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Thursday, May 20, 2010

First Quarter Grades: The "Hitters"

The A's have played 41 games so far, so we're one-fourth of the way through the 2010 season.  Now seems like an appropriate time to start evaluating the team so far.  As a whole, despite all the frustrations I've had with the way things have gone so far, I can't complain too much about where the A's stand.  Right now they're second place in the AL West, three behind the Rangers.  According to Baseball Prospectus, the A's have a 22% chance of making the playoffs, a figure similar to the odds I would have given them right before the season started.

Individually, though, performance has been spotty, especially on the offensive side of the ball.  Below, I've given each position player a grade.  I'll evaluate the pitchers tomorrow. 

A quick note on my grading criteria, which I hope isn't too hippie-dippie.  In determining each player's grade, I took into account both the expectations I had for him going into the season and the opportunities they've had so far.  I will, however, penalize players who have reduced playing time because they're performance merited it.  There's no reason to penalize Landon Powell for not hitting 10 homers so far when he was only expected to be a backup catcher and has only 47 PAs on the year, but docking Rajai Davis for not getting 100% of the PT in center field because he's been so bad is entirely justifiable.

Lastly, I've decided that a grade of C+ is roughly average.  This is arbitrary, but I feel like less of a jerk putting that plus sign next to the C.  Let's get to the grades (in order of plate appearances).

1B Daric Barton - B+
I'd like to give Barton a higher grade, given that he's been the A's best hitter so far.  However, the title of Best Hitter on the A's means as much as the title of best movie in the Fast and Furious franchise; sure there's redeeming qualities to say, 2 Fast 2 Furious (amount of fury, presence of Ludacris), but you'd sure as heck rather be judging the Indiana Jones movies.  Barton's high OBP, currently .386, is great, but his lack of power limits his value and makes me question the sustainability of his on base prowess.

SS Cliff Pennington - B
Pennington had a hot April, so much so that he moved from ninth in the batting order to leadoff and caused me to get super excited about his future.  He's had a rough month and his overall line is down to .231/.315/.354, which isn't good, but tolerable from a shortstop.  Plus, his BABIP is an oddly low .272, given his speed and line drive rate.  He has the makings of an average big league shortstop, but he's hasn't quite put it all together so far this season.

3B Kevin Kouzmanoff - D
Kouz has been one of the worst everyday third basemen in the majors.  Luckily for him, Brandon Wood, Aramis Ramirez, Jose Lopez, and Pedro Feliz have all been much worse at the plate.  Strangely, three of the five worst third basemen so far reside in the AL West.  Right now, Kouzmanoff, who was supposed to provide power in the middle of the A's lineup, isn't looking that much better than Jack Hannahan. 

RF Ryan Sweeney - B-
Oh, Ryan Sweeney, you with your consistent high batting average and frustrating inability to do anything else with the bat.  He's not useless offensively, as his OBP sits at .352, good for second on the A's.  He's also continuing to be good with the glove and his health has spared us more Jake Fox/Jack Cust in the outfield than we've already seen.  Still, a .300/.350/.390 hitter can only be so valuable, no matter how good the defense or how much the swing looks like it should generate power.

CF Rajai Davis - D
The good news: Davis is outhitting Grady Sizemore and Adam Jones.  The bad news:  Davis' line so far is .248/.285/.307.  He's been good on the basepaths with 13 steals in 15 attempts, but overall he's been a big disappointment.

2B Adam Rosales - B+
Like Pennington, Rosales got off to a hot start and is now cooling off some.  And again like Pennington, while his overall line doesn't look that good, his.263/.326/.380 line isn't bad for a second baseman.  He's striking out in over 25% of his at bats, which is way too high for a guy with such limited power.  Still, he's done a solid job in the place of Mark Ellis.

DH Eric Chavez -F+
I tried to think of a way not to give Chavez an F, so here it goes: Ken Griffey Jr. is way worse.  There's not that much else to say, he's not hitting for average, walking, hitting for power, or running well (or playing the field at all).  I guess this makes him a 0-skill player and that just makes me sad.

C Kurt Suzuki - B+
He's been great when he's been healthy, but unfortunately he missed a couple weeks with an intercostal strain.  He probably won't sustain his .267/.345/.480 batting line, but he hopefully won't miss another chunk of the season either.

LF/2B Eric Patterson - C-
Looking at the numbers it's really hard to figure this guy out.  He has the highest SLG on the A's, but he's also hitting only .222.  He's not walking at all and is striking out in over 27% of his plate appearances.  Obviously some of these numbers are the result of a small sample size, but which figure is it?  His low BABIP?  His high SLG?  His low OBP?  All we know for sure is that he didn't exactly seize the day when Travis Buck went down and that may have been his last opportunity for every day at bats in the majors.

UT Jake Fox - D
Fox's only value so far has been his positional flexibility.  Given that every position he plays he plays poorly, that's not saying much.  I had hopes that he could be a solid hitter who could DH most days, but spend some time behind the plate or in the outfield if necessary.  Things haven't gone that way, though.  He hasn't hit at all and been even worse at the plate than Chavez.

All others - INC
Mark Ellis and Travis Buck get incompletes because they hurt themselves early in the season and have yet to come back.  Ellis may be back soon, but there's no timetable for Buck's return.  Gabe Gross, Landon Powell, and Josh Donaldson have got some playing time off the bench, but not enough to make any conclusions about.  Similiarly, Jack Cust's return to Oakland has been to short to evaluate.  Steve Tolleson and Matt Carson both had short stints with the A's.

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