A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Beating yourself, part 7.

Just total brainlock tonight. The A's are now 0-7 in the last four years when they've had a chance to advance. Byrnes not touching the plate, Tejada deciding to stop running, Hernandez not throwing the ball, errors left and right. It's all too strange to believe or explain, so I'm gonna blame it on Buck Martinez.

Must win tomorrow.

Burkett vs. Lowe

I didn't want to say anything before the game, on the epsilon-chance that some Red Sox intern is reading this, but doesn't it make more sense to throw Burkett today and Lowe tomorrow instead of vice versa? Elementary game theory, as before, dictates that if you're trying to win both games you throw the worse pitcher against the worse counterpart. Also it would give Lowe an extra day of rest after his G1 relief appearance of 41 pitches.

Lowe doesn't seem to be bothered by this, and Lilly is pitching great despite the bizarre meltdown of the defense behind him, so the results certainly seem to dictate that I'm wrong, but going in, I'd do that.

Singin' Playin' in the Rain

The weather is awful here right now, and isn't looking to improve before tonight:

Temp. Precip. Wind
1 PM Light Rain 60° 60% 15 mph
2 PM Light Rain 60° 60% 15 mph
3 PM Light Rain 60° 60% 16 mph
4 PM Light Rain 59° 60% 15 mph
5 PM Light Rain 58° 60% 15 mph
6 PM Light Rain 57° 60% 14 mph
7 PM Light Rain 56° 70% 12 mph
8 PM Light Rain 56° 70% 11 mph
Since Fenway is some sort of a cold nexus, the wind chill will certainly drive the temperature down to 45°F or below. I don't know if this is good or bad for Lilly and the A's, but I do know that I am somewhat glad I didn't break the bank for scalped tickets.

I don't know what this means either, but I think it's funny.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Lineup for Game 3

I'm guessing that Jose Guillen's hand will keep him out of Game 3. And with Jermaine Dye hitting .167 career against Derek Lowe, and with Lowe being historically much tougher on right-handed batters (.233 BAA vs. .266 against lefties), I think we may see an all-lefthanded outfield tomorrow.

Terrence Long is a career 5-for-17 against Lowe, Singleton is 5-for-19, while McMillon has never faced Lowe. Not great numbers, but no one on the A's has great numbers against Lowe.

I'm gonna guess that this will be the lineup:
LF McMillon
DH Durazo
SS Tejada
3B Chavez
1B Hatteberg
C Hernandez
RF Long
2B Ellis
CF Singleton

Beating Yourself

Watching the first two days of the playoffs, I was struck by how many of the games were decided by a team beating itself with poor defensive play. The Yankees lost game 1 by beating themselves, and then the Twins lost game 2 by beating themselves with Hawkins' throwing error. The Giants lost Game 2 of their series because of several sloppy plays, and so did the Red Sox.

So I came to wonder, how important is it in a best-of-five series to simply not beat yourself, where one mistake can cost you a game that you don't have time to make up? It's certainly the case that you can trace each of the A's recent failures back to a single, costly mistake.

So for kicks, I looked up team errors and found something interesting: since the beginning of Division Series play in 1995, the team that committed the fewer errors in the regular season won 22 Division Series, and lost only 10.

So what about 2003? Here are the season error totals for the four series:

Oakland 107, Boston 113
Minnesota 87, New York 114
Chicago 106, Atlanta 121
Florida 78, San Francisco 80

So, if form holds, we should expect three of these four teams in the next round: A's, Twins, Cubs, Marlins.

I don't know if this is nothing but a statistical quirk, though. It doesn't extend to the LCS: the team with the fewer errors is only 6-10 during the same period in the LCS. Also, from 1969-1984, in 5-game postseason series, the team with the fewer errors was 20-15, with one matchup of equals, which isn't a huge difference. (There sure were a lot more errors back then, though. Anyone know why?)

Thoughts on Games 1-2

I've only now gotten back to my computer after what amounts to a two-day vacation to Network Associates Coliseum. I have some thoughts on a lot of these posts, but instead of plugging up the comment boxes on every post I'll just take advantage of the fact that I can actually create new posts to share my thoughts on the games...

