The Major League Baseball season lasts for 162 games, and the A's have played 83 of them. That means that we are actually two games overdue for a midseason report - I always was a procrastin....
For your off-day reading pleasure, here is a look back at one of the best first halves of any Oakland Athletics season.
Students (and individual grades): Bartolo Colon (A+), Jarrod Parker (B-), A.J. Griffin (B), Tommy Milone (C), Dan Straily (C-), Brett Anderson (Incomplete; out sick)
Overall Grade: C+
Starting pitching is usually the backbone of any good A's team. Somehow, though, this has not been the case this year. The starters have been solid overall, but it's tough look at this rotation's performance and not be slightly disappointed.
Bartolo Colon has been the big story as, at age 40, he is making a bid to start the All-Star Game. I think it's safe to say that not a single person in the world expected this performance out of Colon, especially after he was busted for PED's last year (and is, presumably, not on them anymore, though it's tough to be sure of these things). He's throwing nearly seven innings per start with a 2.79 ERA (6th in AL), he's limiting the walks (13 total in 16 starts), and he's keeping the ball in the park (8 homers in over 100 innings). You can tell that he's playing well because more people are talking about his performance than about his weight. It's called the Sandoval Scale of Success.
It's a good thing that the old man is carrying his weight, too, because the young starters have been having the kinds of growing pains that one should expect out of young starters. Parker had a horrible April before righting his ship, and over his last nine starts he's thrown 60 innings with a 2.25 ERA and a 40 strikeouts to 13 walks. I'd like to imagine that he went through some kind of montage in mid-May and came out a better, more mature pitcher. His next start is in doubt due to his (hopefully minor) hamstring injury, and his season stats are unimpressive overall due to his slow start, but Parker looks like he's primed for a big second half.
Griffin and Milone have been solid overall, but each has run into problems here and there. Milone's walks are up and the longball has been a major problem for him, but he's able to eat innings - he's completed at least six frames in 12 of his 17 starts. He has enough good outings to make him a quality #4 starter. Griffin, meanwhile, has struggled with "that one big inning," where he's cruising along until suddenly Henry Blanco randomly hits a grand slam. We saw what he's capable of the other day when he shut out the Reds, and he's slotted in well as a #3 starter.
Then you've got Straily and Anderson. Straily has tantalized fans with a few monster starts, and also looked absolutely clueless at other times. I would say that half of his 12 starts have been good, but it's hard to call his 5.00 ERA a successful overall result. He is still developing, though, so past failure doesn't rule out future success. Anderson, meanwhile, has exploded into a million pieces and has been a complete non-factor in Oakland's season.
Students: Grant Balfour (A+), Ryan Cook (B+), Sean Doolittle (B+), Jerry Blevins (B), Pat Neshek (B+), Jesse Chavez (B-)
Overall Grade: B+
The bullpen looked super-human for the first two months of the season, but has come back to Earth just a bit lately. Still, the relievers have recorded only eight losses (4th fewest in MLB) and nine blown saves (only eight teams have fewer), so the relief corps has been effective overall. When the starters carry a lead through six innings, I'm usually quite confident that the pen can finish off the last 6-9 outs.
Leading the pack has been Balfour, who has excelled as the closer and is yet to blow a save this season. If you're the closer and you have a 1.97 ERA with no blown saves and only one loss (in an extra-inning game on the road), then you get an A+. You have done your job, you $%#'ing wonderful @%@$% $%@%.
Cook and Doolittle have been an excellent set-up tandem. They haven't been as untouchable as Balfour has, but they've each blown only three saves apiece and have done a good job stranding inherited runners - Cook has stranded six out of nine, and Doolittle has left 12 of 14 on base. They've definitely blown a couple of games, and they both have ERA's around 3, but no reliever is perfect and these are both young pitchers with even more room for improvement.
Blevins has done a lot of the heavy lifting this year, as he's inherited more runners (21) than anyone else in the pen (nine of them have scored). As expected, he's taken a step back from his crazy 2012, and he's better suited for the middle innings than for high-leverage situations late in close games, but I would consider his first half to be a success overall.
Neshek has been the other consistent presence and has quietly put up a 2.30 ERA with solid ratios to back it up. He's not going to suddenly become a superstar, but he's the kind of solid arm that many teams wish they had for the middle innings and he can go multiple innings in a pinch (though he's best utilized as a ROOGY). Chavez, meanwhile, has made his presence known as the long-man. He's stumbled a bit after his breakthrough performance in the 18-inning Yankee game, but he's still established himself as a fixture in the pen, which is way more than I expected out of him this spring.
Students: John Jaso (B), Derek Norris (C-)
Overall Grade: C+
First off, we need context. Last year, Oakland's catching situation was one of the biggest weaknesses on the team. This year, it feels very average. That is a major improvement.
Jaso has provided a lot of offense with a solid batting average and great on-base skills, but his defense is awful. Norris is pretty good behind the plate, but his offense has been even worse than it was last year except for his improved plate discipline. He's still dancing around the Mendoza Line and isn't hitting for any power.
Students: Josh Donaldson (A++), Jed Lowrie (A-), Brandon Moss (B+), Eric Sogard (B-), Adam Rosales (D+)
Overall Grade: A-
What a difference a year makes. Oakand's infield was atrocious last year, as they got absolutely no production out of two of the four positions and only a half-season of production out of third base. This year, it's unquestionably the strongest part of team.
