Thursday, October 28, 2004

What Happend? Who Do I Blame?

OK, Rant fans I promised a post mortem on the season and here it is. Even though I tried to be optimistic the sad fact is that the season turned out much as I predicted it would; the A's missed the playoffs. But why? Here's a brief look back on what I said then, and what happened in the end.

After the season was a week old I had this to say:

"Scoot has shown something during this first week...he reminds me a lot of Mark Ellis' first few games at second in 2002. So, I looked at Ellis' first five games after he took over the starting job (his first five consecutive games) and compared them to Scoot's first five games. Here's what I found:

Ellis 5 games: .400/0/5/.500/.450/..950
Scutaro 5 games: .313/0/3/.353/.500/.853

Ellis' numbers are better, which we would expect, still Scoot's numbers are very respectable. Ellis ended the year at .273/6/35/.359/.394/.753, never hit a major slump and never lost the starting job."

So what happened?

Here's the final numbers on Scoot who, unlike Ellis did slump at times though mostly when he was moved around in the lineup. In fact he was, at one time, the most productive #9 hitter in baseball. His production from that slot was far superior to his production at any other slot. He platooned with Mark McLemore quite a bit which I'm fine with since McLemore had a decent year. Here's Scoot's numbers compared with Ellis' rookie stats.

-Scoot: .273/7/43/.297/.393/.690 (345)
-Ellis: .272/6/35/.359/.394/.753 (455)

Like I said at the start of the year Scoot's year compare favorably to Ellis' rookie season. He had slightly better raw offensive numbers even though he had 110 fewer at bats. Still, Ellis' season ranks higher because of his better OBP and OPS. Scoot was not as flashy as Ellis in the field, but by measurable standards his .983 fielding percentage was better than Ellis' .968. The bottom line is that the loss of Ellis for the year was not a primary cause for their failure to make the playoffs this year.


This was a huge issue coming into the season. Would Dye rebound? Would Kotsay rebound? Would Byrnes rebound? Would Kielty deliver on the promise he showed in Minnesota? With all this rebounding going on, is this really a baseball team? Where's Shaq? Here's what I said this spring:

"-Kotsay needs to do better than last year, and better than his career averages of .281/12/63/.338/.756(582AB). Still, he's better than T-Long on both offense and defense."

Here's what happened:

-Kotsay .314/15/63/.370/.459/.829 (606)
-Long .295/03/28/.355/.420/.756 (288)

Kotsay ended up with better numbers across the board as Long proved that he was what Macha told him he was last year, a part time player who was lucky to be in a situation that afforded him an opportunity to play almost everyday. Once Long got to San Diego where they had better outfielders he became the role player he was destined to be. As I wrote in mid season, "Long thinks he'd be a great 5 hole hitter, the Padres seem to think he makes a good pinch hitter." Long's 288 ABs were his fewest since becoming a regular player.

I also said:

"-Dye clearly needs to bounce back. His numbers have dropped every year he's been in Oakland. If Dye can stay healthy and get back to the numbers he had in 2000-2001 the A's will be very dangerous. Dye could be the X factor for the A's this year."

Here's what happened:

-Dye .265/23/80/.329/.464/.793

Dye did rebound, but he was not the X factor I'd hoped he'd be. While his numbers were better than they'd been the past couple years they still did not approach the production he'd had when the A's traded for him in 2001.

Finally, I said:

"Byrnes will get some good PT and will likely be a late inning defensive replacement. He brings great energy to the team and a badly needed infusion of speed. If he could just remember to touch home plate he'd be invaluable. So far the talk I've heard says that Bobby Kielty's fast start will keep Eric Byrnes from getting much PT. However Macha is trying to find spots for him (Byrnesie's only AB so far was his PH double that won the game against Texas on opening day). "

Final numbers for Byrnes and Kielty look thuslike:

-Byrnes .283/20/73/.347/.467/.814 (569)
-Kielty .214/07/31/.321/.370/.691 (238)

Kielty couldn't keep up his early season pace and ended up with only 238 ABs. Depending on his contract status he'll either be traded, allowed to leave, or end up as a backup to Nick Swisher who I predict will end up a starter and ROY candidate next year. I think Kielty has value because he's a switch hitter and he has a big arm in the outfield.

