The Oakland A's lineup has undergone some changes lately, and some new heroes have emerged who played little to no role in the first half of the season. It can be confusing to keep up with this club and its revolving door of players, so let's take a quick look at each of the names to see who's here, who's hot, and who's not.
I'm sticking to the 14 position players on the active roster, so if he's on the DL or in the minors then he's not here. The A's hitters, ranked by OPS+ such that a mark of 100 is average, 90 is 10% below average, and 120 is 20% above average:
*** Stats are through Monday's game ***
Jake Smolinski | 160
Smolinski was finally called back up on Aug. 19, when Ike Davis was placed on the DL with a season-ending injury. He started the subsequent two games, against lefties Alex Wood and Drew Smyly, and then hasn't been seen since as the A's faced righties in their next three contests. At the moment it looks like he's in a strict platoon with Coco Crisp in left field, and indeed Jake is in the lineup tonight against the southpaw Mike Montgomery. He's picked up a hit in each of his starts, so while his presence at the top of this list is a small-sample mirage he is still proving to be a useful role player. Of course, I'd still like to see him get an everyday shot over the likes of Coco and Billy Butler, who don't look like they have much more to offer this year, but it is what it is.
Danny Valencia | 135
Valencia hasn't missed a beat since coming over from Toronto, and in fact he's hitting for more power as an Athletic. He's slowed down a bit from his torrid debut week because nobody posts a 1.375 OPS for long, but his Oakland numbers are right in line with the monster season he was enjoying as a Blue Jay. He's hit five homers in 15 games since his arrival, which leads the team in the second half of the season. The A's have played 35 games in the second half of the season. Oh, dear.
The real question with Valencia is what he can bring to the team next year as an everyday player. Repeating this 135 OPS+, or his overall season mark of 131, seems optimistic, but if the A's try to put together a lineup full of guys who can post at least a 110 mark then Valencia could fit right in if even 80% of this year's success is real. Furthermore, I've been impressed with his defense. He doesn't knock your socks off with any amazing grabs, but it's refreshing to see someone step in and calmly make all the routine plays. His range is good enough, and his arm is strong enough -- he made a play the other day in which he fielded the ball on the foul line several feet behind the bag at third, set himself, and sailed a perfect throw on the fly to retire the runner. That was not an easy throw, but he made it look easy.
Stephen Vogt | 121
On Aug. 14 (a week ago Friday), I wrote about how Vogt had gotten off to a slow start in the second half. That night, he went 3-for-5 with a homer, because what the hell do I know. Starting that night in Baltimore, he's 9-for-25 with a 1.033 OPS in his last eight games, and both his plate discipline and his power seem to be slowly recovering. Hitters tend to go through peaks and valleys over a season, and you never know how long each up or down stretch will last. For now, Vogt seems to be on the happy side of that spectrum, so if you were starting to lose any confidence in him as the season wears on and the innings of crouching behind the plate add up, then I urge you to reconsider.
Josh Phegley | 119
Phegley's .480 slugging percentage ranks second among all MLB catchers with at least his 191 plate appearances, behind only Wellington Castillo of the D'Backs (though Cubs rookie Kyle Schwarber and Mets youngster Travis d'Arnaud are ahead of him in fewer PAs). His 1.6 bWAR ranks sixth among all AL catchers, behind only league-leader Vogt, two more All-Stars (Perez, Martin), another long-time star (McCann), and Caleb Joseph. On the fWAR scale he's even better, as his 1.7 mark is tied with Joseph and trails only McCann, Martin and Vogt, all while playing in far fewer games than anyone above him or most of the guys directly below him. He's not only the best backup catcher in baseball, he's one of the best catchers in the American League, period. He's got power, he can make enough contact to use it, and he's got a great arm (41% CS). The A's had Norris and Jaso before, and somehow they improved on that with Vogt and Phegley. Billy Beane just can't miss with catchers these days.
Josh Reddick | 117
I continue to be amazed by Josh Reddick's transformation into a contact maven. His 5.7% swinging-strike rate (that's swings-and-misses divided by total pitches) is the 15th-lowest among 155 qualified MLB hitters, and his 9.7% strikeout rate (Ks divided by plate appearances) is fifth-lowest in baseball. He's drawing a decent amount of walks and hitting for midlevel power, and that overall profile is pretty good. If he could keep his average up above .300 (currently .282), he'd basically be Buster Posey at the plate. Reddick used to be known for being beatable in big moments, especially with a hard fastball or a curve in the dirt, but he can handle just about anything now and that makes him a guy you are always happy to see at the plate when it matters most. And hey, we got to see him throw out a foolish baserunner last night, just like the good ol' days!
