clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Oakland A's headlines if the 1st half of the 2015 season didn't exist

New, 30 comments
Close your eyes and come on an imaginary journey with me.
Close your eyes and come on an imaginary journey with me.
Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

On SB Nation's MLB site this week, Grant Brisbee wrote a post in which he took the second half of the 2015 season and analyzed it as if we were just finishing April. If the first half of the season had never happened and the last month of baseball was actually the beginning of the campaign, what would the story lines be? I thought it looked like a fun exercise, so I decided to do a version just focusing on the A's. The format:

Here's the format: We pretend that the season started after the All-Star break. There's about a month's worth of games to go on, and now we have to form opinions. I'll come up with the headline of an article that would seem plausible if the baseball season were just a month old, and then I'll guess at the words that would have been under that headline.

Don't take any of this too seriously. The first half of the season did happen, and it does count, and so some of the points and jokes being made here are just for fun. However, some might reveal truths and trends that would otherwise be overshadowed by conflicting first-half performances. Sometimes the funniest part is finding out a year later which is which! Or sometimes that's the saddest part.

First, I suppose we should set the scene. If the All-Star break was actually the eve of the season, then the story of the 2015 A's would be one of a massive rebuild. Even if you already thought that in real-life April, double down on it. Not only were the four All-Stars traded in the winter, but Scott Kazmir was dealt and offseason acquisitions Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard were flipped right out of the gate. Oakland would have been entering the year with a 2012-type roster full of rookies and question marks, but with Billy Butler instead of Yoenis Cespedes as the high-priced free agent RHH, and they would now be a predictable 10-15 and four games out in a weak AL West (led by the Rangers). With all of that in mind, the headlines I've picked aren't meant to dwell on that plight but rather to point out some truly surprising individual performances for either a good reason or for dramatic effect. Get ready to practice some suspension of disbelief -- here we go!

***

Sample headline if the first half didn't exist:

Is Chris Bassitt challenging for the role of Oakland's ace?

Sample hot take:

Everyone knows that Sonny Gray is Oakland's No. 1 starter, but it has been Chris Bassitt leading the rotation in the early going this year. The crazy part is that Sonny hasn't even been bad -- he already has a pair of complete games and a 2.13 ERA through five starts. But Bassitt has been even stingier, with a 2.03 mark to go along with a strikeout per inning and a K:BB ratio (5.40) nearly twice as high as Sonny's (2.80). Bassitt has a big edge in FIP as well, with a mark (2.62) more than a run better than Sonny's (3.79), so he isn't completely fluking into success either.

It takes more than a handful of good April starts to crown a new ace, but consider that Sonny has already missed a start with back spasms one year after setting a career-high with 219 innings. He's probably fine, and this is all probably one big blip on the radar, but small-sample stats were made to be abused and it's shocking to think that the A's might have traded Shark (6.96 ERA through 5 starts) and ended up getting the best pitcher in the deal.

Bassitt's timing couldn't be better, too, because the rest of the rotation needed someone to step up. Jesse Chavez has struggled in six starts (5.28 ERA), Kendall Graveman hasn't impressed so far in five outings (5.70 ERA), and Aaron Brooks got annihilated in his third start for the team after throwing two encouraging gems (5.63 ERA). It's a two-man rotation at the moment: Bassitt and Gray and then homers all day.

***

Sample headline if the first half didn't exist:

Stephen Vogt may not be the answer behind the plate

Sample hot take:

We all believed in Stephen Vogt entering the year, but it's looking more and more like that faith won't be rewarded. After emerging as a postseason hero in 2013 and following up with a strong 2014, Vogt is just not hitting this year. His line of .149/.192/.243 is arguably the worst on the team, his 19 wRC+ is out-sucked by only Sam Fuld (9), and he's at negative-0.6 fWAR already (and that's with a neutral defensive rating, not a big wonky negative mark skewing things). He's hit one home run and he's got as many walks as GIDPs (4). It doesn't help that the other big acquisitions aren't doing much either:

