first Game Summary:
When I keep score of a game, I always put a star next to the player who I feel contributed most to the outcome, whether it's an Athletic or one of the villains. Because I'm an extra brand of nerdy, I usually turn to the person I'm attending the game with and announce, "So and so is the X Star of the Game," where X is the name of the frosty beverage I've been enjoying during the contest. This unfortunate habit has translated to the game logs I keep for my online calendar, and now, gentle readers, I share my madness with you.
So doubtlessly, you are wondering, 73 games into the season, just who on the Oakland squad is bogarting all those Star of the Game honors. You are not wondering this? You are not helping my mood very much.
Anyhow, here's how it breaks down, though June 23.
Oakland A's Stars of the Game
Haren's place at the top of the list is self-explanatory. Jack Cust might raise a few eyebrows, but one of the biases of the Star of the Game system is that it tends to favor guys who have game-winning hits. If it helps explain things, two of Cust's Star of the Game designations came in May in the midst of his Roy Hobbs imitation.
I'm surprised that Eric Chavez is a three-time winner because my perception is that he's kind of been a non-entity at this point in the year -- a sinkhole, as Ken describes his performance. I guess that's the advantage of timing an occasional hit when there's a runner on base in a tight game. If I gave out Star of Game honors to the A's for losses, Joe Blanton would easily have five -- there's Saturday's game against the Mets, the Curt Schilling near-no-hitter, and the 2-0 loss to Seattle back in April in which Blanton went the distance. But only the guy on a winning team gets Star of the Game honors, so Blanton's back with the rest of the pack.
Interesting that two guys who are no longer on the active roster -- Dallas Braden and Todd Walker -- have as many Star of the Game distinctions as regulars Bobby Crosby and Shannon Stewart.
As for the Bad Guys as Hawk Harrelson might say, the very nature of the Star of the Game award makes it unlikely that opposing players pick up repeat honors. Nevertheless, two non-A's have pulled off the feat this year -- Jim Thome, in the April 9 and May 22 games, and Mike Sweeney, whose two winning performances came in just over a week of each other. Oakland plays both the White Sox and the Royals again this season, giving both Thome and Sweeney a chance to pull off the never-before-seen opposing player three-peat.
For those you keeping track of how the A's are hastening my descent into the bottle -- remember, Star of the Game honors are sponsored by whatever refreshing beverage I happen to be enjoying at the time -- here's how the Star of the Game sponsorship honors breaks down through 73 games.
You wouldn't know it, but that's a surprisingly strong showing for milk. The way this season is shaping up, I expect spirits to make a strong run leading up to the All-Star break.
The Angels are the current MLB Heavyweight Champions (see the Catfish Stew sidebar for details) and today, they play the Pittsburgh Pirates in a pivotal game: if the Angels win, the Heavyweight title will stay in the AL for the rest of the season; if the Pirates win, the crown stays in the NL.
The way things are going, the heavyweight crown might remain not just in the AL for the rest of the season, but in Anaheim. Are the Angels ever going to lose again? It doesn't matter how far behind they are, or how late, they end up winning the game. Obviously, this is their year.
The Angels are on pace to win 104 games; the A's are on pace to win 87. While it's pretty easy to imagine that the A's could pick up the pace after adding Rich Harden to the rotation, and Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street to the bullpen again, it's pretty hard to envision the Angels slowing down enough for the A's to catch them. The Angels would have to play under .500 for the rest of the year to fall below 92 wins. Clearly, the Angels are better than a .500 team, so even if they don't win 104, they'll almost certainly win 95-100, and make the playoffs. If the A's are going to make the playoffs, the wild card will have to come out of the AL West.
Plus, you have to wonder how much Harden, Duchscherer, and Street will actually improve the team. The A's already have the fewest runs allowed of any AL team; only the Padres, in their cavernous ballpark and non-DH league, have been stingier. It's the offense that needs improvement, and it's hard to understand how booting Milton Bradley off the team is going to help matters. On the other hand, the offensive production from the outfield hasn't been the problem--the problem has been the three major sinkholes in the lineup: Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, and Jason Kendall.
I am certain Chavez will improve his first-half numbers in the second half. He says his arms are finally healthy after 1 1/2 years of pain, and he looks like he says. In the last two weeks, the ball has been jumping off his bat in a way we haven't seen in, well, 1 1/2 years. So consider that sinkhole filled, at least.
But Crosby and Kendall are still problems. Kendall's hole can be filled by giving more playing time to Mike Piazza and Kurt Suzuki, and the A's have taken steps in that direction, so that's good.
