With the Oakland A’s sitting just one game under .500 (10-11) despite a three game losing streak, most fans would agree that the 2017 A’s are exceeding preseason predictions. They are playing competitive, entertaining baseball (which is more than can be said about the last two seasons) despite a plethora of injuries. Although it is difficult to predict what will happen over the course of a 162 game season, it is interesting to take a look at what has transpired during the first “inning” of the season. What has put the A’s in a position to be competitive, and what has caused them to “strike out” thus far?
2017 Oakland A’s are Exceeding Preseason Predictions
Bad News First: “Foul”
Before the season even began, fans were dealt a blow when Sonny Gray was placed on the disabled list. Jake Smolinski, Chris Bassitt, and Daniel Mengden also began the season on the DL. Unfortunately, the injuries didn’t end there. By far the most difficult blow to the team has been Marcus Semien‘s wrist injury. Semien was an important part of the offense, especially when it came to power-hitting. To add insult to actual injury, he will be out for an extended period of time as his injury requires surgery. Other injuries have impacted the team thus far, but should have less impact going forward, as many players are expected to return within the next couple of weeks.
In fact, starting pitcher Kendall Graveman (shoulder) is expected to pitch tonight and reliever John Axford is likely to return within the next nine games. Rajai Davis (hamstring) is on the 10-day DL and starter Sean Manaea (shoulder tightness) has not even been placed on the DL. More positive news is on the horizon as ace Sonny Gray is expected to return next week and Bassitt and Mengden are both making strides in their recovery. The onslaught of injuries combined with the imminent return of many injured players can be described one way- the injury forecast is “Sonny Gray”.
The A’s fielding has not been particularly kind to their pitchers. Oakland currently ranks 28th in fielding percentage. In addition, they have had the second most bases stolen from them. Beyond errors, it seems that the A’s are diving and missing balls that are playable. Another troubling aspect of the A’s defense is that none of the starting outfielders has a particularly strong arm. Gone are the days of outfield assists from Mark Kotsay, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick.
New A’s president Dave Kaval burst onto the Oakland baseball scene this preseason, and with his arrival came a flurry of excitement and hope. Promises of a serious search for a new ballpark site, tasty new food options, lower beer prices, and an emphasis on listening to fans (the tarps are off!) set twitter afire and changed the entire vibe entering the season. Unfortunately, Kaval has come through, but the fans have not come through the gates. The A’s still rank last in attendance in the majors, and the 2017 team does not have the roar of the crowd to push them over the edge in close home games.
The Good News: “Fair”
Entering the 2017 season, Marcus Semien and Khris “Khrush” Davis were expected to provide the “power hitting” for the team- not much power at the plate was anticipated from anyone else. While Khris has crushed seven home runs, Marcus is on the 60-day DL. Surprisingly, the team as a whole has become something of a “pinch hitter” for Marcus. The A’s are tied for ninth in home runs (with 27) and slugging percentage in the majors, which puts them at third in the American league. After Khris’ seven home runs, Yonder Alonso and Trevor Plouffe each have four dingers and Ryon Healy has three. The other nine home runs were hit by seven different players. We seem to have a power hitter “by committee”. The A’s could be a dangerous offensive team if the team as a whole continues to hit balls out of the park after Semien returns.
Back End of the Rotation
Prior to the season, the entire A’s rotation seemed to be a wild card. After Gray, the number of major league games pitched dropped off sharply. The back end of the rotation was particularly uncertain. Fortunately for the A’s, number four and five starters Andrew Triggs and Jesse Hahn have performed surprisingly well, looking more like aces than the back end of a rotation. Despite only having 24 big league games under his belt prior to 2017, Triggs currently boasts an impressive 2.42 ERA and a 3-1 record to boot. Even more impressive is the fact that Triggs only gave up earned runs in one of his four starts. Hahn, who did not begin the season in the starting rotation, has a 2.08 earned run average. The A’s will have an exceedingly difficult decision to make when Gray returns to the starting rotation.
The A’s began the season with corner outfielder and first baseman Mark Canha as their fourth outfielder, with the hope that he could acclimate to playing center field. Canha struggled at the plate, hitting .150 in six games, with an unimpressive .157 on-base percentage. Enter burly, bearded Jaff Decker (pronounced “Jeff”). Before this season, Decker had played in just 60 major league games. He is an improvement over Canha in batting average (.267) and on-base percentage (.389, second only to Bruce Maxwell, who played just 2 games). His fielding percentage also bests Canha (.947 vs .857). Hopefully by the end of this season, fans will no longer be saying “Jaff who?”
While it is uncertain whether the A’s will stay on pace to have a .500 season, they certainly have the potential to be competitive. If the current players continue their trajectory and the injured players return to their previous form, perhaps the 2017 A’s will make some noise in the Wild Card race.