June 13, 2000
The Daily Prospectus
The A's Earning Ds Against Ls
The performance from last night that really caught my eye was Eric Milton's win over the Oakland A's. Milton allowed two runs and struck out 11 over seven innings. Since a disastrous outing May 15 against the Mariners, Milton has an ERA of 1.13 in five starts and 32 innings, with 35 strikeouts and just seven walks.
Of course, while I'm a big Milton fan, the performance lost a little luster when I took a gander at what the A's do against left-handed pitching. As a team, they're hitting just .221/.310/.359 against southpaws. All three of those figures are the worst in the American League.
The A's are heavily left-handed, with excellent hitters in Jason Giambi, Ben Grieve, Matt Stairs and Eric Chavez. Unfortunately, all four of them have moderate to massive platoon splits, with Chavez and Stairs being absolutely brutal against left-handers so far this year. Adding to the problem is that among the A's right-handed batters, only Ramon Hernandez and Olmedo Saenz are having success against left-handers.
While some of this is sample size, the fact is that the A's offense is built around left-handed hitters who have a limited track record of success against lefty pitchers, and it's not entirely surprising that they would struggle. The A's need what they had last year: a healthy and effective John Jaha in the middle of the lineup, mashing left-handed starters and breaking up the string of left-handed hitters when lefty relievers come in. Jaha's Lance Blankenship impersonation--.191/.425/.191 and a DL trip--isn't going to get it done.
As it is, the team can't find many at-bats for an excellent left-handed hitter like Jeremy Giambi. Giambi has already spent time in Sacramento this season, and he may have to go back there again. Adam Piatt, who hit .303/.303/.677 in a brief May callup and could provide some pop on all the corners, may need to be on the roster. He would enable Art Howe to sit at least one of Stairs or Grieve against left-handers.
In an age of 11- and 12-man pitching staffs, it's hard to platoon at more than two positions. This A's team probably needs to platoon at three positions, and maybe as many as five spots. How Art Howe works around his roster mess could determine the winner of the AL West.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.