Yes, the 2007 season has come and gone. It seems like it was just yesterday that I was saying that for the first time in a few years that I felt like the A's could finish anywhere from first to last. And they very nearly did wind up finishing last. I honestly felt like the season was depending on health and, well, we all know how THAT turned out. The thing is, I would've never guessed that the team would've been hit even worse with injuries than it had been in 2005 and 2006. 2007 will go down as a historic season of injuries for the Oakland franchise, so it's also no surprise that since it's October 1, the A's are packing their things and heading home.
I'm actually going to reformat my usual grading system from the individual, to the different portions of the sport. I'm going to grade the overall offense, starting pitching and relief pitching. I'll also pick standouts and disappointments from each area as well. I figure this might be easier to digest than going individual by individual.
Let's start with the low light of the season as it has been the past several seasons. Yeah, the dreaded offense.
This is a deceiving category for the A's because this team scored more runs than a playoff team in the National League (Arizona) and a potential playoff team if the Padres happen to win tonight. The problem is that the A's play in the American League and produced runs more like a National League team in 2007. The league average in 2007 for runs scored by an American League team was 794. The A's scored 741 despite having more home runs than the average AL team. That could be because they hit fewer doubles and a lot fewer triples than the average AL team. But probably the biggest reason for the A's not scoring as many runs is the fact that the only team with a worse batting average than the A's in the AL was the White Sox. Especially if you combine that with the fact that the team basically had the league average OBP.
The A's did have a few offensive standouts this year, but almost none of them were players you would've expected at the start of the season except maybe Mark Ellis. Jack Cust has been a Billy Beane prize for a long time, but it took a stupid play by Mike Lowell on Mike Piazza to get Cust the opportunity. Regardless, I anticipate Cust being back as the team's DH in 2008 given that he had more RBIs and more home runs than Nick Swisher in almost 150 less ABs. Sure, he strikes out way too much, but he also works a walk better than almost anyone. Daric Barton will go into 2008 with a huge shot of confidence and if Travis Buck comes back healthy, the A's will have two superb hitting youngsters. Nothing makes me more excited for 2008 than the thought of having both Buck and Barton in the lineup. Jack Hannahan and Kurt Suzuki also performed well, but I'm not sure if Hannahan will be in the A's long-term plans with a supposedly healthy Chavez returning in 2008. Honestly they should at least find a bench role for him. Shannon Stewart also provided a lot more than thought
You have to start with Eric Chavez. I know the guy hasn't been healthy for about three years now, but honestly, if he was that bad he probably should've had the surgeries last year. That's easy for me to say because it isn't my body or my rehab, but he's a professional player who needs to be at the best possible health for him to perform. Bobby Crosby was also a major disappointment and while Billy Beane continues to defend Crosby saying that it was the fact that he's been injured so much, the fact remains is that he hasn't performed well even in the short stretches where he was healthy. He's really had one great month as an Athletic. Mike Piazza and Milton Bradley would also fall into that category, but they can largely be written off as disappointments because of health. Dan Johnson continues to be a disappointment and Nick Swisher had a pretty disappointing season after starting out great. Mark Kotsay bookended his year on the DL due to that cranky back so he didn't really do anything to help the offense at all. And Jason Kendall wound up being shipped back to NL after he looked lost at the plate at the beginning of the year. But almost every single player who the A's would've likely counted on in 2007 to be a significant offensive contributor wound up being a disappointment. That's how you end the year 10 games under .500.
STARTING PITCHING: B+
The A's starting pitching is one of the few highlights of 2007. So many players performed above expectations in the rotation. Dan Haren took steps forward and became a Cy Young candidate. Joe Blanton got better. Chad Gaudin came out of nowhere to be one of the best starters in the AL for the first half of the season. The A's starters wound up ninth in all of MLB in terms of ERA at 4.09 and BAA at .270. The A's are past the days of Mulder, Hudson and Zito, but they proved that they can piece together very good starting pitching with a cast of largely nameless pitchers.
