MLB Analysis: Reflecting on How April Went for the Athletics and Giants

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Now that it’s May, or as we refer to it in my house, the second full month of the baseball season, it’s a good time to take a look at the season to date. The teams I’m most familiar with – the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants – are like all the others; they’ve have had their surprises, and I mean that the good way, and their disappointments, and I mean that in the only way you can mean it. And of course, some elements of both teams have been as advertised. Given that they’re in the senior circuit, let’s start with the Giants.

SURPRISE – One of the biggest surprises for the Giants has been the performance of Barry Zito. His WHIP of .926 is second on the team behind Matt Cain’s ridiculous mark of .626, and his 2 walks per 9 innings pitched is really unheard of from him since donning a Giants uniform. His WHIP since coming to the NL is a dismal 1.392, so the early going is promising. It’s too early to tell what to expect long-term from Zito. In fact, as I write this, his first start in May is not going well. And you may remember he got off to a terrific start two years ago and faded so badly (5-0 start; 4-14, 1.46 WHIP the rest of the way) that he was left off the roster for all 3 post-season series. So, as to what Giants fans can expect from Zito for the rest of the year, it’s anybody’s guess. His story is too familiar to those in the Bay Area to be anything but pessimistic, but so far he’s been a pleasant surprise. Maybe his off season marriage is starting to pay baseball dividends.

AS ADVERTISED – Melky Cabrera was a great pickup for the Giants. After switching leagues for the second time in as many years, Cabrera has had no problem adjusting. Are you listening Albert? He’s hitting .287 with a .757 OPS. His solid defense, 1 error in his first 25 games, and dependable bat are welcome signs in a Giants outfield that has been searching for an identity – a good one that is – for a number of years. Angel Pagan provides additional talent in the outfield. Although he got off to a slow start, as of post-game on May 1st he had a 15-game hitting streak going. That’s brought his average up to .253, and with 3 doubles, 3 triples, and 4 homers, and his OPS is sitting at .757. Finally, I’ve got to put Buster Posey in the as advertised column. Even baseball fans that root against the Giants have got to love seeing this guy healthy and delivering. His .333 average and .962 OPS are the sort of offensive numbers Giants watchers were hoping for. Manager Bruce Bochy is not overdoing it using him behind the plate, but he’s able to keep Posey’s bat in the lineup by sticking him at first base. With Hector Sanchez showing promise as a back-up catcher with some decent offensive numbers of his own, Bochy can safely play Posey at first without too much lost behind the plate.

DISAPPOINTMENTS – I was going to stick Tim Lincecum here (2-2; 5.74 ERA; 1.575 WHIP), but his most recent outing (3 hits in 8 innings, 0 earned runs) makes it look like his early season difficulties might be behind him. As Mike Krukow, one of the local TV guys says, he’s a gamer. If the Giants ever get him any run support, he’ll be fine for years. Unfortunately, that likelihood is not great, which leads to the next item on this list. A clear disappointment so far has been the plate performance of the two young Brandons. Brandon Crawford (.230 OBP, 1 HR, .577 OPS) has yet to produce on a consistent basis, and it remains to be seen if Brandon Belt (.250 BA, 0 HR; 0 3B) is anything more than a ‘tweener, a Fourple A guy. Unless these guys start producing some runs, they’ll be roasting in Fresno this summer instead of chillin’ by the Bay.

HIDDEN GEM? – With Freddy Sanchez’s future uncertain, and Brandon Crawford’s offense questionable, look for Joaquin Arias to get more playing time at SS and 2B. He’s only played 117 games in the bigs since coming up for a cup of coffee in ’06, but over those games he’s managed to hit .280, and has recorded only 6 errors in 160 chances playing 6 different positions.

Now on to the A’s

SURPRISES – I’m going with Ryan Cook in the bullpen, Josh Reddick’s arm in right, and Bartolo Colon on the mound. Cook, who was part of the deal that sent Trevor Cahill to the D-Backs, has been solid in late inning relief. As of May 1st, he’d given up only 1 hit in 10 appearances. He has 6 walks, which is obviously too high for his 11 innings, but he hasn’t given up any runs in spite of putting runners on. As I wrote about a week ago, Josh Reddick’s arm seems to have caught the AL by surprise and he’s already recorded 4 assists from right field. Bartolo Colon is the third surprise. Even though the team fell apart in the 9th inning during his last April start against Baltimore, his numbers are solid so far – .938 WHIP, 2.53 ERA, and there was that phenomenal night against the Angels when he threw 38 straight strikes. Of course his second half slide last year looms, and it’s tough to say if he has what it takes, at nearly 39 years old, to still be strong after the All Star break.

AS ADVERTISED – The A’s rookie centerfielder, Yoenis Cespedes, has so far made the transition to stateside ball without too much difficulty (.330 OBP, .796 OPS). He’s struck out 25 times so far, an obvious negative, but he has driven in 20 runs for an anemic A’s offense in 24 games. That puts him on pace for 130 RBIs for the year. Considering how rarely his teammates get on base, his RBI total to date is extraordinary.

DISAPPOINTMENTS –The A’s team batting has been atrocious. They’re dead last in MLB with a .212 team average, and have managed just slightly more than 3 runs per game. Besides Cespedes, Reddick has added a little punch to the lineup, but he strikes out too much (17 SO in 102 PA) for a guy with less than impressive power numbers, and he’s already hit into 3 double plays. (Rumor has it Bob Melvin briefly considered changing Reddick’s number to 643). Additionally, fans have to wonder how long the A’s are going to stick with Daric Barton. Barton got a reprieve this year after spending much of last year in Sacramento with the Triple A club, but so far it doesn’t seem to have done him any good. In an all too familiar sight, he struck out looking with the bases loaded as the A’s were coming back against the Red Sox on Monday night. He probably saved Bobby Valentine’s job for another week by doing so, but that’s not really his role.

HIDDEN GEM? – Kila Ka’aihue may be the first baseman the A’s have been looking for since Scott Hatteberg left town for Cincinnati after 2005. He’s seen limited action so far, but if Barton continues to “perform” as he has to date, then Ka’aihue (.365 OBP vs. Barton’s .286 OBP) should get the nod at 1st.  That would make Oakland the only team with two starting Hawaiians in MLB. How cool is that?

So that’s the first month’s report for the teams by the Bay. No one’s lighting the world on fire, but no one’s throwing in the towel just yet either. Stay tuned.

Jonathan Dyer teaches History and Government at a small high school in Northern California. He practiced law for 10 years before switching to teaching, and spent 5 years in Army intelligence before going to law school. He worked for 3 of those 5 years as a Russian linguist at Field Station Berlin during the Cold War. Mr. Dyer and Kerry, his wife of 27 years, are certified baseball junkies. You may email Jonathan directly at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dyer_jp.