Here Are Athletics' All-Star Candidates

ALSO: MORE THOUGHTS ON PITCHERS USING STICKY STUFF

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

At 25 years and 330 days old, Mets rookie pitcher Tylor Megill is exactly the same age as Jacob deGrom was when he broke into the majors with the same team . . .

David O’Brien of The Athletic said five of the nine starters in the Atlanta lineup at CitiField Wednesday night didn’t deserve to be there . . .

What was Washington manager Dave Martinez thinking when he lifted Kyle Schwarber for late-inning defense June 20 after he had hit three homers – and had a chance to become the first man to hit six in two games? . . .

Most teams don’t turn one triple play in a season yet the Yankees pulled off three within a few weeks . . .

Bartolo Colon, trying to work his way back to the majors at age 48, just pitched a two-hit shutout in the Mexican League . . .

Shohei Ohtani, the first player signed up for Home Run Derby at the Denver All-Star festivities, is the first pitcher ever to be involved.

Leading Off

Meet Oakland’s All-Star Candidates

By Rich Campbell

Welcome to the third edition of my monthly look at how the Oakland A’s 2021 season is unfolding.

Before looking at the results from games 40 through 76, let’s take a quick look at who on the A’s roster merits All-Star consideration, along with a key stat to explain their candidacies.

On the position-player front, the clear leader is first baseman Matt Olson, who seems to be a lock to make his first All-Star Game. His 2.7 fWAR trails only Vlad Guerrero amongst AL first-sackers. With 20 homers already this year, Olson would also be a good for the Home Run Derby.

Outfielder Mark Canha is third in the AL in fWAR for outfielders with 2.5, trailing only Cedric Mullins and Byron Buxton.  He also is top five in runs scored in all of baseball.

Center-fielder Ramon Laureano is just behind Canha in fWAR at fourth in the Junior Circuit (2.3) and is slashing a robust .260/.340/.510.

Catcher Sean Murphy leads all AL catchers in fWAR with 2.4, which might surprise some fans.  Mike Zunino (1.9) and Salvador Perez (1.7) are next in the AL pecking order.

Matt Chapman got off to a slow start offensively, but is playing his usual amazing defense.  MLB.com writer David Adler has Chappy as his choice, noting his Outs Above Average of +12 towers over the next best third baseman in all of baseball, Manny Machado (+4). Defense matters and should be honored, right?

A’s starters with a shot at making the team are Chris Bassitt, who is 7-2 with a 1.8 fWAR and Sean Manaea, who is 6-3 with fWAR of 2.1.  Both are in the top eight of AL pitchers fWAR.

The two relievers worthy of consideration are Lou Trivino, whose 12 saves are tied for fourth in the AL, and sports a 2.10 ERA.  Middle reliever Yusmeiro Petit has a sparkling 7-1 record and leads MLB in appearances with 37.

No one should expect the A’s to have nine players in Denver in mid-July.  But there is certainly no shortage of A’s players who should be considered.

Record Recap: Last we gathered, the A’s were 23-16 on May 14.  Since then the A’s are 22-15, but have fallen into second place behind the red-hot Astros, who now sport the best record in baseball and are on a 10-game winning streak. 

The A’s were 45-31 before they closed their series in Texas and headed to San Francisco for a weekend series versus the Giants, who have the best record in the NL.  Fangraphs gives the Athletics a 63.4 per cent chance of reaching the playoffs, up from 51.5 on May 14.

Stat Nobody Saw Coming: James Kaprielian is 4-1 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.  Since joining the rotation on May 12, Kaprielian has pitched five or more innings in seven of eight starts and still has not given up more than five hits in a game.  It looks like the A’s may have a legitimate rotation piece in the oft-injured 27-year-old rookie.

Roster Churn: There have been too many transactions to list here, but here are three key moves: 1) Luis Barrera added to MLB roster on May 18th and sent back down May 27th.  In between, he made his MLB debut;  2) On May 21, Cam Bedrosian joined the big-league squad.  He has made eight appearances with a 1.04 ERA;  3) Jesus Luzardo was optioned to AAA on June 21.  Heading into the season, Luzardo was considered a key cog in the rotation and future star.  He has a 6.87 ERA in 2021. 

Regression To The Mean Update: April’s candidate, Elvis Andrus slashed .127/.167/.182 through the first 16 games.  Since then his .258/.307/.339 is not going to get him All-Star consideration but is more in line with expectations.

May’s nominee was Seth Brown.  At the time, his Fangraphs wRC+ of 133 in his 16 games ending May 13 was predictably unsustainable.  His RC+ since then of 65 likely means less playing time and perhaps even a return to AAA Las Vegas.

This month’s candidate is Mark Canha.  In his last 35 games, he has slashed .277/.387/.508 with 27 runs and 24 RBIs, pushing himself into All-Star consideration.  If he can sustain his RC+ of 151 from this last six weeks, he will be collecting down-ballot MVP votes in October. The bet here is that he will not.

