The Oakland A's just got swept by the Kansas City Royals, and it is what it is. The team with the best record in the league beat a team with one of the worst records, even though the A's came in on a major hot streak. The A's might well pick up tonight right where they left off in Texas, and all we would have learned is that the Royals are really good this year. Even at Oakland's best, they still might not win a series against Kansas City.
But there is one aspect of that series that I just couldn't handle. I don't think this was the A's best. I don't think they put their best players on the field in any of the three games. I'm not talking about Billy Burns -- if he was feeling sore, then absolutely give him a couple days to rest up. I'm not talking about Josh Phegley, because you really shouldn't start both of your catchers every day, and I'm not talking about Brett Lawrie, who also needs a rest day now and then. Here are the season batting lines of a few guys who played on Sunday, and one guy who didn't:
Player 1: .246/.309/.346 (84 OPS+), 7.6% BB, 15.9% Ks
Player 2: .203/.273/.367 (78 OPS+), 9.1% BB, 27.3% Ks
Player 3: .255/.298/.294 (67 OPS+), 5.3% BB, 13.4% Ks
Player 4: .213/.292/.310 (70 OPS+), 9.7% BB, 15.8% Ks
Player 5: .242/.308/.410 (99 OPS+), 7.6% BB, 20.2% Ks
And, since the A's are all about platoons, here are those same players against right-handed pitching, such as Sunday's starter Jeremy Guthrie:
Player 1: .257/.296/.346 (81 wRC+), 4.3% BB, 15.2% Ks
Player 2: .205/.267/.372 (79 wRC+), 8.1% BB, 26.1% Ks
Player 3: .258/.295/.300 (69 wRC+), 5.0% BB, 10.4% Ks
Player 4: .223/.293/.331 (76 wRC+), 9.1% BB, 15.4% Ks
Player 5: .303/.356/.546 (154 wRC+), 6.1% BB, 18.2% Ks
Player 1 is Billy Butler. He's not really hitting anyone this year, lefty or righty, and the nicest thing I can say about him overall isn't that he doesn't strike out much. As I've written before, I don't think his low BABIP is really a fluke, but rather a sign of his loss of power to his pull side, making him particularly easy to shift against. And whereas normally he's excellent against LHP and merely decent against RHP, the only nice thing I can say about his performance against southpaws is that he's drawing his share of walks. I really can't see any reason to start Butler against RHP right now, especially since he offers nothing on defense. Designated hitter gotta hit, y'all.
Player 2 is Max Muncy. I don't understand why he is still in Oakland. He did a fabulous job filling in while Ike Davis was hurt, but there is no reason for him to be here anymore. His bat has promise because of his excellent plate discipline, but I just don't think he's ready to hit in MLB yet because once he gets his pitch he often doesn't do anything with it. I also think his defense at first base shows a lot of promise, and that with some practice he could become a decent backup at third base. But again, he needs work, and I have no interest in seeing that training occur during live MLB games. He basically skipped Triple-A (15 games before his callup in April), so let him go back and grow up like a normal kid. The backup for Lawrie at third should be Semien or Zobrist, so that means don't give Lawrie and Semien a day off on the same day. If you stagger their scheduled off-days, then you won't need to start a minor leaguer against the best team in the AL. Semien could have gotten Saturday off, and then started in place of Muncy on Sunday. Or, Parrino could have stayed here in the first place while Muncy went down to Triple-A, and then Sunday's third baseman would have at least been a guy who is good on one side of the ball. I think this was a mistake that probably cost them the game, given that Muncy's horrible throwing error appeared to be the difference.
Player 3 is Eric Sogard. Bless his heart. We all love him, and he belongs on this roster. But he does not need to be starting every day. He is sub-.300 in both OBP and SLG, and it's not because of a crazy-low batting average. He's kinda hot right, though! But his .277 average since June 4 is still only good for a .655 OPS since he doesn't draw many walks or hit for any power ever. He's at least solid against righties, though! Well, not really; he's nearly identical against RHP and LHP this year, and he didn't carry his weight against RHP last year either. Sure, he strikes out less against righties, and in fact he doesn't K much at all, but at some point all the contact in the world just doesn't help much if it's always soft and easy to field. His glove helped a lot on Saturday, but at some point you need to have faith in the Ben Zobrist you acquired and let him take that key spot while also providing a proficient bat. On Sunday Sogard started at short, which means a guy who can't hit was playing out of position. That's a recipe for mundane losses.