To summarize, the outfielders are not the reason the A's missed the playoffs.

The Rookie:

"Bobby Crosby will be the starting short stop at some point next season."

Yeah, like on opening day. So what did Sir Rantalot predict for the youngster?

"Crosby did better at AAA: .308/22/90 (compared with .000/0/0 in his call up last season). He should be OK this year but his true impact will likely be felt in the years to come. It took Tejada three years before he really blossomed. There's a ton more pressure on Crosby than there was on Tejada back in '97. Hopefully he can handle it better than Carlos Pena did."

Crosby ended up having a decent year. Sure, it was nothing like Tejada's, but it didn't hurt too bad. He was OK at the plate and better than expected in the field. How good was his rookie season? Let's look at Crosby compared to a couple other touted A's rookies. Tejada and Ben Grieve both came up to the show to stay in 1997, here's alook at the rookie seasons for the three players:

-Grieve .288/18/89/.386/.458/.844

-Crosby .239/22/64/.319/.426/.744

-Tejada .233/11/45/.298/.384/.682

So here we see Crosby sandwiched between the two. As you may recall Grieve won the ROY that year and was projected for greatness while Tejada was considered a raw prospect who may or may not develop into a productive major leaguer. Hmmm...So, what can we deduce from Crosby's stats? Nothing. For every Chipper Jones there's a Todd Hollandsworth. Crosby won't be the AL ROY this year (Lew Ford leads all rookies in most offensive categories). We won't know what Crosby will be until a few years from now when he becomes it. What we do know is that overall Crosby didn't hurt the team by not being Tejada. In fact, he probably helped a lot just by being Bobby Crosby, knowing his role and not pressing too much. Sure, it would have been nice to have Tejada's .311/34/150, but the bottom line is that Crosby is not the reason the A's missed the playoffs.


"News Flash! Damian Miller is not Ramon Hernandez!"

I meant this in terms of offense, and it continued to be true throughout the year. Here's the season totals for each player:

-Miller: .272/09/58/.339/.403/.742 (397)
-Hernandez: .276/18/63/.341/.477/.818 (384)

I also said this:

"I'm sure someone knows how many runs Miller has saved behind the plate, but that person ain't me."

So, was there a defensive difference between the two?

Miller .999 9 46 35 .435 4.24 963
Hernandez .992 7 53 21 .284 4.03 925

*FPCT = Fielding Percentage PB = Passed Balls SBA = Stolen Bases Allowed CS = Caught Stealing CS% = Percentage of Runners Caught Stealing CERA = Catcher's ERA (Team ERA with this catcher behind the plate) INN = Innings Caught

In raw numbers Miller was better than Hernandez in almost every defensive category save two. Among the two only one is really important, but it's really important. First the less important one, Miller had two more PB than Hernandez. I know what yer thinking, he also caught 38 more innings. Still, Miller allowed a PB every 107 INN (or 1 every 12 games) while Hernandez only allowed one PB every 132 INN (or 1 every 14 games). That's a difference of .00178 PB/INN, statistically startling, if yer building a bridge, fairly insignificant in real life. The big difference between Miller and Hernandez is the CERA, Hernandez allowed fewer runs than Miller did which is significant (more on this later).

Again, I know what yer thinking, it's not fair to compare CERA numbers between two guys who were working with different staffs. Yer right. So let's look at something else I said this spring,

"Since the playoffs I've become a big Adam Melhuse fan. Despite his choke in game 5 he showed ability to hit in the clutch. Who knows what he'd do over a full year, but his numbers .299/5/14/.372/.957(77AB) look good. Macha says that players write the lineup and I'm hoping Melhuse takes the job from Miller who is a big drop from Hernandez."