Old Guys Report:  The older pitchers are chugging along.  Sergio Romo has appeared in 15 games with a 2.84 ERA since May 14, while Yusmero Petit has appeared in 18 contests with a 6.50 ERA. As always, it’s a small sample-size alert when discussing relievers.  

As for the older hitters … they have not been good since our last check in.  Jed Lowrie and Mitch Moreland are still getting middle of the lineup but not producing enough to justify that placement.  Lowrie’s paltry slash line since May 14 is .202/.300/.289 in 130 plate appearances while Moreland is at .224/.246/.310 in 61 plate appearances.  Father Time is undefeated.

Coming Up:  Starting with the weekend series versus the Giants, there are only five series until the All-Star Break: at San Francisco, home against the Rangers and Red Sox, and then roadies at Houston and Texas.

Rich Campbell is a Marketing Professor at Sonoma State University by day and A’s fan by night.  He has previously been a sports business contributor at Forbes.com and his academic writing has appeared in Sport Marketing Quarterly.  You can find him on Twitter @RichCampbellPhD.

Cleaning Up

Punishment For ‘Sticky’ Pitchers Is Way Too Lenient

By Dan Schlossberg

Just what we don’t need: another strikeout.

But that’s exactly what Major League Baseball gave its fans in its half-vast attempt to tamp down the surging strikeout wave and boost baffled batters around the majors.

There are so many things wrong with its solution that outlining them all is impossible.

For starters, MLB shouldn’t have introduced its sudden crackdown in the middle of the season.

Secondly, a 10-day suspension with pay is no punishment at all, since it simply costs pitchers two starts, not to mention zero dollars.

Too little, too late, terrible timing. But that’s Rob Manfred, a commissioner still reeling from ripping the All-Star Game from Atlanta for political rather than professional reasons.

Ironically announcing the 10-game ban on Flag Day, the commissioner claimed he was reacting to others. Same reasoning he used to create the All-Star Game fiasco.

“After an extensive process of repeated warnings without effect, gathering information from current and former players and others across the sport, two months of comprehensive data collection, listening to our fans and thoughtful deliberation, I have determined that new enforcement of foreign substances is needed to level the playing field,” he said.

“I understand there is a history of foreign substances being used on the ball but what we are seeing today is objectively far different, with more tackier substances being used more frequently than ever before.

“It has become clear that the use of foreign substance has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else – an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field.”

To be fair, lack of action stems directly from every single batter not only trying to hit the ball over the wall but to hit it harder and longer than anyone else.

Bunting has disappeared. So have hit-and-run plays, moving runners, hitting to the opposite field, and – most significantly – hitting against the shift. Batters flail away on 3-0 and 3-1 counts when walks would create traffic on the bases and bring pressure on pitchers – especially in the late innings of close games.

Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Ozzie Albies have great speed but how often – if ever – have they bunted for a base-hit, especially with opposing teams shifting against them? Even Freddie Freeman could drop a bunt toward third and reach base easily.

Hank Aaron had plenty of bunt hits during his career. But he never had a seven-figure contract or even a multi-year deal until his final years in the majors. And his peak salary was $250,000, less than half of today’s minimum salary.

As for pitchers, cheating has been a fact of life ever since Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned the spitball – and other defacing of the baseball – in an effort to clean up the game in the wake of the Black Sox Scandal.

But that didn’t stop such blatant cheaters as Gaylord Perry, Lew Burdette, Whitey Ford, Don Sutton, Joe Niekro, and Rick Honeycutt, among a myriad of others.

There were plenty of cheating batters too, from the stuffed bats of Graig Nettles, Albert Belle, and Sammy Sosa to suspected steroids abusers Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Robinson Cano, Ryan Braun, and of course Sosa.

Not surprisingly, pitchers are complaining that they have been singled out by the baseball czar. Tyler Glasnow, star pitcher of the Tampa Bay Rays, claims he hurt his elbow because he stopped using Spider Tack and couldn’t get a good grip of the ball. He may have a point: why are batters use pine tar for a better grip but pitchers can’t use anything but a resin bag?

As Yogi Berra might have said, “Something’s not kosher in the State of Denmark.”

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for Latino Sports, forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Ball Nine, and other outlets between his duties as weekend editor for Here’s The Pitch. He’s been an active baseball writer since 1969. Reach Dan at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Jack Scott of the 1927 Phillies was the last man to pitch two complete games on the same day . . .

Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola is an ace at home but a bum on the road . . .

Good to see old pal Keith Olbermann at CitiField Wednesday night . . .

Proving that even the best pitcher has a bad day, future Hall of Famer John Smoltz once gave up a Modern Era record of 20 total bases in the first inning . . .

Only a dozen radio teams are covering road games in person, with the rest restricted to re-creations from monitors in their home ballparks . . .

Albert Pujols and Ryan Zimmerman rank 1-2 in career walk-off homers among active players . . .

Baltimore’s All-Star rep has to be speedster Cedric Mullins . . .

Unless voting fans screw things up, the Reds will have two All-Star outfielders in Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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