Sometimes when a player is struggling the best move is no move. This is anathema to the fan who feels urgency due to the “fanatic” that is in the very fan-DNA, trapped in a society that struggles to see beyond the now.
We have seen examples where management correctly watched a player hopelessly flail, got out its fancy notepad, and scribbled in doctor’s handwriting the prescription: “Do nothing.”
One example was the A’s debut of Khris Davis in 2016, which was an ugly sight indeed: K after K after K, mostly swinging right through fastballs and waving at bad sliders until he had enough ammunition to spell his name KKKKKKKhris. Since that fateful April, in which Davis played in 23 games walking 3 times and striking out 26 times, he has continued to have stretches in which he looked helpless — while being one of the very most feared hitters in the league.
A more recent example was Ramon Laureano’s 2019 debut, so bad that some fans were wondering about a trip to AAA to get his head and/or bat right. Laureano struck out in 9 of his first 19 at bats, chasing wayward sliders like my dog chases wayward squirrels: relentlessly and without success. He may have looked hopelessly lost, but who has been the A’s best player the past week, topping off his “Assistapalooza” with a 4 for 4 night at the plate on Friday? That would be Laureano.
This brings us to Jurickson Profar who, like Stephen Piscotty last April, is causing A’s fans to wonder, “Wait, who did we get? Isn’t he supposed to hit and field better?” Again, Piscotty turned a corner in May and never looked back and is one of the cornerstone players on a contending A’s team.
Of course none of this guarantees that Profar will follow suit. After all, recent examples of A’s players who started with a thud include Chris Coghlan and Jim Johnson, who never got untracked with Oakland.
There is a value, however, to doing nothing as a player scuffles big time. In a long season, you want to send a message to each player, and his teammates watching, that their job doesn’t hinge on a bad week. A day off to clear your head, as Laureano got on the last homestand, is fine, but mostly the antidote to a slump is to have a good game and good games are rarely achieved on the bench.
Also, especially in April, especially with a new team, often a terrible performance is the result of a player trying too hard, pressing, and the last thing such a player needs is to be yanked, benched, to sit on his terrible numbers with no chance to improve them. In Profar’s case I see signs of “trying too hard,” in the form of swinging too much, probably too hard.
He currently looks like someone for whom the pitchers and ground balls are in charge of him, and that’s no recipe for success. But last year’s stats, both on offense and defense, suggest this is not “the real Profar” and the real Profar is most likely to emerge if the A’s do not overreact to a terrible first 11 games.
And no doubt the first 11 games have been terrible. Profar’s .114/.133/.182 slash line has earned him that coveted -21 wRC+, and he has made 2 of Oakland’s 3 errors this year while compiling a -4 DRS, contributing to his overall WAR of -0.4. You could say he has had a negative impact so far.
The key phrase being “so far”. The A’s are doing the right thing running Profar out there every day — although maybe a day off this weekend would make sense, especially in a stretch of 18 straight days with a game — and trusting that the “real Jurickson Profar” will show up soon and hopefully never look back.
This game will humble you and without a doubt Profar stands right now, in his position at 2B and in the batter’s box, as a very humble man. Patience, grasshopper. In baseball, generally the cream rises to the top while the sludge works its way to the bottom. I’m not sure that Profar is more than an average 2Bman, but he is a gifted athlete with many tools to positively impact a game. We’ll get there.