This is an update to the diary I posted at the end of May, when our beloved A's were in the deepest of their doldrums, just prior to their amazing resurgence. These are my latest thoughts for your consideration and comment:
- This year's team is highly talented but also very young. And I believe this combination of talent and youth, along with the many injuries, accounts for a lot of their streakiness this season. When the talent emerges they go on a tear, but when the youth expresses itself, they tend to lose ballgames. I think the youth shows itself especially when they attempt to do too much to make up for the many injuries they have sustained, and when they struggle in making the many adjustments needed to respond to the adjustments made by opposing teams. I believe it is this need to make constant adjustments that makes life difficult for rookies. Pitchers try to take advantage of weaknesses they identify in hitters, which causes hitters to go into temporary slumps while they learn to improve their hitting in those areas. As a result they become better hitters, but go through some tough times in the process.
- As a group, in terms of their hitting, many of the A's tend to get hot at the same time and to cool off at the same time. During these periods, they truly personify the adage that hitting is contagious, but that non-hitting is also contagious. I think this results in part from the fact that the A's don't quite have the depth to compensate for the loss of several key players at the same time. In other words, they only have one Bobby Crosby and one Nick Swisher and one Rich Harden, and their absence is deeply felt, especially over prolonged periods of time on the DL. And their overall youth tends to make them overreact and not take things more into stride as would more experienced players.
- As we've seen, the A's major strengths are in pitching and defense. I think it is astonishing that they are again at the very top of the American League in earned runs allowed, considering the many changes they went through this year. I think Curt Young has done a great job as the pitching coach, along with Jason Kendall.
- However, run production has been inconsistent. It seems that A's management still hasn't decided what type of offense they want. I think there are two basic choices: run production based on a station to station approach that relies on high on-base percentage and frequent use of the long ball to bring runners in, or production based on the use of speed, stolen bases, sacrifices, hit and run plays and overall opportunistic hitting to score runs. The A's definitely fall more into the first category, but do not quite have the power needed to really pull it off consistently. You don't necessarily need a Barry Bonds or an A Rod to fill this need, but you do need about five hitters who can hit 20 or more more home runs per year to make it happen, along with several others who can hit at least 10. At this point, it looks like only three of the A's hitters have a shot at 20 homers this year: Chavez, Swisher and Payton. I think Dan Johnson will fall into this group next year, along with Bobby Crosby, as he did last year. Durazo might have hit 20 this year had he remained healthy, but that's another story. I think the A's will be much better in this category next year, as the young players gain experience.
- While I don't have the statistics at hand to back it up, I feel quite certain that home runs have been the difference in those games that the A's have won this year versus those they have lost. Look at the poor run support that Joe Blanton has received. In many of those games one or two home runs would have given him a win instead of a loss.
- I think it has been a mistake to give Jason Kendall so much playing time, at the expense of Adam Melhuse. A player cannot maintain his timing at the plate by playing only once a week. I think Melhuse has done amazingly well considering the long periods of time he has ridden the pine. He need to catch or DH at least twice a week to stay sharp, and to feel that he's contributing to the team.
- Several of the A's seem to be playing tired right now, including Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher. I believe the effort and emotional toll of climbing back from the initial deep hole they dug themselves has led to this, plus the stress of dealing with the loss of so many players due to injury. The expansion of the roster gives them an opportunity to rest some of the players to keep them fresh.
- I still think the A's have a shot at the playoffs, as long as they each remember to relax and not try to do too much, especially at the plate. The pitching and defense will remain solid. If they can learn to stay within themselves and scratch out enough hits, they will have a chance, in my opinion.