The Oakland Athletics are a .500 baseball team. If they finish the year as such, that will be a big improvement over 2009. With the exception of being swept by the Yankees in early July, they are 11-4 the rest of the month. They split their series with the Red Sox, they won two of three against the Angels, they swept the Royals, they took two of three from Cleveland and so far they have split their current series with the White Sox. Although the Athletics feature a good rotation and a very good bullpen, the hitting--woeful most of the year--has picked up and they are averaging nearly six runs a game in their last eleven games.
The Athletics seem to do a great job of finding pitching. The major leagues are full of their former prospects. The major rap on the Athletics is that they don't do a good job of keeping their young pitching healthy and that has been a problem this year too. Braden, Anderson and Duchscherer have spent time on the DL with the latter two lost for the season. Trevor Cahill is turning out to be one of the best of the bunch. His strikeout to walk ratio has improved greatly over last year. The one big concern for him is his BABIP (batting average for balls in play) which sits at the ridiculously low .216. Look for that figure to rise dramatically as well as his ERa.
Vin Mazzaro is now 6-2 since being called up and he beat the White Sox on Saturday night. His BABIP is .287 which is reasonable enough to think his success will continue. He is a far sight better than last year. Gia Gonzalez is also showing a lot of improvement over last year. He has a healthy 7.1 strikeouts per nine. If he could just harness some command and lower his 4.2 walks per nine innings, he'd be even better. Like most of the young A's pitchers, he keeps the ball in the yard and gives up far fewer hits than innings pitched.
Braden needs to stay healthy. His K/BB ratio is tremendous and his perfect game was no fluke. He is a part of a young rotation that seems to be getting better all the time. Anderson was already one of the best pitchers in baseball, but his injury really hurt. It's funny, but the A's least effective starter has been their $10 million man, Ben Sheets. Sheets is on the DL now with a bum elbow. And there are more pitchers on the way. Tyler Ross is fairly close to being ready and though he is far out yet, Michael Ynoa is considered one of the best teenage arms in the world.
The Athletics never seem to do as well developing hitters. Those successes in the past ended up in the PED variety including Giambi and Miguel Tejada. But Suzuki was a good one and is considered one of the best young catchers in the game right now. The trouble with catching though is that catchers get dinged up and it affects the offense. Suzuki is not close to his offensive numbers of the past.
As of right now, the A's have only two guys in their regular lineup with OPS+ figures over 100 (league average). Daric Barton is having a nice season and sits at 116. Jack Cust is off to an amazing start after getting the boot in Spring Training in favor of Eric Chavez. Maybe other teams should try that with players not living up to their ability level. Make them mad and put a chip on their shoulder! Cust's line thus far: .297/.400/.477, which is far better than last year.
The A's--as we learned yesterday--are in the top five in the majors in defensive efficiency. That's good for their young pitchers. But the offense suffers as a result. Pennington is terrific at shortstop, so the A's should probably leave him there. His BA is .262 which is passable and his OPS+ is 95 which isn't too bad for a guy who makes all the plays all the time. Ellis is not quite as good at second as Pennington is at short, but he is good. But his offense is passable too. Kousmanoff doesn't get on base enough and he has medium power. Plus his defense doesn't support his lack of offense like the rest of his infield mates.
The outfield is a real problem. Rajai Davis doesn't hit enough and his defense is only okay. Coco Crisp is an excellent defender, but once again, he can't stay healthy. They have also lost Ryan Sweeney for the season. Eric Patterson and Gabe Gross aren't worth talking about and Conor Jackson hasn't done anything since coming over in a trade. There is help on the way though. Their best prospect is Michael Taylor, who plays mostly left field. The A's should give him a shot soon. Their other top prospect is Chris Carter, a big thumper with high MLB batting projections but he is not a good first baseman and the A's already have Bartin. Carter might be worth trading for a big bat in the outfield.
The A's bullpen is terrific. Last year's Rookie of the Year, Andrew Bailey, is just as good as a year ago. Craig Breslow was the steal of the 90s who was picked off Minnesota's trash heap and his having his second great year in a row. Ziegler and Blevsns are having good years. Michael Wuertz has been only adequate. He simply walks too many batters to be counted on.
The Athletics have been a mild surprise. They still have a shot at catching the Angels for second place if they play this well down the stretch. A bat or two would help, but that is unlikely to happen this year unless Taylor was given a shot and responds. Last year, there were many games where you simply figured they would lose. They seem to be a good bet against any team this year.