Monday, September 17, 2007

The Oakland A's Monday #17

Overall: 74-77 (3rd Place, AL West)
Last (Two) Weeks: 6-7 (1-2 vs. Angels 0-3 vs. Rangers, 2-1 vs. Mariners, 3-1 vs. Rangers)

As the 2007 season slowly plods to its miserable finish for my Oakland A's, there's been one constant explanation that's been cited as the reason why this team was essentially eliminated around Independence Day. The fans and the media are convinced that, were it not for injuries (the A's have used the disabled list 22 times this year en route to 54 different players suiting up for the team in '07) the Athletics would've been playoff contenders.

But, how much did the injuries really affect the A's this year?

Catcher: Jason Kendall played almost every day until his mid-July trade to the Cubs. He (chuckle) "hit" .226/.261/.281 in 80 games for the A's. Injury impact: None

First Base: Dan Johnson had a strong spring training before tearing cartilage in his hip a few days before the start of the regular season. This is a tough one to call, because Johnson's injury led to OF Travis Buck making the Opening Day roster, while Nick Swisher (a few Todd Walker cameos) manned first base. Buck put up a .900+ OPS (in 59 plate appearances) while Johnson was out and Swisher, as usual, had a good first month with the stick. Johnson returned towards the end of April, got hot for a few weeks, and then went stone cold before losing his job right around the trading deadline. Injury impact: Minimal-to-none

Second Base: Mark Ellis has only missed 11 games this season. Injury impact: None

Shortstop: Bobby Crosby's apologists often add "…if he stays healthy…" to their predictions of superstardom for the oft-injured offensive albatross. Well, he played in 93 of Oakland's first 100 games to the tune of a .278 OBP and .341 SLG. I was at the game in Anaheim when a hit-by-pitch ended his season. The A's season had already ended by then. Injury impact: None

Third Base: If we give Eric Chavez the benefit of the doubt, then we must believe his sob story that he's been playing hurt all year. He also claims that he's been dealing with nagging injuries for practically his entire career. You're a warrior, Eric. He's three years removed from his last good year at the plate, so there's no telling if he would've been productive even if he was healthy. Injury impact: Moderate

Left Field: For the sake of argument, let's assume that Nick Swisher was slated to be the Opening Day leftfielder. Swisher has moved all over the diamond to fill in for the walking wounded, so free agent signee Shannon Stewart has stepped in to play 129 games out there this year. A mediocre April and August have blunted his otherwise surprising numbers (.290 BA, .350 OBP). Injury impact: Minimal-to-none

Centerfield: Mark Kotsay had back surgery a few days into spring training, missed the first two months of the season, then came back way too soon. He's been in decline since his career year in 2004, but his defense was sorely missed. Injury impact: Significant

Right Field: Milton Bradley has played 140+ games once in his career. He hit the DL 3 times for the A's in 2007 before being shown the door for clashing with GM Billy Beane. Bradley's tremendously underrated on defense and a solid hitter to boot. His injuries left gaping holes both in the field and at the plate. Then again, Travis Buck put up better numbers than Bradley ever did as an Athletic. Injury impact: Moderate, but not as bad as it could've been

Designated Hitter: Mike Piazza was signed for $8 million dollars and had one home run on May 2, when Boston's Mike Lowell ruined Piazza's shoulder. Jack Cust has been streaky, but sensational, while turning Piazza into a modern-day Wally Pipp. Injury impact: Less than none

Starting Pitching: Rich Harden and Esteban Loaiza have only started six games, combined, all year. Fill-ins Chad Gaudin and Lenny DiNardo had extended stretches of effectiveness before turning back into proverbial pumpkins. The impact of Harden's and Loaiza's absences was certainly severe, but it's not like the A's shouldn't have seen this coming. Injury impact: Significant

Bullpen: Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero all missed significant time with injuries. With the A's forced to move guys like Gaudin and Joe Kennedy into the rotation, the bullpen turned into a collection of Triple-A stiffs. Injury impact: Significant

So what does this ridiculously subjective analysis mean?

Well, the A's have been lousy on offense all year and I'm inclined to blame that on the absence of 2006's best hitter on the team, Frank Thomas, and not on injuries. If anything, the revolving DL door hit the defense harder than the offense.

As for the pitching staff, the A's were leading the league in ERA for much of the first half, before the workloads caught up with some of the replacement starting arms and the bullpen collapsed upon itself.

All in all, it's been a pretty sh*tty year.

This Week: vs. Mariners (3), at Indians (3)

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