Crosby, on the other hand...he's the unsolvable problem. Sure, every once in a while, he'll crush some pitch with such force that your eyes pop out, but his high-effort swing contains more holes than the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation. He's everything that Moneyball talked about the A's avoiding: the player who looks real good in every way except one: the ability to hit a baseball. And they're pretty much stuck with him, because they don't have anybody else in or near the majors who can handle shortstop defensively on a long-term basis. Marco Scutaro is OK in an emergency, but he just doesn't have nearly the range that Crosby does. So the A's will remain with the status quo: hoping that somehow, someday, Crosby figures something out and starts hitting. Good luck.
Milton's Last Stand
Before I headed out to the Oakland Coliseum for yesterday's A's - Reds game, Bob Timmermann noted in an email that the game wasn't going to be televised anywhere, and momentous things tend to happen in games without TV. For instance, Shawn Green hit four home runs in a non-televised game a few years ago.
I said I wouldn't mind witnessing a momentous event, provided the event wasn't that my wife going into sudden labor during the game. Bob said it would be bad if we felt compelled to name the child after whoever was at bat at the time, especially since we're expecting a girl.
"Yes, we decided to name you Ken, Jr., but you weren't named after me, you were named after Ken Griffey, Jr. It's a long story."
* * *
I went home thinking that no momentous event had happened at all, just a bunch of little not-quites. Instead, it turned out to Milton Bradley's last appearance in an A's uniform. Hmm...how to react? With disappointment? With vengeance?
It's clearly quite an odd transaction, because when Bradley is healthy and playing, he was still one of their top three outfielders. Swisher (.909) and Buck (.873) each have a better OPS this year than Bradley (.819), but Swisher can play first base, and Bradley is better than Dan Johnson (.786). And Mark Kotsay (.738). And Shannon Stewart (.695). And Bobby Kielty (.477).
It's the Stewart comparison that really gets me, because they're both under contract just for this season. The only way that Shannon Stewart is more valuable than Milton Bradley is that he has stayed healthy this year. Stewart is nowhere near the hitter Bradley is, is limited only to left field on defense, and has the worst outfield throwing arm Oakland has seen since Ben Grieve. If it were me, I'd cut Stewart long before I cut Bradley. Same goes for Kielty, who ain't no great shakes in the field, either, and is somewhat literally half the switch-hitter Milton Bradley is.
All of which leads me to conclude that either one of two things are true: either Bradley did something to wear out his welcome, or Beane already has a trade lined up that couldn't quite get completed by Friday, when the A's needed the roster spot.
So I'm pretty bummed out that Bradley is gone. I liked the dude. I liked the way he got psyched up when he earned a base on balls. I liked his goofy goggles. I liked the way he attacked a fastball. I like his home run dance with Swisher. I liked the way he played the outfield. I'll miss him.
* * *
Here are some shots I took yesterday of what turned out to be Milton's Last Stand:
Fun With Unexpected DFAs
Nope. Me neither.
If there's a bright side to this sudden turn of events -- Milton Bradley was one of your correspondent's favorite Athletics, you see -- it's the potential to find unintentional comedy while perusing the Athletics' official Web site.
I call this screen grab of the headline feed "What A Difference Two Headlines Make."
And I call this one "Is It Too Late to Ask Our Fans to Write In Jack Cust?"
Actually, I'm not usually that in to All-Star Voting -- America demands its fill of Yankee and Red Sox starters and there's not a darn thing me and my meager clutch of ballots can do about it -- but if anything could ever inspire me to commit voter fraud on a widespread and massive level, it's the prospect of having Milton Bradley represent the A's at the All-Star Game less than a month after being told to hit the bricks. I'm very tempted to rent an awl and go to town on every last ballot I can get my hands on; I'm even entertaining the possibility of creating multiple identities to tilt the online balloting in Milt's favor. And I encourage all of you to do the same. I figure a million votes or so will help put Milton over the top, and that's a tall order. But when he takes the field at AT&T Park in street clothes next month, it'll all be worth it.
A's Release Bradley, Ruin Upcoming Catfish Stew Post
The A's have designated Milton Bradley for assignment, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (and as the boss notes below). This news generates a whole well-spring of emotion within me -- though the most prominent one is severe irritation that this roster move totally ruins a post I was working on.
See, in honor of Bradley's third-time's-the-charm return from the DL Wednesday, I had concocted this elaborate post where Billy Beane had employed a team of statistical analysts to produce a chart that predicted the likelihood of Bradley remaining injury-free for the remainder of the year. And then you and I would have a good laugh, and that would bring us closer. Perhaps, even a grudging respect would form.
But now? Joke's ruined. Whether he winds up traded or released or plying his trade for the Long Island Ducks, Bradley is no longer an Athletic, so any jokes about his frequently-injured status are about as relevant in this day and age as a good Montreal Expos barb.
Aw, the hell with it. I didn't do all this HTML coding just to have Billy Beane's rooster voodoo mess up my junk. Here's the damn chart.
