Around the horn with Rob Neyer, Ryan Cook, and the starting rotation

By Jason Wojciechowski on August 12, 2012 at 8:55 PM

I don't really have any feature ideas right now, not anything non-boring, anyway, and it's too damn hot to think of any, so here are some thoughts on some articles that i have emailed to myself recently.

On Friday, Rob Neyer asked How Have These Athletics Done It? He noted that their league rank in runs scored is unchanged from last year, but that while they were good at preventing scoring last season, they're excellent at it this year. (Or they plus their park are excellent at it. Either way.) And he adds that it's kind of crazy that they're so good given that they traded three really good pitchers from last year's team. The new guys, the scrap heap guys, and the defense have done remarkable work.

I've got to tell you, I'm regretting starting with this article because I don't have much to say about it. Neyer's not wrong that the offense, even with Chris Carter in the fold and Yoenis Cespedes healthy and Bob Melvin doing a good job putting Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith in spots where they can contribute best, is not very good. PECOTA projects the A's to be below the MLB position average at first, second, third, center, right, and DH.

There are caveats, of course: at first, adjusting the expectations regarding whether Chris Carter or Brandon Moss will get more playing time over the next two months changes the equation; and in right, Josh Reddick's PECOTA projection just seems downright ungenerous.

On the other hand, PECOTA seems weirdly optimistic about Derek Norris's ability to contribute right this very second.

I don't know how to add all this up. Outside of left field, there is no position where the A's are likely to have an offensive performer who is well above average for the spot, and even that position teeters on the edge of Yoenis Cespdes's fragile muscles. I think the sum, given the returns of Brandon McCarthy (put aside the homer-prone first outing back — he's better than that) and Brett Anderson, the A's don't have to rely so heavily on the scrap-heap players going forward. Sure, the Rays are probably better than the A's, and so are the Angels. But the A's aren't the Orioles, where you're just holding your breath, waiting for it all to fall apart. This now looks like a team that's strong enough to stay in contention (though obviously nothing is ever guaranteed).

On the news front, Ryan Cook isn't the closer anymore. The main thing I want to say about this is "gee, that didn't stop Bob Melvin from shoving him into a very high-leverage situation on Saturday and almost have him blow it again."

Melvin's not a dummy. Let me just get that out of the way up front. He's not stupid. With a few foibles here and there, I think he's generally identified fairly well who his good players are, who should be put in which positions, and so forth. He doesn't overplay the small-ball game despite the fact that the A's offense is weak — that's a major temptation for many managers.

So, ok, I said that. Now I can say this: his ideas about how the last two innings of a baseball game should go are bizarre to me. His ideas of what is low-pressure and what is high-pressure are weird. I do understand that saying "I want to take him out of the high-pressure situation for a few outings" doesn't mean that Ryan Cook becomes a mopup man. He's still a better pitcher than Evan Scribner, so you don't want to waste his innings. And there might be a motivation/psychology reason there, too — if you put your temporarily-not-the-closer in zero-leverage situations, maybe you send a message that you really don't trust him, as opposed to saying "look, just pitch the seventh, it's ok." Melvin knows his player and I don't, so I'm just saying there are possibilities here.

On the other hand, it's not all about the player. Winning the game also matters, and as much as Ryan Cook has been the victim of bleeps and bloobers, he's also given up some hard-hit balls, so he might not actually be the player you want in a close game if you're trying your 100%est to win that game.

This wouldn't even be on my radar, honestly, if not for some of the earlier end-of-game machinations, like the whole "we're going to a closer by committee" announcement earlier in the year, which really just meant "Ryan Cook is the closer." Maybe that's not weird. Maybe I was just hurt because I thought Melvin was going to do the thing statnerds have been asking managers to do since the dawn of time: to play matchups and treat the ninth inning like every other inning that your bullpen throws. When he announced that he'd basically be doing that and then didn't follow through, he violated my trust, and I'm not entirely sure he's earned it back yet.

Me and Bob, we might need some counseling before this is all over.

On the other hand, I like what Melvin is doing with the rotation, using the starting-pitcher depth the A's have accumulated to get Tommy Milone and (especially) Jarrod Parker a little bit of extra rest. He's not implementing the eight- or nine- or ten-man rotation as I asked him to do and which David Spencer elaborated on quite well in the linked post. But that's ok — that's a radical idea and the A's have (weirdly?) stayed away from radical ideas in the way they actually conduct themselves on the baseball field. Outside of Jeremy Giambi leading off, what's the last thing you can think of in terms of Oakland's lineup-building or bunting or double-switching or anything else that they do completely differently from the rest of the league?

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that the A's have Travis Blackley in the bullpen, and he can start baseball games. So Bob Melvin had him start a baseball game, which allowed the young pitchers in the rotation to get an extra day of rest. Who knows how much that helps in the long run, but it probably can't hurt in the short.

Also at that link you can see the roster move the A's made to get Brandon McCarthy on the team: Eric Sogard was placed on the DL. So yeah: three-man bench. Thirteen-man pitching staff. I'm just not even ... no, leaving this one alone.