What Me Worry About

Over on Baseball Prospectus, Nate Silver runs a quick and dirty analysis of the playoff rotations, and concludes that the A’s rotation is the worst of all the AL playoff teams, with an expected ERA of about 4.23.

This is mostly because Barry Zito is scheduled to be the #1 starter, and Silver’s formula hates how many walks he gives up. The interesting thing is that if you reverse the A’s rotation, so that Barry Zito is #4, and Dan Haren is #1, then the A’s expected ERA drops to 3.99, second best only to the Twins.

And neither of those is the rotation that you’d really want if you ignored the numbers, and went by how each pitcher has looked lately: Rich Harden pitching in games 1 and 5.

But still, the rotations of the Yankees, Tigers, and A’s are all so close, it doesn’t really matter that much. Players don’t usually throw an average game in the playoffs: they’ll have a good day or a bad day, and the chips will fall where they fall. The only certainty out of any of those calculations is that you should try to avoid facing Johan Santana if at all possible.

* * *

A lot of the playoff analysis I’ve seen so far keeps saying that the A’s need to win with their pitching, because their offense is terrible. Well it was terrible, before the All-Star break. But since then, it’s been quite good, as a whole. And the most interesting thing about the A’s offense is that, while no one outside of Frank Thomas has any really impressive numbers, the lineup as a whole is extremely balanced.

I’m going to list (in OPS order) the AVG/OBP/SLG since the All-Star Break for the usual suspects in the A’s lineup. Can you tell which player is which?

1. .300/.396/.559
2. .294/.380/.480
3. .299/.385/.471
4. .250/.364/.470
5. .321/.379/.435
6. .275/.346/.451
7. .311/.348/.434
8. .329/.399/.375
9. .239/.348/.421

It’s not very easy to tell them apart, is it? You can probably pick out Thomas and Kendall from their SLGs, but otherwise, they all look an awful lot alike. The lowest OBP in that lineup is .346. The lineup doesn’t have a ton of power, but it doesn’t really have any OBP holes, either. That gives the lineup an interesting dynamic: a rally is almost as likely to burst forth at the bottom of the lineup as the top.

* * *

So I’m not actually all that worried about the offense in the playoffs. Unless they’re facing Santana, I think they’ll get their runs. I’m also not worried about the defense, and I’m not worried about middle relief.

I do worry about these three things: (1) the starting pitchers haven’t looked very good lately, (2) neither has Huston Street, (3) unlikely disasters. I think the first two are capable of correction. The third, I dunno.

Supervolcano!!!

Tonight, after resolving not to watch the A’s, I ended up watching a Nova documentary on supervolcanos instead.

And so it was…the Angels lost to Texas, and the A’s beat the Seattle Mariners, and clinched the AL West, avoiding the massive choke I feared.

Yippee!

The last time the A’s beat their jinxes and won the World Series, there was a massive earthquake in the Bay Area.

Obviously, then, there is a connection between natural disasters and jinxbusting.

So I guess I’ll need to make a list like this one of shows to watch during the playoffs.

Mark Ellis Breaks Bat, Loses Arms

So I didn’t get to see the A’s clinch the division today. Shoulda figured. I’m a jinx when the A’s play the Angels. After the game, my wife asked me the last time I saw the A’s beat the Angels in person, and I failed to come up with an answer. As far as I know, I may have never seen the A’s beat the Angels in person. I know I’m at least 0-for-my-last-7 or so, including one game in Anaheim. My very first ballgame ever was an A’s-Angels game in 1974, and the Angels won that one too.

Today’s loss probably had more to do with John Lackey than me, however. (And now, we interrupt this blog entry to present this Johnny Carson routine:)

Lemme tell ya, John Lackey was really good today.

How good was he?

Continue reading

I Need Some Antacid Or Something

We’re ahead! We’re tied! We’re behind! We’re tied! We’re ahead! We’re about to win! We’re tied! We’re about to lose! We’re still tied! We win!

My stomach is full of knots.

With their victory tonight, the A’s have clinched their second straight MLB Heavyweight of the Year crown. Texas can still catch up to the A’s in wins, but the A’s will have fewer losses, and would thereby win the fewest-losses tiebreaker.

Tomorrow, the A’s will try to clinch the AL West title as well. I’ll be there, camera in hand, hoping to witness an AL West clincher for the second straight year.

Mass Heavyweight Eliminations

With the A’s victory over Cleveland this afternoon, every non-AL West team has been eliminated from any further MLB Heavyweight title bouts. (See Catfish Stew sidebar for details.)

