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.

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