Perhaps the fact that I was motivated by events to create such a monstrosity is a pretty good clue as to why the A's made this apparently surprising move.
So Long, Milton Bradley?
Milton Bradley has been designated for assignment. Reasons unknown, press conference to follow soon.
The timing is related to Eric Chavez getting hurt again. If he can't play this weekend in New York, the A's are short an infielder. They needed to call up somebody (Kevin Melillo, in this case), and needed to send somebody off the roster as well. The fact that Bradley is the guy to go, however, is rather shocking.
Quite The Way To Win
Enough of this 3 o'clock roadblock - roadblock - roadblock. Hey, Mr. LaRussa, ain't got no birth certificate on me yet. I'm waiting, but I ain't got all day, all night, every day, every month, every year. So, them crazy...we gonna chase them crazy...we gonna chase them crazy redbirds out of the yown. See now? See this? Two hours, ten minutes. That's how things are done round here. We always get to bed early, and nobody stays up late. Hey, Mr. LaRussa, I look down on you with scorn. Then I eat all of your corn.
But I must be hallucinating, watching Angels celebrating. The A's have gone 12-5 this month, and have lost half a game in the standings. Tonight, Angels 9-4 down and win 10-9? Every year there's some team, that somehow gets exactly what they need exactly when they need it. This must be a strange deception, by celestial intervention. The Angels have the magic. The Angels are going to the playoffs. Anythems thinking they can keep thems out of the playoffs, them crazy. For Oakland, it's Wild Card or bust.
From end to end, the noise begins...in the human battle stations, the big ones coming in between July 23 and August 13. In those 22 days, the A's play the Angels 7 times, the Tigers 7 times, and the Mariners 4 times. Rip through those three weeks, and you make the playoffs. Play .500 or less, forget it. Meanwhile, work, work, work, work, work 'til holes are filled. A Mets-Indians-Yankees road trip. Schedulemakers, them crazy. Sinatra didn't sing "I want to be a part of it--New York, Cleveland, New York!" Yankees have some wild card dreams of their own. They're hot hot hot! Hopefully, before the A's hit town, they will sit at the table too and drink cool water. And their lungs will fill with rain, and the water rushes in.
And motor trips and burning lips and burning toast and prunes
The last time I can remember going to a game at the Oakland Coliseum like today's, a game that just seemed to drag on and on
and on and on and on
and on and on and on and on
and on and on and on
and on and on,
was back in the days
when Tony LaRussa
was manning the dugout.
Thanks for the memory. How lovely it was.
Barton is where? I don't know. Third base!
Here's an interesting tidbit: the day after the MLB draft was complete, the A's shifted their top prospect, 21-year-old Daric Barton, over from first base to third on an everyday basis. He had seen some occasional time at third before, but since June 8, he's played there every day.
Perhaps it is only a coincidence, but the A's did draft Sean Doolittle, a slick-fielding first baseman from U of Virginia, in the sandwich round this year. In a chat at Baseball Propectus, Bryan Smith said:
Doolittle is considered a safe pick, a player who is likely to make the majors, but not likely to be a star. He hits for average, but not a lot of power. Which sounds an awful lot like Daric Barton, except for the "best defensive" part.
Add Doolittle to Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher, and there's a pretty long list of fairly young players in the A's system who can play a better first base than Barton. The line behind Eric Chavez, on the other hand, is practically vacant. Jeff Baisley made some noise this year at low A Kane County, and was promoted up to AA Midland, where he's done OK, but that's about it. You hate to see a 21-year-old relegated to DH duties, so the more ways Barton can get himself into the lineup, the better. Especially on a team as injury-prone as the A's, with a third baseman as injury-prone as Eric Chavez.
Barton has made five errors in nine games at third base, three of them in one game, so the transition has not exactly been smooth. None of the errors were on throws, however. He started out as a catcher, so even if he has little range and bad hands, he should at least be able to make the throw across the diamond.
The move to third may be a struggle for Barton, but the good news is that it has done wonders for his bat. Barton had been off to a slow start at the plate this year, but since moving to third, he has hit a blistering .526/.571/.710.
Balls and Strikes and Changed Names
Here, for your consideration, are the career major league numbers for two relief pitchers:
Though each has a small sample size, there's certainly not much in common between the two at first glance.
If you haven't already guessed, Pitcher A is Jairo Garcia, and Pitcher B is Santiago Casilla -- the same person.
So what's changed? After watching his 11th inning against the Astros, where he threw eight of his ten pitches for strikes in a 1-2-3 inning, I think I have a theory. Casilla is simply trusting his stuff, and pounding the strike zone more. Here are his strike-to-ball ratios for his career:
2004 -- 57:66
That's a pretty clear trend. Before revealing his true name and age, Jairo Garcia had a 82-to-102 strike to ball ratio with an ugly 9.82 ERA. After the name change, Santiago Casilla has yet to give up a run.
