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Eyeball Scout Sizes Up Opening Series

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MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Get ready for great analysis like "Couldn’t see game 2, dunno." However, the Eyeball Scout did take in 3 out of 4, which matches how many the A’s won give or take a Dull ache. You can be pleased that the A’s came within one pitch of winning their first series, or you can gnash your teeth over what could have been but wasn’t.

The Eyeball Scout prefers the former, but also recognizes that there were both positives and negatives to be dissected...So let’s alternate, shall we?

Marcus Semien

The Eyeball Scout is loving how many good at bats Semien is having, both against LHPs (whom he genuinely eats for dinner with a career batting line of .288./328/.493) and RHPs. Semien has laid off some tough sliders leading to 4 walks, he has hit the ball to right and right-center with some authority, such as his Trout-induced run scoring single today, and only the marine layer robbed him of a HR on Opening Night. Semien has looked every bit like a guy who reaches base 7 times in 15 plate appearances.

Rajai Davis

Jose Canseco’s favorite whipping boy ("And what did you think of Ryon Healy?" "What do I think? I think Rajai really needs to get on base more."), Rajai Davis is just so fun. Like his inside-the-park-triple that electrified the crowd: that was vintage Rajai.

That being said, against RHP Rajai just isn’t a good hitter. Too much swing and miss in his game, too much fly ball, not enough pitch recognition. It’s nothing new: Rajai is a career .255/.298/.360 hitter.

Sooner rather than later — presumably sometime this month before his May 1st opt-out kicks in — Jaff Decker will be putting vowels in random places in Oakland. I would like to see Davis and Decker in a 50/50 platoon in CF, where Rajai starts every game against LHPs and about one each week against a RHP, and Decker starts 3 days/week against RHPs. For the A’s "righty heavy" lineup, a dose of Decker could potentially be an important shot in the arm.

Sean Doolittle

I was intrigued by Doolittle’s two "backup sliders" that were swung and missed today up at the letters. Perhaps Doolittle’s biggest problem has been the lack of swings and misses on his offspeed pitches, both the slider and changeup. Batters appear to recognize the offspeed pitches early and lay off, even though they should be starting their swing early to guard against Doolittle’s high octane fastball.

So to see not one, but two, swing throughs on sliders that appeared to be mistakes, caught the Eye of the Eyeball Scout. Is it possible that the "high slider" thrown at the same eye level as the signature high fastball is actually an effective pitch? It actually garnered success where the slider down and in has failed. Interesting, and something to watch going forward.

Stephen Vogt

Beaten down for years, first by foul tips and now by Father Time, Vogt is looking old to me these days. Watching his batting practice before one spring training game, the Eyeball Scout noted that the ball wasn’t really flying off the bat with the kind of charge that a Khris Davis or Ryon Healy effortlessly puts into one.

Vogt did HR once, and send another fly ball to the wall, Monday, but I fear that overall his bat is showing signs of age and that 2017 will see more warning track fly balls than HRs, decreasing exit velocity from worse contact.

Behind the plate Vogt’s receiving skills, from pitching calling to blocking errant pitches, underwhelmed me as well. I love Vogt and think his veteran presence probably is indeed a positive. I also think that Bruce Maxwell is probably a better hitter and better receiver right now, and that the team on the field will improve whenever Maxwell is called up.

The Lineup vs. LHPs

I really like the lineup against LHPs, as it has multiple hitters who genuinely feast on LHP along with others who rise from "bleah" to "fine". As a result the A’s handled the talented Tyler Skaggs nicely, putting together strings of good at bats. That’s because along with Khris Davis, who mashes everyone equally:

Semien: .288./328/.493
Plouffe: .268.344/.465
Healy: .313/.333/.552
K. Davis: 248/.312/.512 (remarkably he is a nearly identical .250/.314/.506 against RHPs)

That’s some genuine mashage, especially when bolstered by more than serviceable pieces:

Lowrie: .283/.345/.428
R. Davis: .288/.343/.437
Phegley: .264/.303/.447
Rosales: .241/.318/.395

Plus Canha, whose splits have been wonky so far in the big leagues but who should be at his best against LHPs and provides yet more slugging to an already robust group.

Speaking of Canha...

I’m known as a "Canha-believer," enamored with his Donaldson-like swing and easy power to all fields, but so far Canha looks very much like a hitter who hasn’t seen game action since last May.

More to the point, the Eyeball Scout is experiencing hysterical blindness after watching Canha play the outfield. He was hopeless in spring training, but the Cactus League sun, desert air, and high sky can make competent outfielders look like fools. In Oakland, though, it’s been rough watching Canha get slow jumps, take slightly circuitous routes, and "fire" throws the way I lob water balloons.

As for his platoon partner, if you were impressed with Matt Joyce’s sliding catch in the bullpen, the Eyeball Scout cautions that it was an example of a poor fielder turning an average play into a web gem. A faster RFer, getting a better jump, runs that down in more routine fashion. Joyce is no gazelle out there, and the Eyeball Scout fears that the A’s have the right platoon at the wrong position: Canha and Joyce should be the platoon at DH.

The Lineup vs. RHPs

I do have my concerns about the group that will face about 23 of the SPs. Plouffe looked good today against Skaggs but looked, against the RHPs, like a guy who should slash around .239/.294/.402...oh wait, he does. Rajai, we have already discussed. If Semien’s improvements are sustainable it will help, as will big years from Matt Joyce and/or Yonder Alonso.

But overall the lineup features several guys (R. Davis, Lowrie, Plouffe) who don’t manage RHPs well and a heart of the order (Healy, K. Davis) with a lot of power but also a lot of swing and miss in their game. It’s a recipe for a lot of solo HRs and that’s what the A’s have gotten.

The Bullpen

One Dull slider notwithstanding, the bullpen generally looks very good so far. Madson looked ok Monday and sounded great Tuesday, Hendriks has been twice sharp, Doolittle’s velocity is back, Casilla changed speeds masterfully on the slider last night after showing less velocity, command, or consistency Monday, Dull has really only made one bad pitch in two innings, and Montas got his feet wet recording 8 outs without allowing a run despite not showing his best velocity or striking anyone out.

Overall...

The A’s came within an eyelash of taking 3 out of 4, and even with the agony of Tuesday’s defeat they sit, after one series, at .500, which is my goal for April. They have gotten there with better at bats than we generally saw in 2016, mostly solid defense, and mostly excellent pitching — including Jharel Cotton, who with average luck probably completes 5 IP and allows 2 ER, and you would take that from a rookie in his first start of the season.

Eyeball Scout out. On to Texas!