Categories
A's Sunday Summary MLB

Pache Getting To Work

We always refer to this time of year as the off-season; however, that’s only accurate when it comes to the baseball action in MLB.

The Australian Baseball League is in its Third Round of the 22/23 season, with former Oakland A Josh Reddick playing for Perth Heat in what will be his final competition before retiring.

You will also find a whole bunch of Major Leaguers and Minor League talent in the Caribbean Winter Leagues, primarily in Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rico, LVPB in Venezuela and The Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana, known as LIDOM, in the Dominican Republic.

One of the players getting some at-bats in LIDOM is a native of Santo Domingo Centro: Cristian Pache.

The A’s centre-fielder unfortunately epitomised how Oakland’s 2022 season unravelled. Just as we knew it was going to be a rough year in the win-loss column, we also knew that Pache came from the Braves with a reputation of being an elite centre-fielder, but needing plenty of development at the plate. The hope, for both the team and for Pache, was that there would be improvement over the season and encouraging signs of things to come.

That wasn’t quite what happened.

Although Pache’s fielding was as outstanding as advertised, he never found any sort of rhythm at the plate. Despite manager Mark Kotsay giving him plenty of time and encouragement to work through his struggles, by June 30th he was hitting only .159/.203/.224 and the team had no choice but to demote him back to Triple-A.

He put up a much better line in 41 games in Vegas, hitting .248/.298/.389 with 4 HR, although it still wasn’t quite at the level you would like to see from a player trying to force his way back onto the Major League roster.

Pache is far from unique in finding it hard to deal with the quality of breaking balls and off-speed pitches as he moves through the Minors. You don’t get far in the professional hitter ranks if you can’t catch up with a good fastball, but what separates the maybes from the Major Leaguers is how they cope with the so-called secondary pitches.

That doesn’t mean you have to be just as good at hitting those pitches and in fact even some of the best hitters have quite a drop in their production off non-fastball pitches. You’ve got to be able to hit them well enough to keep the pitcher honest and, most importantly, you’ve got to develop the pitch recognition and discipline at the plate to force the pitcher to either come at you with the fastball or give you a free pass to first base.

When we look a bit deeper into the statistics there is a case that Pache did suffer some misfortune at the plate during 2022.

His batting average on fastballs was .192, but his expected Batting Average was .276, just as his expected Slugging percentage of .361 was .100 higher than what his actual slugging percentage turned out as (.264).

You have to be careful when looking at ‘expected’ stats as they don’t tell the whole story (e.g. if Pache had been getting better results then pitchers would have started pitching him differently etc); however, at a basic level they give you an idea of how lucky or unlucky the hitter was.

In this case, Pache’s ability to hit fastballs hard didn’t produce the results you would normally expect and part of that genuinely will be a case of hitting into some bad luck.

We all know how important confidence is for an athlete, especially a young player trying to find their feet, so perhaps if the baseball gods had been more on his side then Pache may not have fallen into such a hole and found a better approach at the plate.

That’s not how things work, though. Coping with failure is a big part of the game and Pache was like a driver sat in a car spinning its wheels in the mud hoping that if he jumped on the accelerator pedal enough times he may finally gain some traction and race clear of danger. Time and again Pache was behind in the count 0-2 within a blink of an eye from chasing after bad pitches (accepting that’s easy to say watching on TV from the comfort of your sofa). No one knows any of this better than Pache himself.

Pache is playing for Estrellas Orientales (Oriental Stars) in LIDOM, alongside former A’s teammate Christian Bethancourt.

His season debut came on Monday against Tigres del Licey where he went 3-for-4 with 2 doubles and he then went 1-for-5 against Toros del Este on Tuesday. Pache sat out the team’s game on Friday against Aguilas Cibaeñas, whose line-up included former A’s favourite Yoenis Cespedes and former A’s Minor Leaguer Frank Schwindel.

In truth, Pache’s stats from his time in LIDOM won’t tell us all that much. What matters is that he uses the off-season to re-set and then is able to work with the A’s hitting coaches during Spring Training.

His fielding is so spectacularly good that he doesn’t need to be an impact hitter to be a quality everyday Major Leaguer. He does need to be able to contribute at the plate, though. The joy of watching him patrol centre field at the Coliseum, and the infectious joy he shows when playing the game, means that we all want him to come good.

Whether he can or not will be one of the key stories to follow in the A’s 2023 season.

Thao confirmed as new Oakland Mayor

As rumoured last week, Sheng Thao has now been confirmed as the new mayor-elect for the City of Oakland. Thao was elected by a narrow majority of just 682 votes over Loren Taylor and held her first press conference outside the City Hall on Wednesday.

