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A’s End Of Season “Wheat/Chaff” Report, Part I

MLB: SEP 27 Athletics at Angels
But does Vimael Machin have enough ‘sock’ in his game?
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If ever there was a season that was about “separating the wheat from the chaff” it was the 64 player, 102 loss 2022 campaign. Here is a look at how one Blogfather (spoiler alert: it’s me) saw some of the A’s who were given looks as being potential core pieces going forward...

Vimael Machin and Jonah Bride

I lump these two together because they may not have the exact same strengths but they do carry pretty much identical weaknesses. On the plus side, Machin brings to the plate a discerning eye and good discipline, while Bride offers that newly hip term “bat to ball skills”.

Here’s the problem with both. When you combine “average defense at best” and a lack of speed, with terrible slugging (in Machin’s case it was .287 this season, .261 for his career, and for Bride it ended at a whopping .247) you pretty much have to hit .300 in order to provide enough value.

What are these guys’ ceilings, realistically? Perhaps Machin could hit .270/.360/.380, providing a very good OBP, and I guess Bride could fluke his way into a ‘career year’ batting .280/.340/.380, but even those numbers — which would be far, far better than anything either has ever shown — would come with a lack of quality defense and an absence of power or speed. Also, Machin is 29 so don’t expect a ton of new development from him in terms of slugging, defense, or anything else.

In other words, they are utility players on a bad team who would have to jump their slugging well over .100 points just to be “meh” in that department to match their defensive acumen. Unless you want to wait around to celebrate the occasional Machin walk and Bride single, while gnashing your teeth at their mediocre defense, you don’t really have anything here.

Verdict: Chaff

Ken Waldichuk and J.P. Sears

Waldichuk and Sears are also lumpable because they both throw left-handed and came at the same time as acquisitions in the Frankie Montas deal. (How good is that trade looking at the moment, with Montas sidelined due to a recurrence of the shoulder issue which put his trade value in question?)

Both also struggled initially upon arriving in Oakland, as per the universe’s edict that all players from A’s trade this year had to dress up as pumpkins and perform accordingly. Recently, though, Waldichuk and Sears showed why the A’s focused on them as desirable pieces in the trade.

First off, I suspect each has slightly better stuff than they showed in September. Remember that neither pitcher had ever pitched a full 6-month season and we saw them in that 6th month in which their arms may have been a bit spent. Both had pretty sensational strikeout numbers throughout the minors, and may have lost just a little “zip” on the fastball they like to whip through the top of the zone and which sets up their secondary pitches.

Waldichuk reminds me a lot of Gio Gonzalez, right down to the hip turn before his delivers the pitch and the big curve that was a signature pitch for Gio. Remember that Gonzalez struggled considerably in his first big league tour, posting ERAs of 7.68 and 5.75 his first two seasons on his way to 131 career wins.

But once Gio figured out the sequencing, and gained a little more command, he never really looked back and I see similar stuff in Waldichuk, who throws hard (94.1 MPH), and has a big curve to go with a solid changeup (and in his case, an occasional cutter).

As for Sears, all he has done throughout the minors is carve up hitters and succeed, something he continued to do with the Yankees and A’s at the big league level until September hit. He finished strong, though, and it’s hard to argue too much with 6-3, 3.86 as a rookie season line.

I really like Sears’ back foot slider to RH batters and I think his changeup is a quality pitch as well. As for his fastball, it played well up in the zone until September which may have been evidence that arm fatigue robbed his fastball of some of its “giddy up” or might have related to over-using the pitch (he was throwing it about 60% of the time before adjusting to mix in secondary pitches over half of the time).

One thing that stands out to me about Sears is that his slider and changeup are potentially effective both in getting “chase” swings and misses but also in getting called strikes. Basically when hitters don’t guess right on his fastball/slider/changeup they don’t often hit them. It was suggested that during his rough stretch, Sears might have been tipping his pitches and that makes sense — when they know which pitch is coming, MLB hitters are in great shape.

