Monday, July 21, 2008

Mid-Term A'Ssessment – Starting Pitchers & Catcher

Joe Blanton – RHP

The Good News: Many of his 2008 individual rate stats (both traditional and advanced) were right in line with his 16-win season from 2006. ERA sat at 3.92 on Memorial Day. Owned a wonderfully convenient excuse to explain away part of 5-12 record, as the anemic A's offense could only scrap together an average of 3.42 runs per game in his starts.

The Bad News: His vastly overrated – albeit still valuable – 16-win season in 2006 masked many of the same faults he's always had: low strikeout rates, high WHIP numbers and poor conditioning. He's been unlucky with run support, but in eight starts since the end of May, Blanton's ERA is 6.75. Eroded most of his trade value from this offseason.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Blanton is officially the Phillies problem, after being dealt for three prospects the day after the All-Star Break. His pass from the media and fans will officially expire by the end of this month. Fat Joe's entire career has been built on run support, defense and the A's home ballpark. Philadelphia will score more for him, but those last two are going to make the next 2 ½ months a lot of fun…for me.

Grade: D+

Dana Eveland – LHP

The Good News: A pleasant, paunchy surprise who came over from Arizona in the Dan Haren deal, Eveland has pitched solidly most of the time with an occasionally outstanding outing thrown in for good measure. Eliminate his back-to-back starts on May 29 and June 3 (10 runs in 8.2 innings) and his first half ERA is around 2.90. Watching him run the basepaths in Atlanta – and get thrown out at home – will be one of the most entertaining images of the year for A's fans. Sigh.

The Bad News: Like most A's starters, Eveland could blame run support on some of his losses, but he creates a lot of his own problems when he can't find the plate. On the season, he's walked 4.4 batters per nine innings, which isn't good for any arm, much less someone who allows as many balls in play as Eveland does. He hasn't looked especially sharp lately and is one of those guys who could implode as his innings pitched total surpasses his career-high.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: A quick check of shows that Eveland's never pitched more than 140 innings in a season. He's got the Rays tonight and, tentatively, the awesome Rangers and Red Sox offenses after that. Sh*t. "Prediction?"…"Yes, prediction."…"Pain."

Grade: B-

Greg Smith – LHP

The Good News: Another piece of the Dan Haren haul, Smith surrendered four earned runs in just one of his first ten starts. His pickoff move is simply phenomenal and might be the best of any pitcher I've ever seen wearing the white shoes.

The Bad News: A closer look at his numbers shows that he wasn't as impressive as I thought. His BB/K ratio is about the same as Eveland's. In his last nine starts – including this past weekend's abomination in the Bronx – his ERA is just shy of 5.00. Again, like Eveland, Smith is about 30 innings shy of his career-high and the regression, it would seem, is in full swing.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: It's no secret that Smith's innings will be heavily monitored down the stretch and it wouldn't surprise me to see him sent to the bullpen sometime next month to keep him around 170-180 for the season. He's death to lefties and his pickoff move is tailor-made for late-inning situations.

Grade: B-

Justin Duchscherer – RHP

The Good News: Well, for those who think an All-Star nomination means anything, there ya go. I mean, Duke deserved it and all…he hasn't given up more than three earned runs in any of his starts (fun fact: I was at his May 1 start when he gave up five unearned runs…thanks, Jack Cust's sh*tty glove!) His ERA stands at 1.87, his WHIP is an ungodly 0.890 and he's even shown some fire out there, unafraid to mix it up with an umpire or two who's squeezed him on calls.

The Bad News: A lot of his "ungodly" numbers are simply unsustainable. I'm reminded of Dan Haren's lights-out first half last year. Haren's final numbers were solid, but his August and September bore no resemblance to his April-July. Duke doesn't miss many bats and relies a lot on the defense behind him. The A's are statistically the best team in baseball at turning balls in play into outs. And, yes, Duke's already about 20 innings over his previous Major League high.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: Duchscherer's value will NEVER be higher than it is right now. It'll sound like blasphemy, but he could be the best arm available over the next 10 days. He's already 30 years old, he'll be eligible for free agency after 2009 (arbitration-eligible after this season) and he had surgery on his hip last year. He'll either be dealt or mentioned in every rumor from now until July 31st.

Grade: A

Rich Harden – RHP

The Good News: Pitched more innings this season than he has in the last two years, combined. Harden was absolutely dominating at times, striking out eight or more batters in seven of his 13 starts for the A's.

The Bad News: Missed almost six weeks from early April to mid-May due to injury, but it's not like anyone didn't see this coming. His last two starts with Oakland may have expedited his exit as his velocity was down and his control absent. Traded to the Cubs for a package bereft of upside.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: The Harden/Piniella marriage could be one to watch. Harden, for the uninitiated, has long had a reputation as someone who will not pitch in or through pain. I think there'll be at least one over-reported incident between the two before the end of the year.

Grade: A-

Kurt Suzuki – C

The Good News: Got off to a great start and was hitting .312 with a .389 OBP on April 25. After a month-long slump, he's hit .331/.378/.470 since May 20. He gets WAY too much credit for his "game calling" skills, but he does look more comfortable behind the plate this year than he did last year. It's damning with faint praise in an overall down year for AL catchers, but he might be having the third or fourth best season in the league behind Joe Mauer, Dionner Navarro and that d*ck in Chicago.

The Bad News: I dunno. There's something about Suzuki that rubs me the wrong way. He's made some embarrassingly bad baserunning gaffes in the first half, he's inconsistent when he comes to blocking the plate and, when he's hitting, Suzuki has this goofy way of lunging away from pitches that are nowhere near him. Nitpicking? Probably. But, I think he could stand to gain some maturity as a ballplayer.

2nd Half Sure Fire Prediction: As with Jason Kendall's Oakland tenure, no one will ask why Suzuki's magical game-calling skillz don't work on certain pitchers – this year, including Blanton, Lenny DiNardo, Huston Street and the last few weeks of Santiago Casilla.

Grade: B+

And, the Rest…: The A's sent Chad Gaudin to the bullpen after six pretty good starts, then traded him to the Cubs in the Rich Harden deal. Sean Gallagher came over to Oakland in that same trade and shut down the Angels in his first start before the break. Rob Bowen hasn't gotten untracked as this year's back-up catcher. His bat looks slow and the A's have let him rot for up to two weeks between appearances.

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