Thao’s campaign drew in part on her own experiences of the homelessness struggles that are rightly a major concern in the city, as the Guardian.com’s news report states:

Just 15 years ago, Thao was living in her car with her infant son. She had just escaped an abusive relationship and had nowhere to go. This week Thao, 37, became the first Hmong American woman to lead a major US city, the youngest Oakland mayor in 75 years and the first renter to hold the position

The Guardian.com

The report goes on to state that “Over the past five years, Oakland saw a steeper rise in homelessness than any other city in the Bay Area” and this of course plays into some of the tensions around the A’s proposed development at Howard Terminal. Whilst there are valid arguments to support the wider benefits of investing tax-payer dollars into the project, it’s understandable that the optics of potentially doing so continue to be controversial.

Thao’s previous position has been the straight forward one: she wants the project to go ahead but the deal has to be right for Oakland, not just for the A’s owner John Fisher. Coming from a country where public funds wouldn’t be used in this way, largely because we don’t have a sports franchise system that allows teams to threaten relocation, it’s a stance that is hard not to support regardless of how much we all want the team to stay in Oakland.

Thao has lots on her ‘to-do list’ and that will likely include resolving the Howard Terminal project one way or another in the first half of 2023 rather than letting it continue to drag on.

Over to you, Fisher.

Around the Bases

First: Aaron Judge’s Free Agency tour began this past week across the Bay where the San Francisco Giants rolled out the red carpet for the Linden, California native. Whilst a return to the New York Yankees still seems the likeliest outcome – the Yankees not being able to re-sign the reigning AL MVP, and by far their most popular player, would cause a complete meltdown in the Bronx – the Giants figure to be a strong candidate for at least one of the big-ticket free agents on the market this off-season.

Second: There is something very comforting about the annual off-season tale in Anaheim, where the Angels make some moves, the national media hypes them up, and then they fall woefully short of the play-offs. It’s funnier when the A’s aren’t hopeless too, but it’s always worth a chuckle anyway. The Halos have been the most active MLB team so far this off-season, signing pitcher Tyler Anderson to a 3-year, $39M contract, trading for third baseman Gio Urshela from the Twins and then this week adding outfielder Hunter Renfroe in a trade with the Brewers. Will it work this time?

Third: The competition for ‘Cheapest Team of the Off-Season’ has taken an early turn as the usually frugal Pittsburgh Pirates have jumped into the free agent market and agreed a deal with first-baseman Carlos Santana. Although it’s only a one-year deal worth $6.75M, the stakes are so low in the Cheapo Challenge that the investment may take the Buccos away from the other misers. It looks unlikely that the A’s will agree to a free agent contract worth more than that amount of money. The question is whether our entire free agent spending goes above that figure?

Home: The MLB London Series returns in 2023 with the postponed 2020 match-up between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals at the London Stadium. Pre-sale ticket offers go live for MLB Europe subscribers on Monday.

Categories
UK Schedule

A’s Schedule: Week beginning 4 July 2022

The A’s are heading back home after a tough 10-game road-trip, which would sound like a good development but the Coliseum hasn’t exactly been Home Sweet Home this season either.

Add to that the quality of the two teams we’re facing this week and it could be a case of enjoying the 4th of July Fireworks tonight, praying for the best with Frankie Montas’s shoulder injury, and anything else being a bonus.

Toronto (H)

The Blue Jays come into the week on a 44-36 win-loss record and have just slipped behind the Boston Red Sox into third place in the AL East after losing three in a row to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Toronto have been a team of two halves over the past 30 days. Whilst their batting line-up has been excellent, leading the Majors with 171 runs scored during that span, their pitching has been hit by injuries and some ineffectiveness.

Their pitching staff’s combined ERA over the past 30 days of 4.70 ERA is the eighth worst across the Majors and, although they’ve not been terrible throughout that stretch, it’s the part of their game that they need to improve in the second-half of the season if they want to be true play-off contenders.

Probable pitching match-ups are as follows:

Game 1: Alek Manoah – Cole Irvin
Game 2: Yusei Kikuchi – Adrian Martinez
Game 3: José Berríos – James Kaprielian

Houston (H)

It’s always a treat to welcome the Astros to the Coliseum, of course, and this series will be no exception.

The Astros have won 14 of their past 17 games, including six on the spin heading into this week. Their 51-27 win-loss record is second only to the New York Yankees (58-22) and they already have a 13.5 game lead over second place in the AL West, so there’s no doubting they are the class of the division by quite a margin.