Mark Canha | 106
Canha has been on the roster all year long, every single day of the season, but he's been hidden away in a platoon role (at best) the whole time. Some of us have been dying to see him get an everyday role since day one, back when the A's made it clear how excited they were about their new sleeper slugging prospect, and now it's finally happening. Canha took over the regular job at first base on Aug. 12 and has played a dozen straight games since then, with the following results:
Canha, last 12 gms: 21-for-50, .420/.453/.700, 2 HR, 3 BB, 7 Ks
He's making a ton of contact, and he's crushing the ball when he does hit it. A lot of those outs were loud as well, and not many of the hits were cheap. He's also coming through with runners on, as he's driven in 13 in those 12 games. His sneaky speed also helps him beat out some infield hits and make some quality hustle plays, like last night when he scored from second base on an infield single to first baseman Jesus Montero.
Billy Burns | 100
Time keeps going by, and Burns keeps on making good in the leadoff spot. He's still hovering around a .300 average, which is what it will take to give him an acceptable OBP as long as he keeps his free-swinging ways. Here's the thing, though -- he's hit the first pitch of his at-bat 90 times, by far the most on the team, but he's hitting .483 with an 1.174 OPS on that first pitch. Shouldn't he keep doing that as long as he's succeeding with it? His numbers get worse the deeper the count gets, and especially as he gets to two strikes, so it's important that his strategy is to swing at the first strike he sees rather than the first pitch he sees. But so far, it's working for him.
Extra note: Burns has virtually identical K/BB rates from each side of the plate, but his BABIP is substantially higher from the left side and that makes up the only notable difference in his splits. Is that due to the extra head start he gets out of the left-hand batter's box, as opposed to crossing over the plate from the right-hand box? Seems as good as any explanation to me, and it means that, amazingly enough, his switch-hitting experiment has already been a success -- he's indiscernible from either side as far as what he does with the bat.
Brett Lawrie | 98
Lawrie continues to hover around league-average overall, but he's slowly molding into a reliable hitter. The improtant thing is that his strikeout rate is back under control, after a completely uncharacterstic spike to start the year. Here's a breakdown:
Entering 2015: 16.4%
Apr/May 2015: 28.6%
Since June '15: 19.7%
2nd half 2015: 17.2%
Now that Lawrie is making contact again, he's flexing occasional power and using his speed to beat out grounders and put pressure on defenses. But he's still waiting for that big breakout, whether it comes in the form of a high average or a surge of power. It might come next week. It might come next year. It might never come. But at least he's not whiffing so darn much anymore.
Oh, and is it just me or does Lawrie look totally acceptable at second base? I think the A's might be on to something there.
Marcus Semien | 89
Like Lawrie, Semien's bat hints at something more. We know he's got a bit of power, at least enough for double-digit homers, and we know he can run. But he needs one more thing to tie it together -- in the minors, he drew lots of walks, and if you took his current line and made his OBP .340 instead of .299 then he'd be an above-average hitter. Can he make that improvement next year, when he's not focusing so hard on his on-the-job defensive training? He makes a decent amount of contact and he hits the ball pretty hard, and I really don't see any reason why he can't be an above-average hitter next year. As it stands, he's a 24-year-old shortstop who is now playing solid defense and has double-digits in both homers and steals. That's not a bad player to have in the middle of your infield.
Sonny Gray has an OPS+ of 87, after going 1-for-3 with a single for a .667 OPS. If you're below this line, then you better have a good reason.
Billy Butler | 82
Oh man, we still have five players left? Raise your hand if you want to read about Billy Butler. Okay, that's what I thought. He had a walkoff hit the other day, but otherwise he's the worst player and coldest hitter on the team. Moving on.
Max Muncy | 80
Muncy is back for now, and while he may make one more trip back and forth to Nashville he'll spend most of the rest of the season with the A's. The most interesting thing that I have to say about Muncy right now is that it is his birthday today. He is 25 years old. Happy birthday, Max! I'll have more to say about him when he's played more games at the MLB level.
Eric Sogard | 60
At this point, you either like Sogard or you don't. You like that he plays great defense and makes a lot of contact, and you remember the times that he comes through in the clutch with a well-placed ground ball or blooper. Or you don't like his utter lack of power and you can't see how any glove could make up for his wretched .567 OPS. Either way you have a great point, and the answer is probably still somewhere in the middle just like it's always been -- he's a useful player who belongs in MLB, but hopefully he's not starting half your games. With Lawrie playing 2B and Joey Wendle getting hot in Triple-A, perhaps 2016 is finally the year that the A's come up with a new answer at the keystone. (With Sogard on the bench or waiting in Triple-A, of course. Gotta keep that nerd power.)
Sam Fuld | 57
I just wrote an entire post about Super Sam. If you want to read about him, go check it out. He's 2-for-35 since Aug. 3, but at least the hits were a double and a homer!
Coco Crisp | 29
Oh, Coco. He's one of my favorite MLB players, and probably in my top-5 all-time A's. But it's just not happening this year. Even the hits he is getting are lucky bloops or grounders-with-eyes. The power is gone. There's not much to offer in the field. Is it horrible to suggest that he take the rest of the year off and give it one last go in 2016? The best thing he can do for this non-contending team is let them spend the final month trying out guys like Smolinski and Muncy and Rangel Ravelo.
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