Player 4 is Sam Fuld. You know what? I'm cool with Sam. I don't mind seeing him in the lineup. I don't mind seeing him leading off when Burns needs a day. I also don't mind seeing him on the bench when there are other guys who make sense in the lineup. He's on a bit of a hot streak, too, batting .300/.400/.410 since June 4 with a few steals. He won't always hit like that, but I'm never surprised when he catches fire for a couple weeks. Ride it out while he's hot, as long as you're not sitting a significantly better player to squeeze him in.
Player 5 is Mark Canha. I would have told you sooner but I figured you'd guessed it by now, what with the title and all. Here are some facts about Canha:
- He is 3rd on the team in HR despite being only 8th in plate appearances
- He hasn't started since June 24, and he's not in there Monday, so he's missed five straight games
- He has an .800 OPS in June
- All 8 of his HR have come against RHP, in only 132 PAs
- He's batting .119 with one extra-base hit off of LHP
- He is not being held out due to any injuries that I am aware of
Canha is billed as a platoon player, but it's just not supported by any logic. He did hit lefties better in the minors, but only in the way that most RHH are better against LHP, not in that Gomes/Smith kind of way where he's prodigious against one side and garbage against the other. He's the kind of guy whom you might actively try to get in the lineup against lefties, yes, but he's not someone whom you need to hide against the other side like you do with Ike Davis.
Let me make clear that his current platoon splits are exaggerated. Given time, he will surely come down against righties, and some more hits will surely fall against lefties. He still has better plate discipline against southpaws, and eventually he'll homer off of one. Again, my point is not to say that he's bad against lefties. But what more can he do to show that he at least has what it takes to provide value against right-handed pitching, especially when so many of the guys starting ahead of him have failed to do so? Isn't this the team that usually likes to ride the hot hand when possible?
And as for being the hot hand, Canha is that as well. Or, he was. He started June by going 10-for-25 with two homers, only a pair of Ks, and an 1.187 OPS. But then he had a single 0-for-4 day and was sent back to the bench for three straight games. But he came back, and he went 2-for-5! That was June 17, and he's only played three of the subsequent 10 games, or 11 counting today's starting lineup. He's 1-for-11 in those games, probably because it's tough to get/stay in a groove when you only play every few days.
It's not difficult to get Canha in the lineup. Put him in LF, move Zobrist to 2B, and sit Sogard. Or put him at DH and sit Butler, if you want to play Fuld; statistically speaking, Canha is a virtually identical hitter to Butler this year but with more power. Obviously, put him at 1B against lefties when Ike sits (and that way you still get Fuld if you want him!). If Lawrie needs a day off, then put Zobrist at 2B, Sogard at SS, Semien at 3B (or just call up Parrino and leave Semien at SS), and Canha in LF; you should really be adding in a right-handed power bat to replace Lawrie in that situation anyway, or else you'll get an auto-forfeit lineup like Sunday's (with only 4 players slugging over .400; even the punchless Royals had 5, and that was with Lorenzo Cain on the bench). Canha's defense in LF isn't great but has improved visibly as the year has gone on, and his defense at 1B sometimes looks like a plus, so his glove should not be holding him back.
The A's have a fantastic offense, but they just scored seven runs in three games against the Royals and they did it with their third-leading slugger and third-best righty-masher watching the entire weekend from the bench. That bugs me. It's time to free Mark Canha and make him an everyday player, or at least a guy who plays two-thirds of the time, because he's one of the best bets on the 25-man roster regardless of the opponent.
Not convinced yet? Last year, I wrote basically the same article and it was titled "Free Derek Norris!" Statistically speaking, I am 1-for-1 in terms of calling for righty sluggers to have their platoon restrictions lifted, and therefore I am probably right.