Coming into the season, one of the big questions confronting Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin was what he was going to do with all of the club’s talented outfielders.
At the end of spring training, Melvin assured MLB.com’s Jane Lee: “There are enough at-bats for everyone.”
Fast forward to the beginning of August, and as it turns out, the skipper was more than right. Heading into the game with the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, baseball statistician David Feldman tweeted out the following:
#Athletics outfielders have combined to hit .224 this season. Lowest in Oakland history is .228 in 1979. (Rickey, Murphy, Armas)
— David Feldman (@dfeldy) August 7, 2013
Ouch. The Oakland outfielders haven’t just underperformed in 2013 — the group has been historically bad. That’s not what Melvin, GM Billy Beane or really anybody saw coming when the team signed up five guys for three spots, plus the DH role.
2012 Gold Glove Winner and 2013 bust Josh Reddick makes an easy target. The defensive standout has put up an awful line of .203/.287/.326, which works out to a .613 OPS. That’s worse than anything the 26-year-old right fielder has ever done at any level for an extended period of time. With his increasingly frequent tantrums, the struggles have clearly gotten to his head.
Chris Young, with $8.5 million salary and .193 average, also makes for low hanging fruit. The 2010 All-Star has managed to swat nine home runs in limited duty, but his defense has been questionable at best. Young has repeatedly gotten terrible jumps on fly balls in center and the corners.
Then there’s the ever-professional Seth Smith. The seven-year veteran bats nearly .320 as a pinch hitter in his career. However, that stroke seems to have abandoned Smith as he went 7-for-56 (.125 average) in July.
It hasn’t been the struggles of Reddick, Young or Smith that have torpedoed the club in recent weeks, though. After all, with the exception of Smith, it’s not like the three outfielders had been producing much of anything in 2013 anyway.
The real rally killers have been Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes. Crisp got off to an explosive start as he hit .301 in his first 50 games. However, the numbers have really started to even out as he’s fizzled to a clip of .183 (30-for-164) in his last 40 games. Since he’s been largely off the base paths, his running game has disappeared as well, as he’s swiped three bags in his last 44 games.
The Home Run Derby hero, though, has been far and away the biggest letdown. Cespedes has essentially been missing all year. It’s almost impressive how consistently he’s struggled. Here are his batting averages by month:
At times, when the big left-fielder strides to the plate, it feels hopeless. That’s pretty remarkable for a player as prodigiously talented as Cespedes. If he’s not in the midst of one of his rare home run outbursts, the Cuban native is most likely not doing much of anything.
Cespedes has made a nasty habit of waving futilely at breaking balls that are literally a foot off the plate. It’s really a wonder why any pitcher would even risk throwing him a strike until he demonstrates the slightest bit of plate discipline.
Nonetheless, the club is 55-36 (.604) with the left fielder in the lineup, but 9-13 (.409) when he misses out. That discrepancy in records is a product of how opposing teams pitch to the Athletics when Cespedes is in the lineup. Quite simply, the rest of the team gets better pitches to hit when Cespedes and his freakish power are around to distract the pitcher.
The Athletics will need to get their table-setter and table-clearer back on track if the club is going to stop the current slide.
Crisp might not hit .300 down the stretch, but he’s far too good of a player to continue floundering in the .180s. Perhaps, it’s time for Crisp to start increasing the frequency of his bunts to better utilize his speed. The 33-year-old center fielder hasn’t lost a step, as he still launches himself all around the outfield to make circus catches.
La Potencia’s play in 2013 has been less than inspiring, and often downright frustrating between his general lack of attention and effort. For the electric left-fielder, though, it could take just a single swing to ignite him, and by extension, Oakland’s dormant offense.