So, let's compare Melhuse and Miller:


-Melhuse : .257/11/31/.309/.463/.771 (214)
-Miller: .272/9/58/.339/.403/.742 (397)

The raw numbers show that Melhuse hit for a higher average and for more power thought he had a lower OBP. Miller's RBI numbers are actually close to Melhuse's when you adjust for the disparity in ABs with Miller getting an RBI every 6.8 ABs and Melhuse getting an RBI every 6.9 ABs.


-Melhuse .995 5 27 13 .325 4.05 504
- Miller .999 9 46 35 .435 4.24 963

Like with Hernandez Miller leads in every category except two, the same two. We know Miller passed a ball every 12 games. Melhuse was a little better allowing a PB every 101 INN (or 1 every 11 games). The difference there is only .00057 PB/INN. The major difference between the two is that Melhuse had a lower CERA than Miller working with primarily the same pitchers.

The upshot of all this is that Melhuse was better than Miller. Miller got more playing time based on the reputation that he is a wiz at handling pitchers, a reputation that is not born out by the numbers. Despite this, the catching rotation is not the reason the A's missed the playoffs, but we're getting closer, Especially with the whole CERA thing.

The Smoking Gun:

As you may have noticed, I have eliminated almost all of the position players as reasons for the A's missing the playoffs. I didn't discuss the bench, but to make a long story slightly less long, the bench ain't to blame. Overall, the offense was not to blame. Here's the team's offensive totals for this year (no playoffs) and last year playoffs!).

2003 Team: .254/176/742/.327/.417/.743
2004 Team:.270/189/752/.343/.433/.776

As you can see, this year's team was better in every offensive category. The offense was good enough to get the job done.

I've mentioned that I think Miller was part of the problem, so who does that leave?

That's right Rant fans, the blame falls squarely on...Curt Young. That's right, #41 in your program, but #1 in your bile duct, it's A's pitching coach Curt Young. I guess you could also blame whoever (rhymes with Jilly Jeane) allowed Rick Peterson to leave the organization. The bottom line for the season is this; the pitching staff, across the board, was not as good as it was in 2003. Here's what I said in October:

"The A's may allow pitching coach Rick Peterson to move to the Mets without compensation. That's right, the A's may lose one of the best coaches in the game in return for absolutely nothing. If you have any doubts about Peterson's value to the team just look at the staff. Sure, the big three are very good pitchers with a ton of ability, but look at what Peterson did with some more marginal talent. Losing Peterson would be as huge a loss for Oakland as losing Tejada. Letting Peterson go would be a huge mistake. Peterson's value to the team is second only to Billy Beane's. Peterson makes the A's staff go. He is a mechanics guru and is a big part of the reason that the big three have stayed as healthy as they have. He can find the positives in almost anyone and turn shaky pitchers into solid contributors. If he does go to the Mets expect two things, a rise in Oakland's team ERA along with a sharp decline in wins, and at least 15 wins from Steve Trachsel.

So what happened? The numbers speak for themselves:

Team Pitching:

2003: 96-66 3.63 ERA
2004: 91-71 4.17 ERA

Yes, this represents a decline of only five wins. But that's misleading, especially if you look at the jump in offense. As I predicted, the loss of Peterson led to a decline in the A's pitching.

Blown Saves:

The A's had 26 blown saves this year. Read that again, TWENTY-SIX BLOWN SAVES!!! They lost the division by one game. For the math impaired this means that if they had blown just two fewer saves they would have made the playoffs. It means that if they had blown just 20% fewer saves they would have won the division long before the ALWS began.

The Big Three saw their ERAs jump this year.

2003 2004 Diff.
Barry Zito 3.30 4.48 1.18
Tim Hudson 2.70 3.53 0.83
Mark Mulder 3.13 4.43 1.30

Also, Hudson was injured for an extended stretch for the first time in his career, Zito saw a continued decline in his confidence (23-5 in '02, 14-12 in '03 and 11-11 this year.), and Mulder won like one game after the all-star break.


I like using Trachsel as my prototypical mediocre pitcher, just good enough to stick around, not good enough to be good. Unfortunately for my theory, Trachsel was Trachsel again this year. His .480 win % this year was only slightly better than his career win % of.474. Still, over all the Mets pitching staff saw their ERA decline form 4.48 in 2003 to 4.09 in 2004, with roughly the same staff.

