By Jason Wojciechowski on August 20, 2013 at 8:15 AM
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Starting pitchers: Joe Saunders vs. Sonny Gray
First pitch: 7:05 PT
A's in the West: Second place, 1/2 game back of Texas
A's in the Wild Card: Second Wild Card, 1/2 game back of Tampa Bay, four games ahead of Baltimore
Baseball Prospectus playoff odds: 36 percent division, 44 percent Wild Card
I should stop believing anything at all about how the A's will fare against opposing pitchers of low quality. "Oh the Harangutan, whatever, the A's should score five or six off of him" followed immediately by the big ex-Athletic tossing seven innings of one-run ball. Luckily Jarrod Parker is a beast now (100 pitches to throw nine innings and allow just one man to score) and luckily Amanda Rykoff and I are good-luck charms:
I tuned in so now the A's will win— Jason Wojciechowski (@jlwoj) August 20, 2013
While I was driving home from work last night, I was trying to formulate a one-sentence encapsulation of my view on why Pete Rose or Joe Jackson is significantly worse than Alex Rodriguez in the history of baseball villainy and this is where I think I wound up:
Performance-enhancing drugs are banned by this particular league and thus it is fair to consider their use in this particular league cheating, but baseball can validly exist in a league that does not ban drugs (see, e.g., the entire history of the sport), while gambling on the game undermines or at the very least threatens to undermine the very essence of sport, which is competition between participants with more or less equal incentive to win.
(I think this is why tanking bothers people, myself included. It may be the case that the players on the field want to win for intrinsic reasons, that the innate competitiveness that I would guess most athletes who work their way up the chain to the top professional level have in spades, but I don't think that's enough because the organization should want to win as well, if for no other reason than to keep butts in the seats. Baseball is lucky in this regard—mainly, I think, due to the long minor-league development process, you don't see teams shutting down star players down the stretch for the minorest of minor "injuries" the way you see in basketball. Teams trade their best players (have you seen the Astros roster?), but they fill the gaps with youngsters trying to earn a spot on next year's team—the best thing a young pitcher can do in September in replacing a veteran traded away for prospects is presumably to win the game he's in.
Maybe I'm naive. Maybe end-of-season baseball is objectively just as bad as end-of-season basketball. Subjectively, though, the whiff of desperation doesn't seem to be there. Watch the NBA this year down the stretch with Andrew Wiggin the big prize in the draft, for instance, and I think it's going to feel sordid.)
((I do know that the NBA has a lottery to decrease the value of tanking, but I don't think it has much effect. Teams are increasing probabilities rather than fighting for literal draft position, but it works out the same way.))
Stephen Vogt's on-base percentage has fallen under .300, but he's now caught eight of 18 steal attempts against him, which is very impressive. (Just to pick a name, Ivan Rodriguez's career caught-stealing percentage was 46 percent&mdahs;Vogt's right now works out to 44 percent. NB: I am not claiming that Vogt is as good as Rodriguez. This number is for context alone, to illustrate how good Vogt has been.)
The thing about this is that Vogt is a bat. The Rays spent years trying him at the corner outfield spots and first base, looking for a place to slot him in and not suffer dire consequences while still garnering the value of his offense. He's 28 and he's been in professional ball since the 2007 draft (out of Azusa Pacific, which owns the pitching-change advertising spot at Rancho Cucamonga—given that it's the Cal League, I guess you must hear their ad an average of 12 times a game), so it's unlikely that his 23 games, 72 plate appearances, 174 innings caught actually reflect a change in who he is. He's made some good throws and had some bad results at the plate, but the smart money is probably on the throwing getting less effective and the hitting ... well, to be honest, it's possible that he's a Quad-A offensive player and he's not going to be much more than a .248 True Average hitter. That's adequate for a catcher, though: American League catchers have a .259 TAv this year. Anyway, my point is just to enjoy the weirdness while it lasts.
What will be interesting to watch for over the next six weeks is whether the scouting report on Vogt changes or whether teams treat him like they've been treating him, which is as a catcher who doesn't throw all that well. Vogt has faced a steal attempt every 9 2/3 innings, while American League catchers as a whole have seen a steal attempt every 11 1/2 innings.
Prediction: A's win.