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When It's Early And You're Squirrely...

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We've seen a bit too much of this view.
We've seen a bit too much of this view.
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

I just got back from the game, and let me just say: Hey, that was boring, stupid, and awful.

So your team is 8-11, leading the league in errors, missing its leadoff hitter and "captain," its best overall player, its closer, is 0-6 in day games, 0-7 in games decided by 1 or 2 runs...and you are trying to make that important yet difficult decision about whether you should panic.

A baseball season is indeed a marathon, not a sprint, and as a result any three-week sample is usually "four-parts mirage to one part water". As for the early part of the season, one good guiding principle is that you can't really win a division early so much as you can lose one.

What do we really know about the 2015 season so far? Mostly we know that the Milwaukee Brewers are in trouble. It's much easier and quicker to break a glass than it is to patch all the pieces back together, and similarly it's easier to crash from a great height (just ask the 2014 A's) than it is to climb up from the bottom of the valley. A 12-3 start, like the Mets enjoyed, can quickly regress into mediocrity. A 3-14 start, like the Brewers have almost certainly not enjoyed, can bury you if you don't recover but quick. Remember when the Angels began the season 6-14 before calling up Mike Trout? Oopsies. They got hot but never quite made up the difference.

7-10, in and of itself, is no big deal, especially when the teams most pundits picked ahead of you are stumbling out of the gate at about the same pace. So then what should -- and what shouldn't -- the A's do about the team at this early stage?

Kendall Graveman

I do think Graveman should be optioned to AAA after today's start, but not because I approve of rash moves after only 4 starts and not because his ERA, at 8.27, is beginning to scare puppies. What I see from Graveman is that he does not have a major league cutter -- he may have had one last year, but the pitch that elevated him from "ordinary A-ball prospect" to "all the rage" has been consistently flat, unimpressive, and unable to miss the barrel of the bat.

What that makes Graveman, right now, is what he originally was poised to be right now: a pitcher who is "ready for AA". He needs to regain the excellent command he has not shown in the big leagues, he needs to find that cutter, he needs to learn a bit more about how to pitch (pssst...change the eyeline).

If you weren't sure before, today's start cemented it as Graveman, an extreme ground ball pitcher, was able to induce only two ground balls in 4⅔ IP -- and one of them was a sharp one-hopper to SS. There were not even any ground balls through the infield, just line drive hits, a booming HR, and a near HR off the wall.

Assuming Jesse Hahn is able to make his next start the A's rotation, going forward, should be Gray, Kazmir, Hahn, Chavez, and Pomeranz, which is not only an excellent rotation but is also the one many of us felt the A's should break camp with. Graveman's struggles are not a mirage; they are the result of a pitcher whose meteoric rise from A-ball to the big leagues has blown a tire and needs the help of AAA. I still think Graveman can be a successful major league pitcher, but not right now.

The Bullpen

Bullpens are naturally volatile from day to day, week to week, year to year. That's why it's generally not a good practice to make sweeping changes based on a handful of data points.

Chris Bassitt is a good addition to the bullpen, partly because he can give you several innings as a long reliever and if the A's keep Chavez in the rotation, as they well should, they need a long reliever. Tyler Clippard is your closer. Evan Scribner has been consistently difficult to hit since adding a cutter, and because there is a reason to think Scribner is better than before, and also because his peers are almost universally struggling, Scribner should get the set-up role until further notice. Dan Otero and Fernando Abad become next on your depth chart, and Eric O'Flaherty, who has literally looked all season so far like he has no idea where the ball is going, gets pushed back on the depth chart simply so he has some lower leverage chances to get himself right.

No, it's not a lights out bullpen but it's at least a talented enough one that it could get as hot, in the next three weeks, as it has been cold the first three weeks. Roll with it and hope it is strong enough going forward until Sean Doolittle, and perhaps Jarrod Parker (or through Parker starting, Chavez) can give it another shot or two in the arm.

Mark Canha

Is Canha a "one week wonder" or cahne hit? I still think Canha can hit, but he is a platoon player masquerading as more. Give him at bats almost exclusively against LHPs and I think you'll once again see a good hitter -- not the Kevin Mass clone who owned week one, but a good hitter.

As far as his defense, if he's going to play the outfield he needs to play deeper because he does not judge balls well when they are hit over his head. However, from what I have seen Canha is a much better, and more comfortable, 1Bman and so I would favor putting him at 1B, Butler DH against LHPs -- and sitting Canha against RHPs.

Canha can't be sent down; it's either keep him on the roster or send him back to Miami. I say keep him.

Cody Ross

Part of the problem is that I think Canha and Ross are redundant and I would sooner see Ross' roster spot go to someone with a different profile than "can't hit RHPs, plays a poor OF, sound familiar?" No matter how much you think your team needs good bats against LHPs, are you going to get Butler, Canha, and Ross all in the lineup and put two of those guys in the field? Pick one. I pick Canha because he's younger and could have a future with the team beyond 2015.

With Zobrist and Crisp out, LF is a black hole against RHPs. If the A's make a trade, or go dumpster diving, in reaction to Zobrist's injury, the focus should be on a COFer who can hit RHPs.

I also have to say that while I understand that players get hit hard, strikeout, and make errors despite their best efforts, what made me angry today was watching Ross drop a fly ball and then just lay there feeling sorry for himself while two runners, who had held up at 1B and 2B thinking the ball would be caught, scrambled to beat a throw that was never made because Ross didn't go after the ball to try to salvage the play. That's unacceptable and while I'm not going to rail on you for batting .095 I will absolutely rail on you for a complete lack of effort.


So those are my two cents some areas where the A's are currently struggling and where, as a result, there is temptation to rush to judgment or to make early changes. Mostly, I'm glad not to be 3-14, glad the Mariners and Angels aren't off to a hot start, and confident that better days are ahead. But that last one is mostly because when you're playing badly it feels like it probably can't get a whole lot worse.