On July 6th, the general public was notified that the Oakland Athletics would be sending not one, but two all-stars to Cincinnati in right-handed starter Sonny Gray and left-handed catcher Stephen Vogt. Both of these players are more than deserving of such honors. Gray posted a 2.20 ERA (2nd best in the AL), 1.01 WHIP (also 2nd best in the AL), and a .207 opponents batting average (3rd in the AL) in the first half of 2015. Gray was a no-doubter to get into the All-Star Game. Heck, before falling victim to salmonella poisoning late last week, there was discussion that he might be starting the All-Star game for the American League. The underdog of the two to get in was Stephen Vogt, but after leading all AL catchers in average (.287), RBI (53), and hits (77), it became quite obvious he was deserving of a spot on the All-Star roster.
As much as both Gray and Vogt are immensely deserving of their recent success, the intent of this article is to highlight the first half performances of other players on the A's roster.
The Athletics acquired Clippard on January 14th, 2015 in a swap for shortstop Yunel Escobar(the Athletics had him for 5 days). After the departure of premier setup man Luke Gregerson, the Athletics would almost certainly rely on Clippard to do the heavy lifting throughout the season. He's done just that.
Originally slated to be the 8th inning guy for the Athletics, Clippard was forced into the role of closer due to Sean Doolittle's nagging shoulder injury that's kept him out for most of the season. Even though Clippard had to adjust to a new league and adopt the role of closer, he's still managed to post a 2.52 ERA in 35 1/3 innings pitched. With guys like Dellin Betances and Wade Davis having astronomically good seasons, Clippard has flown under the radar in the "elite relievers" discussion. It takes a special kind of reliever to handle the transition from set up man to closer as seamless as Clippard has done.
It's worth noting that the 3 other relievers selected for the AL All-Star roster —Glen Perkins, Zach Britton, and Carson Smith— all have ERA's below 2, so dubbing Clippard an "elite" pitcher seems to be somewhat farfetched upon first glance. However, if you take away Clippard's performance against Boston on June 7th (0.1 IP 3 ER), his ERA plummets to 1.79; that's All-Star worthy, as they say.
If nothing else, Clippard deserves to be put on a dais simply because of what he's meant to an Athletics bullpen that's struggled mightily throughout this season. Without him — let's not even go there.
2. Scott Kazmir
In 2002, Scott Kazmir was at the top of Billy Beane's draft list (see the book "Moneyball" for details). Beane wouldn't get the chance to draft him, as the Mets took him 15th overall (one spot ahead of the A's). 12 years later, the A's general manager would sign the 29 year-old southpaw to a 2 year, $22 million contract. Here's what the A's have gotten out of the deal so far:
The 2014 numbers don't tell the entire story, as Kazmir earned All-Star honors and posted a 2.08 ERA in his first 15 starts of the year.
Kazmir is once again off to a hot start in 2015 and, unless that triceps tightness turns into to something serious, it doesn't look like he's showing any signs of slowing down. Kazmir is a huge reason why the A's have the best rotation in the American League (3.38 ERA). It remains to be seen whether his success will continue but —at least for the 1st half of 2015— Kazmir has been among the best starters in the AL.
3. Josh Reddick
Josh Reddick's career as an Athletic has been unlike any before him. A combination of dramatic statistical changes and a big personality make him one of the more intriguing players in baseball.
In 2012, Reddick saw his first major playing time as an outfielder. He hit 32 homeruns and won a gold glove. Over the next 2 seasons, however, Reddick would only hit 24 homeruns with a .244 average. Then, as if a lightbulb went on, Reddick completely changed his approach at the plate:
His OBP has jumped 29 points in 4 years, his K% has been cut in half, and his overall offensive value has significantly increased. His increased plate discipline is most evident when you look at his heat maps for swing% in 2012 vs 2015:
Oh, did I mention he's batting .307 with runners in scoring position this year? That's a 101 point increase from his mark of .206 in 2012. Add 11 homeruns, 50 RBI's, a .287 avg., and you have a brand the new and improved Josh Reddick of 2015.
Honorable mention to the honorable mentions:
Kendall Graveman's performance since being recalled from AAA Nashville is definitely worth noting. Graveman started out the year 1-2 with a 8.27 ERA in his 4 starts. He was then sent down on April 26th and then recalled on May 23rd. Since being recalled, Graveman is 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in 9 starts. With a 5.26 K/9, it'll be interesting to see if Graveman can keep up what he's doing. For the first half of 2015 at least, he's been one of the most reliable starters in the A's rotation.
At a record of 39-49 and 10 games back of 1st place in the AL West, the A's are certainly not where they want to be at this point in the season. This makes it even tougher for players on the roster who are having fabulous years to get the respect that they deserve. This article should help with that.