Grading the Oakland Athletics through each quarter has become a regular feature here on Athletics Nation. The first quarter was not kind to our A's. Many of them earned C's or below.
But since the Oakland Athletics went 16-24 through the first 40 games and sat seven games back of first place Anaheim, the A's have gone 25-17 (yes, and they still lost ground to the Angels - but gained significantly in the Wild Card race). I mentioned at the time that a key was to at least get the experience for our young pitching staff and hope that they mature enough to help bring the Athletics back to prominence in the years to come. That's happened, and much more quickly than anyone expected.
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.
Eric Chavez: As critical as I was of Eric Chavez during the first quarter (I gave him an F), Chavez deserves all the praise in the world for his absolutely remarkable turnaround. Ken Korach has speculated many times that the slow start almost has become a self-fulfilling prophecy with Chavez, and I'm starting to believe him. Chavez has made a remarkable turnaround. Look at his stats after 40 games compared to where he sits now. The truth is that he needs to develop consistency to truly become what the A's need from him, but when he gets hot, this entire offense follows. By the end of the season, expect Chavez to be well above his career averages. One thing that is troubling about Chavez this year? Strikeouts. He already has 66 in 2005 and could challenge his career high of 119 (set in 2002) in a season. He's also on pace for only 56 walks after having a career high 95 walks last season.
Career Averages: Avg - .277, OBP - .353, OPS - .851
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg - .213, OBP - .274, OPS - .594
Current Stats: Avg - . .282, OBP - .339, OPS - .791
Scott Hatteberg: Hatteberg was a target earlier in the season as the cries of, "We want DJ" were ringing through the hills of Oakland. Thanks to an Erubiel Durazo injury, Dan Johnson received just that opportunity and he hasn't looked back. It also has meant that Hatteberg has been largely relegated to DH duties, which is a good role for the so-called "pickin' machine." Hatteberg's defense was a big reason why many on AN were driven crazy by the former catcher at first. But having Hatteberg as a designated hitter is a perfect role for him. He excels in giving excellent at-bats and is one of the best two-strike hitters in baseball. He's not going to pile up the power numbers, but he does what Billy Beane wants and that's give good at-bats in crucial situations. As long as Hatteberg remains at DH, then he will earn a decent grade because he's a good hitter. He's not a very good first baseman.
Career Averages: Avg - .271, OBP - .359, OPS - .768
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg - .288, OBP - .349, OPS - .722
Current Stats: Avg - .281, OBP - .364, OPS - .737
Mark Ellis: If you remember, for the first month or so of the season, Ellis, Kotsay and Scutaro were pretty much the only ones on this offense that were hitting and hitting regularly. Ellis has done well in a limited role that is a constant rotation between himself and Marco Scutaro at second base, now that Bobby Crosby has returned. Ellis has played in only 53 games, thanks to Keith Ginter's presence (Ginter has played in 36, Scutaro in 70). But he's hit .282, has an above his career average in OBP. Ellis deserves credit for accepting a part-time role on the team and not creating a stir by talking to the media about his lack of playing time. Ellis also has retained that great defensive range, even if his arm isn't as strong as it used to be.
Career Averages: Avg - .261, OBP - .333, OPS - .710
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg. - .286, OBP - .346, OPS - .713
Current Stats: Avg - .282, OBP - .342, OPS - .704
Bobby Crosby: Who has the highest OPS among major league shortstops with at least 100 at-bats? Yeah, that's right, Bobby Crosby does at .969. Miguel Tejada is at .964. Granted, Crosby doesn't qualify for the league leader board yet because of his injury, but Crosby has been nearly perfect in every facet of the game since his return. And because of the obvious impact he's had on this offense, you have to consider Crosby in the running for first half MVP of the Athletics, despite his lack of playing time. The Wizard of Croz has just become an absolute joy to watch on a nightly basis. He has remarkable range, his zone rating is .865 compared to Miguel Tejada's .801 zone rating. He will inevitably slump as second-year players usually do, but for now, get on and enjoy the ride. The only thing keeping Crosby from an A+ is the missed time.
