Oakland Athletics v Milwaukee Brewers

Springtime Storylines: Did the Athletics add enough offense?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: The San Jose A’s (pending committee review).

The Big Question: Did the Athletics add enough offense?

The A’s were 11th in the American League in runs scored last year. In comes Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham. Out go Jack Cust, Gabe Gross, and Rajai Davis.  This is improvement. How much of an overall improvement, however, depends on whether the solid-yet-not-spectacular returning starters hold their own and/or improve.

Daric Barton had a nice season last year and one presumes that entering his age-25 season he could build on that, even if some projections are pessimistic.  Mark Ellis was another relative bright spot last year but I’m more pessimistic about him, as his 2010 season was out of step from his previous handful of seasons.  Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki each had pretty dreadful years at the plate. Neither will ever win a Silver Slugger Award, but each has a bit more than they exhibited in 2010, and even a bit of upward-trending noise will help.

All of which gets to the heart of things for Oakland: with the pitching staff (more about them below) no one requires offensive heroics from this bunch.  What they need to avoid are total sinkhole seasons from multiple players like they had last season.  Getting rid of Gross and returning Coco Crisp to the lineup eliminates a couple of sinkholes. Adding Willingham and DeJesus brings in some upside (and also some injury risk).  Everyone else needs to at least be competent. It’s not a tall order for a team that will frequently be playing in low scoring games.

So what else is going on?

  • Obviously the rotation is a team strength. Trevor Cahill  was fantastic last year. Brett Anderson was too, and if he’s healthy this year — a big honkin’ if given his recent elbow troubles — he could really be something special.  Gio Gonzalez has looked phenomenal this spring and some people around the A’s camp think that he’s going to explode in 2011. I’m not sure if they do irony in the 209, but the guy that threw the perfect game last year may be the weakest of the A’s top four pitchers. Young pitching can break your heart, but if the members of the rotation can avoid being mentioned in the same paragraph as Dr. James Andrews this year, there is every reason to think they’ll be the best bunch in the American League.
  • Besides the offense, a weak spot last season was the team’s bullpen, but Billy Beane addressed it this winter, adding Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to the mix. With Andrew Bailey, those three combine for an outstanding late inning troika.  The concern, of course, is health.  Bailey has already missed time this spring. Balfour and Fuentes aren’t young. But really, the bullpen has been significantly improved. Throw in Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow and Joey Devine and the A’s are competing with the Yankees for the deepest bullpen in the league.
  • Helping both the starters and the pen is some pretty spiffy defense. Barton is one of the best defensive first basemen around and Ellis and Cliff Pennington are solid up the middle. Kouzmanoff isn’t what he once was with the glove, but he’s no slouch. The only bad thing about all of this is if the A’s win the West, we’re going to hear from every person who ever misunderstood “Moneyball” about how crazy it is that the Moneyball A’s won with pitching and defense. That is always a tedious conversation.
  • We’re coming upon the two-year anniversary of Bud Selig’s announcement of the formation of the committee to study whether the A’s should move to San Jose. So far the committee has yet to make a peep, but its existence — and the specter of the team moving south — has done much to dampen fan enthusiasm. Between that nonsense and the desecration of the Oakland Coliseum with those seats for Raiders game — which simultaneously blocked what used to be a nice view of the hills and prevented any Anaheim-style renovation of the place to make it a pleasant ballpark — I’m struggling to think of a fanbase that has been more abused than that of the A’s. It’s a shame given that the A’s should be pretty damn good this season.

So how are they going to do?

Quite well.  Indeed, while I’m still picking the Rangers — a pick about which I am less enthusiastic given yesterday’s announcement that Neftali Feliz is returning to the bullpen — I think Oakland will challenge Texas all year and it wouldn’t shock me at all if they took the division instead.  For them to do it, though, will take health, the continued progression of their young rotation and some relative upside years from a few otherwise limited hitters.  And one tends not to get rich betting on luck, health and young pitching.

Call them second place in the West, but second with a bullet. If things break right, playoffs.

Bryce Harper struck out four times in a game for the first time in nearly four years

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper reacts after he struck out during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Washington. The Phillies won 3-0.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has not exactly been strikeout-averse over his five-year career, but he has been pretty good about not bunching them up. Entering Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Harper had struck out three or more times in a game only 21 times in 533 games. He had registered two four-strikeout games, the last of which occurred on August 21, 2012 — his rookie season.

On Sunday, Harper struck out three times against Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez and once against reliever Seung Hwan Oh for the dreaded golden sombrero. The reigning NL MVP has now equaled his walk and strikeout totals at 17 apiece.

