Oakland A's: Seven Adjustments To Help Improve the Worst Offense in Baseball
In the midst of their (still) ongoing 10-game losing streak, adding players outside the organization to the roster doesn't seem to be an option at this point.
But with a new manager, lineup adjustments and utilizing their farm system—including entertaining trades for their veterans that have value—must be considered to jump-start their woefully impotent lineup, which ranks in the bottom five of all of MLB entering Friday's action in these offensive categories: Runs (227 in 64 games), HR (35), Total Bases (755), BA (.239), OBP (.304) and SLG (.347).
1B Daric Barton Needs To Lose At-Bats and Hit Further Down in the Order
Bob Geren could have merely been relaying the front office's affinity for Daric Barton every time Geren reiterated to the media that he "liked" Barton in the two-hole, despite the fact that Barton has been hovering around the Mendoza Line all year.
Remember, general manager Billy Beane had initiated contract talks with Barton in the spring. Barton is arbitration-eligible after this season, and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the A's value Barton's OBP, his defensive skills and durability.
Unfortunately, when you bat .200, walking 120 times doesn't particularly matter—especially when you hit in the two hole and play 1B.
Despite being in his fifth major league season, it appears Barton has minor league options left—the A's have the freedom to shuffle him back and forth between the minors and majors for three separate seasons until he hits his sixth year—but the A's haven't given any indication that his spot on the 25-man roster is in jeopardy.
Despite having no power at all, in 2010 Barton had an impressive line for a No. 2 hitter: .273/.393/.405 in 159 games. His .393 OBP has to rank at or near the top for No. 2 hitters, and is mightily impressive for someone who is not a power threat, which are hitters that tend to get pitched around,.
That being said, moving Barton down, at the very minimum, only makes sense and can only help the team by allowing him to relax while giving other hot bats a chance to hit in the No. 2 hole.
Make a Decision on Hideki Matsui
I may be in the minority in saying that I'm flabbergasted that Matsui has lost this many at-bats so early on. Of all moves, I would have thought that the front office would have stepped in and said that Matsui needs to play, and that's why they paid him $6 million.
But, either way, the A's either need to play him everyday or cut him loose and swallow the bill.
Lots of players on the team got off to abominable starts, so why is Matsui the first to lose at-bats? Perhaps the front office has recognized that Matsui has lost some bat speed; indeed, he has looked awful in some at-bats, waving at pitches in the dirt and remarkably late on fastballs in hitters' counts.
Okay, then cut him. There is no point in keeping a part-time DH who doesn't hit and can't play in the field, especially when it takes up a spot for potential everyday players who could be an upgrade both now and into the future.
If, however, the A's think he can turn things around, then he needs to play everyday, at the very least against all right-handed starters.
Outfielders Ryan Sweeney and Conor Jackson Need To Play Almost Everyday
OF/1B Conor Jackson and OF Ryan Sweeney have played in 44 and 42 games (64 team games), respectively, but not all of those were starts.
I previously wrote how adding Willingham and DeJesus in the offseason was, partially anyways, counterproductive since it pushed out two (Jackson and Sweeney) of their already existing strengths. This would also minimize whatever value the A's got out of Willingham and Dejesus.
The A's were very fortunate to be able to claim a player of Jackson's caliber off waivers last year. Jackson might be a great fourth outfielder for the best team in baseball, but there is no reason he shouldn't be playing everyday for the lowly A's.
I'm not sure if the A's are confident with Jackson playing at 3B everyday—they would know better than I do—but in order to get both Jackson and Sweeney in the lineup everyday, Dejesus (RF) or Barton (1B) or Adam Rosales/Scott Sizemore (3B) would have to lose at bats. They seem to already be taking at-bats away from Matsui.
Not only are Sweeney and Jackson candidates to start for this team going forward into next year, but they are arguably upgrades over DeJesus, Barton and whoever is at DH or 3B.
Trade Away a Veteran Outfielder
This option is not presented as a means to abandoning efforts to win this season.
Clearly Josh Willingham has the most—and perhaps the only one who has any—value among A's hitters, and there have been no talks between Willingham and the A's regarding an extension.
With an influx of close-to-ready minor league outfielders, it doesn't really make sense to keep Willingham beyond this year, so trading him—only when the A's decide that trying to win this year is fruitless—makes too much sense. And remember, Willingham is only hitting .237—a career .260 hitter—whose power should not be overvalued simply because the A's currently have none.
Trading someone like David DeJesus, who is also a free agent after the season, makes sense, regardless of the team's place in the standings because it would help them both this year and beyond.
It would free up at-bats for Sweeney and Jackson, or perhaps, someone else in the minors who would be hard-pressed to hit worse than Dejesus. The only problem is DeJesus has little trade value at this point. I mean, who is looking for a Punch-and-Judy hitter who isn't hitting?
It has gotten to the point where trading away their more established veteran hitters would not be calling it quits on the season; rather, considering how they they have hit, it would allow them to play other youngsters who both have a future with the club and could very well outperform them right now.
The A's in the offseason clogged up their lineup with middle-of-the-road veteran hitters with little upside, and the worst possible scenario has occurred: they haven't hit.
Figure out a Way To Play Jemile Weeks Everyday
Again, this is not a move directed at looking towards next year (though that is part of the benefit of doing it).
I understand that Mark Ellis is not seriously hurt, that he hit .291 last year, is still solid defensively at 2B and that the front office has a man-crush on Ellis, the person. The fact is he is hitting .211 (.245 OBP) and isn't part of the team's plans beyond this year.
What are the odds that recently called up top-prospect Jemile Weeks hits worse than that? The answer must be weighed against the odds, and to what degree, Ellis will improve on his numbers so far.
I favor Weeks.
Not only will Weeks be more primed for a solid campaign next year (when the A's may need it more), the odds of him outperforming Ellis going forward are good also.
I'm not sure if the A's would be willing to play Weeks at 3B considering his suspect defense at 2B, but doing so wouldn't be ideal, and I think Rosales is the better hitter than Ellis at this point.
It just doesn't seem likely that the A's would cut Ellis loose midseason—relegating him to the bench would probably not be an option; it would be considered a slap in his face—but Weeks may be a spark for the offense that the A's cannot afford to do without.
Play To Manufacture Runs
Coco Crisp already has the green light, and as far as I'm concerned, you might as well do the same with Pennington, Sweeney, Ellis and Weeks.
New manager Bob Melvin probably won't do that, but his background in the national league may prompt him to press the issue on the basepaths.
Just the idea that the pitcher knows your fast runners will run at anytime in any count can cause them to lose focus and lose some effectiveness.
Hit-and-runs make it tough when you have guys that strikeout a lot—which the A's do—but for a team that is in dead last in home runs and near the bottom in SLG, putting the pressure on the pitcher is a must.
Adjust the Lineup Order
Considering the adjustments mentioned, here is a possible lineup card against a typical right-handed pitcher:
1. Coco Crips (CF)
2. Ryan Sweeney (RF)
3. Conor Jackson (3B)
4. Josh Willingham (LF)
5. Hideki Matsui (DH)
6. Kurt Suzuki (C)
7. Daric Barton (1B)
8. Jemile Weeks (2B)
9. Cliff Pennington (SS)
Melvin told Susan Slusser today that he plans to play Matsui everyday, including against left-handed pitchers, since Matsui is hitting better against lefties this year and has good career numbers against them. He also said that he will move Barton down to sixth and keep Pennington in the No. 2 hole because of his bat control.
All are positive signs. Whether that will be enough, especially considering their injuries on the hill, is a different story.