Career Averages: Avg - .253, OBP - .330, OPS - .774
Stats Through 40 Games: N/A
Current Stats: Avg - .341, OBP - .400, OPS - .969
Marco Scutaro: Scutaro has made a remarkable jump in his approach at the plate. Yes, he's only hitting .254, but that average is .272 against righties which is crucial. He's also nearly exceeded his entire career walk totals this year with 27 BB this year. He had only 16 all of last season. He made so much of an improvement in the patience department that the A's actually had him lead off a game. But the truth is that Scutaro is a steady second baseman and works well with Bobby Crosby as a double play combination. He has an .860 zone rating as a second baseman compared to Ellis who has an .853 zone rating. Scutaro also seems to relish a chance to be the hero with the bat. If you're looking for an idea why Scutaro plays more than Ellis against right-handed pitching (Ellis is hitting .273 against righties), look at the OPS. Scutaro sits at .745 against righties, Ellis is at .651.
Career Averages: Avg - .259, OBP - .308, OPS - .692
Stats Through 40: Avg. - .234, OBP - .326, OPS - .673
Current Stats: Avg. - .254, OBP - .335, OPS - .714
Keith "Hazy Shade of" Ginter: Oh, Keith. On a team that has made a resounding offensive comeback, you are still struggling at the plate. So much so that you spent some time in the minors to try and regain your swing. Unfortunately, you will now be splitting time at second base and occasionally DH and third. You may never get the chance to show that right-handed pop on a consistent basis. But Ginter has been one of the few disappointments on the offensive side of the plate.
Career Averages: Avg - .247, OBP - .335, OPS - .765
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg - .173, OBP - .261, OPS - .581
Current Stats: Avg - .179, OBP - .264, OPS - .559
Grade: D- (he's saved from the dreaded F by having a surprising number of RBIs)
Erubiel Durazo: The A's Ruby has been replaced by a DJ. The A's will soon be facing a very uncomfortable situation. Durazo should be returning from a chronic elbow problem in the near future. This creates a similar situation to the Eric Karros-Hatteberg-Durazo rotation that plagued the A's at the beginning of 2004. In the meantime, I'd love to give Durazo an incomplete for the first half of 2005, but he played in more than half the games. Offensively, Durazo was not getting the job done and since the only time he basically played first he hurt himself, you can only judge Durazo by his offensive contribution. It hasn't been there.
Career Averages: Avg. - .281, OBP - .381, OPS - .868
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg. - .243, OBP - .313, OPS - .691
Current Stats: Avg. - .237, OBP - .305, OPS - .673
Dan Johnson: DJ has been a huge lift for the A's. It was right around the time that he arrived and Bobby Crosby came back that the A's began to soar. He's provided remarkably solid defense, especially from a player who many critisized as being weak defensively. He's looked like a gold glover at times playing first base. He's also starting to get that home run he had in the minor leagues after only 32 games of major league baseball. He has great at-bats almost every time, exhibiting patience and selectivity at the plate. He'll inevitably struggle at some point, but DJ has thus far been a picture of how young guys can succeed quickly at the major league level. He just seems like he belongs.
Career Averages: Avg. - .286, OBP - .368, OPS - .797
Stats Through 40 Games: N/A
Current Stats: Avg. - .286, OBP - .368, OPS - .797
Jason Kendall: It's been a long road back for Jason Kendall. If you look at his statistics through the first 40 games below and where he sits now, he's made a turnaround. He's not going to bring a lot of power to the position, but he's been able to raise that average, and more importantly, his on-base percentage. Kendall and Kotsay should be a great top of the order for the rest of the season for the A's. And admittedly, Kendall struggled in his adjustment to the American League. But an important part of being behind the dish is calling the game and Jason has done a fantastic job in working with one of the youngest staffs in the major leagues. The A's are overpaying for the catcher, but remember, the deal was made in large part to jettison two unwanted parts in Rhodes and Redman. Kendall has also shown that he is adjusting to this new league.