Butler: .187/.256/.293, 2 HR, 53 wRC+
Lawrie: .209/.247/.330, 2 HR, 60 wRC+
Ike: 192/.263/.269, 0 HR, 52 wRC+

The only hitters showing a pulse so far are Danny Valencia (222 wRC+), who leads the team in homers despite having played only seven of their 25 games; Josh Phegley (124 wRC+), who could be the primary starter behind the plate by the All-Star break with the way things are going; Josh Reddick (100 wRC+), who is striking out way less than normal but still suffering through the same disappointing results (.278 OBP, 2 HR); and Jake Smolinski (170 wRC+), who was only a short-term injury replacement (for now) and isn't even on the active roster anymore.

Stephen Vogt is not the only A's hitter who is struggling right now, but he's the one struggling the most when he was supposed to be one of the team's bigger bats. We've seen him get hot before, though; do you believe he can do it again? Hopefully starting in early May?

***

Sample headline if the first half didn't exist:

Fernando Abad is unhittable

Sample hot take:

In 2014, Abad didn't give up his first run until May 7, his 15th game of the season. The run raised his ERA to 0.61 in 14⅔ innings. And, wouldn't you know it, he's doing it again.

Abad has appeared in 11 games so far this season, and he's yet to allow a run in 10⅔ frames. He's struck out 10 batters, issued three walks, and allowed six hits, not dominant numbers but pretty darn good ones. What's more, they are relatively sustainable numbers; last year, when he was racking up those 15 scoreless games, he was fortunate to allow only two hits in that span. This time around, he's not getting quite as lucky in each battle (more hits allowed), but he's winning the war just the same (no runs allowed).

The context makes Abad's performance crucial in addition to just impressive. The A's pen has been a complete disaster, and mop-up man Evan Scribner (1.17) is the only other reliever with an ERA below 4.00. With Tyler Clippard and Ryan Cook out of the picture, Sean Doolittle hurt, and Dan Otero (4.32) and Edward Mujica (7.56) struggling, there isn't a lot of experience to lean on in the late innings right now. This should come as no surprise after his breakout season last year, but with Doolittle on the shelf, Abad is the A's best reliever -- and it's not even close. The only real question left is whether he should get a shot at closing the ninth inning.

***

Sample headline if the first half didn't exist:

Marcus Semien at SS? No problem.

Sample hot take:

Entering the year, there was a lot of concern over whether Marcus Semien would be able to handle the shortstop position defensively. He had a fair amount of professional experience, but the scouting reports were generally lukewarm at best and there was always a chance he could end up moving to another position. The A's even brought back Ron Washington to work with him over the offseason, hoping Wash could cast the same magic that helped former bat-first infielder Eric Chavez win six Gold Gloves.

Well, the initial results are in, and oh man were we way off with this one. Semien has been completely decent at short so far, and you could even make an argument that he's been pretty good. He's made only two errors in his first 23 games, and one of them was a tough play that I think should have been ruled a hit for Giovanny Urshela, so at least he's completing the routine plays on balls he gets to. His range isn't amazing, but he gets to the ball enough of the time to be adequate. His footwork is fine. He looks smooth and confident turning the double play. The biggest knock is his arm, which has a tendency to get wild, but he's usually good at keeping it low (rather than winging it over the 1B's head and into the stands) and he is adept at using the ground as a delivery tool by timing an easy hop for his 1B. Here are most of those observations, combined into one play that you may not have thought Semien could make when spring began:

There is still room for improvement, between his throwing and his general focus -- he still takes his eye off the ball now and then, both literally and figuratively. But Semien's defense is one thing we can cross off our list of worries for now. And, as the cherry on top, he's heating up at the plate; he's on an 8-game hitting streak, during which he's posted a 1.080 OPS. Addison Who?

***

What other headlines can you find for the second half that differ wildly from the first half?