The A’s and Angels have 10 possible title bouts remaining, while the Rangers and Mariners can have six each. Only the A’s and Rangers remain in the race for Heavyweight of the Year. The A’s have 27 victories, while the Rangers have 22. Because the A’s have fewer losses, just one more title bout win by the A’s, or one title bout loss by the Rangers, would clinch a second straight Heavyweight of the Year title for the A’s.

One piece of good news for the A’s: if the Rangers do come from behind and win the Heavyweight of the Year, it would mean that the A’s would get at least a tie in the real AL West standings, as three Rangers victories over the Angels would reduce the A’s magic number to win the AL West to 1. So A’s fans can calm their nerves with the assurance that they will likely win at least one title or the other, if not both.

One final note of interest: although the Heavyweight title stayed in the AL for most of the year, the New York Yankees did not have a single title bout.

I’m Still Nervous

With the A’s victory today versus Cleveland, the A’s hold a seven game lead over the Angels, with ten to play.

And yet, the Angels still control their own destiny. They don’t need any help from any other team to win the AL West. How weird is that?

If the Angels win their last ten games, they will finish no worse than a tie for first place.

* * *

Man, seeing Rich Harden back out there again was sweet. Seven strikeouts in three innings? Wow. When I watch batters swing through that 87mph changeup, I just get all giddy happy. Please, please, please stay healthy.

Some Post-Break Numbers

I had a nice long post three-fourths written earlier this morning, but my browser window just suddenly closed on me, and poof!–it was gone. I think there’s a conspiracy behind this mysterious disappearance. Somebody doesn’t want you to know what I know. I’d explain more, but then I’d have to write the darn thing over again, and there’s no time.

Instead, I’ll just present this little chart of some post-break numbers for the AL playoff contenders. I checked these numbers to see how good the A’s hitting has been since the All-Star Break, in comparison to their competitors. Answer: pretty good.

Team Hitting
Avg/OBP/SLG
Pitching
Avg/OBP/SLG
Difference
Avg/OBP/SLG
Sum of Diffs
Avg+OBP+SLG
Yankees .288/.367/.478 .263/.322/.412 .025/.045/.066 .136
Athletics .283/.364/.445 .254/.321/.392 .029/.043/.053 .125
Twins .297/.354/.439 .266/.319/.422 .031/.035/.017 .083
White Sox .275/.332/.453 .262/.328/.424 .013/.004/.029 .046
Angels .273/.334/.421 .259/.324/.411 .014/.010/.010 .034
Tigers .270/.320/.427 .277/.340/.442 -.007/-.020/-.015 -.042

Interesting: the stat that separates the top three teams from the second three is mostly OBP. On the other hand, the stat that separates the top three teams from each other is mostly slugging percentage.

Maybe Billy Beane knew something when he predicted before last year’s playoffs that the winner would be the team that hit the most home runs.

Take That, Kenny Williams!

Pow!

Frank Thomas homers

Three run homer.

And the crowd starts chanting “MVP! MVP!”…not because they think he will or should win the AL MVP, but because they like him, they really like him, and “MVP” is a lot easier to chant than “Comeback Player of the Year! Comeback Player of the Year!” which is what he really should win.

Three cheers for Frank Thomas!

And the AL West lead is up to seven, and the AL West magic number is seven, and there are seven games left against the Angels, and seven games left against Not-The-Angels.

Catfish Stew has been brought to you by the number 3, the number 7, and the letters M, V, and P. See you tomorrow!

Kids On Strike: Free Tickets Available

When my kids heard that today’s giveaway, the A’s poker set, was for adults only, they got all huffy and refused to go to the game. Either that, or they just wanted to fast Joe Blanton.

In either case, I suddenly have two extra tickets for the game I need to give away. As I write this, I’m about to leave.

Update: You missed a good game. And a poker set. The poker set has two decks of cards (with Bobby Crosby and Huston Street on the backs), about fifty 100 chips, and five six dice. Dice in a poker set? Oh, if only you had known that they were giving away a combination poker and Yahtzee set, you would have been there when the gates opened! Cuz when the World Series of Yahtzee hits Las Vegas next year, with all the celebrities and ESPN and whatnot, you are so there.

Mystery Photo #12

Here we have Mystery Photo Number Twelve. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help figure out the who/when/where of the photo.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Thanks to all who have sent in photos. I have enough to keep us going another few weeks. Nonetheless, please send in more. If you have any old (non-copyrighted) MLB photos that might suit this game, please email them to mystery At humbug .com.

The Fastest Fast

My Dan Haren fast ended as soon as it began. Haren threw eight shutout innings, and Huston Street closed out a 1-0 victory over the Twins in the Hubert H. Humphrey House of Horrors.

