Game 139, Athletics at Mariners
King Felix vs. AJ Griffin, 7:10pm
The A’s arrive at a crucial time in their season, as their out-of-nowhere playoff chances ha been weakened recently by a three-game sweep by the Angels and the loss (due to a horrific injury) of their best starting pitcher*. According to Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds report, their playoff chances have dropped over 15% in the past week, and have dropped below 50%. Things aren’t quite as dire at CoolStandings, but the combination of the Rangers righting their ship and Orioles doing whatever it is that the Orioles are doing means first that the A’s don’t have much of a shot at the division and second that the Wild Card race is going to be tough. They’ve got a tough schedule to play the rest of the way, and their wild-card rivals have advantages like “playing in the AL Central” or “money” or both. But the A’s remain, somehow, in a good position. How’d they get to this point?
In a recent interview, A’s Assistant GM David Forst talked about his club’s 2012 season as being a “perfect storm.” This makes those of us who saw them as a near-certain last-place team feel better, but it’s quite remarkable the degree to which the A’s have had a signature success to point to from basically every segment of the enterprise. The trades of Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill signalled a rebuild, but their pro scouting department was able to find good value in players like Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker. A trade that received a bit less attention – closer Andrew Bailey and 4th OF Ryan Sweeney for Josh Reddick and prospects – may have been the most important. An offense that looked to require a career year from Coco Crisp to avoid 2010 Mariners-level impotence now has a guy who’s put up 4.2 WAR and is closing in on 30 HRs. To back that up, the amateur scouting department came out of nowhere to give Cuban Yoenis Cespedes an unthinkable-for-the-A’s amount of money, and have watched as the OF has put up a .280/.348/.491 line in a tough place to hit. The A’s offense is by no means good, but without these two guys – both of whom weren’t on the payroll in early 2012 – the A’s really may have been as bad as recent M’s offenses. Finally, a player development system (that has watched Chris Carter, Michael Taylor, Landon Powell, Josh Donaldson, Adrian Cardenas, Michael Choice, Grant Green and more stall out) helped bring two unknown, late-round draft picks to the major leagues: Dan Straily and tonight’s starter, AJ Griffin.
Griffin was drafted in the 13th round of the 2010 draft, out of the University of San Diego. He signed quickly enough to get several appearances that year in the low-minors as a reliever. Moved to the rotation in 2011, he laid waste to multiple levels before tiring in AA. This year, the Texas League proved to be no challenge, and after ten good starts in AAA, he was up with the A’s, where he now stands with a 4-0 record and a gaudy RA. If it wasn’t for Dan Straily’s story – a 24th rounder who led the minors in strikeouts before moving up to Oakland – Griffin may be the best “who is that?” prospect story of the year.
So did he gain velocity in pro ball? Does he throw 95 with movement? Well, no. Like Tigers prospect Drew Smyly, Griffin gets the most out of a slightly overhand delivery that gives his 89-91mph fastball a lot of vertical movement. His FB simply doesn’t drop the way others do, and hitters seem to have had problems with that, and so like a lot of similar pitchers, from Smyly this year to Josh Collmenter last year, Griffin’s transition to the majors has been pretty smooth. He also has a slider/cutter/slutter pitch that he throws to righties, a change-up that he reserves almost exclusively for lefties, and a big, slow curve-ball that he uses as a put-away pitch when he’s ahead. He gets a good number of grounders with his breaking/offspeed stuff, but his fastball’s a fly-ball pitch. On the other hand, it also generates an above-average number of pop-ups. Watching him face Brendan Ryan might be a bit frustrating.
The combination of his fastball and what I can only guess is a very good change-up is his interesting platoon splits. So far in the majors, lefties have only a .209 wOBA against him, compared to righties .237 (his BABIP so far has been absurdly low). The sample’s small, of course, but it essentially matches what he did in AAA – he dominated lefties and battled righties to a draw. In fairness, his splits were more traditional in 2011, but his career numbers are still slightly better against lefties. If there was one pitcher where you wouldn’t use a strict platoon approach when facing, that would be Scott Feldman. But if you had a SECOND choice, it might be Griffin. Don’t be afraid to use Casper Wells, M’s!
Felix may have extra motivation after his last, frustrating inning against the Angels. He’s familiar with the A’s, and he’s in his home park, so here’s hoping for a return to royal form. The line-up behind him includes Luis Jimenez, who’s making his first MLB start after 13 years in everything from the affiliated minors, to Japan, to a semi-pro league near his home town. Congratulations, Luis.
4: Jaso (C)
8: Jimenez (DH)
SP: King Felix
That’s a pretty lefty-heavy line-up right there, though it’s good to see Gutierrez back in the line-up for however long he’s able to go.
*: Get well soon, Brandon McCarthy – the funniest athlete on twitter, and one of the most engaging, thoughtful and insightful pitchers in baseball.