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Examining four Oakland A’s slow starts

Are they just slow starts, or are they legitimate causes for concern?

Oakland Athletics v Minnesota Twins
Hopefully things, like Healy, are looking up.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The A’s aren’t off to a great start by any measure. At four games under .500, they’re 6.5 games out of first place in the division already. The most likely path to contention for this A’s team involved starting hot and bringing in reinforcements as the season progressed.

That hasn’t happened, and worse, there are some alarmingly bad starts for the A’s outside of their numerous injuries. How serious are some of these difficult beginnings?

Liam Hendriks

For the second consecutive year, Liam Hendriks has been decidedly meh during the early going. For the second consecutive year, his velocity has been down. The velocity piece is a concern, especially after a 2016 in which he saw so much time on the disabled list with an arm strain.

It’s possible his early going velocity dip is just a function of his arming getting in regular season form, and that’d be just fine. His velocity dip is somewhere in the single MPH range (it’s hard to say with any exactness due to the change to Statcast), which can easily be written off as early season rustiness.

Hendriks certainly hasn’t looked good, but he hasn’t looked all that terrible either beyond an inability to hit his spots and an overall erraticness in his his game. That should dissipate as the season wears on unless he’s dealing with an injury again, which is the major storyline to watch. It’s unlikely he just lost his ability to be borderline elite reliever unless his arm did the thing most A’s pitchers’ arms do (explode). Fingers crossed.

Ryon Healy

Healy will be a story to watch all year long, and his small samples are particularly worth following.

Just a few weeks into the season we noted that pitchers adjusted to Healy, throwing him fastballs up in the zone, something that’s difficult to connect on with a flyball swing. It seemed like Healy’s struggles were directly related to the change in approach.

Thing is though, a few weeks later it appears that pitchers really aren’t targeting him up in the zone more frequently. The arsenal he’s seeing is just about the same he saw last year, and he’s hitting the ball with just about the same gusto - his exit velocity is similar in all batted ball types.

Where there difference lies, or at least some of the difference between his 2016 and 2017 campaigns is luck. His BABIP was a sky high .352 last year, a number that was bound to come down in spite of his hard contact. At .286 this year, it should come up and make up some of the difference between his starkly different seasons.

It’ll be interesting to see if the league does adjust as, presumably at least, Healy gets more towards 2016 form. The dinger today is hopefully a sign of things to come.

Ultimately, we haven’t learned a ton about Healy thus far this year except that he’s capable of a bad month. Once he gets back on track and pitchers start to take notice more, we’ll start to learn more.

Matt Joyce

Hitting below .200 isn’t advisable, yet here we are in early may, and Matt Joyce is hitting .181. Someone should advise him.

The good news is that Joyce is hitting the ball in roughly the same manner that worked for him last season. His exit velocity is the same across batted ball types and he’s spraying the ball with similar trajectories. So some of it is likely luck, and what do you know, Joyce’s BABIP is down over 80 points.

But Joyce has some work to do if he wants to be an asset to this team. His defense has been predictably bad as his range just isn’t enough to cover the ample terrain in the spacious Coliseum.

So Joyce has to do it with his bat. Should his BABIP bump up to a more normal .280ish mark (normal for him, at least) he’d be passable. It’s a bit alarming that his walk rate is so far down. Joyce is a year older than he was last year (#sabermetrics) and in spite of having a chiseled chin and numerous other model features, he’s approaching the decline of his career.

One of the first things to go as hitters age is their power. Power begets walks, as pitchers will just fill the zone if they’re not worried about a hitter going yard. Joyce is likely to bounce back some, but just how far will be important to watch.

Stephen Vogt

There’s more to come from the fine folks at AN on Stephen Vogt’s poor start, one that’s particularly important to watch since he’s got a successor in waiting, ready for his shot. That might be sooner than later if things don’t pick up for Vogt, who is unequivocally the man.

Again, we’ll dive in more on Vogt soon, but I’d love to hear what you fine folks think the team should do with him in the meantime, if his bat doesn’t pick up soon.