A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Rich Harden, the next...?

I'm starting to get the feeling when I watch Rich Harden pitch that I got when I watched Bobby Witt pitch. I get the same sort of frustration: you see the great stuff right there, but it's not refined. Great one day, horrible the next.

With Witt, I kept thinking that one day he's gonna put it all together and be a great pitcher. But it never happened. Well, that's not quite true. One day, Witt threw a perfect game, but an umpire blew a call on a close play at first. He was a great pitcher that day. But that year, he was 8-10, with a 5.04 ERA.

If I keep expecting Harden to be another Hudson, Mulder, or Zito, and he turns out to be another Bobby Witt, I'm not going to have any hair left on my head in six years because of him. Perhaps I should just expect him to be another Bobby Witt, and then I'll be pleasantly surprised if he surpasses that level of play.

Rick Peterson article

I usually don't care much for Jack McDowell's opinions, but his recent article on Rick Peterson is revealing. Peterson was his pitching coach for a time in the White Sox organization. He understood that McDowell is not a logical person, he's an emotional one, so he interacted with him on that level.

Peterson not only understands every little detail about pitching mechanics, he also understands the psychological side too. In my mind, of all the great moves Billy Beane has made as GM, hiring Rick Peterson tops the list.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Pitching matchups, Tampa Bay series

Friday, 4:15: Ted Lilly vs. Jeremi Gonzalez. Gonzalez pitched okay his last time out, nothing special, that was the game the A's victory was aided by a key missed call on a Ramon Hernandez check-swing. I suspect he will be extra-motivated for this game.

It baffles me how MLB players, top-level athletes, especially ones who pitch once every five days, can be extra-motivated for games. I mean, if I only worked once every five days, you can be damn sure that I'd be extra-motivated for every game.

Is the Trop a HR park? I have no idea. That's Lilly's bugaboo, of course; he's stayed relatively clear of it his last few starts, hence the good run, but I have trouble believing that's anything bu small sample size fluctuation. There's more standard deviation in Lilly's starts because of this.

Saturday, 3:15: Rich Harden vs. Rob Bell. The Phenom pitched well against the D-Rays his last time out, just giving up a couple of long hits to Huff and striking out 10. Bell, the A's didn't hit as hard as you would like, but that doesn't change the fact that at the young age of 26, he was aptly described by Korach as a "journeyman."

It probably doesn't help his image that he has a boring name. Boring in, boring out.

Sunday, 10:15: Barry Zito vs. Victor Zambrano. A's didn't see Zambrano last time around. 94 walks, 110 strikeouts in 155 innings, a guy who could conceivably be very good. He is precisely the sort of pitcher Terrence Long should not be in the lineup against. Viva Billy McMillon! Zito has looked quite good his last couple of starts, which means he's due for a down start -- he seems to do this pretty regularly these days, just lose it all one start after looking good. I think his overconfidence is his weakness.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Deep philosophical question: late innings, bases loaded, two out, A's down by a run. Opponent brings in a right-handed pitcher. Jermaine Dye, who has hit exactly nothing all year, is up. Should you pinch-hit with the left-handed hitting Terrence Long, who also sucks?

Bill King has noted that the A's often play poorly in the second game after a cross-country trip. That certainly was the case yesterday. I guess if you're gonna lose, you might as well stink it up and get it all over with at once. Five errors, and several potential double plays that should have been turned but weren't. I can't believe all nine runs were earned. That just doesn't seem right.

Let's hope that the A's have clustered all of their bad play into this one game, and can get back to the crisp brand of baseball they've been playing otherwise lately.

The game was so ugly I turned it off after Baltimore went up 5-0. So I missed the A's debut of Steve Sparks. But when I'm lying on my deathbed, I'm willing to bet that's not one of the things I'll look back and regret about my life.

Is King's second-game theory accurate? Looking it up would probably take awhile. But it reminds me of how Sweden switched from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right-hand side back in 1969. Everyone thought there would be a ton of accidents. But there weren't--immediately after the switch, driving in Sweden was as safer than it had ever been. Everyone was driving extra carefully. But six months afterwards, as soon as everyone thought everything was OK--pow! Huge numbers of accidents everywhere.

So maybe immediately after their long trips, the A's are aware of being tired, so they make sure they compensate for it. The second day, they think they're OK, and kablooey--errors left and right.

UPDATE: Here's the results of first and second games after travelling to or from a team outside western divisions for the last three years.
         First games     Second games

2001 10-3 72 40 7-6 68 46
2002 6-8 64 61 10-4 55 62
2003 10-1 41 16 5-6 51 55
Total 26-12 177 117 22-16 174 163

The A's have been blown out in a few second games, particularly last year, where they allowed more runs than they scored, but had a winning record overall. You remember those ugly games, and it's probably what prompted Bill King to make his observation.