Career Averages: Avg. - .303, OBP - .385, OPS - .796
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg. - .234, OBP - .314, OPS - .593
Current Stats: Avg. - .263, OBP - .351, OPS - .659
Adam "Maytag" Melhuse: The A's continue to use Melhuse sparingly. He has only seen action in 19 games this year, so his stats must be taken with the small sample size caveat. Believe it or not, his stats have actually risen since the last grading period. I'm still going to give him an incomplete. Melhuse might not actually get a grade until the final grading period considering how infrequently he is used.
Career Averages: Avg. - .235, OBP - .290, OPS - .699
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg. - .105, OBP - .105, OPS - .263
Current Stats: Avg. - .136, OBP - .136, OPS - .318
Mark Kotsay: Mark Kotsay has had a bit of an inconsistent season at the plate. The first four months of the season look like this: April - .826 OPS, May - .649 OPS, June - .715 OPS and thus far in July, Kotsay has an .890 OPS. But he is also very close to his career averages for the season. The great separator for Kotsay though, is his defense. The guy is just absolutely remarkable in center field and he literally wins games with his abilities to make plays with the glove. The A's might not have Kotsay for the remainder of the season, so enjoy him while you can.
Career Averages: Avg. - .286, OBP - .343, OPS - .766
Stats After 40 Games: Avg. - .285, OBP - .344, OPS - .728
Current Stats: Avg. - .283, OBP - .341, OPS - .747
Bobby Kielty: Ronnie Mac has become an integral part of the A's after his horrific season last year. He plays an underrated outfield defense and his offense has been good. He also has his highest batting average since 2002. But he has also dipped from where he was through 40 games. He also continues to struggle in hitting right-handed pitching, dipping down to .221. Although he still has an OBP of .338 against righties which would explain why he, and not Eric Byrnes gets the majority of the starts against right-handed pitching. Byrnes' OBP is .288 against righties.
Career Averages: Avg. - .255, OBP - .360, OPS - .776
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg. - .322, OBP - .419, OPS - .875
Current Stats: Avg. - .279, OBP - .377, OPS - .796
Nick Swisher: Swisher has been inconsistent this year as most rookies are. But the Moneyballer has blasted 10 home runs, even though he missed most of the month of May. It's obvious that Swish has the ability. He's been virtually the opposite of Byrnes and Kielty, hitting righties much better than lefties. He's also played a solid, unspectacular right field, and he's been surprisingly good at first base. Swisher's stats compare very favorably right now to Bobby Crosby's stats at this same point last year and he's only going to get better. He's obviously got pop in that bat.
Career Averages: Avg. - .243, OBP - .317, OPS - .747
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg. - .218, OBP - .274, OPS - .646
Current Stats: Avg. - .241, OBP - .306, OPS - .740
Eric Byrnes: Byrnes has been absolutely awesome this season against left-handed pitching. Unfortunately, the percentage of left-handed pitchers in the majors isn't higher. Otherwise, he would see the field a lot more often. You have to love Byrnes' hustle and effort. He continues to remain a huge fan favorite, but his true value to the A's is his ability to mash lefties. His OPS is just off the charts against lefties, sitting at 1.010. Byrnes has been put in that box and will have to do something remarkable in his few at-bats against righties in order to escape that box. It seems unlikely at this point.
Career Averages: Avg. - .269, OBP - .336, OPS - .796
Stats Through 40 Games: Avg. - .263, OBP - .333, OPS - .763
Current Stats: Avg. - .258, OBP - .335, OPS - .790
Incompletes include: Charles Thomas and Matt Watson
The A's have been able to scrap their way back to .500, performing like champions over the month of June and the early part of July. Whether or not the team can make a playoff push remains to be seen because that young pitching will inevitably struggle again at some point this year. That's what young pitching does. The wild card in all of this? Billy Beane and the front office. What will they do to try and improve this team? That will most definitely be the most interesting watch over the next three and a half weeks.
What grades would you assign to each of the players? Where was I right? Where was I wrong?
Next up: The pitching.