Even though the A’s had held a lead in all six games between the two teams in Minnesota this year, it was the first time the A’s had held on to win.

Now that Haren’s fixed, I’m not sure whom I should fast next. My first thought was Dan Johnson, but then I view the fasting as wanting to see players perform the way they’re capable of performing, and I’m not sure Johnson is really capable of performing better. I think he might just be your prototypical AAAA player, and what we’re seeing is what we should expect. Maybe Zito or Blanton needs to get snapped back into shape, instead. I’ll think about it.

Coin Flips

Here at Catfish Stew, we have been tracking the Oakland A’s completely unbelievable bad luck in coin flip situations. Today, MLB set the home fields for playoff tiebreakers. The A’s lost their 10th consecutive coin flip, this time to the Anaheim Angels. If the A’s and Angels finish tied at the end of the regular season, the Angels will host the tiebreaker.

Consider this: the A’s are 0-for-their-last-9 in playoff-advancing games, and 0-for-their-last-10 in playoff tiebreak coin flips. That, by itself, is a 1-in-524,288 longshot. Then throw in Kirk Gibson, two sucky players named Hatcher, and–for your only World Series victory in 30 years–a major earthquake, and you gotta start thinking that somebody up there has a really wicked sense of humor about the Oakland A’s.

So while technically, the A’s have a 5 1/2 game lead, and almost a 90% chance of making it to the postseason, to me, their playoff odds still feel like little more than a coin flip.

And yet, although we might have been given some bad breaks, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

* * *

For instance, although I’m sure everything worked out fine because I’ve never heard about any airplanes crashing into the San Francisco Bay wetlands, but I still feel fortunate that I wasn’t on this plane. That looks scary.

* * *

Also scary: yet another Moneyball/What’s-So-Great-About-Billy-Beane article has popped up, this time on by Jon Heyman at SI.com.

Ho hum. You know, as an A’s fan, should it matter to me if Billy Beane is a great GM or not, or if Ken Macha is a great manager or not, or if Lew Wolff is a great owner or not, if I am at least confident that they are competent?

I think all three are, at a minimum, competent at their jobs. The rest is gravy. (Or at least, it should be, but I suppose that won’t stop me from barking when I feel they’re making mistakes.)

* * *

I mean, imagine if the A’s were owned by Charles Wang. If he ran the A’s the way he’s running the New York Islanders, Billy Beane might have been hired back in 1997, but he would have been fired two weeks later, and replaced as GM by the A’s sixth starter, Dave Telgheder, who would have immediately signed up-and-coming star Ben Grieve to a 15-year contract that would today, even several years after Grieve’s career went down the tubes, still have six years left on it.

There but for the grace of God go I. Charles Wang was actually my boss for about three hours back in 1994, when Wang’s company, Computer Associates, purchased Ingres, my employer at the time. CA, as they love to tell you themselves, is a great place to work. You get free breakfast and day care! Unfortunately, I was childless at the time, so I didn’t get to take advantage of the day care, but on the first day that CA took ownership of Ingres, I did receive a fat, sticky pastry to coat my stomach with, just before they showed me the door.

I’m not sure why they let me go, but now I think it pretty much went like this: OK, Tech-Support-Kid, here we go–heads, you’re the new VP of Database Engineering, tails, you’re fired. Oops, sorry, kid.

Maybe I coulda done some wicked cool things with that database, instead of watching it rot into irrelevance from afar, but then again, if that had happened, Charles Wang would have been my boss for more than three hours. Shudder.

* * *

More shuddering: if the coin flips in my life had gone differently, I might have been the guy who figured out that if you turn the energy flow in a refrigerator backwards, you will finally know where to put all the dung and dead Indians. Or even worse, I might have been the QA guy for that product, instead of the inventor. Ewwww.

* * *

Instead, here I am, many years and many figurative coin flips later, sitting in a pleasant room, with a pleasant view, following a pleasant team, and devoting my time instead to some weird thing called a Baseball Toaster. And that’s just dandy. What were the odds of that?

The Macha Algorithm Fails Again

Back in May, the A’s lost a game I thought they shouldn’t have lost, and I went on a rant about Ken Macha’s pitcher removal algorithm:

It’s like Macha won’t trust his pattern recognition tools at all, and requires rational, empirical proof that X is Y before he’ll act on it.

This manifests itself in the worst way when Macha is trying to decide whether to yank a pitcher or not. He seems unable to trust his eyes that a pitcher has run out of gas. He has some logical algorithm: if the pitcher:

(1) hasn’t maxed out his pitch count, and

(2) hasn’t yielded over five runs yet, and

(3a) hasn’t gone five innings yet, or
(3b) has gone five innings and still hasn’t given up a run this inning,

then

(4) leave him in the game.

