8 Biggest Takeaways from the First Month of the Oakland A's Season
After one month of baseball, we've learned quite a bit about the 2015 Oakland Athletics, haven't we?
The area many thought would be a strength is a weakness. The one many questioned is a strength. And the third component we expected to be mostly good with some bad has been...mostly good with some bad.
New leaders have emerged.
New faces are clicking with each other.
Veterans have risen again.
Yet, the record still doesn't reflect many of the positives. It's already been an emotional rollercoaster. Here's what we've learned so far.
(Written before the completion of Sunday's game with stats courtesy of Baseball-reference.com)
We Can Believe in Stephen Vogt
As catcher Stephen Vogt steps into the batter's box, A's fans erupt into the chant, "I believe in Stephen Vogt."
When the A's traded Derek Norris to the San Diego Padres, they essentially said that they, too, believe in Vogt.
It was a risky move, though.
Vogt first came to the show in 2012 as a 27-year-old and went hitless in 18 games. In his first season of extended time with the A's, he appeared in 47 games and was fairly average. As a platoon player last season, Vogt was even better, with a WAR of 1.0 and an on-base percentage over .300 for the first time in his career.
One month in, he's outdoing himself.
Vogt has the second-best batting average (.343) on the A's, behind Josh Reddick's .385. He's also second, behind Reddick, in on-base percentage, OPS, slugging percentage and RBI. Vogt leads the team in home runs (4) and walks (11) while drawing more free passes than strikeouts (10).
It's early, but Vogt is responding well to a starting role.
It must be the bagels.
The New Look Lineup Is Inconsistently Effective
Many were concerned when the organization traded Yoenis Cespedes at the 2014 deadline and followed it by jettisoning Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris in the offseason. The A's also chose not to re-sign Jed Lowrie.
On paper, there was no way the replacements—Ike Davis, Billy Butler, Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie and Marcus Semien—could come close to producing All-Star numbers.
Davis battled hay fever. Butler is on the decline. Semien has never started. Zobrist switched teams for the first time in his career. Lawrie is always injured.
After all, the new faces will need time to mesh.
While we can't call them All-Stars after one month, the new guys have done enough to give most people plenty of confidence.
Sure, the offense has been inconsistent. Butler's hit and on-base streaks, Semien's hitting in general, Lawrie's health (though still early) and Davis' production with both bat and glove are positives. Even Mark Canha has had flashes of brilliance. (Note: I didn't list Zobrist here because he has been sidelined with a knee injury.)
Overall, the team is tied for second in runs scored, is second for hits and is in third place for RBI, despite a win-loss record below .500.
Injuries Have Been Killers
A's closer Sean Doolittle's injury seems to have thrown off the bullpen. Whether you believe the bullpen struggles because of unknown roles or because manager Bob Melvin has mismanaged those roles, clearly one player can affect an entire pen.
With Doolittle out, Tyler Clippard has stepped into the closer role.
Before Clippard, several players have been used in setup roles, including Evan Scribner, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero, Fernando Abad and Eric O'Flaherty. All of these pitchers have pitched in an eighth-inning role, and many have pitched in mid-reliever roles.
Said another way, their use has been all over the place as Melvin attempts to find the right fit.
Ideally, once Doolittle returns, roles can be better defined.
Furthermore, O'Flaherty hasn't pitched as well as one would have hoped. Interestingly, he was placed on the disabled list seemingly out of nowhere after the May 2 game.
Hopefully an injury would explain his ineffectiveness.
With Coco Crisp sidelined, the A's have used Sam Fuld as the leadoff batter. They've also used Mark Canha, primarily in left field.
Fuld started hot but tapered off. Canha has been streaky. Craig Gentry has been awful. Cody Ross, another option in the outfield, was recently designated for assignment.
Crisp is injured often, but he's a talented leadoff hitter.
His return should greatly help the offense. It'll just be a matter of where the A's play him.
A healthy Ben Zobrist adds versatility to the field and removes Eric Sogard—serviceable as a stand-in for the last nine games—from the starting lineup.
