Game 120 -- Another day, another one-run win
First thought of the night, as I semi-live-blog this game (read: I'm not going to write down everything that happens, and I'm also not watching entirely live): Conor Jackson really looks like Walter, Jr. in Breaking Bad. The unfortunate thing is that in his first at-bat, he hit the ball with about as much authority as you'd expect a 16-year-old kid to do against Andy Sonnanstine, resulting in a weak grounder to third with runners on second and third and no outs in the top of the first. In other words: the A's got on board the "can't drive runners in" train early tonight. All's well that ends well, sure, but ground balls to second base from right-handed hitters get old.
Daric Barton really seems to like hitting against Sonnanstine. He basically hit the same pitch to the same place with the same force in each of his first two trips, roping liners into right field for doubles. It's when he's hitting balls like those that you start dreaming on John Olerud comparisons. Is that fair? Maybe! Barton's wRC+ this year stands at 119 -- Olerud put up a 118 mark in his second full season, and in his age-25 season, 1994, he hit for a 124. (That carefully ignores the monster 181 wRC+ he had in 1993 for Toronto. 363/473/599? Wow.) We could talk fielding, but it'd be apples to oranges, UZR to TotalZone, and I don't want to head down that rabbit hole tonight. Suffice it to say that they're both probably above average to approximately the same degree. Is that enough qualificatory modifiers for you? Did you know, by the way, that John Olerud is 6'5" and Daric Barton is only 6'0"? Barton's built a little thicker than Olerud was (former catcher and all), but he's just not all that big. Power's about more than physical size, of course (Ryan Sweeney proves that on one end, and Hank Aaron on the other), but it surely helps.
Coco Crisp made an absurd play to take a homer away from Matt Joyce in the top of the sixth to keep Cahill's homer troubles from becoming homer disasters. Crisp did a little best-of-times-worst-of-times action on that play, though, racing back to the wall and timing his jump perfectly to make a clean catch on the ball, but then twelve-hopping his throw back toward first, allowing Carlos Pena, who'd rounded second, to get back to first easily. Still, the range is obviously vastly more important than the arm, so I'll take it.
Let me provide some advice to major league managers: if your relief pitcher walks Kevin Kouzmanoff, remove him immediately. It's really hard to walk Kevin Kouzmanoff. Like "swings at 36% of pitches out of the zone" hard to walk. (Context: he's basically tied with guys like Miguel Tejada, Jose Lopez, Ichiro, and Jose Guillen in that category.) So if your man manages to throw four pitches to Kouzmanoff that are so balls that even he doesn't want them? You need to send that hurler to the showers. As it happens, that's what Dan Wheeler did tonight! The A's got a couple of runners on ahead of Kouzmanoff, and Wheeler was brought in to face him. After the walk, Wheeler did get Rajai Davis to hit a first-pitch squibber with the bases loaded, but it was such a squibber that the only out was at first, resulting in a run scored. Cliff Pennington then followed with a roped double to the right field corner that hit the base of the wall on the fly, scoring two runs and giving the A's a 4-3 lead. By the way, Rajai Davis? Love the guy. Really do. But when you're facing a pitcher who just walked Kevin Kouzmanoff (again: KEVIN KOUZMANOFF) to load the bases and you get a first-pitch breaking ball? I think you wait on that pitch, let it sail by and see what you get later in the at-bat. But never let it be said that Rajai Davis has any pitch-recognition skills at all, I suppose.
Do umpires give players more leeway when they know a call is on the border? Tonight's home plate ump certainly gave Evan Longoria the benefit of the doubt. When Cahill struck him out looking to end the eighth on an outside fastball that was, putting it delicately, questionable, Longoria vociferously expressed his disagreement. The umpire told him something (presumably along the lines of "it was a strike" or maybe "shut the fuck up") and Longoria walked back to the dugout, still cursing, but not at the umpire. I've certainly seen players sent to the clubhouse for less than that, but in a tight game, on a tight call, I admire the umpire's ability to not strictly enforce the rules. I'm all for deterrence, but would throwing Longoria out in that situation have actually made him think twice about arguing the next time? Of course not. It was a heat of the moment decision. All it'd do is delay the game while Joe Maddon came out to argue and get himself thrown out in protest.
Meanwhile, if you weren't watching the A's feed tonight, you missed a treat. There's a ballkid who mans the left field line that Ray Fosse and Greg Papa just love -- he looks a little like Trevor Cahill, and dude goes all out for balls, dives and slides (sometimes unintentionally -- his footwork isn't the best), so they give him some attention pretty frequently. Tonight, though, what they showed us was him giving two different foul balls to a cute redhead sitting in the second or third row. Even better: he got booed for it! But you know what, ballkid? I don't boo. I acknowledge the pimpin'. Good show, sir.
So the final in the game was 4-3, Jerry Blevins pitching the ninth (with two lefties leading off the inning and Mike Wuertz having pitched a lot, and poorly, last night) after Trevor Cahill went eight. Let's repeat that: eight more innings with just three runs allowed for Trevor Cahill. How you view his Cy Young candidacy depends on where you fall on the RA-DIPS spectrum. Cahill entered the game second in the league in ERA, behind just Clay Buchholz, but his FIP (3.96) is third on his own team (behind Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden). His xFIP rank is a little higher, but still well outside that top five or seven pitchers we should be considering for the award, and still behind Braden. SIERA? 4.18. Ranks 35th or so. You're not going to find an ERA estimator that likes what Cahill is doing this year, and that's fair. His K-rate is just above five and his BABIP is insanely low (.212). This is why even SIERA, which knows how to account for the extra double plays his sinker generates, ranks him pretty poorly. Given all that, it'd be pretty hard for me to give him any serious consideration come awards season. For the traditionalists, though, going by his near-league-leading ERA and 13-5 record, I'd hope that the same logic that leads them to vote for Buchholz allows them to throw some love to Baby-Faced Assassin #2.
Beaneball by Jason Wojciechowski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.