They’ve got a four-game series at home against the Kansas City Royals Monday to Thursday before heading out west to face us over the weekend, so we can probably forget the idea that their confidence might take a dent before we face them.

Perhaps they may just get bored of winning and we can take a couple from them! Probable pitching match-ups for the series are as follows:

Game 1: José Urquidy – Paul Blackburn
Game 2: Framber Valdez – TBD
Game 3: Jake Odorizzi – Cole Irvin

Our nemesis Justin Verlander is currently on schedule to start on Thursday against the Royals, so we should miss him this time around. That potential good news gets balanced out by the potential bad news associated with our scheduled starter for Saturday.

We should hear more about Frankie Montas’s injury status later today after he lasted just one inning on Sunday against the Mariners. The initial reaction from Frankie was that he and the team were erring on the side of caution, but the MRI scans today will tell the tale. Even the best case scenario makes it likely that he’ll skip a turn in the rotation to ensure he can get a couple of performances in before the trade deadline is reached at the end of July.

It’s sad to write that maintaining Frankie’s trade value is the most important thing for the A’s right now; however it’s sadly true.

Categories
Uncategorized

Reflections on Roger Angell

The death this week of writer Roger Angell was important enough to merit a news item on the BBC’s website.

I mean no disrespect to any other baseball writer to say he was more than just a baseball writer. In many ways that was the point with Angell; he was a gifted wordsmith who directed his talents to a wide array of different topics. We were simply fortunate that one of his great passions throughout his life was baseball.

There are a few collections of his writing available, one of which is ‘Game Time: A Baseball Companion’.

Back in December 2008 I co-wrote a review of this title with my friend Joe Gray for my now-defunct (albeit still standing!) BaseballGB website. Angell’s passing made me revisit that piece and I found that years of website coding upgrades have added a bunch of weird references where punctuation (quote marks, semi-colons etc) used to be.

Therefore, I thought I would tidy it up and reproduce it in full here. Much as it’s slightly bizarre to be confronted with the fact that I co-wrote this nearly 14 years ago, it’s comforting that I still feel the same way about the book today.

‘Game Time: A Baseball Companion’ (Harvest, 2004), 398 pages

It stands to reason that British baseball fans would want to discover as many great baseball writers as possible. Buying a copy of ‘Game Time: A Baseball Companion’ should therefore be high on your list of things to do.

During his career writing about baseball for The New Yorker since 1962, Roger Angell has consistently proved to be one of the finest commentators on the game. This collection brings together essays and shorter “takes’ from that first year up until the Angels’ triumph over the Giants in the 2002 World Series. His prose is easy and enjoyable to read: elegant but never overly wordy; insightful but never condescending. Just as importantly, his simple love of the game is always at the heart of everything he writes.

Every piece of writing on display makes you appreciate the great game of baseball even more. As both Joe and I have a copy of this book, we thought the best way to honour the writing would be to concentrate on two pieces each, rather than to gloss over the whole collection. Joe writes about two of the shorter “takes’ first (the second actually being a collection of three written in different years), before I cover a couple of the essays.

Takes: Digging up Willie

Although he does not state it in this short essay on Willie Mays’ home-run number 501, Angell has a good chunk of outfield in his heart allocated to the legendary Giant. In the essay, the reader accompanies Angell on a hunt for details on a home-run that Mays, when asked to remember a favourite round-tripper, described as the only dramatic one he hit in his career (from a catalogue of 660).

Angell has something similar to a ball in the dirt to work with, from Mays’ answer:

“Home run against Claude Raymond, in the Astrodome. Somebody was on first, and it tied the game. Jim Davenport won it for us in the eleventh or twelfth inning. Raymond threw me thirteen fastballs, and I fouled them off. The ball went over the fence in left-center field. What year? You’d have to look that up. Ask Claude Raymond; ”he probably knows it better than I do”.

Angell’s pre-Internet quest to find out more about this home-run leads him, “after several cases of mistaken identity (several four-baggers not quite fitting the description)“, to number 501, although the description that he is given suggests that only four pitches were fouled off before the swing that did the damage.

Curious about the discrepancy between the four foul-balls mentioned in this account and the thirteen described by Mays, Angell gets in contact with Raymond, the pitcher who served up number 501. Raymond confirms Mays’ description, leaving Angell satisfied that he now has the correct details to publish in The New Yorker.

