The A's are roughly through a quarter of the season already. Can you believe it? 40 games in the books and it's time to give out grades.
The A's are in first place, so we should be ecstatic, right? Maybe, but it seems like this team should be blowing away the mediocre competition right now. Injuries and inconsistency out of almost everything except the bullpen has held this team back. The good news is that the starting pitching and offense seem to be getting better, the bullpen has remained steady through the injuries and the MASH crew seems to be close to returning.
Without further ado, here are first quarter grades for 2006 (as usual, feel free to offer your own):
Eric Chavez: A- (.298 BA/.386 OBP/.589 SLG) Hallelujah, Eric Chavez has been good AND he's been consistent. Through the first 40 games, Eric Chavez has been absolutely everything the A's want him to be. The only reason he didn't get a higher grade is because Nick Swisher has actually outshined the third baseman.
Bobby Crosby: D+ (.240/.293/.388) Crosby is just starting to get going. But his first 30-35 games have been an up and down affair, with down being the dominant force. Crosby has so much talent, let's just hope that it doesn't take him several years before he learns not to be so mentally tough on himself. Because that's what I believe is the only thing holding him back.
Frank Thomas: C- (.188/.303/.393) Thomas has actually provided some extra right-handed power and make no mistake, that's the major reason he was brought into the fold. Despite the bad average, he still has seven home runs and 20 RBIs. And he's also been healthy. In many ways, he's deserved a pass for the start of the season because he didn't have a spring training. The real payoff for the Big Hurt comes for the remaining 3/4 of the season.
Dan Johnson: D- (.184/.282/.282) DJ, DJ, wherefor-thou are you, DJ? I was concerned about DJ coming into this season because of his struggles towards the end of last year. But I hoped he would avoid the sophomore slump. The good news is that he's shown a few good signs lately of snapping out of it. The bad news? Whenever The Gamer comes off the DL, if Payton remains hot, DJ could be the odd man out with Swisher at first.
Nick Swisher: A+ (.304/.404/.659) Pujols...Thome...Hafner and Swisher? Yes, Nick Swisher is currently fifth in all of baseball with 1.063 OPS. He's tied for fifth in all of baseball with 13 long balls. He's been remarkable offensively and made some fantastic plays defensively as well. He's unquestionably been the A's first quarter of the season MVP. Best of all? His patience is back as he's leading the A's in walks. A bonus? He's also been remarkably entertaining in the dugout.
Milton Bradley: C (.246/.373/.406) The Gamer was stellar at the beginning of the year. He's had some excellent at bats and made some great catches. The question is, can he get healthy and stay on the field the rest of the season? Because the A's need him to help round out the offense. I would've never guessed Frank Thomas would've played in more games than Milton at this point.
Jay Payton: D+ (.256/.277/.344) Payton was part of the offensive woes for a long time because of Bradley's absence. He seems to be turning it around lately, but his lack of home runs and any semblance of OBP has just been brutal. Let's hope the recent trend continues with JayPay.
Mark Kotsay: C+ (.275/.339/.409) Kotsay has been good, but not great. He's getting better though and he seems to get better the more aggressive he gets. Funny thing in that when the count is 0-0, his OPS is 1.138. For some players, that approach just seems to work. Kotsay happens to be one of them.
Jason Kendall: B (.278/.385/.330) Kendall has been good offensively this year so far. Not great, but good. And he's also helped up the team's OBP and many of us here know how important that is. His batting average is up. Just about the only thing he doesn't really supply is power and that's OK. Still, the rest has seemed to do him well. Hopefully it continues.
Mark Ellis: C (.260/.343/.386) Ellis is the victim of his own success. So many expectations, so little time. He's getting better and climbing up from oblivion and he's making progress. But the good news is that Ellis should get better as the season goes on.
Adam Melhuse: A- (.286/.327/.531) Millhouse has been awesome offensively, leading to many believing he should be starting ahead of Kendall. He's been a big part of the recent upswing in the overall offense of the team. He's also getting more time and more chances to contribute.
Bobby Kielty: C- (.286/.333/.333) Bobby could be ticketed for Triple-A once Bradley gets healthy again. But he's been a good fill-in outfielder and good depth for the team. Still he very well could be the odd man out because of his options left.
Marco Scutaro: B- (.161/.288/.250) Scutaro gets Calero treatment in that the stats don't tell the story. He's had a couple of big time hits this year already. He's also a valuable guy off the bench who plays good defense. So, he's the rare one you have to look past the numbers.
