Playoffs! Playoffs?! Playoffs? Playoffs!

By Jason Wojciechowski on September 28, 2013 at 10:14 AM

That's right, Jim Mora, playoffs. The A's are going to them, and the A's will have home field advantage over the Tigers in them. (Assuming they play the Tigers, which is a safe but not fully guaranteed assumption—if the A's win out and the Red Sox lose out (the odds of which are probably something on the order of six percent, which is not nothing), Oakland will actually host the Wild Card winner, not the Tigers.) This is very neat! As I'm still not done complaining about last year's "rush the second wild card in because we can't be bothered to plan ahead" nonsense, I will note that home-field advantage will be on the usual 2-at-home, 2-away, 1-at-home schedule. For what it's worth! (Not much. I mean, the first four games of last year's series were split down the middle, and Oakland had Game Five at home. What else do you want? But yes, I do still think it's bullshit.)

How do I feel about the match-ups this year? Last year, we saw Verlander-Fister-Sanchez-Scherzer-Verlander. From five seconds on Google, despite the fact that Verlander has been the Tigers' third-best starter over the course of the season, it's apparently going to be something like Verlander-Scherzer-Sanchez-Fister-Verlander. Effectively the same, in other words, even though Scherzer and Sanchez are Cy Young candidates.

Which is also a way of saying that I despair. Not too much! The all-righty pitching lineup neutralizes Chris Young and Nate Freiman, essentially forcing Bob Melvin to play Josh Reddick (however much he's struggled, I prefer him vs. righties to Young vs. lefties, plus the defense is a big help) and Brandon Moss (as surprisingly solid as Freiman has been, he's not even close to Moss), but it also helps neutralize the A's best player (Josh Donaldson has a 1042 OPS vs. lefties this year against 815 vs righties—815 is still very good and nothing to complain about, but that's not a batting number that puts you in the discussion for down-ballot MVP votes). More importantly, regardless of what side the Tigers pitchers throw from, they throw real real good:

Pitcher ERA rank, MLB FIP rank, MLB
Verlander 45th 28th
Scherzer 11th 7th
Sanchez 4th 3rd
Fister 52nd 19th

Oh hey there Detroit defense that ranks third from the bottom in baseball in turning balls in play into outs.

There's a way in which those numbers are heartening because we might convince ourselves that Jim Leyland is going to pitch his worst starter first and possibly twice, but it's only heartening if you think that 2013's stats reflect the actual true present talent of each of these pitchers. All samples are smaller than we'd hope them to be, and a full season's worth of stats, while better than a month's worth, paint only a piece of the picture. As good as Sanchez and Scherzer have been, Leyland may not be wrong in insisting that Verlander, one of the best pitchers of his generation, is the right man for this job.

Meanwhile, I don't have any kind of a damn idea how the A's are going to stack up. Bartolo Colon in Game 1, I guess, then Jarrod Parker, seems fairly obvious. Then Sonny Gray and A.J. Griffin? Or do you arrange things so that Gray, the rookie, gets to start at home? Do you play ballpark games and push Griffin up to #2 to minimize his home run issues? (Detroit isn't a great ballpark for homers either, but according to StatCorner, it actually increases homers for lefties—Oakland suppresses batters of all hands.) In a five-game series and using modern rotation methods, only the #1 starter is going to go twice, so you're not setting up Griffin to pitch a Game Six that you'd rather avoid. Then again, if Griffin is the worst of your starters and Sonny Gray is in the argument for the best, is it wise to set your rotation up in such a way that Gray might never get to pitch? Game Four, after all, is contingent on winning one of the first three.

Or, hell, is it Dan Straily instead of A.J. Griffin? Griffin has a strikeout and walk advantage, but Straily isn't homer-prone, at least not to the degree that Griffin is. This works out to Straily having the superior FIP- by a not-insubstantial amount, but Griffin may have magical BABIP-suppressing abilities (possibly relatively easily explainable via his very high rate of popups induced and the A's outfield defense, possibly a mirage because homers are not "balls in play"). Both are flyball pitchers.

I don't have a vote, and thank goodness for that, but here's my vote: Colon, Parker, Gray, Griffin. For good measure, here's my lineup (not in batting order):

C: Vogt
1B: Moss
2B: Sogard
SS: Lowrie
3B: Donaldson
LF: Cespedes
CF: Crisp
RF: Reddick
DH: Smith

Pinch-hitters vs. Drew Smyly/Phil Coke: Young, Norris, Callaspo, Choice, Freiman1

Closer at shortstop: Parrino

7-8-9 relievers: Doolittle, Cook, Balfour
Lefty: Blevins
Middles: Otero, Anderson

That's 25. Now, if you wanted to convince me that Kurt Suzuki should make the team as the closer at catcher rather than Parrino as the closer at shortstop, I wouldn't quibble with you. Taking Vogt's bat out of the lineup in late innings and risking extras without him is a lot easier than doing the same with Lowrie. Further, with Cook's wildness and Balfour's slider, it might be more valuable to have a good pitch-blocker behind the game in late innings than to have a guy who won't boot an easy ground ball.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I've convinced myself that, as much as calling for three catchers is going to make me a sabernerd pariah, I'd rather have Suzuki than Parrino.

The following is what I wrote before I dropped Pat Neshek and replaced him with Nate Freiman/Daric Barton:

I've also left Nate Freiman off, going with Michael Choice instead. Some of this is a concern that he's not healthy enough to be on the team either way, but Moss isn't terrible against lefties, and the Tigers' lefties aren't the most frightening guys around. Choice can pinch-run for Vogt, Moss, Smith, or maybe even Donaldson is a key situation.

I am a little nervous about not having a backup first baseman, but in a weird pinch, you just move a guy there and hope it works out. I prefer Parrino's defense and Choice's possible tactical use to Barton being around in case of a freak injury.

I'd also be okay with leaving Neshek home and using that spot to put Barton or Freiman on the roster -- Freiman if he's healthy, Barton if not. Seven relievers may be a bit much for a five-game series, especially when Anderson can go long. I like Neshek as a particular type of

And I stopped there before realizing I was wrong. Neshek isn't a particular type of weapon. He's just a guy. Six relievers is enough.

Okay! 1200 words is also enough! On bloggies!

  1. If Freiman can't go, then just drop Barton in here and use him as a late-inning defensive replacement for Moss.