Perhaps Jay Marshall (5.56 ERA, 9:8 K:BB in 22.2 IP) should consider changing his name...
Kendall Would Love to be Playing in Houston
Yes, the unthinkable happened. Jason Kendall not only went 3-for-4 to raise his batting average above the Mendoza line to .210, but he homered. Yes, the man with the .214 slugging mark -- 75 points lower than any other player with at least 3.1 plate appearances per game -- managed to squeak one over the fence.
Entering the game, it had been 618 at-bats since Kendall's last homer -- a line drive that cleared the left-field fence in Oakland by about one of Ray Fosse's moustache hairs.
If there was ever a ballpark -- other than a little league field -- made to help Kendall's home run numbers, it's
To illustrate just how ridiculously close that is, I've overlaid a map of Minute Miad Park over Jason Kendall's home ballpark hit chart from this season. If Kendall played in Houston, three of his fly-ball outs would have gone for home runs instead.
If you look at last year's data, you can add perhaps another four home runs to his total.
And looking back to 2005? Another home run would sneak over the wall, adding to Kendall's total.
So, a reasonable conclusion here is that due to nothing other than the extrememly short porch in left field, Jason Kendall could have hit eight more home runs if he played his home games in Houston instead of Oakland. I'm sure there are quite a few A's fans that wouldn't be too upset if that had in fact been the reality.
It all makes me wonder... how many fewer homers would Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Morgan Ensberg have hit if they'd played in what I'd refer to as a "normal-sized ballpark"? After taking a peek at their hit charts... quite a few, indeed. For example, Craig Biggio has hit exactly one home run that wasn't somewhere in the Crawford Boxes in all of the years he's played in Minute Maid. Morgan Ensberg and Lance Berkman live off the short fence, which was built to help out Jeff Bagwell's stroke. Should we discount power numbers in Houston just as we discount averages put up in Denver?
I'm going to guess, by paraphrasing Satchel Paige, perhaps Jason Kendall looked back, and saw Kurt Suzuki gaining on him. He's gone 5-for-9 since Kurt joined the team after the tenth... In any case, Jason Kendall did a mighty fine job as the unlikely spark of Oakland's offense, helping the A's to pull within one game of the Mariners, and stay just five back of the Angels.
Toll the Bells for Liberty! Adam Melhuse Has Escaped!
At last, Adam Melhuse has escaped! The evil double shadow of Jason Kendall and MLB rules have the poor backup catcher in their clutches no longer. Melhuse was traded to Texas this afternoon for Cash Considerations.
Considerations is a lousy player to get in return, and I guess Melhuse is still technically a subject of MLB rules, but I won't complain. He is, at least, going to a place where he'll get more opportunity than he was ever going to get in Oakland. I am happy for him; he deserves this.
The presumed A's catcher of the future, Kurt Suzuki, will be called up to replace Melhuse. I suppose this is what Beane has been waiting for all along--enough of the season has passed now that Suzuki likely won't be eligible for Super Two arbitration status. It give the A's an extra cheap year of Kurt Suzuki, plus puts some pressure on Jason Kendall to get his act together, and fast. Somebody is gaining on him.
As much as I think Melhuse has been treated unfairly by the system, Billy Beane should get some kudos for getting Melhuse a new home as soon as he was able. Likewise for releasing Jay Witasick. Players make a lot of money, and the rules are the rules, but that's never a reason not to treat people with simple, ordinary decency. I'm glad to see my favorite team show some.
Game 60 Summary: Brother, Can You Spare A Catcher
Today's riddle: How many bases loaded situations do the San Francisco Giants need before they plate a boatload of runners?
And your answer: More than three apparently.
The A's gave the Giants plenty of opportunities to notch a win Friday night. San Francisco managed to fill the bases in the second, sixth, and ninth innings, each time with fewer than two outs. Sum total of the runs the Giants wound up scoring in those innings: One, when Randy Winn grounded into a 6-4 fielder's choice in the second to score San Francisco's first run.
So if you're thinking I'm grateful that Oakland got away with one on Friday, you'd be thinking right.
What people will remember about this game, if anything, is the patchwork lineup the Giants were reduced to fielding in the extra frames as a result of some unfortunate injuries and some excessive substitutions early on. (Maybe Bruce Bochy was under the impression this was a spring exhibition.) San Francisco removed two position players from the game in the early going -- Fred Lewis, due to a rib strain, and Bengie Molina on a double switch when it came time to remove a struggling Tim Lincecum in the fifth (though Molina also might have taken a foul tip off his hand, making him an ideal candidate for removal). After Lincecum, the Giants used six more pitchers, several of whom were lifted from the game in favor of pinch hitters.
