Game 124, Mariners at Athletics
Aaron Harang vs. Jarrod Parker, 7:05pm
I’m back, so those of you who yearn for lengthy, turgid, meta-analysis in the guise of a game thread, uh, high five. Unfortunately, my absence coincided with Dave’s, so we didn’t have a great plan for the game threads, and I really want to thank Mike for putting them up.
Our fearless leader was at the Saber Seminar in Boston, having a Fangraphs meet-up and participating in one of the best baseball conferences around. I was not, however, so unfortunately I’ve nothing new to report from the future of sabermetrics and baseball analysis. I’ve been camping with my family, leisurely making my way south to Oakland. Dave’s hobnobbed with some of the smartest baseball minds around. My beard was shaggy and unkempt enough that Bob Melvin mistakenly penciled me in to yesterday’s line-up against the Indians because I just sort of looked the part.* I’ve missed quite a bit of the games, but the M’s have helped me out by going 3-3 on their recent road trip and 5-5 in their last ten games. The team’s decided to just sort of stand still while Dave and I were out of town, and for that I thank them.
The M’s open a three-game set in Oakland with the A’s, a team that continues to confuse fans and analysts alike. Many (including myself, unfortunately) picked them last in the AL West last year, and they looked due for some regression this season after what looked like career years from young pitchers and waiver claims. Instead, they’ve improved (they were ten games over .500 at this point last year). Intuitively, you’d assume that their success is the product of superior scouting – that they saw diamonds in the rough from Yoenis Cespedes to Brandon Moss – and that they simply gave these previously-overlooked guys a chance. But the more you look, so many of their batting heroes in 2012 are looking a lot more like the AAAA-types they were in 2011. Brandon Moss has been pretty good, but not the star he was in 2012. Seth Smith’s power is missing. To top it off, their breakout stars of 2012, Cespedes and Josh Reddick, have been shadows of their former selves. Cespedes has an OBP under .300, and Josh Reddick just got to 10 HRs with a 5-in-2-days barrage against the Blue Jays. Both have been below-average hitters this season.
The A’s were busy this offseason, bringing in Japanese middle infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima, and trading for OF Chris Young from Arizona. Both of these moves fizzled, with Nakajima a so-so player in AAA and Young playing himself into 4-th OF-status with a .279 OBP. To be fair, these weren’t the only moves they made. They picked up an on-base machine of a lefty-hitting catcher, and they got Jed Lowrie for 1B Chris Carter. It’s not that they haven’t made any good moves, it’s that their record is so, well, *mixed*, and here they are again, on the cusp of a second consecutive playoff appearance. Eric Sogard is the starting 2B on a good A’s team, and Jemile Weeks, Hiroyuki Nakajima, Grant Green and Scott Sizemore aren’t. Eric Sogard’s slugging percentage is .001 higher than Josh Reddick’s. Dustin Ackley is an OF. I have no idea why anyone tries to analyze this game.
The A’s starters have taken a step back, just the way we thought they might. It’s not just that Brandon McCarthy’s pitching for Arizona now, it’s that they had so many very young starters who seemed to outpitch their peripherals and scouting reports last year. The most heralded of that group is tonight’s starter, Jarrod Parker. A former #1 prospect of the D-Backs, he had velocity and a true weapon in his change-up. His change got whiffs on about 1/2 of all swings last year, and despite throwing it often, no one hit a HR off the pitch. Despite giving up lots of fly-balls/air-balls, he had a very low HR rate and got the most out of an 18% K-rate. More than the rest of the A’s rotation, Parker seemed the most talented – the “truest” of an odd assortment of players (an over-40 Bartolo Colon who throws 89-90mph fastballs over the plate 100 times per outing, a diminutive lefty throwing 87mph, a 13th round draft pick throwing 88-89mph up in the zone, etc.). Instead, Parker looked like a shell of his former self in early 2013. His ERA was over 7 in April, and while he was slightly better thereafter, by May 22nd he’d already given up as many HRs (11) as he had in the entire 2012 campaign.
For every warning sign, there was also an encouraging one. His velocity was down, but only slightly. His walk rate remains exactly the same. His K-rate is down, but his whiff-rate and contact-rate improved. His HR-rate was obviously much worse, but he was getting ahead of more batters and pitching from behind less than he did in 2012. It all adds up to a somewhat odd picture: his “traditional” stats look fairly similar to last year’s, while his FIP and advanced stats look much worse. It’s clear that his HR-barrage in April/early May can skew his FIP, but it’s also not clear that Parker has any sort of true talent at limiting HR/FBs. He’s still a solid pitcher, and he’s been excellent for a few months now, but he’s still not an ace. In true Athletics fashion, that title falls to Bartolo Colon, a portly 40 year old who MAKES ZERO LOGICAL SENSE.**
1: Brad Miller, SS
2: Nick Franklin, 2B
3: Kyle Seager, 3B
4: Kendrys Morales, DH
5: Raul Ibanez, LF
6: Justin Smoak, 1B
7: Michael Saunders, RF
8: Dustin Ackley, CF
9: Humberto Quintero, C
SP: Aaron Harang’s still here? Huh. How about that.
Through 123 games last season, the M’s were 59-64. This year, they’re 57-66. But hey, no Chone Figgins, amirite?
Eddie Campbell headlines the M’s affiliates’ starting pitchers today, with Hector Noesi, Jimmy Gilheeney, Rigoberto Garcia and Tommy Burns also toeing the rubber today.
* “I seriously thought John Jaso, John Jaha and Josh Reddick’s beard had some weird hybrid test-tube kid. I don’t think any manager in my position would’ve done anything differently. Billy Beane’s been very aggressive on the free agent wire, and…I mean, just look at him.”
** I would love a Moneyball follow-up book. There is *no pattern* to this team. None. That’s not the same as saying it’s all luck; it’s not that at all. It’s just that there’s no obvious thing to point to when describing HOW the A’s became a very good team. They just are.