So the bottom-line: the pitching coach let us down, and the front office let us down by continuing to allow the talent ebb out of Oakland (let us note that two recent A's, Damon and Foulke, just won it all). Looking ahead to next season I see...another column at another time. Suffice it to say that I don't like some of what I've been hearing, like that the A's may let Byrnes walk because he's due a raise. As I said last year, chip, chip, chip, how long before we become the KC Royals? Unless something changes I give it two more years.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Told You So.

Read the previous post, in retrospect I was right.

Or read:

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Best Series Ever

I know I promised an end of season wrap on the A's, and it's coming, but the numbers are taking more time than I thought, and the whole thing is so depressing that every time I sit down to write it I end up crying a eating a pint of Chubby Hubby.

Anyway, I had to weigh in on this Sox/ Yanks series as we sit here on the cusp of a game seven that simply should not be happening. So here's my thoughts, unedited, unformatted and totally stream of consciousness.


The 2001 World Series was hailed as one of the best ever played. The Yanks, playing for all of New York, and indeed the country, representing the city after 9/11. The Diamondbacks, representing everyone who hates the Yanks. The best performance by two pitchers since Koufax and Drysdale. The 2001 series had everything including a last chance rally against the most sure thing closer in the game. If you don't believe me, if your memory has faded, run out and buy Buster Olney's "Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," a must read for all sports fans, especially those who hate the Yanks.

Next came last year's ALCS. After another stunning collapse by the A's, the Sox and Yanks went down to the wire in a series that rivaled the 2001 WS. ESPN Classic has already done an hour-long documentary on that series and there is a book, "One Night at Fenway," about the game, the team, and the history of the Sox as played out that night. I haven't read it yet, but I will soon. The point is, that series was going to go down in history as one of the greatest ever, the epitome of the rivalry, untoppable.

Until this year. Just as it took only one night for these teams to surpass their own record for the longest playoff game ever played, it took only one year for them to supplant their own great series. This is “The Natural,” this is “Hoosiers,” this is every sports movie ever made. People write this stuff; this never happens in real life. A team left for dead after a record-setting loss rising up to force a decisive game 7. This is the absolute best story in sports. This is “Miracle;” this is Charlie Brown and that little red haired girl; this is what we fans hope for. This is “Angels in the Outfield of Dreams.”

No team has ever gone down love-3 and forced a game seven. This team has. No team has ever won a best of seven series after trailing 0-3. This team could. Why not?

Admit it, even the most die-hard Sox fan knew this series was over after game three. Then, as we sat down to snooze through game four, all of a sudden, it wasn't over. Still, game five is a no-brainer, the Sox are done, it's only a matter of time. I even felt bad for the Sox fans, I thought it would have been easier for them to get swept and get on with their lives rather than win one measly game just before elimination, their ultimate pain delayed only a few more hours. But then, they beat Rivera in game four, and again in game five.

All week Andrew Siciliano of Fox Sports Radio has been saying that the Sox would find new and interesting ways to lose this series. It happened in game one when Mussina had a perfect game going into the 7th, only to see the Sox come back to within one when Papi's triple missed being a homer by 3 inches of blue wall. They still lost. It happened in game 3 when they gave up 19 runs. It was the curse. It was Schilling's big mouth and torn tendon. It was a disaster.

And when it looked like the curse might rear its ugly head again, the umpires made the right calls. When Bellhorn's homer was almost just a double (“It's Jeffer Maier!" I yelled), the umpires, who had been for shit all series, stepped up and got it right. When A-Rod put the stiff arm on Arroyo it looked like the game would end based on momentum. Watching that play, I didn’t see A-Rod's move; all I saw was the ball rolling into right field as I thought "How very Red Sock of them, a new and interesting way to lose." It seemed as though the Yanks would get all the breaks again. But for a second improbable time, the umps huddled up and got it right. The stars were aligned!