I guess I agree with a lot of what Ken and others have been saying--game 1 was incredible. Part of why playoff baseball is so great is that the atmosphere is just so electric, and I definitely had that tingling sensation for almost all of Wednesday's game. The big, raucous crowd (including at least 10,000 Sox fans by my rough estimate); the marquee pitching matchup; the slow-as-molasses home plate umpire--all of these things combined to give the entire game a surreal, but not detached, quality. I was so focused on every little detail. Ken, I'm glad you got your money's worth. :)

I was definitely also thinking "Keith Foulke for two innings" when the A's defense came back out for the top of the 10th ... then when he dispatched the Sox 1-2-3 again, I was thinking, "3 innings? I'm in heaven!" Then when Harden came out of the pen throwing 98 in the 12th, it was almost as if we at BZF actually knew what we were talking about. :)

Agreement with Mike: no more Rincon, please, in a tight spot. To be honest, I would have pulled the plug on Hudson exactly when Macha did, and I would have also summoned Rincon, but for one batter only. Walker had been giving Hudson fits all night, but there is absolutely no way you leave a lefty in to face Manny, regardless of what the outcome of Walker's AB was. I was astonished, but relieved, when Rincon managed to retire Manny... and then again irate when Rincon went back out for the 8th. More Bradford, more Foulke, please!

Grady Little lost this game for his team, and probably the series. Kim is an amazingly resilient guy, but who knows what he's thinking after Grady yanked him with two out in the 9th. (I was hoping to see Kim vs Durazo for sentimental reasons--both of those guys were on the 2001 D'backs, but neither one was really a part of the team's success that postseason for different reasons; plus, both of them have long been among my favorite players and it was good to see them both liberated from Arizona.) This is not to mention the blunder with McCarty/Brown, and the absolutely inexplicable intentional walk of T-Long. When I saw Long coming to the plate with 2 on and 2 out, it occurred to me that "this guy is the Red Sox' ticket to the 13th inning." So after they gave him the free pass (and with an 0-1 count!), I had reason to hope again.

Macha, on the other hand, did everything right, I think, with the exception of the Rincon situation as discussed above. He didn't use any of his bad pitchers in important situations, left Hudson in just long enough, made a very good decision to PH McMillon for Dye to start the 9th-inning rally, and I even agreed with when the A's chose to steal and hit & run. From reading the recap, it appears that Hernandez' bunt was not Macha's decision, but for the most part, Macha was pulling all the right strings. A solid managerial job in an ultra-tense contest that could have hinged on the slightest blunder by either side (which, of course, it ultimately did).

Phew, on to game 2...

Maybe it was the daytime, maybe it was the cold weather, maybe it was a game relatively short on dramatics, but the atmosphere at game 2 was much less tense. Zito was sharp, so there weren't any big threatening Boston rallies after the A's took the lead in the 2nd. I was mildly surprised that they brought Foulke back after 51 pitches the night before, but I can't say I disagree with it (though probably Bradford could have handled the 9th). But I had heard Macha talking about how they were going to focus on winning the current game every game, and not worry about the rest of the series until they get there. That's exactly how you have to manage in the postseason, and it seems like he's taking his own advice seriously.

Looking ahead a little (we're allowed to do that now, right?), I half expect Lilly to get utterly destroyed on Saturday while Lowe scratches out 6 quality innings to leave with a big lead. That will raise the question of who the game 4 starters will be; if the Sox are going to win it, they'll need to get a win in a non-Pedro game, and the question is whether they want that to be a short-rest Wakefield in game 5 (this coming after Pedro himself pitches on short rest after his 130 pitches in game 1) or a soup-of-the-day type in game 4 (John Burkett? Bronson Arroyo? Mystery man Scott Williamson? Wakefield on really really short rest?). I like the A's options a lot better--bringing Hudson back early after his 106 pitches seems much more palatable, and if they do decide to start Harden, that's fine too--as Mike pointed out, Harden may match up best with Pedro because of his high-variance tendencies. Though, I have to say--even though he was a little wild, I really did like seeing Harden come in and light up the radar gun after three innings of Foulke and his pinpoint command and changeup.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

A routine victory

Game 2 was about as unexciting a playoff victory as you can get. Which was a good thing, because my nerves were shot from last night. I don't think I was the only one. The crowd was very sedate today compared to last night. I think we were all a little hung over from last night's party.

So a boring win was just what the doctor ordered. I would like to thank the person whose name adorns this blog for a perfect afternoon.

Thoughts from the Land of Insomnia

OK, I think I got about 3 1/2 hours sleep, but now it's 6:40am and I'm awake again. I wonder how sloppy a game we're going to see in Game 2 because nobody got enough sleep. Personally, I'm probably going to cheer every pop-up thinking it's gonna be a home run.

The anti-Moneyball types will say the A's won because of the bunt, but really, the A's won because they drew 10 walks. The Red Sox almost won because they hit three home runs. That's Moneyball right there on both sides.

Speaking of walks, I started having nightmares in advance when Rich Harden came in the game. I thought he might be so nervous he'd walk every batter he saw. Well, he did walk Manny and then uncorked an extremely wild pitch, but he got the job done.

I suppose now is the time to thank Grady Little for intentionally walking Terrence Long.

That bozo who said "Keith Foulke for two innings" doesn't know what he's talking about. It's Keith Foulke for three innings!

I wonder if the Red Sox are regretting only putting 10 pitchers on their roster now.

