Oakland A's Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments

Nick HouserCorrespondent IIApril 17, 2014

Oakland A's Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments

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    The Oakland A's have the best record in the American League and the third-best record in baseball. This is not a surprise if you've been following the team for the last three years. How they're doing it, though, now that may surprise you.

    Of course, with every major surprise, with it, a minor disappointment.

    For instance, losing for the 10th-straight time on Opening Day. It's disappointing, sure, but not completely unexpected or all that earth-shattering. As an A's fan, it's somewhat become a bit expected, and therefore doesn't disappoint as much as it might other fans.

    Besides, A's fans are much more concerned about Game 162 than Game 1. And when at least nearly half of those losses come at the hand—or arm—of one Felix Hernandez, then, well, that loss is easy to bypass.

    Still, 2014 has provided a small handful of other interesting facts and tidbits in its short two-week span so far.

Surprise: Alberto Callaspo Leads the Team in Batting Average

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    Of all the players who have been on the roster from the start (so not including Craig Gentry, who started on the DL), Alberto Callaspo leads the team in batting average. His .357 average is is 59 points higher than Jed Lowrie's .298 average.

    Which is another fine point: Callaspo is the only regular hitting over .300 so far.

    It's early, and much can change. But no one could have expected Callaspo would outhit Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Jed Lowrie. And before you say his sample size is small, know that he has 42 at-bats in 11 games.

    Of Callaspo's 15 hits, he has four doubles, one home run and six RBI. He has also struck out seven times to five walks.

    Will Callaspo finish the regular season as the everyday second baseman for the A's?

    Via Jane Lee of MLB.com, manager Bob Melvin had this to say about Callaspo: "It's tough to get him out of the lineup because he is swinging the bat so well, not that I want to."

Disappointment: Slow Starts for Expected Leaders

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    You might have expected Alberto Callaspo to be the type of guy to start slow. But you certainly didn't want to see slow starts come from guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson.

    After Opening Day, Donaldson was 2-for-4. But the .500 average quickly plummeted after four-consecutive hitless games. The first two series (Week 1) was a bit concerning, but he's slowly turned it around. In fact, Donaldson's average was still just .222 before he went 5-for-10 between April 14-15.

    While Donaldson took a week to get it going, Cespedes has taken a month.

    To his credit, he does lead the team in home runs with three. Similarly, he's produced the second-most RBI at 10. But it's back to a season ago in which he didn't hit often, but when he did it was for power. Cespedes has come up to bat with 42 runners on base. He knocked seven of them in, per Baseball-Reference.com. Fans would like to see "Yo" strike out less with runners on and raise that average a bit.

    Check out this piece on AthleticsNation.com breaking down his swing.

    What about Daric Barton and Josh Reddick's slow starts?

    Those are disappointing for sure. Barton is hitting .077, while Reddick is slightly better at .098. Not only are these obviously disappointing batting averages, but they are also from two guys fans aren't very high on in the first place.

    I don't think many fans are all too shocked.

Surprise: Jed Lowrie the Walks Machine

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    When the Oakland A's acquired Jed Lowrie, not too many knew exactly what the team was getting. In the five seasons prior to joining the A's, he was mostly a role player, filling in for injuries, oft-injured himself and never playing above 100 games. He was a career .250 hitter who hit double-digit home runs just once.

    So in 2013, in his first season with the A's, it was pretty cool to see Lowrie blast 45 doubles—second-most in the American League and an Oakland A's single-season record (for switch hitters).

    Why stop there?

    It's early, but so far, Lowrie has the second-most walks in Major League Baseball. And in his own words, via Jason Churchill of Seattle's 1090 The Fan, "When you look at it, statistically, a walk is as good as a single."

    Keep an eye on Lowrie's walks. His career-high is 50, set last season. With 15 already, he's on pace to walk 162 times. He won't finish even close to that high—the AL record is 170, set by Babe Ruth in 1923. Still, look for Lowrie to easily surpass, if not double his personal best.

Disappointment: Jim Johnson Hits a Snag

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    Jim Johnson's time in Oakland as the new closer has been a bit, shall we say, rough. Let's take a look at what the $10.5 million arm has done so far.

    On Opening Day, the A's headed to the ninth tied with the Cleveland Indians, 0-0. Enter Johnson, who allowed two runs on two hits. He took the loss. In his next appearance, he blew a save. Since then, luckily, he's improved. But he has lost the closer role for now.

    Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle had Johnson's reaction:

    Johnson told The Chronicle and MLB.com just now that he is not surprised by the decision, saying Melvin "has got to do what he’s got to do" and that there is no timetable for his return to closing. 'I’ve got to keep working, there’s nothing else I can do,' Johnson said.

    In six games since the blown save, he's allowed just two runs. But he's also picked up a save, a hold and two wins.

Surprise: Jesse Chavez Keeps It Going

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    Jesse Chavez had a wonderful spring. But could he continue it into the regular season?

    He sure can.

    First, he went six innings against the Seattle Mariners. He allowed one earned run on five hits, walked two and struck out four. Though he didn't pick up the "W", the team won. Then, he went seven innings against the Minnesota Twins, giving up one earned run on six hits, walking none and striking out nine.

    If this were NBA Jam, we'd hear an announcer inform us, "He's heating up!"

    In his third start of the season, Chavez once again pitched seven innings and allowed one run. This time it was on just four hits. He walked no one and struck out nine, duplicating his performance in Minnesota. This time, he also threw 100 pitches, 77 percent of which were strikes.

    Chavez's ERA is 1.35. He's walked just two batters and struck out 20.

    Scott Kazmir isn't Bartolo Colon's replacement folks. Jesse Chavez is.

Disappointment: Week 1 Shenanigans

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    How many shenanigans did the A's start the season with?

    Let's see, there were plumbing issues and flooding on March 29, two days before the season opened. And then the second game of the season got rained out—the first rainout in Oakland since 1998, according to Matt Snyder of CBS Sports. Oh, and of course, you can't forget about the rainout two days later on a day when the sun shined brightly.

    Hmm, what else is there?

    There was a fan booing controversy on the second day (third, technically before a rainout) of the season. Then a promo-gone-wrong day featured thousands of Little Leaguers turning their bracelets into whistles that buzzed the entire duration of the game.

    Throw in the story of one, keep-him-or-cut-him Sam Fuld, and this A's season has seen plenty so far.

    I haven't even mentioned all of the instant replay, challenge and dropped-ball-transfer shenanigans yet either. Do I even want to?