By Jason Wojciechowski on June 12, 2011 at 6:15 PM
I know my weekend posts usually happen more promptly than this, but I've been occupied today with doing, like Jeff Foxworthy described about 15 years ago, the Flight of the Bumblebee to prepare the apartment for an arriving houseguest (a houseguest whose company I won't even get to enjoy, as I'm leaving on a trip to Houston for work tomorrow afternoon -- and let that also serve as your warning that blogging may not happen, mainly since game-watching may not happen, until the end of the week).1
Housekeeping aside, we can jump right into the cliches: baseball is a game of inches. And god damn it for being so, as those inches came out against the A's on Saturday with Brent Lillibridge robbing Coco Crisp of a two-run homer that would have put Oakland on top 4-3 in the eighth inning.
One managerial/announcorial (that's a word) note: Bob Melvin started Hideki Matsui in the #3 hole in this game. Against a lefty. Now, this might actually be justified from a The Book standpoint, since Matsui probably is somewhere in the range of the A's fourth-best hitter against lefties. Obviously this breaks down when you consider the rest of the lineup, because Cliff Pennington isn't in the top three, but put that aside for a moment. Supposedly (i.e. according to Glen&Ray), the rationale is that "your #3 hitter should be an every-day player" (where "#3 hitter" means "best hitter"). I don't have to say how absurd this is, do I? Platoon splits exist. Defense exists. With a lefty on the mound for the opposing squad, there might very well exist games in which it makes sense to put a superior defensive outfield in the lineup by shifting Josh Willingham to DH and having a DeJesus-Crisp-Sweeney alignment in the pasture. Hideki Matsui goes to the bench in these cases. Does that mean he can't be the third hitter against righties? Of course not! Should Jim Thome bat sixth or something just because his body doesn't allow him to play every day?
Given that today's (Sunday's) lineup does not have Matsui batting third, I do wonder whether (a) Glen&Ray don't know what they're talking about in re: Melvin's rationale; (b) I misheard Glen&Ray and they were actually giving their own views on the #3 hitter; or (c) Bob Melvin is going to be a hilarious manager in terms of giving explanations one day and then totally going against them the next day. I'm hoping for (c), personally, because what else is this A's team going to give us? Not a playoff run, that's for sure.
With that out of the way, let's get to the
Box & Notes
For what it's worth, if Crisp's near-homer had left the yard, his wRAA for the game would have been 1.648. And the A's record would probably be 29-37. One of those is a big swing, the other a little less so.
The "Pennington bats second" experiment didn't really work out for the first time in three games. He did steal second after his single in the fourth and was thus able to score, diving to the inside part of the plate to avoid Ramon Castro's tag, on Josh Willingham's hard single to left. (Castro didn't actually have the baseball, as he dropped the throw from Lillibridge, but Pennington obviously didn't know that.)
It should be noted somewhere that Pennington's single, a grounder through the 3-4 hole that just eluded Gordon Beckham, was probably the weakest non-infield, non-against-the-shift hit I've ever seen in my life.
Hideki Matsui's ninth-inning four-pitch walk would have had Jonathan Papelbon body-slamming the home-plate ump in frustration. Really, any of the four pitches Jesse Crain threw could have been called strikes. Ozzie Guillen took a stroll out to the mound after the walk and very clearly waited around for the umpire to come break the conversation up so that he could have a chat with him on the way back to the dugout. Classic manager move, and I give Ozzie credit for making his point without apparent yelling. There was probably some cussin', this being Ozzie, but it all appeared rather understated.
The second pitch to Josh Willingham in the very next at-bat was in basically the same spot as, and maybe even a litter higher than, the first two pitches to Matsui. It was, of course, called a strike.
Conor Jackson got a pitch he could have ripped in the ninth inning with David DeJesus (pinch-running for Matsui) on first base, but he did absolutely nothing with it, flying out to center. I thought it was interesting, by the way, that Melvin did not have Ryan Sweeney pinch-hitting for Jackson in that situation, with the righty Crain on the mound. The pinch-hit penalty might well cancel out the platoon advantage, but it's such a standard move, given that Conor Jackson is hardly a star that you don't pinch-hit for, that it seemed worth noting.
And yes, by the way, this is the second straight game in which David DeJesus's only appearance was as a pinch-runner. He's basically
ClaudellHerb (oops) Washington at this point.
Scott Sizemore didn't hit a single ball hard in this game, which means I never should have mentioned anything in my Friday writeup. He was called out at first on a double-play in the second inning when replay showed him to be safe, so that was unfortunate.
Daric Barton, who's apparently so bad that he had to be dropped all the way to eighth against the lefty John Danks (compare: Hideki Matsui), had a walk and a single in three times up. His single was on the ground, but it was a hard a one-hopper the other way on an inside fastball.
