I don’t know which was more sad: bargaining 19 straight days with a dysfunctional school district to settle a contract after 7 days of striking, or the fact that during those 19 days the Oakland A’s won 5 times — for half of their season total of 10 wins on May 20th.
This weekend the union will ratify the contract for educators, but sadly they cannot vote to reject the A’s 10-36 record. And so the A’s continue on a pace to win 35 games, knowing that had the system not abruptly changed last year they would be looking at the 2nd overall draft pick followed, almost certainly, by the 1st overall pick. But no. Tanks a lot.
Nonetheless, from the abyss building blocks are emerging. Ryan Noda’s OBP is hovering around .400 in his rookie campaign, while despite wearing the golden sombrero last night Brent Rooker has been amongst the league’s best hitters in 2023. Esteury Ruiz is a raw work in progress with a bright future and Shea Langeliers has power and a great throwing arm to offer hope as a backstop.
And there’s some talent on the way, if a bit later than sooner, with Lawrence Butler quietly mastering AA at age 22 (.297/.371/.442, 10/10 in stolen bases, and with a K-rate of just 19.4%) and Brett Harris convincing everyone except apparently Oakland’s front office that he is far too good for AA (.308/.436/.483 with 21 BB and 17 K).
What I haven’t mentioned is any pitchers. So let’s talk about some of the guys who are contributing to a historically bad group (the A’s SP have an ERA of nearly 9.00 on the road which, well, never happens.)
The Eyeball Scout is not a fan, though he acknowledges that it would go a long way to bolstering the rebuild if Muller turned things around. However, with Muller the stats seem only to confirm what the Eyeball Scout is seeing.
What I’m seeing is that with his delivery, Muller appears to show the ball rather early and often to the batter creating the opposite of “hiding the ball” and more the effect of a PE teacher preparing to acquiesce to a 2nd grader’s request for “medium baby bouncies”. It feels like hitters get an especially good look at Muller’s pitches as they travel from his hand to the plate.
The other observation is that Muller’s fastball, while perfectly fine in velocity at around 93MPH, lacks the movement to miss barrels. Without elite location, and it’s fair to say Muller is a long ways from there, an average velocity fastball without good movement is going to get whacked around the yard.
Lo and behold (or should I say waist high and ripped into the gap?), with Muller the stats only corroborate the eyes.
How well are hitters seeing Muller’s 93 MPH fastball? They’re batting .402 with a .499 wOBA. Despite Muller’s very good slider, overall hitters are batting .349 against him (61 hits in 42 IP) with a .375 BABIP. That’s either a heck of a lot of bad luck or ... a heck of a lot of bad pitching.
As for that fastball, indeed the amount of movement tracks at -4.0” below average, which translates to 26% worse than league average. It leaves Muller at a stunning -11.4 pitch value on his fastball.
It’s bad enough that in general Muller struggles to command his pitches. What’s worse is that he is struggling to command a fastball that even when he commands it, is terrible despite its perfectly average velocity.
When I knew less about Muller I concluded I hoped he was not included in a possible trade for Sean Murphy. Now that I know more my main question is: where were the A’s scouts when this decision was made? Of course the A’s are known for developing pitchers, often from the bargain bin or discard pile, so perhaps they can unlock the key to better movement or tweak his delivery to offer less of an “early and continuous reveal” of the ball.
But that’s my analysis of why in a typical 6 IP, Muller currently surrenders 9 hits including one HR, with 3 BB and only 4 K, and leaves the mound with 5 ER on his card. Ouch.
The other potentially prized addition to the rotation through trade, Waldichuk has struggled more than not, even if at times he has flashed potential. I will keep this brief because the LHP limped off the mound last night quite possibly not to be seen again until July.
I just want to lambaste whoever told him to throw his breaking pitch slower, turning a sharp slider into a lazy “sweeper”. The sweeper Waldichuk threw Kyle Tucker is a perfect example of how not to throw a breaking ball L on L and Tucker’s “swung on gone” HR should come as no surprise. You don’t want that pitch to be easy to track and time as it settles into the hitting zone — you want to throw sliders that break sharply away from the batter.
It’s not as if Waldichuk has lacked this ability before. In 2022, he held LH batters to a .138/.194/.172 slash line with a value of +1.18 on his slider. In 2023? LH batters are mashing Waldichuk to the tune of .296/.424/.704 with a value of -1.73 on the slider.
If you ever get back onto the mound, Waldy, throw your breaking pitch hard again. Let hitters buckle and chase, not track and unload. You are not trying to throw “get me over” strikes, you are trying to throw “one, three, buckle my knee” hammers.
That’s it for now. Let’s get that elusive 11th win on the board and see if it helps us to take off and never look back. Heck, we might even find ourselves winning — dare I say it — 3 in a row at some point! Sorry, sorry. I get crazy sometimes.