By Jason Wojciechowski on June 18, 2017 at 8:27 PM

I've been on vacation out of the country since June 9, and while I had internet access, I didn't make a ton of use of it, being, you know, on vacation. So here's what I missed:

Mark Canha was sent to Triple-A and Jaycob Brugman brought to the majors on the 10th. Canha was already demoted once this year, but the reset didn't really seem to help: he hit .214/.257/.457 in his return to the majors, which lasted about a month. That's great power, but getting on base 25 percent of the time is not something a major-league corner outfielder can do and keep his job, especially if he's not doing other things, like defending. I know Canha got some time in center, but it isn't even clear to me that he's a plus defender in left or right, much less that he can legitimately handle center.

Two demotions and a career major-league batting line of .235/.291/.415 in 623 plate appearances, along with merely adequate performance as a 25-year-old in Triple-A in 2014, with no buzz, spell to me that our hopes of Canha being a serious contributor should probably be binned at this point. Quad-A is terrible damning and rude, but ... Quad-A?

Brugman hasn't set the world aflame in his first 34 plate appearances, and had managed just a .364 slugging percentage in Triple-A this year, lower than his OBP. PECOTA doesn't expect much (.248 True Average); nor do I. His stats and the lack of serious attention to him as a prospect scream that he's going to spend this opportunity trying to prove he can contribute on a major-league bench. He's not a future cornerstone, and I don't think he's even a future fifth-best player. He's, hopefully, a guy who can help so you don't have to go looking for a different guy who can help on the free-agent market.

* * *

On the 11th and 12th, the A's held a draft. Well, so did the rest of MLB, but I don't care about them. The A's took a smallish high-school outfielder with their first pick, sixth overall. I have no opinions.

Here's what I do have an opinion on: the best names in the A's draft pool were

  • Will "Sweet Thing" Toffey
  • Santi Sanchez
  • Parker Dunshee (like a banshee, but browner)
  • Slater Lee (the closest we've come to Stagger Lee in baseball?)
  • Hunter Hargrove (big-time baseball name)
  • Cooper Golby (what)
  • Haydn King (this is so nerdy)

The best spoonerisms were

  • Austin Beck (Boston Eck)
  • Parker Dunshee (Darker Punshee)
  • Pat Krall (Cat Prowl)

The best schools from which draftees were taken were

  • Gulliver Prep
  • Orange Lutheran
  • Francis Parker

The worst schools from which draftees were taken were

  • Stanford (fuck Stanford)
  • Dartmouth (fuck Dartmouth)
  • Liberty (what)

* * *

On the 14th, Daniel Gossett was called up to start (and make his debut), necessitating an option of Matt Olson. Gossett got busted up in that game, which doesn't really move the needle on figuring out whether he'll be a fourth starter or not. I hope he will!

Gossett's call-up was necessitated by Andrew Triggs hitting the disabled list. This is bad, and makes me sad. Triggs hadn't pitched well, precisely, at least by runs allowed (DRA loves him), but he'd been a credible back-end starter, which is not something he was at all supposed to be entering 2016.

The other notable roster casualty in the shuffling around this time was Frankie Montas, who was optioned out related to Sean Doolittle's return from the disabled list. First, let's note: Sean Doolittle is back! Always exciting. No analysis needed.

Second, though, Montas has been battered in his first substantial exposure to the majors, giving up nine homers in 28 innings, and striking out just two for every walk. The hits allowed, who knows; the A's play some real bad defense, but Montas also pitched real bad outside of the hits question, so it could go either way. Anyway, the stuff remains the stuff, so there's still plenty of hope for the future, especially since he was coming off an injury and he's only got 11 innings at Triple-A under his belt.

* * *

On the 16th, Curt Young was fired, with Scott Emerson bumping up a slot to take over, at least for now. Here's what I think: Curt Young sent me an autographed baseball card in response to my letter asking him to sign when I was about 10. I've always liked him for that.

I have no idea, and nobody else who's going to talk publicly and on the record has any idea, whether Curt Young was doing a good job or a bad job. Nobody has any idea whether he was scapegoated, whether important pitchers were tuning him out, whether he wasn't incorporating good metrics or processes, or anything else, because nobody ever really tells us this stuff. (I'm not complaining about that; we don't have any particular right to know about his job performance.) I'll listen to the writers who talk to and take the temperature of the players every day and who might have some insight into the extremely soft factors at play; you'll forgive me if I dismiss any other opinions I might stumble across on this issue.