Finally, the A's have three more pitchers set to come off of the disabled list in May and June, providing even more depth. They are Sean Nolin, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin.
Pitching Depth Saves the Day, for Now
Kendall Graveman struggled early on and the A's sent him down to Triple-A. No worries; Jesse Chavez stepped into the rotation. Ryan Cook came up to take Chavez's spot in the 'pen.
R.J. Alvarez had a rough outing that included a ton of pitches. No worries; Arnold Leon filled in temporarily.
Chris Bassitt received a call-up. Leon went back down.
Eric O'Flaherty hit the disabled list. Alvarez came back up. The A's sent Cook back down and called up Chad Smith.
The team has yet to call up Barry Zito for a starting role or Pat Venditte for a reliever role. Leon could be used again and to repeat the last slide, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Sean Nolin and Sean Doolittle will return from injuries, adding even more depth.
This is not to mention that there are others such as Brad Mills, Seth Frankoff and Fernando Rodriguez currently in Nashville as well.
The A's have a ton of options, which is good.
We've already seen players get hurt and others falter, but the A's quickly slide the next man up into the spot. Eventually, you want to see a defined rotation and bullpen, but April is the best month in which to tinker.
Josh Reddick Appears to Be "Back"
As Drake would say, I hesitate to say Josh Reddick is back or nothing, because that implies that he's back from something.
Of those qualified (Billy Burns' two games don't count), Josh Reddick leads the A's in RBI, batting average, on-base percentage and OPS.
Who had Reddick as a team leader after April?
Heading into the season, many questioned which version of Reddick was the true version. He tore up the league in 2012 and finished strong in 2014. He dwindled in 2013 and at the start of 2014.
So far in 2015, he appears to continue the work he put in during the last half of '14.
He's made a couple of puzzling errors in the outfield, but he's also made typical Reddick "Spiderman"-like catches. It's his production at the plate, however, that is quite refreshing.
The Bullpen Is the No. 1 Concern
What is happening in Oakland? And I don't say that excitedly.
On paper, Sean Doolittle, Tyler Clippard, former All-Star Ryan Cook, Eric O'Flaherty, Fernando Abad (who dominated last season) and Dan Otero (who also dominated last season) should comprise one of the best bullpens.
Evan Scribner should be the worst of the bunch.
Instead, Doolittle is out. Clippard has been good, except for one early blown save. Cook has already been sent down twice. O'Flaherty struggled and went to the DL. Abad and Otero have had up-and-down performances.
Scribner has arguably been one of the best relievers of the bunch.
During almost every game in which a reliever entered, fans (observed on Twitter) have collectively groaned. In victory, there have been sighs of relief. In a letdown, tweets that would offend a sailor have been written.
The Front of the Rotation Is the Least Concern
In five games, Sonny Gray is 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 2.70 FIP. He's allowed 26 hits, or about five hits per appearance, and one home run all season. He also has 25 strikeouts compared to six walks.
Jesse Hahn has four starts under his belt. In those starts, he's maintained a 2.86 ERA and a 3.69 FIP. He's struck out 11 and walked four, but he's clearly inducing outs in other ways as a ground ball pitcher.
Scott Kazmir has started five games. He has a 1.62 ERA and 3.23 FIP with 21 hits allowed. Kazmir has struck out 36, walked 10 and given up three home runs.
With Gray and Kazmir, fans should feel good about the probability for a win. Hahn has looked better with each start.
When any of these three pitches, there is very little concern.
The Competition Is What We Thought It Would Be
Before the season began, I imagined the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and Oakland would be at the top and separated by very few games. I assumed the Houston Astros would be sneaky good, and if they did not make a serious run this year, then certainly next year. The Texas Rangers, meanwhile, would bring up the rear.
Texas is in last.
The A's, Angels and Mariners are each within one game of each other.
The Astros are sneaky good and currently in first place in the division.
This is kind of what I expected, but with L.A., Seattle and Oakland fighting with better records and Houston not as good. Still, it makes sense to see all of the AL West teams taking it to each other.