While I will admit it’s been difficult lately to find much to get excited about with the Oakland Athletics, I would whole-heartedly suggest tuning into tonight’s matchup against the Houston Astros at 7:05 PM PT. Scott Kazmir is coming back to Oakland and hopefully to a standing ovation, while Sonny Gray will be on the bump for the green and gold. Getting to watch two good friends go after each other on the ball field is one of the all time greatest opportunities for a classic.
There isn’t anybody else you would rather beat more than your friend and the fiery arms on the mound tonight epitomize the true meaning of familiar competition. Having been together on the A’s in 2014 and half of 2015, the two grew close as a teacher and student. Last season was Gray’s first full one in the MLB and Kazmir being there from the beginning took Sonny under his wing – partially because I think he saw a lot of himself in him. They also were responsible – until Samardzija and Lester came – for leading the rotation as they also did the first half of this year.
Yet, since going to Houston, Kazmir has struggled a bit, which is to be expected going from a pitcher-happy O.Co Coliseum to a batter-friendly Minute Maid Park. In August, he had a 1-4 record over five starts with a 3.96 ERA and was only able to go 4.1 innings in his start last week against the Seattle Mariners. His buddy Gray also has had a tough couple of outings, culminating in his worst start of the season against the LA Angels on September 2nd. He gave up a season-high six earned runs through only five innings, getting tagged with his seventh loss of the year.
So with both pitchers having subpar performances recently, it should only intensify tonight’s matchup even more and here’s why. With neither having their best stuff as of late, tonight will be a game they will both look to lock in on and hopefully get each other back on track. While it can be difficult to break out of a rut – as both are looking too – there is no better way to reverse ones poor performance than to have a personal challenge.
Oh, a little trash talk also helps too.
According to Kazmir on MLB.com, “With Sonny up there, he’s already been texting. Once we figured out exactly when he was going to pitch, that’s when the trash talking started.”
However, apparently it’s been going on since the trade as Kazmir told Oliver Macklin, “As soon as I got traded, [there] was trash talking,” he said. “It was, ‘I can’t wait ‘til you get back here.’”
Although neither is sure who really instigated the banter, both have still have some fun with it. “I don’t think you want to pitch on Tuesday,” Kazmir said he told Gray in a text message.
Well tonight is a chance for Gray and Kazmir to try and silence the other and I would recommend watching CSN Bay Area tonight in order to see it. There’s nothing like buddies duking it out, and with two of the best in the league out on the bump, it should be nothing but fun.
This is the question circulating around the office of GM Billy Beane and is likely what nearly every call coming to Oakland’s “Gepetto” revolves around. With the former All-Star posting a 2.70 ERA in over 83 innings of work with 79 strikeouts, he is one of the most sought after starting pitchers for contenders this season. A part from Cole Hamels, (whose services have been swirling around trade circles for months now) Kazmir is really the only other solid left-handed starter in the trade market.
Not to say Kazmir is of Cole Hamels star-caliber, or even that he’s been a better pitcher, but as of right now one could make a legitimate argument that Oakland’s lefty is more valuable. The primary reason is because of his upcoming contract situation. Although he is going to become a free agent at the end of this season, he will likely cost less than the $23.5 million that Hamels is currently earning. The argument for why Hamels is a more valuable trade asset is because he’s under control for the next three years with a team option for a fourth, and more importantly, he has little history of injury. So as far as Scott’s future in Oakland, unless there is an overwhelming offer that comes out of left field for the southpaw’s services, I think it would be wise of Billy Beane not to trade Kazmir.
Now I’ve read a couple of articles about the reasons for trading Kazmir and I get it. With his past-injuries and second-half struggles last season, one could be concerned with his production falling off. Here were his 2014 splits:
1st half: 2.38 ERA, 4.0 K/BB, 6+ ip/g (in 19 starts)
2nd half: 5.42 ERA, 2.4 K/BB, 5.2 ip/g (in 13 starts)
However, having now finally pitched a full season since returning to the bigs in 2013, I believe he will be able to his put inconsistent past behind him. From what I’ve read, he specifically used this past offseason to build up his arm strength in order to pitch effectively deep into the summer. If that’s the case, the A’s will be in a situation to maintain a top-tier starting rotation that currently is tied for the best starting pitching ERA in the American League.
Also, Oakland can offer Kazmir a qualifying offer at the end of the year.
A qualifying offer enables teams to become eligible for draft pick compensation if a free agent leaves for free agency. The value of the qualifying offer changes from year to year and is determined by averaging the top 125 player salaries from the previous season. Much like a franchise tag in football, teams only extend these offers to top players. The return if the player rejects the offers, is one compensatory selection at the end of the first round of the MLB draft.