In wrapping up the case, Angell treats the reader to the fact that Mays hit home-runs in every inning up to the sixteenth, and then dryly quips: “Too bad none of them were dramatic”. And then, right at the end of this story, comes a pleasant little twist sure to make any baseball fan want to smile. The twist works better after reading the actual essay, and that is what I strongly recommend you do.

Takes: Three Petes

Here, Angell joins together three short pieces on Pete Rose. The first, from 1981, consists mostly of quoted text and illustrates the supreme confidence that Rose had in his batting ability. The second piece, written after Rose’s record-breaking hit number 4,192, on 11 September 1985, contrasts the media circus surrounding the breaking of Ty Cobb’s record with the lack of attention given to Cobb passing Honus Wagner’s then record mark of 3,430 on 20 September 1923. The thorough and skilful treatment of Rose’s record satisfied the statistical hunger I get any time that I read about one of the game’s greats.

It is the third piece, however, that I was most interested, being written in 1999 following the naming of MLB’s All-Century Team, 10 years after Rose signed an agreement to a life-time banishment from baseball for betting on the sport.

What I wanted to know was what Angell, among the most intelligent of baseball writers that the game has ever known, thought about the prospects of Rose’s admission to the Hall of Fame. It is not until the final paragraph that Angell makes it certain that he is pro-admission, while noting that if it ever happens it will be on the Commissioner’s terms. Having likened the way that Rose handled the scandal to Shoeless Joe coming out of the cornfield in Field of Dreams earlier in the essay, Angell signs off with the sentence:

“Do it, Pete, and we will come”.

The Scout

Depicting a baseball landscape in 1976 that had undergone rapid change, Angell finds that the humble baseball scout had remained the symbol of a forgotten time. Fast forward to 2003 and Michael Lewis could be found writing the same thing in Moneyball, only in a much less sympathetic tone.

Angell clearly felt (feels?) a lot of warmth to the men who spend day after day travelling long distances for the game they love. Whereas Lewis revelled in the growing rise of statistical analysis driving the dinosaurs to extinction, Angell captured the quality of these baseball men at a time when the MLB Scouting Bureau was putting many of them out of jobs. Angell walked in the footsteps of the then Angels scout Ray Scarborough as he sought to bring life to the anonymous scouting reports produced by the Bureau on several top high school and college players shortly before that year’s amateur draft.

We are taken into a world of strong friendships (“It’s a fraternity”, Scarborough explains), where years of hard work could go unnoticed to the general baseball fan yet were treasured by the men who devoted their lives to it. A life on the scouting road might be tough, but it’s also full of characters and great stories that the scouts are always ready to share. And that’s what really stands out about Ray and his colleagues: the willingness to pass on their considerable baseball knowledge to other people. After Scarborough succinctly explained the mechanics of a young hurler, Angell noted:

“All this was perfectly evident to me as soon as Ray pointed it out. I had the curious feeling that I was listening to a brilliant English instructor explicating some famous novel or play. I thought I had known some of the passages by heart, known them almost too well, but now I began to hear different rhythms and truths. An old text had become fresh and exciting again”.

It’s an essay that could have been written in 2006 rather than thirty years earlier and it’s a joy to read.

The Distance

One of Angell’s most famous essays, The Distance is a revealing portrait of pitching legend Bob Gibson. Written five years after he had retired, Angell draws the reader’s attention to Gibson’s greatness firstly by compiling the case through statistics (his seventeen strikeout performance against the Tigers in the 1968 World Series, his 1.12 earned-run average in the same year etc) and then through the gripping testimony of his teammates and opponents.

After reading such compelling evidence, it seems strange that Angell was partly moved to meet Gibson because it was his first year of eligibility to the Hall of Fame and that he believed “baseball up to now has never quite known what to make of Bob Gibson, and has slightly but persistently failed to pay him his full due as a player and a man”. How could his special talent cause such confusion? Well, people didn’t really know Gibson, predominantly because he had no desire for them to know him.

Gibson was a proud man, a black American who had grown up battling against racism, a fierce competitor whose focus was on winning baseball games. He didn’t waste any time on the mound and was never caught kidding around with opposing players. It was ’business’ to Gibson, not show business. For some people who watched him and, most specifically, the people who reported on him, this wasn’t enough.

Consequently, he makes for a fascinating subject. Angell uncovers the man behind the pitcher and what made him refuse to play the role of all-round “sports hero’ away from the mound. In doing so, he is able to explore more widely the demands placed on sportsmen. Angell states:

“It is my suspicion that both sportswriters and fans are increasingly resentful of the fame and adulation and immense wealth that are now bestowed so swiftly upon so many young professional athletes”, adding “that there is indeed a wish to own them; to demand ceaseless, inhumanely repeated dazzling performances from them on the field, and to require absolute access to their private lives as well”.

