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Where are the A's? Handing Out First Quarter Grades

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No one said that the A's were going to have an easy go of it in 2005. We all know the history. Two of Big Three traded, Jason Kendall added, extra bullpen help in the form of Kiko Calero and Juan Cruz, young starters thrown into the mix.

Through the first 40 games, the team is 16-24 and seven games back of first place Anaheim. Not exactly a sprinting start to the year, but 2005 was supposed to be a bridge year. A year to get our young pitching the experience they need to mature and bring our Athletics back to prominence. If the A's could remain competitive in the rapidly deteriorating AL West, then it would be a bonus.

Let's take a look at the team, player by player and assign first quarter grades to the Athletics crew. Today we'll talk about position players, tomorrow we'll talk about the pitching. One note: Career averages are averages per 162 games throughout the player's career.

Infield:

Eric Chavez: The A's built this team to be Eric Chavez's team for years to come. He received the big money from ownership, signing the richest contract ever signed by an A's player. Billy Beane made a calculated move because of the seemingly limitless potential Chavez has teased A's fans and management with. But the numbers haven't been pretty so far. Especially for someone who is likely the only member of the team who could ever approach the .300 BA, .400 OBP, .500 SLG level in one season. Chavez had a good first series, but has floundered ever since. He's also been inconsistent at times early in the year defensively, which is uncharacteristic of our four-time gold glover. He is the main reason for the A's offensive nosedive, more so than any other player on the team. The good news is that his OPS over the last seven games is .926. But that won't help his grade here.

Career Averages: Avg - .273, OBP - .350, OPS - .843

Current Stats: Avg - .213, OBP - .274, OPS - .594

Grade: F

Scott Hatteberg: Hatteberg has drawn the ire of many of us this early season, especially because there is a younger, cheaper option playing his position and excelling with the River Cats. But the truth is to look at it rationally, Hatteberg can provide some quality hitting. He still possesses a good eye and has a knack of getting a big hit whenever the A's seem to need it. The problem that I have with Hatteberg is his defense has regressed this season inexplicably. He's done everything from drop routine foul pops to moving his feet with the skill and grace of Andre the Giant. He also often goes down into crouch mode to block bad throws rather than try and dig them out like most MLB first basemen would. I think at some point, the defensive lapses at first must draw the ire of the front office. It also has impacted his overall grade because his offensive numbers aren't that bad.

Career Averages: Avg - .271, OBP - .359, OPS - .769

Current Stats: Avg - .288, OBP - .349, OPS - .722

Grade: C-

Mark Ellis: Ellis should be admired for his perseverance and hard work. Most around the A's would tell you there's no one harder working or more well-liked than Ellis. He's been the good soldier so far this year by sharing position time with Marco Scutaro and Keith Ginter. For a little while, Ellis, Mark Kotsay and Scutaro were the only ones hitting on this team. And that's remarkable when you consider that Ellis has been out for a season. He also seems to have retained that great range and nice defensive footwork. But the truth is that Ellis's offensive stats have about reverted to what you'd expect them to be. Ellis isn't usually on the field for his offense. Whatever you do get from him offensively is a bonus and he's been above his career norms so far.

Career Averages: Avg - .260, OBP - .332, OPS - .711

Current Stats: Avg. - .286, OBP - .346, OPS - .713

Grade: B+

Marco Scutaro: Marco has become an A's fan favorite. And who could blame us? The guy has been given no shot to make the team two years in a row and not only does he make the team both seasons, but he becomes a valuable contributor. The A's wouldn't have had 16 wins already without the significant contributions of our little sparkplug. Not only that, he seems to relish the chance to "play the hero" as he so eloquently put it earlier this season. He's one player on the A's that seems to be at his best whenever the game is on the line. He's slumped a bit offensively, but he's still been excellent defensively. If not for Bobby Crosby's injury, Scutaro might've been in Sacramento or with another organization. It's a shame because you've got to love his play, his attitude and his work ethic. Soon, Marco may be gone with Crosby coming close to returning.