Perhaps there was divine intervention. Perhaps God is sick of hearing the Sox fans complain to high heaven. There's no doubt that ultimately the Sox benefited most from Friday's rain out. It allowed Pedro to come back on full rest in game five. It gave Schilling one more day. It gave everyone on that staff one more day.

And Schilling. My God, Schilling! The Yankee killer. He started three games of that 2001 WS. He looked terrible in game one. But once he knew what was wrong he pulled out one of the gutsiest sports performances of all time, again rivaling Koufax for the ability to pitch through what should have been a debilitating injury. If the Sox go on to win this series, Schilling's performance will go down as one of the greatest sports achievements ever. This dwarfs Willis Reed by a long shot.

No matter how this ends, it is the best story in sports, maybe ever. I'm calling it: no matter who wins, this is the greatest playoff series ever. The story lines, the passion, the comebacks, everything. I have never been so excited about a game seven before in my life, and I'm not even a Sox fan. This game is all I've thought about since Foulke got the last out last night.

You may remember last October, I wrote a column stating that I was done with being a fan as I had been. I would no longer live and die with my team. I would no longer get so geeked up for a game, or a series. Well, at least for tonight, that's out the window. I can't wait for the game. If you are even a casual sports fan YOU MUST WATCH THIS GAME!!!! This is David and Goliath, and there's one pebble left. Sure the Sox have some high profile free-agent stars, but look at some of their other regulars:

-David Ortiz: released by Minnesota
-Kevin Millar: released by Florida
-Bill Mueller: released by SF
-Mark Bellhorn: released by Colorado
-Pokey Reese: released by Pittsburgh
-Ellis Burkes: released by Cleveland

OK, I'm done. I can't overemphasize the greatness of tonight's event. This is everything a sports fan has ever wanted. This is what baseball, what all sports is all about. You may never see anything like this again in your life! (Until next year.)



Friday, October 1, 2004

Mmmmmm, plaaaaayoffffsssss....

So this is it, the final weekend of the season, for some teams everything they’ve done for the past six months comes down to what they can do in the next three days. I’m writing this from the back seat of the Rantalot mobile command center and I don’t have access to my usual research tools, but as DMJ says, “never let the facts get in the way of a good Rant.”

First, the teams that are in. The Cards look like crap. Their rotation is shaky in way that reminds me of the Yankees. In fact the Cards are the NL answer to the Evil Empire, not in payroll or evil quotient, but in make up: big sticks, poor starting staff, great closer (Izzy has the worlds quietest 30+ saves). The Braves also have issues and I have to believe they’ve done it with smoke, mirrors, and the mistakes of the rest of the division as much as brilliant management. The Yanks, as mentioned have a ton of questions. Sure they can hit, but do they have enough pitching even with a resurgent Moose? K-Brown and Vazquez haven’t shown they can pitch under pressure in NY, El Dookie has a “tired shoulder,” the pen has thrown about a million innings, and Rivera’s thrown about 500,000 of them. That leaves us with the Sux. The Sux, sadly, look like the best team in baseball right now (you’re welcome Kevin). While they have their own issues, (Pete says the Yanks are his “daddy?”) they have the scariest combo of pitching and hitting of the teams that are in right now. The Sux need to worry about Pete’s head, Lowe’s arm, and Wakfield’s age. Aside from Schilling their best pitcher has been Bronson Arroyo, but will Francona go with him in game two? Or will he cave and set up a Pete, Schill, TBD rotation. I wouldn’t start Pete in game one, but if you don’t and he feels dissed will he go into the tank?

Now the fun stuff, and I’ll save the AL West for last. First, the NL wild card, I say blame the curse of the Bartman. After all, if he hadn’t touched that foul ball in game five or whatever the Cubs wouldn’t have tanked in the last week losing 2-3 to the Mets and then getting mashed on by the Reds. SF is still alive for the both the division and the wild card and I’m hoping they get the old WC leaving the division to the Dodgers. This means I’m hoping LA can clinch today, then lose the next two (sorry Daniel), while the Astros lose three and the Cubs play like the Cubs. This is in the hopes that we see a classic and long awaited LA-SF NLCS and I can finally prove my Dodger allegiance to DMJ. That brings us to the Astros. Where the hell did they come from? A month ago they were dead. They were double-digit games out of everything and Pettite went under the knife. All of a sudden they have a share of that wild card pie.

