The All-Star break has arrived and at the symbolic halfway point of the year the Oakland A’s, rather surprisingly, have the same number of wins (43) as they do losses. And though they trail considerably in the standings to the Rangers and Angels, who are first and second in the AL West respectively, there is a ton of baseball yet to be played. But what’s even more intriguing is that, with the addition of a second Wild Card this year, the A’s are only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot. True, there are seven teams within those 2.5 games fighting for just one spot, but right now the A’s are in the hunt. That might have been a laughable idea at the beginning of the year.
Before we get into how the A’s have managed to accomplish this improbable feet, I’d like to congratulate Ryan Cook, the A’s new closer and lone representative in this year’s All Star game. Congrats, Ryan; it’s well deserved and keep up the good work.
Now, how exactly are the A’s even in the discussion for a playoff birth? Maybe the grades won’t be so bad this year… maybe:
Offense, D- : This is a strange one because you get the sense from watching the games that the offense has vastly improved upon last year’s performance. But then you look at the numbers and you realize the A’s are, out of 30 teams, 28th in runs, 28th in total bases, 27th in on base percentage, 27th in slugging percentage, and dead last in hits.
I should give them an F and would if it weren’t for a couple of differences with last year’s club.
Last year, Josh Willingham was the only guy in the lineup that any opposing pitcher remotely cared about, and barely at that. This year, guys like Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, and Seth Smith have solidified the middle of the order. And, at least since they’ve been called up, Chris Carter, Brandon Moss, and Derek Norris have contributed admirably.
So why is the offense so awful? I think it’s as simple as everyone else being horrid. The players the A’s envisioned as being impact bats are indeed impactful, but the secondary guys have fallen off the face of the earth. Kurt Suzuki, who I criticized last year and got a lot of negative response for it, just can’t hit anymore. He’s hitting .211/.248./259 with no homers, 46 strikeouts, and nine walks. Cliff Pennington is equally as inept, hitting just .202/.267/.292 and Brandon Inge has one extra base hit since the middle of June.
I really believe these guys are bad enough to bring the team totals down. So far this year, Billy Beane has showed that he’ll make a move, albeit a small one, if a guy isn’t producing. Brandon Moss, Brandon Inge, Chris Carter and Derek Norris were all added to the roster after the start of the season. It’s time to do the same with the guys still dragging Oakland down. I don’t care how much we all like Suzuki, or how strong Pennington’s arm is. If they can’t produce, sit ‘em down.
Pitching, B: As surprisingly bad as the offense has been, the pitching has been as surprisingly good, and in more than one way. The A’s are fourth in the majors with a 3.42 team ERA. Anybody that says they predicted that at the beginning of the season is lying to you. After trading away guys like Gio Gonzales and Trevor Cahill, the A’s have managed to improve their pitching.
This grade really should be an incomplete, but that’s taking the easy way out. The truth is, even though they’ve been incredible so far, we’ve seen so little of Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin and Travis Blackley, that we really can’t expect this hot start to their respective careers to continue. Blackley was released earlier this year, after all.
On top of that, Brett Anderson has yet to pitch, Dallas Braden may never pitch again at this rate, and Brandon McCarthy heads to the DL after every start. All these pitchers have been great, even the young guys. Unbelievably so at times. But when your most consistent starter is Bartolo Colon, I can’t go any higher than a B.
The other thing that surprises (and worries) me that I eluded to before is the A’s strikeout total. Even though they have the fourth best ERA, they have the second fewest strikeouts with a total of 545. That tells me that the stellar ERA might be a bit of luck or a product of pitching half the games at the Coliseum, a notoriously pitcher-friendly ballpark. I’m not saying the A’s shouldn’t be excited about their pitching, I’m just saying that I think they are going to need help before all is said and done.
The A’s pitching has been a great story, I hope it continues, and I feel a lot better about the A’s future than I did in March, but if the A’s ERA inflated in the second half, I really wouldn’t be all that surprised.
Fielding, C+: There is really no default defensive statistic that I prefer to use when analyzing a player’s effectiveness. Watching the games is always important, but it’s much more so when evaluating a player’s defensive abilities rather than offense and pitching.
With regards to the A’s, their defense mirrors their offense in that some guys have been spectacular and some have been underwhelming. Jemile Weeks, for one has made drastic improvements on this side of the game, getting to many more balls and making more consistent throws, both a product of the time he put in with his footwork.
Pennington always profiled as an above average fielder but seems to be making less “bone-head” plays this season. And Josh Reddick has been a revelation. Not only can he play all three outfield positions, he has a cannon for an arm and I think he should have been an all-star based on his defense alone.
On the other hand, Yoenis Cespedes has been a disappointment (only on defense). He definitely has the tools with great speed and a very strong arm, but he misplays a lot of balls, especially in left field. But I’ll give him a pass this year because he’s been so good and his whole life has changed around this season.
Coco Crisp is a wizard in center but even I have a better throwing arm than him so guys run on him all day. And Brandon Inge has disappointed too. Way too many balls go right under his legs, it seems.
All in all the defense isn’t terrible, but it should be a strength.
Base Running, B+: The base running has been very good on the whole. But it should be.
With guys like Weeks and Crisp at the top of the order, the base running really should be better, in fact. But I think that’s more a factor of their inability to get on base rather than the ability to steal once there.
Cespedes is surprisingly fast at stealing bases. I heard about his impressive speed but based on his size, I figured it meant once he got going he was fast, as in he’s fast going from first to third. I was wrong. He’s explosive and a very skilled base runner.
With these three guys and Pennington, the A’s should be near the top of the league in stolen bases (they are in the top 5 with 67). I expect this aspect of the A’s game to improve.
Coaching, A: It’s against my principles to give out an “A+” or I would here.
There’s no way to actually measure the effect the coaching staff has had on this team but how else do you explain a team that was an expected bottom dweller competing for a playoff spot? On top of that, I love me some Bob Melvin.
I can’t really say that I’ve even liked any other manager for the A’s in what seems like my entire life. But Melvin just seems to strike a chord in the people around him that he’s going to get the job done. He doesn’t make excuses and he doesn’t accept anything less than full effort and attention.
He and his staff led by Chip Hale, Chili Davis, and Curt Young have the A’s playing like winners; like they believe that they can beat anyone; that they should beat anyone.
Melvin got a three-year contract in the off-season. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t stay much longer than that.
About the Author
Written by Josh Muller
My name is Josh Muller. I was born and raised in Oakland, California and currently live in San Francisco. I watch sports religiously and organize my calender year to coincide with baseball season. I'm a diehard A's and Warriors fan, love talking sports all day and believe that the words "Opening Day" are the two greatest in the English language.