Grading the A's: First Half 2007

Yes, we’re at the halfway point of the season already.  Can you believe it?  It’s already time for me to hand out my midterm grades.  It’s a tough year to grade because so many of the A’s have underperformed offensively while the pitched has been unbelievably good.  Wait, maybe that makes it easier?  

This is just my opinion obviously.  There are quite a few incompletes due to the remarkable use of the DL in 2007 so far.  I would have to definitely give the DL an A performance this year.  No one has had a bigger impact on the A’s fortunes this year.

As for the grades, here they are as I see them starting out with someone who often gets plenty of heat from A’s fans.  Here are the position players:

Eric Chavez:  No one can question Chavez defensively.  He’s a dominant force who can change a game with his glove.  But Chavez has been miserable this year with the bat.  Yes, he has 12 home runs but his OBP is just over .300.  Yeah, OBP, not batting average.  That just doesn’t work for a guy who is constantly batting in the middle of the order.  Granted, the A’s don’t have many better choices right now, but Chavez hasn’t come though offensively.  Maybe he’ll wake up in the second half, but at this point, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Grade:  D+

Jason Kendall:  Kendall has to get some credit for the success of the pitching staff.  He obviously calls a good game, but his offense has been non-existent.  His OBP is .264 and his batting average just recently climbed up above .220.  I would hope in the second half that the A’s start to use Kurt Suzuki a lot more, especially if they plan on making him the starter in 2008.  The A’s mantra in playing Kendall over and over again is that he has a career track record, but all players break down eventually.  Jason’s time seems to be short.  Kendall is saved an F simply because of his work with the pitching staff.

Grade:  D

Dan Johnson:  DJ made me a believer in May.  His OPS in May was .983.  He hit over .300 that month and in many ways was a large reason that the A’s were remaining afloat.  In June, DJ has gone back to looking like last year’s Dan Johnson.  You know, the one with the sunscreen in his eyes.  I still don’t know what Johnson is as a major leaguer.  Still, he is sporting a .376 OBP and has played decent defense as first.  I still would like more power out of my first baseman.

Grade:  B

Mark Ellis:  Ellis has been everything you could want from a second baseman this year. He’s got a good average at .270 and he’s contributed eight home runs and 41 RBIs.  His defense has been great, albeit not record-setting as he was last year.  Ellis has done everything the A’s could’ve hoped for and more.  For those who have wanted to get a new second baseman, Ellis has been just fine, thank you very much.

Grade:  A-

Bobby Crosby:  Crosby is the A’s big dilemma.  He’s had a whole (relatively) healthy first half now and has shown that he can at least stay on the field.  At the same time, he hasn’t provided much in terms of offense.  His OPS is .627 and he has only six home runs.  His defense was shaky earlier in the year, but it has improved as he’s seemed to get more comfortable and shake the rust off.  Beane has been a big believer in Crosby, and Crosby is still young in terms of ML experience, but Crosby is starting to look like a huge bust.

Grade:  D+

Nick Swisher: Yeah, Swisher has ups and downs offensively, but he’s been a shining beacon of what Billy Beane’s prototypical offense would be.  If he could just have nine Nick Swi…wait, didn’t we say that before about someone else?  Seriously though, Swisher has been one of the A’s best players.  And he’s been healthy .  Cust may have better numbers overall, but Swisher also plays the field.  And Swisher has finally got his batting average up to .271.

Grade:  B+

Shannon Stewart:  Stewart isn’t someone who most expected to be in the A’s outfield on a regular basis, but he’s actually been good.  He’s been better than all reasonable expectations.  He’s contributed offensively even though he isn’t exactly a defensively dynamo (his arm is horrid).  But Stewart is mostly playing because of all the injuries.  He’s been better than expected given that he’s coming off a major injury and he’s been one of the team’s hottest hitters of late.

Grade:  A-

Travis Buck:  Anyone want to jump on the Travis Buck fan bus with me?  I love this guy.  I love his approach at the plate and the way he plays defense.  He’s really been a revelation this year and should be the leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year right now.  Course, that would be in a world where Boston fans hadn’t already given Dice-K that award before the season even started.  But Buck is ahead of Swisher in terms of OPS and has looked great in doing so.  He also has six home runs and one of the knocks on him before the season started was that he wasn’t going to develop power.  He’s the team leader in triples.  The future is bright and the future is now when it comes to the no-longer shaggy Buck.  If only he could stay healthy…then again he is an Oakland Athletic which makes that an unlikely proposition.

