Readers familiar with my analysis should know two things. One is that with each individual decision, play, at bat, or pitch, I just try to "call 'em as I see 'em" -- I try to praise or critique decisions, not people. The other is that in general, I think Bob Melvin is one of the best tactical managers the A's have had in a long time.
I do think the A's skipper got one wrong today, though, and that was his use of Brett Anderson. For as long as Anderson is in the bullpen, I want him to be used as a super-weapon: someone who can pitch multiple innings in relief of a "back-end SP" and allow the A's to avoid having as many key innings pitched by the likes of Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin, Jesse Chavez, Dan Otero, and Jerry Blevins.
By pitching at all today Anderson is not available tomorrow, and Oakland has Jarrod Parker starting on Wednesday. So in this series of huge "two-game swing" games, today was the day to utilize Anderson to the fullest. Dan Otero should not have needed to borrow a 4-leaf clover to leave the bases loaded in the 6th inning -- that should have been Anderson's inning. Further, by using Anderson for just 1.1 IP (and 19 pitches) after he came in to start the 7th, the A's were forced to use Grant Balfour for the 4th day out of 5, and that almost backfired as well.
Anderson was used today like Blevins is used: To get a handful of outs in the middle innings. Anderson is not Blevins, and the A's do not need another Blevins. They need, from Anderson, the ability to let Griffin or Straily go short and still not tax the rest of the bullpen, or pitch the non "plus" relievers.
Had Otero or Balfour given it up -- and each of them nearly did -- it would have been an unnecessary failure on a day Anderson could have had the 6th, 7th, and 8th, creating a two-headed monster in which Stranderson not only gives the A's 8 IP, but actually gets way better after the first 5. That's how you use Anderson out of the bullpen right now.
But then Melvin was faced with a true dilemma when Adrian Beltre came up with 2 outs in the 9th inning of a 4-2 game, runners at 2B and 3B, A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Rios to follow. My gut says "Don't let Beltre beat you!" and it feels like Beltre hits .600 against the league, .700 against the A's, .800 in the clutch.
In fact, though, like every hitter not named Cabrera (as well as most hitters who happen to be named Cabrera), Beltre often gets out. To see why it was the right move to pitch to Beltre (who bounced out to end the game), rather than to IBB him and pitch to Pierzynski with the bases loaded, let's take a purely mathematical look at it.
Beltre could tie it with a single, and to give the Rangers the lead would have needed to HR. Had the A's IBBed Beltre, Pierzynski could have tied it with a single and to give the Rangers the lead would have just needed a double.
Beltre's career batting average? .282. Pierzynski's? .284. So in fact, Beltre was no more likely to get a hit than Pierzynski was. In his career, Beltre has HRed every 24.8 ABs. However, Pierzynski has doubled every 17.7 ABs. So the main impact of an IBB to Beltre would have been to increase the chance that either the Rangers took the lead -- or that Rios wound up batting with the bases loaded and the score 4-3, in which case just a BB would tie and a single would give Texas the lead.
So while Beltre viscerally scares the bejeebers out of me, and at the time I would have been ok with it had Melvin opted to IBB him, in fact there was really only one correct move and Melvin made it.
How can Melvin get it right tomorrow night? With a ground ball pitcher going in Bartolo Colon, I would like to see Daric Barton or Brandon Moss at 1B to give the A's the best infield defense possible, even though a LHP, Martin Perez, is starting. If Coco Crisp is out, Nate Freiman can DH with Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Young, and Michael Choice in the OF. If Coco is in, Freiman can either DH (with Young or Choice not starting) or sit. Infield defense is more important than the worst of those three bats.
I would also hope the A's will give Balfour a day off and if there's a save opportunity, give it to Sean Doolittle. Doolittle has scuffled a bit lately but looked his last time out like he may have righted the ship, and when he is on he can handle LHs and RHs. And he's well rested.
And that's the analysis from my bedroom, where it's easy to be smarter than the guys on the field.