How effective will Lowe be in Game 3 after throwing two innings? Can Pedro go in Game 4 after 130 pitches last night?

I got to the game during batting practice, and I looked down and who was the very first person I saw? No kidding: Buck Martinez in a horrible brown suit he must have had left over from the 70s, standing out like a sore thumb in a sea of TV sportscasters all dressed in conservative colors. My immediate thought, "They're out to get me. Run away!" And then: "Maybe seeing him before the series starts won't count in the curse." This series ain't over yet. You never know what will happen when curses collide. I have a feeling we're gonna see more weird stuff...

I can't sleep.

How can I sleep? I just witnessed the best baseball game I will ever see in my whole life. When my grandkids ask me about the best baseball game I ever saw, I will say "Game 1, 2003 ALDS, October 1, 2003."

And to think, I was feeling stupid about paying above face value for 3rd deck seats behind the plate. I could have paid ten times as much and it would have been worth it.

I'm gonna be a zombie at tomorrow's game, because I'm sure I will get no sleep whatsoever. Adrenaline is still pumping throughout my body. I'm finding it hard to sit still long enough to type this. I gotta go bounce off some walls or something now. Later...

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

ALDS roster

Finally released this morning. There's no real surprise other than the inclusion of Steve Sparks (Ken, I believe, called that one), which means they're going with 11 pitchers. This is too many, but they don't really have a good 15th position player (it'd have to be Crosby because he was up on 8/31.)

RHP (7): Bradford, Foulke, Harden, Harville, Hudson, Mecir, Sparks
LHP (4): Halama, Lilly, Rincon, Zito
C (2): Hernandez, Melhuse
IF (5): Chavez, Ellis, Hatteberg, Menechino, Tejada
DH (1): Durazo
OF (6): Byrnes, Dye, Guillen, Long, McMillon, Singleton

Pedro and Selectivity

Does Billy Beane cringe every time Eric Chavez opens his mouth? From today's Chronicle:

    "He's so tough,'' Hatteberg said. "I think the best thing you can do is be as patient as you can, not chase too many bad pitches, and make him throw as many pitches as possible."

    Countered Chavez: "I don't buy that -- the problem is that he has so many great pitches he can get you out with. They're all excellent. So you're looking for one pitch (to hit), if that."
It seems like whenever given a chance, Chavez offers his two cents on why plate patience is unnecessary. Not that taking advantage of a good pitch to hit is a bad idea, but by making him throw strikes like Ellis did back in August, Pedro's pitch count climbs and the A's inch closer to facing a questionable bullpen.

However, there is some truth to the success of timely effectiveness. Free swingers hacking at Pedro's first pitch connected to the tune of .327/.336/.505 in 2003 (for 2000-2002, .370/.387/.593). After that, hitters are in trouble. Pedro isn't going to fall behind 2-0 too often, so the next best option is 2-1 (Hatteberg's favorite).

I still like Ellis' approach, and I expect Hatteberg and Durazo to follow suit, but if guys like Guillen, Chavez, and Hernandez can get lucky early in the count, good things could happen.

The anticipation is killing me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Post-Season Scheduling Nuts and Bolts
Predictably, Red Sox fans are complaining about the late (their time) start time for Game 1.

For what it's worth, I have a very pedantic post over on my personal weblog about the circumstances and criteria that I think led to this.

It's probably full of glaring inaccuracies, or at least typos, but this is the sort of thing that inexplicably excites me. (That and certain forms of the kind of math on which Mike has gone orders of magnitude further than I'd ever dream of.)

Baseball rocks

Fantastic first day of the playoffs. Three great games, which remind me how cool a game this really is. Maybe even more so when you don't have a real rooting interest; watching Wood deal against the Braves was great, but if I'd been a real Cubs fan (I'm adopting them as my NL team, I think), I'd have been too nervous to appreciate it.

And the Yankees going down is great. I don't know how many of the rest of you are Yankee-haters, but I think the more they lose, the more these stupid mystique-and-aura strategies lose credence.

Okay, time to cowboy up for tomorrow. Pedro. Tough.

Buck the Curse!

The A's are doomed. The Red Sox are gonna win this series. The Curse of the Buck strikes again.

Every time the A's have lost a postseason series since 1988, somebody named "Buck" has broadcast at least one game of the series. 1988 and 1990 World Series: Jack Buck. 1992 ALCS: Buck Martinez. 2000 and 2001 ALDS: Joe Buck. 2002 ALDS: Buck Martinez.

No Bucks broadcast the 1988 ALCS or the any of the 1989 playoffs, when the A's won the World Series.

The only exception is the 1990 ALCS, which the A's won, where I assume Buck Martinez was calling it for some Canadian outlet, but I haven't been able to confirm that information.