Grade:  A

Jack Cust:  Cust has finally, FINALLY been given a real chance to excel.  The A’s think so much of Cust that they essentially made Piazza get ready to catch again and it helped in their decision to release Milton Bradley.  An OPS of .995 can do that to anyone.  Cust has been everything the A’s could’ve ever wanted.  The thing is that Cust had the highest of highs when he first got the A’s.  The league made an adjustment to him and he struggled mightily.  Now, he’s back and he is proving to be exactly the kind of hitter the A’s need.  A guy with plenty of power and patience.  I mean, he has the most home runs on the team and he’s played about half the games.  He’s also quickly become one of my favorite A’s.  How can you not love a guy who toils so long waiting for his shot and finally gets it and looks like Babe Ruth in doing so?  It’s one of the best stories of the year.

Grade:  A+

Marco Scutaro:  Scutaro is excellent at what he does.  That’s giving rest to the A’s regulars and occasionally getting the huge hit.  One of the most memorable moments of the first half is Scoot’s three-run home run off of Mariano Rivera.  Such a fantastic moment.  But it’s tough to give him anything above average just because his stat line isn’t exactly fantastic.

Grade:  C

Position players who come up as incomplete…meaning they’ve played less than half of the team’s games in the first half:  Milton Bradley, Mark Kotsay, Mike Piazza, Danny Putnam, Todd Walker, Bobby Kielty, Hiram Bocachica, Chris Snelling, Kevin Melillo, Adam Melhuse, Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Langerhans, Donnie Murphy, J.J. Furmaniak.

(Click on Read More to see the grades for the unbelievable starting pitching staff).

Pitchers

Danny Haren:  The A’s couldn’t ask for more from Danny Haren.  He’s been the best starting pitcher in the American League even though his won-loss record only stands at 10-2.  His ERA is 2.20 and is among the best in baseball for starting pitchers who qualify. The most runs he’s given up in any one start so far this year is five (and that just happened yesterday).  He’s simply been the magnificent ace of the staff and deserves universal praise and love from all of Athletics Nation.

Grade:  A+

Joe Blanton:  Wow, was I wrong about Smokin’ Joe.  I thought Joe was going to be an average contributor at best this year.  I just didn’t like his K/BB ratios and didn’t think it was going to improve much.  I also advocated for trading Blanton before the season started.  Glad I’m nowhere near the front office because Blanton, Gaudin and Haren have been the anchors of the staff. Blanton is 21st in ERA in the majors and has been great time and time again.  Not only that, but he seems to be getting better. And yeah, he didn’t have a great May, but he’s been great exactly when many of the other A’s starters have started to go south.

Grade:  A-

Chad Gaudin:  Gaudin was just dominant in April and May, surprising pretty much everyone in the American League.  But he’s come back down to earth a bit in June.  His last started was excellent, so maybe it was just a hiccup.  But Gaudin’s emergence has been one of the most important reasons for the A’s being alive in the race right now and not buried with some of the other last place teams.  And despite his problems for a couple of weeks of it in June, he’s still 9th in baseball in terms of ERA.  It’s a great story and people on ESPN still call him “GOD-eeeeen”.  No respect, I tell ya.

Grade:  A+

Joe Kennedy:  2.86.  4.13.  4.37.  That’s Joe Kennedy’s ERA in the first three months of the season.  If it was going up and down each month, I probably wouldn’t make a big deal out of it, but it’s going up in a steady pattern.  Kennedy’s numbers at the beginning of the year seemed to be an aberration.  Or at least his miniscule ERA did.  Course if you’re looking at the overall picture, I’d take a 3.91 ERA from Kennedy any day of the week.  The problem is opponents are hitting .277 against him.  That’s not good.  Still, he’s been good this year in spite of my fears of diminishing returns.

Grade:  B

Lenny DiNardo:  DiNardo had an amazing start to the season.  As a reliever, he had a 1.83 ERA and was amazingly effective.  So effective that the A’s decided that once they went through a bunch of other “fifth” starters, they decided to give DiNardo a chance.  DiNardo has been good as a starter as well, although the shine is starting to come off.  He’s sporting a 2.73 ERA as a starter and a 2.47 ERA overall.  He’s a good fifth starter right now, but I fear for how long it’s going to last.

Grade:  B+

Santiago Casilla:  Why am I starting the reliever grades with Casilla?  He is arguably the best reliever in the pen right now.  At long last, the pitcher formerly known as Jairo Garcia is getting an extended look.  And boy, does he look good.  He’s given up one run in 17 plus innings.  He’s also saved two games and won two.  He’s basically had one hiccup in the 14 games he’s appeared in.  Casilla has been nothing short of a revelation.

