September baseball

By Jason Wojciechowski on September 7, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Tomorrow marks one week since the expansion of rosters on September first. You may have noticed that things have gone a bit quiet around here, with my last A's-related post coming, surprise, on September 1st. It's a depressing time to be an A's fan, with the team 16.5 games out of first in the West and so far behind the Red Sox for the wild card that the math breaks my head. This was a reasonably exciting team once: as late as mid-May, Clay Davenport had the A's playoff chances in the 35% range.

But then from May 18 to June 14, the A's fell from 22-21 to 28-40. Let me do that math for you: that's a 6-19 record. Sure, the A's came to their level by losing to good teams like New York and Boston, but they also lost three in Baltimore and three of four in Chicago. Note that from June 14 on, the A's are 36-38. That's still not a playoff pace by any means, but they were a .500 team before that awful month-long stretch and they've been a .500 team after it.

Do you know who gets excited about a .500 team's wins and losses in September, when that .500 team is actually fourteen games below .500 and, as I said, double-digit games out of first? Nobody.

And yet I watch! I don't write recaps, I don't particularly care whether the team wins or loses, but I do watch. Here's what I'm watching for:

  • Is Michael Taylor any good? The big right-fielder put up a 272/360/456 line in Sacramento this year, quite a bit better than his 2010 numbers, but still not what the A's have been hoping for. He'll turn 26 this off-season, so it's now or never for him. He's not really a defensive asset, though the A's did give him 20 games in center last season, so his bat is going to have to carry him. Right now, I'd rather have Ryan Sweeney and his .344 SLG in the outfield, even though Sweeney might cost about two million more bucks than Taylor. (Sweeney is second-year arbitration eligible this off-season, while Taylor, of course, is still owed just the minimum.)

    Then again, maybe the choice isn't Sweeney or Taylor -- with David DeJesus sure to move on and Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp also carrying free agent status (though it's plausible that one or both of those two could return), the outfield might be empty going into 2012, leaving plenty of room for all of the A's disappointing young outfielders.

  • Can Anthony Recker play? Do the A's think he can play? Kurt Suzuki has enough young veteran goodness and a reasonable enough contract ($5M next year, $6.45M in '13, $8.5M option for '14 with a cheap buyout) that perhaps the A's could get a goodie or two back for him. PECOTA thinks Recker is basically the same hitter that Suzuki is, and nobody seems to like Kurt's defense all that much (fans watching his throwing, FRAA, Matt Klaassen's catcher defense rankings). What do the A's think of the relative value of Suzuki and Recker's pitch-framing and game-calling? There are a lot of moving parts here, none of which, obviously, are going to be resolved in September, but if Recker does get a chance to play, it'll be interesting to see his approach at the plate and work behind it as a potential preview of 2012.

  • Is Jemile Weeks going to walk more than once every twenty plate appearances? Is Jemile Weeks going to learn how to slide? These are crucial issues (one more than the other, admittedly) for Weeks's value as a leadoff man in 2012 -- if he's got a .335 OBP and a 70% stolen-base rate, he's good (which is why he has a WARP around two in just 360 PAs this year); if he's got a .360 OBP and an 80% stolen-base rate, he's fantastic, a tremendously valuable player even without power.

  • What's the deal with Guillermo Moscoso? As I understand it, he's arbitration-eligible this offseason. He'll still be cheap, but not as dirt-cheap as he has been to this point. With the rotation in flux for next year, the A's will have to decide whether he's just filler, a guy with the 104th-best FIP among MLB pitchers with 100 or more innings, or whether he's a legitimate number three starter, a guy whose ERA ranks 55th among that same group of pitchers.

    A point against him is that he has the fourth-lowest BABIP of any of those pitchers, but if we see him continuing to get a strangely high number of popups and low number of homers, given all the fly-balls he allows, then maybe we wouldn't expect that BABIP to regress as far back toward the league mean as we would for other pitchers.

    Then again, don't forget Trevor Cahill.

  • Who's going to be in next year's bullpen? Is Fautino De Los Santos going to have a high-leverage role next year? Is Craig Breslow worth keeping around? Are Neil Wagner, Andrew Carignan, and Josh Outman possibilities? Are they better than Bruce Billings and Jordan Norberto? Can we get Jason Rice back?

    With the bullpen fully staffed with no fewer than ten pitchers (and maybe we'll see Joey Devine, Norberto, Tyson Ross, and Graham Godfrey back up after the AAA playoffs end?) and bullpens being what they are in general, we won't get much opportunity to evaluate these guys over the next few weeks. Still, it'll be interesting to keep an eye out to see who might be next year's Brian Fuentes.

This ain't much, I realize, which is maybe why I keep falling asleep during the games, but still. What'd I miss? What's keeping you watching?

UPDATE: Baseball-Reference says that Moscoso is not arbitration-eligible this off-season. I have no other source, so I'll assume that's right. That means he's an auto-keep, and the question becomes whether you put his name in ink for the rotation next season or have him battling it out for the last spot or two (depending on where Dallas Braden, Rich Harden, and Brandon McCarthy wind up, and depending on what else the A's do pitcher-wise in the winter).

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