SweetSpot: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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When Garrett Richards, the best pitcher on the Los Angeles Angels in 2014 and one of the best pitchers in the league, went down with a knee injury on Aug. 20, the consensus seemed to be: The AL West race is over; the Angels didn't have the rotation depth to survive his loss, especially with veterans Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson not what they once were.

The West is over. Except it's the Angels, who finished off a four-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics with an 8-1 win on Sunday, and not the A's, who are going to win the division. The sweep pushed the Angels' lead over the A's to five games, had winning pitcher Matt Shoemaker calling it a "huge series for us in regards to the playoffs," saw Angels fans chanting "Sweep! Sweep!" late in the game and caused normally placid Oakland manager Bob Melvin to call out his team: "They should be embarrassed."
[+] EnlargeShoemaker
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Matt Shoemaker has already come up huge for the Angels in the second half.

It was an energizing four days for the Angels -- they shut out the A's for 29 consecutive innings at one point -- and a demoralizing series for the A's, who finished August with a 12-17 record, their first losing month since May of 2012.

"We don't play like that," a glum Melvin said after the game. "The last three games here were the worst I've seen this team play in I can't remember how long. I feel bad for our fans to have to watch that."

What has gone right with the Angels? What has gone wrong with the A's?

For the Angels, let's start not with likely AL MVP Mike Trout -- who did homer on Sunday -- but the rookie Shoemaker, who continues to excel. Before the season, Baseball America didn't even rate the 27-year-old right-hander as one of the Angels' top 30 prospects. Perhaps understandable given his age, undrafted status coming out of Eastern Michigan and his pedestrian numbers the past two seasons at Triple-A Salt Lake, but the Angels were also rated to have the worst farm system in the majors -- for the second year in a row. How could this guy not be one of their 30 best minor leaguers? Put it this way: Shoemaker wasn't on anybody's radar as a potential key contributor.

But here he is: 14-4, with a 3.14 ERA and 115 strikeouts and 21 walks in 117.2 innings. There's nothing in those numbers that screams fluke: The strikeout rate is very good, the control is excellent, the BABIP isn't abnormal. Does he have an overpowering fastball? No, it averages just 90.6 mph, but he does have an effective splitter that has become a wipeout pitch. That pitch has accounted for 68 of his 115 K's and batters are hitting just .148 against it with one home run.

It's a pitch he initially learned to throw as a 14-year-old. "It just continues to get better," he said after beating the A's with seven scoreless innings. He threw it 30 percent of the time on Sunday, but considering he also mixes in a two-seam sinker, a slider and curveball, he's a five-pitch pitcher with a repertoire that resembles Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma, and that has made him tough even without the blazing heater.

Or maybe it's the beard. He has grown a Brian Wilson-esque patch of fur on his chin. Hey, considering he's 7-2 with a 1.67 ERA since the All-Star break, I wouldn't shave either.

Another secret weapon for the Angels is catcher Chris Iannetta, who only has an on-base percentage better than Trout. Or right fielder Kole Calhoun, hitting .299/.346/.476 since June 6 and doing an excellent job setting the table for Trout. Or the bullpen. On Saturday, manager Mike Scioscia started reliever Cory Rasmus, who pitched three innings, and then used seven other relievers. The eight pitchers combined for a 2-0 shutout. It was an effective strategy as the Angels continue to scuffle for a fifth starter, one made possible by Scioscia's confidence in Shoemaker going deep into the game on Sunday.

As for the A's, the cop-out excuse is to say they miss Yoenis Cespedes. Maybe he did help provide a certain swagger, but that's not the reason they've struggled in August. Plus, have you eve know an A's team to lack swagger? Look at how their All-Stars have fared before the break and after:

Josh Donaldson: .238/.317/.449 to .314/.427/.529
Brandon Moss: .268/.349/.530 to .183/.318/.254
Derek Norris: .294/.402/.477 to .235/.300/.336
Scott Kazmir: 11-3, 2.38 ERA to 3-4, 6.21 ERA
Sean Doolittle: 2.89 43 IP to 11.2 IP (injured)

Only Donaldson, who has actually played better, has kept up his pace. Moss' struggles have created a power hole in the middle of the lineup, especially when combined with Cespedes' departure. The declines of Norris and Kazmir were predictable to some extent, two guys playing above their heads in the first half. Further, Sonny Gray had a 2.79 ERA before the break and 3.61 after; Jason Hammel has a 6.09 ERA since the break; Coco Crisp is hitting .172/.252/.284. Don't blame this slide on the Cespedes trade (and Jon Lester has been terrific).

Can the A's turn it around and catch the Angels? I don't see it. Yes, we've had teams blow five-game leads in September in recent years -- see the 2011 Red Sox in the wild-card race; the 2007 Mets had a seven-game lead on Sept. 12; and the A's certainly remember the 2012 Rangers -- Texas had a five-game lead over Oakland as late as Sept. 24 but the A's still won the division.

So never say never. But the Angels have the lineup depth with a superstar leading the way (they haven't even needed big seasons from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton); the bullpen is on a roll and deep enough that Scioscia doesn't need his starters to go deep into the game; 12 of the Angels' next 13 games are against the Astros, Twins and Rangers while the A's will have two series against the Mariners. On paper, it's going to difficult for Oakland to make up much ground the next two weeks.

Yes, the Angels' rotation is now depending on a 27-year rookie -- 28 later this month -- leading the way while the A's counter with a deep arsenal of starters.

But that's baseball, the most unpredictable of sports. We thought the A's getting Jeff Samardzija and Lester would be the big story in the AL West. Instead, it's Matt Shoemaker. Gotta love it.
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It's another edition of Rapid Fire ... except this time I ask Eric the questions.
1. The Angels need Bartolo Colon.

Journeyman left-hander Wade LeBlanc, replacing injured ace Garrett Richards in the rotation, was shelled in a 7-1 loss to the Marlins, giving up six runs and getting knocked out in the fourth inning. Do the Angels give him another start? Trouble is, that would come this weekend against the A's. Other internal options don't look much better than LeBlanc: Randy Wolf? Chris Volstad? Triple-A Salt Lake is 57-80, so you know there isn't much help down there. That brings the Angels to Colon. According to reports, Colon cleared waivers, meaning the Mets can trade him to any team. But if the Mets didn't trade Colon at the non-waiver deadline, are they going to be any more interested now?

2. Giancarlo Stanton is still in the MVP race.

He launched a long three-run home run off Cory Rasmus, his NL-leading 33rd -- and became just the 12th player to reach 150 career home runs before turning 25 (seven of the first 11 are in the Hall of Fame and the other four are Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones and Albert Pujols). He also leads the NL in RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and tops NL position players in WAR. MVP voters historically don't go for players on non-playoff teams, but in a year where the leading candidate may be a pitcher who missed an entire month of action, Stanton needs to be heavily considered.

3. Michael Pineda looked good.

Here's the scary thing about the Yankees: If they do somehow get to the postseason, don't underestimate them. Pineda hasn't been healthy enough to make many starts this year, but when he's been out there, he's been effective. He beat the Royals, allowing one run, five hits and no walks in 6.1 innings, the one mistake a Mike Moustakas home run. In 37 innings, he has a 1.95 ERA. Against the Royals, Pineda averaged 93.9 mph with his fastball (2.6 mph faster than his final start in April before he went on the DL), and in his three starts since coming off the DL he's thrown more 70 percent strikes all three outings. He's not the flamethrower with sometimes shaky command he was as a rookie in Seattle but has turned into a guy who can spot his fastball, with just four walks in those 37 innings. If Masahiro Tanaka returns at 100 percent and with the way Brandon McCarthy has pitched since coming over from Arizona, that trio suddenly looks playoff-caliber.

4. The Pirates suffered a tough loss.

John Lackey allowed just one run in seven innings, but the Pirates actually hit him pretty hard, with seven hits and several hard-hit outs. But the Cardinals turned four double plays behind Lackey (give him credit for inducing the groundballs), turning what could have been another shaky outing into a solid line in the box score. Meanwhile, after Francisco Liriano tossed six scoreless innings, the Cardinals scraped together three runs in the seventh off Jared Hughes, with a walk and some seeing-eye singles. Andrew McCutchen's home run in the ninth made the final score 3-2, but it's one of those games you lose a little sleep over if you're a Pirates fan.

