Game 57 Summary: In Which Ray Fosse Literally Drives Phil to Drink
by Philip Michaels
"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.
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.
Mulder had another reason to hurry things along -- two hours after the game,
he was scheduled to fly to Chicago for his brother Phil's wedding.
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.