* * *

On the plus side, the 16th also saw Matt Chapman joining the A's, with Trevor Plouffe being DFA'd (and later being dealt to Tampa) to make room. I thought Plouffe would be better than he was, and would at least give the A's an opportunity to think about trading him to a team that needed a reserve infielder for the stretch run. Instead he wound up a millstone; if his season were to be over today, he'd have beat his career-worst OPS+ by almost 20 points. He seemed like a fun guy (craft beer!) so I don't have any particular joy about waving goodbye, but I am excited to see Matt Chapman get a few months to see whether he can hit in the big leagues.

I prefer to be optimistic, and I want to watch him play defense, but I also look at his minor-league strikeout rates and batting averages and wonder how on earth those are going to translate to anything but a .185 average in the majors. For what it's worth, Clay Davenport's translations convert his minor-league averages to .219, .226, .254 (High-A, Double-A, Triple-A).

But young players improve, of course! And it's notable that Chapman's translations in 174 at-bats at Triple-A this year was .254/.335/.554, which is beyond adequate for a plus defensive third baseman; it bears a resemblance to Adrian Beltre's 2011.

Obbbbbbbviously I'm not saying Chapman is Beltre, who is headed for the Hall of Fame. There's room, though, for optimism. There's also room for pessimism! Turns out that's true about every prospect ever. I have illuminated this difficult subject for you.

* * *

On the 17th, the A's called up a reliever I had never heard of, Michael Brady. They sent Zach Neal down. He's 30, and he'd started and relieved in Nashville; he was drafted by the Marlins as a hitter, and did hit in 2009, but he's been pitching since 2010. The Marlins 40-man'd him in 2013, then waived him in 2014. The Angels claimed him and outrighted him a few months later. The Nationals picked him up in the Yunel Escobar trade before 2016, then did not add him to their 40-man, so he became a minor-league free agent after that season. He signed with the A's this winter.

This chain of events is mainly worth noting for the fact that the A's can't outright him. If they want to take him off the 40-man, they'll have to subject him to waivers. On the other hand, he was only optioned in 2014, so unless there's something I'm missing about his years of minor-league experience that changes this, he should be optionable.

By Jason Wojciechowski on April 16, 2017 at 11:19 AM

I suppose it was too much to hope the A's were just giving Marcus Semien a day off yesterday, and indeed he has hit the disabled list today with a wrist bruise that could turn out to be hiding a fracture. The latter would be bad, but would also help explain why the injury has been nagging for weeks on end. Contusions heal!

Chad Pinder comes up from Triple-A to replace Semien on the roster. I'm curious to see whether he or Adam Rosales gets most of the starts at shortstop in Semien's absence. I'd advocate for Pinder on a "let's see what he's got" basis; everyone knows what Adam Rosales is, and he's not likely to be a major part of the next good A's team. He'll get his occasional playing time either way. The open question is whether Pinder is the guy who hit .317/.361/.486 in Double-A in 2015 (which Clay Davenport translates to a .284/.323/.444 line in the big leagues that is beyond respectable for a middle infielder) or the one who hit .258/.310/.425 in Triple-A (.245/.293/.399 translation, which is maybe good enough to sit on the bench). If Semien's just got a bruise, then Pinder's not going to get much time against big-league pitching anyway, though every PA is one more PA for the A's coaches and scouts to get information from; but if Semien's got a fracture, then the team could give Pinder a few weeks to make an impression. We're still looking at a small sample in the scheme of things, but consistent playing time is consistent playing time.

Down at Triple-A, the Nashville infield has looked like this since the start of the season (second base, shortstop, third base):

  • Pinder, Barreto, Chapman
  • Barreto, Pinder, Chapman
  • Pinder, Barreto, Nunez
  • Pinder, Barreto, Nunez
  • Pinder, Barreto, Nunez
  • Pinder, Barreto, Nunez
  • Barreto, Pinder, Nunez
  • Barreto, Pinder, Nunez
  • Pinder, Barreto, Nunez
  • Nunez (!), Barreto, Olson (!)
  • Mercedes, Barreto, Nunez

(Matt Chapman is out with a wrist injury of his own.)

That last bullet is tonight's starting lineup, with Melvin Mercedes being called up from Midland to replace Pinder. I'll forgive you if you're not familiar with Mercedes, who was a 16th-round pick in 2012 and who has posted a .255/.339/.324 line in the minors so far; he just reached Double-A this year, at 25, and obviously is getting his first exposure at Triple-A now as well.

Mercedes has played some shortstop in the past; one wonders whether the A's will have him do so at Nashville so that Barreto can keep getting reps at second base in anticipation of his eventual promotion to Oakland, where the most obvious available slot for him is the keystone, what with the subject of this post still manning shortstop competently.

EDIT: Susan Slusser quotes Bob Melvin that Rosales is going to be the regular shortstop. Lame.

