April in the Rear View Mirror
by Ken Arneson
2006-04-30 21:15

The good news is that the A’s finished April just a half game out of first place in the AL West. In fact, it’s more than just good news, it’s miraculous news. With the exception of Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez, it has seemed like a Murphy’s Law kind of month for the A’s.

So far, the A’s have suffered injuries to Rich Harden, Esteban Loaiza, Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer, Jay Witasick, Bobby Crosby and Milton Bradley. And beyond that, all but a handful of players have been performing below (and in many cases, far below) expectations.

If you look at the OPS numbers for both hitters and pitchers, only six players are performing better in 2006 than in 2005: Swisher, Chavez, Marco Scutaro, Joe Kennedy, Chad Gaudin, and Brad Halsey. When 21 of your 27 players see their performances decline, you’re bound to be disappointed.

Here’s a little April OPS chart, with hitters’ OPS on the left, and pitchers’ OPS allowed on the right.

Oakland Athletics OPS, April 2006

Swisher 1.142
Loaiza     1.097
Chavez  1.078
Witasick    .984
Street      .935
Gaudin      .846
Blanton     .835
Saarloos    .813
Haren       .781
Bradley  .779
Zito        .745
Kotsay   .736
Scutaro  .718
Duchscherer .671
Thomas   .669
Kennedy     .626
Calero      .624
Kendall  .618
Crosby   .584
Harden      .579
Ellis    .579
Melhuse  .579
Johnson  .559
Halsey      .533
Payton   .477
Perez    .188
Kielty   .000

You’ll notice that there are way too many pitchers near the top, and way too many hitters near the bottom. You want the batters near the top, and the pitchers near the bottom. Here’s what the same chart would look like if you used those players’ OPS values from 2005:

Player OPS values, 2005

Gaudin     1.347
Thomas   .905
Ellis    .861
Bradley  .834
Halsey      .816
Johnson  .806
Crosby   .802
Chavez   .794
Swisher  .768
Perez    .758
Kennedy     .757
Witasick    .751
Payton   .749
Kotsay   .746
Kielty   .746
Saarloos    .736
Haren       .710
Loaiza      .707
Scutaro  .701
Blanton     .694
Kendall  .666
Melhuse  .666
Zito        .665
Calero      .608
Duchscherer .581
Harden      .565
Street      .534

That’s more the kind of distribution we’re hoping for. The more that list is heavy on the top-left and bottom-right, the more games you’re going to win.

There have been signs in the last few days that some hitters, such as Ellis, Payton, and Johnson, have started to awaken from their profound slumbers, and that they’ll start bubbling up higher on this list.

However, with Harden likely to miss all of May on the DL, and with who-knows-what being wrong with Esteban Loaiza, I’m less confident that the pitching will come around soon. The starters are not going deep into games, the bullpen is getting overworked. Things could get worse before they get better.

This is exactly what happened last year, and it worries me. In 2005, the A’s slumped early, but managed to stay around .500 in April. Then Harden got hurt, and the A’s went on a long losing streak in May that buried them in the standings. They managed to turn that streak around in June, but it’s not something you want to keep relying on.

If the A’s at least avoid any long losing streaks until Harden comes back, I will be happy. Just hang around in the race, until the pieces are in place, and things start to click. The A’s don’t need miracles to win the division. They just need good health, and performances that at least somewhat resemble expectations.

This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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