Bob Melvin’s job is to put up a feel-good optimistic front with the public, which should lead to a sufficiently nauseating “BoMel Show” Monday night, with phrases like “gotta sharpen up our defense” and “I like the way we battled at the end”...
For the Eyeball Scout, it’s a “call ‘em as you see ‘em” gig and sometimes that means bending a few people out of shape. The A’s, despite a couple “nice try” 9th innings and a sensational first start by Sean Manaea, flat out embarrassed themselves for the larger part of 60 hours. March is all about hope, but the calendar has turned to April and that month is about harsh reality. And the Eyeball Scout did not like what he saw.
Remarkably, the outfield managed to flat-out butcher (no he’s not a lefty reliever) not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven, but EIGHT plays in three games. And yes you are going to have to relive them. In order:
- Matt Joyce comes in for a line drive he could probably catch if he laid out, stops and gets caught in no-man’s land, and turns a single into a three-base gaffe.
- Stephen Piscotty comes in for a line drive he has no real chance to catch, lays out and turns a single into a triple. (Melvin has “no problem with it” because he wants Piscotty to be aggressive, overlooking the key difference between “aggressive” and “downright foolish”.)
- On a fly ball hit so high Billy Butler could have run out from home plate and camped under it, Piscotty somehow manages never to get very close to it as it falls between him and another spectator, Boog Powell, for a “hit”.
- On a sinking line drive that is catchable, Khris Davis comes on and goes into a slide, but somehow neglects to put his glove where the ball is as it eludes him for a double.
- Apparently now fully committed to not catching anything, Davis clanks his next fly ball as well.
- On a high pop fly to shallow center field, Boog Powell continues his excellent spectating as he fails to take charge and lets Jed Lowrie helplessly chase after it as it falls for a hit.
- Third time’s not a charm, as Luis Valbuena’s fly ball to the track hits off of Davis’ glove, rolls up his arm, and falls to the ground, making three consecutive catchable balls misplayed by Davis.
- Powell charges Kole Calhoun’s base hit hard, even though he has no chance at throwing out Mike Trout running from 2nd with 2 out, overruns the ball for an error and allows Calhoun to get to 2B (from where he scores on a single).
So you will forgive the Eyeball Scout if he is in a bit of a snippy mood. I waited 6 months for THIS? Dustin Fowler cannot be called up soon enough. However, this will not cloud the judgment of individual players so here are some of the Eyeball Scouts notes from the series...
I am truly baffled by what I have seen in RF, because according to Fangraphs Piscotty has been an above average RFer over a sample (prior to 2018) of 2,127 IP. In 2016 he earned a mark of +3 DRS and a +5.0 UZR/150, then in 2017 marks of +8 DRS and +3.2 UZR/150.
What I have seen so far is a slow, lumbering stride that reminds me of Ben Grieve, and Grieve is not someone you want to be compared to in RF. Case in point would be Piscotty’s 9th inning single today, a ball that was run down on a hop near the warning track by Calhoun facing the outfield wall. I get that it was a time to be conservative with Piscotty’s run not being the tying run, but anyone not painfully slow should know they can ease into 2B on that.
I don’t know if Piscotty is playing through an undisclosed injury or if we are seeing his real foot speed and “closing speed,” but what I really don’t know is how someone who runs as we’ve seen this weekend could possibly earn positive UZR/150 ratings. Color me confused and a bit concerned.
There is no pop left in that bat. I don’t know what happened to Lucroy between 2016 and 2017, but the guy whose “hard contact” stats were woeful in 2017 seems to have brought that bat with him in 2018.
To me the most telling at bat was his most successful to date, his one extra base hit — a double in the 9th inning on Friday night. As he “drove” the ball, the way the ball came off his bat was weak, winding up an extra base hit only because it happened to perfectly split the outfielders.
Lucroy knows how to hit and maintains a decent walk rate, so I am anticipating that as he gets fully into game shape he might be capable of hitting as high as .270 with an OBP of perhaps a solid .340. But I will bet you he slugs under .400. I still like him for the way he is working with the pitchers, but don’t be surprised if he winds up batting something like .260/.330/.360. I don’t know what happened to the power but the ball goes “sploosh” off his bat now.
I know Joyce’s ankle is hurting, but that doesn’t excuse a poor approach at the plate. Joyce’s value comes partly in his good eye and patience, so what is with the hacktastic “swinging early and often” which produced outs on the first pitch 3 times in one game, and culminated with Joyce bouncing out on a 2-0 pitch to start the 9th with the A’s down 4 runs?
I appreciate Powell for his patient and persistent at bats, but in the final analysis what I have seen in this series is not a starting-caliber player. At the plate Powell has all the right ideas, but ultimately just does not have the skill to parlay it into much beyond taking a few pitches out of the pitcher’s arm (which has a value, but not as much as actually getting on base).
To me, Powell is basically exactly like Brett Gardner right up until the final pitch — but then on the last pitch of the at bat Powell gets out where Gardner often succeeds. It’s not really Powell’s fault, just his limitations.
In the field I have been unpleasantly surprised by Powell’s lack of prowess. Poor reads, poor decision-making, leaving far too much up to Piscotty and Lowrie. More than he has bailed anyone out he has gotten in their way, and ultimately he has not shown much range despite his excellent speed.
OK, how about some positivity? Manaea was fantastic on Friday night, utilizing the changeup as a primary weapon just as he should. His changeup is very hard for hitters to pick up, he gets a lot of swings and misses with it, and just as importantly when he is leading with his changeup he has batters consistently behind his fastball.
I believe the right combination for Manaea is to throw his fastball 55%-60% of the time, unleash the changeup a solid 25%-30% of the time, and mix in the slider 15% of the time. Against LH batters, more sliders, fewer changeups, but against RH batters he can thrive as mostly a “fastball/changeup” artist.
One thing to watch: in 2016, Manaea’s fastball averaged 93.3 MPH. In 2017, 92.1 MPH. Friday night it was logged at 91.2 MPH. Perhaps this is just a “first start of the season” difference, as some pitchers add a tick or two as the season progresses, but it is worth watching. I still think Manaea can be effective throwing 91 MPH if he uses the changeup well, but obviously a couple more ticks would be ideal.
I continue to like what I am seeing so far from Semien, costly “DP-turned-E6” notwithstanding. Mostly he has been very sure-handed at SS and his at bats have been consistently intelligent, featuring patience, a willingness to hit to right and right-center. Even the at bat when he struck out and failed to advance Joyce from 2B, you could see Semien was trying to punch the ball the other way and just couldn’t catch up to a 98MPH fastball. I can live with that.
What I can’t live with is Maxwell having a runner trapped between 2B and 3B and not knowing that you run at him until he commits, or at worst throw to the lead base, not behind him. That’s just poor fundamentals. I can’t live with the comedy of outfield misplays that aren’t funny the eighth time. These were a pretty embarrassing three games for the A’s and I cannot in good conscience sugar-coat that. That ship (and I probably ended that word with the wrong letter) needs to right itself not in a month, not in a week, but NOW.
Yes, it has only been 4 games and the first one was even fun. But the way the A’s have played it has felt like 40 — heck, shouldn’t it take 40 games to make 8 plays in the outfield that bad? — and I feel like this weekend was putrid enough that there is some urgency for the team to show their opponents, their fans, themselves, that this isn’t the real 2018 Oakland A’s. I will watching the next series very closely because if it’s more of the same heaven help me.
And that’s the BoMel show for today. Eyeball Scout style.