By Jason Wojciechowski on August 12, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Starting pitchers: Dan Straily vs. J.A. Happ
First pitch: 9:37 (yuck) PT
A's in the West: One game back of Texas
A's in the Wild Card: Tied for the first Wild Card with Tampa Bay1
Baseball Prospectus playoff odds: 36 percent division, 41 percent Wild Card
I don't believe in series wins and losses in the regular season. They don't count for anything and they don't mean anything. "The A's haven't lost a series since June!" or whatever is meaningless trivia. Hopefully when reporters and TV folks give those stats, they're offering them in that spirit, as gobbledygook that you may nonetheless find interesting, but you know reporters and TV folks, with their RBI and their shutdown innings and their Dippin' Dots. They'll believe in anything.
Either way, the A's have lost their last three series: home vs. the Jays, home vs. Texas, and at Cincinnati. By winning yesterday and guaranteeing themselves at least a split of this weird Friday-to-Monday four-game Toronto set, the A's have broken that streak, though you could phrase the streak as "the A's haven't won a series since they took three of four from the Angels on July 25–28," which would put the pressure on today's outing.
Then again, like I said, I don't care. Oakland is 3–7 in their last ten. That and the brief recap at the top of this post of the A's position in the Hunt for Green&Gold October is enough to tell me that the team needs wins.
Unfortunately, Dan Straily, today's moundsman, has not pitched like the pop-up prospect he was a year ago. Of the 115 big-league pitchers who have faced at least 400 batters, Straily ranks 57th in strikeout percentage and 54th in walk percentage. These are above-average figures that totally decline to blow anyone's mind.2
Straily's home runs per nine innings are basically league average (ranking 63rd), and his BABIP allowed of .274 ranks 27th.3 As always if you can tell me how much of that number is his park, how much is his defense, how much is his pitching, and how much is random variation, you win not only a Kewpie doll but also a position as the highest-paid baseball operations analyst in the entire league.
This might be what Straily is. Yes, he led the entire universe in strikeouts last year,4 but his velocity is far from elite (it's not even above-average), his sinker doesn't have exceptional sink, his slider doesn't have exceptional slide, he doesn't pound the strike zone, he doesn't pound the bottom of the zone, he doesn't have crazy deception ... he's just a pitcher.
Now, he's just a pitcher who can likely give the A's league average or slightly better than average performance for a minimum salary through 2015 and a discounted arbitration salary through 2018, and he's thus a valuable asset, but by all appearances he's not the no. 2 starter that I, at least, had hopes he might grow into. Maybe I was wildly optimistic and ignoring the scouting reports because I thought they did not incorporate something new he'd added, some magic handful of beans; because I thought the scouts were biased by his mediocre standing prior to 2012 as a 24th-round pick with just-okay performance for his age and level; and maybe you all think me the fool for engaging in such rational exuberance; but I did and here we are.
New MLB Power Ranking isn't up as of this writing, but it should be soon. As always, I'm responsible only for the comment on the ranking, not the ranking itself.
Susan Slusser's pregame report is already up because of the early start time -- there we learn that Coco Crisp is out with a sore wrist and Derek Norris is still dealing with back soreness.
Prediction: A's win.
The Rays hold the first tie-breaker, head-to-head record, 3–0, so the A's would be the road team in the Wild Card play-in game. ↩
Straily's strikeout rate may be under-performing, as he ranks 22nd in whiff rate. If you take the formula Blake Murphy created here for an expected strikeout rate derived from present whiff percentage and fastball velocity, you get a number (21.4 percent) that would rank Straily 33rd in the league rather than 57th. That would adjust Straily from "eh" to "hmmm" in my estimation. ↩
Note that Straily's BABIP is actually slightly above the A's defensive efficiency–derived number of .270—that is, the A's as a team turn batted balls into outs 73 percent of the time, so there's a sense in which Straily is actually under-performing given his team (i.e. park and defense) context in the batted-ball department). ↩
He wound up with 222 in 191 1/3 professional innings between Double A, Triple A, and the majors. To refresh your recollection. ↩