By Jason Wojciechowski on March 31, 2012 at 12:20 PM
I didn't watch Thursday morning's game until Friday night, hence this Saturday morning recap. I hope you won't mind. It's not like there've been any other games to pay attention to.
The Mariners became the first team to lose a player to a battlefield injury as Mike Carp's full-stretch dive for Kurt Suzuki's double in Game 1 apparently injured his shoulder. Seattle called up Carlos Peguero, but for this game, they moved Chone Figgins into left and started Kyle Seager at third. The A's also made some lineup adjustments, going with Kila Ka'aihue at first instead of Brandon Allen (this has the hint of a L/R platoon, though both Ka'aihue and Allen bat from the port side), Josh Donaldson at third instead of Eric Sogard (which, as mentioned in my last link roundup, Bob Melvin insists is not a platoon, despite Sogard and Donaldson batting from opposite sides), and Jonny Gomes at DH for Seth Smith (this is the clearest situation -- it is a full-on honest-to-god platoon).
Jason Vargas was the Mariners' lefty starter and he spent his 6 1/3 innings doing Jason Vargas things -- working both sides of the plate with a variety of soft stuff, getting weak contact (BABIPs of .274 and .287 the last two years), and generally staying out of trouble. When Eric Wedge pulled him with Kurt Suzuki and Yoenis Cespedes coming up and a runner on first, though, things went to hell for Seattle -- righty reliever Shawn Kelley got a fielder's choice out of Suzuki, but gave up a bomb to Cespedes, gave way to lefty George Sherrill, and saw Josh Reddick take him deep. The A's actually proceeded to knock Sherrill out of the box with two singles, but couldn't do any more damage as Steve Delabar got the last out of the inning.1
Jonny Gomes took Delabar deep the next inning for a little cushion while Bartolo Colon continued to throw blank frames before Grant Balfour came on to pitch an uneventful ninth. Seattle's only run came on a Justin Smoak opposite-field homer leading off the seventh.
Jemile Weeks (2B) (0-3, BB, CS) -- Weeks had a more notable game on defense than offense, making a fine backhand play on an Ichiro grounder, ranging a long way to get a popup in foul territory near right field, and corralling a tough grounder from Justin Smoak in the fifth. Weeks's walk was nice to see, but I wouldn't get too excited -- Jason Vargas looked to completely lose his rhythm in that at-bat and miss pretty badly with four straight pitches. He didn't over-slide the bag on the steal attempt, though -- it was just a solid throw and a very nice pickup and tag by Dustin Ackley to narrowly get him.
Cliff Pennington (SS) (1-4, 1B) -- Pennington had a nice at-bat in the 8th, battling Steve Delabar with multiple foul balls before eventually flying out to fairly deep left, but other than that, he was mostly working from behind all day. Even his first-inning single came on an 0-2 breaking pitch that I think Vargas wanted to be much lower than the knee-level than it looked like it ended up.
On defense, Pennington caught as many fly-balls as he did grounders, and only had one hit in his general direction that he didn't get to, a Miguel Olivo bouncer up the middle on which he appeared to be positioned way over in the hole.
Coco Crisp (LF) (0-3, BB) -- Crisp was on first when Kurt Suzuki hit a bouncer to third in the seventh inning, a ball that had a chance to end the inning. It was well over down the line, though, so Crisp had a chance to get right up in Dustin Ackley's grille on the takeout slide, which left Ackley having to protect himself with the bag and throw with his weight leaning back. The toss was on target to first, but weak, letting Suzuki beat it out and giving the A's their chance to hit two homers in what remained of the frame. A slower runner, a worse slide, or less effort could have resulted in a different outcome for Oakland.
This is the kind of play that leads anti-advanced-stats people to talk about how you can't quantify the whole game and point out how the A's wouldn't have scored in the inning without the play, and therefore the stats people are missing something massively important. This is true as far as it goes, because I don't think any base-running system in existence takes account of takeout slides (though theoretically it could be done, I suppose?), but, at the risk of setting up a straw-man, we shouldn't overstate the importance of the play because you can't assume the outcome -- Crisp's slide led to three runs, in a sense, but it could just as easily only have led to the Mariners' pitcher having to make a few extra pitches, had Cespedes made an out instead. Further, the play wasn't 100%-0% -- Suzuki's ball was a bouncer down the third-base line and he runs decently, so some percentage of those balls would only lead to a fielder's choice even if the runner on first fell down and hurt himself midway to second.
Even assuming that Crisp was entirely responsible for the inning continuing, the most natural thing to do is to ask how many runs they'd be expected to score with a runner on first and two out. That's what run expectancy tables are for. Without taking into account the pitcher, the A's offense, etc., the league-wide run expectancy for runner on first and two outs in 2011 was a bit above 0.2. If you want to give Crisp credit for that much, then I guess I can't get too incensed about it, though I'd note my second point above, that he should probably only be awarded a portion of that credit. (Also, Suzuki looked like he was busting ass down the line, which deserves some credit as well.)
