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So What Have We Learned By “May Day”?

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Oakland Athletics
“My defense has been improving, but I feel like I may have hit a wall.”
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

When you look at a splattering of sludge on the wall, you notice that it doesn’t fall hard to the ground like a baseball would. No, it seeps south ever slowly to its inevitable destination. So it comes as no surprise that in an expected “sludge year” the A’s shocked us by taking 3 of 4 from the Tampa Bay Rays the first week of the season, and ended a legitimately challenging road trip a competitive 5-5.

But it didn’t take long, in “sludge days,” for the A’s thin roster — made even thinner by the absences of soon-to return Lou Trivino (COVID IL) and Ramon Laureano (naughty habits) — to be exposed.

Still the A’s are 10-12, which is a record the Cincinnati Reds dream about. There has been some good and there has been some bad. What have we learned, watching 22 games, that we didn’t know on April 8th?

Kevin Smith Can Play

It’s hard enough to be a key piece in a deal for Matt Chapman, but then add an 0 for 16 start and the pressure reaches a fever pitch. Nonetheless, Smith has calmly pushed through it to show that he was a worthy target to be part of the A’s next core.

In the 8 games since the dreaded 0’fer, Smith is 9 for 23 with 4 2B and 2 BB, which translates to a tasty .391/.440/.565 run. More importantly, he has shown good speed, the ability to make a lot of hard contact, and solid defense. He could use a bit of advice on how to run to first base, but nobody’s perfect.

I think Smith is a keeper and not as a utility player. He can start everyday somewhere (and probably would be starting at SS right now if the A’s were contending).

Elvis Andrus Is Done, Done, Done

Andrus is consummately likeable and undoubtedly is a positive force in the clubhouse. As a player on the field, though, his great first week was akin to the “agonal gasps” a dying patient takes before their 3:00pm appointment with the morgue.

The numbers are damning enough, but it’s the eyeball test that Andrus is failing so exquisitely. His biggest achievements are fly balls that actually almost make it to the warning track, while what seems to give him trouble are “all ground balls” and “big league pitchers”.

The stats? Since week 1, Elvis is 6 for 45 (.133) and today he made his 4th error. Fangraphs suggests he has been worth -3 DRS, which would put Andrus on pace to save -18 runs this year. And this is a guy whose previous 4 seasons have produced wRC+s of 76, 76, 58, and 72.

He does, however, continue to have a winsome smile.

Cristian Pache Is “The Real Deal” In CF

I have hope for Pache as a hitter, based on his power, and ability to hit balls hard to RF and right-center, that he has already shown. Those are qualities that could help make up for a worrisome K/BB rate he must improve upon in the big leagues.

But the “80 grade defense”? It’s not an exaggeration — Pache is really, really good out there, from his reads and jumps to his closing speed, and also his natural judgment about when to use his strong arm and when to concede a base in the name of hitting the cutoff man.

Sean Murphy is already a 3 WAR catcher on “defense and some pop” alone. It appears Pache might be a second player up the middle who can make this claim for the green and gold.

The A’s See Something In Billy McKinney That Isn’t There

For some unknown reason, the A’s didn’t just add McKinney to the roster to fill space at 1B and in the OF. They have played him regularly and generally batted him 3rd or 4th. And only the A’s know why.

I first saw McKinney at Stockton in 2014, the year after the A’s made him their #1 pick in the draft. I watched his at bats in the game and walked away saying, “I sure hope I’m wrong, because I think the A’s made a bad pick.” The swing just didn’t look good to me, neither short nor quick, and the ball didn’t so much jump off his bat as it left politely like an educated Englishman exiting a yacht club luncheon.

Here’s the thing. It shouldn’t surprise anyone when he fails, because McKinney has since gone on to make a career of not being any good. He sports a career slash line of .208/.279/.391, which only looks good if you put it next to this year’s sample: .111/.280/.200. I know when my player is rocking a 10 wRC+ I tend not to bat him cleanup, but that’s just me apparently.

Yes it’s a small sample, but here’s the other thing. What stands out most to me about McKinney is how seldom he makes hard contact. Apparently he has hit the ball hard 8 times this year, but the rest of the time he is a sad mix of bouncers and choppers, lazy fly balls, and of course there’s the 26% of the time he just goes ahead and strikes out.

Sure it could just be a slump, but isn’t he currently trying to fight out of a “career long slump” of being so uninspiring that literally no other team wanted him? Because 8 years after I didn’t like what I saw, he still looks exactly the same?

As a warm body in a rebuilding year, he’s fine. As a #8 hitter, he’s “shrug, sure.” But why the A’s would bat him 3rd and 4th is beyond anyone who doesn’t happen to have the very job of making that determination.

Rehab Starts Actually Tell You Something — Who Knew?

If the measure of readiness is simply, “Feels healthy, has velocity,” then you’ll also believe where monkeys just flew out of me. But here on planet earth, when a pitcher goes from serving up HRs to A-ball hitters to having no control against AAA hitters, it may just be a sign that he could use another tuneup.

I get it. No one really wanted to see Adam Oller pretend again to be ready for prime time, probably least of all his mom. But it was really “rooting with your heart” if you followed James Kaprielian’s rehab and thought, “Yes! This is the guy who should pitch a big league game on Sunday!”

Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well. In fairness, no one really could have seen it coming, except for everyone.

OK, there are some thoughts to take your mind off the clusterfadoodle that was the Guardians series. The important thing is to be the best at something, even if it’s “messing up,” and Sheldon Neuse is on pace to make 52 errors this season. I really think he can do it! (It’s ok. If you can just keep hitting .328/.394/.469, you can DH for us for as long as you want.)

Happy May Day.