Pennant race updates on the A's, Indians, and Cardinals, plus the best defensive plays of the weekend and what to watch on Tuesday.
The Labor Day Weekend Takeaway
As the Athletics won seven straight games at the tail end of the 2012 regular season to surge past the Rangers and capture the American League West crown, Coco Crisp went 10-for-25 (.400) with four doubles, a homer, and four steals on four attempts. It’s no secret that a team’s offense is more potent, and its win probability higher, when its leadoff man is hot. And as we head into the home stretch of the 2013 campaign, few major-league hitters are swinging the bat better than Crisp.
After sweeping the Rays over the three days preceding the holiday, the A’s entered Monday’s matinee versus the Rangers trailing Texas by one game. There were 26 games left on each team’s docket, six of them head-to-head meetings, and in a year with relatively few playoff berths up for grabs, this horse race was only getting started.
Remember that piece back in December about Coco Crisp's tendency to steal bases before the pitcher begins to comes home with the pitch? Last night another Athletics outfielder, Chris Young, paid homage against Joe Blanton. Here are some visuals. First Young when he starts to run compared to Blanton:
How do Mike Trout and Desmond Jennings compare to Coco Crisp when it comes to base-thieving technique?
A few weeks ago, prior to the holidays, I called Coco Crisp the league’s best basestealer. Being the best anything is a temporary position, so when you label someone the best you get people thinking about who will be the future best. In this case, that probably means Billy Hamilton. But the lack of video makes it next to impossible to review Hamilton in a thorough manner. Besides, writing "He’s so fast," over and over is a boring read. Instead of Hamilton, I opted to review two other players with a shot at usurping Crisp:Mike Trout and Desmond Jennings.
After Trout’s freshman season, it’s hard to call him the next best anything with a straight face. To be so young and accomplish so much is setting one’s self up for Tom Buchanan comparisons*, but somehow I think Trout will do okay with it. He might be, depending on Hamilton’s status for the upcoming year, the odds-on favorite to take Crisp’s spot in 2013. Trout showed off impressive chops by swiping 49 bases on 54 tries last season, running his big-league career total to 53 of 58 (a 91 percent success rate).
How does Coco Crisp steal bases at such a high rate? He's sort of brilliant, is how.
When Coco Crisp stepped to the plate last season, his walk-up song was “Who Gon Stop Me." The chorus served as a legitimate question once Crisp reached base. Not many have showed the ability to stop Crisp in recent seasons. He went 39-for-43 on stolen base attempts in 2012, pushing his three-year total to 120 steals in 136 attempts. That’s an 88 percent success rate on 45 attempts per season. None of the six other players with at least 45 attempts since 2010 succeeded more than 83 percent of the time. Rickey Henderson never had a three-year rate of more than 86 percent throughout his career.
The highest levels of baseball performance tend to have impressive streaks built in. Crisp’s basestealing in recent years has two worth noting. From July 10, 2011, until June 21, 2012, Crisp stole 36 consecutive bases without failure. Ignore pickoffs and Crisp’s streak creeps into August 2012 and encompasses another 15 steals. (The only catcher to stop Crisp in 2012 was Jose Lobaton.) Those high levels of performance leave us bewildered and curious. How is it that Crisp—who had a career 74 percent success rate prior to 2010—has turned into the league’s most efficient and prolific thief? Is it with Billy Hamilton-like speed, or Henderson-like wits and hubris*, or something else?
I’d been nursing a nasty cold for a week or so. It started in my head, but had migrated to my chest. I don’t like to take drugs—I’m a teetotaller, truth be told—but I’d resorted to DayQuil and cough syrup just to be able to get out of bed. It makes the walk across the footbridge from BART to the Coliseum something of an adventure—my steps unreliable, I felt like I was gliding rather than walking.
Tommy Milone toes the rubber to help Oakland turn it around versus Detroit and Doug Fister.
Things got off to an inauspicious start for Justin Verlander and the Tigers, as Coco Crisp smacked the fourth pitch of Game One out to right field to give the Athletics a 1-0 lead. From that point on, however, the flame-throwing righty shut down Bob Melvin’s lineup, scattering two more hits and four walks while striking out 11 over seven innings of work. Verlander outdueled rookie Jarrod Parker, who pitched well but could not match Detroit’s ace in a 3-1 decision.
Jered Weaver is way better than he used to be, but all his improvement has come against left-handed hitters. This is how he's done it.
I remember this Angels-Yankees game from 2009 because MLB.tv decided to let me watch it. I was in the blacked out area for Angels games, which was unfortunate, because I had just convinced my boss to pay for my MLB.tv so I could watch Angels games. And then this game played with no restrictions. I thought maybe it was where I was sitting in the building, that I had found a 10-square-foot pocket of Southern California that was somehow outside the law, like a tiny baseball Reservation. I tried for a month but never found it again. That’s why I remember this game.
The Yankees’ lineup that day had Derek Jeter, followed by eight hitters who batted left-handed or switch-hit. This mattered because Jered Weaver was pitching, and everybody knew that Jered Weaver was lethal against righties but vulnerable to lefties, who hit .276/.335/.477 against Weaver that year. Against lefties that year, Weaver was a below-average pitcher. Against righties, he was an ace. Overall, he was not an ace.
The desire to participate in the intellectual aspects of baseball has never been stronger. This raises questions.
For 95 percent of you reading this, baseball is a hobby. You have jobs and kids, cats and lives. You have a lot of things occupying your attention, including things that provide better remuneration than baseball does, yet you, I'm willing to bet, spend quite a lot of time watching baseball, Tweeting about it, blogging, talking with your friends online and off. Most importantly, here's what I think you do: You spend a lot of time thinking about baseball, about teams and players, who is good and who isn't, the best ways to measure these things most accurately, and how on earth Bartolo Colon is still a going concern.
That interest in thinking about the game is what draws us, writers, readers, commenters, editors, database wizards, the whole motley lot of us, together as a committed group of (mostly) amateurs on Baseball Prospectus. What's fascinating, though, about this ever-growing group of amateurs is not so much the amount of dedication, the time and money we spend on the game that won't give us anything tangible back, but the way in which we dedicate ourselves.
An unlikely team leads the American League in scoring in June: the Oakland Athletics.
The Tuesday Takeaway
The Athletics began the month of June by getting blanked twice in a three-game series against the Royals. Bob Melvin’s offense was described as “historically bad.” Oakland had lost 10 of 11, falling behind the Mariners and into the AL West cellar.
After last night’s 3-0 shutout over the Dodgers, though, the A’s have now won six of seven, improving to 32-36 on the year and jumping back into third place. Brandon McCarthy, on the mound for the first time since June 9, led the way for Oakland in the series opener, tossing seven scoreless innings before Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook finished off Los Angeles. But the offense, not the pitching staff, has actually done much of the heavy lifting of late.