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Pleasant Surprises & Deep Concerns

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The season is 1/8 old — or will be around the middle of the 3rd inning tonight — and we are fast approaching the "6 week mark" mid-May that many teams use as a "where are we" marker. The samples are still small but the trends are clear. In the case of the A’s, some players are trending nicely while others are earning precious few "likes" on Facebook.

Jed Lowrie

This past off-season I may have said a word or two that was less than supportive about Lowrie. Luckily, nothing can be traced or looked up on the internet. There are times when I am ecstatic to be dead wrong and boy has Lowrie’s play made me eat crow.

Lowrie’s range was never his calling card and never will be, but he has been as solid at 2B as you could want to see. His range has been passable, he makes all the routine plays (to the tune of an impressive errorless streak at 2B), and while his arm strength has cost a few DPs I see him as being above average in how he starts or turns the DP.

At the plate Lowrie has been a great role model for plate discipline, patience, and a strong all-fields approach. His slash line of .275/.346/.391 may not warrant batting him 3rd (Trout-Altuve-Mazara-Cano-Lowrie...which one of these AL West #3 hitters doesn’t belong here?), but he has been an asset to the offense and a stabilizing force on defense.

It’s hard for this Cal grad to do, but I must offer my mea culpas (meas culpa?) to Lowrie for any suggestions that he devours babies as appetizers before diving late trying to trip nuns. He’s been an early bright spot.

Stephen Vogt

Catchers generally do not age well, even when they aren’t magnets for every single foul tip — I’m pretty sure Vogt has gotten beaten up by at least 3 foul tips from games not even involving the A’s. In the case of Vogt, he has usually started strong and faded down the stretch, but this season he is not starting strong. To put it mildly.

Vogt’s batting line currently stands at .220/.245/.360. Apparently the resolve to walk more this year hasn’t really taken (Vogt has walked twice so far this season in 52 plate appearances). Meanwhile, by my unofficial count opposing base stealers are now 23 for 7 against him. (Wait, it’s 11 for 14? Apparently he threw out three runners while I was in the bathroom.)

Vogt is an undisputed leader in the clubhouse and of the pitching staff, and in that regard serves a valuable role independent of his stats. The stats, though, are ugly and 33 year old catchers don’t always get better.

Yonder Alonso

Even a lot of the outs are loud. Alonso has carried his spring training success into the regular season, while continuing to rescue bad throws by turning them into outs. Alonso is currently batting .269/.345/.519, and while the slugging will undoubtedly regress over time it is hardly a stretch to envision a full season batting average, or an OBP, that is the same or better than the current figures.

The consensus on AN was that it was puzzling at best, and unintelligent at worst, to tender Alonso a contract for 2017. Now it’s hard to imagine the lineup or defense without him.

Sean Manaea

Manaea hasn’t been bad, exactly. He certainly has found the strikeout pitch (26 Ks in just over 22 IP), and he has had stretches of being untouchable. What stands out, though, and has been consistent from start to start, is that Manaea is not throwing with much command.

Issues throwing the ball where he wants are seen partly in the stats (12 BBs), but also in seeing so many pitches that float or sail two feet from the target, or watching Manaea pitch behind in the count to so many batters.

Manaea has "front of the rotation" stuff and showed it the second half of last year. The start of this season has been a step back, with "two pitches electric, one pitch totally misfired," and this has been present in each one of his 4 starts.

Jaff Decker

Decker caught my attention in spring training, and has carried it in Oakland as well. He waits a long time on pitches, allowing him to spit on a lot of borderline pitches that are not strikes. He has a solid off-field or up-the-middle stroke, and while he has yet to show any power he sports an impressive .280/.419/.400 line after 9 games. The OBP is not sustainable, but a .280 BA and .400 SLG may well be.

If Decker can get on base at a .350 clip, he’s a legitimate starter against RHPs given his ability to play all 3 OF positions well. I have been impressed with his throwing arm, right down to the throw to the pitch which ended last night’s game: he had absolutely no chance to get Espinosa, but made it surprisingly close with a strong throw on the fly right to Phegley’s chest.

Remember that Decker is a former sandwich pick who was given up on after only 125 big league plate appearances. Only 27, he could be that "hidden treasure" the A’s have been able to unearth with guys like Brandon Moss, Jesse Chavez, and Andrew Triggs.

Trevor Plouffe

Look, Plouffe is not actually terrible. He has power, he is a competent 3Bman, and he seems like a great teammate. You could do worse for a position player. Thing is, you could also do a lot better.

Plouffe’s range has not overly impressed me, nor his throwing on the run — that being said, he seems to have excellent hands and an accurate arm on routine plays. At the plate, when he doesn’t run into one he doesn’t do a whole lot, leaving him with a current line of .231/.301/.415.

He seems like the ultimate "representative product" keeping the seat warm for the wrist-challenged Matt Chapman. All this would be a bit more palatable if it weren’t for the $&%#&$( double plays. If it’s a DP situation, Plouffe appears to "look for a pitch you can pull right to the SS" — and let me say that’s he darn adept at it.

Has he seriously only grounded into 5 DPs so far? I would have guessed 2,743. He really needs a different approach to DP situations, though, like "hit behind the runner" where there’s a right side hole and the ability to see pitches longer to see if maybe perhaps possibly they are sinking below the knees.

Plouffe is on pace to ground into 40 DPs this season, which means I may literally need to rent eyes to gouge out when both of mine no longer have enough exposed tissue.

OK, that’s my list. Yours? Your comments on my comments? Care for a mint?