Bob Melvin is very unhappy with the Oakland A's right now.
And he should be. The reports from the clubhouse after the A’s were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks were not pretty. Oakland Athletics’ Manager Bob Melvin was ejected during the second game of the 3-game set, and his evaluation of the entire series by Sunday evening was accurately terse: it was a “bad series.” He’s right.
As a team, the A’s are clearly underperforming. Forget the DL excuse. Every team has injuries every year. Sure it’d be nice to have Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup every night. And as Susan Slusser, the San Francisco Chronicle’s beat reporter for the A’s recently pointed out, the A’s are three games over .500 with Cespedes in the lineup and 12 games below .500 with him out of the lineup.
What ever happened to stepping up when your team is down a key player or two? Where are those guys on the A’s? The men that have been wearing the green and gold for the longest are missing in action, for the most part. How are the Athletics’ regular field players from last year doing compared to this year? There are precious few regulars who played on the A’s last year, so this won’t take long.
Kurt Suzuki, one of my personal favorites on the team, is hitting .216 with no home runs and 16 RBI in 52 games. That works out to an RBI every three games. He played in 134 games last year. Assuming he plays in 134 games this year he’s on a pace to collect about 43 RBI for the entire year. Last year Suzuki hit .237 with 14 homeruns and 44 RBI in 134 games. This year’s RBI rate, sadly, is close to last year’s, but otherwise he’s clearly underperforming at the plate. Cliff Pennington hit .264 with 8 homeruns and 58 RBI last year. As of this writing he’s hitting .208 with 1 homerun and 11 RBI in 57 games.
I’m not even going to do the math on Pennington. The numbers are so weak they speak, in a fading whisper, for themselves. Jemile Weeks is hitting .223 with 8 RBI in 56 games. Last year, after taking over at second for Mark Ellis, Weeks hit .303 with 36 RBI in 97 games. Again, my calculator simply winced when I entered the numbers to compare Weeks’ performance last year with this year. Coco Crisp’s story is similar, but in his defense, Crisp has been injured and now shows signs of getting on track. Still, the numbers are depressing. Last year Crisp was a .264 hitter with 54 RBI in 136 games. So far this year Crisp is hitting .171 with 1 homerun and 11 RBI in only 36 games. That’s it as far as returning regulars go. What about the new guys?
Recent additions Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, and Brandon Inge are 1, 2, and 3 on the team in OPS, respectively. But injuries have limited the play of both Cespedes and Inge. Cespedes has only 131 at bats so far this year, and Inge, a May addition to the team, has a mere 86 at bats. Josh Reddick is solid. He’s played in 59 out of 61 games, has 232 at bats, and is hitting .272 with 14 homeruns and 30 RBI. But as much as fans appreciate his contributions to the team, his intensity, his hustle, his fielding, and his arm in right, a .272 hitter can’t carry the team. Especially a team with a BA of .220 that’s 30th overall (.244 in 2011 for 24th overall), and an OPS of .642 that’s 29th overall (.680 in 2011 for 25th overall).
What about the team’s pitching, an area that has been historically strong for the A’s, right? Their pitching’s once again solid. The staff is performing about how it performed last year when its ERA of 3.71 was 10th in MLB. There are legitimate questions about the bullpen. The particularly ugly blown save by Brian Fuentes on Friday set Melvin off. Like I said, he’s pissed. The bullpen has 7 blown saves, which is the same number the Seattle Mariners have, 2 less than the Los Angeles Angels, and 3 more than the Texas Rangers. It’s not a great number, given that the bullpen has only had 20 save opportunities, but it’s not a disaster either. Nope, it’s not the pitching. It’s the hitting. And whether you measure it in runs (28th overall), average (30th overall), or on base percentage (29th overall), the team can’t compete with a Walking Dead offense.
So what’s the solution? A new hitting coach? New hitters? Aluminum bats? Will Bud Selig let the A’s use aluminum bats? He should have a decision sometime in the next 4 – 5 years. In the meantime, Melvin’s doing what he can.
Sending Kila Ka’aihue, who was hitting .234 at the time, down to Sacramento in favor of Brandon Ross seemed at first an odd choice, and one that did not sit well with a number of his teammates. However, to Melvin’s and Billy Beane’s credit, they’re trying something. Compare the rather short lease that Ka’aihue found himself on with the ridiculously long amount of time it took to give up on Daric Barton. Something may be better than nothing, and the prospect of another 1st baseman possibly hitting no better than Barton for the long haul is probably justification enough for the move. Giving outfielder Collin Cowgill (BA .247) a shot as a reserve outfielder on a fairly regular basis instead of running Jonny Gomes out there is another sensible adjustment. Gomes started out hot, but has since regressed to the mean with a BA of .215. Seth Smith or Reddick can DH while Cowgill fills in.
If and when Cespedes gets reasonably healthy, continuing to use Cowgill Melvin can give one of his regulars either the day off or allow them to DH. All of this comes under the heading of “at least Melvin’s trying something.” And finally, Melvin has gone to closer by committee. Nothing wrong with that either. Fans may be anxious to see Ryan Cook, the bullpen’s star to date, in save opportunities, but Melvin wants the flexibility to bring Cook in earlier with men on base to get the A’s to the ninth. Makes sense.
Melvin’s adjustments are all well and good, but the fact is he doesn’t have a whole lot to work with. As coach Sam Mussabini quipped in Chariots of Fire, “You can’t put in what God’s left out.” And until the likes of Suzuki, Pennington, Weeks, and Crisp start to perform at least as well as they have in the past, Bob Melvin’s likely to stay pissed.
Jonathan Dyer has been a baseball fanatic since playing Little League in the 1960s, and he’s been following the Oakland A’s since moving to the Bay Area in the late 1970s when he watched Rickey Henderson play for Billy Martin. Dyer, the author of three novels, now brings his long-term perspective to writing about baseball, connecting the modern game to its historic context. You may email Jonathan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @dyer_jp. You can follow his progress on two new novels he’s writing at www.booksbyjonathandyer.webs.com