Career Averages: Avg - .257, OBP - .303, OPS - .681

Current Stats: Avg. - .234, OBP - .326, OPS - .673

Grade: C+

Keith "Hazy Shade of" Ginter: Ginter was brought over from Milwaukee to add right-handed pop to the A's lineup. He hasn't provided it yet. But Macha is proving that he hasn't given up on Ginter just yet, working him into the lineup regularly recently in hopes of awakening the sputtering offense. Ginter hasn't really come through, but he's proven that he just might be turning the corner a little with the extra playing time. The other thing that surprises me about Ginter, especially after seeing him up close and personal during spring training is the fact that his defense has improved ten-fold. He was botching routine plays during spring training at second and now I feel comfortable with him out there. During the recent Boston series, he made several sparkling plays to take away hits from David Ortiz. Of course, Ginter credits Ron Washington with his improvement.

Career Averages: Avg - .250, OBP - .337, OPS - .775

Current Stats: Avg - .173, OBP - .261, OPS - .581

Grade: D-

Erubiel Durazo: OK, so Durazo isn't exactly an infielder. But if they ever were to play him in the field, it technically would be first base. Ruby can only be judged on his hitting and it isn't where it should be yet, much like most of the A's heart-of-the-order attack, as in it induces heart attacks while A's fans scream at the TV waiting for them to score. Yet, Ruby isn't that far off what you'd expect from him power wise. The A's need him to start protecting Chavez better if he's going to hit in the four-hole, especially if Chavy is really starting to break out of his slump. Chavy is going to start to see more pitch-arounds and Durazo is going to be the key to making the offense go. If he struggles, the A's are in deep trouble because the other player that's been used in the number four spot in the order is Hatteberg and I imagine Billy Beane does NOT want Hatteberg there for the majority of 2005. Regardless, Durazo should be a part bigger of this middle of the order and he should be striking fear into opponent's hearts. He isn't.

Career Averages: Avg. - .281, OBP - .381, OPS - .869

Current Stats: Avg. - .243, OBP - .313, OPS - .691

Grade: D

Jason Kendall: I think Jason Kendall would be the first to admit that the transition to the American League has not been an easy one for Billy Beane's new prized gem. He's struggled offensively, his defensive work has been poor (although many of those stolen bases are on the A's young pitchers) and he just hasn't seemed comfortable in his new surroundings. That would be OK if he makes a Kotsay-type of turnaround over the next three quarters of the season, but if he doesn't, the A's are taking a $10 million hit for that non-production. That really hurts when it's a sixth of your total budget. Look for Kendall to rebound over the coming weeks as he makes the transition, but it won't help his grade this early part of the season. The one thing that I think has been a strength, and some would argue with me on this one (especially those calling for a Dotel slider against Boston in Boston - but I think we're finding out that Dotel wasn't OK to throw that pitch) is his handling of the youngsters. From what I've seen, he's an excellent game caller.

Career Averages: Avg. - .304, OBP - .385, OPS - .798

Current Stats: Avg. - .234, OBP - .314, OPS - .593

Grade: D-

Adam "Maytag" Melhuse: Wait, the A's have a back-up catcher? You can understand why Melhuse made some noise about wanting to be traded when the A's got Kendall. He knew what he was in for. A lot of time riding the pine with an occasional pinch-hit appearance. You can't really judge Melhuse though because he hasn't gotten enough playing time. He might not get a grade until the end of the season.

Career Averages: Avg. - .240, OBP - .297, OPS - .719

Current Stats: Avg. - .105, OBP - .105, OPS - .263

Grade: Inc.

Outfield

Mark Kotsay: Does anyone remember anyone else playing center field for Oakland? I know I don't want to. Kotsay is another fan favorite and for good reason. The man plays center field like a man possessed, yet he's always in complete control. If someone were to build the perfect center fielder, Kotsay would be the standard by which all others would be judged. Not only that, but he swings a consistent stick. You know that even if he makes an out, he's still going to do something positive like work the pitch count. Here's hoping the A's lock this guy up until he retires. He's a joy to watch and never lets you down even if he has slumped a bit of late.

