Wednesday, June 01, 2005

In Lieu of Prospect Reports

I'm back from vacation and it was great. I wish I could do it more often. It was refreshing and needed. The grind of everyday life wears a person down. I hope to bug you guys about my travels in this space. There's a lot to talk about.

Unfortunately, being away from any sort of computer for a week put me severely behind the news curve, and being somebody who spends an alarming amount of time reading blogs and internet columns, and flipping through dozens of box scores and stat sheets, catching up is a huge job. I should have a prospect report completed late this afternoon or at worst, tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I'll bleat on about something that confounds me, the A's season. Admittedly when I predicted them to win the A.L. West, it was a bold, probably foolish prediction based upon principles such as an MVP candidacy for Eric Chavez, continued emergence of Bobby Crosby, Juan Cruz, Kiko Calero, and Rich Harden, rebound seasons from Barry Zito and Octavio Dotel, and strong seasons from Joe Blanton, Dan Haren, and Huston Street. Obviously, most of that hasn't worked out. But the extent to which it hasn't worked out is the shocker. If you would have told me that age would catch up to Jason Kendall, I wouldn't have called you crazy. If you would have told me that Mark Kotsay and Scott Hatteberg would regress, I wouldn't have called you crazy. If you would have told me that Keith Ginter and Mark Ellis would become a huge liability, I wouldn't have called you crazy. If you would have told me that Dan Haren and Barry Zito would only achieve mediocrity, I wouldn't have called you crazy. I wouldn't have even called you crazy if you would have told me that Octavio Dotel would continue to be a bit flaky and then go down with an elbow problem. But I would have called you crazy if you would have told me that all of this would happen simultaneously while also witnessing a complete collapse from Chavez and Durazo, injuries to Harden, Crosby, and Calero, and a general malaise which has caused the team to plummet to the absolute bottom of the pack in runs scored, and nearly every other offensive metric. It's like a perfect storm of suckitude and it is really unnerving to anybody who isn't a fan of the Rangers or Angels.

Let's break it down by category.

Things that have gone right: Not much. Justin Duchscherer, Street, and Keiichi Yabu have filled in admirably in the bullpen. Harden was great before he got hurt. And part of Dotel's apparent flakiness was due to the fact that his failures were largely in one run situations without the two and three run leads that most closers get to pad their stats with. His ERA and K rate doesn;t look that bad, though admittedly he's given up far too many free passes. On offense, the best you can say is that Marco Scutaro has been better than expected and Bobby Kielty has been a good source of OBP in part-time duty.

Things that have gone about as you might have expected: Barry Zito and Dan Haren have ERA's in the 4's while posting good strikeout rates. Both have shown some signs that they might be able to lower that if they give up walks a little more carefully. They can obviously miss bats, but they just need to place their pitches in the zone more often. Kirk Saarloos has a similar ERA, but it is sure to balloon as his K rate is awful. Kotsay and Hatteberg have regressed, but both have always been pretty ordinary with the bat through most of their careers. For the most part, the team's defense hasn't been terrible, though it isn't what I expected, and the loss of Crosby for most of the season has hurt.

Things that have crashed and burned: Eric Chavez and Erubiel Durazo have gone completely into the crapper. Jason Kendall turned into a truly punchless afterthought. Eric Byrnes has also stunk it up. Ginter and Ellis have turned into AAAA fodder, and now Ginter is Sacramento's problem. Adam Melhuse has proven to be of no threat to Kendall or Durazo. Nick Swisher took the concept of rookie adjustment period to heart before also going down with an injury. Charles Thomas has showed that 2004's semi-relevance was a fluke. When it comes to the pitching staff, Juan Cruz was an unmitigated disaster. Joe Blanton has more walks than strikeouts.

The injuries have really been a body blow that this team couldn't withstand. This is an organization that hasn't had to deal with many big injuries for a half decade now. This year has been riddled with major injuries.

The time to throw in the towel is now. Beane's brought up Dan Johnson since Durazo mercifully went on the DL. They're grooming Street to take over as the team's main option in late inning, high leverage situations. And if they can find a taker for any of their veterans, they'll undoubtedly go for it. Unfortunately, they're unlikely to find any takers for Dotel's creeky arm or Kendall's faceplant or Durazo or Hatteberg's albatross. The only thing they can really do is use the rest of the season to evaluate whether or not Blanton will pull up on the stick before he becomes a smoldering heap surrounded by NTSB investigators. They need to see if Zito's newfound slider will interest somebody who needs another starter, whether or not Johnson is the future at 1B. They also need to figure out what's wrong with Chavez, whether they should cut bait on Ginter, Ellis, Kendall. It wouldn't hurt to drag in Jack Cust to see if he can approximate Durazo's upside. They need to take long hard looks at Brant Colamarino, Andre Ethier, and Dallas Braden. They also need to cross their fingers for Dan Meyer's health.

All in all, some of this is Bibby Beane's fault for relying on unreliable commodities. Some of it is just bad luck. Some of it is the success cycle. You can't fault him too much for trading Mulder and Hudson and hoping that Chavez and Harden could carry them to relevance this season while waiting for the cavalry to come. He couldn't keep either one of them at the prices they'd bring in arbitration, and really couldn't afford to let them leave via free agency. It was time to turn the page and try to use those assets to shorten the rebuilding process. But that doesn't make this season's A's any easier to watch.



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