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Shiver Me Timbers!

Oakland Athletics v Pittsburgh Pirates
“Yip, yip: not so hooray!”
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

It was that or “Avast ye swarthy lads!” as my pirate vocabulary is limited. So you haven’t experienced absurdity until you have watched my Aunt Bertha play softball. She plays second base, mostly because when the first game started she was chugging a beer near the 2B bag and no one wanted to take the time to wait for her to move anywhere else. So they told her to stay where she was and pretended they were shifting up the middle on purpose.

First disaster comes when the pitcher is trying to start a routine DP but as the shortstop starts to throw he is tackled by my Aunt Bertha, whose idea of an apology is, “I was just trying to help.” She thought if her job was “second base,” then she should probably get highly involved with anything pertaining to the base.

Then comes a routine ground ball that somehow finds my Aunt Bertha’s glove. She appears to realize she is supposed to throw the ball to 1B, but in a strange motion she slings the ball almost submarine style except that unlike a submarine her throws lack any sort of precise navigation system. The ball hits the dirt a good 15 feet wide of the helpless 1Bman.

Wait a minute. My Aunt Bertha doesn’t play softball. I must have been watching something else...Oh crud, that was Jurickson Profar! He’s the one who, after three days off to “clear his head and work on some things,” downed Marcus Semien on the “second base yard line” and then regaled Pittsburgh with his best impression of Kent Tekulve, only 1B is 90 feet from home plate and not 115.

The excuses have been flying in an effort to explain how Profar’s throwing issues are not 2019’s version of Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch. It’s a relatively new position for him, it’s his surgically repaired right shoulder, it’s a footwork issue.

Yes, Profar has not played a great deal of 2B, but his primary position has been SS so he is well aware that on a comebacker, usually the SS takes the throw as he comes across the bag with his momentum towards 1B. Certainly the A’s aren’t looking for extra opportunities to let Profar throw the ball, so barring a shift that’s going to be Semien’s play every time.

As for the new arm slot designed to take pressure off the shoulder, it’s possible that Profar’s shoulder does not enjoy throwing but for someone who has been making throws from SS, throws from 2B should be relatively easy. Jed Lowrie also is a former SS with a weakened throwing arm, but his throws from 2B are accurate and consistent.

And footwork does not explain Profar’s last two throws, one of which missed the “Aunt Bertha-like” target that is Kendrys Morales by 15 feet, and the last of which was saved only by a deft backhand stab on the bag by Morales. In each case, Profar had ample time to set his feet and set them again. The problem was that as he got ready to throw, he appeared to feel exactly as all of AN did, “OMG, OMG, here it goes, I’m about to make the throw, don’t be wild, don’t choke this...” Not the best way to set your feet.

Sadly — and it really is sad more than it is anything else, as no one wants to overcome this issue more than Profar himself — the issue is pretty clearly well above the feet and also above the shoulder. What we have here is probably the very most difficult problem to solve, and that is the ‘yips’.

Sax and Knoblauch do not own exclusive rights to this baffling disease. Profar might take this weekend’s opportunity to commiserate with Pirates’ announcer Steve Blass, whose sudden inability to throw strikes derailed a promising career. Catchers Mackey Sasser and Dave Engel developed a block about throwing that extended even to tosses back to the pitcher. Geovany Soto nearly succumbed to this, but found that swiping at the dirt just before throwing the ball was a tonic as mysterious as the affliction itself.

Following extra work, a “reset break,” and the vote of confidence to pencil him in again at 2B, what became clear last night was that the A’s can’t really afford to put Profar at 2B right now if the score isn’t about 13-1, which also happens to be Vegas’ current odds on Profar’s next throw being on the bag.

The way the ‘yips’ work, each bad throw reinforces the condition and makes it only worse. “The creature” is relentless in its quest to take over. And for the A’s options do not abound because, well, Profar doesn’t have any left.

This weekend, of all weekends, Oakland cannot even move Profar to LF where he might actually thrive. He has only 220 career innings there but has graded out very well with positive DRS (+1) and UZR/150 (+9.7) ratings. But absent the DH, Khris Davis has the “Creature in LF” market cornered.

After the weekend, with Matt Olson about to return to 1B and Davis moving back into the DH spot, you wonder where the A’s can put Profar. LF is the obvious choice, but would require the A’s to bench Robbie Grossman in favor of a player who is batting .168/.231/.271. Even a “super-utility” role makes little sense if Profar’s play on the infield is so troubled that they can’t start him there.

No one could have seen this coming, as for all his prior shortcomings Profar has never profiled as someone who literally could not make a routine throw. It’s painful to watch him drastically alter his mechanics only to clutch up and misfire easy throws that are off by the proverbial country mile. And no one should mess with Semien’s balls, that’s just wrong.

Unless Al Pedrique is a psychiatrist, or ideally an exorcist, the A’s are currently in a big league bind with Profar. Oakland has struggled against RHPs, and Chad Pinder’s biggest strengths are neither on the infield nor against RHPs. At AAA, Franklin Barreto continues to flirt with a Mendoza line that appears “not to be really into him”.

Which brings us to Jorge Mateo. What a year he’s having after a disappointing 2018. Turning 24 in June, Mateo is batting .331/.371/.524 for the Las Vegas Aviators with a somewhat astonishing 7 triples in 26 games. 7 is apparently his lucky number as it also describes his total in doubles and in stolen bases.

Mateo is also right-handed but given his superior athleticism he offers the promise of a “shot in the arm” not unlike what the A’s received last season from Ramon Laureano. Of course Jemile Weeks offers a reminder of how fleeting those bursts can be, but at the moment the A’s might even take a shot in the arm over the stubbing of the toe that is currently — and perhaps forever — Profar at 2B.

Something has to give. That’s what last night told me with a resounding “YIP!” And I think the A’s know it — it’s a question of what direction they go trying to resolve an unfortunate reality. Where does Profar fit in if the A’s conclude it’s not at 2B for the foreseeable future? Again it’s no one’s fault because you couldn’t see this coming and The Creature is a wild animal inherently absolved of blame. But now the A’s have a big problem that does not offer an obvious solution. The best laid plans of mice and men...

Poll

How should the A’s move forward at 2B?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Keep Profar there and keep working with him. This too shall pass.
    (100 votes)
  • 7%
    Put Profar full time in LF, move Grossman to a bench role.
    (41 votes)
  • 8%
    Move Profar to the bench, call up Barreto.
    (44 votes)
  • 34%
    Move Profar to the bench, call up Mateo.
    (185 votes)
  • 24%
    Option Profar and risk him being claimed, call up Barreto/Mateo.
    (132 votes)
  • 0%
    Go out and add another 2B from elsewhere, even as a stopgap.
    (5 votes)
  • 6%
    Just sign Aunt Bertha and put her at 2B.
    (37 votes)
544 votes total Vote Now