Ranking the Oakland A's Best 2014 All-Star Game Candidates
The simple fact that Josh Donaldson is the lone projected All-Star starter on the roster is the perfect embodiment of the baseball culture that Billy Beane has sought to instill in Oakland: Team first, individual accomplishment second, and most importantly, get on base.
But at the same time, a .630 winning percentage and a plus-135 run differential through the first 81 games of the season do not just happen because a group of players have meshed exceptionally well. From an individual standpoint, Yoenis Cespedes has captivated the MLB with his laser throws from left field and Scott Kazmir continues to make a mockery of his 4.06 career ERA.
Thus, even though much of the sports world classifies the A's as a team that maximizes the talent they have solely through team chemistry, the reality is that the A's have extremely talented individual players.
With the All-Star Game approaching and undoubtedly being the biggest platform for showcasing individual talent, the lingering question for many of those unfamiliar with the A's is: Who are the A's best candidates to receive an All-Star spot?
The following rankings are based upon a balance between individual season statistics as well as the depth of talent at the specific position in question across the league. Also, an overall excitement factor is considered for each ranked player, as personality and swagger are important elements for determining All-Stars.
Here are the best candidates to represent the Oakland A's in the upcoming All-Star Game.
Statistics are accurate through June 29 and courtesy of MLB.com, ESPN.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise noted.
Sonny Gray, SP
Sonny Gray is in contention to suit up for the AL in this year's All-Star Game thanks to a 3.20 ERA and a team-leading 104 innings pitched.
He is the team's workhorse and the consensus ace of the staff. However, he fails to crack this list's top five, because he has been outdueled by his own rotation mate.
Derek Norris, C
Unlike the National League, the American League does not have much to brag about at the catching position. After all, Matt Wieters, who recently had Tommy John surgery and is out for the season, is the leading vote-getter for the AL at the position.
Despite platooning with John Jaso, Derek Norris is currently in second place in the All-Star Game voting, but he is only ahead of third-place Brian McCann by a small margin. Norris will likely be the replacement for the injured Wieters.
A career .247 hitter, Norris has enjoyed much more success this year, boasting a .304 batting average.
Nominating a player to the All-Star Game who does not play full-time is less than ideal. But given the dismal situation at the catcher position in the AL, Norris is as deserving as anyone.
Jesse Chavez, SP
The finest line exists between the A's best three pitchers. Thus, even though Jesse Chavez is labeled as the team's No. 3 starter, his numbers align nearly perfectly with those of Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir.
Chavez tops Gray with a 2.94 ERA, has matched Kazmir with 98 innings pitched and has held right-handed hitters to a .199 batting average.
But just like Gray, Chavez is not top-five material simply because Scott Kazmir has been even better.
No. 5: Brandon Moss DH/1B
Brandon Moss has hit 20 or more home runs in each of the past two seasons, but the big left-handed hitter was always overlooked as an All-Star candidate because he was always part of a platoon.
Now in his first year as a starting first baseman, Moss is on pace to eclipse—if not shatter—his career-high 30 home runs and 87 RBI that he set last year.
Even though he has struggled a bit in June, Moss ranks eighth in the major leagues in home runs and has 59 RBI to go along with a .518 slugging percentage.
Perhaps the best news for Moss is that he is also having success against left-handed pitchers. There are still remnants of a platoon-system in place—Moss has 164 more at-bats against right-handers than against left-handers—but Moss is actually hitting four points better against lefties this season. Randy Holt of SB Nation further discusses whether or not it is time to turn Moss completely loose against left-handed pitching.
Yet Moss will be hard-pressed to receive a nomination to the All-Star Game. Competing for the designated hitter position in the AL lineup is no easy task, and Moss currently ranks fifth behind Nelson Cruz, David Ortiz, Victor Martinez and Edwin Encarnacion.
Moss's numbers suggest that he is deserving of All-Star recognition. After all, 18 home runs is nothing to scoff at. Nevertheless, Moss lacks the calling card of some of the bigger names in the AL. The allure of baseball's home-run leaders, Cruz and Encarnacion (who hit 20 home runs in May), will prove too much for Moss to overcome.
No. 4: Yoenis Cespedes, LF
If the All-Star Game is truly about showcasing the league's best talent, most exciting players and most versatile athletes, Yoenis Cespedes is a lock to earn his first All-Star selection in 2014.
Most baseball fans have seen the aerial attack that he unloaded on Howie Kendrick in the video above. If you have not, it is high time you do so.
Cespedes was at it again Friday night, when he uncorked a screaming bullet to gun down Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton at the plate for his league-leading 10th outfield assist. Again, choosing not to watch it right now fails to pay homage to the incredible throw.
Along with his jaw-dropping defensive ability, Cespedes has started to heat up at the plate.
The left fielder is currently riding a 13-game hitting streak, during which he has collected 13 RBI and raised his batting average a total of 30 points to .272. Overall, Cespedes has jacked 14 dingers and driven in 55 runs on the year.