But the big difference comes primarily from this year: in 2003, the A's have only allowed 16 runs in 11 first games after a long trip, leading to a 10-1 record. So, yes, the A's have played worse in second games recently, but it's only really suffering in comparison to their incredible pitching in first games this year.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Well, I'm surprised as hell.

M's are also getting trounced. Boston is winning 3-2 in the 7th. Yanks are also up.

Anyone who is concerned about Terrence Long getting suspended for bumping that umpire last night, please identify yourself.


Great game tonight. Zito was fantastic, the defense was sparkling as always, and Mark Ellis is now officially my favorite A's hitter.

One of the things the A's have been lacking, really, is someone who fouls off a lot of pitches. Jason Giambi had a great eye, but he never really fouled a lot of pitches off. Now, players of all stripes can have this attribute of being able to foul a lot of pitches off, from Kevin Jordan to Derek Jeter to Nomar to Luis Gonzalez.

Mark Ellis is the only one on the team who can do that. Everyone else either doesn't make enough contact, or is too good at hitting the ball fair, or both. Ellis can have that 10-pitch at-bat which tires the pitcher out leading off the inning; it's fantastic. He has the perfect combination of not swinging at bad balls, the ability to make contact, and the ability to foul off a good pitch instead of hitting a weak pop-up or grounder. Now, this isn't as useful in the Coliseum with its foul territory (he would have been out on at least one pop foul in today's 12th-inning marathon), but it's an incredibly fun skill to watch, and it definitely does come in handy.

I have to second-guess Macha a couple of times, or rather first-guess. Why Jim Mecir in the 11th? Foulke is totally capable of going two innings, and even if not, using your closer on the road in a tied game is a good idea. (Suppose Mecir would give up one run in an inning, Foulke none -- then using Foulke in the 11th and Mecir in the 12th rather than the other way around is better, because if the A's score in the 12th you're tied (1 run) or winning (more) instead of having lost the game in the 11th.) Using a very shaky pitcher in a supremely key situation strikes me as folly.

Also, pinch-hitting for Durazo in the 10th instead of for Singleton later in the inning (though possibly that would have happened if the A's had gotten a runner on) against the lefty strikes me as a bit odd. Using Bobby Crosby was definitely unexpected, and defensible, but I would have tapped lefty-masher Byrnes there. (I have no idea what Crosby's splits are.) I'm not sure why Long was hitting for himself in the 8th (Billy McMillon?) -- starting him makes sense with a flyball pitcher on the mound, but you've got to have the balls to pull him for a better hitter.

Anyway, Bobby Crosby. He could be that second fouler, the nice patient kind to boot. An 8-pitch at-bat in his first major league at-bat; he took the first five pitches to begin his major league career, which is impressive to me, then fouled off a couple before popping out. His second time up, with runners on second and third and one out, he wasn't overanxious, calmly taking a four-pitch walk. It's not so much the value of the walk that uplifts me as the fact that he didn't press, that he didn't create that unproductive out which would have rendered Ellis's marathon at-bat moot.

Scott Hatteberg also deserves kudos for a key walk after Tejada had led off the inning with the single.

All in all, a very well-played game, if not one I would put on Macha's manager highlight reel. (It's an entertaining concept, a montage of Macha walking out to the mound for a pitching change, set to a stirring rendition of "Born in the U.S.A." or somesuch.) Let's hope for more of the same tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Postseason Roster?

The deadline for setting postseason rosters is August 31. This means that the A's postseason roster is now fixed, I believe, with the exception of the usual DL shenanigans.

Does anyone know what this roster actually is? In particular, Mulder and Dye (and possibly Micah Bowie) are on the roster, and I want to know who on the current 25-man is not. I can't find this information anywhere. Lousy MLB obfuscation.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Pitching matchups, Baltimore series

Tuesday (4:05 PT): Barry Zito vs. Pat Hentgen. Hentgen looked pretty bad against the A's in the Wednesday game of which this is a rematch (which I was at.) Zito looked good, the defense looked fantastic.

Wednesday (4:05): Tim Hudson vs. Rodrigo Lopez. The A's didn't have much trouble with Lopez when they faced him before. I guess Hudson's due for a bad start, but when it happens, I'll be surprised as hell.

Thursday (10:05): John Halama (probably) vs. Eric DuBose. DuBose is the only O's pitcher the A's didn't see in the series before, and he two-hit the Mariners over eight in his last start only to see the pen blow it (thanks a lot, Jorge Julio.) On the other hand, in his previous start he was roughed up by the Yanks. A former A's draft pick, he went through the failed draft pick -> journeyman route to the majors, making it this year at the age of 27 (he did have a brief cameo last season.) 25 K, 14 BB, 3 HR in 40.1 innings, adding up to a 4.24 ERA in 5 starts and 7 relief appearances. It's really hard to know what he's going to do. Halama isn't really suited to the Orioles' lineup; they swing at bad balls (Deivi, I'm looking at you), and that's not really his weakness, but he should do OK.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Roster News

The A's have called up Bobby Crosby, just in time to put him on the postseason roster (in place of Mike Wood, who was obviously not going to be on the postseason roster, and who could still be put on via the standard roster scam involving Mulder if he's still injured, or possibly Micah Bowie, who is also on the DL.)

