Thursday, August 21, 2014

Notes on a Key Series, and a Report about John Jaso

The Garrett Richards-less Los Angeles Angels invade Oakland this weekend for a crucial three-game tilt against the A's. Now, Richards wasn't scheduled to start any of these contests, but one wonders how the Halos will respond to the loss of their indisputable ace. (Richards's ERA of 2.61 is almost a full run lower than that of the Angels' next best starter, Hector Santiago.)

Does Richards's loss – he'll reportedly be out of commission for six to nine months – put pressure on the Angel hitters to compensate? In other words, given what was (and is still being) said about how Donaldson and Moss need to step it up in Cespedes's absence, is the shoe now on the other foot? And forget the added pressure on the Angels' lineup: Could they, could anyone, swing the bat better than Trout and Co. have done recently?

The answer is, actually, yes. In August, Trout is hitting only .219 (which surprises me, because it seems like every time I check the Angels' box score, Trout has powered one out in the late innings of a tight game) and Josh Hamilton has barely breached Mendoza (.203). So, although it scares me to say it, there's definitely room for improvement.

As there is, of course, for the Athletics. In the nineteen games since Cespedes's departure, Brandon Moss's batting average and slugging percentage are .176 and .216. Donaldson has done much better; he's hit .277 with a solid .815 OPS, but he's launched just two homers, and half of his RBI total (of eight) came on a single night in Kansas City. Of course, they can't do it alone, and in this regard Oakland's terrific, versatile trio of catchers Jaso, Norris and Vogt can and do need to make big contributions down the stretch. John Jaso shared some of his thoughts about hitting with me, and this “Eye on the A's” report was the result:





Posted by C.S. Soong

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Eye on the A's" Report re Dan Otero

The A's bullpen recently set an Oakland record of 29 2/3 consecutive innings of scoreless relief. C.S. Soong spoke recently with relief pitcher Dan Otero, and produced this report:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Eye on the A's" Report re Eric O'Flaherty


C.S. Soong spoke recently with relief pitcher Eric O'Flaherty in the Oakland A's clubhouse, and prepared this report: 


Friday, July 25, 2014

Easy Pickings

The Oakland A's thumped the Houston Astros yesterday, giving starter Jeff Samardzija something he rarely got from his Cub teammates earlier this season: gobs of run support. And yes, Samardzija sparkled over eight innings in the 13-1 victory, but one shouldn't conclude too much from that: of the four Astro hitters slotted second through fifth in the lineup, none entered the contest with a batting average over .212. (I'm not sure I've ever seen those kinds of numbers slotted that high up in a big-league batting order before. My guess is that Sonny Gray would have gladly pitched on three days' rest for the opportunity to pad his statistics against the punchless 'Stros.)

Six games have now been started by either Samardzija or Jason Hammel, both acquired by Oakland on July 4, and in those contests the A's are 3-3. Sure, it is, as they say, a small sample size, but I imagine the A's, and their fans, were hoping for better. Plenty of season left to see how it all unfolds.

The decisive blow in yesterday's game was delivered by Brandon Moss, who cranked his third career grand slam in the sixth inning. Now, remember when the A's started Daric Barton instead of Moss against left-handed pitching? The assumption was that Moss, a left-handed stick, could hit righties but not lefties. But Barton is, of course, long gone, and Moss is now an everyday starter (as he should be, and as he should have been long before), and it's instructive to look at Moss's current-season splits against righties and lefties. You might expect Moss's numbers to be much better against right-handed pitching, but you'd be wrong. Moss's batting average and on-base percentage against righties are .262/.344. Against southpaws, his numbers are better: .284/.360. Pretty eye-opening. Thank goodness the days of platooning Brandon Moss are over.



Posted by C.S. Soong

Friday, July 11, 2014

Straight A's Thus Far

Six weeks ago A's manager Bob Melvin told me he doesn't like four-game series. They're difficult to win, he said, and the fourth game usually takes the place of an off day. But after sweeping a four-game set against Toronto and taking three of four from the Giants, Melvin and the rest of the high-flying A's have little to complain about. Oakland's record now stands at 58-34, which means that for 23 consecutive days, the A's have had the best record in the major leagues.

