Saturday, May 7, 2011
10 Thoughts: Oakland A's -- April 2011
Cust Out -- Over the past decade, A's fans have offered frosty reactions to a few former Athletics who've left the team for a lucrative free agent contract and returned to Oakland in the visitor's dugout the following season. Jason Giambi won an MVP award with the A's in 2000, should've won it again in 2001 and was the (enlarged) heart and (steroidal) soul of a callow squad that returned to playoff contention after several years of mediocrity. Barry Zito – although eminently maddening on the mound – won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award with the A's, never missed a start and averaged almost 15 wins per season in Oakland. Maybe the Coliseum crowd's response to Giambi in hated Yankee pinstripes and Zito wearing the more hated cross-town colors is understandable.
Erstwhile A's DH Jack Cust returned to Oakland on Opening Night after playing there from 2007 – 2010. The team tossed him aside twice last year – once before the season started and again at season's end. Undoubtedly flawed, Cust was still Oakland's best hitter during his tenure.* I'm not suggesting he deserved a standing ovation, but the incessant boos were undeserved. I might be biased, though.
* -- According to the Department of Damning with Faint Praise…
McCarthyism! -- In his first four starts, he posted an ERA of 2.10 and gave up just one home run in 30 innings. For now, can we all agree to forget what I wrote about him in March? Cool? Cool. McCarthy is also a must-follow on Twitter. His dry, sarcastic and self-deprecating tweets are a refreshing reprieve from the uniformed political opinions, disingenuous snippets of inspiration and – most egregious of all – the use of "dat" instead of "that" by most pro athletes on Twitter.
You're Killin' Me, Coco -- The only thing worse than OF Coco Crisp over-sliding the bag on a stolen base attempt and being tagged out -- as he was on April 25 against the hated Angels -- was watching Crisp make the same mistake in the very next game. And, the only thing worse than back-to-back brain cramps on the basepaths is... this.
E-5 -- I'm pleased to be 500th A's fan to take 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff's jersey number/scorecard position and turn it into a cheap dig at his defense. Kouzmanoff made six errors in April – including two on Opening Night – and has seen his playing time reduced in favor of Andy LaRoche (he of the .224/.304/.338 career slash line in 1,200+ PAs entering 2011). Under normal circumstances, it would be easy to accuse the A's of overreacting, but Kouz seems completely frazzled in the field. He's bobbling easy grounders and – on more than one occasion – has ranged too far to his left, clearly cutting in front of the shortstop to make plays that weren't his. He's been equally invisible on offense (.585 OPS in April) continuing a precipitous decline from his impressive first full season in 2007. Even Jalen's loyalty to Kouzmanoff is beginning to fray.
AiAA's -- At the start of the season, the Athletics debuted a new batch of quirky commercials. As most of you know, I haven't actually USED my marketing degree in more than a decade, but I just don't get the point of my team's irreverent ads. Watching SP Gio Gonzalez toss cartoon curveballs under the watchful eye of his Aborigine advisor is mildly amusing, but who is the target audience? The hardcore fans don't come to the games for contrived personalities and the casual fan in Oakland has been alienated by the current ownership group or turned off by the crumbling home park. Then, again...I loved this and this and this, so what do I know?
The Bullpen of Doom -- The Athletics lost closer Andrew Bailey to injury in mid-March, but it was believed the team had enough bullpen depth to survive. Unfortunately, manager Bob Geren has been less than creative with this opportunity to use the bullpen's current fluidity in finding optimal pitching match-ups. 35-year-old replacement closer Brian Fuentes (4.96 ERA) is on pace to set a career-high in appearances, as Geren doggedly trots him out for every by-the-book save situation. The unexpected struggles of Craig Breslow (5.06 ERA) has further muddied the late-inning pitching responsibilities. Fortunately, Brad Ziegler and Michael Wuertz haven't given up a run in 17 combined innings, while Grant Balfour has been both reasonably effective (2.08 ERA) and maddeningly wild (10 wild in 13 innings). Hurry back, Andrew Bailey.
My Favorite A's Tweet in April -- Paused Athletics game. 10th inning. 1-1 tie. Took a shower. Came downstairs. Accidentally hit "live" on remote. 8-1, Tigers. 10th inning.
Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. Bootleg! -- Two of the Athletics' top 10 prospects -- OF Michael Choice and C Max Stassi -- are currently playing for single-A Stockton in the California League. Choice hit a few moon shots in the season's first month and looked terrific during the brief glimpse I saw in-person during Spring Training. Stockton is playing up in Lake Elsinore this weekend -- just 45 minutes north of Stately Bootleg Manor. Rain's in the forecast for Sunday, but if it's dry, I've already scored authenticated kitchen passes for me and my seven-year-old son. What? Hey, I invited the wife!
The New Hotness -- The Athletics acquired LF Josh Willingham, RF David DeJesus and DH Hideki Matsui during the offseason in an attempt to boost an offense that finished 10th in the American League in OPS last year and 11th in runs scored. Here are their current OPS stats through the first month and where they rank among their positional peers in the AL: Willingham (.757, 3rd), DeJesus (.631, 11th), Matsui (.694, 6th). Willingham has mashed a little, DeJesus is barely discernable from the player he replaced (Ryan Sweeney) and Matsui is clearly deteriorating. As of this writing, the Athletics rank 12th in OPS and 13th in runs scored.
Old and Busted -- When this team falls behind, it stays behind. 1B Daric Barton won't hit .204/.336/.287 all season and CF Coco Crisp's on-base percentage is almost 50 points worse than his career level entering 2011. While those two are likely candidates to improve, there's less certainly surrounding other incumbents such as 2B Mark Ellis (.180/.216/.270), SS Cliff Pennington (.227/.267/.289), C Kurt Suzuki (.242/.314/.368) and Kouzmanoff. How dire is it? For God's sake, I'm using Men in Black II quotes here!