5. The Mariners' punishing travel schedule may have affected them.

No team will travel more miles this year than Seattle and after playing in Boston on Sunday, they had to fly across the country to host the Rangers. They got shut down by Miles Mikolas, who entered with a 7.48 ERA and tossed eight scoreless innings. This is the kind of series the Mariners have to win against the worst-in-baseball Rangers, so the pressure is on these next two games, and the Mariners already announced that Felix Hernandez will be pushed back from Wednesday to Friday against the Nationals (Wednesday's starter is undecided, although it will likely be Erasmo Ramirez). The long plane ride isn't the only reason they lost 2-0, but it's one obstacle East Coast teams don't have to face nearly as often.
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In Game 1 of the Seattle Mariners-Boston Red Sox series at Fenway Park on Friday, Felix Hernandez allowed three runs in 5.2 innings -- the first time he'd allowed three runs in 18 starts.

In Game 2, Chris Young pitched just 3.2 innings.

In Game 3, Hisashi Iwakuma lasted just 2.1 innings, the shortest outing of his Mariners career.

What arguably has been the league's best trio of starting pitchers had a terrible weekend ... and yet the Mariners swept the Red Sox at Fenway for the first time in franchise history in a series of three games or longer.

Yes, you can credit the reeling Red Sox, now losers of eight straight, for helping out. You can credit the much-maligned Mariners offense that had a dramatic five-run ninth inning on Friday, a seven-run inning on Saturday and 13 hits on Sunday.

Mostly, you can credit the best bullpen in the league. Mariners relievers pitched 15.1 innings in the three games and allowed one run while punching out 21 Red Sox hitters as the Mariners rallied from deficits in all three games. Seattle's bullpen now owns a major league-best 2.38 ERA, which would be the lowest since the 1990 A's had a 2.35 mark. The average major league bullpen has allowed 3.86 runs per nine innings; the Mariners have allowed 2.63. Other bullpens may have better win-loss records -- Seattle's is 19-18, but you have to factor in the Mariners' lack of offensive punch -- but the pen has been a major reason the Mariners currently hold a tenuous grip on the second wild card over the Tigers.

A few keys to the pen's success: good health; expert handling by manager Lloyd McClendon and pitching coach Rick Waits; and a group that currently runs eight deep, most of whom can crank it up into the mid-90s -- the Mariners' average fastball velocity from their relievers is fourth highest in the majors. Leading the way there is converted starter Brandon Maurer, who bombed out of the rotation early in the year, but has averaged 96.1 mph with his fastball as a reliever while posting a 1.80 ERA.

I'm not a fan of having eight relievers on your roster, but these days, when complete games are few and far between (the Mariners have just one, from Roenis Elias), that depth has allowed McClendon to do some unusual things with his relievers. For starters, he's not afraid of a quick hook with his starters. Mariners starters have gone five or fewer innings in 40 games, the ninth-lowest figure in the majors -- even though Mariners starters have the third-best ERA in the majors. (The Braves have the fewest "quick hooks" with 22.) Obviously, Felix and Iwakuma usually go deep into the game, but knowing his offense doesn't score many runs, McClendon has been careful about not letting the game get away early when the other three starters are out there.

Despite the quick hooks -- which means using multiple relievers in the same game -- McClendon hasn't abused his relievers. According to Baseball-Reference.com, entering Sunday the Mariners had used the same reliever in back-to-back games just 64 times; only the Rangers, Blue Jays and Nationals had done so fewer times. And because he's rarely using his relievers in consecutive games, McClendon often lets his guys go more than one inning. Tom Wilhelmsen has 21 outings of more than one inning, fifth most among relievers, and has compiled a 2.03 ERA in those games, totaling 44.1 innings. Rookie Dominic Leone, who escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the third inning on Sunday with an infield pop-out and strikeout, has 19 such appearances totaling 34.2 innings with an ERA under 2.00. With his philosophy of not using guys on back-to-back days, McClendon hasn't settled on just one eighth-inning guy, with Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar primarily sharing those duties.

McClendon has been conventional in his use of closer Fernando Rodney -- just two outings of more than one inning -- and lefties Charlie Furbush and Joe Beimel as LOOGYs, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Rodney gets the glory with the saves and the arrows, but maybe that's a good thing since he gets to enter without runners on base; he's only fifth among the current Mariners relievers in OPS allowed (and just barely ahead of Farquhar).

Counting blown saves from the middle relievers, the Mariners have just 10 -- tied with the Royals for second fewest in the majors behind the Padres -- an impressive figure considering how many close games the Mariners play.

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Which playoff contender has the best bullpen?

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    27%
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The Mariners are one game up on Detroit and you can point directly to the two bullpens as a reason why. Here are four other dominant bullpens that have helped contenders get where they are:

2. Kansas City Royals

The Royals don't have the Mariners' depth with a 3.40 ERA, but they do have the best late-inning trio in the majors in Kelvin Herrera (1.51 ERA), Wade Davis (0.80 ERA) and Greg Holland (1.79 ERA). Jason Frasor was acquired to add a strong fourth guy. The Royals haven't needed the depth -- their bullpen has pitched the second-fewest innings in the majors -- but it will be interesting to see if manager Ned Yost tries to get more out of this group down the stretch as the Royals battle the Tigers for the division crown.

3. Atlanta Braves

No surprise that the Braves would rank high with closer Craig Kimbrel once again crushing in the ninth inning. Like the Mariners, they don't usually have any margin for error considering their lack of runs. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has had to mix and match more than McClendon as David Carpenter and Luis Avilan haven't repeated their outstanding 2013 campaigns, but Jordan Walden and Anthony Varvaro have been solid in supporting roles and James Russell recently came over from the Cubs to give the Braves a lefty presence.

4. Los Angeles Angels

For the season, the Angels are just 14th in the majors with a 3.45 bullpen ERA (before their Sunday night game), but the bullpen you see now isn't the one that was there in April. General manager Jerry Dipoto has rebuilt much of the pen, with the likes of Huston Street and Jason Grilli joining rubber-armed Joe Smith, and since June 1 it has a 2.85 ERA and since July 1 a 2.32 ERA.

5. Baltimore Orioles

You can consider the A's here, except closer Sean Doolittle just went on the DL, or the Yankees, who have a strong back-end duo with Dellin Betances and David Robertson, but I'd go with the Orioles. Buck Showalter's pen didn't have a set closer back in April, but Zach Britton has run with the role (2.04 ERA, 27 saves in 30 chances) and the pen has picked up momentum as the season has progressed. It's no coincidence that the O's began pulling away in the AL East as the bullpen started dominating -- it has the fourth-best bullpen ERA in the majors since June 1.



Losing Richards changes Angels' season

August, 20, 2014
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Here are six names: Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards. These are the only pitchers to start a game for the 2014 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It’s a small list that is an example of good health and good luck. For context, the Texas Rangers have relied on 13 different starting pitchers, seven more than the Angels, so far in 2014.

The Angels' barely-larger-than-necessary catalog of starters also helps explain some of their success this year. Where that current success ends up this season will be seriously challenged the rest of the way, because in the bottom of the second inning during Wednesday night’s game in Boston, the Angels' rotation suffered a potentially devastating blow. Boston Red Sox third baseman Brock Holt hit a grounder to first baseman Albert Pujols; as Richards ran to cover first base, his left knee buckled. He fell to the ground in pain and had to be carted off the field. The severity of the injury is not yet known, but Angels fans would do well to withhold optimism.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Richards
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaGarrett Richards' knee injury looked ugly from the moment he went down near first base.
The descriptor "ace" is tossed around a lot, and, although coming into the season Richards might not have been considered a major league ace -- or even a staff ace -- he has performed like one this season. Richards leads the Angels with a 2.53 ERA and a 2.59 FIP. He's striking out nearly a batter per inning and is walking fewer than three per nine. In terms of WAR, his 4.5 mark is more than double that of Weaver's second-best 2.0. Richards is also among the best pitchers in the American League. He has the fifth-best ERA in the AL and has pitched 31 percent better than league average.

With Richards hurt and Skaggs out for the year for Tommy John surgery, the four known occupants of the Angels rotation are Weaver, Wilson, Santiago and Shoemaker. Who will fill Richards' spot should he miss a significant amount of time is unclear, but the potential names currently in the organization are uninspiring. In June, the Angels acquired Wade LeBlanc off waivers from the New York Yankees. LeBlanc has pitched only 7⅓ innings in 2014; he pitched 55 last season between the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros for a 5.40 ERA.

Another possibility is Randy Wolf, whom the Angels signed in late July. Wolf is with his fifth organization of 2014, as he was signed and released by the Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, Marlins and Baltimore Orioles before signing with the Angels. The 5.26 ERA Wolf posted while with the Marlins resembles his 5.28 ERA from 2012, the last time he pitched in the big leagues before this season.