That set the bench-depleted stage for the decisive 10th inning when everything that could go wrong for San Francisco did. With one out, pinch-runner Donnie Murphy inexplicably broke for home on a ground ball to first -- Ryan Klesko threw Murphy out easily, but not before a collision at the plate with Giants back-up catcher Eliezer Alfonzo. Alfonzo came up hobbling -- it looked like an ankle injury from my vantage point in the View Seats, but the newswire suggests it was a sprained left knee. Whatever the injury, Alfonzo was unable to continue and San Francisco found itself suddenly, alarmingly out of catchers.
"You have to have a catcher," Casey Stengel once observed. "Because if you don't you're likely to have a lot of passed balls."
So the Giants scrambled -- Pedro Feliz became San Francisco's In-Case-of-Emergency-Break-Glass catcher; Randy Winn, the second most accomplished San Ramon Valley High graduate in the ballpark that night, moved from center to third; Dan Ortmeier, who came into the game after Lewis' injury, moved from right field to center; and Noah Lowry, who can normally be found pitching, served as the warm body to stand in right field.
Whether it was all this shuffling, standing around or just the strain of having Pedro Feliz calling pitches -- perhaps I owe Ray Fosse an apology -- Brad Hennessey coughed up two two-out runs, and the A's had themselves a win they might not have deserved, but they will surely be glad to bank.
Game 60: A's 5, Giants 3 (10)
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- K. Calero (1-4) LP -- B. Hennessey (1-2) S -- A. Embree (6)
Went Deep: No one, though Phone Company Field yields more than its share of triples, as Klesko and Ortmeier will attest.
Your Gordon Biersch Marzen Star of the Game: Had we wrapped up things in regulation, this likely would have gone to Travis Buck for his 4-hit, 2-RBI night. But an obscure Star of the Game rule declares that any time Shannon Stewart can come off the bench and rope a two-run single to left giving Oakland the lead, he automatically takes the prize.
The Turning Point: When Ortmeier tripled with one out in the ninth, I muttered "ballgame" to my wife. Following a pair of intentional walks that caused the Phone Company Field crowd to break out their rubber chickens -- folks, there is nothing 'fraidy cat about setting up the force play at home in bottom half of the ninth inning or later -- Kiko Calero was summoned from the bullpen. He immediately threw three balls out of the strike zone to Ray Durham, and the fellow in front of me started putting on his backup in anticipation of a walk-off walk. I can't say that I blame him.
Then, after a just-get-it-over-strike, Durham swung at a 3-1 pitch... and popped it about a mile into the air in the infield. One down. Kevin Frandsen, your last bench player standing, came into pinch hit; three feeble swings later, the A's were out of a jam.
So let's hear it for Kiko Calero, who has had a fairly miserable year out of the 'pen thus far, but who continues to battle and came up huge Friday night. Calero's started hearing it from A's fans, particularly after he played the lead role in blowing last Friday's extra innings game to the Twins -- and not reasonable complaints about performance, but nasty, personal stuff. Nobody asked me, but in light of all of Calero's many contributions to the team's success the previous two years, it seems like the worst kind of front-running. We're with you, kid, until we're against you. It's nice to see him come through, if for no other reason than to show the fair-weather fans where they can stick it.
Curious Tactics, Mr. Geren: Yes, there were two outs, and yes, Mark Kotsay only a few months removed from back surgery, and yes, Billy Beane hates the steal like he hates the flames of hell. But when Kotsay was on first with two outs as Feliz was making his major league debut at catcher, I was moderately surprised that the A's didn't try to swipe a base -- Kotsay danced a little bit on the first pitch to see if Feliz would get rattled, but otherwise remained rooted to first. It turned out to be immaterial -- Jason Kendall came through with a key hit and then Shannon Stewart did his thing -- but the lack of movement on the basepaths seemed odd, given the Giants' staffing issues.
Also odd: Murphy's decision to bolt for home on Kotsay's grounder to first. I don't have the benefit of a replay, but it looked from my seat as if Murphy didn't bolt so much as he gradually left third base; Klesko certainly had plenty of time to make a non-panicky throw to the plate. Perhaps, next time, a different pinch runner.
Curious Musical Choices, Ballpark Staff: To fire up the home crowd for the 10th, the Phone Company Field music crew played Metallica's "Enter Sandman." In baseball circles, this song is perhaps best known as the anthem to which closers sprint in from the bullpen. Mariano Rivera uses it, as does Billy Wagner. Perhaps inspired by this entry music, Alan Embree worked a one-two-three ninth. Perhaps next time, a different song, Giants staff.
