By Jason Wojciechowski on August 21, 2013 at 8:23 AM
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Starting pitchers: Hisashi Iwakuma vs. A.J. Griffin
First pitch: 12:35 PT
A's in the West: Second place, 1 1/2 games behind Texas, 13 ahead of Seattle
A's in the Wild Card: Second Wild Card, 1 1/2 games behind Boston, 3 1/2 ahead of Cleveland
Baseball Prospectus playoff odds: 30 percent division, 45 percent Wild Card
I apologize to A's fans everywhere—after my good-luck charm status became clear on Monday, I owed it to everybody to tune in to last night's game in the late innings, even though I was running around and unavailable in the afternoon and then got very tired and fell asleep before I could watch. The result: a five-run eighth inning that took a 4–2 lead to a 7–4 loss.
A loss is a loss, but if Derek Norris's broken toe isn't something he can play with, the A's are in trouble. They're already missing John Jaso with a concussion that could well keep him out the rest of the year and Luke Montz is on the disabled list down in Triple-A, and has been for over a month, though Google isn't turning up the reason why.
Behind him is David Freitas, who has hit .301/.386/.438 in Sacramento but went only .214/.285/.362 in Midland. He came over in the Kurt Suzuki deal and Jason Parks has written that while he's not an impact player, he could fill a backup role. The A's would presumably use him, as he's a right-handed hitter, to play the short half of a platoon. This might not be a disaster, and Norris's hitting stats are superficially unimpressive, but "D-No" (which ESPN transcribed as "Dino" out of Josh Donaldson's mouth in its game recap), when all is park adjusted and done, has a .281 True Average, a figure it seems unlikely Freitas will match. Catchers who hit like that are impact players.
I don't know anything about anything, but I have a hard time thinking Norris could just play through this, too. Squatting down 150 times a game might not be feasible with a busted foot-digit.
Hisashi Iwakuma has quietly been a very good pitcher this year. He doesn't dent bread velocity-wise, but he mixes four pitches (four-seamer, sinker, slider, splitter) plus even an occasional curveball, and he's 16th among qualifying pitchers in ERA, right between Derek Holland (who I saw being touted as a Cy Young candidate by someone on Twitter yesterday) and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Iwakuma may not throw hard, but among starting pitchers who've thrown their sinker at least 200 times this year (there are 137 of them), Iwakuma's ranks eighth in vertical movement, between Rick Porcello and Jake Westbrook.
And while nobody throws splitters anymore, Iwakuma's, by the numbers, is very good: of the 22 starters who've thrown it at least 100 times, Iwakuma's is the fifth-fastest (with just a four mph gap between the splitter and the fastball), has the most drop, and induces the most ground balls (per ball in play). It isn't, compared to other splitters, a dominant pitch for whiffs, but it is compared to pitches overall.
This will be Iwakuma's fifth start against the A's this year. His average line in the last four, rounded sensibly: 6 1/3 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts, 1 homer.1
Prediction: A's win.
There's some funk in the line, as he gave up three bombs on June 21st, and none otherwise, and walked three batters on June 16th, and none otherwise. He lost those two games, giving up four runs in each, but won the other two handily. Averages! ↩