You look at a patchwork rotation that was supposed to be anchored by Sean Manaea and Jesus Luzardo, and a lineup now missing Ramon Laureano and, for all intents and purposes, Khris Davis, and might find it hard to believe that the A’s are only getting better, steamrolling over the likes of the Astros and Yankees.
It might also be hard to believe you could count not one, not two, not three, but four players who rightfully could insert their name into an MVP conversation. And yet...
Start with the Matts, first Chapman whose 2 for 1,000,000 slump hurt his slash line some but who is one of the more feared hitters in the league. And he is without question the most feared defender, with a Platinum glove to show for it.
Slump and all, Chapman’s line for the season is .258/.342/.524 with 29 HRs and when you combine that with elite-elite defense he becomes a worthy MVP candidate.
As for Olson, perhaps his contributions are less splashy but as his improbable 3-6 DP last night accented, on a daily basis he shatters the myth that 1B is not a key defensive position. There is how everyone else plays it and then there is Matt Olson.
Meanwhile, despite losing 6 weeks Olson has made up for lost time: .262/.345/.533 with 26 HRs in just 94 games. Just looking at the team’s record, and play, when Olson was out and comparing it to since he returned, you could make an argument that this Matt is as valuable to the A’s as any player.
Then there is Marcus Semien, who came up as a historically bad fielder and moved forward as a remarkably average hitter (wRC+ of 97, 98, 96, 95 his first 4 seasons). Now it’s 2019 and the players dubbed by coaches as the hardest worker they’ve ever seen has numbers to match his work ethic.
Semien’s line of .273./359/.486, with 22 HRs, is elite for a SS and he is a legitimate gold glove candidate at the most demanding defensive position. Put it all together and Semien’s WAR (5.1) is actually better than either of the Matts’ (even if you prorated Olson’s missed games).
And yet, there is actually a fourth player whose claim to being the A’s most valuable player in 2019 is not far fetched at all. That would be fellow Cal Bear Mark Canha, who has slotted in at 1B, LF, CF, RF, and DH, handling each defensive position with aplomb (though sadly not a single peach), all the while profiling as the A’s best hitter (141 wRC+).
It’s no longer a fluke or small sample: Canha has played in 93 games, compiling 353 plate appearances, yet his numbers are still bordering on video game level for a Rule 5 pick, .269/.385/.517, 19 HRs, more clutch hits and key walks than you can shake a stick at (not sure why you would want to shake a stick at them, but that’s the saying). For a guy who couldn’t beat out Kendrys Morales when the temp company called about a first baseman, Canha has been mighty exceptional.
Now, I’m not suggesting that any of them has been better than Mike Trout or that the A’s have the four best position players in the entire American League. But if you’re wondering how the A’s have managed to play over .600 ball for half a season the answer lies in just how incredibly good these four players have been and how much better they are than their peers at the same position.
Each one of these guys is turning up legitimately “MVP-caliber” seasons over a significant sample to back a rotation that has settled into being remarkably consistent for a motley crew that wasn’t really plans A, B, C, or D.
To that point, I watch Tanner Roark and the expert feel he has for changing eye lines, balancing a 4-seam fastball with a 2-seamer that has terrific arm side run, mixing pitches and speeds while pounding the strike zone, and lately giving the A’s reliably 6+ IP, and I really hope there will be a conversation about bringing Roark back as they did Mike Fiers.
Give me Fiers, Roark, and Montas anchoring the rotation, Manaea, Luzardo, and Puk trying to prove their full recovery, Bassitt swinging from bullpen to rotation as needed, plus the likes of Cotton, Holmes, Jefferies, Kaprielian, Dunshee, and Howard at the ready in AAA, and I feel Oakland will have both the quality and depth to challenge the Astros for the division and take a shot at going deep into the post-season.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves because these 2019 A’s have designs on getting deep into the post-season and while that may have seemed absurd at one time it’s hard to argue with what the A’s are doing right now and against whom they’re doing it. Apparently it doesn’t hurt to have 4 MVP-quality players on the diamond together.
If you could only vote for one, who has been the A’s MVP this season?
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