Curious Lyrical Interpretation, Mr. Anthem Singer: The national anthem was sung by a scruffy pop balladeer whose name escapes me and who sang "The Star Spangled Banner" as if it were a tender love song to a really hot 23-year-old waitress. As you might imagine, this led to some unique lyrical stylings. Did you know that we are living in The Land of the Fleeh? Well, you do now, and I hope you appreciate that fact -- fleehdom isn't fleeh, you know.
Perhaps I Have Seen Too Much of Larry Davis This Year: When the Giants' wacky morning DJ/P.A. announcer told us that Ortmeier entered the game in right, for a moment I panicked and thought Nick Swisher had been horribly crippled before I remembered that Ortmeier was on the other team's roster. At this point, I guess I just naturally assume that when there's an injury, it invovles an Oakland player.
All in All: A memorable, if frigid, evening at the ballpark. And now it's time for me to get ready for round two.
I'm worried about the A's draft today. No, I'm not worried over who the A's might pick -- I have no earthly idea who that's going to be. (Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus does, but you'll have to give him a shiny new coin to find out who.) And I'm not even that concerned about a Sons of Sam Horn thread that Ken passed along, which theorizes that players picked in the bottom half of the first round have a 70 to 80 percent likelihood of never being much more than a replacement level player. The A's pick when? In the bottom half of the first round? OK, then.
No, I'm worried because this is the first time Major League Baseball will televise its draft. In years past, the draft was little more than a glorified conference call. But since training cameras on a speaker phone while disembodied voices rattle off the names of high school seniors you've never heard of before and probably won't hear of again is not compelling television, ESPN has decided to NFLDrafticize things. So this time, Baseball is holding its draft in Orlando, with representatives for each club striding to the podium to announce which obscure junior college transfer their team is selecting.
Of course, since the Billy Beanes and David Forsts and Billy Owenses and Eric Kubotas of the world will be busy Thursday morning with the, you know, actual drafting, the representatives on hand are not going to be actual front office personnel. Rather, with a few exceptions, the list of representatives is composed largely of grizzled ex-ballplayers who enjoyed enough moments of glory with a team to win a cushy Vice President of Shaking Hands and Playing Golf title once they retired. Look -- there's Boston Red Sox great Dewey Evans announcing the BoSox's draft choice. And there's beloved Met Darryl Strawberry. And good news, everybody -- Tommy Lasorda is on hand! Who would have imagined he'd agree to appear on camera?
The trouble for the A's is, if you peruse the list of front office personnel, there aren't many Beloved Ex-Players Now Rewarded With a Lucrative Sinecure on the payroll. The only person with significant Major League playing experience appears to be Billy Beane, and like I said earlier, he's somewhat preoccupied on Draft Day.
But not to worry, A's fans -- Terry Steinbach is here to save the day. And I'm sure the backstop for the '88-'90 pennant winners is acutely aware of his responsibilities:
"I really don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do,'' Steinbach said, "but they said I don't have to know who all the prospects are, so I said OK. It should be interesting.''
But that's not what has me worried either. All Steinbach has to do really is repeat a name that someone writes down for him, and that shouldn't prove to be too difficult. No -- the problem here is that not only has Terry Steinbach been corralled into doing this thing for Oakland despite not having any connection with the team since departing as a free agent after the 1996 season, he's also on the payroll of another team. As recently as this past spring, he was a spring training instructor with the Minnesota Twins. These would be the same Twins who pick just two spots after the A's.
You can see the potential for skulduggery, I hope.
Beane: All right now, Terry, we're going to draft Talented High-Ceiling Prospect, a left-handed pitcher out of State University. Now go up there and announce the pick.
Steinbach: Very well... with the 26th pick of the draft, the Oakland Athletics select... Obscure and Poorly Regarded Third Baseman from Podunk Valley High School!
Beane: What the deuce!
Steinbach: And with the 28th pick of the draft, the Twins select that pitcher the A's were going to take.
Beane: Steinbach! Have you gone mad? What are you doing?
Steinbach (ripping off suit and tie to reveal a Twins jersey): Bwah ha ha ha ha ha!
Beane: Judas! We've been betrayed by Terry Steinbach!
Steinbach: Twins rule! A's drool! Whoo!
Karl Ravech: An interesting turn of events here in the first round.
So I think you can see how that would be awkward for everyone involved.
Game 57 Summary: In Which Ray Fosse Literally Drives Phil to Drink
"That's the great thing about catching, though. You could go 0-for-4, 0-or-20, but if you helped your team win calling a good game, that's like you went 20-for-20. Because that's your job."--Ray Fose, 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 2007, during the A's-Red Sox game
Dear Ray Fosse --
You don't know who I am, which is understandable since we've never actually met. Oh, we were in the same room together at one of the preseason Fan Fests one year, but about a thousand other people could make that claim. And there was that one time during spring training in 2004 when I was wrapping up a meal at Don & Charlie's in Scottsdale just as you were sitting down to eat, and I suppose I could have come over and said hello and wished you well. But really, I' m uncomfortable doing that sort of thing, and you looked like you just wanted to get a bite to eat, and I can imagine it gets tedious, sitting down to dinner in a public place, only to have some total stranger come up to you and start jawing about the '76 Indians. I'm sure it gets old fast.