You have to start with Danny Haren, who slowed significantly towards the end of the year, but was probably the best pitcher in baseball for the first three months of the year. But he didn't maintain it all year. He has emerged as a true ace and if he just gets a little more consistency, Haren will be among the game's best pitchers. Joe Blanton pitched more innings than any A's starter and fully established himself as a quality number two starter. Blanton surprises me because I honestly didn't think that his walk to strikeout ratio would improve much, but it did. Gaudin was a huge surprise in the rotation, but he wore down as the season went on. He's still young and very well could improve going forward as this was his first full season starting. Billy Beane once told me that Gaudin has the best arm on the staff outside of Harden. It was in full force this year. Lenny DiNardo came out of nowhere to provide quite a few good starts, but as many have stated here on AN, he seems like he's going to be another Kirk Saarloos. Still, given that pretty much no one expected DiNardo to provide anything in terms of being a starter, DiNardo performed above expectations (he wound up finishing with a better ERA than Gaudin because of Chad's stumbles down the stretch).
I think you'd have to say Esteban Loaiza and Rich Harden. Loaiza provided exactly one good month of pitching for the contract Beane signed him to in the offseason before the 2006 season. Harden sits there on the DL year after year just teasing the A's fans with his promise. Joe Kennedy was also atrocious this year. I'd throw something as nebulous as the A's prospects in this too. The A's were counting on a Dallas Braden, Jason Windsor, Dan Meyer or a Shane Komine of stepping in if necessary. But none of them performed well in short stints. Braden got the biggest look and had moments where he looked capable, but also way too many moments where he got hammered. The A's could be in trouble next year if they don't get another starter in the mix, especially with Fragile Richie Harden still in the mix.
RELIEF PITCHING: B
This is a tough category for me to grade because the A's did this with a lot of smoke and mirrors. I mean, Alan Embree wound up being the A's closer for the majority of the year and going into the year, he would've probably been the fourth choice for that position behind Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero. But the A's put together a fairly good pen despite losing Street and Duke and Calero not really being 100 percent healthy at any point this year. The A's went back to the Isle of Misfit Toys and put together Andrew Brown, Santiago Casilla and Ruddy Lugo to somehow get some wins.
You have to point at Alan Embree as the biggest standout in the pen this year. Embree had the same number of closing opportunities as Huston Street and picked up one additional save. But I honestly think that one of the other biggest standouts from the pen this year was not a pitcher at all, but Bob Geren. I thought Geren got all he could from a relief staff that would've likely been more nuclear than any other one. Then again, maybe the pain of a bad pen wasn't as stinging as it could've been if the A's offense was better and it had more leads to protect. Santiago Casilla started out ablaze, but came back down to earth big time.
This has to be the A's former rock solid trio of Duchscherer, Street and Calero. I know Duke had hip issues, but when you have one of the best setup guys in all of baseball and he doesn't perform, it hurts. Big time. Calero also looked like he was pitching BP most of the year.
FRONT OFFICE: C-
The A's did have to re-invent things on the fly this year and in that respect they did very well. They got guys like Cust, Murphy and Hannahan out of nowhere. DiNardo was an unexpected contributor. Suzuki and Barton and Buck all became big parts of the picture moving forward. But where the A's front office stumbled was relying on too many question marks coming into the year. The guys who had recently been big injury problems like Kotsay, Bradley, Chavez, Loaiza and, probably bigger than anyone in my opinion, Harden. So while the A's did well to patch things on the fly, the plan entering the year seemed flawed by the fact that they were truly relying on more "ifs" than ever before.
I thought Geren did a great job despite all the obstacles he had to face. From all accounts, he kept things very positive in the locker room and that helped to keep players positive through the deluge of issues this season. He also made a lot of good choices with the lineup and the bullpen. I know someone will likely point out the fact that Scutaro was hitting third a few times this year, but given the unprecedented level of injuries he had to deal with, he made the best of it. It's hard to really given Geren a true grade for 2007 because the year was so weird, but I like what I've seen from Geren so far.
I suppose if you call average .500, the A's were a C- in 2007. They are probably right on the cusp of being a D+, but the starting pitching really rescued this team from an even more disastrous year. The A's do walk away from 2007 with gaining some really valuable knowledge for 2008, including the fact that Barton and Buck are going to be a ton of fun to watch. Mark Ellis provided some great offense to go along with his spectacular defense, Kurt Suzuki is a major league catcher and Dan Haren is an ace. These are all good things to know when prepping the team for 2008. But all in all, you have to call this year a disappointment. Yes, the injuries were brutal, but that doesn't make the sting of not competing for a playoff spot in September hurt any less.