Jemile Weeks was picked off (caught stealing) by Danks after he reached on Alexei Ramirez's error in the fifth. As Glen&Ray noted in the following inning, it wasn't the worst caught-stealing in the world: Coco Crisp had two strikes on him, and there were two out in the inning, so if he's caught, then Crisp gets a new count the next inning.
Also, I hate to count Weeks's sacrifice against him, but that's how I roll around here. With Daric Barton on first in the eighth inning, the A's down just a run, nobody out, and Weeks having the speed to beat out a potential double-play ball, plus Coco Crisp and Cliff Pennington, the next batters, not exactly being high-caliber singles hitters, I'd have let Weeks take his rips.
Then again, I could write that paragraph after almost every sacrifice bunt in the history of the world.
Remember, first, that I count HBP as UBB, so that atrocious number above in the UBB column looks worse than the only-marginally-less-atrocious number in the "real" box score.
Anyway, Gonzalez had a horrible game, one where his earned run count (two? three? I'm not sure how the last run was scored, given that Kurt Suzuki's throwing error put the runner on third, plus Brad Ziegler's throwing error was the play the run scored on, but you can't anticipate the double play, and ... well, you see why the earned/unearned distinction sucks?) doesn't fully measure just how bad things were. Only three swing-and-misses induced, two strikeouts, and eight men put on base for free.
Oh, and don't forget that Brent Lillibridge, leading off the game, was hit on the back foot by a curve, but the umpire missed it. Gonzalez wound up striking him out, so his official numbers actually add up to better than what really happened.
Gonzalez, for all the trouble he put himself in, got an utter bullshit call in the third. With Alexei Ramirez on first, Gonzalez was called for a balk, the grounds being that he didn't come to a full stop before throwing the pitch. On replay, it seemed pretty clear that he came to as much of a stop as any major league pitcher ever. I got called for that same balk once in high school, and I was livid. I remember shouting on the bus afterward that I'd never seen that called in all the baseball I'd ever watched. My coach told me, "It's not the big leagues here, Jason." I wonder what this umpire's excuse was, because as bad as the A's are, they're still technically in the major leagues.
Ray&Glen agreed with me, by the way, with Glen barking "That's a bad call," and Ray chiming in with a "Horrible!" (I love Ray&Glen, in case you can't tell.)
One last Bob Melvin complaint: what on earth was Gonzalez doing starting the sixth inning? I say this not from an abuse standpoint but an effectiveness one. At 106 pitches in just five innings, it's clear that Gonzalez was having work hard and throw from the stretch a lot. He'd also walked/hit seven guys to that point, so he clearly was not sharp. I just don't understand what there is to gain. Squeezing another inning out of him? He'd have had to throw it 1-2-3, apparently, because Melvin came and hooked him as soon as he walked Brent Lillibridge, and what were the odds of that happening? What's the point of building such a top-notch bullpen if your manager isn't going to use it in precisely these situations?
Brad Ziegler's errant throw to second on Carlos Quentin's comebacker, a throw that should have started a double play, creates a tough situation in terms of blame-placing. It wasn't a particularly good throw, tailing away toward the first-base side of the bag. It was also early, getting to the spot before Cliff Pennington was there to receive it. (And it was really the combination of these things that caused the problem -- were Pennington closer to the bag when the throw was unleashed, he'd have been able to deal with the tailing fastball.) On the other hand, Ziegler did what he was supposed to do on a comebacker -- wheel and throw to the spot and trust that your infielders will be there to receive the ball. It's not clear why Pennington wasn't there, so I'm not sure whether there's any blame to be tossed his way. Either way, it was unfortunate and helped cost the A's the game, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
When I'm shitting on Bob Melvin for what I think are questionable moves, I should also give him props for what I think are the right ones, like leaving Craig Breslow in to face the slew of righties the White Sox had coming up after he struck out Adam Dunn. I also even agree with the short leash Breslow was given, with Melvin calling on Joey Devine, a righty flame-thrower, after Breslow walked Ramon Castro (!) on five pitches.
And further, in Devine's own note, I was happy to see Melvin stick with him in the eighth after he faced two batters in the seventh. I know that managers are reluctant to have their relievers throw across innings, apparently believing there's some loss of effectiveness or increased risk of injury inherent in that situation, but, even accounting for the inside expertise that managers and pitching coaches have, I'm not sure there's any evidence for using your relievers in such a way as to avoid sitting-and-pitching.
And yeah, that's a real cutting-edge reference there, I know. Go on, quote your Mitch Hedberg and your Louis C.K. I'm still living large on my middle school comedy collection. ↩