It’s a position that Angell, someone who loves the pure pleasure of watching a ballgame and who does not seek to burden it with any greater moral, philosophical or spiritual meaning, calmly casts aside.

The Distance shows that Bob Gibson was too proud a man to create an artificial public persona; that this won him no favours during his career but is something we should admire as part of his strong-willed character in retrospect.

Conclusion

Not many books deserve a 1,600 word review, but Game Time surely does. It’s a book that you will go back to and pick up off the shelf at regular intervals and deserves a place in every baseball fan’s collection.

Categories
Podcast UK Schedule

New Week, New Challenges, New Podcast

All things considered, a 5-4 win-loss record from last week was about par.

The A’s were on a horrendous slide having lost nine games in a row, so to recover from that by winning four of five against Detroit was very important for morale.

The Angels were always going to be a very different proposition to the toothless Tigers, especially playing them four times in three days. A 2-2 split would have been a good return, so whilst losing three of four was disappointing, it all added up to a steady week to build on.

The schedule gets no easier, with three home games against the Minnesota Twins (who swept us in a three-game series just over a week ago) and three more against the Angels.

I reviewed last week’s action, and previewed the upcoming Twins series, in a YouTube live-stream yesterday evening. You can find that here, including a few button-pushing production mishaps along the way!

A slightly more polished version has been published as a podcast. You can find that on all the usual podcast places or direct here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/865651/10621796

Categories
A's Sunday Summary

Pick A Song

There are many little in-jokes and rituals we go through as a group on our A’s UK Zoom watch-alongs.

Our superstitious side was in full effect for Saturday’s game against the Astros having lost the first two games of the series. Sitting in different places in our respective homes, different coloured jerseys, me keeping score of the game for the first time this season: we tried a bunch of things and none of them worked.

Some would conclude that what we do has no impact on how the team plays. Our conclusion was that we tried too many things at once. We sincerely apologise to Bob Melvin, the A’s players and the rest of the A’s fan base.

These are the types of discussions you have when you’re watching your team getting thumped again. Us Brits are masters at gallows humour and our American friends who join in our watch-alongs are accustomed to it now too. However, there was one major point of contention yesterday and it came up because it’s been a key issue for the A’s over the first three games of this season.

Runners In Scoring Position is something you’ll find in game reports and more detailed box scores. If a team has runners at second and/or third base then they are considered to be in scoring position and it’s useful to know how a team (or individual player) has hit when they are in this situation as, unsurprisingly, it can be crucial in scoring runs and winning games.

You’ll see it abbreviated to RISP in writing, but our pal New York A’s Jay is insistent that no one says “risp” nor even ever really says “R.I.S.P”. When you talk about it, you refer to it as “Runners In Scoring Position”, apparently.

Well, not in A’s UK. “Risp” is very much a thing to us, not least following the AL Wild Card Series against the Chicago White Sox last year. When we were finally managing to get some runners home, we channelled the power of Craig David’s smooth classic “I’m Walking Away” to celebrate our team “Risping away”.

If you’ve watched any of the A’s three games so far you’ll know that there hasn’t been any call to break out that song.

When you look at the scores from the three games so far the obvious starting point is to focus on the runs allowed (8, 9 and 9). There’s no question that if you have to score 9 or 10 runs to win a game then the offence is being put in a tough spot. Yet plenty of those runs came late on in the games.

In Game One we allowed 2 runs in the eighth inning and 3 in the ninth, in Game Two we allowed 3 runs in the ninth inning and in Game Three we allowed 4 runs in the ninth inning. It’s not at all to say the Astros were lucky in winning the games, just that the margin of the wins was largely a result of a couple of pitchers being lit up when the game was pretty much lost anyway (especially poor Reymin Guduan).

What’s hurt the A’s the most over the three games is that the batting line-up hasn’t capitalised on the opportunities they have created. That’s illustrated clearly when we look at how we have hit with runners in scoring position:

  • Gm 1: 1 for 8
  • Gm 2: 0 for 6
  • Gm 3: 1 for 8.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s tough to win games when you go 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position. The way to win games is to be Risping Away and it’s just not happening right now.

So far we have had to pull Craig David from the playlist and whilst we haven’t filled the silence with anything else as yet, if we did we would probably end up swaying sadly to George Michael. Collectively the batting line-up have been Careless Rispers to this point.