Which brings us to this question: Is anyone still upset about baseball adding the wild card? Back in ’95 purists denounced the wild card. “After all,” they said, “why should we reward second place?” Indeed. The wild card came under fire again when baseball went to the unbalanced schedule. This time the complaint was that the now the wild card would be easier to attain for teams like the Red Sox who played in a division with Tampa Bay and Baltimore, while teams in the AL West would have a tougher road. All of these doubts should be put to bed by now. The fact is that the wild card keeps baseball exciting into the final weekend. Without the wild card there would be little drama in the NL since the Cubs and Astros are a world behind the Cards and SF needs a sweep in order to forge a tie with LA. Sure the Sux got the AL wild card again, as they have seven out of the ten possible wild card years, but at least one of the best teams in baseball is playing meaningful games in September and October rather than suffering simply because they can’t out spend the Yankees. And make no mistake; the wild card is hardly ever a slouch team. In fact , wild card teams have averaged about 90 wins/ year. As for the unbalanced schedule, well, it hasn’t helped the Cubs who just blew their shot against a weak division foe. Right now playoff hopes are alive in five cities. Last week Texas, and San Diego and Florida were alive as well. The wild card is good for baseball. It keeps more people in more places interested for a longer period of time.

Which brings us too…

A very special one time event…


That’s right folks, the most exciting series of the weekend is the ALWS, or the American League West Series, a very special early addition to the regular baseball playoffs. Not since 1980 have two teams ended up going head-to-head in the final weekend in a flat footed tie for first. Among the many intriguing series this weekend only the tilt between the A’s and Angels will directly and independently determine who moves on, and who goes home. This is a three game series to see who gets to go the next five game series. Also, as if this match up needed any more subplots there is the fact that the Angels, A’s and Twins all have the same record, so a dominant performance by any of the three will determine who gets the Sux at home, and who has to travel to the Bronx.

So how’s it look for the home nine? That depends, can we get Hudson from 2000, Zito from ’02 and Mulder from before the all star break? Sure, the A’s have the Big Three going in the series, but the Big Three have been a big bust this month. Mulder pitches tonight against Bartolo the Colon. Colon has been going well recently while Mulder is 0 for September with an ERA over 8. Zito, pitching tomorrow, has been in a steady slide since the final day of the regular season back in ’02. In fact, the best A’s pitcher this month has been Rich Harden, who may be available out of the pen on short rest especially if the A’s lose tonight, or fall behind tomorrow. I’d say tonight is a must win for Oakland since, though they’ve been hitting well, don’t want to face one game winner takes all situation against a determined Angels club that has a good line up, and most importantly, a good pen.

And therein lies the crux of the situation. As bad as the rotation has been for Oakland this month, the bullpen has been abysmal all year. The A’s lead the majors in blown saves. If they had converted even a fourth of the saves they’ve blown they would have clinched the division yesterday at the latest. That said, the weakness of the pen puts even more pressure on the Big Three than in previous years because they know they have to go deep into games and leave with big leads if Oakland has a reasonable chance at winning. Gone are the days when Oakland could take in reclamation project relievers and turn them into highly coveted free agents for other teams. Gone are the days when the Big Three could win two out of any three games against any team any time. Gone is Rick Peterson. Check the archives Rant fans. I said the when RP left the A’s pitchers would start to decline. Coincidence? I think not.

So the final analysis? Either team can win this series, it’s almost a toss up, but I’d give a slight edge to the Angels based on momentum. They’ve been chasing Oakland for some time now and they feel like they have our boys in their sights. There’s always more pressure being on the side that’s trying not to crumble than on the side trying to build. Right now the A’s are trying to stave off a disastrous month and get into the playoffs once again. Check back Next week for a playoff preview, or a bitter post mortem.
6:05 pm edt