Oakland A's Second Half Preview
The All Star break has passed, and with the season's symbolic halfway point in the rearview mirror it's a good time to look ahead to the second half of the season for the AL West-leading Oakland A's.
Not much went wrong for the A's in the first half. The team endured a brutal, injury-wracked two week stretch to start May, but aside from that hiccup, good health and a great record have been the order of the day. The pitching was expected to be a strength, and it hasn't disappointed, posting an AL-best 3.62 team ERA. The lineup hasn't been great, but the hitters have been able to score an above AL-average 4.52 runs per game largely on the strength of drawing the second most walks in the league.
Still, there is no question that the A's have room for improvement. And with the Rangers in the division, they might need to get better to stay in first.
Improving from within
Yoenis Cespedes became a Home Run Derby hero on Monday by crushing pitches into the night sky with his beautiful, powerful swing. While that performance was exciting, in real games the A's slugger has underwhelmed this year. He's hitting .225 with an OBP of .293. He's striking out in 23.5 percent of his plate appearances, a significant increase from his 18.9 percent last season. His batting average on balls in play is .251.
Unless Texas signs Mike Gallego (the A's third base coach who pitched to Cespedes in the Home Run Derby) and sticks him in the rotation, Cespedes is going to have to become more patient. Right now, he might be the most gifted A's hitter, but he's far from being the best performer. The same could be said of Josh Reddick, who currently has an OPS of .645. Reddick did play through a wrist injury in April that probably contributed greatly to his .139 average that month.
After a DL stint to get healthy, he hit .250 in May and .277 in June, and has increased his slugging percentage every month of season. Those are certainly positive signs that Reddick is healthier and that his play is trending in the right direction.
But that doesn't mean Reddick is back to his outstanding 2012 form yet. His OBP so far in July has dropped to .306. That could just be a temporary setback, but he needs to prove that his struggles are behind him before Bob Melvin can again start hitting him in the middle of the order on a regular basis.
If Reddick and Cespedes are two A's with the talent to exorcise their demons and provide the team with better production, there are two spots from which the A's shouldn't hope for much internal improvement - catcher and first base.
At first base, the A's know what they have in Brandon Moss. He's a powerful hitter but he's not going to do a great job getting on base. That was the book on Moss until last season, when he posted a .358 OBP, easily the best of his career. It was fair to ask if that was a real improvement or just an aberration for the 28-year-old, and it looks like the latter might be the case.
Moss is currently striking out in 30.8 percent of his plate appearances. That's worse than Adam Dunn. Still Moss hits home runs in 5.3 percent of his trips to the batters box, which is really the only reason he's a regular in the lineup.
Moss isn't getting any better, and neither are the A's two catchers, Derek Norris and John Jaso. Both guys do a great job drawing walks, but neither has a whole lot of consistent power (they're slugging .344 and .355 respectively). To top it off, Norris struggles to make contact, with an average of .208. Jaso's average is a semi-respectable .269, but he's hit only .200 over the past month.
Maybe being an average offense will be good enough for the A's to win the AL West. However, this team has the potential to get a lot more production from the outfield's bats. Fans should be hopeful that Cespedes and Reddick do a better job capitalizing on their prodigious talents in the second half. As for catcher and first base? Unless the A's make a move, those are likely going to be areas of concern for the rest of the season.