June 12, 1999
AL West Notebook
Unexpected Results in Oakland
Unexpected Results in Oakland
The Athletics are in a virtual tie for second place in the AL West with a 30-29 record, while being outscored 296 to 275 (a Pythagorean record of 27-32). What's strange about this is not that the A's are outperforming their projection, but just what part of the team is responsible for their success so far.
Most, if not all, of the improvement forecast this season for Manager Art Howe's troops was based on the anticipated progress of his young hitters. Instead, through 59 games, the group of Ben Grieve, Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Ryan Christenson, Jason McDonald, Scott Spiezio and A.J. Hinch are collectively hitting a Gallego-like .215/.296/.329. The Athletics are last in the league in batting average, a whopping 24 points behind the Angels at 13th. However, the organization's emphasis on plate discipline shows up in their #5 rank in walks drawn, enableing the A's to move up to tenth in the offensive category that really matters: runs scored.
This is still well below expectations for an offense that finished ninth in the league last year and is built around a core of young players with considerable upside. If any three of the youngsters listed above can regroup over the next four months and join Matt Stairs, Jason Giambi and the ever-hobbling John Jaha in powering the offense, the A's may yet ascend to the upper third of the league in runs scored.
Meanwhile, Oakland's moundsmen have been as surprising as the batters have been disappointing, with an ERA of 4.45, third in the league. The A's starting pitching has been at or above league average all season, even though Kenny Rogers had difficulty throwing or even standing at various times in April and May, and Tom Candiotti spent the first two months showing that knuckleballers aren't ageless, before being designated for assignment this week.
The difficulties at the front of the rotation have been partially offset by the unexpected emergence of Mike Oquist from the compost pile to be the A's most consistent starter. Intermittently effective outings by Gil Heredia and Jimmy Haynes have also eased the pain. While it's unlikely that Oquist can maintain his success, he has helped the team stay afloat while Rogers mended (2.15 ERA in his last four starts) and enabled prospects Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder to develop. Hudson has been deemed ready, and struck out 11 in just 5 1/3 innings of this first start.
If you're looking for a reason--other than luck, of course-why the Athletics have exceeded their Pythagorean projection, you'll find it down the left-field line. Brad Rigby, Tim Worrell, T.J. Mathews, Buddy Groom, Doug Jones and Billy Taylor have combined for a 12-8 record, 18 saves and an ERA of 3.48, second-best in the American League. The most recognizable feature of this sextet was the now-shorn hair above Doug Jones' upper lip, so you might say they are going about their business unnoticed. Aside from Rigby, it is a veteran, workmanlike group whose eldest members--set-up man Jones and closer Taylor--appear capable of fooling batters for at least another four months.
Art Howe has to be tickled pink that the Athletics are only 5 1/2 games behind the division-leading Rangers in spite of their floundering offense. With pitching reinforcements in place and the young hitters overdue to break out, the A's are nicely positioned for a summer playoff push.
The Rangers' recent nine-game winning streak and solid hold on first place have temporarily quieted talk of Ruben Mateo's recall. Mateo is blistering at Oklahoma City (.342/.393/.611), while Tom Goodwin (.234/.313/.317), is giving every indication that his 1998 campaign was a fluke. When the Rangers cool off, the debate will heat up again, but don't expect to see Mateo in Arlington before July 1. The reason? Economics. With the current arbitration rules, if the Rangers can survive Goodwin's feeble batwork until July, Mateo will have no chance to be arbitration-eligible until after the 2002 season.... Upon learning that discussions about a contract extension were underway between the Angels' front office and Manager Terry Collins, a number of players met privately with GM Bill Bavasi to express their concerns about Collins' managerial style. Included were Randy Velarde, Ken Hill and Mo Vaughn. The player concerns seem to focus on Collins' abrasiveness and communication skills. In another illustration of how the media values style over substance, local columnists rushed to Collins' defense, citing his fiery intensity and unwillingness to rip players in the media among the reasons that he should remain the manager. Interestingly, none of the writers listed substantive managerial assets like understanding an offense, handling a pitching staff or roster management.