The final possible in-house replacement for Richards is Chris Volstad. Volstad spent 2013 with the Colorado Rockies, posting a 10.81 ERA in eight innings of major league action. That is, of course, a small sample size. The 4.94 ERA Volstad produced in more than 700 big league innings is a larger sample that's equally frightening in a playoff race.

Looking around the big leagues, there are quality starting pitchers who might be made available through a waiver deal, such as Jorge De La Rosa and Bartolo Colon, assuming the Oakland A's can't block the Angels with their own claim.

Richards' absence will be felt most in the playoff race. The Angels currently sit 1½ games ahead of the A's. It's entirely possible the division will be decided by a single game, and it's also entirely possible that losing Richards for the year will cost the Angels at least a win or two. As things now stand, it looks like second place in the American League West will earn one of the two wild cards, but that will come with an enormous disadvantage. An injury such as this one highlights how important it is to make it to the playoffs via a division title rather than a wild card. If the Angels finish in second place, they very well might be tasked with a one-game playoff against the Detroit Tigers, or maybe the Kansas City Royals, who would trot out James Shields to pitch, or perhaps Felix Hernandez and the Mariners. And the Angels would have to play that game without their own ace to send to the mound in a must-win game.

Richards' injury also forces us to re-evaluate the trades that general manager Jerry Dipoto made at the non-waiver deadline. The contrast between Dipoto's strategy and A's GM Billy Beane's is glaring: Dipoto reinforced the Angels' bullpen by acquiring Joe Thatcher, Jason Grilli and Huston Street, while Beane hoarded many of the available starting pitchers in Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel. At the time, Dipoto's moves appeared to shore up a critical piece in preparation for a playoff run. Now, however, the Angels are left with a deep bullpen, four starting pitchers and a stark reminder that good health and good luck are fleeting.

Eric Garcia McKinley blogs about the Rockies for the SweetSpot network affiliate Rockies Zingers. You can follow him on Twitter at @garcia_mckinley.

Pitching carrying first-place Angels

August, 17, 2014
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Much attention has been paid to Oakland this season for its play on the field and its acquisitions off the field. The A's have been atop the ESPN Power Rankings for eight consecutive weeks. They've revamped most of their starting rotation by trading for Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. And the A's are one of three teams in baseball with at least 70 wins -- but they're now the only one not leading its division.

After defeating the Texas Rangers 5-4 and watching Atlanta defeat Oakland 4-3, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim now boast the best record in the American League West and the best winning percentage in all of baseball. The victory over Texas was the club’s fourth consecutive win, while Oakland's loss to Atlanta was the A's fourth consecutive defeat.

The most recent time the Angels held as much as a share of first place, it was on the first day of the 2013 season -- a season that went horribly wrong and was highlighted by the foot troubles of Albert Pujols and the disappointing play of Josh Hamilton.

The 2014 Angels roster was still talented enough for them to be considered a decent favorite to contend for a playoff spot in the American League, but most pundits pegged the Oakland Athletics to repeat as AL West champs for a third consecutive season. Oakland kicked off the second half of the 2014 season with a win against Baltimore that put them 24 games over .500, at 60-36 -- two and a half weeks after beginning the revamping of their pitching staff. After a 13-1 win against the Astros on July 24, the A's were 25 games over .500.

Despite the Athletics' hot play and the notable roster makeover, the Angels remained just two games off the pace as they, too, went through their own roster reshaping. While Oakland could dangle the carrot of a highly regarded prospect such as Addison Russell to bring in help, the Angels’ farm system lacked that kind of token to offer teams to get help. The Angels have the fourth best team-weighted on-base average (wOBA) this season at .319, and the 3.81 ERA by their starting pitching staff is in the top half of the league. The issue was with a bullpen that had one of the worst ERAs in the league at 3.89 and a relief pitcher in Ernesto Frieri, who was not getting the job done.

General manager Jerry Dipoto made a series of small moves to shore up the leaky pen by acquiring Jason Grilli, Joe Thatcher, Vinnie Pestano and, finally, Huston Street to take over the closer role. Since the All-Star break, the bullpen had posted a 2.24 ERA heading into play on Saturday night. Street closed out Saturday night's win in Arlington and gave young hurler Matt Shoemaker his 11th victory of the season and the team its 14th win since the break. That, in and of itself, is impressive, considering how ice-cold the Angels’ offense has been since the break.

The team’s .279 team wOBA and .229 batting average are the worst in the American League and the third worst in baseball since the break. MVP candidate Mike Trout is hitting .234/.317/.439, Pujols is hitting .245/.33/.415, and Hamilton is hitting .214/.278/.347 in the second half. Only Kole Calhoun and David Freese have batting averages over .250 since the break, and nobody on the team has an on-base percentage over .340 during that time.

The Angels' 14-12 second-half record has come while playing a very tough schedule. Each game in the second half of July came against playoff contenders (Seattle, Baltimore and Detroit). They opened August against one of the hottest team in baseball in Tampa Bay and then took on their crosstown foes for four games before the schedule gave them a break. The Angels looked that gift horse in the mouth and dropped two of three to Boston and narrowly avoided a sweep to the last-place Red Sox by stealing the middle game of that series in 19 innings. The Angels then swept Philadelphia in two and have now taken the first two games in this three-game set against Texas.

From Arlington, the Angels travel to Boston for a four-game series before returning to the West Coast for a crucial three-game set in Oakland. The two teams at the top of the American League West face each other seven times this month and will not see each other again until the final week of the season in a three-game series at Oakland.

The Angels are being carried by their pitching these days, as the offense has cooled off from where it was earlier this season. Los Angeles will need the offense to heat up in a hurry to take full advantage of the head-to-head matchups against Oakland, given that they won't see them again for another three weeks. In between those series, the schedule sets up quite favorably for the Angels as it includes five games against Houston, four against Minnesota and six more against Texas.

The stars are aligning nicely for the Angels, who look to win the American League West title for the first time since 2009. The rebuilt bullpen and the performance of the starting pitching staff is now carrying the load for the Angels, but they'll need a complete team effort to ultimately best an Athletics club whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Jason Collette writes for The Process Report, a blog on the Tampa Bay Rays, and also contributes to FanGraphs and Rotowire.
Last week, after Corey Kluber dominated the Mariners with an 85-pitch shutout, I rashly tweeted that Kluber is one of the best 10 starting pitchers in the game. That seemed to stir things up a bit on Twitter, and Giants fans were especially angered when I suggested Kluber is better than Madison Bumgarner. Kluber came back on Monday with another solid effort, allowing one run while striking out seven in 7.1 innings, improving his record to 12-6 with a 2.55 ERA.

But is he one of baseball's top 10 starters right now?

[+] EnlargeCorey Kluber
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesHe's been very, very good. But is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in baseball right now?
How do you even measure such a thing? We can take the easy way out and just look at wins above replacement for the season.

FanGraphs
1. Felix Hernandez: 5.8
2. Corey Kluber: 5.0
3. Jon Lester: 4.7
4. Clayton Kershaw: 4.5
5. Chris Sale: 4.2

Baseball-Reference
1. Felix Hernandez: 5.5
2. Clayton Kershaw: 5.2
3. Corey Kluber: 4.7
4. Johnny Cueto: 4.6
5. Chris Sale/Max Scherzer: 4.5

By WAR, Kluber isn't just a top-10 starter, but a top-five starter. Even ignoring how much you believe in WAR, the question is: Do you buy into Kluber's four-month streak as a true breakout performance? How much emphasis do we place on history? Zack Greinke won a Cy Young Award in 2009. Should that matter as to how we evaluate him now? Scherzer won the Cy Young Award last year when he was arguably the best pitcher in the American League. How much should that matter as to how we evaluate him in August 2014?

Bill James actually devised a method to answer this question a couple of years ago. He wrote:
Everybody starts out with a ranking of 300.0, and you can’t go lower than 300, even if you pitch badly. If you’re at 300, you’re unranked; you’re only actually on the list if you have a current score higher than 300. There would typically be 150 to 180 pitchers who are, at the moment, ranked. Pitchers never actually pitch badly enough that they would rank below 300 (if it were possible to do so) for more than two or three starts, because if you pitch that badly, you lose your position in the rotation.

When a pitcher makes a start, we:

a) Mark down his previous ranking by 3%, and

b) Add 30% of his Game Score for the start.

We base the rankings on Game Scores, which means that we ignore wins and losses, but give weight to innings pitched, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, walks and strikeouts.


James also adjusted for park effects, inactivity (if a pitcher doesn't pitch, his overall rating goes down) and postseason play, which he factored in. Anyway, his site unfortunately doesn't update the rankings, so I don't know how Kluber would rank. So I'll just wing my own top 10.

