The Oakland A's stand at 6-7 overall after the first two weeks of the 2016 season, which is good enough for second place in the currently weak AL West division. They swept the Mariners on the road, then came home and got swept right back by the Angels, and then took two of three from the defending champion Royals. In other words, there have already been ups and downs, just as there will continue to be for the rest of time.
There are good things! The lineup is showing some power, and three hitters already have multiple home runs. The rotation has the fourth-best ERA in MLB (3.00), and the relief corps was named Bullpen of the Week for the first week of the season.
There are also bad things. Here are three of them, in numerical form. They each carry a "Worry Factor" on a scale of 1 (ain't no thang) to 10 (panic!). After I finished writing this, I realized that Nico highlighted two of these same things in his own post a week ago, which I take to mean that Nicodamus accurately predicted this article several days in advance.
Jed Lowrie | 5 errors
The A's defense was awful in 2015, leading the world in errors and ranking poorly on the advanced metrics. A lot of the attention went to Marcus Semien and Brett Lawrie, but Semien has significantly improved since last April and Lawrie is gone. Theoretically, that sentence alone should be enough to drastically improve the team's fielding.
Nope. The A's still lead the AL in errors, though four NL teams have committed more miscues in the early going. However, a quick look at the numbers shows one culprit in particular: Jed Lowrie. Despite making the shift down the defensive spectrum from shortstop to second base, Lowrie has already committed five errors in the 10 games in which he's played the field. They've generally been sloppy mistakes on blatantly routine balls, and two of them have led to runs, albeit both in games the A's won anyway.
It's still early, and Lowrie actually doesn't have that much MLB experience at second base during his career. Furthermore, on multiple occasions he has made a silly error and then responded by turning a sweet double play to make up for it. But still, when you bring in a steady veteran there is an expectation that you'll get some steady play, and Lowrie has not yet provided that in the field.
Worry factor: 3 ... Maybe Lowrie sharpens things up with more reps at 2B and maybe he doesn't, but either way he doesn't need to be a star for this team to succeed. Chris Coghlan has also shown that he can cover second base, and in fact Lowrie might end up being something of a stopgap while we wait for youngsters like Chad Pinder and Joey Wendle in Triple-A (not to mention utilityman Tyler Ladendorf). If Lowrie's defense becomes a long-term problem, then there are other options for the position. And if he starts hitting like he's capable, then a few extra errors might be something the team can deal with -- even with his ugly .521 OPS (52 OPS+), he's managed enough clutch hits to knock in eight runs (second on the team).
Yonder Alonso | -12 OPS+
That's a minus in front of the 12, or negative-12. That means Alonso has been 112% worse than the average MLB hitter, thanks to going 5-for-39 with one extra-base hit and one walk. If you prefer wRC+ then the number drops even further, to negative-21. That's the equivalent of Andy Parrino trying to hit while using a large churro as a bat.
Now, it's not entirely fair to single out Alonso's lack of production. The entire A's offense has been weak, particularly against right-handed pitching. Overall, the A's rank 26th in wRC+ (76), 25th in isolated slugging (.123), 24th in walk rate (7.0%), and dead last in BABIP (.246). They're yet to score more than six runs in a single game, and they've only exceeded four runs twice. Danny Valencia and Khris Davis, meant to be two fearsome sluggers, are both yet to homer and their OPS marks are barely 1.000 if you combine them together. There are other problems beyond just Alonso.
But dang. First base is supposed to be a hitter-friendly position, and instead it's been an absolute zero so far. Even Alonso's backup, Mark Canha, is 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts to start the year. You don't have to have a big bopper at first base, conventional wisdom be damned, but punting that position on offense is a tough hole to dig out of.
Worry factor: 1 ... Have some patience with Alonso. This is one of those cases where you shouldn't freak out about 13 lackluster games from a seven-year veteran. He's finished above-average in almost every year of his career, and there's still every reason to expect he'll turn things around. If there's one negative thing to keep an eye on, it's the fact that he's swinging and missing far more often than he normally does, but even that seems like something that will even out over time. He'll never be the traditional corner slugger, but he'll hit eventually. And if he doesn't, or he gets hurt, then there's always Canha to take over -- or perhaps one the top Triple-A prospects, like Rangel Ravelo and Renato Nunez and Matt Olson. On the bright side, Alonso's defense is every bit as slick as advertised, so at least he's got something to contribute even when the bat is cold.
A's bullpen | 46 innings pitched (most in AL)
As previously mentioned, Oakland's rotation is top-4 in ERA. That's good! The bullpen has also been great, with a top-10 ERA, the lowest walk rate in MLB, and only one blown save in 11 save/hold situations. They're one of only three pens that has not yet allowed an inherited runner to score, having stranded all 21 of them. What could possibly be the problem, then?
Overuse, that's what. Everything looks great until the pitchers wear out and begin to slip. There's no telling when the hammer will drop -- things could go sour after a month, or the relievers could stay strong all season long. But the more you lean on them, the higher you run your odds of not having them later in the summer/fall when you need them.
Worry Factor: 5 ... This is something to keep a close eye on this year. The rotation is full of starters who have never thrown 200 innings (Sonny excluded), and they may never go consistently deep in games this season. Therefore, their margin of error is thin and they will need to limit the number of times they get a truly early hook -- that is, not even making it through the 5th inning. The bullpen seems like it can be trusted for the time being, but at their current rate of use that might not always be the case. It's up to the rotation to limit that late-inning workload and keep the relievers fresh for as long as possible.
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