Scouting the Oakland A’s

Since I watch a fair number of A’s games, I thought I’d share some observations with you in advance of tonight’s first pitch. Do with these what you will.

Offense

The A’s are solid from top to bottom. The weak links are Eric Sogard and Billy Butler. In Sogard’s case, he has never hit much, while Butler is just struggling. Plus he makes Yonder Alonso look like Billy Hamilton and can be thrown out from almost anywhere on the field.

Stephen Vogt and Josh Reddick, both left-handed hitters, have been Oakland’s biggest threats for most of the year. Vogt is having a rough June, but when he’s on, he works counts and drives the ball hard. Right now he is expanding his zone and not making contact.

Unlike Vogt, whose platoon splits exist but are fairly mild, Reddick can be beaten by good southpaws. And if the Padres had any, that might help, since he mashes right-handed pitching: .369/.438/.631 in 176 plate appearances through June 14.

Billy Burns has been a catalyst at the top of the order since his May recall. He is a pest who fouls pitches off, makes good contact, and can drive the ball harder than you might expect from a guy listed at 5’9”, 180. He also runs well and is one of the A’s few threats to steal.

The other guy worth mentioning is Brett Lawrie, who hacks at everything and occasionally hits one real far. He’s also a bit intense. Lawrie has been known to scream while rounding the bases after a home run and launch epic F-bombs after striking out. Whatever the case, it’s nothing personal. That’s just what he does, like those crazy people on Broadway.

Defense

Nobody loves the error nowadays as a defensive metric, and often for good reason. At the same time, you need to make the occasional play, which the A’s struggle to do. They lead MLB with 55 errors.

Shortstop Marcus Semien has 22 of those, which is two fewer than the entire Miami Marlins team. Semien moves well to both sides but has hands of stone. His arm is strong but erratic.

Third baseman Lawrie has excellent reactions and can make spectacular plays. However, his intensity sometimes gets the better of him. He has the skills to be an elite defender, but his inability to slow the game down keeps him from reaching that status. He will beat himself.

Former Padres farmhands Sogard and Andy Parrino are the team’s best defensive infielders. But they can’t hit. Sogard splits time at second base with Ben Zobrist, while Parrino’s sole function is to spell Semien late in games if the A’s have a lead.

Both catchers are solid. Josh Phegley’s stolen-base and pitch-framing numbers are a little better than those of Vogt, but both handle themselves well behind the dish.

Sam Fuld is the best of Oakland’s three left fielders but can’t hit. Mark Canha, a better hitter, is more of a first baseman and doesn’t have much range. The third guy is Zobrist, who plays here when he’s not at second base. His glove isn’t great either place.

Fuld also plays some center field and is probably the A’s best option there. But Burns provides more offense and is fast enough to usually overcome his inconsistent reads, which can result in plays that look awesome.

Reddick is in right field. The main thing with him is his arm, which should not be tested.

Pitching

The Padres catch a serious break by missing Sonny Gray, who is an absolute stud. Instead, they’ll face Jesse Hahn, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, and Kendall Graveman.

Hahn has been inconsistent. He has allowed four runs or more in half of his 12 starts, but also spun his first big-league shutout on May 25 against the Tigers. A blister problem that caused him to miss a start in April appears to be in the rear-view mirror. Hahn ranks second in the American League with seven HBP (including three in his last outing), and lefties are batting .314/.368/.393 against him. This might be a good time to get Will Venable into the lineup.

Kazmir has faded some after a brilliant start. His ERA in May and June is a respectable but not outstanding 3.92, although he allowed just one hit over eight innings his last time out against Texas. Kazmir throws strikes and can put the ball past hitters. He has no appreciable platoon splits and has been far less effective on the road (4.29 ERA, 844 OPS) than at home (1.27, 432), which could help the Padres if that trend continues.

Chavez started the year in the bullpen but stepped in when Hahn’s blister popped up, so to speak. He has been terrific since rejoining the rotation, although the A’s often forget to score runs when he’s on the mound. They’ve been shut out in three of his ten starts. That’s the same number of times they’ve been blanked in their other 55 games.

Graveman doesn’t have overpowering stuff and relies heavily on command. When he’s hitting his spots, he’s tough. When he isn’t, things can get ugly real quick. He’s sort of the Ian Kennedy of this staff. Unfortunately for the Padres, he’s facing the actual Ian Kennedy. Hope you like runs.

The bullpen is awful. A’s relievers still have the worst ERA in baseball, although they’ve finally gotten it under 5.00. Closer Tyler Clippard and former Padres farmhand Evan Scribner are the best of the lot. Clippard is a changeup specialist with occasional command issues. Scribner is a strike-throwing machine with occasional gopheritis issues.

Others? Fernando Abad is a lefty who can’t get lefties out. Eric O’Flaherty is a lefty who can but who gets torched by righties. Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte is on the disabled list, which is too bad. Aside from being fascinating to watch, the guy is good.

Sloppy relief pitching and defense help explain why the A’s are 4-18 in one-run games and why they own the AL’s worst record despite a positive run differential. Tap that bullpen early and often.

Summary

If the Padres are serious about contending this year, they need to start dominating bad teams. The A’s are a bad team. Although anything can happen in a short series, it would behoove the Padres to take three out of four.

  • Offense – Be careful with Reddick and Vogt (hope the latter stays cold), try to resolve Burns’ at-bats quickly and without him reaching base, keep your ears open for Lawrie’s epic F-bombs after a strikeout.
  • Defense – Hit the ball to the left side (especially on the infield, where there’s a good chance it gets kicked or thrown away), don’t run on Reddick.
  • Pitching – Be grateful for missing Gray, stack the lineup with lefties against Hahn, hope Graveman can’t spot his pitches, and get into that bullpen.

Now you know what to watch. Enjoy the games!

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  • Shaqapopolis

    I see Fuld get bad reads when in center all the time. I’m starting to see it in Burns, but not as much. I have seen Fuld in more games though, so he has that going against him.

    Butler won’t run a ball out to save his life. Maybe he’s trying to create a Jake Taylor scenario intact for later in the season.

    Marcus Semien, the official scorer has given a few hits, that I think should have gone for errors. The pitchers might think so too.

    Brett Lawrie, aka Pizza Party, let’s get that trending.

    http://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2014/12/12/7385491/brett-lawrie-got-pizza-with-a-6-year-old-who-cried-when-he-was-traded

    For the love of god, do not test Reddick’s arm.

    I believe in Steven Vogt!