After July madness has passed, it is time to look objectively at the A's as a team and its players as contributors. This is the only way to forecast possibilities for post-season play - if any. Yes, the A's performance to date is above what we all expected; now it is time for bean-counting, to see what we can truly offer on the playing field.
As an overview, considering the low AVG's, the high percentage of individual heroics in walk-off and come-back wins, the high level of madcap excitement in the team, and the strangely effective RP performance - coupled with a good SP record, some dots beg to be filled over some "i's". And, since I avoid stat work as a plague, maybe someone can fill in some blanks where I raise questions that need to be answered with appropriate data - if my reasoning seems worth it.
(more after the jump)
1. The basic rationale in AN blogs is sound as far as SP is concerned - the A's have a strong suit in using mostly veteran returning SP's for a September and/or post-season run. Provided their health holds up, McCarthy, Colon, Anderson, Blackley, and one or two random rookies not in the doldrums by September - Straily, Parker, Milone as candidates - should be a competitive starting corps.
2. The RP corps is somewhat hazy in AN debates - and that is strange, since RP has been one of the strongest points of the A's season. Regrettably, there are no RP's who have profiled themselves as "lights-out" pieces, either as closers or as long-relief specialists. Melvin has made true magic by shuffling his BP around. However, I would suggest that the following group might offer a "second wind" effect for the final stretch - Balfour, Blevins, Doolittle, Figueroa, Norberto, Scribner, and possibly Neshek - if he proves his worth through August. As additional options there are Peacock and Ross left, two arms that can stun us all with their performance at any given time, though I cannot see them as totally reliable at this point. However, please note that these players would still be operating, probably, as a committee - unless Melvin finds among them that "lights out" arm for the final 1/5th of the season.
3. The field team has to be evaluated on two grounds - Defense and batting effectiveness. Since the A's have been struggling primarily in batting, it is only fair to evaluate the players on that basis first and foremost.
- Lead-off: I think the A's have one of the prime lead-off players in the game in Coco Crisp. If he gets on base, he is an electrifying and disruptive force on the basepaths. In fact, most of the criticism toward Crisp has been levied against his throwing, though as a CF he is also quite adequate.
- As a second bat, that is where problems start. The A's do not have a high-AVG speedy player to push Crisp ahead and get also on base. Weeks could be that player if he proves smart enough in his bat-handling and keeps hitting controllable short line drives - the ones that fall dead in front of defenders, or go right over their heads. But, that is a lot of "ifs" that Weeks has not resolved yet this season; Melvin is about stuck with Jemile in 2B for 2012, though that will be a position open for grabs in ST. And, for 2012, if the position keeps being a rally-killer, hopefully Smith can be a suitable replacement - though he also deserves to be higher up in the batting order.
- There is a big question about Reddick as third bat. I definitely see him more as a fifth bat, because of his streakiness and power. He has not proven himself as a clutch hitter - his RBI's are random and his homeruns come at unpredictable moments. The only virtue is that, for a weak-batting A's team, Reddick has a relatively high SLG. However, for particularly a short series, Reddick does not seem to be "Mr. October", a critical clutch hitter.
- Cespedes, when healthy, is an ideal fourth bat, with a combination of high AVG and SLG - both good enough for clutch pushing-runs-through and being a potential threat to intimidate opposing pitchers. So, as we all know it, it is critical for the A's to keep him healthy and even somewhat rested!
- At this point, I think Carter is profiling himself as an ideal fifth bat - enough of a homerun threat to prevent intentional walks for Cespedes, with a solid enough AVG to back up Cespedes' RBI function.
- In sixth position in the BO I think the A's are solid enough with Smith/Moss/Norris - depending on Melvin's estimate as to their effectiveness for the particular day.
- The last three positions should be given to the rest, though two players are probably going to be fixtures there - Inge and Pennington. Again, a lot of the team success will depend on Melvin's estimate of the usefulness of these players in a specific batting position. A lot will depend, too, on the batting performance of Cliff Pennington - sometimes he is a positive threat, other times he appears inept; which Pennington will come back from the DL?
4. In view of the low AVG's on the team, a thorough study begs to be made on the OPS, wRC+, and/or BABIP stats of all the A's field players. I am pretty sure someone has already done so. Depending on results, we might see some BO adjustments which should be made - particularly in regards to Smith, Reddick, and Inge. The poetic nature of "clutch" is a projection of those stats, and these three players have some intriguing characteristics, which might prompt their movement within the BO. It is my impression that Smith has proven quite effective, whenever he is in the lineup; Reddick hits specific pitches, or hits according to how he sees the ball on any particular day; and Inge has enough experience to be usually a tough out. Accordingly, stats could uncover their relative value in a specific batting function.
5. As to fielding, a UZR comparison needs to be made, particularly for some players. For a short series (whether in-season or playoffs), where maximum value - both batting and fielding - needs to be generated by each player, both points 4.- and 5.- have to be taken into account. It seems to me that Cespedes' main value is in his bat handling; therefore, in a short series, he might be a fielding liability. Intuitively, as has been suggested in AN, maximum benefit in a short series might be derived by using Smith in LF and Cespedes as DH. By now, we have probably enough data to make a judgment call on those two players' functions - after the above studies have been made! The same would apply, probably to the use of replacement players, though the data base there is reduced: Cowgill is probably almost as good a defender in CF as Crisp, though he is not as good on the basepaths - but, would he be as good as the regulars in LF or RF? Who is a better IF backup, Rosales, Sogard, or Inge? Only a good interpretation of stats can substantiate that. And, by the way, an answer to these questions might be quite useful to Melvin!!! For example, an expanded study of this nature would solve once and for all the conundrum of Grant Green - does the number of his fielding errors cancel his versatility and batting?
The hardest question at this stage of the season pertains to pitching, since some imponderables, like long-term tiredness, the number of warm-ups during the season, and the wear and tear on the nervous system affect control and - to some extent - pitch velocity. Pitching decisions used to be made spontaneously, based mostly on intuition ("educated guess"); now we have the help of some stats. Since we are not sure that the Front Office has the people to provide these analyses, maybe some AN participants would help the Team by providing them - for Melvin's use?