Verducci vs. the Pitchers

By Jason Wojciechowski on May 18, 2004 at 2:30 PM

I've missed four games, the last three of which were the A's sweeping the Royals, so let's see what happened over the weekend.

There's not really a lot to say about Thursday's series-ending loss to the Tigers, except that the A's offense sucks. Mike Maroth (yes, that one) shut the A's down for eight innings, allowing just one run, while Mark Redman pitched almost as well against his former team, but a first-inning two-run homer by Ivan Rodriguez would prove to be enough to doom him. Redman gave up twelve hits, including two triples, but the Tigers' baserunning helped keep their score down: one Tiger was caught stealing by Damian Miller, two were picked off by Redman, and one was thrown out at third base by Eric Byrnes. In the end, all that defense couldn't make up for an anemic offense. Eric Chavez's hot walking streak continued, as he worked the only base on balls given up by Maroth.

The offense came alive a little more on Friday in Kansas City, as Oakland scored six runs on eleven hits and three walks (including one more by Chavez), beating Jimmy Gobble. Two of those hits were homers by the A's two generally punchless first basemean, Eric Karros and Scott Hatteberg. At least Hatteberg hasn't been so punchless this year: his line stands at .308/.405/.490 right now, and the gains in power aren't all batting average driven, so that's nice to see. As I mentioned before, the lack of lefties beating him into the dirt every few days is really helping him, but he seems to be having a good year in general. After all, Gobble's portsidedness didn't seem to impede Hatteberg's homer much.

Tim Hudson's strong pitching had as much to do with the win as the A's hitting, though, as he went eight innings and gave up just two runs, lowering his ERA to 3.13. Raise your hand if you honestly thought Hudson would be this good six years into his career, as he arguably continues to improve his game.

The A's got even better pitching the next night, as Mark Mulder continued his skein of good outings against the Royals with a complete-game four hitter, with the only Kansas City run coming on a Joe Randa solo homer. This overcame a strong game from Darrell May, who gave up three runs in a complete game of his own, but took his tough-luck fifth loss of the year. The difference-making runs in the 3-1 victory came on Eric Chavez's two-run homer in the sixth, his tenth of the year. Chavez had earlier singled and scored Oakland's first run on a double by Scott Hatteberg.

Mulder used 116 pitches to throw the complete game, which is a higher number than I think the A's used to allow their pitchers to throw regularly. This coupled with Rich Harden's 121-pitch outing against the Yankees makes one worry about the loss of Rick Peterson, but this game at least, is mitigated by the fact that Mulder is 26, has thrown big innings and deep into games before, is a large man (6'6", 210), and wasn't throwing too many high-stress pitches with men on in tough situations.

Because Mulder and May both pretty much breezed through the opposing offenses, the game took just 2:08 to complete, sending the 30,000 fans home earlier than usual, so they could at least mitigate the loss with a nice barbecue.

Barry Zito threw a lot of pitches in his six innings the next night, but he settled down after a two-run first, allowing the Royals nothing thereafter. Jim Mecir, Chad Bradford, and Arthur Rhodes came on for the final three innings, with the only baserunner allowed by those three being a single in the ninth against Rhodes. Zito's line is interesting: he gave up just four hits and two walks in the game, but he also hit two batters. On the other hand, half of the hits were given up to Joe Randa. On the other other hand, those hits were a double and a triple, Randa's first three-bagger of the year.

The offensive side was a little more positive, as the A's scored six runs again, even as the top five hitters went just 3-21. The bottom four made up for this deficit, though, as Erubiel Durazo had a double and a ninth-inning homer, Damian Miller doubled and walked, Bobby Crosby, singled, doubled, homered, and stole his first major league base, and Mark McLemore added an RBI double.

While Crosby's batting average is still .221, that's better than it was before, and he's still hitting for pretty good power: a homer every 20 at-bats. He's still not walking much: just 7 in 111 PA's, which means that while his average is Chavez-like, he's been much less valuable than his infield-mate. As I said before, there's no reason to think he won't get on base in the majors, either via the walk or the hit, so it's just a matter of waiting until he comes around. It's not like he has anything more to prove in AAA, after destroying the PCL last year.

This three-game sweep of the Royals, in Kansas City, which is suddenly a nice place to hit, in which Oakland starters allowed a grand total of four runs in 23 innings, flies in the face of Tom Verducci's claim that the A's pitching is falling apart without Rick Peterson and Ramon Hernandez. The claim that Hernandez in particular was such a big part of Oakland's mound prowess is crazy, if for no other reason than because Damian Miller is a guy who's at least as highly regarded as a handler of pitchers as Hernandez ever was. Besides which, Keith Woolner pretty well addressed the issue of game-calling and found it to not really be a detectable ability. Miller and Hernandez have both ridden the coattails of their pitchers for years, Miller in Arizona with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling and in Chicago with Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, et al. Hernandez, meanwhile, has had the A's current crop of pitchers making him look good.

Peterson is a much bigger loss, but I'm not sure what more Verducci wants from Oakland's starters. Only Barry Zito is struggling, as his 5.63 ERA and 60 hits allowed in 48 innings attest, since the other four starters all have sub-4 ERAs. Even Rich Harden, who's been sort of hot-and-cold, has a 3.86 ERA in six starts, with 40 strikeouts in just 37.1 innings. By the Support-Neutral numbers at Baseball Prospecuts, Oakland has the fourth-best rotation in the game, behind only (predictably) Chicago and Houston and (surprisingly) Montreal.

Finally, it's not like the A's are now having to adjust to a whole new system or deal with some guy from outside who wants to have all his pitchers now pitch his way. Curt Young was in the organization and is indoctrinated in the A's way of handling pitchers. He "grew up" on the Peterson method, essentially. This is the secret sauce of the A's continued winning. They lose JP Ricciardi, Paul DePodesta, and Rick Peterson, and keep right on chugging, because those guys helped implement the system that guys like Curt Young and David Forst carry on and keep tweaking. It's the same reason it wouldn't have been the huge deal the media made it out to be if Boston had gotten Billy Beane: Paul DePodesta would have stepped up and fit right in, probably keeping him from taking the Dodgers job.

In other words, then, Verducci's talking out of his ass, as so many old-time sportswriters (which SI has in abundance, Daniel Habib notwithstanding) seem to do.