Archive for the ‘A's’ Category

Does Bob Geren Know What He’s Doing?

May 22, 2009

For the editorial staff, yesterday was a good day for laying flat on one’s back and not looking at a computer screen for any length of time at all. So today’s something is coming up a little late and a little short. But we seem to be on the mend, so the epic post may come tomorrow or Sunday.

While I was laying there yesterday, one of the few games that ended before my 8:30 bedtime was Oakland at Tampa Bay, so when my eyes were open, I was watching that.

The A’s took a 5-3 lead in the top of the 9th. Rather than send his closer (Brad Ziegler) out for the bottom of the inning, however, manager Bob Geren sticks with rookie Andrew Bailey, who had just pitched the 8th. Bailay walks the first batter, Willy Aybar, and at this point, Ziegler starts warming up. Bailey then gets Akinori Iwamura to send a lazy fly ball to left, but then serves up the game-tying home run to pinch hitter Ben Zobrist.

Now Ziegler’s in the game, and he promptly serves up a ground-rule double to catcher Dioner Navarro, then walks BJ Upton to bring up the left handed hitting Carl Crawford. Now a lefty has started to throw in the A’s bullpen. It matters not, however, as Crawford lines Ziegler’s first pitch into center field, bringing home Navarro with the winning run.

I don’t get it. I’m actually on board with not bringing Ziegler in to start the 9th, because really, your setup guy should be able to handle a two-run lead. But you should at least have your closer warming up to start the inning, right, so that if Bailey does get into a little trouble, you can bring your closer in before the game-tying HR? (You could argue that “closer” label aside, Bailey is actually a better pitcher than Ziegler right now, and I wouldn’t fight you. But Bailey did throw 44 pitches in two innings two nights earlier, so Ziegler at least had a much fresher arm.)

Here’s the real issue for me, though: Ziegler is a side-arming righty who has held right-handed hitters to a .222/.265/.257 mark while lefties have beat him around to the tune of .295/.392/.426. You might argue that he’s miscast as a closer, since most managers will leave their closer in there against anybody regardless, but by sending the lefty to get warm in the bullpen when Crawford came up, Geren showed that he was aware of the problem. So why not send him to warm up a batter or two earlier and bring him in to face Crawford? Was he just asleep at the switch?

Geren will be criticized (to the extent that anyone cares about the A’s) for not putting his closer in to start the inning. But while that was certainly a strange move, I can understand it. Aybar is a switch hitter, Iwamura a lefty, and Zobrist (who pinch-hit for the RH Gabe Kapler) another switch hitter. I’d rather have the traditional RHP, Bailey, face those three lefties than the sidearmer (unless, again, you think Bailey was tired). The mistake, though, was not getting the left-handed reliever warm quickly enough to face Crawford, three batters later. The fact that he was warming up while Crawford was hitting (presumably to face Pena, two batters after that? Either the inning or game would very likely have been over by that point anyway) makes me think that Geren just didn’t think about it fast enough. And that’s inexcusable.

Luckiest and Unluckiest Pitchers So Far

May 15, 2009

One of the most interesting of many, many interesting things on FanGraphs is the pitching leaderboards’ E-F stat, which is simply the pitcher’s current ERA minus his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which I’ve mentioned a few times–an attempt to measure what his ERA “should” be, with defense, park and luck taken out of the equation). A negative number means the pitcher has been lucky — the ERA is lower than it “should” be — while of course a positive number means the opposite. So here are your leaders on both ends of the spectrum so far:

AL’s Luckiest: Trevor Cahill, A’s.
Cahill has put up some awfully strong-looking numbers for a rookie on a terrible offensive team: 2-2 with a 3.69 ERA in seven starts. His FIP, though, is an astronomical 6.18. Why? Well, he’s not striking anybody out, at just 3.23 per nine innings, and yet he’s walking more than one batter for every two innings, which gives him an awful 0.70 K/BB ratio. He’s getting by right now on some combination of luck, defense, and forgiving ballparks (he’s made four of his seven starts at home in the pitcher-friendly McAfee Coliseum, and another one at Safeco), having held batters to a very lucky .256 BABIP.
Prognosis: the kid’s 21 years old and a solid prospect, with a minor league history of very solid K rates (one of the best in the minors in ’08), respectable walk rates and almost no homers allowed, which makes me think the current flyball rate is a little fluky. He’s probably not really a 3.69 sort of pitcher right at the moment, but I doubt he’s a 6.19 one either. He should be fine.

AL’s Unluckiest: Gavin Floyd, White Sox.
Funny enough, Floyd was one of the luckiest in 2008, with a FIP of 4.77, essentially identical to this year’s 4.63. But his ERA in 2008 was 3.84; in ’09 to date, it’s 7.32. What goes around, I guess. Floyd is having more control trouble this year (4.81 walks per 9 to 2008’s 3.05), but is balancing it so far by giving up fewer HR (0.92 to 1.31). The big difference, natch, is the BABIP: he got unbelievably lucky last year at .268, and is unbelievably unlucky so far this year at .380.
Prognosis: Problem is, I don’t think the Sox or their fans would have been happy with even just a 4.63 ERA this year after what he turned in last year. So if you were expecting that, you’ll be awfully disappointed. Also, the HR rate drop doesn’t seem real; he’s giving up about the same percentage of line drives and fly balls and has an almost identical GB/FB ratio to ’08, so the only difference is that fewer of those fly balls have gone over the fence so far. That’s likely to regress, so if Floyd can’t find the strike zone more often, he could be in for a very rough year indeed. Just not 7.32 rough.

NL’s Luckiest: Jair Jurrjens, Braves.
3-2 with a 2.06 ERA in 8 starts (48 innings), Jurrjens’ start has led at least one dude (the bald guy from Princess Bride again) to believe he’s quietly becoming one of the best pitchers around. But Rob Neyer always points out that it’s really, really tough to succeed while striking out less than five per nine, and Jair is at 4.5, with a very unsustainable .244 BABIP. Accordingly, his FIP is 4.09 — still very respectable, but more than two runs higher than his current ERA.
Prognosis: Well, his opponent BABIP in 2008 was a very typical .311, but his strikeout rate was a much more palatable 6.64, and so he still posted a 3.68 ERA with a FIP that essentially matched it. And he’s only 23, so there’s reason to believe he’ll improve on even those solid numbers. His pitch speed and selection are very similar to what they were in 2008. If he can get that strikeout rate back up and start getting grounders again when it is put into play (his GB/FB ratio is less than half what it was last year) — and I don’t see any immediate reason to believe he can’t — he should be totally fine, even considerably better than the above-average pitcher his current 4.09 FIP suggests he is. He just hasn’t suddenly become Pedro Martinez or something.

NL’s Unluckiest: Ricky Nolasco, Marlins.
Strkeouts are good (7.5 per 9). Walk rate is up, but still very good (2.6 per 9). But his ERA is 7.78. FIP says it “should” be 4.34. Problem is, when a batter doesn’t strike out against him, he’s hitting almost .400.
Prognosis: That BABIP obviously can’t last, even with the Marlins’, um, unspectacular defense behind him. He is getting hit quite a bit harder than he was in ’08 — 26% of balls put in play off of him are line drives, compared to just 19% in both 2007 and 2008 — which is why that 4.34 FIP is up about six tenths from last year’s. He’ll be fine. I mean, he won’t win a bunch of games with the way the Fish are going right now, and he might not be the potential ace he looked like last year, but he’s at least an average pitcher, and is probably considerably better than that.