Monday, July 16, 2007

The Oakland A's Monday #11

Overall: 44-48 (3rd Place, AL West)
Last (Three) Weeks: 5-13 (1-3 vs. Indians, 2-1 vs. Yankees, 1-2 vs. Blue Jays, 1-3 vs. Mariners, 0-4 vs. Twins)

And, so it ends.

The 2007 season for my intrepid Oakland A's came to its inevitable conclusion in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the Twins swept a four game series from our heroes. At the start of play tonight, the A's are 11 ½ games behind the division-leading Angels and 10 ½ games out of the wildcard race.

Over the last 14 weeks, I've used this space to blame everyone from Bobby Crosby to Jason Kendall to Milton Bradley to the bullpen for the A's malaise. In hindsight, the proverbial bloody glove can clearly be seen in GM Billy Beane's back pocket.

A whole lot of winning and a mostly ignorant, blindly loyal fan base have kept Beane in the good graces of the 14,000 who fill up the Oakland Coliseum on a frigid Friday night. But, at some point, "the genius" needs to take responsibility for the team he put together.

This was an offense that, last year, finished ninth in runs scored and next to last in batting average, hits, and slugging percentage. No fancy sabermetric stats here, so I assume everyone can keep up.

Our best hitter (Frank Thomas) signed with the Blue Jays and he was replaced with Mike Piazza. Both men are future Hall of Famers, but Piazza hasn't consistently hit right-handed pitching since 2003 and doesn't walk enough to offset his decline in power and average. Best case scenario was a season in which Piazza provided about 50% of the offense that Thomas did in 2006.

The rest of the team was the same inept squad at the plate, just a year older. Good young players improve as they age, then peak and decline over the course of their careers. The A's once had several good young players.

Guys like Mark Ellis, Mark Kotsay and Eric Chavez are in that 29-31 age range and are about as good as they'll ever be. In fact, one could argue that the offensive decline phase has already begun for these three to varying degrees. 1B Dan Johnson is only in his third year, but he's already 27 and it's clear that his peak will be as a solid, if unspectacular hitter.

Chavez is signed through 2010, while Kotsay signed a very questionable contract extension through 2008 a season or two ago. And, we haven't even gotten around to mentioning Earth's Worst Hitter™ (.226/.261/.281) and his little brother, SS Bobby Crosby (.222/.265/.336).

Make no mistake, the starting pitching has been excellent. And, Beane should get credit for the heist of All-Star Dan Haren and the infamous "Moneyball" draft that yielded Fat Joe Blanton. The rest of the rotation has performed solidly, in spite of the injuries that led to their jobs in the first place.

But, this team finished fourth in the AL in team ERA last year. The pitching didn't need to be fixed, even with the departure of the I-told-you-he-was-overrated Barry Zito.

The offensive decline of this team was a decade-long slide starting back in 2001. Beane was able to mix and match and trade and draft for awhile, but the end result was that "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" analogy that everyone uses too much. This 2007 offense is a dull, uninspired lot that trots out two guys who are looking like they can no longer hit major league pitching and Jason Kendall who no longer leaves any doubt that he can't

Make no mistake…this is Billy Beane's team. He found a pleasant, personable puppet in Bob Geren to "manage" this outfit, but every time you watch Kotsay or Crosby kill another rally, it's because Beane wants him out there.

He's been inexplicably spared the wrath of A's fan, thus far. And, with that kind of Teflon coating, he should consider running on the Democratic ticket in 2008.

TBG Note: I just…like JUST found out that the A's traded Kendall to the Cubs. I'm too damn excited to change any of the above! Huzzah! It's like the Emancipation Proclamation all over again!

This Week: vs. Rangers (3), vs. Orioles (3)

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