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If The 2022 A’s Finish At .500, The 2002 Streak Will Seem Like Nothing

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers
“If I dive right between his legs, he’ll have to call me safe!”
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Last night was a tough and crucial loss with the A’s falling to 46-81 and missing a chance to stay 22.5 back of a wild card spot. I think what I’m saying is that in seasons like this, one tends to focus less on the games and more on the moments. So let’s see what particulars the Eyeball Scout is noticing from amongst the cesspool of suckitude that is generally the 2022 season...

Nick Allen

Allen continues to chase too many bad sliders to cement a place as an every day starter, but in recent days his much ballyhooed defense is showing up. When first called up, Allen showed flashed of brilliance but also too often hurried or tried to do too much, resulting in disasters such as the routine DP ball muffed into 0 outs ahead of a back-breaking 3-run Eugenio Suarez HR.

But lately? Allen’s exceptional range, diving to the SS hole or ranging well into the outfield, his strong “legit SS” arm, and his quick hands, have been on display often producing web gems. Last night he took a very tricky hop backhanded and even peeked at 2B on his way to firing a strike across his body to get an out at 1B on a tough play. Before that a recent diving stop to very deep SS and a great throw to 1B showcased his range, quickness, and arm all at once. And we have already gotten used to his lightning quick transfers on the DP.

Now that he has settled down a bit and gotten accustomed to the pace of the big league game, we are seeing why Allen has long been touted as a premier defender up the middle. What is far less clear is whether given his lack of power, Allen can figure out a way to be a tough at bat a la Tony Kemp, a contact machine dunking the ball anywhere and everywhere a la David Fletcher, or some other iteration of a batter who maximizes a skill set to offset a natural shortcoming.

The bar is somewhat low but not as low as where the diminutive Allen currently sits. With a slash line of .203/.261/.292 Allen has just a 64 wRC+. That is in fact comparable to the .233/.294/.314. 68 wRC+ career numbers for a player Allen has sometimes been likened to: Brendan Ryan.

However, to be a solid every day player Allen doesn’t need to be even a league average hitter. Andrelton Simmons sat at 86 wRC+ for his career, slugging just .366, yet accumulated 25.0 career WAR with 4 seasons of over 3.0 WAR. The man Allen has replaced, Elvis Andrus, has carved out a 14 year career as a starting SS while sitting at just an 85 wRC+.

But those next 20 wRC+ are key for Allen’s ability to lay claim to being a starting SS and not just a slick utility infielder. Those may be very difficult gains to make at the plate — to me the key is going to be commanding the strike zone far, far better than he currently does — but his defense? It’s really, really good and don’t let his “rookie mistakes” fool you into thinking he was just hype. Kid can play.

J. P. Sears

Count me among those who was “pleased as punch” to see Sears included in the haul for Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino. When you look at Sears’ minor league track record all you see is success (11.04 K/9 IP and a 2.84 ERA across all levels), and this translated to the big leagues in his short stint with the Yankees with an ERA under 2.00.

However, the K-rates have fallen dramatically from MiLB to MLB: Sears has K’d just 26 batters in his first 43.1 IP (a 5.40/9 IP rate) and most noticeably he has given up a lot of hard contact even in starts where he successfully stranded runners and survived. “Rockets at infielders, bulllets at outfielders” is not a sustainable strategy.

What excited me in his early starts was a late breaking, deceptive “back foot slider” that came over the plate to RH batters and was hard to lay off as it disappeared out of the zone. But last night, where was that pitch? Most of the sliders Sears threw were the lazier “get me over” sliders aiming to come around the outside corner. The pitch Aaron Judge blasted out to ruin an otherwise decent start? A slider without much bite to it, up in the zone.

I thought the sharp slider down and in was Sears’ most impressive pitch and I hope he heavily showcases it again moving forward. I dream of a rotation, come 2024, in which Sears is the A’s luxury #5 SP behind Cole Irvin, Ken Waldichuk, Gunnar Hoglund, and JT Ginn (if Hoglund isn’t ready Ryan Cusick is happy to step in). Granted, that exact outcome probably won’t happen but it’s more fun to think about than an Adam Oller start with Vimeal Machin batting in the middle of the order.

Finally, we leave you with today’s requisite “minor league good news” to help ease the sting of the A’s being 46-81:

- No he hasn’t walked yet, which is an actual problem, but 22 year old Jordan Diaz has opened up his AAA career batting .361, with 3 doubles and a triple, in his first 36 at bats.

- Zack Gelof is starting to drive the ball again, slugging .481 in August with 5 HRs.

- Remember when every prospect acquired this off-season was required to immediately suck balls of goat? Things may be shifting:

JT Ginn’s last start: 5 IP, 6 hits, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
Ryan Cusick’s last start: 5 IP, 3 hits, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 K
Joey Estes’ last start: 6 IP, 1 hit, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
Euribiel Angeles: 9 for 20 in August (so naturally he had to get injured)

I didn’t say “first ballot Hall of Famers,” but it’s progress! A’s and Yankees tonight at 6:07pm with Adam Oller “pitching away from contact” to a lineup that doesn’t chase. Should be super fun.