If you find that impressive, check out these facts and figures (most of them compiled by the A's public relations staff):

* Oakland has outscored the opposition by 147 runs; the next two closest teams are the Angels (80) and the Nationals (56).

* The A's have posted a winning record in thirteen consecutive months. That equals the longest such streak in Oakland history (Sept. 1970 to Sept. 1972). The last time the A's had a losing record in a month was May 2012.

* The A's have owned the best record in the American League every day since May 31.

* The A's have gone eleven consecutive road series with a .500 or better record. The last time they lost more games than they won in a road series was over a year ago, when they went 2-5 (against Texas and Seattle) from June 17 to 23, 2013.

* Over the last eight games, A's starters are a combined 6-1 with an ERA of 1.04.

* Oakland's outfielders have 25 assists, which equals the A's total from all of last year.

* Since the beginning of the 2012 season, the A's have compiled the best regular-season record in the majors (248-168). The next best record belongs to Atlanta (240-176).



Posted by C.S. Soong

Friday, July 4, 2014

Don't Trust the Ump?

Should a baseball player always trust a call made by an umpire? Well, you would think that, at the very least, he shouldn't be penalized for doing so. But that's exactly what happened in Thursday night's game between Oakland and Toronto.

In the second inning, with a Blue Jay on every base, Anthony Gose hit a grounder to A's first baseman Nate Freiman. Freiman made an effort to tag Munenori Kawasaki, who was on his way to second, and then threw to catcher Stephen Vogt, who stepped on home plate without tagging Edwin Encarnacion racing home from third base.

First-base umpire Vic Carapazza ruled Kawasaki safe – he didn't see Freiman apply the tag – and Vogt, apparently seeing Carapazza's safe sign, believed that all he had to do was touch the plate to record the out at home.

Vogt logically trusted Carapazza's call. But Toronto manager John Gibbons challenged the call, and won. Which meant that while Kawasaki was called out, Encarnacion was declared safe at home plate; once Kawasaki was tagged, the force play was no longer in effect and Vogt needed to tag Encarnacion to record the out.

What all of this means is that Vogt should not, in this instance, have trusted the ump's call. He was, in a sense, penalized for doing so, and so were the A's. Is this unfair? Certainly A's manager Bob Melvin thought so, and the A's played the rest of the game under protest. (Which turned out to be moot, since the A's prevailed 4-1).

If there's a lesson to be learned, it's apparently this: Play as if the ump might be mistaken. Assume as little as reasonably possible. In this instance, tag the runner at home plate even if it seems unnecessary.

Now, all of that is much easier said than done. Players have reflexes rooted in a common-sense understanding of how baseball is played. But a new era has begun. In this brave new world of replays and challenges, a little distrust may in fact go a long way.


Posted by C.S. Soong



Sunday, June 8, 2014

Home Attendance Matters

After Sunday's 11-1 win in Baltimore, the Oakland Athletics' road record stands at 22-12, best in the majors and significantly better than the club's home record of 17-12. Now, 17-12 is nothing to sneeze at -- only two teams have fewer home losses than the A's -- but given what's been said, by A's manager Bob Melvin and by some of his players, about how much the club values and feeds off of large home crowds, I decided to go back and see how the A's have fared when they've drawn robust numbers at home.

The official carrying capacity of the 0.co Coliseum is listed at 35,067. I decided to define a “large home crowd” as one that fills at least two-thirds of the stadium. (That's in a sense an arbitrary figure, but I think not an unreasonable one.) Two-thirds of 35,067 is 23,378. So how have the A's performed in home games with an official attendance figure of 23,378 or more?

The numbers are eye-opening. Ten of the 29 A's home games to date have drawn more than 23,378, and Oakland's record in those ten games is a glittering 8-2. That is to say, they've got an .800 winning percentage in front of large home crowds (which far exceeds their overall .619 winning percentage to date). Equally striking is the A's home record when attendance drops below 23,378; in those contests, the A's are a lackluster 9-10. To repeat: the A's are 8-2 when they draw large home crowds and 9-10 when they don't.

There are, of course, many ways to slice and dice a club's performance. But the crowd-size factor cited here indicates that less-than-robust home attendance just might be the weak link in the A's season to date. And it makes one wonder: How good, how much better, could the A's be if they consistently packed the Coliseum?


Posted by C.S. Soong