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Tuesday, September 07, 2004


I was hoping to post this on Monday and John Gizzi was more than happy to comply on short notice. Due to my strong attention to detail, I did not realize that Monday was Labor Day and forgot set up my email accordingly. Hence, this is getting posted a day late.

John Gizzi writes for ESPN.com as the A’s Fantasy Correspondent. In 2000 and 2001, John won the distinguished Tobin Cup for literature. He continues to provide great insight into our rivals out West.

El Guapo's Ghost:
When checking out the A’s, the single biggest surprise is Eric Chavez’s numbers versus lefties. Is there an explanation for Eric Chavez’s numbers against southpaws – more practice, mental, batting stance, voodoo magic?

John Gizzi:
What's helped Chavez is that he's standing further away from the plate—allowing him to hang in longer against a southpaw's breaking pitches—and using a closed stance, keeping his shoulder more square to the hitting zone. More than anything else, it's been his improved plate discipline that has accounted for a general spike in his peripheral numbers, most notably his walk rate. Whether Chavez can carry those improvements into the playoffs remains to be seen.

El Guapo's Ghost:
The last time I checked, the A’s staff was ranked first in ERA, but 8th in K/9, 7th in BB and 2nd in homers - likely assisted by playing at the Coliseum. As a believer in DIPS, I feel that a significant portion of the credit for the A’s run prevention should be given to the fielders. The club is second in the A.L. in defensive efficiency, but the starters, particularly, get most of the credit from the media. Kotsay has a rep for being solid; Dye and Chavez are gold glovers; Brynes with his speed should have good range, so both collectively and individually why don’t the A’s get more national attention for their work with the leather?

John Gizzi:
Why don't they get more national attention, period? Oh, right. Because the baseball world belongs to the Yankees and the Red Sox; teams like the A's and Twins are merely lucky to be allowed to play in the post-season.

At any rate, I am skeptical about DIPS. It's an interesting new metric, but, like so many of the new metrics, at the end of the day what have we learned? That the pitcher only has a certain amount of control when a ball is put in play? This seems patently obvious, and explains why, partly, strikeout pitchers have such value and why in many cases strikeout is not just another out. (I'm playing devil's advocate, somewhat. As anyone who reads Baseball Prospectus or Baseball Primer or who runs their own blog knows, for a hitter strikeouts are not as evil as the mainstream pundits make them out to be. On the other hand, nor are they as innocent as the stat-heads would have us believe.)

The A's play good defense. And in the case of Chavez and Mark Kotsay, it's excellent. But if anything, the A's have been lucky this year, because Harden, Zito, Redman, and, more recently, Mulder, have allowed their fair share of baserunners. It's a circular argument, but have the A's not allowed more runs because of good defense or because of "good luck," i.e. the balls not going through in key situations? Stat-heads tend to promote the latter theory for any team except the A's—this would be like FOX News criticizing the Republican Party—but the reality, of course, is that it's a combination of both good luck and good defense. Such a radical conclusion—a hybrid theory, that is—counters the dualistic thinking that dominates and poisons modern discourse. But I digress.

El Guapo's Ghost:
What’s the status of the pen? On paper, it appears to be deep with a variety of options. Even though results have been rollercoaster like, do you feel it has the potential to be a strength in the fall similar to the Sox last season?

John Gizzi:
I don't like the bullpen. Dotel, despite his propensity to hang sliders, is a buzz-saw, and Duchscherer has some positives, but nobody else impresses me. They're getting the job done, however, at least statistically; but if the A's have a weakness going into the post-season—other than Mulder's recent command problems and Harden's inconsistency—it's the lack of a power pitcher to set up Dotel. Oh, yeah: and that afore-mentioned "habit" Dotel has developed—hanging breaking pitches.

El Guapo's Ghost:
The A’s offensive attack is certainly better than last season’s even with the loss of Chavez for an extended period of time. The addition of Kotsay and Dye to the lineup has helped along with the overachieving numbers from Hattie, Brynes, and Miller. This season’s lineup is clearly better and more balanced. With that being said, is this a better team than last year’s?

John Gizzi:
It's a better team, because the A's no longer have Terrence Long. I'm not being glib; it's the dead-on truth. OK, seriously: the team looks about the same as it ever has, but if I had to say for sure if they're better or worse, I'd say, overall, a bit "worse." (It's hard to carp on a team that, including this year, has gone to the post-season five straight years while losing two MVPs.)

For starters, it's a bit younger than in the past. I worry about players like Harden, Crosby, and even Byrnes, who've never played this much in their careers, wearing out come October. And even Mulder, who missed most of August and September last year, may be tiring; he's been mediocre (at best) lately, having lost the command that he has always had at his disposal.

Then there are the old guys: Miller is 34 and semi-regular Mark McLemore is 39. This is above and beyond the general mediocrity of those players.

And then there are the wounded: Jermaine Dye has a splint on his left thumb, a serious impediment to hitting, to say nothing of the difficulties Dye must face trying to eat asparagus with his left hand.

And then there are the struggling/inconsistent/streaky: Barry Zito, Mark Redman, and Erubiel Durazo. With Mulder's recent struggles and Harden's raw youth, Tim Hudson is the only reliable starter the A's have right now; Zito and Redman are OK in spots, but do you want them pitching in Fenway in October? Well, maybe Red Sox nation does, but A's fans are less sanguine. And if Erubiel goes into one his notorious funks? (He'll go twenty games without hitting a home run and then bust out with five or six in a five-game span.) Not pretty.

Merge all the questions/problems, including the bullpen concerns, and what do we get? This is the year the A's will finally get out of the first round.

El Guapo's Ghost:
Arroyo – Zito, Lowe – Redman and Hudson – Pedro are the scheduled starters for the series. Do you think either team has an advantage?

John Gizzi:
Who cares? The media likes to provide as much drama as they can—it's what they do, complete with themed music for hurricanes, wars, elections, daring pet rescues, etc.—but in reality this series is not a crucial one. Barring catastrophic injuries, the A's are going to win the AL West, and the Red Sox are, at the very least, going to win the AL Wild Card. So bring on October already!

El Guapo's Ghost:
Don't get me started on the mainstream media. But I do feel that this series is important. It could be a factor in determining home field advantage. Both the Sox and A's have impressive home records while only playing 500 ball on the road.


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