Despite the rough afternoon, Harper still owns a lusty .272/.390/.679 triple-slash line with nine home runs and 24 RBI.

Chase Headley doesn’t think Yankee Stadium is as hitter-friendly as advertised

New York Yankees Chase Headley (12) breaks his bat on a ground out to third during the third inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Monday, April 25, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
AP Photo/Brandon Wade
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Yankees third baseman Chase Headley finished April without registering an extra-base hit. Across 71 plate appearances, he registered only nine hits for an uninspiring .150/.268/.150 triple-slash line. Speaking to David Laurilia of FanGraphs, Headley said that Yankee Stadium isn’t as hitter-friendly as many people think it is, and added that the shift has helped to limit his offensive success.

“Everybody talks about how good of a ballpark Yankee Stadium is to hit in, but it’s pretty big with the exception of right field,” said Headley. “The rest of it plays as big, or bigger, than most yards. It’s maybe a better fit for guys who hit the ball high down the line than it for guys who hit the ball like I have for a lot of my career.”

[…]

“Because of the shifting that’s going on now, if you hit the ball on the ground, for the most part you’re out,” Headley told me. “I’m trying to get the ball elevated — I want to hit it hard in the air — and if I never hit another ball on the ground, I’ll be happy.”

According to StatCorner.com, Yankee Stadium is indeed better for left-handed hitters, and particularly so when it comes to extra-base hits. It lists park factors for handedness, setting 100 as average. A higher number means it’s more hitter-friendly. Here are the left-right numbers as of today’s writing:

  • Singles: 101 for left-handed hitters, 102 for right-handed hitters
  • Doubles and triples: 101 LH, 82 RH
  • Home runs: 137 LH, 127 RH

Headley’s hypothesis seems to have some merit. But his claim that shifts have been hurting him doesn’t seem to hold up to the numbers.

babip

Headley’s ground ball BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this season is only .022 behind his career average of .239. As he’s only hit 23 ground balls total this season, the difference between .239 and .217 is less than one hit.

Where Headley’s BABIP is notably lower is line drives. His career average line drive BABIP is .698, but it’s only .333 on nine line drives in 2016. This could be simple bad luck or it could mean Headley is making worse contact. FanGraphs’ batted ball data suggests Headley has been pulling significantly fewer balls (36 percent to his 45 percent career average), and he’s making “hard” contact less often (21 percent versus his 31 percent career average). Overall, there’s been very little change in his ground ball rate versus his fly ball rate.

Headley mentioned to Laurila that if he could, he would try to hit fly balls to the pull side more often. “I’m working on that,” he said.

Carlos Martinez sued for battery, negligent transmission of STDs, and more

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
AP Photo/Matt York
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Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez was given permission to leave the team on Friday in order to travel to Miami. Martinez was named in a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed he knowingly trasmitted mutliple sexually trasmitted diseasese to her. She is seeking $1.5 million in damages for battery, negligent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, fraud, and more, TMZ reported on Saturday.

Martinez rejoined the team and started on Sunday afternoon against the Nationals. His attorney called the allegations “100% false”.

The Cardinals are waiting for more information to find out if the league will investigate the matter under its domestic violence policy. Via Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, GM John Mozeliak said, “We wait. And once we learn more, then we’ll have more of an idea. These are things you just learn as you go.”

Should obstruction have been called on Ryan Webb?

Toronto Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar gestures to the dugout after hitting a triple against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, April 8, 2016, in Toronto. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press via AP)
Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Blue Jays had a comfortable 5-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Rays, but one never knows when a base runner might be crucial. Kevin Pillar was on first base when reliever Ryan Webb threw over to first on a pickoff attempt and got him in a rundown.

First baseman Logan Morrison chased Pillar towards second base, lobbing the ball to shortstop Brad Miller. Miller sent Pillar back to first base, throwing to Webb covering the bag. Webb chased Pillar back towards second base and threw to second baseman Logan Forsythe. Forsythe chased Pillar back again, but Webb wasn’t able to get out of Pillar’s way. Second base umpire Mark Ripperger immediately signaled “no obstruction” and Pillar was easily tagged out after he was essentially bear hugged by Webb.

Here’s the MLB.com video.

Major League Baseball defines obstruction as “the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.” Webb had already thrown the ball and Forsythe was in possession of it, so he couldn’t have been considered “in the act of fielding.”

At any rate, the Jays still won 5-1, giving them the series win over the Rays.