The A’s lineup is now dominated by rookies or just barely not-rookies. Of the nine available slots for non-pitchers, five are in their first real season in the bigs, and a sixth spot is platooned with another youngster.
Even better news: the rest of the lineup isn’t exactly ancient either. At 26 and 29 respectively, neither Marcus Semien nor Khris Davis are past the point of being assets on the next Oakland contender. Both have proven to be valuable, and perhaps most excitingly, both have shown the ability to improve. Matt Joyce and Jed Lowrie are under contract for another year, and both have been solid this season.
Semien’s story is well known, a historically bad defender turned average, thereby going from a fringe big leaguer to one of the team’s better assets.
In his second season, Semien found his offensive stride. He, like damn near the entire sport, found his power stroke on his way to 27 dingers. It was a bit of a surprise, as Semien topped out at 15 ding dongs in the minors, but not a major one as the sport went through a widespread home run surge.
In spite of his fabulous year, Semien still seemed short of his final form. His batting average and OBP were lower than he’d showcased in the minors, his eye not the discerning strength he’d shown before. He had an inclination to chase sliders low and away, and while a fine hitter his ability wasn’t quite maximized.
This year, Semien is showing that ability to find his way on base. His on base percentage sits at a respectable .332 thanks to a career high walk rate of 11%. For the first time in his career, he’s looking like a guy who will take a walk when given.
I’d be remiss to ignore the fact that Semien hasn’t actually been better this year with the bat. He’s been roughly the same in terms of overall offensive value, which totally works for his position but maybe not for this article about how awesome the A’s vets have been.
Again though, he’s been a good overall player. His glove has more or less sustained even without the amazing coaching of Ron Washington, and his bat has shown new, albeit different life. If he can sustain his walks while regaining some of that power? That’s a damn fine player.
It’s also exciting to see plate discipline improvement on a team that has struggled with swinging at pitches out of the zone for the past few years. With Matt Chapman and Matt Olson now offensive mainstays, the A’s are improved at getting guys on base. While there’s a lot of swing and miss still, it seems that hitters are swinging at their pitches more frequently.
The A’s have numerous guys that are just a hair away from being legitimate big league threats, and getting to that level is predicated on improved command of the zone. If the Renato Nunez’s and Ryon Healy’s and even the Joey Wendle’s of the org could improve just marginally at taking balls and walks, the team could be competitive even sooner than we hope.
It’s not just Semien who has rediscovered that skill this year. Khris Davis was mostly magical in his first year here, minus a rough start and a likely related dip in plate discipline.
Davis’ walk rate was a career worst 6.9% last season in spite of his fearsome status as the best dinger-er in the game. That was mostly due to an increased swing rate at pitches out of the zone, something that’s back under control this year on his way to the best walk rate of his career.
Of course, he’s best known for his ability to blast the ball out of any part of the yard at any time. That hasn’t lagged a bit this season, and overall he’s been a better hitter.
As fans, one of the most interesting questions is that of what’s individual and what’s systemic. Did the past few A’s teams have a problem with their collective approach, or did they just employ a group of players who brought that to the team?
We don’t really have a firm answer, but it’s encouraging to see two more established players find their optimal ways. It cost Davis nothing to improve his OBP, and with multiple youngsters in need of a similar move, it’s a good though not definitive sign
Joyce’s transformation happened more externally, and he’s been more or less as advertised — a platoon player with an excellent bat and reasonable glove. For a free agent, he’s been a bargain and an asset this year and hopefully for one more season.
Every single rookie won’t have a successful big league career. and competitive teams mix and match veterans through trades and free agency to fill those gaps. Joyce is that kind of guy: reliable and consistent.
The final veteran in the lineup is none other than Jed Lowrie. With the help of sleep which is the cure for all ailments, Lowrie again is driving the ball. He’s a doubles machine with a rediscovered home run stroke, good for the sixth-best second baseman in a game full of good ones.
Even his (small sample) defensive numbers look good. We know how volatile (and inaccurate) those can be in such small size, but it would stand to reason that improved physical health would impact that too.
With Semien, Davis, Joyce, and Lowrie currently slated to play major roles on a 2018 team that’ll hope to shock the league, it’s important they be at their best. They’ve all been solid this year, and hopefully they’ll keep that momentum into the future.