clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Athletics 2014 season review: Eric Sogard faces highs and lows

Four eyes, but only one homer.
Four eyes, but only one homer.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Next on our season review list is No. 28, Eric Sogard. In retrospect, I should have tried to line things up so that this post would run on Christmas, because Sogard is an elf and that would have been pretty funny. Lesson for next winter, I suppose.

Player profile

Name: Eric Sogard, aka Elf, Keebs*
Position: 2B, SS
Stats: .223/.298/.268, 64 OPS+, 329 PAs, 1 HR, 10 2B, 11 SB, 
WAR: 0.6 bWAR, 0.3 fWAR
How he got here: Acquired from San Diego Padres prior to 2010
2014 Salary: $510,000
2015 Status: 1st-year arbitration, under team control
2015 Salary: Estimated $1.5 million

* short for "Keebler Elf"

Season summary

Eric Sogard's 2014 was like a sine curve. It rose to highs, only to drop down into negative territory and then rise again, with triumphs followed by failures followed by rebounds. It alternated between bull and bear, black and red, asset and liability. His fortune cookie read, "This too shall pass."

In February, MLB staged a Twitter contest intended to crown the Face of MLB. Each team's fanbase nominated its most popular player to participate in a bracket-style vote-off ... except for A's fans, who selected Sogard to represent the team. Give the Internet the power of a vote, and we WILL ruin your contest by electing a cat. Sogard was the closest thing.

He tore through the bracket, defeating the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Troy Tulowitzki, Buster Posey, and Jose Bautista to reach the final round. It was down to our own Keebler Elf against David Wright of the Mets, and the Internet seemed to be strongly in favor of trolling MLB by choosing Sogard. However, at the last minute, thousands of votes mysteriously poured in from Southeast Asia (I'm not even kidding) and Wright scored a comeback victory to steal the crown. Sogard and his eyeglasses came *this close* to being named the Face of Major League Baseball, but alas, we were all denied our prize. Still, A's fans took an otherwise bland, uninspired promotion by MLB and turned it into a fun national spectacle. Ha, spectacle.

Unfortunately, the good times did not extend into the regular season. Sogard used up too much of his Elf Magic trying to win the Twitter contest and didn't save enough for his bat, and in the first half he hit .186/.256/.218 for a .474 OPS. His BABIP was .215 and he wasn't hitting for any power. He entered the All-Star break on a 1-for-18 skid, and he was starting to lose playing time against right-handers. But then his fortunes changed again. "This too shall pass."

Sogard looked like a completely different player from the moment the second half began. He collected a pair of hits in each of his first two games and went 7-for-20 in his first six. He went on to post a .750 OPS in August and an overall line of .267/.346/.326 in the second half. It wasn't an All-Star performance, but it was enough for him to be a productive player for a few months. At a time when everyone else on the team was getting worse, Sogard found his stride and played his best ball of the year. He started at second in the Wild Card game and notched his first career postseason hit on an infield single up the middle.

And then came the offseason. Sogard's strong second half wasn't enough to save his overall stats for the season, so it looks like he had a bad year instead of a bad half-year. Billy Beane has been looking for a new second baseman for a while, which means Sogard is on the roster bubble right up until he actually sees his name on the lineup card in April. He played most of last year at age 28, so while he's not yet old and declining he's also not a serious candidate for improvement at a time when the team is trying to get younger. At his best he's a legitimate platoon starter, but Oakland's decision to shake up the roster this winter means that he gets to spend six months hearing all of the names who pundits and fans would prefer to see in his place in 2015.

As for his performance on the field, the name of the game for Sogard this year was plate discipline. He didn't do a lot right with the bat:

- His isolated slugging was a minuscule .045, less than half his career norm.
- His .251 BABIP was 50 points lower than in 2013, though it jumped from .215 in the first half to a more normal .292 after the break.
- He posted a .478 OPS in 48 PAs against lefties.
- He had as many stolen bases as extra-base hits (11).

However, he set career-bests in walk rate (9.4%) and strikeout rate (11.2%), totaling 31 free passes and only 37 Ks in his 329 plate appearances. He had no manner of luck on batted balls in the first half, but at least he continued putting those balls in play and giving himself chances for hits, while also drawing some walks to find a way to occasionally get on base.

Sogard consistently walked more than he struck out in the minors, so his ability to control the zone is one of the things that got him to the bigs and it's nice to see that skill develop further -- especially as high contact rates are becoming particularly coveted. I said earlier that he is unlikely to get any better at this point in his career, but if he can continue to improve his BB/K rate as he ages, like Coco Crisp has done, he can more consistently be a pesky, productive hitter. And while he's still over-aggressive on the basepaths, he cut down on his bad decisions last year and made fewer outs with his legs.

But of course, Sogard's glove is the main reason he has stuck around this long. He's not at Mark Ellis' level, but he's among the best in baseball at making the routine plays and he gets to a lot of tough ones as well. He's unlikely to make any out-of-this-world Web Gems, but he gets to more than his share of balls and he rarely makes mistakes. Both DRS (plus-5) and UZR gave him positive marks, as usual, and even amid his offensive struggles his glovework kept him above replacement-level.

On the downside, he was pressed into duty at shortstop for much of August while Jed Lowrie was on the DL and once again showed that he couldn't cut it there. He made a handful of truly impressive plays and he can handle the position on a short-term emergency basis, but when he's there every day his limitations start to reveal themselves and the mistakes pile up.

All told, Sogard took a step back from 2013. His glove was every bit as good and his plate discipline continued to improve, but his bat just disappeared for three whole months and that tanked his overall production. A's fans would love to see an upgrade at the keystone, and it's fair to want more than what Sogard provided in 2014. The good news is that even if Billy Beane can't find a new name to plug in there, Sogard himself is a good bet to play better next year.

2014 season grade, relative to expectations: D+ ... He kept his head above replacement-level, but only barely. He got my hopes up in 2013 with his 2.1 bWAR, and I wanted to see him match at least half of that total. He could have gotten a C with a .600 OPS and/or 1.0 bWAR.

2014 season grade, overall: C- ... Second base is a desert in MLB right now, with little Getz-shaped tumbleweeds blowing around. There are some Uggla-sized cacti over there, just hoping one day a ball will be hit directly at them. Any day now. Two different teams used the literal Dan Uggla last year. It's bad out there, and if you can exceed replacement-level then you get a passing grade. The Yankees, White Sox, and Blue Jays all wish they could have had Sogard's production at second last year.

Video highlights

Let's start with some defense. Sogard's elven agility gives him quick hands.

Not to mention all-around good reflexes.

He can go to his right.

He can range straight in toward the plate.

He can go to his left.

He's not good at shortstop, but he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

This was the clutchiest hit of the year that I could find for Sogard. He ties the game in the ninth with a bloop single against the Astros.

He did manage to hit one home run this year, off of Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson.

He also picked up his first career postseason hit.

And of course, there will always be this slide.


It's easy to be disappointed with Sogard's performance, but he contributes more on the field than the eye immediately notices. His 2014 season had its ups and its downs, and the overall numbers weren't pretty, but he did just enough and he continued to be a fan favorite. If he's back in the lineup next year, just know that it could be worse.