His counting stats may be slightly behind those of Brandon Moss. However, given the fact that Cespedes has been mashing the baseball as of late and is a highlight waiting to happen, he is the better All-Star candidate. The fans agree, as Cespedes has catapulted up to fourth in the outfield voting−only 162,394 votes behind Melky Cabrera for the last outfield spot.
The only hindrance that is keeping Cespedes outside of the top three on this list and in the All-Star voting was his .234 batting average in May. But that is a distant memory now, as Cespedes has found his stroke in June to the tune of a .327 average, .505 slugging percentage and a .878 OPS.
Last year, he became the first non-All Star in MLB history to win the Home Run Derby. Why not give Cespedes the opportunity to dazzle us with his full arsenal this year?
No. 3: Scott Kazmir, SP
It is only fitting that the pitcher with the lowest ERA on the team with baseball's second-lowest ERA as whole checks in as one of the top-three candidates on this list.
Prior to his stint with Oakland, Scott Kazmir had gone from top prospect of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays—making his highly anticipated debut in 2004—to being demoted to the minors and eventually being released by the Angels after an abysmal 2011 campaign.
However, after reviving his career with the Cleveland Indians last year, the A's signed Kazmir this offseason, and the 30-year-old southpaw has completely reinvented himself in Oakland this season. (Tim Keown of ESPN The Magazine narrates the entire story in detail quite well).
Even though Kazmir got shelled for seven runs in his last start against the Mets (causing his ERA to rise 58 points), his ERA is still a shiny 2.66. Kazmir's minuscule ERA ranks 11th in the majors.
Kazmir has also registered nine wins with the A's, and his 12 quality starts reveal that this is not simply a product of playing with baseball's best offense. Doubters will point to his 4.06 career ERA and will question who the "real" Kazmir is. Yet his 84/21 K/BB and 1.01 WHIP show that Kazmir's success in 2014 is not as fluky as many believe it to be.
Kazmir will not be in contention for the All-Star Game starting nod since Masahiro Tanaka, Felix Hernandez and David Price have better stats and bigger names. Nevertheless, Kazmir (along with Sonny Gray) is Oakland's poster boy, and his first-half performance deserves All-Star recognition.
No. 2: Josh Donaldson, 3B
Obviously, Josh Donaldson is the centerpiece of the Oakland A's. He is the fan favorite in Oakland, and when he clicks, so do the A's. Frankly, he is their best player.
So before all credibility is lost for not ranking him No. 1 on this list, let's point out that Donaldson was unjustly snubbed last year, and he is even more deserving to be the starting third baseman for the American League this year.
But when it comes to ranking All-Star candidates, more often than not, what the specific player has done recently is more important than his success (or lack thereof) at the start of the season.
As a result, consider the fact that Donaldson has hit .184 in June with just three home runs. In fact, at one point in June, Donaldson was mired in an 0-for-31 slump that resulted in his batting average dipping from .280 to .250. He was then dropped to sixth in the A's lineup in order to give him a "change of scenery."
Donaldson is still tied for the team lead in home runs with 18, and he also leads the team in RBI with 61. Furthermore, his superb defense has kept him at a 4.75 WAR, which is the fourth-best mark in the MLB (only behind Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout).
Thus, Donaldson's month-long struggles should not detract from his season-long success. Fortunately, fans have agreed, and Donaldson still holds a commanding lead over Adrian Beltre in the voting.
But with that being said, on a team as talented as the A's, a hitless stretch that spans 31 at-bats is going to open the door for someone else to overtake the No. 1 spot as the team's best All-Star candidate.
No. 1: Sean Doolittle, Closer
If Donaldson's struggles opened the door for the A's best All-Star candidate, Doolittle's dominance has fittingly closed it.
Many marvel at David Price's K/BB of 144/14, and rightfully so; Price's pace of 10.29 strikeouts per one walk is in line to break the K/BB MLB record.
Though he has not pitched nearly as many innings, A's closer Sean Doolittle's strikeout-to-walk ratio is even better: 56 strikeouts for every one walk. And unlike any other pitcher in baseball, mathematicians and journalists do not have to reduce Doolittle's K/BB fraction to get it in terms of one walk.
That's right; Doolittle has only issued one walk all season. Will Eusebio of Sports Illustrated does an excellent job explaining the closer's pinpoint accuracy.
After allowing eight earned runs in April, Doolittle has allowed one run since. And before the Marlins touched him up on Saturday, Doolittle had a scoreless streak spanning 26.2 innings. Despite the rare hiccup, Doolittle has lowered his ERA to 2.08 for the year, and at O.co Coliseum, he has only allowed one run.
The Jim Johnson experiment in Oakland utterly failed, as he looks to be one of the worst acquisitions of the offseason. So for a short time, the one weakness the A's had was at the back end of their bullpen.
But the A's have found a permanent solution in Doolittle. Not only does he have the moxy of an All-Star closer—with a rugged beard and fascinating Twitter personality—he has also converted 11 of 13 save opportunities since taking over for the struggling Johnson.
The value of shortening games, which Doolittle obviously provides, is truly significant and is ultimately what has propelled Oakland to the best record in baseball. Not only is Doolittle the A's best and most deserving All-Star candidate, but he may be their Most Valuable Player as well.
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