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Game Thread #138: A's vs. Texas

In the middle of a three-game stretch in Oakland, Bartolo Colon and the A's take on Martin Perez and the Rangers, with the winner gaining sole possession of first place in the AL West.

Thearon W. Henderson

Having won seven of their last eight games against the cream of the crop in the American League — Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Texas — the A's look to continue their dominant run and take control of the American League West with a win tonight at the Coliseum. In less than 24 hours, Oakland could find itself two games ahead in the division, or two games behind, or tied for the lead. Needless to say, these two games are huge, and the A's are lucky to have their two most productive starters of 2013 (Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Parker) lined up for the games tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

Colon will get the start this evening, in his second appearance after a DL stint for a groin strain. In his first start back last Thursday in Detroit, Bartolo allowed one run over five innings and left with a line of seven hits, no walks, and a strikeout. He was in line for the win until a combined bullpen cast of Jerry Blevins, Dan Otero, Sean Doolittle, and Grant Balfour blew Oakland's five-run lead in spectacular fashion, forcing the A's to settle for three of four games in Detroit instead of a full-blown sweep.

Colon doesn't have much of a home/road split this year — his ERA in Oakland is 2.88 and 3.00 on the road. As you might expect, though, his BABIP is a full 20 points lower at the Coliseum (.285 vs. .305 on the road). And a bigger factor in Bartolo's favor tonight is the fact that his ERA is a fantastic 2.56 in night games as opposed to 3.41 at night. Like yesterday, though, we can't expect the A's pitching staff to shut out the Rangers — as always, the offense is going to have to do its part tonight, against a pitcher with an unusual split.

The A's are going with an all-righty lineup against Perez, a left-hander. But strangely, left-handed batters are hitting .297 against Perez while righties are managing a paltry .238 against him. That's almost entirely BABIP-driven, as lefties are averaging .329 on balls in play against him while righties, for whatever reason, are averaging .259. I tend to credit BABIP less to luck and more to the pitcher than most, but still, Perez defies the basic line of thinking that pitchers fare better against same-handed batters. It's not that it's particularly uncommon for pitchers to sport reverse righty/lefty splits — check out this article about Justin Verlander's numbers, for instance — it's just that Perez's reverse split is particularly large. Just to drive the point home, lefties' wOBA against him this year is .357, while that number drops to .296 for righties.

I'm not sure that Bob Melvin goes to Fangraphs, like I do, and looks up righty/lefty splits, much less righty/lefty BABIP splits, to help him set his lineup before a game. Nonetheless, though, it is an interesting move to stick with an all-righty lineup against a pitcher who, by a wide margin, fares better against right-handed batters. Of course, the whole concept of a platoon split calls into question whether pitchers' higher success rates against same-handed batters results from the pitcher having an advantage or the batter having a disadvantage — or both. The lefty-swinging Brandon Moss, for instance, is notoriously uncomfortable (and unsuccessful) against LHPs, and he's not in the lineup. Nate Freiman is hitting above .300 against lefties, though, and he's still in the lineup. Basically, you'd expect those two moves against a lefty, but you wouldn't expect them if you just blindly looked at Perez's numbers and selected a lineup without knowing which arm he uses to pitch.

Bob Melvin has done an absolutely phenomenal job this year of thinking like an economist, and using the resources available to him in the most efficient way possible. The main and most apparent way this has manifested itself are his constant efforts, game-by-game, to gain the righty/lefty platoon advantage. Like I said, I'm imagining that BoMel doesn't go online before a game and double check to make sure the pitcher (in this case, a newer, lesser known face) doesn't sport reverse splits, but in this case, that might be to the A's disadvantage.

But enough of that. Oakland and Texas are playing for sole possession of first place in the AL West, and tonight's probably the biggest game of the year so far. To be fair, it's gotten to the point where (skip this paragraph if you hate clichés) every game the A's play is their biggest of the year. It's September baseball at its finest, and the next 24 hours will go a very, very long way in determining who wins the division.

Here are the lineups, Perez's reverse split and all. Kurt Suzuki is back in at catcher, and Coco Crisp's leg injury has him DHing today, meaning that Michael Choice is making his first appearance in the field for the A's.