1. Clayton Kershaw

The best pitcher in baseball, and I don't think anybody is really arguing this. Hernandez ranks higher on the WAR lists because Kershaw missed April, so he doesn't have as many innings.

2. Felix Hernandez

3. Adam Wainwright

Similar in many ways -- veteran right-handers (it seems weird to call Felix a "veteran," but he has been around a long time) having their best seasons.

4. Chris Sale

He's 10-1 with a 2.09 ERA with 129 strikeouts and 20 walks in 116 innings. Incredible numbers. He has cut his home run rate from last year, even though he pitches in a good home run park. I'm not knocking Wainwright when I say this: Sale is better. But he did miss time earlier this year and I think we have to give Wainwright extra credit for his durability.

5. Yu Darvish

6. David Price

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Is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in the game?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,346)

I'm not completely comfortable ranking Price this high -- he's ninth in FanGraphs WAR and 25th in B-R WAR. He has 189 strikeouts and just 23 walks but has allowed 20 home runs, and he goes from a good pitcher's park with a good Rays defense behind him to a better hitter's park with a below-average Tigers defense behind him. It's possible that change will reveal that he did benefit from pitching in Tampa. Or it may not reveal anything. But Price has been good a pitcher for five years, and his new approach of pounding the strike zone has basically turned him into a harder-throwing version of Cliff Lee.

OK, now things get a little murky. Let's start with Kluber versus Bumgarner, because that got a lot of feedback on Twitter.

I know Bumgarner has been a solid pitcher for several years. He has come up big in the postseason. But in comparing 2014: Kluber has the better ERA, the better FIP, the better strikeout rate, a lower walk rate, a lower home run rate, a higher ground ball rate, the lower batting average and OPS allowed, has pitched more innings and has done it in a DH league while pitching in a tougher park with a lousy defense behind him. I can't rate Bumgarner ahead of Kluber.

(By the way, Bumgarner's career high bWAR is 3.8, achieved last year. A lot of that is park effects. Giants fans will point out that Bumgarner has a better ERA on the road in his career than at home, but that's not the way park effects work. Bumgarner still has the advantage of pitching half his games in a pitcher's park.)

Jon Lester? Hmm. Lester is a No. 2 starter having a No. 1-level season. But he had a 3.75 ERA last year and 4.82 the year before. FanGraphs and B-R differ on his value -- FanGraphs ranks him third overall while B-R ranks him 22nd. Kluber, by the way, had a 3.85 ERA last year with excellent peripherals. If you give Lester a little extra credit for his postseason last year, I'll reluctantly give him the nod, although I think his track record works against him just as much as Kluber's lack of track record works against him.

Scherzer is similar to Lester, except his No. 1 season came last year. He's been nearly as good this year, even though his BABIP has once again bounced up:

2011: .314
2012: .333
2013: .259
2014: .316

One reason Scherzer's BABIP is usually high is that he does pitch up in the strike zone, unlike a lot of pitchers who pound the zone at the knees. Of course, the other reason is the lousy Tigers defense. (Take note, Mr. Price.)

Johnny Cueto? I'm not quite sure what to do with Cueto, giving his history of injuries. But we're talking best starters right now, and Cueto has been healthy and effective all season and he has always been effective even when he has missed time.

Garrett Richards is another young starter having a breakout season. While Kluber relies on command and a wipeout curve, Richards has upper 90s heat and a deadly slider. Their numbers:

Kluber: 2.55 ERA, .233/.277/.341, 26.7 percent K rate
Richards: 2.58 ERA, .195/.267/.259, 24.7 percent K rate

Kluber rates a little higher in WAR because he has pitched 12 more innings and Richards benefits from a pitcher's park. Tough call here. Like Kluber, Richards doesn't have much of a track record before this season. There's no denying his stuff. Richards has the fourth-lowest BABIP allowed among starters at .258 (Kluber's is .309) and a low rate of home runs per fly ball (third-lowest among starters). I think those numbers indicate Richards has pitched in more good luck than Kluber this season. But I could be wrong; his stuff is nasty.

OK, where does that leave us? With apologies to Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Hisashi Iwakuma, the injured Masahiro Tanaka and maybe a couple of others, the top 10 starters in the majors RIGHT NOW:

1. Kershaw
2. Hernandez
3. Wainwright
4. Sale
5. Darvish
6. Price
7. Cueto
8. Lester
9. Kluber
10. Scherzer

Including Richards, you could rank the final four guys in any order, really. If you want a longer track record, go with Lester and Scherzer. If you like raw, unhittable stuff, go with Richards. If you think postseason history matters, go with Lester. If you like 28-year-olds out of nowhere with curveballs that make major league hitters weep in frustration, go with our man Corey Kluber -- one of the 10 best starters in the game.
There's never a dull moment with Yasiel Puig. In Monday's game against the Angels, he made a nice running catch of a fly ball in right-center field and then nearly doubled Erick Aybar off first base, wagging his finger at Aybar as if to say "Don't even think of running on me."

Well, Albert Pujols did. In the eighth inning, Puig caught a ball in deep center and Pujols took advantage of Puig's casual effort in getting the ball back in, tagging from first base. Here are both highlights. The best part of the second play may have Vin Scully's call: "Puig kind of nonchalantly catching it and then realizes, 'What am I doing?' And Pujols says, 'What are you doing? You're gathering wool, that's what you're doing.'"

Gathering wool. Love it. (Also love the Angels mimicking Puig's finger wag.)

Scully just didn't pull the phrase out of thin air. The word woolgathering means "indulgence in idle daydreaming." The Merriam-Webster online dictionary writes,
"Woolgathering" once literally referred to the act of gathering loose tufts of wool that had gotten caught on bushes and fences as sheep passed by. Woolgatherers must have seemed to wander aimlessly, gaining little for their efforts, for in the mid-16th century "woolgathering" began to appear in figurative phrases such as "my wits (or my mind) went a-woolgathering" -- in other words, "my mind went wandering aimlessly." From there, it wasn't long before the word "woolgathering" came to suggest the act of indulging in purposeless mind-wandering.


May we all be going as strong at 86 as Scully.

By the way, Pujols' play is classic Albert, but not necessarily what we've seen from him in 2014. On July 19, John Dewan published a list of the worst baserunners of 2014, using a statistic called Net Gain, which includes both basestealing and advancements on hits and outs. The bottom five guys were:

Victor Martinez: -24
Brandon Phillips: -22
Alex Avila: -22
Billy Butler: -20
Albert Pujols: -20

FanGraphs' current leaderboard for worst baserunners is topped by Avila -5.9 runs, Eric Hosmer at -5.4 runs and David Ortiz and Adam Dunn at -5.1, with Pujols tied for eighth-worst with Martinez at -4.0 runs.

Indeed, Pujols has taken the extra base on a fly ball, wild pitch or passed ball just seven times so far this season, compared to his career high of 27 in 2010. He's taken the extra base on a hit (more than one base on a single or two on a double) just 34 percent of the time. That's up from 21 percent last year, when he was hobbled with the bad foot, but well below his 47 percent career rate.

So, you can maybe understand why Puig didn't expect Pujols to tag up.

Is Puig cutting down on his mistakes? Let's break his career into two-month segments and look at his Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays & Errors, as charted by Baseball Info Solutions.

June/July 2013: 15 GFP, 13 DME (10 misplays, three errors)
August/Sept. 2013: 15 GFP, 14 DME (12 misplays, two errors)

April/May 2014: 10 GFP, 16 DME (16 misplays, no errors)
June/July 2014: 5 GFP, 13 DME (11 misplays, two errors)

The June/July total includes the first few games of August.

As you can, Puig's rate of misplays hasn't dropped from last year. He's now playing center, but spent most of his time right field. The "leaders" in Defensive Misplays & Errors among right fielders:

Yasiel Puig: 26
Gerardo Parra: 21
Giancarlo Stanton: 21
Jayson Werth: 21
Marlon Byrd: 20
Alex Rios: 20

Puig's net difference between Good Fielding Plays & Defensive Plays & Errors is -11, tied with Torii Hunter for worst in the majors among right fielders. Nick Markakis has the best net difference at +16.

