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“Uh-Oh”s Galore After 61 games

Oakland Athletics v Miami Marlins
“I caught 4 out of 5 pitches! That’s good, right?”
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

You would figure that a team with 12 wins on June 4th would have its fair share of concerns. On pace for a record number of losses, the 12-49 A’s are probably best defined by the following stat — and let’s face it, while it’s hard to shock anyone with a stat when a team has been this bad, even so this particular stat is a bit stunning.

The 2023 Oakland A’s are now 1-25 in day games. Oof. Whereas they are a robust 11-24 under the lights.

1-25, folks. LOL.

Anyhoo, the good news is that tomorrow’s game is a night game in Pittsburgh even though the sun will still be shining at 4:05pm PDT back home. It means the A’s actually have better than a 3.8% chance of prevailing!

What are some of the learnings that help to explain a team that is on pace to go 32-130? Obviously the free agent signings haven’t helped much, with Aledmys Diazco, Jace Petersuck, Drew Sucinksi, Shitaro Fujinami, and Tremor May having contributed negative value. But they won’t be around when the team aims to be at least competitive.

Shea Langeliers

For me, Langeliers has been one of the big disappointments of 2023 in that he appeared to have some “Sean Murphy lite” qualities that even if he wasn’t a budding star made him potentially a plus defensive catcher (by minor league reputation) with power to all fields.

Well, the arm plays — Langeliers leads the league with 16 runners caught stealing and was even at 17 for a few moments until replay ruled otherwise — but every other aspect of Shea’s defensive game leaves a lot to be desired.

Langeliers’ pitch framing ranks as bad, and this matches the eye test that sees him “steal strikes” from his own pitchers time and time again. It doesn’t seem too challenging to catch a pitch and at least hold it for a moment for the ump to see, if not receive it at the angle that allows the glove to catch as much of the plate as possible, but that skill has eluded the A’s catcher.

This is, of course, when he catches the pitch at all. A key insurance run scored just today when a swinging third strike got past Langeliers for a passed ball that allowed a runner to score from 3B.

As for errant pitches, Langeliers often fails to move his body laterally, stabbing for pitches down to the backhand side. This has allowed for many wild pitches a more agile catcher could have prevented.

Meanwhile, at the plate some patterns are emerging. No one swings through fastballs in the zone like Langeliers, and lately he has been expanding the zone to swing through quite a few fastballs out of the zone as well.

And while it’s true that when he makes contact the ball jumps off his bat loud and far, those outcomes are few and far between: Langeliers currently sits at .217/.286/.383 with a 29.1% K rate.

According to Fangraphs, Langeliers has been worth -0.1 WAR so far this season, which seems about right. For a headliner in the Matt Olson trade, and the impetus to “be able to part with” Sean Murphy, his progress so far has been disturbing.

Esteury Ruiz

There’s a lot to like about Ruiz, who has been a relative bright spot in a dismal season, but there are also red flags galore. Ruiz’ initial reactions to fly balls continue to be poor, putting into legitimate question whether CF is a position in which he will be able to stick.

Fangraphs now has Ruiz, for the season, at -17.5 UZR and -12 DRS, the latter of which represents a pace to finish at -32 DRS in 162 games. That’s.....beyond awful.

At the plate, given that he lacks power Ruiz’ value lies in his ability to reach base where he then has a ton of usefulness. But Ruiz’ OBP has settled in at .331 and is only that high on the strength of getting hit by 12 pitches (also a pace of 32 for the season).

It’s worrisome that Ruiz has a BB rate of just 3.9% to go with his ISO of .082. You have to hit a LOT of singles to overcome that combo. And you’d better play some defense.

What potentially saves both Ruiz and Langeliers is that they are both rookies who have a chance to improve in every facet of their game. But let’s just say there’s ample room for improvements that are downright essential if either is to be part of a competitive A’s team.

Mark Kotsay

Don’t get me wrong. The most brilliant tactical manager blessed with the midas touch might have the A’s at a world beating 15-46 or something. It’s a bad team that no matter what moves you make, most likely the club is going to lose.

That doesn’t change the fact, however, that Kotsay has proven to be one of the very worst tactical managers I can recall in a while. He is, as you have probably noticed, absolutely obsessed with platoon matchups as if getting the platoon advantage is the be all and end all.

Go back to May 25th when he ordered an intentional walk to Jarred Kelenic to load the bases, with rookie Garrett Acton on the mound in a tie game. Kotsay overlooked the problem with walking the bases loaded on purpose: putting the reliever’s back against the wall with no working margin. To no one’s surprise (except maybe his manager’s), Acton walked Eugenio Suarez to force in the go ahead run.

Now fast forward to today, when Sam Moll entered in the bottom of the 8th with runners at 2B and 3B, one out and the game tied 5-5. At the plate? Luis Arraez, who happens to lead the world in batting average at .392 with the amazing contact skills to strike out exactly 5% of the time this season.

So what does Kotsay do? He draws the infield in and pitches to Arraez (probably because “it’s a left on left matchup!”). THIS is when you issue an intentional walk to load the bases. As if to pound the point home, after Arraez’ single to give the Marlins the lead, Moll struck out the next two batters.

And then there’s Kotsay’s infatuation with the bunt, as if the A’s struggle to score runs so much they should do anything they can to play for one run — even in situations when The Book points out that the run expectancy isn’t much enhanced by making outs on purpose.

He bunts with Ruiz, the only hitter he has who has excelled batting with RISP and who leads the team in batting average. He bunts to play for the tie when he has a lousy bullpen, and when a sacrifice brings up especially terrible hitters — sometimes the #8 and #9 hitter — to try and get a run home.

It’s just a completely “no feel for the game” combined with “no understanding of probabilities” that is alarming — or at least would be if the team were playing for anything but record levels of futility.

Anyway, just some stray thoughts to darken your evening after the compulsory day defeat. I’ll try to have some sunshine to throw your way next time!