Monday, July 6, 2009

10 Thoughts: Oakland A's – June 2009

Current Record (thru June 30): 32-44
June Record: 13-15
GB – AL West: 10.5
GB – AL Wildcard: 12.5

(1) Mazzaro World - In Spring Training, there were whispers that 22-year-old Vin Mazzaro would begin the 2009 season on the big league roster. Instead, he was sent to Triple-A to work on his secondary pitches. After posting a 2.38 ERA in 56 IP at Sacramento, Mazzaro was called up to start against the White Sox on June 2. He didn't give up a run in 6.1 IP and picked up the win. Mazzaro won his next start before the A's offense scored just four total runs in his next four starts combined. While his record is only 2-3, Mazzaro pitches with an awesomely obnoxious swagger (can you believe he's from New Jersey?!) without any of the deer-in-the-headlights looks that super-hyped young A's starters Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson have shown almost all season.

(2) STBU - OF Travis Buck had a solid rookie season in 2007 (.288/.377/.474 in 82 games) but has struggled mightily at the plate ever since. And, once you're in GM Billy Beane's doghouse, you might as well start having your mail forwarded there. In '09, Buck has played sporadically as a 4th outfielder and hasn't hit (.666 OPS) when given the rare start. On May 29 he strained his oblique. The next day he publicly proclaimed himself healthy, but the A's still put him on the DL. Anywhere else, upper management would get roasted if they jerked players around like the A's. Buck hit .350/.423/.550 in 17 games while on a rehab assignment (that turned into a formal demotion), before being recalled on June 29 – too late to make that night's game. The next night…Buck was right back on the bench.

(3) Geren Gots to Go - I'm one of those guys who believes managers don't have a whole lot of impact on a team's won-loss record. If we exhumed the remains of Connie Mack and his Nate Dogg hat, I doubt his bones could coax a winning season from this somnambulant A's squad. Manager Bob Geren seems completely flummoxed with how to lead a team with such an absence of chemistry. He gives too much deference to the veterans – handing clutch at-bats to ciphers like Nomar Garciaparra. He's got no feel for young players and may single-handedly obliterate our bullpen by the All Star Break. Most egregiously, even when the A's play their worst, he refuses to kick this team in the ass publicly or privately.

(4) Emperor Beane Has No Clothes - I'm not one of those message board trolls who hates everything and everyone, but HOW has GM Billy Beane escaped almost any and all scrutiny for cobbling together such a lackluster team? While I wasn't expecting anything close to a division title this year, Beane actually torpedoed his own rebuilding plan to bring in disinterested loafers like Orlando Cabrera and the aforementioned Giambi and Garciaparra – three guys who barely register a pulse as they go through the motions. Meanwhile, it's increasingly clear that the "quantity over quality" deals for Nick Swisher and Dan Haren have yielded an overflowing crop of 4th outfielders, 5th starters and "potential".

(5) The Year was 1989 - From June 22-24, the A's hosted the San Francisco Giants as part of (the increasingly irrelevant) interleague play. The featured promotion for the three-game series was to be a celebration of the 1989 World Series championship team, including a reunion of the A's who made up that roster 20 years ago. To the surprise of none of us who know and love this team, the A's completely mishandled the event. Depending on who you believe, the team (1) barely gave a month's notice to the members of the '89 team, which resulted in less than half of the champs even showing up; (2) only scheduled a reunion/celebration after seeing how classily the Giants – Oakland's opponent in the Series that year – pulled off their own anniversary party; (3) allowed the media to dictate the narrative for the evening (in order: Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and why so few former A's showed up). Read here and here for more details.

(6) "Hello? Mrs. Pommelhorse? I'd like to get down now!" - The A's are averaging around 18,000 fans per game. This, of course, isn't the actual attendance as most nights there don't appear to be 5,000 people in the seats. Last month, the A's used Facebook to push $7 field level seats (nearly a 75% price reduction!); invited pop star Jordin Sparks for a postgame concert and – shockingly – actually had to discount 2nd level seating prices for a game against the rival Giants. The padded attendance numbers aren't getting much play, but NO ONE is coming out to see this team. Last week, the team announced a 4-game ticket plan. For every game that the A's win as part of this plan, the team will give ticket holders seats to a future A's game. We're at "Defcon Montreal" here, people.