Here is the breakdown of Puig's misplays from Baseball Info Solutions:

Ball bounces off glove: 5
Failed dive for fly ball/line drive: 4
Wasted throw after hit/error: 4
Mishandling ball after hit: 3 (including one charged as an error)
Wasted throw after sac fly: 2
Overrunning the play: 2
Bad route: 1
Cutting off a better positioned fielder: 1
Failing to reach pop foul: 1
Letting a pop fly drop between fielders: 1
Throw to wrong base: 1
Giving up on a play: 1

You may think some of these misplays are unfair -- maybe the ball bounced off his glove after a long run, a ball other right fielders wouldn't have go to -- but clearly many of his mistakes are still mistakes of exuberance. As teammate A.J. Ellis said after Monday's game, "He came straight to the big leagues, and he's still learning things. Hopefully, when you make a mental mistake, you'll never make it again."

Puig does make up for some of his mistakes with plus range; his overall Defensive Runs Saved is zero (compared to Hunter's MLB-worst -14).

But the perception of Puig has an exciting but erratic outfielder seems to still hold.



Angels add Richards to big O for 'best' bid

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
2:13
AM ET


One ballgame does not a four-game, home-and-home, crosstown series make -- not when the Angels are in what figures to be a two-month race yet to run against the other AL West candidate for best team in baseball, the Oakland A's. But on Monday, the Angels provided a few quick reminders for why folks might want to think about them as baseball’s main feature, and not just in La-La Land.

Start with Garrett Richards, best young righty in the league using almost any metric you might want to turn to. He was already among the top 10 AL pitchers in WAR before Monday’s complete-game shutout, allowing just seven baserunners and whiffing nine in his 17th quality start in 23 turns. His ERA is in the top 10, but turn to Baseball Info Solutions’ Component ERA and you’ll find that the only pitchers in the league doing a better job of keeping runs off the board than Richards’ 2.02 ERC are Felix Hernandez (1.54) and Chris Sale (1.82). Now boasting a 12-4 record on a team that might wind up with the best record in baseball, it’s easy to suggest he might be in the Cy Young mix no matter who comprises this year’s electorate from among the BBWAA’s members: young or old, sabermetrically savvy or new-data indifferent and old-school.

It would be safe to say that wasn’t what most people expected from Richards at the start of the season, but the Angels are simultaneously balancing the proposition that you can be baseball’s best ballclub and nevertheless conjure up answers on the fly, because nothing works out exactly the way you expect. Success isn’t just a matter of getting great years out of great players or enjoying a breakthrough as big as Richards’; it’s also about managing around the problems that arise in-season and coming up with your best combinations as you figure out what works. Richards is one big in-season development; shoring up the bullpen with closer Huston Street and former closer Jason Grilli is another.

But another thing that’s happened along the way is that the Angels’ lineup is finally taking shape along the lines manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto might have envisioned on Opening Day. That’s because they’ve finally gotten all of the big names back from the DL while also being able to discard what hasn’t worked.

[+] EnlargeMike Trout
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsMike Trout wasn't Superman on Monday, but on this Angels' team, he doesn't need to be every night.
In Mike Scioscia’s front-stacked lineup featuring power-hitting Kole Calhoun leading off with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton behind him, you could argue that the Angels are doing the best possible job of punting on old-school lineup design by trying to put speed or bat control up top, instead concentrating the most at-bats in their best players. They didn’t have the benefit of having that all season, not when both Calhoun and Hamilton got hurt in April, but now they have one of the best front fours in any lineup all active at once.

As a result, Trout can afford to turn in workmanlike Clark Kent nights like this -- when he kept his Superman thing relatively muted, “just” doubling in a run and scoring another in the Angels’ four-run first -- because everyone else did plenty to remind folks that they’re not just Mike Trout and Troutettes. Instead, ex-famous people such as Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton provided reminders that they still have plenty left in the tank, doubling and homering, respectively, off Zack Greinke.

They still afford themselves their former World Series-winning conceit of hard-contact, ball-in-play types who don’t strike out -- guys such as Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar -- but they’re down in the order, behind the big thumpers. The bottom third of the order is where Scioscia gets to play around with combinations, such as professional hitter Efren Navarro and power prodigy C.J. Cron sharing regular at-bats between the first, left and DH slots, or Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger combining to contribute an OPS around .740 from the catchers’ slot. When the worst player in your regular lineup is David Freese, you’re probably going to score runs, and it’s why the Angels rank second in the league in runs scored per game.

The front half of the season also provided answers as well as absences. Giving Raul Ibanez a chance as their DH wasted their time and left runs unscored, but that’s no longer their problem down the stretch. Now, it’s a matter of keeping Hamilton and Pujols in the lineup and injury-free through scheduled rest and sporadic DH starts. If both are contributing behind Calhoun and Trout down the stretch, it can be the kind of lineup that keeps cranking out five runs a night.

That’s no small thing in this low-scoring age. Instead, it’s about as decisive an edge as you could ask for, even on the nights when Garrett Richards doesn’t pitch. And as the Angels look forward to scoreboard-watching night after night to see if this is the night they've caught the A's, the Angels will take both the benefits of the contender they designed and the assets that they've added along the way.


Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

Let's look at some of the fallout from the trade deadline -- things people said -- and then make some predictions for what happens the rest of the way.

1. The acquisition of Jon Lester makes the Oakland A's the favorite in the AL West.

Prediction: The A's win the West.

The trade for Lester didn't actually upgrade the A's odds to beat the Los Angeles Angels all that much -- using player projection totals and remaining schedule, Baseball Prospectus says the trade increased Oakland's chances a mere 2 percent. The Angels won on Sunday, thanks to a five-run first inning, while the A's were shut down by James Shields in a 4-2 loss to the Royals, so Oakland's lead is one game. Still, I like Oakland's rotation depth. C.J. Wilson's return on Saturday after missing a month was a disaster as he got knocked out in the second inning, Tyler Skaggs just landed on the DL with a shoulder issue and you wonder how the Angels' rotation will hold up after Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver.

2. With John Lackey and Justin Masterson, the St. Louis Cardinals are the team to beat in the NL Central.

Prediction: The Pirates win the Central.

The Cardinals remain the favorite, according to our playoffs odds, and Lackey pitched seven strong innings on Sunday to win his Cardinals debut, but I'm going with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here's the thing about Lackey and Masterson: The Cardinals' rotation was pretty good before the trades; Lackey and Masterson may be upgrades over what Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez would have done the rest of the season, making the trades important, but they aren't necessarily an improvement over what the Cardinals had received so far from their various starters in those slots. The Cardinals are eighth in the majors with a 3.47 rotation ERA, and I don't expect them to do much better than that moving forward.

The St. Louis offense, meanwhile, is still next to last in the NL in runs scored. In what should be a three-team race down to the wire, the Pirates are my pick. One major reason: Francisco Liriano. In four starts since coming off the DL, he has a 1.96 ERA. He's looking more like the guy who was so good last year. If they can get Gerrit Cole back from his lat strain -- he was scratched from his Saturday start and instead threw a bullpen session -- even better. Note: If the injury to Andrew McCutchen's side that forced him out of Sunday's game proves serious, all bets are off.

3. Even with David Price, Max Scherzer is still the Detroit Tigers' ace.

Prediction: Price starts Game 1 of the division series.

This may be most important decision Brad Ausmus has to make all postseason: Which guy do you line up for two potential starts in the first round? The past two years against the A's, it has been Justin Verlander, and he rewarded Jim Leyland with two dominant efforts. But it won't be Verlander this year. My bet is on Price, who has been more consistent this season than Scherzer and has a 2.03 ERA over his past two starts. The Tigers may play the Orioles and the O's have an OPS of .732 against righties and .695 against lefties, another reason to slot Price in the first game.

4. The Los Angeles Dodgers made a mistake by not getting Lester or Price.

Prediction: The Dodgers win the NL West.

Josh Beckett didn't do anything to boost the confidence of Dodgers fans with another poor effort on Sunday; he got knocked out after scuffling through 94 pitches in four-plus innings. In three starts since the All-Star break, he has gone 3.2, 4.1 and 4 innings, respectively. Dan Haren has been even worse, with a 10.03 ERA over his past five starts.

Still, I agree with the decision to hold on to Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Julio Urias. At some point, you need to infuse some youth, and with Pederson heating up again at Triple-A, he may be in the Dodgers' outfield sooner rather than later. The Dodgers will win the West thanks to the best top three in the NL in Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

5. The Baltimore Orioles should have added a starting pitcher.

Prediction: The Orioles win the AL East.

Maybe the Orioles lack an ace in the mold of Price or Lester, but good luck getting those guys from a division rival. Plus, there's this: Since June 9, the Orioles have the third-best ERA in the majors and second-best rotation ERA in the American League (3.05). Chris Tillman outdueled Hisashi Iwakuma 1-0 on Sunday in the latest strong effort from a Baltimore starter.

