A's move up again

By Jason Wojciechowski on August 20, 2003 at 3:33 PM

The A's got a little lucky again in beating the Red Sox tonight. Again, though, they put themselves in the situation where they could take advantage of some luck. Talent creates luck, or whatever the proper cliche is.

Anyway, Ted Lilly had another awful game, giving up 13 baserunners (out of 23 batters faced; that's a terrible opponents' OBP) and six runs in just three and a third innings.

Mike Neu actually got some work in relieving Ted Lilly and, as usual, did a good job. He threw only an inning less than Lilly and, while he gave up four walks and two hits and allowed an inherited runner to score, he limited the damage in the fourth inning and threw a couple more after that, keeping the A's in the game, which is all you can ask of the pitcher at that point.

The A's picked Neu up as a Rule 5 guy and have protected him as such, really not letting him get into a meaningful game all year (until tonight, that is). It's kind of amazing that a team right in the midst of a playoff hunt, one with a good bullpen, has been doing its work all year with a guy who's basically not allowed to be used.

For the season, Neu has thrown 34 innings with a 3.18 ERA. That's the good. He has allowed 21 walks to just 18 strikeouts and given up 36 hits. He's actually only pitched in five games which the A's won all year, including tonight's.
Tonight was actually the first time he's pitched in an A's win where the margin of victory was less than seven. But I've gotten sidetracked into Jayson Stark territory, since that tells you much more about his usage pattern than it does about his performance.

Back to the important stuff, those numbers up there aren't terribly impressive.
That said, Neu is in positive ARP territory, at 1.6 (and that number might go up or down a little based on tonight: some scoreless innings, but an inherited runner allowed). His VORP is about seven, and the pitchers immediately surrounding him in those rankings are Scott Stewart and Steve Kline, essentially generic relievers, like Neu seems fated to grow up to be. Despite his innings pitched being right around his weighted mean PECOTA projection, his ERA and VORP are up in the 90th and 70th percentile ranges, respectively. In other words, his performance is a mixed bag, but a promising one that shows that he could be a good guy to take over Jim Mecir's role next year (the "bridge" from a short starter to the setup).

Well, I take that back. Mecir is on the team next year and being paid $3.3 million for that privilege. He's a good reliever when he's on, but he's (a) fragile and (b) not worth that much money even when he is good. They could possibly trade him this winter, especially if Neu is well regarded by the people who matter, but I don't know if I see that happening. It would be a straight-up salary dump, and the prospect received in return probably wouldn't be better than a C-level guy playing in A ball.

Back to the game, John Halama got two outs, the last of the sixth and the first of the seventh, allowing two hits but no runs and (say it with me) keeping the team in the game. Halama's been downright decent recently, generally not blowing up when he's called on to do long relief, getting guys out when he just has to pitch an inning or two, and basically just being a pretty flexible lefty out of the pen. It's a nice thing to have, and I'm almost sad that he's only on a one-year deal. I wouldn't want to pay him too much money, but $750 thousand for essentially the same level of performance as Mike Neu, just with a far different usage profile, isn't too bad. On the other hand, looking back at that and realizing that Halama is basically Mike Neu from the port side, I'm glad the A's aren't paying him twice as much as he should be paid next year. I think the A's can find a perfectly suitable lefty to fill that role again, whether it be some minor league vet, another Rule 5 pitcher, or a major leaguer who'll be non-tendered or something, any of whom won't make much more than the minimum salary.

The usual crew of Chad Bradford, Ricardo Rincon, and Keith Foulke followed, finishing up the seventh, eighth and ninth basically uneventfully, and the A's had another 5 2/3 innings of shutout relief leading to another comeback win.

Oakland only walked once today, but when you score eight runs, it doesn't really matter how you do it. Everybody but Terrence Long and Chris Singleton (how'd you know it would be him?) earned their way on base at some point, as Ramon Hernandez was hitless, but drew that one walk, and everybody but Hernandez and Long either scored or drove in a run (Singleton hit a sacrifice fly for the A's last run).

Eric Chavez had a double. How's that for clumsy transitions? Chavez is putting up the quietest Oakland .292 EqA I've ever seen. I've labelled him in my mind as "struggling" all season, but that .292 along with good durability results in his RARP being sixth best among major league third basemen. I'm not sure of Corey Koskie's injury status, but Chavez could conceivably pass him before the year is out (he's about four runs behind Koskie) and get back to the top five, where he "belongs." VORP, by the way, actually puts Chavez fifth, ahead of Koskie by the same margin that Koskie holds in RARP.

That said, .292 is still disappointing for Chavez. It's somewhere below his 25th percentile PECOTA projection, and since he was almost a 70% bet to improve on last year's .296 season, that's a bad place to be. Of course, there's still about 150 plate appearances left in Chavez' season, and since he's been smacking the ball around a little since the All Star break, there's good reason to believe that he might top last year's season after all. Will he reach the .310 or so EqA that was projected for him? I'd bet against it, but not with very much money.

Chavez' season by months breaks down kind of interestingly. Overall, he has an .842 OPS, just one tick lower than his career mark (although this season obviously impacts his career). He had a terrible May made up of 103 plate appearances, out of which he only got on base 28 times. That, along with his isolated power slipping below .200 (his career mark is .224), dropped his OPS all the way to .661, better than Miguel Tejada around that time, but still Long-like in its depths of despair. His struggles probably affected his approach at the plate, as he was walking just a tiny bit more than once every ten PA's before that, but dropped to eight walks in 103 that month.

Then, suddenly, June rolled around. He walked even less (7 in 110), but his power was back (.262 ISO), and he carried a .291 batting average for the month, leading to an .886 OPS. He continued the trick in July, hitting for marginally less power and a little less batting average, but walking at a much better rate (12 in 95), resulting in an .883 OPS that was worth more than the previous month's, given the relative weights of on-base percentage and slugging. He's turned it up a notch in August, as he's continued to walk, hit for the best power of the season, and batted .324, combining to a .954 OPS.

Dark whispers of an injured wrist hidden from the rest of the world have abounded for awhile, and the fact that Chavez basically had one awful period that's dragging down his whole season lends credence to those rumors. Players also go into slumps for no good reason, as the laws of probability weigh against them just as often as for, but it's tempting to start thinking things like, "Well, if Chavez had been right health-wise all year ..." I won't do that now, but be aware that the Chavez the A's have manning the hot corner for the rest of the season might not be accurately represented by his cumulative numbers for the year.

Some standings housekeeping: Oakland now stands two games ahead of Boston in the wild card race and is guaranteed to leave the city in the lead, no matter what happens to Rich Harden tomorrow against Pedro Martinez (and boy am I not optimistic about that match up, though more because of Martinez' effect on Oakland's lineup than because of Boston's effect on Harden). Seattle lost to Toronto, so the A's creep to three back in the West again, which is pretty much the best things have been since Seattle pulled ahead early in the season.
Unfortunately, Seattle sends Jamie Moyer against Mark Hendrickson tomorrow, so I'm guessing the A's will head to Canadia four back in the west but one up in the wild card.