Fear not: not coming through in these moments over three games is no indication that we can’t do it, nor that we won’t start doing it soon. We know that we have quality hitters in our line-up and things just aren’t clicking right now.

As George Michael sang in another classic: you’ve got to have faith.

Sunday’s Game

There would be no better time to get our Risp game going than in salvaging a win from the final game of this series. Sean Manaea is the scheduled starter for the A’s and hopefully the batting line-up will find a way to help out our smiling assassin to get the first win on the board.

First pitch is 9.07pm UK time (1.07pm PDT) and it has been chosen by MLB.com to be today’s Free Game of the Day. That means if you’re not already a subscriber to MLB.TV, you can still watch the game live online. All you need to do is to register an account with MLB.com and you’ll be able to follow along.

Categories
Game Report

Astros get us again

The positive way to look at it is that perhaps us A’s fans in the UK will get to watch our first win of the season at a convenient time!

Friday’s game, a 9-5 loss, was another one that got away from us, with Luzardo generally pitching well but making some mistakes in the second time facing their batting order. The likes of Bregman and Gurriel are too good not to take advantage and that’s going to be part of Jesús’s development this season.

As with many other quality pitchers of the past, he’ll take some lumps early in his career as he develops his craft. There’s no doubting that he has the tools to be a top-flight starting pitcher though, so no need to worry about the Messiah any time soon.

It is a slight worry that some injuries are already starting to impact the team, however.

Sean Murphy’s workload early in the season was always going to need to be managed carefully, but it’s a blow that he has another knock that has forced him to sit out a game or two.

Meanwhile, Ramón Laureano’s status remains to be seen after he got taken out of the game last night. It’s such a difficult one because we all love the energy and competitive spirit that Ramón brings to the team, but diving into first base is always a risky proposition. It’s all the more so when you’re trying to beat someone to the bag, as the fielder’s (pitcher in this case) job is to step on the base and their momentum is going through your path. The likelihood of a collision, or being stepped on, is high and whenever the runner comes out of it badly you can’t help but feel it was a risk not worth taking.

As for the pitching staff, the surprise announcement that Trevor Rosenthal would begin the season on the Injured List was an immediate reminder that few things in baseball are more fickle than the fate of a bullpen. It only takes a couple of relievers to either go down with an injury, or struggle on the mound, and suddenly that puts a strain on the rest of the group.

I’ll be honest, it never ceases to amaze me how some A’s fans on Twitter react to a handful of performances and are quick to absolutely destroy a player on the back of a couple of appearances. The bullpen is already being written off by some and the same is going for some of the position players too. Elvis Andrus is already a waste of space according to some of these “fans” based on his first two games in the Green and Gold.

It’s ridiculous and, whilst I’ve learned to keep out of that stuff on social media (you can’t reason with people when they’re determined to be unreasonable), you do have to question the motivation behind it. You get the same with football fans; it’s almost as if their manhood (because it’s almost always a guy) is questioned as a result of the team they love losing a game so their reaction is to scapegoat players/the manager in some sort of dick-waving pique.

You do you, but I’d prefer it if a few of you grew up a bit! This is Big League baseball: it’s a long season over which the form of teams and players fluctuates. We don’t want to lose, and we certainly don’t want to lose to the Astros as our main division rival, but they’re a damn good team. I have no doubt that we are too, but every game has a winner and a loser (Manfred hasn’t changed that one, yet) so you have to take it on the chin, be positive about the next game and get behind the team.

The next game for us is a day-game on Saturday at the Coliseum, so a 9.07pm start in the UK. Coverage is on MLB.TV with a subscription (worth noting that tomorrow’s game at the same time is the MLB Free Game). I may even do a pre-game livestream to try to rally the troops! Keep an eye on Twitter for confirmation.

Categories
Game Report

Not the start we wanted, but a start

When my alarm went off at 2.30 am this morning I had no problem in getting out of bed. That’s not always the case, as I’ve written about previously, yet Opening Night has that effect on us baseball fans.

So it is that the A’s 8-1 loss to the Astros doesn’t sting all that much. It’s fair to say we don’t like losing to that mob, yet that in part comes from the fact that we know how good a team they are. There will be plenty more battles against them the rest of the way, three more over the next three days in fact, so we shouldn’t get too disheartened by one performance.

More than anything, complaining about the result when we got to watch our team for the first time in months seems a tad ungrateful.