By Jason Wojciechowski on April 15, 2017 at 2:49 PM

The A's have made what you might call their first elective roster move of the season,1 optioning out Mark Canha and selecting the contract of Jaff Decker, who was playing at Nashville after being one of the last cuts out of spring training. To make room on the 40-man roster, they put Jake Smolinski on the 60-day disabled list.

You know Canha wasn't hitting (.105/.150/.158), but you also know it was just 20 plate appearances. On the other hand, check out these swing rates:

Canha Swing Rates

He's swinging at everything, and not just the stuff in the zone; check out those low zones, the non-strikes; that low and away pitch especially, the 5/7 box, looks terrible, and is especially damning in light of only swinging at three out of seven of low/away pitches in the zone.

Pair that type of hitting with two first basemen ahead of him and "ehhhhhh" defense at best in the outfield corner, center-field experiment in the spring notwithstanding, and you've got a recipe for trying something new on the bench while maybe trying to get Canha some more regular at-bats in a lower-pressure environment in Nashville. Plus Decker is hitting .387 in his first 36 plate appearances in Triple-A and there's something to be said for recognizing performance, even short-run performance, to keep morale high in the ranks.

What's interesting is how this move, swapping out the 24th man, reshapes the way the entire outfield could operate. The main three dudes are still going to be Davis-Davis-Joyce, but where Canha was a platoon partner for Joyce, and a sort of theoretical center-field option if something happened to Davis Sr., Decker can legitimately give Rajai a day off in center (perhaps against a particularly tough righty) and work as a defensive replacement for Khris late in close games. Joyce, meanwhile, should advance to an every-day role unless Adam Rosales is going to bop out to right field 20 percent of the time. (I would not advocate for this.)

Today's lineup, against a righty in Lance (I legitimately typed "Carson" the first time) McCullers, already shows this new flexibility, with Decker getting the start in center, giving Rajai his first day off of the season. (Marcus Semien is also getting his first rest, with Rosales at shortstop.)


  1. How you evaluate this contention depends on how you feel about Jesse Hahn replacing Raul Alcantara in the rotation. Hahn had already been called up to pitch out of the bullpen to replace John Axford. Would the A's have made the rotation switch had Hahn not already been on the 25-man? My guess is no: they can't option Alcantara, so the move would have required them to option Daniel Coulombe or Frankie Montas, and I'm guessing that would have been a bridge too far given one poor start by Alcantara. With Hahn already up, the team can defer a real decision on Coulombe, Montas, or even exposing Alcantara to waivers until Axford is ready to return. 

TK

By Jason Wojciechowski on April 4, 2017 at 7:57 AM

Let's open with the quotes from Jane Lee and Susan Slusser's game stories:

Bob Melvin: "Not only did Kendall give us what we needed, but we ran some bullpen guys out there that did what they were asked to do."

Melvin: "The plan was if we got to the ninth inning, especially with the right-handers they have, [Casilla] was going to pitch the ninth inning."

Melvin, on using Madson against Trout and Pujols in the eighth: "It was matchups."

***

And just to recap the facts: with Kendall Graveman clearly done (over 100 pitches and sharp but hardly with perfect-game stuff) after six, Melvin went to Ryan Dull to face the bottom of the Angels' lineup, Andrelton Simmons, Danny Espinosa, and Martin Maldonado, a switch-hitter sandwiched between two righties, and three very light touches with the bat.

Sean Doolittle then came in to face Yunel Escobar, a righty, and Kole Calhoun, a lefty, in the eighth. They're both pretty good, decent threats to get on base with enough pop that you can't just burn it in there. Those two outs accomplished, Ryan Madson pitched to the best player any of us have ever seen followed by the best right-handed hitter any of us have ever seen (the latter of whom isn't as dangerous as he once was overall, but who can still hit a screamer over the wall in a second if you let him). All of this happened with a one-run lead.

Santiago Casilla then came in to retire Cameron Maybin, Simmons, and Espinosa, because Madson allowed Trout to reach base and therefore had to get CJ Cron to get out of the eighth.

***

So, does all this portend a new day in bullpenning, with Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle as a lefty-righty top two, playing matchups to get the toughest outs in the toughest situations in the seventh or eighth (and maybe the sixth when needed), with Dull and Casilla picking up the next tier down in leverage?

Or does it just mean that Madson, Doolittle, and Dull share the seventh and eighth, the choices going by matchups, Casilla pitches the ninth, and the rest line up for all the other situations?

The odds, given the last five and a half years with Bob Melvin, are on the latter. But wouldn't it be nice to dream about the former? Wouldn't that be fun to see in a bullpen with a bunch of above-average guys but no Mark Melancon? (Madson is the A's version of Melancon, but compare his three-year, $22 million contract to those handed out to the elite closers out there and you realize the gap between normal free agents and the weird photocopies of faxes of printouts the A's bring in.) Time will tell, I suppose. #timewilltell