The question: Is there some smoke and mirrors going on here? Since June 9, Orioles starters are 29th in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings and 28th in strikeout-to-walk ratio. That does make you wonder; on the other hand, the Orioles are a very good defensive teams (fifth in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved) so they do turn more batted balls into outs than most teams. The O's may like to have an ace for the postseason, but they can get there without one.

6. The Seattle Mariners are better after acquiring some bats.

Prediction: The Mariners still don't have enough offense to win the wild card.

Since the All-Star break they've allowed the second fewest runs per game in the majors -- 2.88. And they're 6-10. They lost 2-1 on Friday and 1-0 on Sunday. Kendrys Morales has looked terrible since coming over from the Twins, where he also looked terrible. Austin Jackson was a much-needed move for center field, but he and Chris Denorfia aren't game-changers on offense, even above and beyond what the Mariners had. And they can't count on Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma giving up just one or two runs every time out.

7. Stephen Strasburg isn't an ace yet.

Prediction: The Washington Nationals win the NL East ... and Strasburg starts Game 1 of the playoffs.

Wait, did somebody write that about Strasburg? He sure looked like one on Sunday, striking out 10 in seven scoreless innings against the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves lost their sixth in a row, creating a 3.5-game lead for Washington, its biggest since holding a 3.5-game on June 1.


8. The San Francisco Giants should have picked up a second baseman.

Prediction: They'll get one in August.

Even with a nine-run outburst on Sunday, over the past month the Giants are hitting .231/.290/.342, the second-lowest OPS in the majors (ahead of only the Mariners). A second baseman isn't going to cure this, but Brandon Belt returned on Saturday and that should help. Buster Posey may be heating up, hitting .352 over the past two weeks and that will help. Brian Sabean has made waiver pickups before, so don't count him from getting somebody -- maybe a guy like Luis Valbuena from the Chicago Cubs. As the offense improves, the Giants should solidify their place in the wild-card standings (playing the Padres, Rockies and Diamondbacks will help a lot also).

9. The Cleveland Indians punted the season in trading Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Prediction: Not necessarily ...

The Indians won their third in a row on Sunday on Michael Brantley's 12th-inning home run, and they're just three games back for the second wild card. I'm not predicting them to win it (I'll go with the Toronto Blue Jays), but I'm predicting them to hang in there.

10. The A's are now World Series favorites.

Prediction: OK, I'll go with that. Aren't the A's overdue for some October magic?

So, my post-deadline picks:

AL wild card: Angels over Blue Jays
NL wild card: Giants over Brewers

ALDS: Tigers over Orioles
ALDS: A's over Angels

NLDS: Dodgers over Giants
NLDS: Nationals over Pirates

ALCS: A's over Tigers
NLCS: Dodgers over Nationals

World Series: A's over Dodgers ... Jon Lester wins Game 7 and then signs a $175 million contract with the Dodgers in the offseason. Sam Fuld wins World Series MVP honors. Billy Beane announces retirement and says, "I was never really into this sabermetrics stuff anyway."

A's may need to add another bat

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
12:45
AM ET

Saturday’s game between the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals was billed as a tribute to two-time defending Home Run Derby Yoenis Cespedes, as the A's handed out 10,000 Cespedes T-shirts reading "La Potencia." While Cespedes was not physically there, the bodies brought in from general manager Billy Beane’s whirlwind of deadline deals helped replicate Cespedes in spirit.

The purpose of the Cespedes trade, Jon Lester, was brought in as an ace for the playoff stretch. However, unlike other trade acquisitions like Jake Peavy, he did not flirt with a no-hitter on Saturday night. Instead, he tossed 6⅔ innings, allowing 10 baserunners but only three earned runs in an 8-3 win over a quality Royals team. As uninteresting as flirting with a quality start might be, it is just one game and the A’s will take whatever they can get to stay ahead of the Los Angeles Angels.

The real story of this particular day was how the offense was still able to perform sans Cespedes, exploding for an eight-run fifth inning. Derek Norris took Cespedes's spot in the cleanup slot against Royals left-hander Jason Vargas and worked out two hits in four at-bats. The two players expected to replace Cespedes' production in aggregate, reclaimed A’s Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes, also performed admirably, coincidentally.

During Saturday's game, while perhaps not as highlight-reely as Cespedes' spectacular throw from the right-field corner earlier this year, Fuld did not disappoint as he caught Mike Moustakas’ line drive to center field, then threw out Alex Gordon at the plate for an inning-ending double play. An inning later, Gomes led the Athletics' run splurge with a humble infield single. In that same inning, shortly after Gomes scored, Fuld reached base on a bunt single and, in a case of déjà vu, the aforementioned Gomes drove him in with a two-run single. As things stand right now, Fuld and Gomes will have to keep up the production for the A’s to win the AL West.

Though the A’s lead all of baseball in runs scored and run differential, they are only two games ahead of the Angels. While a star-studded rotation will definitely help in a best-of-five or best-of-seven playoff series, all of that gets thrown out the window if a random cold streak forces a one-game wild-card playoff in which only one of those stars will be allowed to shine. The A’s were able to replicate Cespedes' production with their deadline deals, but there are still some potential areas of improvement on offense. If Beane is truly going all-in this year, there's potential to pull a trigger on a waiver-wire deal for a bat.

Since the tinfoil era of Mark Ellis, the A’s have had continuous problems finding league-average production at second base from the stalled Jemile Weeks through the bespectacled Eric Sogard. Furthermore, their "best" offensive second baseman, Alberto Callaspo, has spent more time in the DH slot than at second base, accruing 118 at-bats this year as a DH, primarily against left-handed pitching.

However, as the Giants' signing and subsequent ditching of Dan Uggla showed, finding a second baseman isn’t that easy. Nick Franklin might have been a good fit, but the Mariners needed his services as a trade chip for Austin Jackson in the David Price deal. The Colorado Rockies, whom the A’s have dealt with in the past, might have been a good trade partner, but they couldn't pull the trigger on a deal because of injuries and possible inertia. Kelly Johnson might have also helped, but instead, he’s going to help the Red Sox. The cheaper options, alas, might have passed with the trade deadline.

But if the Lester trade truly indicates the A’s are going for it in 2014, then there is still the possibility of a waiver-wire deal. If there is some possibility of adding payroll, the Phillies' Chase Utley or Marlon Byrd are examples of players who could pass through waivers and yet would help the A’s on offense. While Utley is left-handed, he has performed better against left-handers than Callaspo and would still crush right-handers.
As a right-hander, Byrd would take at-bats Callapso had previously been sucking up while shunting Gomes to the DH role. Other options for right-handed thump include Michael Cuddyer (if he gets healthy) or Mike Napoli.

The A’s are the best team in the American League, but acquiring all that pitching might be for naught if the Angels bump them over to the wild-card game. Even if they avoid that, the A’s have a high chance of facing the Tigers who, with three Cy Young winners in their rotation, have stifled the A’s in the past. If the Athletics hope to make it to the World Series, they just might need a bit more offensive help.

Richard Bergstrom writes for Rockies Zingers, a SweetSpot network blog on the Colorado Rockies.

ICYMI: SweetSpot trade deadline roundup

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
11:32
AM ET
Catch your breath yet? What a crazy few days across baseball. Winners and losers at the trade deadline? We've got all of that covered. Let's dive in and see what the local SweetSpot Network writers had to say about the deals that impacted their teams as well as the new landscape for the rest of the 2014 season and beyond.



New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Why Stephen Drew can help the Yankees: Katie Sharp dives deeper than the superficial season-to-date results posted by Drew and shows how he can provide a boost to the Yanks. Spoiler alerts: Bumps in hard-hit rates and a superior defender than the now-departed Brian Roberts (two ABs short of a bonus). Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.

Trade deadline thoughts and afterthoughts: The Yankees got four proven major leaguers in the middle-to-late parts of their primes for two cheap minor league signings, an injured spare bench part, and two low-probability prospects. Not bad. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS



Boston Red Sox: Firebrand of the AL
Yoenis Cespedes, Red Sox outfielder: Many have arrived in Boston only to be beat down by Fenway and the Green Monster. Brett Cowett looks at how Cespedes could possibly master Fenway Park. Follow on Twitter: @firebrandal.

Allen Craig and Joe Kelly: Who are they, and how do they fit in?: Shawn McFarland takes a quick look at the St. Louis duo, and how they can be major cogs in the Red Sox machine for years to come.



Detroit Tigers: Walkoff Woodward
The Price is right: Tigers land Rays ace: Alexandra Simon looks at the Tigers' acquisition of David Price and examines some of the fallout after the deal.

