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Oakland A’s: Four small samples to track

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It’s been a busy first week for the A’s.

MLB: Spring Training-Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

There are stats that take years to bake, thousands of at bats to really tell you anything. The first week of the year is famous for misleading fans, giving false hope, and causing false worry. But while we can’t take any certainties from early season statlines, we can identify and follow important storylines.

Ryon Healy is seeing more high heat

Ryon Healy getting worse was always an option. We knew there was a chance his true talent level was below the superstar performance he put on last season (offensively at least) and we also knew pitchers would adjust. After all, Healy was a breakout star thanks mainly to his reinvented flyball swing.

In an increasingly defensive sport, the major danger for pitchers is the longball. Batters have started swinging up and for the fences (like Healy did), increasing strikeouts but also home runs, and offense is up overall.

But adjustments were sure to come from the other side, and it seems they already have. Pitcher’s antidote for the flyball swing is pitching up in the zone, something that rings true for Healy. He was most effective against pitches down last season, rather meh vs. pitches up. It worked out as most pitchers did work him down. This year, he’s see fastballs up in the zone much more than he did last year.

That adjustment is likely part of Healy’s early season struggles. The good news: it’s so, so, so early that this could all be a blip. It’s not like Healy has been great against pitches down thus far, something just seems off about him. That’s to be expected in the 10 games of a 162-game season. It takes time to counter-adjust, too. Healy has probably seen pitches down for the vast majority of his career, and working with a different crop of pitches might take an adjustment period.

The bad news: pitching up has been the antidote to lots of flyball hitters, so it’s no guarantee Healy will just figure it out or return all the way to 2016 form. It’s been ugly thus far, and while it’s hopefully not a sign of things to come, it’s something to watch.

Yonder Alonso’s new swing

Speaking of swing changes, the A’s best hitter thus far has been Yonder Alonso, he of a new uppercut hack. Alonso’s groundball rate is down, his linedrives and flyballs up, and his numbers are good in this oh so tiny sample.

He’s gone the opposite way much less and is hitting the ball much harder, two things he’s no doubt intending to do. Can he keep it up or is this a small sample mirage? Alonso is one of the more interesting stories this year for the Oakland A’s.

Kendall Graveman’s pitch selection, velocity

The A’s defacto #1 made a big change last season, basically abandoning anything but his sinker and a cutter. He’s doubled down on that new arsenal this year, throwing his sinker a remarkable 91% of the time. The rest of his pitches are cutters, thrown so hard these days that most tracking systems are fooled into thinking it’s a run of the mill four-seamer.

It’s truly impressive how hard he’s throwing these days - his sinker is up to 94.7 MPH on average, two MPH up from last season. That takes into account the changes in how velocity is tracked. He’s legit throwing gas.

It’s even more impressive when you consider most pitchers take a few months to fully ramp up velocity wise, meaning this might not even be it for how high he can go.

His ability to last with basically a single offering will undoubtedly be helped by increased arm strength. A 95 MPH sinker can be a weapon, a 91 MPH sinker can be a liability. His ability to function will always be mostly a function of his ability to locate with movement, but the increased velocity will hopefully take him to the next level.

Khris Davis has been patient

There’s no being disappointed in Khris Davis’s 2016 but if one were to nitpick like baseball fans are known to do, the sole source of offensive disappointment would come from his walk rate. Davis walked a meager 6.9% of the time last year (nice), a career low. Much of that came due to swinging lots, mostly at pitches outside the zone.

This year, he’s cut that substantially. He’s swinging at just about a third of the pitches outside the zone he was last season, leading to better counts, more walks, fewer strikeouts, and a better overall player. Well, a better week of a player. He, like just about everyone is a much better hitter when he’s ahead in the count. Like, a much, much, much better hitter. So even if his walk rate doesn’t stay up, finding ways to stay ahead in counts could be huge for him, bigger than it is for your average player.

Again, these are small samples where single at bats can sway stats. But walk rate stabilizes faster than other stats, and his newfound plate discipline could be here to stay. If it is, look out. Khris Davis would be an absolute force if he continued to lay off pitches he’s struggled with before.