So at the 1⁄4 mark, the A’s are plodding along at 19-22 but showing signs of life following the road trip from h-e-double-hockey-sticks. They’re only 1 game off last year’s pace at this time with a history of magical second halves as often as not, and following three walk-off wins in 4 days they might be feeling a bit emboldened.
However, part of what got the A’s under water was reliance on that most elusive of things: “internal metrics” that, loosely translated, stands for “Well on the surface this looks stupid but we have secret sauce that tells us otherwise...”
In this particular case, the A’s might want to invest in a different recipe. But while everyone makes mistakes, one way in which the A’s front office is to be commended is that they are not afraid to rectify a misstep. It just sometimes takes too long, which is why I am here today to suggest three reversals of “secret sauce based decision making”...
1. Part of why Aaron Brooks made the Opening Day rotation had to do with circumstance: competitors Jesus Luzardo and Chris Bassitt each suffered late injuries that narrowed the competition down to Brooks and Daniel Mengden.
Mengden’s poor spring training completed the trifecta: there was no one who just had to get the spot over Brooks, and with Brooks out of options and the A’s seeking maximum depth the decision was made.
But there was more to the story. The A’s seemed to feel Brooks had something that the stat sheets didn’t see. That’s putting it mildly, as Brooks entered 2019 with a 7.02 career ERA. So for 6+ weeks they have avoided exposing Brooks to waivers and have given him 6 starts, plus Saturday’s “follower” appearance, because they see some untapped potential.
Mengden’s promotion to start Sunday’s game should signal the end of the line for Aaron Brooks, SP. Yes, his 5.35 ERA is technically an improvement over his previous body of work, but it is accompanied by a comedic 9 HRs in 35.1 IP to go with 13 BB. The BBs reflect a lack of command, and so do the HRs — those are just pitches that are wild in the zone.
Brooks isn’t good and should not return to the rotation. However, there may still be a place for him...
2. Apparently, the front office’s secret-sauce formula spit out that Fernando Rodney was worth his $5.25M option. The A’s “got ahead of the market” picking up that option, just as they rushed to bid against themselves for Billy Butler. Long after Rodney was assured a job with the A’s, Shawn Kelley signed for less than half of Rodney’s option (and he’s pitching well), LHP Tony Sipp for just $1.25M (though he’s not off to a particularly good start).
This actually relates to the first point, because the A’s decided they didn’t need to go with a long reliever and I couldn’t agree less. Already many times an A’s SP has gone short and instead of turning to a Mengden, or a Tanner Anderson — or a Brooks — to soak up 4 IP, the A’s have had to use several relievers and in the process have put quite a bit of mileage on the arms of decent relievers like Yusmeiro Petit and J.B. Wendelken.
Much of this traces back to picking up Rodney’s option. Even if Rodney weren’t pitching dreadfully, he’s a 1 inning guy who slots in pretty obviously behind Trienen, Trivino, Soria, and Petit. The A’s have Rodney in low leverage when they could have a pitcher capable of pitching 4 times as long for 1/10th the cost.
The A’s best move would be one they should have made half a year ago: move on from Rodney and give that spot to Brooks (if they want to keep him so badly) or one of the other options at AAA (T. Anderson, Paul Blackburn). A swingman capable of offering 3-4 IP at a time would be far more useful to this team.
3. Apparently, Oakland signed Robbie Grossman intent on giving him a ton of LH plate appearances. He is the platoon alongside Chad Pinder and with Mark Canha also still in the mix Grossman will not be batting RH very much for the A’s.
Don’t worry, though, because the A’s have proprietary information suggesting that Grossman is actually better LH. Except that he really isn’t. No one has ever claimed that Grossman offers much slugging — his calling card is his on base skills and on a career basis they are pretty disparate because he has been borderline elite as a RH batter.
For his career, Grossman’s slash line as a RH batter is .284/.375/.404 (117 wRC+), while as a LH batter it is a more pedestrian .240/.343./363 (98 wRC+). Walk rates stabilize pretty quickly so it should not come as a surprise that as a LH batter Grossman has continued to slug little and walk at only a decent rate.
The result? So far in 2019, as a LH batter Grossman is batting all of .209/.320/.337 (93 wRC+). You can argue “low BABIP!” (.239) and hope that those numbers will rise, but the fact is Grossman doesn’t hit the ball all that hard (hence the sickly slugging) and can only hope for so much upward regression.
Nick Martini is close to beginning a rehab and re-entering himself into the conversation, and I hope the A’s won’t forget that his career .394 OBP is not “just a mirage” — it’s also his complete body of work to date. The defensively superior Dustin Fowler is holding his own, but not banging down the door, at AAA (.264/.335/.429), but a close eye should also be kept on him as a “LH platoon” possibility going forward.
It’s not that Grossman has been bad. Defensively he has done a bit better than expected when not “slip sliding away,” and he has had his fair share of Lowrie-esque at bats. But the starter on the long side of a platoon he is not and if the A’s can’t find RH at bats for him he should be taking a back seat to Chad Pinder, Martini, Fowler before long.
In sum, those sneaky back room metrics that told you Aaron Brooks was a serviceable SP, Rodney was a useful reliever, and Grossman was better batting LH? Look to the left because you’re on Candid Camera. It’s not true! You’ve been duped! I hope you kept the receipt.
By the 1⁄4 point of the season it’s time to make the necessary changes before the gap between you and a post-season record becomes too great to overcome. Time to admit that the secret sauce failed you this time and trade it in for some good old fashioned ketchup. So that the A’s can ... wait for it ... ketchup to the competition.
Man, I relish those puns.
I barely mustard up the energy to write that.
OK, I’m done.