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Eyeball Scout: March/April Musings

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

One month’s games are in the bag and by one month I mean two, but we will combine the 3 games played in March to represent a somewhat liberal interpretation of “the month of April”.

Overall, not a bad month as the A’s finished 14-14, a record that doesn’t sound as good once you’re 14-12 but sounds awfully good once you’re 5-10. What did the Eyeball Scout see from certain individuals who could be key to the team’s successes or failures going forward? Not surprisingly with a .500 team, there are about an equal number of pluses and deltas to note...

Trevor Cahill

Cahill made 3 starts for the A’s, including today, putting up a 3.00 ERA in 18 IP, allowing 13 hits with 5 BB and 19 K. If anything, the Eyeball Scout would say Cahill is throwing the ball even better than the stats would suggest.

I think Cahill is for real (so long as his shoulder holds up) and today I thought he brought the best stuff in any of his 3 starts. Cahill’s fastball command continues to be excellent, with good velocity (91-93 MPH) and solid sinking/tailing action — it is basically the sinker Kendall Graveman is trying to throw. Meanwhile, the mix of breaking balls, some of which look more like hard sliders while others look more like the knuckle-curve, and changeup, have kept batters consistently off balance and unable to sit on the fastball.

The only knock would be two mistakes, both on breaking balls, sent into the stratosphere by Robinson Chirinos (2-run HR) and George Springer (solo HR), but that’s really not a lot of mistakes over 3 starts and will do relatively little damage so long as Cahill is walking only 5 batters every 18 IP.

To me the stuff is absolutely there, Cahill knows how to harness it and work hitters, and so long as the stuff holds up I don’t see any reason he cannot continue to be successful going forward. There is nothing fluky about the success he has had so far, so the A’s may have another legitimate staple in their rotation to go with Sean Manaea and ... um ... dang.

Marcus Semien

Perhaps the title of my recent post should have been “The Curiously Badish Marcus Semien,” because for all the things he does pretty well at the plate there continue to be huge question marks around his defensive viability as a shortstop.

Never was this more evident than in the 7th inning today, when Semien made not one, not two, but three poor plays as the A’s choked away the chance to win a tough series on the road. The obvious gaffe was the dropped pop fly, charged as an error, adding to the Eyeball Scout’s disbelief at how bad Semien is on even relatively routine over-the-shoulder pop ups. (This was evident, also in a high profile moment, on the pop fly ruled an E6 behind Manaea’s eventual no-hitter.)

It’s as if Semien has a true problem with depth perception that makes him consistently unable to track and catch these balls, but the issue is compounded by the fact that Marcus also does not do a lot of the “little things” well. That same inning, as Alex Bregman was attempting to steal 2B, Semien stayed anchored to 2B bag as Jonathan Lucroy’s poor throw sailed into right-center field. A more adept SS recognizes that he needs to abandon the bag to save the throw from leaving the infield, and knocks down the throw instead of trying to catch it (and missing it by 2 feet) or preparing for a tag (which will never be coming). Then, with Brian McCann lumbering to the plate on Jake Marisnick’s double, Semien made a poor relay throw that, if on line, gets McCann rather easily.

Throws, however, are not Semien’s forte, are they? Whether in the dirt or sailing high, Marcus’ throws often challenge Matt Olson to scoop, stretch, or come off the bag, and Olson has saved Semien many an E6 with his exceptional 1B play. And yet...

After one month, representing about 1/6 of a season, Semien has now been charged with 7 errors. That’s a 42 error pace for the season, and remember that doesn’t count poor decisions on bad throws from others or poor throws on relays. The bottom line is that Semien has always been a bit miscast as a SS, yet the team now has the future set up for Franklin Barreto as heir apparent to Jed Lowrie at 2B and will have a need for Semien to remain at SS so long as Jorge Mateo is batting .181/.225/.253 at AAA.

Matt Olson

I have long said that if Olson can bat .250 he’s a star. That’s because the BB rate and power are there, along with excellent defense. So here is Olson, after one month, batting at .257, with a decent OBP of .342. The problem? He is slugging just .376. Should we be concerned?

No. Olson may or may not continue to maintain a decent batting average, but he is definitely going to slug. And he’s not selling out power to make contact or slap more singles; he’s just not slugging at the very moment. I would bank on Olson to slug over .450 for the season, likely more like .500, and chalk up his current slash line to small sample noise. Whether that slugging comes with a .260/.360, or a .230/.320, remains to be seen, but expect Olson to take his sluggish April slugging out on May’s opponents.

Stephen Piscotty

Despite a horrid slow start at the plate, after a month Piscotty’s batting line looks awfully decent at .278/.345/.381. Hopefully a little more power will come, as it did in the 7th inning today with the opposite field 2B that nearly cleared the RF wall. word he is slow in the outfield. This was even a problem on the pop fly Semien clanked, one which you would ideally have preferred the RFer to catch and which we watched Josh Reddick catch for 5 years.

I still can’t figure out how any metrics could have rated Piscotty favorably for 2 seasons, but boy do they hate him so far in 2018, and it is hard for the Eyeball Scout to argue. Tiny sample warnings apply, but currently Piscotty’s UZR/150 checks in at an eyeball-gouging -66.5 and his DRS at an equally hurl-inducing -11. Has he been that bad? No, because that would make him roughly the worst outfielder in the history of the game. He will likely not end the season at -66 DRS.

Yet it is still worrisome to think of one of the “contention window” building blocks — and Piscotty is under contract through 2022 — being very poor defensively and the Eyeball Scout is unable to reassure you that the metrics were calculated on “Opposite Day”. It’s a continuing concern how much defense the A’s are giving up right now in RF.

Outfield Fundamentals

Speaking of outfield defense, as a unit the A’s simply need to be smarter no matter how athletic they may or may not be.

- Piscotty should not be missing the cutoff man in a futile attempt to throw out a runner who is already across home plate.

- Matt Joyce, catching a fly ball with runners at 1B and 3B, does not need to throw the ball into 3B while both runners advance.

- Recently the Eyeball Scout has caught both Piscotty and Jake Smolinski setting up for a sac fly flat-footed instead of getting behind it, then barely missing throwing out a runner they could have nabbed.

- Even Mark Canha, who has been surprisingly good overall, backhanded a hit to left-center instead of deferring to Joyce, who was moving in towards 2B, and in doing so allowed the batter (Correa) to turn a single into a double.

Particularly in the cases of Joyce, Canha, and Piscotty, a lack of foot speed is going to compromise their ability at their position. They need to avoid compounding this physical limitation by making fundamental/mental mistakes as well.

Overall? From May 11th-20th, the A’s are going to be severely tested on a 10-day road trip through NYY, BOS, TOR, the type of trip that has 1-9 or 2-8 potential. If they survive that trip (and even 4-6 counts as surviving it), most likely Oakland will continue to hang around the .500 mark, and on the cusp of wild card contention, for the foreseeable future.

Based on April, this is neither a bad team nor a very good team, and it is certainly an interesting team to watch — Matt Chapman’s play at 3B is, alone, reason to tune in every night — and as we know from 2012, hanging around for a while is sometimes enough because you never do know what the immediate future has in store.

On to May!


Which assessment resonates most for you?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Trevor Cahill
    (66 votes)
  • 25%
    Marcus Semien
    (103 votes)
  • 3%
    Matt Olson
    (16 votes)
  • 6%
    Stephen Piscotty
    (28 votes)
  • 13%
    Outfield Fundamentals
    (57 votes)
  • 32%
    They’re all right on
    (134 votes)
  • 1%
    They’re all off
    (7 votes)
411 votes total Vote Now