Monday, May 3, 2010

10 Thoughts: Oakland A's – April 2010

April Record: 12-12
Overall Record: 12-12
Standings: 1st Place (Tied)

(1) Plenty of Good Seats Still Available: On Opening Night, the A's fell about 5,000 tickets short of a sellout. Hard to believe a team with such a rapidly vanishing fanbase would intentionally minimize walk-up ticket sales by (a) scheduling their Opening Night opposite the NCAA college basketball championship game and (b) scheduling their Opening Day at night. The A's are averaging 17,641 fans through their first 14 home dates, but without a mid-week appearance from the New York Yankees (April 20-22) that number would be even more embarrassing than it already is. Then, again…in the first game of that series, the Yankees played in front of less than 20,000 fans for the first time since April 2008.

(2) Dear Eric Chavez…: You're done as a Major League hitter. Thanks for signing my son's baseball during spring training and know that I appreciated your phenomenal five-year run (2000-2004) as the best all-around third baseman in the game – even if few other A's fans did. It hurts to watch your swing, today. You're practically immobile at home plate – like an old lumberjack waving a dull ax against a petrified tree. Your swing is all arms without any torque from your legs or torso. Here's your April slash line: .221/.276/.309 (zero home runs). I'd ask for you to retire, but it appears you already did.

(3) Death of the Duke?: SP Justin Duchscherer is 2-1 with an ERA under 3.00. Just don't ask me how he's doing it. If you're into the esoteric, Duke's
FIP is a mediocre 4.58. If you can't wrap your head around that, just know that his velocity has fallen a long way from his peak seasons as a middle reliever. The average velocity of Duke's slider this year is 80.4 mph (down 4 mph from 2007), while the average velocity of his two-seam fastball has fallen from 90 mph to 84.7 mph over the same period of time. He left his last start (April 29, vs. Toronto) with a hip injury. I'm not sure I'd be trying to rush him back.

(4) Be Gone, Ben Sheets: In five April starts, Sheets posted an ERA of 5.00. He kept the symmetry going with 14 walks and 14 strikeouts in his 27 innings pitched. Sheets is still sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, but when he's missed – and he's missed a LOT this year – his pitches sit right out over the plate. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance on April 10 when Sheets threw batting practice (10 hits in six innings) to an Angels team that hadn't hit a lick to that point in the season. The good news? I can't bring up his most recent start, since it happened in May. I find new ways to
hate this acquisition every day.

(5) Kurt Suzuki, Truth & Fiction: Through the first month of the season, C Kurt Suzuki has been the team's best all-around player. His .852 OPS is currently third among AL catchers and, defensively, he's as good as anyone in the game. Unfortunately, he's been on the disabled list since April 30 with an intercostal strain. He's not expected to miss more than the minimum 15 days and he can't get back fast enough. A's broadcasters and beat writers have programmed fans to believe that Suzuki's game-calling skills – like erstwhile Athletic Jason Kendall's before him – is THE reason for the pitching staff's recent history of effectiveness. For the last time: a catcher has NO measurable effect on a pitcher's numbers. Is there some effect? Sure. But, don't act like you know what it is.

(6) Settle Down, Dallas: Amongst A's fans, I'm part of an infinitesimal minority who believes Dallas Braden's "I must protect my mound" bombast was a transparent attempt to fire up a scuffling team by going after Alex Rodriguez – baseball's universally loathed, low-hanging fruit. If it had been anyone else in baseball (save for fan and media-approved punching bags like Milton Bradley, Vincente Padilla or AJ Pierzynski) Braden would've been rightfully branded as batsh*t insane for his demonstrative in-game diatribe and embarrassing postgame professional wrestling-esque promo directed at A-Rod. America's Best Sportswriter™ nailed it
in this piece. Dallas, I love ya. Now, shut up and pitch.

(7) Leading Off for the A's…: SS Cliff Pennington rewarded
my preseason faith in him with a terrific first month. His .808 OPS is fifth (fiiiff!) among all Major League shortstops and with CF Rajai Davis slumping, Pennington was moved into the leadoff spot on April 25. Counting the first few days of May, he's hit .379/.438/.552 during his seven days in the top spot. He's also got the strongest SS throwing arm since Shawon Dunston's first few seasons in the north side of Chicago. 100 years ago, he'd have an obvious alliterative nickname like "Cannon" or "POP!" That's the sound the first baseman's glove makes when…ah, let's move on.

(8) The Second Coming: What's not to love about 1B Daric Barton's April slash line (.299/.444/.429)? He walked 20 times and hit just one home run. A's fans talked themselves into names like Mark Grace and Hal Morris (gap-hitting first baseman who racked up doubles and walks, instead of home runs) as Barton's best-case comp. At his current pace, he's a LOT closer to
Dave Magadan. Depressing.

(9) What's it Like to be an A's Fan?: SP Brett Anderson – who's been the A's best starter since last summer – signed a four-year contract extension on April 16 worth $12.5 million (and, potentially, worth $31 million over six seasons). 11 days later, he landed on the disabled list with a left forearm strain and elbow inflammation. In his first four starts, he posted a 2.35 ERA and didn't give up a home run. Now, he could be out up to two months. Damn it. (It's OK for daddy to use it here, Jalen.)

(10) A Few Words to CF Rajai Davis…: …from Lou Brown, manager of the Cleveland Indians in Major League - "Well, you might run like Mays, but you hit like sh*t. With your speed, you should be hitting the ball on the ground and legging them out. Every time I see you hit one in the air, you owe me 20 push-ups."

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