Donaldson is hands down the first half MVP of this team. He's the best hitter and the best defender, and he's quickly become a fan favorite. Ladies want him. Men want to be him. Children want his haircut. He's the total package. There is no weakness in his game right now, and he's carried this team at times.
Lowrie, on the other hand, has probably been the most important addition to the team this year. There was a huge hole at shortstop last year, and Billy Beane filled it for the price of a decent first baseman and a couple of long-shot prospects. Technically, there is still a huge hole at shortstop, because Lowrie has no range defensively and can't get any balls more than a couple of steps away from him, but that's not what I meant. Oakland has a shortstop who can hit the lights out, and he knows enough about defense that he hasn't yet taken his position while accidentally wearing his glove on his foot.
Moss has been almost exactly what Nico and I expected he would be heading into the year. He hits for a low average and strikes out a lot, but he's got insane power and can draw his fair share of walks. He's well above-average as a hitter, he's a sufficiently intimidating middle-of-the-order bat, and he's athletic and agile at first base with the arm of an outfielder.
And then we have Sogales. I've been a pretty outspoken Rosales fan all year, but Sogard is playing like a boss right now and Rosey is right where he belongs: on the bench. Rosey's ability to play shortstop and his numerous game-winning clutch hits prevent him from getting a failing grade from me, but he pretty clearly should only be starting against left-handed pitchers right now. Sogard, on the other hand, has been alarmingly close to league-average at the plate (OPS+ and wRC+ are both at 92) and has played solid defense at second base. He still can't hit lefties, so the platoon continues to make sense, but I gave him a high grade because he's essentially played like a league-average starter. That's a whole lot more than I gave him credit for entering the year.
(Edit: I didn't include Nate Freiman, but would have given him a B-. Check the comments for my explanation for that grade.)
Students: Coco Crisp (A), Yoenis Cespedes (B-), Josh Reddick (C+), Seth Smith (B+), Chris Young (D-)
Overall Grade: B-
Coco has been incredible, enjoying a career year at the plate and making highlight reel catches in center field. Young has been just a tiny bit better than an abject failure, doing absolutely nothing except hitting the occasional homer in Houston. Those are the extremes.
Cespedes has been a bit disappointing. He's still hitting for power, but there is lots of room for improvement. He needs to stop chasing breaking pitches off the outside corner, and he needs to start using the whole field instead of trying to pull everything. He also needs to work on his baserunning (2-for-7 on stolen bases). Still, though, he's been a good hitter and is capable of carrying the team when hot - when the A's went on an 18-3 run in late May, Cespy led the charge with a .947 OPS and six homers in 97 plate appearances.
Reddick's season has been similar to Parker's - he was terrible in April, turned a corner, and is now looking like the star he was last year. It'll take some more time for his season stats to balance out, and we can't erase his early-season futility (or get back the time he missed on the DL), so his grade is still low. However, he's hitting the ball with authority once more, his plate discipline is vastly improved, and he's still playing Gold Glove caliber defense in right. Reddick is back. And I don't care what anyone says: His beard is glorious.
Smith has quietly been one of the five best hitters on the team. He went nuts in April to make up for the unproductive Reddick, he's held his own against lefties, and he hasn't gone on any extended slumps. His worst stretch all year was an 0-for-14 that he went on over six days at the beginning of June, but even then he immediately followed it up by reaching base eight times in his next 13 PA's. He's totally passable on defense in left and right, so he doesn't have to clog up the DH slot when another banged-up outfielder needs a half-day off. He's also the only outfielder who hasn't spent a day on the DL. If this were the cast of a movie, Smith would be the character actor whose name you can't remember, but who totally makes the film. Brian Cox, perhaps.
Students: Bob Melvin (B), Mike Gallego (A-), Curt Young (I dunno, B?)
Overall Grade: B+, or something
I don't know, how do you grade coaches? Last year, Melvin was the AL Manager of the Year (so, an A+), because he pushed all the right buttons at all times with the management of both his pitching staff and his bench (as well as his platoon arrangements). He hasn't been quite as infallible this year, as his pinch-hitting choices have been questionable and ineffective, but I don't think there's a single A's fan who doesn't like and respect him and I still tend to err toward a philosophy of "Never question Melvin." The players also seem to love him, which is important, and he makes sure to get himself ejected at all the proper times by standing up for his team when the umps blow a big call.
Young is working with a young pitching staff and most of them are doing fine. Sounds like a success to me. I love Gallego's aggressive approach as the third base coach, and Donaldson and Moss have turned into quality defenders under his tutelage as the infield coach, so as far as I'm concerned he's been a success. There are other coaches, too. Chip Hale is one. Chili Davis is another. They all score a "Pass" on the pass/fail spectrum of coaching.
SB Nation Blogs
Students: Athletics Nation (A+)
Overall Grade: A+
We run this bitch and look fantastic doing it. Athletics Nation is where it's at, and we've probably contributed at least one or two extra wins to the team this year.
Record: 48-35, 6th best record in MLB, 0.5 games behind Texas in AL West
Tough to be disappointed with this team's performance so far. I gave them an A overall, but I will spare you the crappy grade-puns about Oakland earning straight A's or something lame. They are currently a very legitimate title contender with nobody playing unsustainably well and a few areas where improvement could be reasonably expected.
Now that's a report card that you wouldn't mind your parents seeing.
What do you think of these grades? Which ones are too high or too low? Share your thoughts in the comments!