The present and future of the Tigers with Price: Grey Papke outlines what the Price trade means for the Tigers both immediately and in the coming seasons -- including Max Scherzer's Tigers future. Follow on Twitter: @walkoffwoodward.



Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
Brewers trade for Parra: The Brewers made their big move of the non-waiver deadline, acquiring outfielder Gerardo Parra from the Diamondbacks in exchange for a pair of minor leaguers. Ryan Topp reviews the trade, including concerns about a slip in Parra's defense. Follow on Twitter: @RDTopp.



New York Mets: Mets Today
Stephen Drew finally heads to New York -- and other deadline news: Joe Janish does a lap around the deals that made the 2014 trade deadline so exciting.



Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
The Rangers Stand Pat: Brandon Land takes a look at what ended up being a rather uneventful deadline for Texas when compared to recent years. Follow on Twitter: @one_strike_away



Cincinnati Reds: Redleg Nation
Early trade deadline thoughts: More swings and misses: In recent years, the Reds have repeatedly swung and missed at the trade deadline. Last season they were the only major league team that didn’t make a single move in July or August. Other general managers come up with ideas that worked for each other and their owners. Steve Mancuso wonders if this indicates a failure of market evaluation. Follow on Twitter: @redlegnation.



St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Cardinals improve, but is it enough? In separate trades, the Cardinals supplemented their starting rotation, acquiring right-handers Justin Masterson and John Lackey. The moves were quintessentially Mozeliakian, as the GM followed his typical script by accurately identifying needs then fulfilling those needs with solid but not blockbuster (or bank-busting) transactions. The only question will be whether they’re enough. Follow on Twitter: @fungoes.



Chicago Cubs: View From The BleachersAn ode to Darwin Barney: Luke Jett sends off fan favorite Darwin Barney with one last look back. Follow on Twitter: @lukejett.



Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Twins sign Suzuki to an extension: All-Star Kurt Suzuki was the Twins' best deadline trade chip, but instead of shipping him out they elected to extend his contract. John Bonnes takes a look at the move. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.


Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced "Lajaway"
Indians ship Justin Masterson to Cardinals: Adam Hintz takes a look at the Masterson trade, new acquisition James Ramsey, and how the organizational outfield depth chart now shapes up. Follow on Twitter: @Palagoon.

Wrapping up Masterson's Tribe Ccreer: Ryan McCrystal looks back on the roller coaster ride that was Masterson's time in Cleveland, comparing him to not-so-great past Indians such as Roberto Hernandez and Dave Burba. Follow on Twitter: @TribeFanMcC.



Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Orioles gave up too much for Andrew Miller: Typically, prospects who are traded are over-ranked. That said, handing out a top 100 prospect in LHP Eduardo Rodriguez for a pitcher who will contribute at most 20 innings the rest of the season does not seem like the most sensible thing to do. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.



Los Angeles Angels: Halos Daily
What the big deadline deals mean for the Angels: Despite sitting the dance out, the Halos will still feel ripples from some of the deadline's biggest moves. Andrew Karcher takes a look at which trades could affect the club most down the stretch. Follow on Twitter: @andrewkarcher.


And some of the other non-trade deadline-related items from around the SweetSpot Network:


Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Are traded prospects worth less? Yes, they are, but there is a twist. Matt Perez looks at how the difference between prospect rank and value have changed over the years for players in trades. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot



Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Frank Thomas memories: In the wake of his emotional induction into the Hall of Fame, the entire writing staff kicked in their favorite memories of the greatest hitter to ever put on a White Sox uniform. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.



Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Rockies bloggers panel 7/26/14: Listen to representatives from Rockies blogs talk about what's gone right and wrong for the Rockies team and the front office in 2014. Featured are Rockies Zingers writers Richard Bergstrom, Ryan Hammon and Adam Peterson; Drew Creasman from Purple Row; Michelle Stalnaker from RoxPile; and Zach Marburger from Mile High Sports. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.



New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Chase Headley more than a rental: Matt Bove examines the idea of Chase Headley being a legitimate long-term option for the Yankees at third base. Follow on Twitter: @rayrobert9.



St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Patience pays off for Carpenter: This year, Matt Carpenter is seeing pitches at a career-high rate. If he continues at this pace, he’ll finish the season with the team’s highest pitches-per-plate-appearance since the stat began being tracked in 1988. Follow on Twitter: @fungoes.



Los Angeles Angels: Halos Daily
The real value of the league's "worst" prospects: For two years running now, the Angels farm system has been classified as the worst in the game. Nathan Aderhold investigates what kind of tangible value the club has derived from its farm hands the last two seasons. Follow on Twitter: @adrastusperkins.


Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.
video
All I can say is I hope we get a Tigers-A's postseason series. What a great deadline day, full of intrigue, interesting trades, trades to discuss and argue about, happy fans and dejected fans. The sight of Austin Jackson being pulled from center field in the middle of a game sums up the trade deadline: Anything can happen. We just had two of the best left-handers in the game traded in David Price and Jon Lester -- from two teams that were in the playoffs a year ago. Last year's World Series champ traded two starters from last year's rotation, on top of trading Jake Peavy last week.

Usually, I say the impact of the trade deadline is overhyped and overrated. Not this year.

OK, some winners and losers of this year's trade deadline ...

WINNERS

[+] EnlargeDavid Price
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWith the acquisition of left-hander David Price, the Tigers now have three Cy Young winners in their starting rotation.
Detroit Tigers: With Price, the Tigers now have a rotation with three Cy Young winners, plus they were last year's American League Central champs. Heck, Justin Verlander is clearly the fifth-best starter on the Tigers at the moment. Yes, Detroit is on the hook for whatever Price will earn in arbitration for next year -- $19-20 million or so -- but I don't think Tigers owner Mike Ilitch cares too much about that. The Tigers get an ace starter for Austin Jackson (free agent after 2015), midrotation lefty Drew Smyly (3.77 ERA) and a minor league shortstop. I'll take that deal. Rajai Davis can slide over to center field, and while the outfield defense will be poor with Torii Hunter and J.D. Martinez in the outfield corners, you can run out a playoff rotation of Price, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Verlander (or Rick Porcello). The Tigers will be in the playoffs for the fourth season in a row. This may be the year.

Oakland Athletics: I love the Lester trade like I loved Edgar Martinez driving the ball into the right-field corner or Ken Griffey Jr. turning on a 2-0 fastball. It's a beautiful thing Billy Beane pulled off. There is a huge premium to winning the division and avoiding what Joe Sheehan labels the Coin Flip Game, and Lester gives the A's a better chance of doing that, especially when factoring in Jason Hammel's struggles since coming over from the Cubs, and Jesse Chavez hitting a wall as he soars past his professional high in innings pitched. Can the A's replace Yoenis Cespedes' production? Not quite, but the offense doesn't take a huge hit with a Jonny Gomes-Sam Fuld platoon, the two other players the A's acquired Thursday:

Cespedes versus LHP, 2013-2014: .262/.347/.492
Gomes versus LHP, 2013-2014: .264/.370/.440

Cespedes versus RHP, 2013-2014: .241/.278/.436
Fuld versus RHP, 2014: .250/.343/.340

I cheated a little bit there, since Fuld was terrible in 2013. The A's lose power but pick up better on-base guys. It's actually a pretty even tradeoff, assuming Gomes and Fuld play at that level. The A's have other options, as well: Against right-handers, they could put Derek Norris behind the plate, DH John Jaso and play Stephen Vogt in the outfield instead of Fuld. The A's still have lineup flexibility to replace Cespedes, and they picked up one of the hottest starters in the game.

Plus, consider that under Beane, the A's have played 13 postseason games that would have won a playoff series -- and lost 12 of them. Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder started two of those games, but other starters included Gil Heredia, Cory Lidle, Ted Lilly, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily. Now, depending on how the rotation lines up, it could be Lester, Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija or Scott Kazmir, all with ERAs below 3.00 on the season (Samardzija has a 3.19 ERA with the A's). Oakland's future is always going to be uncertain, so why not put all your chips on the table and hope you finally get the lucky card?

[+] EnlargeJon Lester4
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsThe Jon Lester trade gives the Athletics a rotation that's built for October.
Boston Red Sox: Usually, trading a guy like Lester brings in prospects, but the Red Sox have plenty of prospects and young players, so why not bring in a proven commodity such as Cespedes to help in 2015? The John Lackey trade for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly is less certain, given Craig's poor season and Kelly's uncertainty as a starter. But Craig just turned 30 and hit above .300 in 2012 and 2013, so he's a good bounce-back candidate. Kelly isn't a big strikeout guy, but he does have a power two-seam fastball that induces a lot of ground balls. Maybe he ends up in the bullpen, but he'll get a chance to start. The other benefit: The Red Sox currently have the seventh-worst record in the majors, so they'll likely finish with one of the 10 worst records, which means they can sign a free agent this offseason (think Max Scherzer) and not lose their first-round pick.

