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Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Oakland Athletics

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BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 27: Jarrod Parker #11 of the Oakland Athletics throws a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 27, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 27: Jarrod Parker #11 of the Oakland Athletics throws a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 27, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
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David Price vs. A.J. Griffin, 10:05pm

A.J. Griffin is a 24-year-old rookie pitcher with a mere six starts to his name. He's managed to be eerily consistent over these starts, too; he's lasted exactly six innings in all six of them, and he's faced between 22 and 25 batters in every one. He hasn't been exactly dominant in any of these starts -- although he did strike out nine Blue Jays in his most recent start -- but he's flashed a solid, average-ish repertoire.

His fastball averages 90 MPHs and his best pitch (his curveball) generates whiffs on around 28% of swings -- a decent number, but nothing spectacular. His curve is a beautiful pitch, but from everything I'm seeing, Griffin reminds me of a young Andy Sonnanstine. His stuff may not be spectacular, but he's managing to limit walks and get results.

In other words, expect a no-hitter tonight.

James Shields vs. Tommy Milone, 10:05pm

Tommy Milone is almost an exact clone of A.J. Griffin, except he's a left-handed pitcher while Griffin is a righty. They are both soft-tossers (Milone's fastball averages 88 MPH) with the same four-pitch repertoires -- fastball, cutter, curve, change -- yet they manage to succeed through limiting walks and mixing pitches. Milone is a year older than Griffin, and he's arguably slightly better as his pitches all get better whiff rates than Griffin's. His curveball and changeup both have whiff rates above 30%.

Of course, despite sounding relatively mediocre, Milone threw seven shutout innings against the Yankees two starts ago and struck out 10 batters. His ERA is below 4.00, and judging from his FIP and SIERA, that doesn't seem like a fluke.

Alex Cobb vs. Jarrod Parker, 3:35pm

In his first full season in the majors, Jarrod Parker has emerged as the top starter on the Oakland A's. He's a mere 23 years old, but his 3.38 ERA and 3.50 FIP are both excellent and speak to his ability level. I'd hesitate to say he's an "ace", as he's benefiting from a low home run rate and his 10% walk rate could use improvement, but he's decidedly above average and a strong starter.

Even if I wouldn't call Parker an ace quite yet, I will say this: he arguably has the best changeup in the majors. Once out of every two times a batter has swung at his changeup this year, they've whiffed. That's ridiculous. James Shields has an incredible changeup, as we all know, and hitters only swing and miss at his changeup 35% of the time. Parker also has a good fastball and slider, but it seems likely that Joe Maddon will decide to "Danks Theory" his lineup against Parker.

Quick comparison:

Stats Rays Athletics
wOBA 0.304 0.304
wRC+ 93 92
BB% 9.8% 8.9%
K% 21.7% 21.6%
BABIP 0.277 0.273
FIP 3.74 3.88
xFIP 3.76 4.26
SIERA 3.64 4.16
K/9 8.31 6.76
BB/9 3.15 3.01
BABIP 0.287 0.277

These two teams are actually very alike at the plate. They're similarly below average offensive teams playing in strong pitchers parks. The Rays walk a slight bit more, but hit for a bit less power. On the pitching side, the Rays are clearly better. They have similar FIPs, but when you normalize HR/FB, Oakland looks a lot worse, suggesting that they're benefiting from their cavernous park.

Regressed Projected Batter Platoon Splits (ZIPS RoS)(sortable):

Player Projected wOBA vs. RHP Projected wOBA vs. LHP
Derek Norris 0.304 0.285
Kurt Suzuki 0.296 0.275
Chris Carter 0.330 0.298
Brandon Hicks 0.253 0.271
Brandon Inge 0.268 0.310
Brandon Moss 0.305 0.285
Eric Sogard 0.294 0.264
Jemile Weeks 0.288 0.293
Yoenis Cespedes 0.345 0.323
Coco Crisp 0.320 0.330
Jonny Gomes 0.305 0.345
Josh Reddick 0.316 0.353
Seth Smith 0.331 0.261

I was under the impression that Cespedes was having a disappointing season at the plate. Not so. He's been their best hitter by a wide margin against right handed pitching, and Oakland would be very punchless without him. Against lefties, the Oakland lineup is headed by newly and shrewdly acquired Josh Reddick and the Tampa Bay favorite, Jonny Gomes. It's good to see Gomes still doing his thing. Would have been nice to see him doing his thing in The Trop this year.

One interesting note. Coco Crisp broke my regression tool (Whelk's writing the portion below the jump). That's because as of July 27th (when I updated it), Crisp has posted exactly equal career splits against both sides of the plate. He's a switch hitter, so I jimmied with his stats slightly, just so my tool would choose a direction to slant it's projection, but really, it's entirely arbitrary in his rather unique case.

Bullpen Splits (non-regressed):

Player PAs vs. RHP xFIP vs. RHP PAs vs. LHP xFIP vs. LHP
Sean Dolittle 54 2.03 32 3.56
Grant Balfour 857 3.86 715 3.82
Evan Scribner 61 4.31 48 3.75
Jerry Blevins 449 4.76 331 3.05
Ryan Cook 105 4.860 105 4.22
Jim Miller 116 4.87 91 4.89
Jordan Norberto 167 5.19 126 5.43

Sean Dolittle has very little major league playing time so far, so take these splits with a big grain of salt, but he's been good. Jerry Blevins will be tough on our lefties. The real headliner of the Oakland 'pen is our old friend Grant Balfour. Much as he brings back fond memories, it will be a good series if we never see him pitch.