Thoughts On The Oakland A's

Nathaniel StoltzSenior Analyst IJune 24, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 07:  Jack Cust #32 of the Oakland Athletics bats against the Baltimore Orioles at the Oakland Coliseum on June 7, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

I've written 22 articles on Bleacher Report in about 14 months on the site, and I just realized that I've never really stated what I thought about the A's. Obviously they're my favorite team, but I really haven't remarked on their state of affairs. Oddly enough, I've written articles on how bad (at the time) teams like San Francisco and Texas should change their rosters, but never the A's.

So here we are.

I'm not going to give this any sort of gigantic treatment like I used to with the "How Team X Can Instantly Become A Contender" articles, but here's just a quick rundown of what I think about the A's roster construction:

I really like what Billy Beane's done with the pitching staff.

In the Nationals bullpen article I just wrote, I expressed my view that in a rebuilding year where you're not expected to contend, it's important to get a look at your major-league-ready guys and see if they'll work into your future plans.

With the pitching, that's exactly what the A's have done.

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The Braden-Outman-Cahill-Anderson-Mazzaro rotation is one that will still be relevant in the 2011-2015 period where the A's hope to contend. With Outman now hurt, the A's have turned to Gio Gonzalez, another pitcher who fits that category.

Then, the second-oldest pitcher in the bullpen is 30-year-old Michael Wuertz, who at least could still be relevant at the front end of the contending timeframe. Guys like Santiago Casilla, Craig Breslow, and Andrew Bailey are important to look at right now. Even the choice of Edgar Gonzalez is defensible: I've never liked him, but if you're going to have a 12th pitcher who won't pitch much, it should be someone like Gonzalez, who doesn't matter much, instead of someone like prospect Henry Rodriguez, who needs more innings and experience than a low-leverage role provides.

I don't get why Russ Springer is on the team.

That's the one pitching move I don't understand. Springer hasn't pitched well, he's 40 years old, and his presence keeps the bullpen from having a second lefty. Springer should be traded or released so the A's can call up Brad Kilby or Jay Marshall to give them a second lefty and more youth in the bullpen.

I think Landon Powell needs more playing time.

He should platoon with Kurt Suzuki, with Powell playing vs. RHPs and Suzuki vs. LHPs.

Catching is always tough to organize because playing time needs to be allocated very precisely. Whereas a durable player at any other position can play 160 games, a durable catcher really shouldn't play more than 125 or so, or else their production will decline.

At the same time, it's difficult to come off the bench with little playing time and be expected to produce.

In the current arrangement, where Suzuki almost always starts, neither catcher is hitting well because Suzuki is burned out and Powell is rusty.

Suzuki's .668 OPS vs. RHPs is another indication he needs a platoon partner. I'm a big Powell fan and think he can really be something if he stays healthy and starts three games a week.

What are Nomar Garciaparra, Jack Hannahan, and Bobby Crosby still doing on this team?

This just drives me crazy.

None of the three can hit anymore, only Hannahan is a plus defender (and he's the worst hitter of the three), and none of them are very young, so it's not like they're going through growing pains or anything. Hannahan had a .498 OPS in April...in Triple-A.

Meanwhile, Cliff Pennington and Tommy Everidge have emerged as MLB-caliber players down in Sacramento, and they haven't gotten looks yet this year. When Mark Ellis comes back, the A's should make a big change and have Adam Kennedy, Ellis, Everidge, and Pennington manning the 2B/SS/3B positions, perhaps with Ellis at second, Pennington at short, and Kennedy and Everidge platooning at third (Kennedy is awful vs. LHPs; Everidge eats them for lunch).

I'm really starting to wonder about Jack Cust.

I love the guy, but let's face it, he's nothing without his plate discipline, and this year, he's swinging at 6.5% more pitches, including 5.2% more outside of the strike zone. He's making contact at a 6% better clip, so his K's are down 13%, which is nice, but his walks are down 7%. This leaves Cust's OBP at .314, and his OPS at .738, and that's just not worth playing.

Cust needs his old control of the strike zone, and he needs it now.

But that's not all with Cust.

Always known for his laughably bad athleticism, he's 2-2 in steals this year (0-3 in his career before 2009) and UZR ranks him as the ninth-BEST right fielder in baseball defensively. What in hell is going on here?

How much longer can you possibly ignore Eric Patterson?

He can play second base if they want to trade Ellis, or he can play center field, which would make a lot of sense right now given that Ryan Sweeney and Rajai Davis bring very little to the team. Sweeney is a good fourth outfielder, and Davis a good fifth outfielder, but neither one should ever start 100 games in a season. Davis is a decent defender with excellent speed, but he can't hit. Sweeney hits for a little bit of average, is a below-average CF, and has no power.

Patterson is similar to Sweeney defensively, but he offers more speed, plate discipline, average, and power. Why the A's don't give him a call (he's hitting .317/.389/.504 in Sacramento) is beyond me.

I like the way Trevor Cahill is progressing.

Early in the year, he was putting up a decent ERA, but had a sub-1.00 K/BB ratio and an extremely low BABIP that indicated he was pulling a high-wire act and would soon fall.

Before that fall could happen, however, Cahill has settled in, improving his strikeout and walk rates and doing an excellent job preventing homers and extra-base hits with his good sinker. He needs to throw his breaking stuff more to get more K's; once he does, he'll be a #2-caliber starter.

Dallas Braden's been great.

I've long said he wasn't some sort of Quad-A pitcher (like seemingly every other A's fan thought he was), but a #2 starter in the making. Looks like I was right on this one, as Braden's got a 3.51 FIP. He's added a cutter this year that already ranks as one of the best in the majors according to Fangraphs.com's pitch type linear weights.

One thing I'm wondering about Braden is if he's throwing his legendary screwball. Apparently the A's don't let him throw it anymore, and that his changeup just looks like a screwball. I've seen his changeup, and it does sort of look like a screwball, but it's usually 71-74 mph with good movement. In the last month or so, I've seen Braden throw a few 63-67 mph pitches that break about twice as much as the changeup in the same direction.

Either he's throwing the screwball on a limited basis, or it's some other type of changeup than the one he normally throws. Either way, it's a nasty pitch (he uses it to get the third and sixth strikeouts in this six-strikeout highlight reel; by comparison, the fourth strikeout is on his regular changeup).


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