By Jason Wojciechowski on August 25, 2012 at 1:30 PM
This is what you call a catch-up post as far as transactions are concerned. The last you heard from me, Brett Anderson had rejoined the team and thrown a nice re-debut with the A's, helping them beat the Twins on Tuesday. Since then, a lot has happened. Let's take it from the top.
First, the A's signed free agent catcher Jason Jaramillo. He's got 366 career PAs in the big leagues from 2009-11 that says he's a .235/.293/.327 hitter (that's a .210 TAv and it's not good). He'd played at Double A and Triple A this year and hadn't hit at either place in 285 PAs before signing with Oakland. He's apparently above-average defensively.
Want to see something funny? Here's his Baseball Prospectus player comment from the 2006 book:
A 23-year-old catch-and-throw receiver compared to Johnny Estrada, Jaramillos 2005 batting stats in the Sally League were encouraging. Still, hell be lucky if he beats Estrada`s career mark of playing in 100 games in a season before turning 28.
Anyway, he's a warm body. With Anthony Recker designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Anderson, Jaramillo was needed because the move left Ryan Lipkin as the sole Sacramento catcher, especially since they couldn't turn to Josh Donaldson, who is back in Oakland playing third base again.
Next up: Stephen Drew. I can't tell you anything about Sean Jamieson, the player the A's traded for him, so I won't. As for Drew himself, you've probably read this a million times before, but the A's are placing a moderate bet (essentially just in the form of the money for his salary and his 2013 buyout, though more on that in a bit) on the upside he showed from 2006 to 2010 as a hitter. He's never been considered much of a defender, a stance his FRAA figures (which come out to something like four runs below average over a single season) back up, but I haven't heard calls for him to be moved off the position, either.
Anyway, Drew is in Oakland because Cliff Pennington has been only a tiny bit above a replacement-level offensive player this year and because Drew himself has twice hit like a star level shortstop: in 2008, he batted .291/.333/.502; and in 2010 he went for .278/.352/.458. There's some air in those lines from the National League and from Arizona's ballpark, but it's not as much as you'd think: his personal park factor at BP, which takes into account not only his own home park but the mix of road parks he played in as well, came out to 102 and 103 in those two years, i.e. 2% and 3% above-average. Playing in Arizona is a boon, but NL West hitters go to San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles a lot, too.
It's certainly possible that Drew won't work out for the A's, but if they had the money to spend, this was as good a place as any to spend it. He's hit just as badly as Pennington has in 2012, but, as I said above, he's flashed offensive upside that the Oakland incumbent never has.
In any case, it turns out that Drew is actually replacing Jemile Weeks in the lineup, not Cliff Pennington, as the latter has entered a second-base platoon with Adam Rosales, mirroring those that Bob Melvin had constructed at short with Pennington/Rosales and Pennington/Brandon Hicks for much of the second half. Weeks, of course, has been horrendous, though not as horrendous as Pennington — the erstwhile budding star second baseman has a 39-point OBP advantage and a 14-point gap in slugging. One presumably reads this demotion as a sign that the team hasn't given up on him. Sometimes a team demotes a player because they're not helping the big-league team and there's a better option. Sometimes he's demoted for that reason combined with a desire to get him a lower pressure environment and more targeted coaching to fix whatever problems he's having. In this case, given that Pennington is now being shoehorned into a position he's barely played and that Weeks is probably the better hitter of the two, I think it's reasonable to read the move as expressing the latter desire.
The one thing I'll ask about the Rosales/Pennington/Drew alignment is whether it's 100% optimal as a defensive matter. Both on the stats and on the eyes, it seems that Pennington is the better defender between him and Drew. As such, in a fantasy game, one would create a platoon of Pennington at short and Drew at second versus righties and Drew at short and Rosales at second against lefties.
There are a million reasons this isn't fantasy, though, including that as between Pennington and Drew, two guys who have barely (or never, in Drew's case) played second base, the coaching staff might simply have judged that Pennington would make a better transition to that spot. If they think Pennington is a +5 defender at second while Drew is -5 at short, then you take that over Drew being -10 at second while Pennington is +5 at short. Or whatever numbers you choose, you can see a scenario where that's essentially what the coaching staff believes, and thus this alignment makes sense.
Mental factors could also be an issue — Bob Melvin knows both players, and he might think that Pennington would simply take better, not just as a defensive performance matter, but as an overall matter (including whether he takes any struggles at second to the plate with him, how he is in the clubhouse, and so forth), to the new position.
The thing is that the alignment Melvin has decided to run with isn't so obviously wrong from the objective data that we can really validly complain. It seems like it might be suboptimal, but it's by such a slim margin that I'm comfortable leaving it up to the judgment of the people who have the inside view and thus, presumably, have smaller margins of error around their opinions.
The rest of the moves are on the pitching staff: Bartolo Colon is done for the regular season with a PED suspension, and I imagine he'll be replaced by Dan Straily once Straily can validly come back from the minor leagues (ten days from his demotion on August 20th); in the meantime, Tyson Ross was called up to make a start, hammered, and sent back down, with Jim Miller taking the bullpen spot that was created in the interim/by Jordan Norberto being put on the DL; and Jesse Chavez has been acquired from the Blue Jays. Chavez is on the 40-man, but not yet on the 25-, so I'm curious to see whether he comes up at some point, as he's very likely better than Evan Scribner. (He's also likely better than Jim Miller, but Miller is presumably who will be optioned out to get Straily back — though note that by that point, rosters will only be two days from expansion, so these 25-man moves are getting more and more temporary as the days crawl by.)
Oh, and Seth Smith is back, about which I say: hooray beer.