But my point here is that while I don't know you per se, you come across as a nice enough fellow. You like baseball and you like the A's and you seem to be enthusiastic enough about your job. Really, I should have no beef with you. Most of the time, I do not.
But Ray... when you say things like that quotation I transcribed up above, I have to question whether you are out of your ever-loving mind.
Believe me, I derive no pleasure from saying that. We're on the same side here. You want the A's to do well. I want the A's to do well. But I'm also a big fan of saying things that are demonstrably true, especially when they're said in the vicinity of a working microphone. And I don't think your statement above rises to that standard.
Oh I know I'm approaching this at a disadvantage. You spent 12 years in the Big Leagues; I didn't even play an inning's worth of T-ball. Between the two of us, if anyone should know what they're talking about when it comes to the demands facing a catcher, it should be you. But I read a lot, Ray. And I talk to people. And I'm fortunate enough to have access to people who are a lot smarter than I am. And they seem to have reached the conclusion that whatever influence a catcher's game-calling ability has on the outcome of a contest, it's so inconsequential as to be unmeasurable. "Lies below the threshold of detection" is how Keith Woolner charitably puts it.
Now, I'll grant you, that's not to say that there isn't some impact. The mistake folks of my bent tend to make is to discount things that we can't statistically verify. I think the way a catcher calls a ballgame might have some impact, positive or negative, on the outcome, just like I think "leadership" and "clutch-hitting" and other such intangibles are not necessarily the stuff of myth and legend. But if I'm going to concede that people like me tend to under-estimate this sort of thing, I'd think you would agree that people like you tend to over-estimate that. And if you're going to tell me that calling a good ballgame is just as valuable as hitting safely in 20 consecutive at bats, well, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask to see your math.
Because it isn't, Ray. Oh Lord in Heaven, it isn't.
Look, I'm sure Jason Kendall is a nice guy. Scratch that, I can say with near certainty that Jason Kendall is a nice guy. And I can understand the eagerness to leap to his defense, given that you share a position and an employer. But none of this has anything to do with on-the-field performance. And Ray -- among the 137 American Leaguers with a minimum of 100 plate appearances, Jason Kendall is currently ranked 137th out of 137 in on-base percentage. He is also ranked 137th out of 137 in slugging average. I bet you can guess where he ranks in OPS.
Now, Ray --if Jason Kendall's playing 88 percent of his team's games and carrying a .437 OPS, I don't care what he does behind the plate. On a net basis, he is not helping the team -- not even if he greets each opposing batter by shoving an ether-soaked rag into their faces to make them extra groggy during at bats. I would further suggest that a team with a less-than-stellar offense like Oakland -- 12th in the American League in runs -- probably is being helped by an out-machine at any point in the batting order, no matter how deftly he signals for the splitter.
But don't take my word for it, Ray. Here's what this year's edition of Baseball Prospectus said about Brad Ausmus, another catcher whose reputation as a signal-caller par excellence seems to be inversely proportional to his ability as a batter:
Last year the average catcher had an OBP of .330 and slugged .417. Say the Astros had A.J. Pierzynski who had an OBP of .330 and a slugging percentage of .436. By our calculation, Ausmus created 38 runs of offense last year while using up 351 outs, while Pierzynski would have created 68 runs while using up the same number of outs. Those additional 30 runs are worth roughly three wins in the standings. Knowing that, how much credit do you want to give Ausmus for the Astros staff? Did he improve them by one percent? Five? 10? It stretches belief that Ausmus deserves credit for a twentieth or even a tenth of the success of Roger Clemens or Andy Pettitte, and there is no objective evidence that changing catchers would result in any penalty... the Astros have been needlessly costing themselves wins in a competitive division; it's time to get over it.
Change some team names and some players and this could very well have been written about someone we're both familiar with, Ray.
Look, Ray, I hate to belabor this point. And like I said, I'm favorably inclined toward you. You're not a bad analyst. When you talk about pitch sequences and the way hitters approach an at bat, it's really top flight stuff. But you keep filling the airwaves with gibberish about how being a good signal caller makes up for any and all offensive deficiencies, and it'll get increasingly more difficulty to separate the verbal wheat from the chaff, if you get my meaning.
P.S.: Love the work on those Five-A Rent-A-Space ads.
