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Former A’s: Semien, Hendriks, Hill monthly awards; Kazmir comeback; Khris homers

Checking in to see how our old favorites are doing with their new teams

Texas Rangers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s are in a good place right now, atop the AL West division and coming off a couple decisive wins against an upstart rival. But there are also lots of former A’s out there, and we still love them too. Let’s see how they’re doing!

*** Previous editions: Entering season | Former prospects ***

We begin with news that is either good from the perspective of rooting for our old favorites, or bad from the perspective of them not being on the A’s anymore. MLB does a set of monthly awards, and some familiar names popped up at the end of May.

  • AL Player of the Month: Marcus Semien, TOR
  • AL Pitcher of the Month: Rich Hill, TBR
  • AL Reliever of the Month: Liam Hendriks, CHW

Semien has bounced back from his 2020 slump and is hitting like his MVP-caliber 2019, plus a few extra points of batting average now that he’s out of the Coliseum. He’s striking out more than ever, but he hit eight homers in May and has 13 for the season to go with a 153 wRC+ mark.

Hendriks blew a couple saves in April for his new club, but he reverted to HercuLiam in May, allowing no earned runs and striking out 40% of his batters. That actually lowered his season rate to 42.2%, and he also leads the league with 14 saves.

Hill has been gone from Oakland for a while, but he continued to be excellent when healthy with the Dodgers and Twins from 2017-20. Now he’s with the Rays and pitching like an All-Star through 11 starts, and in May he allowed just three total runs in six outings. He’s faced the A’s twice and been quality both times but in losing efforts — Oakland out-dueled him in April, and then he tossed six scoreless in early May but his bullpen faltered behind him.

And how about the full 2021 season so far? Here are the leaders in bWAR for each league.

  • NL: Max Muncy, LAD, 3.3 bWAR
  • AL: Marcus Semien, TOR, 3.2 bWAR

If you switch to fWAR, then Vlad Guerrero Jr (TOR) and Nick Castellanos (CIN) take the top spots, with Semien (2.8) and Muncy (2.7) in second place in their leagues.

With Semien thriving in Toronto on a one-year contract, we will probably forever debate the topic of whether the A’s should tried harder to re-sign him. One way or other, there’s a clear lesson at this point moving forward — if the Blue Jays are interested in one of our star infielders, for goodness sake keep him.

Needing a new plan at shortstop, Oakland swung a trade with the Texas Rangers for Elvis Andrus. That created a couple of former A’s, and one of them had a highlight this week.

After a couple tough seasons of what can only be described at the batting yips, Khris Davis got a change of scenery in Arlington. But a trip to the injured list cost him all of April and delayed his comeback attempt, and by the end of May he was batting .150 with no dingers. Finally, on June 1, it happened.

It came at Coors Field, but hey, still counts. Two days later he hit another one.

He’s still only batting .182 with a 90 wRC+ and a ton of strikeouts, but we all know how quickly he can get hot. The A’s play the Rangers for the first time this season on June 21, and then I assume they play each other pretty much every day after that for the rest of the year if they’re to get in their annual 19 divisional matchups.

Also heading to Texas in that trade was catcher Jonah Heim, a popular prospect on Athletics Nation. Unfortunately the bat hasn’t shown up yet, as he’s hitting .174 with a modest walk rate, a 55 wRC+, and poor Statcast numbers. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

I’d be curious to hear Ray Fosse’s thoughts on this block attempt, though perhaps the pitch was so bad that there was no hope. He did also make a good play to save another run. But ...

The A’s got back Aramis Garcia in the deal, with similar results so far. He’s batting .192 with a 62 wRC+ and the same two homers, and last week he made a crucial defensive error that ultimately led to all of the opponent’s scoring for the day.

Neither catcher has broken out for their new teams yet beyond backup duties, but Heim is part of another trade tree. He was acquired from Tampa Bay for Joey Wendle, who currently leads the first-place Rays’ position players in both versions of WAR (2.2 bWAR, 1.7 fWAR) thanks to a 133 wRC+ and positive left-side infield defense.

Shifting back to the Khris Davis trade tree, what if we take it back another notch? Oakland acquired him ahead of the 2016 season, and the headline prospect going back to the Milwaukee Brewers was Jacob Nottingham. The bat-first catcher made the majors in 2018 but never quite stuck, and in April his clock ran out and they waived him. Ever since then he’s been stuck in an Adam Rosales Loop between the Brewers and Seattle Mariners, swapping sides three times.