We didn’t get the win, but we did get to see Chad Pinder’s Superman Act (Parts I and II), Correa getting tonked on the arm and all of it happening in front of 10,000+ at the Coliseum, many of whom were watching baseball in-person for the first time in 18 months.

So there’s nothing much to complaint about, really, although with the Robo Ump future staring us in the face it’s worth delving into one part of the game.

Brian Gorman’s strike zone

The A’s didn’t lose this game because of the home plate umpire Brian Gorman, but he did make the usually unflappable Matt Olson lose his cool and when you look at the evidence it is not hard to see why.

1st April 2021 – Oly’s first plate appearance – baseballsavant.mlb.com

Whilst commentators like to harp on about the first-pitch strike, often the most important pitch in an at-bat is pitch three and the difference between a 1-2 count and 2-1. In the bottom of the first inning, the count was 1-1 when Zack Greinke tossed over a loopy curveball. It’s the turquoise-coloured pitch 3 in the chart above and Gorman somehow called it a strike. Oly battled brilliantly from there, but ended up striking out on a fastball.

1st April 2021 – Oly’s second plate appearance – baseballsavant.mlb.com

In Oly’s second plate appearance he was able to get ahead 2-1, but then fouled-off pitch 4 and then lined-out on pitch 5. They are good pitches from Greinke’s point of view, yet you have to believe that Oly felt more-inclined to swing at them due to the outside-strike call in his first at-bat.

1st April 2021 – Oly’s fourth plate appearance – baseballsavant.mlb.com

And then we get to Oly’s at-bat to end the eighth inning against Blake Taylor. Again, the count was 1-1 when Taylor threw a fastball that was clearly outside (pitch 3 above). Gorman somehow saw it as a strike and put Oly in a hole. The umpire then repeated the trick with a called strike three on pitch 5. Oly had every reason to be mad.

When you look at all the at-bats, it’s fair to say Gorman called a few stinkers against the Astros hitters too; however the key theme for the A’s was the way he was calling pitches off the plate to left-handed hitters. It wasn’t just Oly that suffered along the way.

1st April 2021 – Lowrie’s AB in the fifth inning – baseballsavant.mlb.com

This is the chart from switch-hitter Jed Lowrie’s at-bat in the fifth inning against Greinke. Gorman called the first-pitch fastball a strike.

1st April 2021 – Moreland’s AB in the seventh inning – baseballsavant.mlb.com

And this is Moreland’s pitch chart in the seventh inning facing Enoli Paredes. Gorman correctly called pitch 1 a ball but then called pitch 2 a strike. In this case at least, Moreland went on to draw a walk.

A few A’s fans on Twitter were complaining at Oly after the at-bat in the eighth inning on the basis that Gorman had been calling those outside pitches as strikes all night so he had to take his bat off his shoulder.

I’ve always hated that line of thinking. The strike zone is not just an incidental part of the contest. When an umpire is consistently extending or narrowing the strike zone, as opposed to missing a call or two here and there, it skews the competition between pitcher and hitter.

We regularly hear that current MLB games are longer and have less action in them because the ball doesn’t get put in play as much as in year’s past and that this is something the Commissioner’s Office is focused on trying to improve.

Holding umpires genuinely accountable for the strike zones they are calling would be a good first step.

Categories
MLB

Not a good start for the Nationals

The Washington Nationals’ press conference today was an excitement-piercing reminder that we are still about to begin a season played out under the lingering threat posed by COVID-19.

The team revealed that a player has tested positive and that five other people (four players, one staff member) have been deemed to have been in close contact with them based on the agreed Health and Safety Protocol.

As per that protocol, in theory the player who tested positive will have to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days, with the other five contacts facing a minimum seven-day quarantine too. It’s a breaking story so we’ll have to wait and see what further details emerge and exactly how it is going to pan out.

Their General Manager Mike Rizzo has stated that their opening game against the New York Mets on Thursday will go ahead regardless, calling up additional players from their alternate site if needed. Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic confirmed that the message from Rizzo was that they will “have to make some roster moves” as a result.

Barely 20 minutes after Nats beat-writers were reporting that news, Cardinals beat-writers were reporting from their team’s Zoom press conference that manager Mike Schildt had stated they had gone past the 85 per cent threshold of team members having received an initial vaccine shot. This will ultimately entitle the players and staff to benefit from slightly-loosened restrictions, such as the ability to go to restaurants when on road trips etc.

This is a measure clearly designed to encourage any players on the fence to get a vaccine or risk the wrath of their teammates for preventing them from reaching the 85 per cent threshold. Fair enough, if you ask me.