Anyway, I just found out that calling this series for ESPN Radio will be: Buck Martinez. Aaaaaagh!

I think it's a conspiracy. The networks dream of having the Red Sox and Yankees play each other. So to ensure they get it, they simply say "Buck you, Oakland!"

Perhaps we can buck this curse. Do not listen to the ESPN Radio broadcast, no matter what. If you're at the game, do not look at Buck Martinez for any reason. Avoid him like a vampire avoids the sun. Don't even look up towards the broadcast booth, for you might accidentally see him. If a Buck calls a game and nobody listens, does it make a sound?

Of course, the Red Sox have their own curses. Is Bucky Dent a curse? Are both teams therefore bucked? What happens when curses collide? Which curse is stronger, the Buck or the Bambino? Perhaps it will end up as Billy Beane said in the Chronicle this morning: "Like 'Rock'em Sock'em Robots,' where both heads pop off at the same time and no one can continue.''

Either that, or someone will somehow manage to buck their curse. Does the buck stop here? I would like nothing more than to wake the networks from their dreams and tell them and their curse to go buck themselves: "Buck, your time has come! It's the A's vs. the Twins! Buck off!"

Monday, September 29, 2003

No ESPN darling

Out of 18 ESPN bigwigs, 17 of them pick the Red Sox to beat Oakland, the most imbalanced of any of the first-round picks.

I gotta say, I agree with them. I think the A's not only are a simply worse team, but also match up poorly with the Sox. Our #1 strength is our defense, which fits badly with the Sox not putting many balls in play. Our bullpen is not deep, which fits poorly with the good offense of the Sox. (On the other hand, their bullpen is deep -- not good, but deep -- and that's useless against a bad offensive team like us.) Foulke kicks ass, and Bradford has been great, but other than those two guys there's no one I'm comfortable with in key situations (even Rincon, who has good recent numbers, but always seems on the edge of disaster to me.)

Also, the Sox gain on us with the short series, since their top starter is, relative to their other starters, certainly better than ours.

Joon makes an interesting point about Harden being in the bullpen. Harden is a great guy to bring in against excellent hitters who you don't mind too much if you walk. He could definitely be a dominant reliever, maybe even for multiple-inning stints; it's a card I hadn't thought of.

The bottom line is we can win this series but Boston can more easily win this series. I guessed we'd have about a 40% chance of winning and I stick to that.

As for home-field, yes, the A's have the league's best home mark this year, but they're also 2-6 at home (versus 4-3 on the road) over the last three years. Maybe the big supportive crowds put too much pressure on them. More likely, it's random chance.

The A's One Advantage

There were several times in recent postseasons that I thought the Yankees were about to lose. But then in came Mariano Rivera in the 8th inning, and--game over (well, except game 7 against Arizona in 2001). Last year, the Angels rode Francisco Rodriguez for two innings at a time to their World Series championship. The two-inning dominant bullpen pitcher is a great weapon in the playoffs.

So when I look at the A's, and try to figure out how they can win in these playoffs, I really only see one clear advantage over their opponents: Keith Foulke for two innings.

So the game plan is: keep it close, score a late run or two off the opponent's weaker bullpen, and give the ball to Foulke in the 8th.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Hitters vs. Pitchers, OPS

Here are the career OPS against the possible pitchers. Small sample size disclaimer goes here.
          Pedro  Wakefield  Lowe   Burkett

Byrnes --- .900 --- ---
Chavez .551 .887 .771 .527
Durazo .200 1.250 .000 .708
Dye .760 .565 .500 1.061
Ellis 2.500 1.000 .000 .333
Guillen 1.012 .819 .282 1.350
Hatteberg .000 .714 .205 .400
Hernandez .545 .963 .500 .473
Long .314 .608 .741 .900
McMillon --- .452 --- ---
Melhuse --- --- --- ---
Menechino .167 .762 1.000 .667
Singleton .840 .284 .566 .588
Tejada .685 .824 .814 1.023

Hudson Zito Lilly
Damon .631 1.100 .713
Garciaparra .822 1.037 .633
Jackson 1.095 .533 .750
Kapler .328 .602 1.000
McCarty .000 .200 .667
Merloni .667 --- ---
Millar .000 .500 1.548
Mirabelli .667 1.000 1.500
Mueller .000 .667 1.133
Nixon .619 .250 .476
Ortiz .667 1.125 .333
Ramirez .855 .710 1.933
Varitek .258 .225 .929
Walker .593 .500 ---

Looking at these numbers, Game 3 looks like a mismatch. No one on the A's has ever hit Lowe, and the Red Sox have pounded Lilly. On the other hand, the A's have a whole handful of players who have done well against Wakefield.

Also from these stats, I'd guess we'd see a Game 1 outfield of Guillen, Singleton and Dye. In Game 2 we'd probably see Byrnes instead of Singleton.

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