Hope, despair, and surprise for the A's
Go read Jon Shields's post about the Mariners following this same format as our preview of the most recent of many A's-Mariners series. Here's what I sent him about the A's, which will also be posted Pro Ball NW, the excellent Mariners SweetSpot blog.
The A's offense hasn't been good since the Giambi Administration, an issue that was highlighted by their total of eight runs over the the first three games of the season, including two losses to the Mariners, and two games started by Jason Vargas. Still, the A's took a club to Felix Hernandez and a couple of Seattle relievers in Game Four, racking up seven runs, powered mostly by Yoenis Cespedes's three-run homer off of Steve "The Instructor" Delabar in the seventh inning. The bomb was Cespedes's third in four games, resulting in an "on pace for" that I won't even mention because "on pace for" is silly. The more important result was inspiring love and affection and hope from A's fans everywhere, hope that Oakland finally had a player worth the price of admission, finally had snookered the big-market clubs to acquire a (relatively) big-dollar player, finally might put themselves back in the national conversation for something other than Moneyball and absurd fights over whether statistics are good or bad for the game. Sure, Cespedes didn't just show his power in the first four games against Seattle, as he struck out in copious amounts, swung at multiple terrible pitches (curves in the dirt, mainly), and badly misplayed a ball in center field, but power, even with all these warts, is seductive for a fan-base that hasn't seen power in so long. Cespedes is currently slugging .773, which he of course will not do all season (that figure would be sixth all time for a single season, behind only seasons by Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds), but the hope that he can be a legitimate lineup force is real.
The three premium positions from an offensive standpoint, in some order, are first base, designated hitter, and left field. The A's have a pretty solid DH platoon in Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes, with Manny Ramirez still on his way. At first base and left field, though, Oakland is currently trotting out Daric Barton and Coco Crisp. Brandon Allen, who started two of the four Mariners games and was expected to be the long end of first base platoon, at worst, has already been designated for assignment. Shipping a guy out before we've even hit the Ides of April is never a sign that his position is going to be one of strength. Even if A's fans like Daric Barton as much as I do, and are thus able to avoid first-base-related despair, Crisp in left field provides plenty in that department. It's not just that he's a mediocre player (his line for the four Mariners games went .235/.278/.235), it's that he's a mediocre player with terrible aesthetics. His batting stance is ugly, his swing is slappy (and not in a fantastic way, like Ichiro; he's just slappy to no real good end), and, for all the range and glove he possesses, his throws are an unholy mix of late and off-target arising from a throwing motion that looks more hand-grenade-y than baseball-y. Coco Crisp and his powerless ways, his speed-and-defense skills that are undermined by his inability to get on base or throw, and his two-year contract that makes him the second-highest-paid player on the team defines the despair that A's fans feel about this team. He did nothing notable against the Mariners the first time around, he's unlikely to do anything notable the second time around, and the best the A's can probably hope for in 2012 is a trade that dumps his salary and opens left field for players better-suited to the spot.
On the opposite end of the defensive spectrum sits the catcher, who some might argue falls off the spectrum entirely -- catchers are catchers, with a weird and unique mix of required physical and mental skills. Kurt Suzuki has always looked like a catcher, if perhaps a bit of a small one, as his frame is compact and muscular, but in 2011, he completely forgot how to do one of the core things that catchers do: throw to second. Suzuki's caught-stealing percentage had not been good since 2008, but there was something about the way he was missing in 2011, the way it seemed that every throw was a nice two-seam fastball with arm-side run, that made it seem worse. Imagine, then, the surprise for A's fans when he suddenly started making strong, accurate throws on steal attempts, nabbing three of eight Mariner base-stealers. That may not sound amazing, but it did put Seattle below the threshold for stolen-base percentage that you typically want to see in order to be adding runs to the board instead of taking them off, and it further, and more A's-relevant, came to a percentage better than A's fans had ever seen from their own Earthbound Hawaiian. This isn't to say that teams should suddenly start treating Suzuki like Pudge Rodriguez reincarnate, but it is just to note that both in terms of results and visual appearance, the A's may not be a team on which the non-Ichiros of the world can run wild.
Beaneball by Jason Wojciechowski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.