He's ready. He's tearing up AAA, he's a decent defender at short, he'll start 2004 as the A's shortstop unless something unexpected happens. The most likely unexpected thing, I guess, is re-signing Tejada (or having Tejada accept arbitration.) This seems very unlikely; as I detailed a while ago, the money isn't there, and if the money is there it obviously makes more sense to use it on awesome closer Foulke instead of at a position where we have a very capable replacement.

I wonder if this means Menechino will be left off the postseason roster. Our 25-man looks like:

OF (5): Terrence Long, Jose Guillen, Chris Singleton, Eric Byrnes, Billy McMillon
DH (1): Erubiel Durazo
IF (6): Scott Hatteberg, Mark Ellis, Miguel Tejada, Frank Menechino, Bobby Crosby
C (2): Ramon Hernandez, Adam Melhuse
SP (5): Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Ted Lilly, John Halama
RP (6): Chad Harville, Jim Mecir, Keith Foulke, Ricardo Rincon, Bradford, Mike Neu

This leaves Jermaine Dye, who presumably will be on the roster. If we make the playoffs (still definitely an if), who is Dye replacing on the roster? I hope to God it isn't Billy McMillon. So it could be Crosby, Menechino, or a pitcher, presumably Neu (who doesn't need to be on the roster in the postseason to satisfy his R5 clause, I assume.) If Mulder is healthy for some postseason round, he will certainly replace Neu if Dye doesn't, or he could replace maybe Harville (I doubt it'll be Mecir, the way the organization seems to not understand the concept of a sunk cost with both him and Long), or one of the aforementioned position players if Dye is on in place of Neu.

Anyway, Crosby doesn't figure to play much, but calling him up now instead of tomorrow means that the A's are considering putting him on the postseason roster, which is interesting.

Remember that post I made about Soriano?

Well, Jose Guillen wants a long-term contract. This is the second mention I've seen of this -- Gammons talked about it in a column, but Gammons being Gammons, it's hard to know what to believe.

Now, of course the A's traded for him having absolutely no intention of signing him to a long-term contract. He seems sulky about this; apparently he really does like playing in Oakland (he of course hated playing in Cincinnati.) Hopefully this won't affect his play for the rest of the game.

10 K's for Harden against only 1 BB. If Aubrey Huff weren't such a good hitter we'd be in control of this game.

Fortunately, we have also gotten the bear, insofar as Jeremi Gonzalez can be considered any sort of a bear, which is not very far. 4-3 A's going into the bottom of the sixth; it'd be nice to get a couple more here.

It's Labor Day weekend again and Bill King is on his annual vacation. Between Juan two years ago and Jeremi now, I have to ask: Does anyone else pronounce the short 'a' in 'Gonzalez' quite the way Steve Bittger does?

I have three games' worth of tickets left in my notebook:
Monday, September 8, vs. Anaheim
Friday, September 19, vs. Seattle
Monday, September 22, vs. Texas

All are 7:05 starts. All are in Section 122 or 124, Row 29 or 30 (just where the second deck gives you shade--not so useful in the evening--but doesn't obstruct anything), your basic $20 third-base-line tickets.

Write to me at matt979 at yahoo if you want to be my guest for one of those. Thanks!

The A's signed Steve Sparks, the knuckleballer. He's cheap and he was available. I've always had a soft spot for replacement-level innings eaters; nobody eats innings like a knuckleballer.

Speaking of sparks:
"Two fans were injured during the PyroSpectaculars show held after the game when one of the burning fireworks fell into a crowd seated in the outfield grass." (Emphasis added.)

From our vantage point in the stands this looked horrific, as though it would turn out much worse than it did. Exactly one of the flare-shooters seemed to be miscalibrated, so that instead of exploding in the air the flares would land in the bleachers. Then one shot straight towards the outfield. Lots of fans seemed to leave early after this. The show went on, though, with not even a please remain calm from the PA.

At least the A's did win, a tense ballgame that underscored just how good the pitching staff is when the offense--not great, but apparently just good enough.

You already know this from watching or listening the game or reading a game report, but Chavy's two-run double made for the only runs until the 7th inning. Then Mike's favorite outfielder lost a ball in the lights (Singleton couldn't find it for awhile either, finally pointing towards the spot much deeper than Long where the ball landed) and Lilly's shutout ended on the first legitimate hit he gave up.

(Hit #1 had been an infield single where Huff seemed clearly out; then again later in the game Huff was called out at first base on a play where he seemed clearly safe.)

The Rays and A's traded runs in the 7th and 8th innings, most notably on Scott Hatteberg's home run. I like Hatteberg's home runs; they always remind me of the one he hit in #20 last year.

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