Career Averages: Avg. - .286, OBP - .343, OPS - .766

Current Stats: Avg. - .285, OBP - .344, OPS - .728

Grade: B+

Bobby Kielty: If any player has become the poster child for judging a trade too early, Ronnie Mac is it. Yes, it's still only a quarter of the season and Kielty is injured again (and who knows if he'll come back hitting the way he was), but the red-headed beast has been raking so far this year. His magically disappearing left-handed stroke has returned and on the recent road trip, he seemed to be the only one hitting the ball. Defensively, he's had some nice catches, but he's also muffed some routine plays a much of the outfield has at one point or another. I'm looking forward to his continued improvement, and I believe it could be a big key for the remainder of the year. If Kielty comes back hitting like he did and the heart of the order wakes up, then the A's offense won't be a laughing stock for long.

Career Averages: Avg. - .256, OBP - .362, OPS - .780

Current Stats: Avg. - .322, OBP - .419, OPS - .875

Grade: A-

Nick Swisher: Moneyball has already arrived in Oaktown. Only for some reason, Swisher doesn't seem to be working the count like he did during his minor league career. You've got to imagine the kid wants to make an impression, which might have something to do with his aggressiveness at the plate. But he's shown signs of being a power threat, hitting two bombs in one game early in the year. He's also worked hard to become a better outfielder and has made some nice catches. But like every other outfielder for the A's (except Kotsay), he's had his share of botched plays. I'm eager to see how Swisher comes back and if this time of sitting and watching has helped him.

Career Averages: Avg. - .232, OBP - .310, OPS - .701

Current Stats: Avg. - .218, OBP - .274, OPS - .646

Grade: C-

Eric Byrnes: Oh, Captain America. You're a fan favorite. We love your hustle. You are Mr. Excitement, and that's sometimes good and sometimes bad. But it is undeniable that when you get rolling with the bat, you can singlehandedly carry a team. You can make highlight-reel catches like the one flying through the air in the bullpen and the one in left field in Boston, but you can also make a little league play. It seems to be feast or famine with you. But the A's can count on you for two things...walloping left-handed pitching and waving at the slider away from right-handed pitching. And contrary to some people's opinions here, I do like you Byrnsie, I just get the shakes every time someone hits a routine fly ball to you. I also think that if you are dealt, which seems likely, that during your inevitable hot streaks for your new team, us A's fans will be wishing we held onto you.

Career Averages: Avg. - .270, OBP - .336, OPS - .794

Current Stats: Avg. - .263, OBP - .333, OPS - .763

Grade: C-

Charles Thomas: Charles Thomas has been a bust thus far and seems to be the least promising acquisition from all of Beane's offseason trades. At least Kendall shows signs on occasion of being his former self. And Meyer was hurt, so he deserves some slack. Juan Cruz has shown some recent signs of coming out of his funk. The player who hasn't shown any flashes of promise so far is Thomas. Since he's still a young guy (he's only 26), I'd like to see him get some more time in the minors to try and regain his stroke. The A's need to find out if they have the player who had an .813 OPS for the Braves last year or something else. And they aren't going to be able to figure it out with him sitting on the bench.

Career Averages: Avg. - .262, OBP - .354, OPS - .750

Current Stats: Avg. - .103, OBP - .271, OPS - .374

Grade: F

Matt Watson: Watson finally got the call up and he gets a solid incomplete thus far. He's been solid in very limited action, but with the A's recent facing a bunch of lefties, Watson has been relegated to bench duty. It's too bad because he was so hot when the A's called him up.

Career Averages: Avg - .195, OBP - .233, OPS - .501

Current Stats: Avg. - .222, OBP - .263, OPS - .541

Grade: Inc.

When the season started, people expressed mild concern over the A's lack of power on offense, but many believed that it was a good OBP offense. But the truth is that the offense has been just as bad as last year's bullpen. The problem can basically be pointed at three main culprits. Chavez, Kendall and Durazo. That's a good percentage of the A's entire budget right now and it's not producing. That has hurt, but injuries have also hurt. Losing Bobby Crosby's power hurts. For a while, Scutaro was a good bandage, but now the band-aid has fallen off. Luckily, the A's will be getting Crosby back shortly.

The power shortage has shown to be a bigger detriment than many thought it would be. It remains to be seen if Crosby and Swisher coming back with help spark the team's slugging.

What grades would you give the players? Where do we differ?

Next up: The pitching.