So in the case of Scott Kazmir, I would suggest keeping him through the end of the season so that his free agency situation becomes a win-win for the A’s. Based off of recent trends, the value of the qualifying offer for the 2016 offseason will be a little over $16 million. While this may seem like a ton of money for a frugal (that’s an overly nice way to put it) franchise, Kazmir is currently making $13 million, so it isn’t that much of a pay raise. So if he signs, Oakland gets another year of quality left-handed pitching and if he chooses to decline the offer – to pursue a more lucrative contract – then the A’s will receive, essentially, another 1st Round Pick. Plus, it gives the currently streaking 2015 squad more of an opportunity to compete and hopefully scrap their way into the playoff race.
Either way, the green and gold come out on top.
Home Run Derby After-Effects?
The last time there was a back-to-back Home Run Derby champion was ’98-’99 when Ken Griffey Jr. did it. Now he is joined by Yoenis Cespedes. After beating Todd Frazier to capture his second Home Run Derby championship in as many years, Cespedes will now have to turn his focus to the second half of his third full season in order to keep Oakland at the top of the AL West. Yet, the primary question that surrounds all Home Run Derby participants is: How will it affect a players swing and hence, their second half? Luckily for A’s fans, Cespedes is a second half guy. Over his career, he’s hit .290 after the All-Star Break compared to his .242 average in the first half.
I think the bigger concern is how will Josh Donaldson respond after his first Home Run Derby appearance.
Well, to be honest, I think that Donaldson needs all the help he can get and maybe him hitting some bombs in the Derby will give the guy some confidence. Early in the season, he was a clear-cut candidate for the MVP award, but after June 1st has hit just .174 and his average has dropped all the way to a meager .238. He obviously needs to break out of his prolonged rut and seeing as how he has had a “swing big, miss big” approach (similar to Cespedes) so far this season, I believe he can’t get much worse and the second half will bring positive results to the A’s struggling third baseman.
After Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin went down before the A’s even played one game, it automatically put a massive amount of pressure on the newest members of the starting rotation, especially to fill those innings. Parker threw 197 innings while Griffin broke the 200 innings mark without either missing a start due to injury, something that’s highly overlooked in baseball today. Now its up to newcomers to the rotation Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez as well as first-year Sonny Gray, all of whom who have not had to throw as many innings as they are now being asked to. Kazmir threw 158 innings last season for the Cleveland Indians after spending the previous year in independent ball. Chavez pitched 57.1 innings in 2013 for the A’s as a long reliever, while Sonny Gray combined for 185.1 innings in Triple A and the majors, by far his most in a professional season.
Each one of them are on pace this season to approach or pass the 200-inning mark, something only Kazmir previously has done (2007 season). So far, the trio’s combined 28-12 record and 2.77 ERA is a major reason for the A’s first-half success and it will be interesting to see how closely A’s manager Bob Melvin manages their workloads and pitch counts during the second half, particularly because the Angels are so close in the division race.
The Oakland Athletics finished their first half of the 2014 season with the MLB’s best record for the 25th day in a row, and they have sat atop the AL West every day and every night since April 28. Yet, in the back seat of the Oakland wagon are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who have prevented them from running away with a 3rd consecutive division title. They won 19 of 23 games before the All-Star Break, and now trail the A’s by only 1.5 games to start the second half. While the Seattle Mariners also have put themselves in contention for a playoff berth, the frontrunners to win the AL West are most likely to be the ball clubs from opposite ends of California. They play each other 10 times over August and September and six of those games are at the O.Co Coliseum, providing a small advantage to the A’s. Especially considering each team is second (Oakland) and first (LA) in terms of best home records.
Everyday starting shortstop, Jed Lowrie was a key to the offense in 2013, batting .290 and often hitting third in the order. However, after a good start in April, he hit a combined .187 in May and June with only 13 extra-base hits. So far in July, he’s turned it around a bit, raising his average to a still depressing .239. Although this avg. bump included some weak “bloop” hits, those may be a sign of Lowrie’s first half tough luck starting to fade. His career average of balls in play is .291 while this season has been .267, a significant drop off. With Melvin’s “platoon system” in place over the last few seasons, his offense has typically been deep enough to mask individual struggles, but the A’s need Lowrie (one of the few everyday starters) to regain some of his 2013 form..
Having already adding Samardzija and Hammel, the A’s are probably not finished upgrading their roster before the Trade Deadline on July 31. A middle-infield improvement could be in the works, following a notably disappointing first half from second basemen Nick Punto and Eric Sogard, who hit .213 and .186, respectively. Oakland might also think about dipping into the shortstop market and move Lowrie to second-base, despite the second-baseman trade market being much deeper.