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.