(7) Over & Out, Man. - On June 19th, my son and I were in attendance at San Diego's PETCO Park for what turned out to be Josh Outman's last start of 2009. He left that game with what was described by North Korea's news agency the A's medical staff as a mild flexor-extensor strain. As usual, this was just a superfluous medical smokescreen by the team, concealing an even worse malady. Outman had Tommy John surgery about a week later. He was a legitimate candidate for the All-Star Game (4-1, 3.48 ERA, 53Ks in 67 IP); a proponent of old-school stirrups and easily the least attractive starting pitcher since the heyday of Zane Smith.

(8) We Still Drive a Gio - Gio Gonzalez was recalled from Triple-A to replace Outman on the roster. He lost his first two starts, yielding 17 hits in 8.2 innings, before shutting down a hacktastic Indians team yesterday. He's pretty much a two-pitch (fastball, curve) pitcher and refuses to challenge anyone inside. Seriously, take a drink when he goes 2-0, 3-0 or 3-1 on a hitter. Take a shot when he grooves a get-it-over fastball across the middle of the plate. And, pound a warm Natty Light whenever Gonzalez starts fidgeting with his cap, wiping terror sweat from his nervous brow and/or hyperventilating.

(9) I No Longer (Heart) Jack Cust - I've previously explained why Cust is the most polarizing player on this team. He's been the A's best hitter each of the last two seasons ('07 OPS: .912, '08 OPS: .851). But, Cust also strikes out a ton (361 Ks in the past two seasons) and is one of the most comically inept fielders in recent baseball history. I've defended him because he's been one of the best players in the league at NOT making outs, but his productivity has almost completely evaporated in 2009. He'll never hit for average, but his once-impressive OBP is down to .315 this season. Since May 15, he's hit .180/.258/.365. Cust is notoriously streaky, but the A's seriously need to consider moving him if/when he gets hot. Players with his skill set don't age well (Johnny Gomes and Sam Horn are his top two comps on and the game is moving away from the "Fred Flintstone" type of players the A's have always been fond of.

(10) Don't Let the Door Hit You… - The Matt Holliday trade didn't make sense last November and now we can definitively say it was an epic bust by GM/boy genius Billy Beane. The stat-heads, almost in unison, swore up and down that there'd be little to no impact on Holliday's numbers while playing everyday outside of Coors Field. On the other hand, I said there would be an impact and cited his career-long road numbers in comparing him to Phillies sparkplug Shane Victorino. This year, Holliday's OPS is about 20 points behind Victorino's. There are even some in the know who believe Huston Street (traded to Colorado for Holliday) has more trade value right now than Holliday. Watching him play at 80% effort in a pathetic attempt to preserve his body in advance of free agency is a story that would be all over the place if he played in a real baseball town.


Tom said...

I'll get my chance to address Holliday (again) when I finally finish the Mets 10 Thoughts for June. There are, bafflingly, still people calling for Omar Minaya to ship you guys a pile of talent for Holliday. Even though he lost all power in your park, they apparently believe he'll be rejuvenated in CitiForbes Field Canyon.

That Bootleg Guy said...

He's not even *trying* to hide how miserable he is in Oakland. I guess I can understand how playing in front of 5,000 people on a bad team with no chemistry can weigh you down, but he seems content with being an opposite field singles hitter and half-assing it in LF.

SHough610 said...

1) A guy named Vin Mazzaro from New Jersey has an annoying swagger? I'm shocked, SHOCKED.

2) It bums me out that fans aren't showing up for Oakland. Montreal losing a big league team isn't a big deal. If the A's flee I'd be sad/pissed off.

3) You're Cust description reminded me of Ryan Howard. Though Howard's greatly improved his defense after losing weight this past summer.

That Bootleg Guy said...

I think Mazzaro's is more of a "swagga" than "swagger". I don't know what the difference is, other than I hear a lot more about the former on the radio from something called "Young Jeezy".

SHough610 said...

Speaking of Young Jeezy, is there an age where hip hop passes you by? I didn't mind Lil Jon (innocuous music to me getting drunk as a freshman in college and a senior in high school) but when the auto-tuner and T-Pain became huge... Well, I turned into the cane wielding old man who'd rather listen to his Rakim, Biggie, and Jay-Z albums.