For the last month, if not more, a lot of the talk about the Oakland Athletics' roster has centered around finding a new second baseman. A lot of that talk is based around the premise that Eric Sogard, among others, is not up to snuff -- he's a limited player who has under-performed all year. Some jerks even rip on him in their opening paragraphs. Granted, a batting line of .186/.256/.218 in the first half will earn you a lot of flak, but John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle notes that our own Keebler Elf is on fire in the second half. Let's take a moment to appreciate the things that Sogard brings to the table rather than lament those that he lacks.
Sogard is unlikely to ever be an All-Star, and who knows if he'll ever even be an everyday player. This article isn't going to try to convince you that he's better than he is. Baseball-Reference has him worth 0.6 bWAR, entirely on the strength of his defense, and Fangraphs has him at 0.4 fWAR; both seem like generous ratings to me. But both also signify that he's doing something of value to help the team, something that outweighs all the outs he made at the plate in the first half. His baserunning has improved, as he's only been thrown out twice in 11 stolen base attempts and isn't getting TOOTBLAN'd as often as he did last year. But we all know that his calling card is his defense.
A's fans know what great second base defense looks like, because we watched Mark Ellis teach clinics in the craft for years. That Ellis never won a Gold Glove is, in my opinion, one of the biggest award snubs in baseball history. But Sogard is no slouch. He's got pretty good range, and enough arm to back it up:
He's got keen instincts and can be counted on to make the smartest play in a given situation:
And, lost amid Josh Donaldson's stunning grab in Friday's game, there was Sogard, with a lightning-quick turn at second to facilitate the double play.
One weakness I can remember from previous years was his tendency to range too deep on fly balls, sometimes getting in the way of an oncoming outfielder with a clear right-of-way on the play. I don't recall seeing him do that more than a couple times this year. He's not Gold Glove caliber, but think of it this way -- his defense is better than his hitting is bad, given the position he plays. And when your worst regular is still a positive contributor, that's not such a terrible thing.
And hey, wouldn't you know it, his hitting isn't quite as awful as it looked a month ago. Since the All-Star break, he's 13-for-39 (.922 OPS) with good plate discipline and even some power. Heck, he hit an actual home run on Wednesday. Seriously, it definitely happened. I was there and I saw it with my own eyes. It was also documented on film, in case you still don't believe me:
And although it looked cheap, it would have gone out in 28 out of 30 parks and it was only the sixth-shortest homer by the A's this year. Nerd power!
Obviously Sogard's hot streak won't last forever. But it does remind us that he's capable of good things at the plate, especially against right-handers, and that he's got enough talent to get hot from time to time and even be a difference-maker. Sure, at times it looks like he's using a broomstick for a bat, but he's not an auto-out all the time. He's got a good eye and he actually hits a lot of line drives -- nearly 24 percent of his batted balls for his career, which is far above average.
Sogard isn't a perfect player, but given the .691 OPS put up by MLB second basemen as a whole, it's not like the A's are losing a lot if he can at least post a mark over .600 the rest of the year. Meanwhile, he provides a valuable glove at a position where Oakland will take any positive it can get, and he showed a bit of versatility lately by covering for Jed Lowrie at short. Between being a useful role player and a huge fan favorite, the A's could do a lot worse with the last spot on the roster. If Ben Zobrist or Chase Utley come calling, then we'll have a different conversation. But for now, our weak link is not as bad as we all pretend and we should enjoy him for what he's worth.
And hey, rubbing his beard brings good luck. We all knew he must have magical powers of some kind:
Do what you gotta do, boys.