Antonio Perez: D- (.040/.143/.040) Keitio Gintez, oh, I mean Antonio Perez has filled the role of Keith Ginter this year, getting random playing time and not really getting a chance to show off his stuff. He doesn't get an F just because the playing time issue is a real one. Especially for a hitter.
Danny Haren: C+ (3-3, 4.40 ERA) Haren has been good, but not great. He's slowly getting to where he needs to be as he's had excellent performances his last couple times out. The thing is, if he can avoid the home run, he will be much, much better (already given up 11 long balls). If he keeps up the 43 strikeouts to eight walks pace, he's going to be fine...just fine.
Barry Zito: B+ (3-3, 3.27 ERA) Everything about Zito's beginning has led to inevitable frustration. But it seems that Barry may have righted his ship earlier than in years past. He's been just great during May in finally trusting his stuff enough to go after hitters. Me likey. I still feel Z can go up and he would've gotten an A had he not struggled at the start of the season.
Rich Harden: C (3-0, 4.06 ERA) The one good thing about Harden's early stint on the DL is maybe he's gotten it out of the way very early this year and we'll see Harden healthy for the remainder of the season. Harden is a key element to this team and puts the A's in the elite in the league in terms of starting pitching, but the caveat as always with Rich is, when healthy. He gets a C just because he may be a dominant pitcher, but not missing week after week every year.
Joe Blanton: D+ (4-4, 5.84 ERA) Ah, Smokin' Joe, Mr. Startin' Out Slow. He was slow out of the gate last year, thanks to an atrocious May. But at least this year he already has four wins to his name. His big problem is he has the worst K/9 of any pitcher on the staff except Loaiza. He's having a hard time missing bats right now. Hopefully that changes and soon.
Esteban Loaiza: F (0-3, 8.35 ERA) Esteban has not ingratiated himself to A's fans. Yet. I'm not one to quickly jump to conclusions on a signing and I'm not going to do it yet. Loaiza has spent time on the DL, but he's offered the A's very little so far. If he comes back off the DL and struggles, expect to see him wind up in the pen and Halsey or Los Kirk take his place. The A's are too deep to continue running someone out there who isn't right, no matter what his annual salary is. The good news is that Loaiza has no where to go but up.
Kirk Saarloos: C+ (2-1, 4.70 ERA) Kirk brings so much versatility to the A's. It's great having someone who can bring so much. But I still believe that he's mostly destined for the pen given some of the stats I've shared several times about opposition OPS and how it climbs the later in the game he goes. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Saarloos fan, I just think his stuff is ideal for the pen and a variety of different roles.
Brad Halsey: A- (1-2, 3.21 ERA) Halsey is classic Beane. Pick him up and very few make a fuss about it. He winds up performing wonderfully while casual fans are asking, who the heck is this guy. I literally heard several fans at a game asking who he was. Granted, I don't expect him to keep up this pace, but he would probably be the favorite to be a member of the rotation if Planet Esteban fails to spin on its axis.
Joe Kennedy: A- (2-0, 2.19 ERA) Kennedy's stats look good. He's been effective, but he also struggled a little more of late. That might've been due to his bicep problem. So I'm willing to reserve judgment. He's proven me wrong so far on my fears about him not being an adequate LOOGY. He's only allowed lefties a .263 BAA, but his WHIP is currently sitting at 1.70. That needs to come down or Joe will be in trouble and soon.
Kiko Calero: B- (0-0, 5.65 ERA) ERA doesn't tell the whole story with Calero. He's appeared in 19 of the A's first 40 games largely due to the bullpen injuries and Ken Macha's unrelenting faith in him. The key stat for Calero is this...seven hold opportunities and one save opportunity and he hasn't blown a save yet.
Justin Duchscherer: A- (2-1, 2.20 ERA) Duke picked up right where he left off last year. All Star performances. He had one blown save in his first opportunity in place of Huston Street. Unfortunately, the injury problems have cropped up again. But besides Huston Street, Duke is absolutely a key to the bullpen success for the Oakland Athletics. And he's pitched like it so far.
Huston Street: C+ (1-1, 5.25 ERA) Huston would probably be the first to admit that he hasn't been the same pitcher he was last season. He's also had an injury issue, which may still be affecting his pitching. Regardless, Street should get better as long as he's healthy and isn't overused. You hear that, Ken?
Incompletes: Jay Witasick, Chad Gaudin, Ron Flores, Matt Roney, Steve Karsay, Randy Keisler