Having proven on this road trip that the A’s are capable of losing a game they lead 7-1, Oakland set out today to see if they could blow one they led 8-0. Almost, my friends, almost. To many this 9-8 win felt like a loss, but upon replay review even New York umpires in the witness protection program agreed that 9 > 8 and so the “score stands” and the A’s are back to .500 heading to Tampa Bay for the final chapter of this 3-city road trip.
67 games in (33 up, 33 down, 1 to be named later), the A’s have raised more questions than they have provided answers. Here is one man’s attempt to answer, at least in his opinion, some of the queries currently baffling the Oakland faithful.
What is wrong with Blake Treinen?
No one expected Treinen to repeat his sensational, record-breaking 2018 season but I think we all hoped the 9th innings would be just a bit less heart-attack inducing than they have been.
The Eyeball Scout has picked up on one weakness, but it only applies to facing LH batters. And interestingly, Treinen has virtually no L/R splits so far this season:
LH batters: .242/.338/.371
RH batters: .231/.339/.365
So it’s not as if Treinen is struggling mostly because LH batters are eating him alive. But what I have noticed is that lately Treinen is staying almost exclusively on the inner half of the plate to LH batters, and it’s especially surprising because most of the time he’s getting beaten it’s on pitches in.
Today, he stayed in to Nomar Mazara getting ahead on a nasty cutter/slider down and in off the plate, but then came in yet again and got burned. You watch Treinen lately and Josh Phegley’s target is almost always set up inside as if Mariano Rivera is on the mound, but Treinen is not like Rivera (who is?) and is much better served using both sides of the plate.
One of the first times Treinen threw a pitch away to a LH batter, a perfect strike on the corner, it was only because he missed the target by 2 feet. Then Phegley finally set up away on the first pitch to Ronald Guzman (the last batter of the game), and perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Guzman wound up flying out to CF to end it.
One can point out that Guzman flew out on a pitch pretty much center cut that he might have hit out for a crushing walk-off HR, but you can also make an argument that by starting the at bat away Treinen gave himself more of the plate and put Guzman in a worse hitting position than if he were sitting on a location.
In any event, as many times lately as Treinen has gotten beaten on the inner half I would like to see him use both sides of the plate more to lefties. After all, the “bowling ball sinker” that struck out Mike Trout back in Oakland, and which fanned Hunter Pence in the 9th inning today, is also a weapon down and away to a LH batter.
Obviously, on a “bigger picture” level Treinen needs to keep his sinker down at the knees and needs to snap off his cutter or slider with movement, and both have failed him at times — as has his ability to throw strikes early in the count in general. But a more nuanced game plan to his lefty opponents can only help and could be a first step to getting the A’s closer back on track in general.
Is Ramon Laureano a good CFer?
If you count by web gems, or are seduced by the amazing arm, your answer is probably yes. But the Eyeball Scout sees what the metrics see: all in all, Laureano’s CF play has been below average so far this season.
It’s not just the more glaring recent examples, such as Danny Santana’s RBI triple in game 2 last night which really needs to be caught, or the E8 kicking Rougned Odor’s single that allowed 2 runs to score and for Odor to get to 2B. Like the web gems, those blunders are easy to see.
The less obvious, but in fact bigger, problem comes if you notice the reads Laureano gets off the bat. He usually takes a step back initially, causing him to misjudge a lot of balls in front of him that are hit off the end of the bat or in on the hands. Fangraph’s -5.5 RngR rating, suggesting that in fact Laureano’s range has been poor in 2019, matches what the Eyeball Scout has seen.
The good news? Though it feels like Laureano has been the A’s every day CFer forever, he has in fact played only 113 major league games — still far less than a full season. He is both physically gifted and extremely competitive, so I would not bet against him working hard and overcoming his weaknesses. Marcus Semien is a testament to how far hard work and dedication can get you defensively.
But right now? Far from being a strength I would say Laureano is a bit of a liability in CF, assists and all. He “looks like a good CFer,” with his Kotsayesque angles to the ball, but there is still a lot of work to do to convert his fair share of chances into outs.
Is Frankie Montas For Real?
Oh yes. There is nothing flukey about what Montas is doing so far in 2019. Adding a quality splitter was a game-changer that has batters late on his 97-98 MPH sinker, early on the splitter, and diving fruitlessly for the slider that is on a different plane.
Montas now combines a high K-rate with a high ground ball rate, and has the arsenal to pound the strike zone, leading to just 3.28 BB/9 IP. Listening to opposing teams. and watching opposing hitters, tell the same story: no one wants to face Frankie Montas anymore.
Here’s the rub...It won’t be long before Montas gets into unchartered territory in terms of innings. Though he has never had an arm-related injury, various maladies have kept Montas off the mound much of his career to date.
Last season, Montas actually came within an out of tying a career high when he threw 136.2 IP. Back in 2015, Montas threw 112 AA IP for Chicago and 15 IP for the big league club, a total of 137. In between, just 16 IP in 2016 and 62.1 IP in 2017. Back in 2014? Just 76 IP. The year before? 115 IP.
After today’s start Montas is at 76 IP, already just 51 IP shy of his career high. How many bullets does he have in his right arm? We shall see.
The Rays series should be an interesting test. There are really only 4 excellent teams in the AL and the A’s have not yet played 3 of them (Rays, Yankees, Twins). And the 4th one is the Astros, against whom the A’s are 1-7. If Oakland wants to make a statement that they can “play with the big boys,” this series would be a good place to start.
OK, that’s all for now. Let’s hope Anderson pitches well against the Rays because we have two of them going in the series.