Count Saturday’s game as yet another failure of Macha’s algorithm. Esteban Loaiza was not sharp, (perhaps he was feeling a little improperly scrambled), and anyone with eyes could tell. He had yielded four runs in the fourth, another in the fifth, and with the game tied 5-5 in the sixth, gave up a one-out hit to B.J. Upton, and then walked the #9 hitter, Ben Zobrist.

Now, c’mon, if you’re yielding runs left and right, and then walking a guy like Ben Zobrist, who’s hitting .236, clearly, it’s not your day. Not only that, but now it’s September, and you’ve got a 40-man roster to play with, so there’s no risk of burning out your bullpen. It’s time to take Loaiza out, and bring in somebody else, who might be having a better day. Right?

Oops, nope. Because that’s not what the algorithm says to do. Check it, is it true that Loaiza:

1. Hasn’t maxed out his pitch count? Yup.
2. Hasn’t yielded over five runs yet? Yup.
3. Either (a) hasn’t gone five innings yet, or (b) has gone five but not yielded a run yet this inning? (Yup, b.)

Well, then, by all means, (4) leave him in the game!!!

Therefore, Loaiza faces Rocco Baldelli, who promptly singles to give the Devil Rays the lead.

OK, now here comes the really weird part. Carl Crawford, a left-handed batter, is up next. Brad Halsey, a left-handed pitcher, has been throwing in the pen. Now, surely, Macha must replace Loaiza, right? After all, points 2 and 3 of the algorithm are no longer valid.

No! He doesn’t! Macha leaves Loaiza in there to face Crawford, too!

Now I’m really confused. What kind of a *@#&$*(@*&$#(*@&*$(#@&*(@ #$ing stupid pitching change algorithm is that? When #1-3 don’t apply any more, start flipping a coin to see if you should remove the guy or not?

Crawford, of course, singles in another run, and the game is lost right then and there. Argh.

Well, at least the Angels lost, too. Angels fans could probably point out some stupid thing Mike Scioscia did to lose that game for them, too. Maybe all the dumb managing just evens out in the end. Joe Torre lets Derek Jeter bunt too much, uses his second-best reliever over and over again until his arm falls off, and won’t use Mariano Rivera in a tie game; Jim Leyland keeps playing Neifi Perez several times a week; Ron Gardenhire wastes months of the Twins’ season throwing Juan Castro and Tony Batista out there every day; Ozzie Guillen is a mad genius, but mad nonetheless; and all of these teams would have clinched a playoff spot already if only Earl Weaver had been their manager. So maybe I should forget about it, and go to bed.

As Seen Today on MLB.tv

Between innings, MLB.tv showed this word scramble:

BENATAS AZAILO

 

After a few seconds, they showed this:

Hint: HE PITCHES IN THE AL WEST.

 

After a few more seconds, they didn’t show this, but they should have:

Hint: WE SPELLED HIS NAME WRONG WHEN WE SCRAMBLED IT.

* * *

Overheard on the Devil Rays’ TV broadcast: “There’s nothing worse than a cantankerous banana.”

* * *

Same broadcast, after a 2-2 curveball misses in the dirt to Frank Thomas, this dialogue could be heard in my office:

Joe Magrane: “Now would be a good time to challenge Frank Thomas with a high fastball around the letters.”

Ken Arneson: “You go ahead and do that.”

High fastball indeed follows on the next pitch, as does a two-run homer.

Mystery Photo #11

Mystery Photo Number 11 comes via Corey and Alex Rubin. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help figure out the who/when/where of the photo.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Thanks to all who have sent in photos. I have enough to keep us going another few weeks. Nonetheless, please send in more. If you have any old (non-copyrighted) MLB photos that might suit this game, please email them to mystery At humbug .com.

Love Child

After a game like last night’s 5-4 loss to Texas, I’d normally be frightened that the A’s division lead is now going to quickly shrink to nothing. Bah. Frightened, schmightened.

* * *

Here’s a test of your ability to imagine the impossible: try to picture in your mind the love child of Zza Zza Gabor and Richard Simmons.

You’d get a woman who speaks in a strange, affected accent, calls everyone around her “Dahling”, has so much energy she can’t sit still or stop talking for one second, and when she really gets excited, can’t help but share her energy by getting everybody else to stand up and cheer along with her.

That’s who I sat next to at the A’s game last night, way up in the right-field corner of the second deck.

Every time the A’s got a couple of runners on base, Zza Zza Simmons would stand up, turn around at her section, and shout, “OK, Dahlings, it’s time to do the wave! One, two, three…GO! Wooooooooooooooo!”

Now that was truly frightening.