The A’s aren’t that good
It seems that a large percentage of the baseball watchinig public has a hard time accepting that statement. The A’s are still the darlings of the sabermetric community, and for reasons that I never totally understood, most national writers labeled them as World Series contenders. In their staff predictions article, every author of Baseball Prospectus polled selected the A’s to finish first or second in the division, and the Mariners third or fourth.
In Joe Sheehan’s AL West preview, he put the A’s down for 101 wins and the Mariners 76. Included in the preview was the statement “The AÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s are the best team in baseball.”
80 games into the season, it’s pretty obvious that the A’s abilities were well overstated.
The A’s offense is, to be kind, lousy. Nick Swisher is having a breakout year and should get consideration for the all-star game. Frank Thomas still has walks and homers, if not much else, and Eric Chavez is a good enough hitter to be valuable, even if he’ll never win the MVP that his talent could allow. After that, it’s rough.
Bobby Crosby, who was Peter Gammons pick for MVP before the season started, has a .690 OPS, lower than Yuniesky Betancourt’s. Jay Payton is hitting worse than Carl Everett. Milton Bradley is hitting worse than Jay Payton. And Jason Kendall is slugging .320, a mark so astonishingly bad that it’s hard to believe he’s still a major league starter. Mark Ellis and Marco Scutaro are automatic outs this year as well.
The A’s essentially have one very good hitter, two okay hitters (one of whom is chronically hurt and can’t run), a guy who should be a good hitter but isn’t right now, and a whole lot of crap. They’re averaging 4.45 runs/game, which just isn’t anything close to enough runs for a team that was called the best in baseball before the season.
However, everyone didn’t love the A’s because of their hitters. They loved them because of their starting rotation. Zito, Harden, Haren, Blanton, and Loaiza was hailed as the best rotation in baseball, and they had depth in guys like Saarloos, Halsey, and Kennedy, in case of injuries.
Zito and Haren have lived up to expectations, and both are among the best pitchers in the AL. Rich Harden has been limited to 35 innings, and with his injury history, has essentially become the A’s version of Doyle. Blanton has pitched the same as he did last year, but his luck ran out, and now his poor peripherals have made his ERA line up with the mediocre stuff that he has. And Esteban Loaiza started the year pitching hurt and has been a disaster.
The depth hasn’t been effective either. Kirk Saarloos is posting a 4.57 ERA despite a 6.35 FIP, and he’s walking well more than he’s striking out. Halsey has been slightly better, but still a replacement level starter. And Joe Kennedy has thrown 12 innings due to shoulder problems of his own.
So, the A’s have basically had two good starting pitchers, one innings eater who isn’t awful but isn’t very good, and a rotation crop of awfulness. The vaunted bullpen has also been significantly worse, as Huston Street’s giving up longballs at an average rate instead of his ridiculous rate of last year and has already blown 6 saves.
Put it together, and you have a team that can’t score and can only sorta pitch. Thus, you have a team that is in first place despite scoring three more runs than they’ve allowed.
The A’s, for all their vaunted second half runs of the past, built those great teams on great players. Looking at this roster, there just aren’t enough great players for the A’s to put together another stretch of .700 baseball like they have the past few years. Their team’s chances essentially depend on Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby returning to full health and playing up to expectations, because without those two performing at all-star levels, this team just isn’t very good.
The A’s aren’t a bad team. But they’re nothing close to the best team in baseball. They aren’t even the best team in the American League West.
There’s no reason to be afraid of the A’s. The Mariners are a better team, even if the national writers will take months to figure that out.