He’s in Seattle now, which we can say for sure because the A’s just played against him this week. The 26-year-old started two of the three games, both at DH, and went 1-for-6 with a HBP and two strikeouts. For the season he’s at .162 with an 83 wRC+, three homers, and a 43% strikeout rate.

And what if we go back a step further? Oakland got Nottingham as part of their prospect return from the Houston Astros in exchange for Scott Kazmir in a July 2015 deadline deal, during a season when the A’s were out of contention and selling off stars. But by the end of 2016, Kazmir was out of the majors again, at age 32.

Now he’s back! At age 37, the left-hander has officially made his second MLB comeback, after also doing so in 2013. This time he’s with the San Francisco Giants, and he brought some new hair.

Kazmir made a start on May 22 and worked four innings of one-run ball, and then a week later he made an appearance out of the bullpen and allowed two runs in mop-up duty.

Oakland signed Kazmir as a free agent, so that’s the end of this particular trade tree. But as long as we’re on the topic of notably new hairstyles, Josh Reddick is on the Arizona D’Backs now and this is pretty much exactly what you’d imagine that would look like.

Through 14 games he’s batting .327, but with no walks and no homers and bad Statcast numbers. We’ll get a chance to see him, along with his teammates Stephen Vogt (91 wRC+) and Joakim Soria (11 ip, 4 runs, 9 Ks, 2 holds, zero blown) when they visit the Coliseum on Tuesday.

Free agents

Having checked in on Semien, Hendriks, and Soria, what about the other free agents who departed last winter? There are three more playing in the majors, and all are doing reasonably well.

In Detroit, outfielder Robbie Grossman has settled in a small notch below last year’s breakout. He still hits for a low average but draws a ton of walks for a strong OBP (.360), and he’s kept some but not all of the power gains we saw last summer (6 HR, .159 isolated slugging). Statcast agrees that he’s solidly above-average, and he’s also still posting decent defensive metrics.

In Kansas City, lefty Mike Minor has made 11 starts with average-ish results (4.65 ERA, 94 ERA+). He’s still only throwing 91 mph, but he’s striking out 10 batters per nine innings, and FIP (3.80) and Statcast (.305 xwOBA) both think he’s been even better than it appears.

In Chicago, Jake Lamb has been a quality utilityman for the White Sox. He’s not playing every day, and he’s seen time at four positions plus DH, but his .265/.400/.531 line is definitely interesting, to go with four homers in 60 plate appearances, a monster walk rate, and a reasonable strikeout rate.

There’s one more, infielder Tommy La Stella in San Francisco, but he’s on the 60-day injured list with a strained hamstring (retroactive May 4).

Former prospects

A few more final notes on old prospects.

Former Athletics Nation favorite Max Schrock is in the majors, with the Cincinnati Reds. The infielder who never struck out in the A’s system made a cameo with the Cardinals last year (traded there for Stephen Piscotty), and now he’s batting .267 for the Reds.

Schrock is now teammates with Sonny Gray, who is pitching great (3.64 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 4.13 FIP, .303 xwOBA); and Sean Doolittle, who isn’t a closer right now but is still effective (3.66 ERA, 3.64 FIP, .331 xwOBA, 2-of-4 save/holds).

  • OF Billy McKinney was traded from the Brewers to the Mets in late May. That makes two former A’s prospects sent away by Milwaukee recently, along with Nottingham. They also have infielder Daniel Robertson, who like McKinney was a 1st-round draft pick by Oakland.
  • OF Ka’ai Tom is in Pittsburgh, still under Rule 5 restrictions. He’s got an above-average line for the Pirates so far (109 wRC+), based mostly on walks (.200/.377/.340, two homers, 17% walk rate).
  • Infielders Sheldon Neuse (Dodgers, 46 wRC+) and Jorge Mateo (Padres, 61 wRC+) haven’t started hitting yet, and Neuse was recently sent back to Triple-A. Renato Nuñez (75 wRC+) was DFA’d by the Tigers in late April, but cleared waivers and stayed in their organization.

Let’s wrap up with one more particularly interesting case, pitcher Kendall Graveman. He pitched four seasons for the A’s as a decent starter but left during a Tommy John surgery recovery, and now he’s back in the bigs with the Mariners as a lockdown reliever with a 97 mph fastball.

Graveman is yet to allow a run in 14 appearances, with a strikeout per inning, great peripherals, and a perfect late-inning record including five saves and four holds. However, we didn’t see him this week because he went into COVID protocol on May 23 and hasn’t yet returned to action.

Best of luck to all the former A’s, except for when you’re playing against us!