St. Louis Cardinals: They picked up Lackey and Masterson without giving up prized outfielder Oscar Taveras or Carlos Martinez. Sure, David Price would have been a sexier pickup to line up behind Adam Wainwright in a potential playoff rotation, but Lackey/Masterson is a solid Plan B. Still, the Cardinals have had pretty good results all season from the rotation (fifth-best ERA in the majors), but they weren't sure what they were going to get from Kelly, Martinez or Shelby Miller moving forward. These deals didn't address the offense -- they're next to last in the NL in runs -- but with 10 games left against the Brewers, the division is still theirs for the taking.

Cleveland Indians: I like both trades. They dumped two impending free agents having poor seasons in Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera and got two players who should turn into major leaguers. James Ramsey and Zach Walters won't be stars, but they could be starters or useful bench players. Ramsey was a first-round pick in 2012, can play center field and is having a fine season in Double-A, although he's repeating the level. Walters, hitting .300/.358/.603 at Triple-A Syracuse, looks like a super utility kind of a guy as he's played all three infield positions and the outfield.

Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees: The Orioles and Blue Jays each have six games remaining against the Red Sox, while the Yankees have nine and now won't have to face Lester or Lackey in any of those games.

Seattle Mariners: They added Jackson and Chris Denorfia, much-needed right-handed bats, but Denorfia has been terrible this year, and Jackson is hardly an impact offensive player. It's not that the Franklin-for-Jackson deal is a bad trade, but it could backfire as Jackson has just one more year before free agency. On the other hand, less Endy Chavez is a good thing.

LOSERS

Tampa Bay Rays: They were only 5.5 out of the wild card. Yes, they had to jump over five teams to get into the second wild-card spot, but it was possible. I guess in the end, the Rays simply wouldn't be able to afford Price's contract next year and felt they had to trade him now. I'm just not sure Smyly and Nick Franklin are going to be long-term difference-makers. The perpetual recycling continues, but eventually the trades aren't going to all work out, and the Rays will have to start producing their own talent again.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates had the prospects to potentially work out a deal for Lester or Price, but Neal Huntington couldn't pull the trigger. It's a club that doesn't have any gaping holes, but the Pirates missed the opportunity to get an ace. They can still win the Central, but if they fall short ... well, I guess there's always 2015 or 2016 or whenever all the prospects mature.

Los Angeles Angels: They had already shored up the bullpen with Huston Street, Jason Grilli and Joe Thatcher, but now they have to try to catch the A's with a rotation that includes Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs. The Angels aren't worse than they were yesterday, but the A's are better, and the second-best team in the majors may be relegated to the wild-card game.

The rest of the AL Central: Scherzer is likely gone as a free agent, but now the Tigers will have Price in 2015.

San Francisco Giants: They needed a second baseman but didn't get one. The earlier trade for Peavy isn't as inspiring as the Cardinals getting Lackey. The Dodgers still look like the favorite in the NL West.

Philadelphia Phillies: And ... nothing. Enjoy 2015, Phillies fans!
Eric Karabell and David Schoenfield answered your questions about this week's Power Rankings.

Huston Street is one of those closers who, when he comes in to face your team, always makes you think your boys have a chance for a comeback. Listed at 6-feet, he's not an intimidating presence and doesn't throw smoldering fastballs or wipeout splitters or bat-breaking cutters. He has that funky delivery when the bases are empty, in which he takes a big step to the side with his left leg and sort of drags his right plant leg across the rubber, like he's drawing a starting line in the dirt, and then taps his toe before going into his windup. He kicks his knee up and sort of scrunches his chin down and his shoulders together, like a dog curled up for a rest.

It's a form of deception -- maybe working to hide the ball just a little or present a motion batters aren't used to seeing -- enough to help his stuff play better than a scouting report would ever suggest. His fastball has averaged 89.4 mph this year -- his fastest has been a mere 91.8 mph -- velocity that hardly screams "closer."

But that's what Street has been in the major leagues since the A's made him a supplemental first-round pick out of the University of Texas in 2004. He was closing a year later and won American League Rookie of the Year honors with 23 saves and a 1.72 ERA. At his best, he leaves batters guessing, confused and probably shaking their heads in frustration as they head back to the dugout.

Take, for instance, Miguel Cabrera on Sunday. Brought in to protect a 2-1 lead in the ninth for the Angels after David Freese had homered in the eighth off Joba Chamberlain, Street retired Austin Jackson on a fly ball to center and Ian Kinsler on a grounder to first. That left Cabrera. Street is basically a fastball/slider guy, who mixes in the occasional changeup (his breakdown on the season: fastballs 50 percent, sliders 33 percent, changeups 17 percent). That ratio hasn't really changed much in recent years. Two fastballs for every slider; two sliders for every changeup. His two-seam fastball has some sink, though he tends to pitch up in the zone with it. He's been prone to home runs at times, especially in 2013, when he allowed 12 in just 56.2 innings with the Padres.

On this day, however, it was nothing but fastballs and sliders. He threw Jackson five straight sliders before finally getting him with a fastball. He started Kinsler off with a slider before retiring him on a 1-1 fastball. Cabrera swung through a first-pitch slider on the outside corner and then took a fastball for a strike, a pitch that might have been just off the plate. The 0-2 pitch was another slider, off the plate and in the dirt, but Cabrera read or thought fastball and flailed harmlessly for strike three.

This is exactly why the Angels acquired Street -- for those tough saves in one-run games against good clubs. It allows Mike Scioscia to stretch out his bullpen. Underrated Joe Smith is back in a setup role and pitched a perfect eighth inning. Rookie Mike Morin, a 12th-round pick in 2012 out of North Carolina, struck out three in 1 2/3 perfect innings and lowered his ERA to 2.50. Throw in the recently acquired veteran, Jason Grilli, plus Kevin Jepsen (1.84 ERA, .164 average allowed) and lefty Joe Thatcher, and the Angels' bullpen suddenly looks like a strength, not the weak spot it was the first two months of the season.

It's been a complete bullpen makeover for the Angels. Look at how the bullpen stacked up coming out of spring training:

  • Closer: Ernesto Frieri
  • Setup: Smith
  • Middle: Michael Kohn, Nick Maronde (L), Fernando Salas
  • Mopup/long relief: Jepsen, Matt Shoemaker


  • Only Smith and Jepsen remain from that original group (Salas was just optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake), with Shoemaker now doing a solid job in the rotation. Give credit to general manager Jerry Dipoto for making some moves, but it's also a reflection of the often volatile nature of bullpens. Who could have predicted Morin's rise (he was Baseball America's No. 14 prospect for the Angels heading into the season) or Jepsen having the best year of his career? Bullpens can go up and down from year to year -- or, often, within a year.

    This group reminds me a bit of what happened with the Cardinals back in 2011 on their way to a World Series title. That club had bullpen issues much of the season, as eight different relievers saved games, and two closers (Ryan Franklin and Salas) lost their jobs. Franklin, like Frieri, didn't last the season with the club. The Cardinals picked up Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski at the trade deadline and signed Arthur Rhodes. By the time Jason Motte finally became the closer, the bullpen had turned into a strength and was key as the Cardinals beat the Rangers in seven games.

    If you need more evidence of the rising strength of the Angels' bullpen, check out the following monthly totals:

  • April: 4.37 ERA, .239/.343/.397, 2.02 K/BB ratio
  • May: 4.46 ERA, .225/.308/.362, 2.21 K/BB ratio
  • June: 4.00 ERA, .251/.334/.400, 2.55 K/BB ratio
  • July: 1.90 ERA, .205/.248/.259, 5.20 K/BB ratio


  • Expect Mike Scioscia to lean even more on this group over the final two months, like he did Sunday when he pulled Hector Santiago after 85 pitches in the sixth inning. Santiago had allowed a one-out hit to Jackson, but with Kinsler and Cabrera up, Scioscia wanted a right-hander to face the meat of the Detroit lineup. Morin, who has held righties to a .157 average, got the call. Morin throws 90 to 94 mph with his fastball but has a very good changeup and developing slider. He struck out both Kinsler and Cabrera on changeups.

    A lot will still depend on Street, however. Maybe he's not cut from the prototypical closer mold. But he's been getting major league hitters out for a long time. He has depth in front of him. The Angels are looking good.

    If you're the Oakland A's, I'd be very worried about the team breathing down your neck.

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