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Are The A's Too Soft For Their Own Good?

Bob Melvin
I heart you too, Bob.

This post goes against not one but two of my grains.

First off, I am an unabashed Bob Melvin fan who believes that the A's skipper earns praise both as a player's manager whose players consistently say they love playing for him and would do anything for him, and also as an in-game tactician who, while not without flaws, is still above average when compared to the many Ned Yosts, Scott Servaises, and Buck Showalters of the league.

Secondly I have always appreciated that the A's, under Melvin, stay above the fray while their opponents head-hunt, brawl, retaliate, and otherwise disgrace the game by acting as if they were middle school punks at a school with insufficient supervision.

The world does not need any more players like Vicente Padilla nor any managers who encourage boorish behavior in the name of machismo.

That all being said, sometimes I do wonder if the A's are the other extreme and if over time Melvin has allowed the A's to morph into a team that is too nice, a bit soft, and is perhaps even losing the edge of competitive spark that they initially had under the super-competitive Melvin.

As I watch opposing batters lean out over the plate to square up A's pitches, I ask myself, "When was the last time you saw an A's pitcher throw a 'purpose pitch,' i.e., a pitch designed to back hitters off the plate?" This is much different from a pitch intending to hit or hurt someone; it is designed to reclaim the inside part of the plate, a reminder that the pitcher is the one with ownership of the plate and a fastball to prove it.

Even the super-intense Sonny Gray does not back hitters off the plate, and on down the rotation you would hard pressed to name a pitcher, or a pitch, where you would say, "That was to back him off the plate." Perhaps opposing batters have become too comfortable in the batter's box against A's pitchers.

Back in 2012, I recall Stephen Vogt (or was it Brandon Moss? memory is harrrd) tapping a routine ground ball to Jurickson Profar, who calmly fielded it and threw to 1B too late to get Vogt, who busted it down the line and caught Profar off-guard. Last year Mark Canha started a winning rally against Houston when he beat out a grounder to SS that was played too casually by Carlos Correa.

As inspirational as those moments are, equally deflating is when a player -- and Danny Valencia last Sunday was an example -- gives a token jog up the line. I would like to think that a lack of hustle and effort is not tolerable, but I have yet to see or hear evidence of it. Players love Melvin so much they would "run through a wall for him," but what happens when they don't? Nothing?

What happens when you miss the cutoff man, something every player is physically capable of doing, or at least capable of aiming to do? When you see the same players making the same fundamental mistakes over and over, you wonder in what way they feel accountable or motivated to do it right.

It seems impossible that a Bob Melvin team would lack any competitive fire, hustle, or commitment to fundamentals, and yet to me right now the A's stand out in the AL as the one team you can bully and they won't fight back, a team unable to master even the basics of not repeating fundamental mistakes again and again, a team encouraged to hustle but allowed to decide.

Maybe Valencia was just following orders from the trainers to protect his hamstring; maybe there aren't a lot of other examples of a lack of full effort. Perhaps the A's aren't fundamentally sound just because they aren't very good, and it's possible that Oakland's pitchers have made 17 attempts to back hitters off the plate only to have the pitches accidentally hit the outside corner.

I really don't know. I love that the A's are nice guys; I just don't want them to finish last again.