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Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Perez's changeup poses challenge for A's

By John Fisher

The Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers take the field Wednesday (ESPN, 8 ET) for their third of seven meetings over the season’s final 10 days with both teams chasing a playoff berth.

The Athletics have gotten almost half of their wins this season – 43 of 87 – from rookie pitchers. The last team to get at least half its wins from rookies was the A’s in 2009 (44 of 75). The last to do so while posting a winning record was the 1986 Rangers (46 of 87).

The Athletics youth movement extends to their lineup, which is led by rookie Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, who is playing his first full season in the majors.

Cespedes and Reddick are the first pair of Oakland outfielders to hit 20 home runs in the same season since Eric Byrnes and Jermaine Dye in 2004.

Strong rookie campaign for Cespedes
If it weren’t for Los Angeles Angels phenom Mike Trout, Cespedes could have been in line to win Rookie of the Year. He ranks in the top three among major league rookies in batting average, slugging percentage, home runs, runs batted in and on-base percentage.

Cespedes is one of the American League’s best hitters on the first pitch of an at-bat. He’s hitting .434 on such pitches, the sixth best average in the AL. The early swings limit his power, as only two of his 21 homers have come on the first pitch.

Reddick cools in second half
Reddick helped carry the team before the All-Star Break, but has slowed down in the second half. He is hitless in his last 27 at-bats and was not in the A’s starting lineup on Tuesday.

Amazingly, his 0-for-27 streak isn’t the worst stretch for an Oakland hitter this season. Derek Norris went 30 at-bats without a hit in July and Cliff Pennington had an 0-for-29 stretch from May to June.

Reddick’s average since the break is 57 points lower than the first half of the season and his home run rate has been cut in half. As shown on the chart to the right, he is swinging more often but making contact less frequently.

Perez’s changeup could foil A’s
The A’s will be facing rookie southpaw Martin Perez, whose first major-league start was against Oakland in June. In that game, he allowed two runs in 5⅓ innings to earn the win.

Perez had more success with his changeup than his fastball in that game. Oakland hitters were 4-for-12 with three extra-base hits against his fastball and 2-for-9 with four strikeouts against his changeup.

The success with his slower pitches has continued since that start. Hitters miss on 28 percent of their swings against Perez’s offspeed pitches, and 21 percent of at-bats that end with an offspeed pitch against him result in a strikeout.

Several A’s hitters have struggled against changeups this season. Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Pennington all hit below .200 while striking out at least 20 percent of the time against the pitch.

Oakland hitters have struck out 1,322 times this season, just two shy of the American League record. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays struck out 1,324 times in 2007.