What We've Learned About the Oakland A's Near the Halfway Mark

Nick HouserCorrespondent IIJune 24, 2015

What We've Learned About the Oakland A's Near the Halfway Mark

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    Backup catcher Josh Phegley is greeted by Eric Sogard after scoring.
    Backup catcher Josh Phegley is greeted by Eric Sogard after scoring.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    With three months of baseball nearly in the books, we've learned quite a bit about an Oakland A's team we thought we knew.

    The A's sit at 32-41, fifth in the AL West standings and 10 games back from first place.

    The production seems to have split the fanbase in half, with one side believing the raising of a white flag is inevitable, while the other holds out hope for a rebound. Regardless of what you believe the future holds, there's no denying we've all watched the same first half.

    So what have we seen?

Believing in Stephen Vogt Is Rewarding

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    Stephen Vogt leads the team and catchers in several areas.
    Stephen Vogt leads the team and catchers in several areas.Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    The A's believed in Stephen Vogt. They showed their confidence when they traded Derek Norris and John Jaso to other teams.

    Vogt has rewarded their faith by posting a slash line of .294/.393/.545/.938. He currently leads the team in runs scored, home runs, RBI, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. He's also second in WAR (wins above replacement) behind Sonny Gray.

    Check out this tweet by Comcast Sportsnet's Brodie Brazil, which shows a comparison between Vogt and Salvador Perez, who leads in All-Star votes among catchers.

Marcus Semien Still Needs Some Glove Work

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    Marcus Semien makes many hold their breath when fielding a ball.
    Marcus Semien makes many hold their breath when fielding a ball.Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    Marcus Semien leads all of Major League Baseball with 22 errors. The next-closest is Ian Desmond with 15.

    In fact, it's so bad that the A's brought in Ron Washington to help Semien with his fielding woes.

    And again, it's so bad that Athletics Nation writer Alex Hall went back and calculated just how costly Semien's errors have been, up to May 18. Spoiler alert: It's not as awful as you might expect, but it's still fairly bad.

    To be fair to Semien, he isn't the only one on the team making errors.

    As Twitter user TonyFrye7 points out, the A's as a team have allowed "37 unearned runs off errors."

Those Seattle Mariners Are Still Pesky

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    The Mariners continue to get the best of the A's.
    The Mariners continue to get the best of the A's.Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    The Seattle Mariners routinely give Oakland a hard time. That trend continues in 2015.

    Currently the Mariners own the series at 5-1. The one and only game the A's snuck out against Seattle came in their very first meeting on April 10. The A's won 12-0.

    Since then, the A's have gone winless, and they've been outscored 28-19. Interestingly, three of those games went in to extra innings.

    The teams have 13 more games to go.

The Rotation Is What We Thought It Would Be

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    Gray is making his case to start the All-Star Game.
    Gray is making his case to start the All-Star Game.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Three pitchers—Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Scott Kazmir—sit in the top five of leaders in WAR among Oakland Athletics. Jesse Hahn is also in the top 10.

    Gray, Chavez and Kazmir are also in the top 20 in the MLB ERA leaderboard.

    If ERA isn't your thing, then let's look at FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, courtesy of FanGraphs.com). Gray is No. 5 in the category. Chavez is No. 9.

    Any way you slice it, Gray is dominating, Chavez has been outstanding as well and Chavez and Hahn are holding things down more than enough.

    Since he returned from being optioned to Triple-A, Kendall Graveman has continued to improve in the fifth spot as well.  In his last six starts, he's pitched one complete game and kept an ERA of 2.27.

The Bullpen Is Not What We Thought It Would Be

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    The reaction of most fans when a reliever comes in: Who knows what we're about to get.
    The reaction of most fans when a reliever comes in: Who knows what we're about to get.Associated Press

    A bullpen with Sean Doolittle, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero, Fernando Abad and Eric O'Flaherty—two All-Stars and all of whom had high-quality 2014 seasons—sounded so promising at the beginning of the year.

    Instead, the bullpen has been a nightmare.

    Doolittle is out with injury. O'Flaherty is out with injury. Everyone else, well, it's been a rotating door between Nashville's Triple-A team and Oakland for the majority of the season. Here's a list of everyone who has pitched for the A's bullpen this season:

    Evan Scribner
    Fernando Rodriguez
    Drew Pomeranz
    Chris Bassitt
    R.J. Alvarez
    Arnold Leon
    Pat Venditte
    Edward Mujica
    Angel Castro
    Chad Smith
    Jesse Chavez

    and, wait for it...

    Ike Davis

    If you've watched this team at all this season, you probably join thousands of other fans who hold their breath when a reliever comes in. Oakland has 12 blown saves as a team, which is second-most in the league.

    At 4.77, the bullpen has the worst ERA in the league.

The Offense Is a Mixed Bag

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    The A's have a knack for keeping you guessing.
    The A's have a knack for keeping you guessing.Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    You never know which version of the offense is going to show up.

    In the first three games of the season, the A's scored 19 runs and allowed three. Those included an 8-0 game and a 10-0 game. In the fourth game, they were blown out 10-1. In the fifth, they won 12-0.