But give Sears a fresh season and avoid tipping pitches, and I like the potential here. I see Waldichuk and Sears as being viable mid-rotation SPs (I see Waldichuk’s upside as a #2, Sears as a #3), which is much more comforting than to have Cole Irvin and Paul Blackburn in those roles

Verdict: Wheat

Dermis Garcia

For me, Garcia is one of the most difficult of the young players to handicap. On one hand he has been in professional baseball for 7 years but on the other hand he is still just 24. On one hand he swings and misses an awful lot but on the other hand when he hits the ball he hits it loud and far. On one hand he doesn’t do anything all that great at 1B, but on the other hand he doesn’t do anything all that terribly either. On one hand he has shown a willingness to take some close pitches, even on 3-2, but on the other hand his BB/K ratio was still ultimately 6.4%/44.0%.

That’s 8 hands, meaning that I have just described an octopus! But I digress...No doubt Garcia is a very intriguing player to have on a rebuilding team, and I expect the A’s to continue to give him chances in case he is the next Brandon Moss type of find.

I’m not inclined to get too far into the weeds on Garcia’s numbers, as rookie stats aren’t always super predictive of anything besides “they’re a rookie”. Though it’s perhaps worth noting that Garcia was not exactly tearing up the hitter-friendly PCL when he was called up, posting a .264/.349/.498, 106 wRC+ line. And the ups and downs in Oakland produced a line of .207/.264/.388, 89 wRC+ when the dust cleared.

So what to make of Dermis Garcia? I am admittedly ambivalent, but in this article I have to take a stand. And when I look at everything, a 1Bman whose defense isn’t anything special has to hit a lot. Garcia might do just that, but his K-rate with the A’s wasn’t 30% and it wasn’t 35%. It was 44% (!!!) and that’s just not enough contact.

Granted a sample of 125 PAs is insufficient for drawing conclusions. But Garcia actually did strikeout in 55 of them. So hopes for him going forward involve him cutting his K-rate not a lot but rather a LOT. Seems unlikely for a guy whose K-rate in Las Vegas was 29.9% this season at age 24 in a hitter’s paradise. And had been in the 30s for 6 of the 7 minor league seasons before it, including 37.9% just last season as a 23 year old at AA.

Verdict: Chaff

Jordan Diaz

There are a lot of things Diaz is not. One of them is that he’s not a 2Bman and I don’t understand why the A’s put him there to start his big league career. At best he would be keeping the seat warm for Zack Gelof, and I still have no idea what he is like at 1B where he could potentially have a long term future.

Diaz is also not “an OBP guy” and sure enough he coaxed just 2 walks in his inaugural 51 big league plate appearances. He is one of those guys who, despite great “bat to ball skills,” is going to have a hit a lot in order to provide value.

Luckily, hitting a lot is what Jordan Diaz does. He batted .348/.383/.545 at AAA at age 22 to earn the big league cup of coffee after hitting .319/.361/.507 at age 21 at AA earlier in the year. The question is: can he keep hitting, hitting, hitting in the big leagues in order to sufficiently offset his limitations?

Initially it looked like a resounding “yes” as Diaz started fast. Then he began “Cristian Pache-ing” a lot of ground balls to the left side and ended the season with a thud (3 for 22). But it was a “first taste” for a 22-year old who started the season in AA and wasn’t even really supposed to reach Oakland in 2022.

Historically, Diaz is a line to line hitter with decent power — not so much great HR power but enough “doubles power” to keep his slugging percentage more than healthy. One thing I noticed is that it seemed like Diaz leaned out towards the pitch a bit to “go get it” instead of “staying inside the ball,” and this (to my eyes) sapped his power by leveraging mostly his hands and not so much his lower body into the swing.

Going forward, I see Diaz staying back more on pitches, hitting more to all fields, and finding a lot of gaps, because that’s what he has done consistently at previous levels and even showed glimpses of doing with the A’s. I see him developing into a dangerous hitter who makes a lot of hard contact to all fields, and only hits around 15 HRs but might knock 40 doubles around the yard.

True to his reputation, even in the big leagues Diaz K’d only 13.7% of his PAs and as he relaxes, settles into being “who he is,” and gains experience, I could see him becoming a Michael Young type of hitter and that is absolutely a quality big leaguer even at DH — or hopefully at 1B if Diaz can handle the position well enough.

Just get him to stay back and engage his whole body in attacking the pitch, and let him be who he is and while his limitations preclude him becoming a star I do think he could be a quality player on a quality team.

Verdict: Wheat

Still to come: Similar looks at Shea Langeliers, Cristian Pache, Adrian Martinez, Kevin Smith, Adam Oller, Jared Koenig, Conor Capel...It’s a long off-season, folks, we got time...

Your thoughts?