Game 57: A's 2, Red Sox 0
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- L. DiNardo (2-2) LP -- D. Matsuzaka (7-4) S -- A. Embree (5)
Went Deep: Chavez (9)
Your Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Star of the Game: While I hesitate to give Star of the Game honors to anyone who gives up six walks and needs five double plays to avoid disaster, it's hard to argue with Lenny DiNardo turning in six innings of two-hit shutout baseball. But in the interests of fairness, let's consult my inner Ray Fosse, whose comments follow in italics.
The Star of the Game was Jason Kendall, whose expert pitch calling and steady game management allowed Lenny DiNardo to escape unscathed after six innings. Except for those six walks. Those were Lenny DiNardo's fault. Kendall is only responsible for the good stuff.
Thanks, Inner Ray Fosse.
The Turning Point: Let's go with the sixth inning, when Boston managed to load the bases with just one out on a walk, a single, and another walk. Kevin Youkilis is at the plate, and DiNardo manages to induce an inning-ending, rally-killing 5-3 double play grounder to keep the 2-0 Oakland lead intact.
Inner Ray Fosse?
The Turning Point was when Bob Geren ignored certain weblogging naysayers and penciled Jason Kendall's name into the lineup. That's the Turning Point of every game.
Phil's Phun Phireworks Phact: I had a nifty write-up in my head for Joe Blanton's extremely nifty performance Saturday in which I was going to drop some mad fireworks knowledge on y'all, but real-life events prevented me from doing much writing the last few days. So this will have to appear here.
In the comments on Ken's last post, intellectually curious reader Jason Wojciechowski asks:
Didn't one of Mark Mulder's trademark lightning-fast games also force people to sit around and wait for a fireworks show?
Not just a fireworks show, Jason. Multiple fireworks shows. I know because I was at one of them.
The year was 2003. The game was a July 4th affair against the World Champion Anaheim Angels of Anaheim Still. Mulder pitched nine innings of three-hit ball, but found himself on the losing end of a 1-0 score, after Benji Gil scored the game's sole run on a sixth-inning bunt from once-and-future World Series hero David Eckstein. The game finished in two hours, 10 minutes, forcing those of us in attendance to sit around and twiddle our thumbs.
This was not even Mulder's fastest performance in a fireworks game that year. That came May 23 against the Royals. This time, Mulder finished off Kansas City in two hours, five minutes, and won the game 4-1. According to Susan Slusser's account:
His major-league leading fifth complete game took just 2:05, surprising no one, least of all Mulder, who'd told equipment manager Steve Vucinich before the game that he was aiming for two hours so the postgame fireworks display would have to be delayed until darkness fell, allowing the team to avoid the traffic created by 32,682 fans.
Now aren't you sorry you asked, Jason Wojciechowski?
All in All: The A's have taken two from a very good Boston team, and I'm apparently something of a jerk when it comes to Jason Kendall and Ray Fosse.
Thank goodness the baserunner in this photograph is not A-Rod. Otherwise, we'd probably never hear the end of it:
Instead, this play is probably doomed to be forgotten because (a) it had no effect on the final score, (b) nobody got hurt, (b) the Twins turned the double play anyway. How exactly Luis "Joe Montana" Castillo managed to release the ball over the head of Jack "Too Tall" Cust and into the hands of Justin "Clark caught a touchdown" Morneau in time to turn the 4-3 double play, I'll never quite understand.
What will be remembered from this game is the performance of Joe Blanton. Blanton had had two rocky outings since becoming the victim a triple-whammy curse placed on him when (a) Ryan gave him some solid Catfish Stew praise, (b) Rob Neyer spread that praise by (subscribers-only) linking to it on ESPN.com, and (c) Ryan followed up his praise by attending his next start. Let this be a lesson to you all: no good can ever come of such optimistic behavior.
Fortunately, I am happy to report that I was able reverse that whammy by attending Saturday's game, and saying nothing of it or my expections about Joe Blanton to anyone in advance. As a result, Blanton pitched a three-hit, complete game shutout. You may all thank me in the comments below.
Blanton was masterful today, with great control of all of his pitches. Combine Blanton's sharpness with Carlos Silva pitching at his ground-ball inducing best (including the one that started the double play above), and you had a recipe for one of the fastest games I've ever seen: one hour and 48 minutes. The two pitchers were so good today that they not only removed all the fireworks from the two teams' offenses (the game's only run scored on, yes, a double play), they kept fireworks out of the sky as well. The game was over so fast, we had to wait for a full hour after the game for the sky to get dark enough to begin the scheduled post-game fireworks show.
I've been pretty busy with travel and work stuff lately, and I have some more busy times coming soon, but I shall try to squeeze in some more whammy-reversing whenever I can. I haven't even been able to get in any player fasting or anything this year. Travis Buck and Milton Bradley both left the game early with (guess what?) ailments of some sort. I can only do so much. But does this team need me, or what?
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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