SLOTH STILL LOVE CHUNK! (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
A brief look at an opponent we play this week.
Dates we play them: 4/11-4/13 and 6/9-6/12 at home, 5/13-5/15 @ Oakland
Offense: Coco Crisp-CF, Daric Barton, David DeJesus-RF, Josh Willingham-LF, Hideki Matsui-DH, Kurt Suzuki-C, Mark Ellis-2B, Kevin Kouzmanoff-3B, Cliff Pennington-SS. Bench: Conor Jackson-OF, Ryan Sweeney-OF, Andy LaRoche-IF, Landon Powell-C.
Billy Beane recognizes when change is necessary to keep doing what you love. The days of signing players that the MSM perceived Moneyball to mean are in the past. The new and hip market inefficiency is defense and speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed. When healthy, Coco Crisp brings both of those traits to the playing field. Unfortunately, he hasn't played more than 120 games since 2007 and has only done so three times in his career. Injuries have caused Crisp to lose some of the speed and power he displayed in his younger days, but he's a league average bat at worst that plays above average defense at a premium position. Daric Barton, who has the unfortunate nickname of "D.B.", is the last remaining piece of the fantastic Mark Mulder to St. Louis trade of 2004 (Dan Haren and Kiko Calero are now with the Angels and no one respectively). Barton is a strange first baseman. He lacks the normal power associated with the position and will never be a threat to hit more than 15 homeruns in any given season. Barton does however possess good gap power and an insanely good batting eye (14.3 career BB%). He also plays above average defense. He's a great two-hole hitter who sees a ton of pitches.
David DeJesus did his best Snake Plissken impersonation this offseason, escaping from the MLB equivalent of John Carpenter's New York City, the Kansas City Royals. DeJesus has never played a full season for a team that finished above .500 (he had a brief cup of coffee with the 2003 squad that sort of contended). David is yet another 2-3.5 WAR type of player on a team full of them. He's a good player, just not great. Josh Willingham has never gotten to play his home games at a park suitable for a homerun hitter. Poor bastard has had to play for the Marlins and the Nationals before moving into Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with its notoriously heavy night air. Willingham may be the strongest bat on the team, as he has posted a mid-.850 OPS the past two seasons. He's bad defensively, but with Crisp and DeJesus roaming the outfield with him there should be less ground for him to cover.Hideki Matsui liked the state of California, but decided to move further north this winter. Much like Vladimir Guerrero, Matsui absolutely cannot play in the field anymore and is now a true DH. He still has his eye and his 20+ homer power, but he is about as fast as Paul Konerko and Jim Thome. Kurt Suzuki is from Hawaii. That has nothing to do with anything, but I always like when players are from Hawaii. Usually means they like Spam as much as I do. Kurt is a second-tier AL catcher who will be playing for Oakland for the next three seasons. He had an off year with the bat last season, but this was likely due to his uncharacteristically low BABIP. Expect a nice bounce back. Mark Ellis is the Oakland Athletics. He's not the most memorable player from the team's early 2000's glory days, nor is he the coolest Mark to wear the number 14 while playing second base (I am. I win that contest). Ellis had a damn near career year at the plate last season, thanks in large part to (you should be able to know what's coming without even reading it at this point) an over-inflated BABIP. Ellis, like almost everyone else on this team has good gap power and decent speed. He also plays good defense.
Thank you for not fitting into the team mold Kevin Kouzmanoff. You may remember the Kouz as that guy who hit a grand slam in his first major league AB for the
Cleveland Indians. Kevin has recently become a good defensive third baseman, but wasn't in the past. Unlike the rest of his teammates, Kevin cannot draw walks at all. Kouzmanoff's OBP is a sterling .301 for his career. He does have a .423 SLG, but will never be more than a role player. Cliff Pennington is currently Alexei Ramirez's main competition for the title of best SS in the AL. Pennington's bat is average at best, but he is lightning fast both in the field and on the basepaths. If he could only hit, he could challenge Derek Jeter and Alexei Ramirez for the Gold Glove.
While Oakland's offense may seem lacking, their starting rotation is absolutely phenomenal. Don't let last season's sub-3 ERA fool you, Trevor Cahill is not that good of a pitcher. That's not to say he's bad, but he does not belong in conversation with the likes of Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay. Cahill's peripherals simply are not good enough to sustain that kind of production for multiple seasons. His strikeout totals should increase, as he had a great track record of it in the minors, but control has never been a strong point. He throws a high-80's fastball, an okay curveball, and a plus changeup. Dallas Braden is a solid middle of the rotation kind of guy. Braden's finally cut down on the walks, all the while upping his groundball rate. He throws a high-80's fastball, a great changeup, a slider, and a cutter. Brett Anderson, when healthy, is the true ace of the team. The Oklahoma native (and son of OSU pitching coach) suffered a few minor setbacks last season, but should be able to go 170+ innings this year. His career K/BB ratio is a beautiful 3.46. On top of the nice strikeout totals (7.01 career K/9), he gets a great amount of groundballs. He throws a low-90's fastball, an amazing slider, a good curveball, and a show-me changeup.
Gio Gonzalez is the first of two former White Sox phenom prospects in the A's starting rotation. Kenny Williams included Gio in the trade packages for both Jim Thome and Nick Swisher, bringing him back home in the middle as part of the Freddy Garcia for Gavin Floyd maneuver. Gonzalez is a lefty who has big issues with walks. He has a low-90's fastball, a monster curveball, and a meh changeup. Brandon McCarthy has the misfortune of being the West Coast Joe Blanton. It's nice that B-Mac is finally getting to pitch again for a major league rotation. While he'll never shake the label of being the losing piece in a great trade for our White Sox (love me some John Danks), he can carve out a nice career as a fifth starter if he stays healthy. He throws the standard four pitches, and none are particularly amazing. Brian Fuentes is the current closer, but if he falters Grant Balfour will undoubtedly replace him. Fuentes is a rarity as a closer, seeing as he's a lefty and all. Fuentes walks a few too many hitters for a closer and has had problems with the long ball in the past. He continues to lose velocity on his fastball, as it now seems to top out around 88-89 mph. His secondary offerings (a slider and a change) aren't anything great, especially with his fastball becoming a nothing pitch. Fuentes' time as a closer is drawing to an end.
Outlook: I never have much faith in how we'll play against Oakland, as the bad old days out west continue to haunt my judgement. The A's have a solid team, but have to come to U.S. Cellular Field for seven of the ten games this season. Prediction: 6-4 series win for the White Sox.