By Jason Wojciechowski on August 15, 2013 at 7:26 AM
Opponent: Houston Astros
Starting pitchers: Erik Bedard vs. Sonny Gray
First pitch: 12:35 PT
A's in the West: Two games behind Texas
A's in the Wild Card: Leaders for second Wild Card, 1/2 game behind Tampa Bay
Baseball Prospectus playoff odds: 27 percent division, 46 percent Wild Card
What I saw of last night's game was the Astros taking the lead in the 11th, Eric "Ball" Sogard hitting a double to put himself in position to score the tying run to keep the game alive, Alberto Callaspo completely blowing a sacrifice bunt attempt, and then two strikeouts to end the game.
On the bunt: I was not immediately horrified by the idea of bunting in that situation. However, using the win "probability" calculator at Hardball Times, the A's were about 42 percent to win after the Sogard double and would have been 40 percent had the bunt been successful. Even if you factor in the chance that the Astros throw the ball away (not insubstantial!), my guess is that you'd be hard-pressed to find a way to come out ahead on the win expectancy because you also have to include the chances of Sogard being thrown out at third, a double play, or the exact thing that happened, an out that does not advance the runner. (If you're being really complete, you also work in the odds that Callaspo winds up having to swing away with two strikes.)
This wasn't a first-inning bunt with a man on first and nobody out, but what is? Very few managers pull that nonsense anymore. The question is whether, with a strikeout-heavy, fly-ball-heavy pitcher on the mound, you'd rather take three shots at hitting a single or one shot at a fly-ball or single followed by one shot at a single (with the possibility of a balk or wild pitch always hanging out there). Alberto Callaspo hit .300 with the Royals in 2009 and .288 with the Angels in 2011, but overall he's not any kind of stellar contact hitter. He also has nine total sacrifice bunts in 3095 career plate appearances. He went the entirety of 2009 and '11 without laying one down (successfully, at least).
I don't know for sure what the answer is, but I suspect it's not what the A's did last night.
As for today, Sonny Gray makes his Coliseum debut after relief appearances in Pittsburgh and Anaheim and a start in Toronto. That start was not awful but not exactly good, either, and hopefully he can do better against an Astros team that's second from the bottom in the American League in runs per game. Gray brought more heat than I realized he had as a starter against Toronto:
That's Gray's average velocity by inning in the Toronto start, so you can see his fastball pumping in around 95, which is interesting because he didn't throw any harder than that in his relief appearances. Most every pitcher gains something in a move to the bullpen, and one of the most obvious explanations is the increased velocity from not having to pace yourself. There's a range, however, and the translation factor doesn't apply equally to everybody—if it did, Mariano Rivera would have been a nice number two or three starter and probably have been worth more to his team that way. One wonders whether Gray would actually display the opposite effect. I'm sure he'd still pitch better out of the bullpen, but maybe the gain would be smaller.
Coco Crisp is still hurt, and after watching Chris Young bobble the carom off the wall on the double that gave the Astros the lead, I'd like him to hurry back. Of course, had Crisp handled the throw, the play would have resulted in an inside-the-park home run instead, but I like to imagine that Yoenis Cespedes would have been more willing to jump in front and make the play himself had the center fielder been Crisp rather than Young.
Prediction: A's win.