Grade:  A

Huston Street:  Hey, yeah, remember this guy?  Street has been MIA, but is still sporting nine saves and has a 2.50 ERA.  He was off to a good start this year, it’s just too bad that it appears to be a mystery when we might see him again.  The best thing about Street’s year so far?  The .89 WHIP.  That’s a nice number from a closer and hopefully he and Duchscherer get back sooner rather than later.

Grade:  A-

Alan Embree:  Despite the migraine-inducing blown save the other night to Cleveland, Embree has been a great fill-in closer.  He’s appeared in a team-high (for pitchers) 38 games.  He’s got eight saves and even though his ERA stands at 4.14, he’s been as good as you could want from a guy not expecting to be anywhere near the closer role.

Grade:  A-

Jay Marshall:  Would you have guessed at the beginning of the year that the reliever with the second most number of appearances and innings pitched would be Marshall?  If you’d told me that before the season started, I would’ve said the A’s were in big trouble.  Marshall has a 5.74 ERA.  But Marshall is a LOOGY in the truest sense of the word and should rarely face right-handed batters.  Lefties are batting .244 against him and righties are batting .323 against him.  So why has he faced more righties than lefties?  Necessity.  The A’s bullpen has been ravaged with injuries.  Still, ideally, the A’s would just use Marshall as a LOOGY only.

Grade:  C-

Justin Duchscherer:  Duke hasn’t been Duke this year.  The health issue has been huge for him because even when he was pitching, he wasn’t throwing his best stuff.  I mean the past two years in the AL there have been two great set-up men and that’s Scot Shields and right behind him was Duke.  Still, Duke has a 4.96 ERA and that just isn’t what he is capable of.

Grade:  D+

Kiko Calero:  The A’s bullpen was one of the team’s huge strengths last year and Calero hasn’t looked like Calero this season either.  His slider has been erratic and he’s hung so many of them, you’d think he was setting up clotheslines.  That’s the reason why he has a 6.39 ERA.  Still, I said this many times, you could tell Calero was injured and wasn’t right.  But he just went on the DL now.   Still, the A’s terrific trio of Street, Duchscherer and Calero hasn’t been what you would’ve anticipated.

Grade:  D-

Ron Flores:  Flores is getting a chance to stay with the team because of all the injuries. His BAA against this year is .224.  Lefties can’t seem to hit him as they have a .100 BAA against him.  Righties are hitting .289.  Flores has struggled recently and might not wind up staying with the club much longer because you can’t have relievers you’re afraid to go to.

Grade:  C-

Colby Lewis:  Lewis was a surprise as a reliever when he came up after getting hammered in a very brief audition for the fifth starter role.  More recently though, the shine has started to come off Lewis.  Opponents are hitting .350 against him and left-handed batters have a 1.501 OPS against him.  Keep him away from lefties.

Grade:  D+

Pitchers who get incomplete grades include:  Rich Harden, Erasmo Ramirez, Ruddy Lugo, Conor Robertson, Dallas Braden, Esteban Loaiza (remember him?)

Finally, I want to grade Bob Geren and Billy Beane.  

Bob Geren:  Geren hasn’t been flawless, but he’s been a huge breath of fresh air compared to Ken Macha.  Geren has worked beautifully through all of the injuries and he’s made moves at the right time.  Especially when it comes to pulling a starter.  He’s also been willing to mess with the lineup and move veterans like Kendall and Kotsay to the bottom of the order.  From all of the media reports, players like him and he’s been Ken Macha’s opposite in terms or player relations.

Grade:  A-

Billy Beane:  This has to be considered Billy Beane’s finest job ever.  Out of the adversity of all the injuries and issues, Beane has successfully navigated some unbelievably bumpy waters.  He’s unearthed Jack Cust and been able to patch together a lineup that has hovered right around .500 despite injuries that would’ve crippled pretty much every other team in baseball.  The team very well might succumb to all of the injuries in the second half, but Beane has done a fantastic job with some Krazy Glue so far in 2007.  The thing is, I’d really like to see the team that Beane assembled on the field at some point this year.  Hopefully it won’t be too late once it happens.

Grade:  A

There you have it.  Are you still with me?  If so, offer your grades below.  

I’ve been accused of being a tough grader in the past.  We’ll see if you still think so.  I'm actually supremely surprised that the A's have been able to keep the Angels within their sights at all.  If you'd told me before the season started that the A's were going to only be 8.5 out with all the injuries they've endured, I would've called you crazy.   Turns out I'm the one who is a little nuts.

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