    And so it's gone, all season.

    They've gone scoreless six times. Conversely, they've shut out opponents nine times.

    I tracked the win pace, just a silly superfluous stat for visual reference, for the majority of the first two months. For the first 16 games, the win pace continued to flip flop back to 82 or an even .500 win percentage. Looking at the rest of the numbers, you can see just how up-and-down, back-and-forth, the A's have been all season.

The A's Have Lacked a Clutch Gene

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    Walk-offs are only fun when they're for your team.
    Walk-offs are only fun when they're for your team.Brandon Wade/Getty Images

    This goes hand in hand with the prior slide about the offense's mixed bag.

    The A's have not been clutch this season.

    The evidence to support this is overwhelming. The team is 6-18 in one-run games. They're 0-6 in extra innings. They have one walk-off win and two walk-off losses. When scoring four runs or less, they're 7-33.

    Oakland has eight comeback wins. They've blown leads 19 times. The bullpen has blown saves 12 times.

    Broken down by runs scored in an inning, 13 runs scored in the ninth is tied for the lowest number scored in any regular inning (not including extra innings). The team is 2-5 when tied in the ninth. They're 0-5 when tied in the eighth. The team hits .233 when it's "late and close," according to Baseball-Reference.com.

    Through observation, it looks as if at times they simply give up once they lose a lead.

    Look at a team like the Texas Rangers, who are using the slogan "never ever quit" in a year many expected them to be at the bottom of the standings. With that attitude, they've gone 37-33 and are second in the division.

    They have four walk-off wins and 10 comeback wins.

Billy Burns Provides the Fun

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    Burns slides into third base in a game against the Los Angeles Angels.
    Burns slides into third base in a game against the Los Angeles Angels.Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Regardless of what the record is or how the offense performs, one constant so far seems to be Billy Burns.

    The kid is downright fun to watch.

    Burns currently has a 12-game hitting streak going (Editor's note: Burns hit safely June 23 and extended the streak to 13). In his last seven days, he's 10-for-23, and in his last 14 days, he's 20-for-53, per Baseball-Reference.com, as of this writing.

    Beyond the hit streak, Burns' speed makes him a fan favorite. Whether it's beating out infield dribblers or stealing bases, every time he steps into the box or reaches safely, it's thrilling to see what he'll do next.

    Then there's defense.

    Because Burns can cover so much ground, plays like this have become the norm.

    To boot, major outlets such as Sports Illustrated are beginning to label Burns as a serious Rookie of the Year candidate. SI lists him as No. 1 as of June 18.

    Having a Rookie of the Year could help reduce the pain brought on by missing playoffs after three consecutive appearances, even if just a little.

Injuries Have Been Costly

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    Ben Zobrist leaves a game early in April with a knee injury.
    Ben Zobrist leaves a game early in April with a knee injury.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Every team in every sport every season deals with injuries. They're a given.

    This season, injuries have been particularly brutal to Oakland.

    All-Star closer Sean Doolittle started the season on the disabled list. The bullpen was thrown into flux and failed early and often. Doolittle returned, and many hoped it would realign the bullpen's structure and allow manager Bob Melvin to use relievers more effectively in certain spots.

    Doolittle re-injured his same shoulder and has been shut down once again.

    During the same struggles, reliever Eric O'Flaherty struggled. Turns out, he too was injured and landed on the disabled list. Pat Venditte arrived to help, and now he is also injured. Drew Pomeranz also spent time on the 15-day DL.

    The outfield, supposed to be made up of Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and a platoon also was thrown off kilter.

    First Crisp moved to left field, then he moved to the disabled list. Burns has taken over effectively, but the left field platoon of Mark Canha and Sam Fuld has some hoping Zobrist takes over more permanently. The problem is that to do so means Eric Sogard takes over full time at second base.

    Tyler Ladendorf showed more promise at the position early on. But we can't hope for him to take over now, because he's sidelined with an ankle injury that required surgery.

    And if you were banking on Jarrod Parker to return to the rotation and push someone into the bullpen, well, that's not happening anytime soon either. Parker re-injured his elbow in a minor league rehab stint. He's out indefinitely.

    Two of the more consistent hitters in the lineup, Zobrist and Davis, also spent time on the disabled list early on.

There Is Still Hope

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    More of these please.
    More of these please.Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    Despite Marcus Semien's errors, despite the pesky division rivals, despite the bullpen's struggles and the offense's up-and-down production and despite the injuries—despite all of that—there is still hope.

    There is still hope.

    In the last seven games, the team is hitting .316, per Baseball-Reference.com, as of this writing. In that same short span, they've jumped into the top five in team batting average and runs scored by a team. At the end of the day, it's simply about putting W's in the win column. They've won nine of their last 13 and won three of their last four series.

    At this point, the A's have an 12-8 record in June, their first winning month this season. It could be a sign the team is coming around after a slow start.

    The A's are 10 games back for the division lead and seven games back from a wild-card spot.

    So you're saying there's a chance?

    With 89 games to go, anything is still possible.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.