Possibly the most important relaxation of the rules in the context of today’s news is that a close contact of someone who tests positive would not have to quarantine, so long as they were one of the 85 per cent that had received the vaccine and were not displaying any other symptoms (and obviously, would have to be passing the COVID tests administered).

That’s not a criticism of the Nationals right now as the changes only kick in when at least 85 per cent on a team are fully vaccinated. ESPN.com explain that this means:

“two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna and two weeks after the first dose of Johnson & Johnson, a single-dose vaccine”.

ESPN.com

Staff, players and their family members are starting to get the opportunity to be vaccinated and the news today can be seen as wake-up call that should encourage players and staff to take up the option as soon as it is offered.

As for the A’s, Shayna Rubin has reported that David Forst confirmed today the team is “working to make access available to players/staff”.

It would appear from Shayna’s tweet that the ongoing work is around organising the vaccination process, rather than trying to convince enough people to take it, and hopefully that is the case.

Of course, vaccinations will not completely remove the risk of transmission or illness caused by COVID-19; however today’s breaking news from the Nationals’ camp shows that everyone in MLB still needs to be doing everything they can to ensure that the season starting tomorrow will be able to proceed as normally as possible in these abnormal times.

Categories
Roster moves

Roster almost set?

Spring Training is officially finished for the Oakland A’s and two more players have been confirmed as making the Opening Day roster.

Rule 5 selection Ka’ai Tom has made the team despite a slow start to Spring when a minor injury kept him out of the line-up for the first couple of weeks of the Cactus League.

The A’s selected him in the Rule 5 draft from Cleveland over the off-season and he now has to remain on the Big League roster all season long, otherwise he gets sent back to them. We’ll see how that goes over the months ahead, yet I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the A’s do keep hold of him.

We have a good recent history of finding players whose versatility can make them decent roster additions. Tom is unlikely to ever become a leading light, but his fielding versatility (comfortable at all three outfield positions) and developing bat give him a chance to be someone whose worth to a winning team goes beyond his individual stat line.

If he does stick around then he will be the A’s first real direct Rule 5 success story.

The A’s most recent Rule 5-acquired players – Vimael Machín last year and Mark Canha back in 2014 – were not technically selected by us. In both cases we cut a deal with a team that had a much earlier draft pick that they were not going to use, so that they selected them and then immediately traded them to the A’s for a small fee. Machín was selected from the Cubs by the Phillies last off-season, whilst Canha was selected by Colorado from Miami over the 2014-15 off-season.

Tom was an under-the-radar acquisition this off-season and the same could be said for the transaction that saw pitcher Burch Smith join the team a year ago in a rare Bay Area trade with the Giants.

Smith impressed in six relief appearances last year before a forearm injury brought his season to an early end. The A’s brought him back on a $705k salary for 2021 and he will round out an eight-man bullpen to start the season, probably serving as Bob Melvin’s first choice when a starter gets knocked out early and we need 2-3 innings from someone.

With the bullpen and the position players sorted, the only question is who will take Mike Fiers’ place in the rotation? (*)

I still think Puk is likely to start the year at the alternate site, as much to keep his workload down as anything, so it would seem to be between Jefferies and Irvin, with the former my guess as to the person who will make it on to the Opening Day roster.

(*) Subject to Frankie Montas’s finger issue lingering, although that doesn’t seem to be too much of a concern right now.

Categories
UK Schedule

A’s This Week: 29th March

Here’s the A’s schedule for the coming week. We have our final Spring Training game today against the Giants before the team heads to Oakland for the start of the regular season.

We get going with a four-game series at the Coliseum against the Astros. The first two games are night-games, so begin in the early hours of the following morning here in the UK; however, the Easter weekend means most of us don’t have to worry about work commitments getting in the way of staying/getting up for them.

The Opener is going to be broadcast on UK TV on the BT Sport/ESPN channel and will be repeated at the more convenient time of 12:15 on Friday if that is easier to plan around.

The games on Saturday and Sunday are at the much-more hospitable time of 9.07pm.

MLB.com are a pain when it comes to publishing which games are going to be chosen for their usual MLB.TV Free Game of the Day too far in advance, so we’ll update you via Twitter if any of the A’s games are selected.

Otherwise, you’ll need an MLB.TV subscription to watch the games. Trust us: it’s well worth the money if you want to follow the A’s (or the season in general) so that you can ensure you never miss a game either live or on-demand.

We’re not subject to any of the blackouts they have to suffer in the States, so all games are available (potentially subject to Facebook/YouTube having a deal to show a game or two per week internationally).