Jonny Gomes (DH) (1-4, HR) -- The main thing to note about Gomes in this game is that his face on his home-run trot was as intense as I've ever seen anyone look after a homer.
Kurt Suzuki (C) (0-4) -- The most notable thing Suzuki did was hit a pretty good fly ball to right on which Ichiro made a jump catch (though not a jump-at-the-wall-to-rob-a-double catch). The ugliest thing he did was wave at a pitch that looked like it was about a foot outside to whiff in the eighth.
Yoenis Cespedes (CF) (1-3, HR) -- Cespedes has commented that pitchers so far are challenging him to show them that he can hit off-speed stuff and breaking balls. Well, when Shawn Kelley hangs a slider right in the middle of the plate, Cespedes can hit those. He can hit them a real long way. Probably the best part of the homer, though, was Kelley looking up, turning around, and spinning back toward the plate in anger. It was a no-doubter, in other words. It wasn't quite Ted Lilly slamming his glove, but it was pretty solid.
Josh Reddick (RF) (2-3, 2B, HR) -- Even Reddick's out was a low, hard line drive that happened to go right to Justin Smoak. Marc Normandin's been telling me basically ever since the Andrew Bailey trade that I'd like Reddick, and he's not been wrong so far. All three of his at-bats, don't forget, came against lefties, one of them (Sherrill) a now-specialist whose career slash line allowed to lefties is .180/.241/.275 in over 600 PAs.
Unless I messed up something in my notes, Reddick didn't get a single ball in right field.
Josh Donaldson (3B) (1-3, 1B) -- Donaldson's single was a legitimate line drive to center. I guess that's something? He did make a nice reaction play on a hard one-hopper by Chone Figgins in the fourth, especially since he was playing in about even with the bag, maybe a little closer, because of Figgins's speed and the possibility of a bunt.
Kila Ka'aihue (1B) (1-3, 1B) -- Ka'aihue is bigger than I realized. He's a genuinely large man. That's all I've got. He hit a nice single in the seventh, striking the ball well, though it was on the ground, so it wasn't that impressive.
Brandon Allen (PR-1B) (no PA) -- Allen ran for Ka'aihue after the seventh-inning single, but Jemile Weeks struck out in the next at-bat, so he never got a chance to show his stuff on the bases. (Hint: he doesn't really have any stuff on the bases.) He did get a ground-ball in the ninth off of Ichiro's bat, but it was routine.
Bartolo Colon cruised, with the exception of the fifth inning, when he gave up two ground-ball singles (with Jesus Montero's being quite well-struck and Miguel Olivo's, as mentioned above, being in a good location) and a walk, and Justin Smoak's opposite-field homer on a fastball that caught too much of the plate. The pitch wasn't elevated, exactly, but Colon probably wanted it at about knee level and it ended up more like mid-thigh, which is all Smoak needed.
I had some trouble sometimes telling, without the benefit of an on-screen radar gun, whether some of Colon's pitches were change-ups or two-seam fastballs. Either way, he threw some pitches with wicked movement, generally hit his spots on the outer part of the plate, and looked for all the world exactly like a pitcher who should pitch far above his salary this season.
Forgive the irrational exuberance, though, because the fact remains that he's old and not in the most athletic shape anyone's ever been in, and this could all turn around, on either performance or injury, at any moment.
Grant Balfour missed the strike zone more than you'd like to see, but he got Ackley to chase ball four leading off the inning, so he wasn't really threatened. My notes have all thirteen of his pitches being fastballs.
There weren't really any decisions to make. Colon's pitch-count was low going into the ninth, but I will almost never object to going with a reliever instead. I'm not Earnshaw Cookian about that, but I do remember fans (by which I mean the comment sections of Athletics Nation, pretty much the only interaction I have with large groups of A's fans) being up in arms over Bob Geren removing his starters "too early" in games played without a D.H. I always disagreed with them, and I am with Melvin this time, too. (Even if, with a three-run lead and facing the Mariners, I might go with someone other than my best relief pitcher to close out the game. I know that's a pipe dream, and I also admit that the stakes on that decision were much lower than typical, given that the A's don't have another regular season game until Friday, April 6th.)
Don't feel bad if, like me, you haven't heard of Delabar. He's a 28-year-old who debuted last year with seven innings in six games for Seattle. He topped out at High-A ball in 2007, went back to flat-A in 2008, and then was out of baseball in 2009 and 2010 before rocketing through four levels in 2011. His Wikipedia page notes that he was a substitute teacher in 2010. Delabar made Wendy Thurm's All-Substitute-Teacher Team earlier this month. ↩