A’s 2011 Report Card: Offense
By Joseph Lopez
The grades are in! Swingin’ A’s hands out grades to the 2011 Oakland Athletics. This is part one of a three-part series that takes a closer look at some of the A’s triumphs and struggles during the 2011 season. Read more below to see which players got a passing grade and who came up short in 2011!
With the 2011 MLB regular season finally in the books, the Oakland Athletics can finally move on and begin preparing for the 2012 season. The A’s, considered contenders for the AL West crown before the season, never found their groove and failed to meet those lofty expectations that surrounded them during spring training.
Inconsistencies both on offense and defense killed Oakland this year, as they were never able to strike a balance between solid pitching and solid hitting. The offseason additions, with the exception of Josh Willingham, proved rather ineffective, and wasted Oakland’s offseason efforts. General manager Billy Beane, who entered the offseason with the goal of revamping the offseason, tried aggressively to improve his club, but as Oakland’s third-place finish this season seems to suggest, his efforts were all for naught.
In reviewing what went wrong for Oakland this season, it’s probably best to start with the A’s offensive woes in ’11. Oakland added key veteran players like Willingham, Hideki Matsui, and David DeJesus prior to the start of the season, and had hoped for a better offensive showing this year. In 2010, Oakland finished 81-81, giving hope to many fans that 2011 would be a big turnaround, especially given the additions of Matsui and Co.
In fact, Oakland’s offense actually underperformed this year compared to last year. The A’s scored a total of 663 runs last season, but managed to score just 645 this year despite having Matsui, Willingham, and DeJesus on the team. Oakland pretty much underperformed in every major offensive category this year, posting a team .244/.311/.369 slash line with just 114 home runs (24th in MLB).
While Matsui closed out the year with a great second-half, the veteran slugger found 2011 to be very disappointing. He set career lows in batting average (.251), on-base percentage (.321), and slugging percentage (.375). His 12 home runs ranked for third-highest on the team, behind Kurt Suzuki’s 14, and Willingham’s 29. Despite Matsui’s disappointing season, the A’s are interested in bringing him back for 2012.
DeJesus, Oakland’s other offseason addition, failed miserably. The A’s traded away young right-handed pitcher Vin Mazzaro to Kansas City in exchange for DeJesus last November with the hopes that DeJesus would bring his solid offensive abilities to the lifeless A’s lineup. Unfortunately, DeJesus’ bat was just as lifeless as the rest of Oakland’s starting nine. He struggled to find his footing in Oakland, putting together a .240/.323/.376 slash line in 131 games this year. Among Oakland’s eligible free-agents, DeJesus is one player that Oakland will probably not want back.
Oakland’s biggest offseason addition, Josh Willingham, was probably the team’s biggest bright spot on offense. Brought to Oakland via trade with the Washington Nationals, Willingham gave Oakland’s lineup a big power-boost, as he lead the team in both home runs (29) and RBIs (98). Willingham proved to be Oakland’s best hitter since the team had DH Frank Thomas in the everyday lineup in 2006.
Unfortunately for the A’s, however, Willingham will likely have plenty of suitors this offseason looking for a power-hitting outfielder like himself. Willingham has expressed an interest in returning next year, especially with Bob Melvin at the helm, but the A’s payroll may be restricted due to the team’s search for a new stadium. The A’s would love to have him back, for sure, but it’s expected that Willingham will have plenty of other offers from around the league.
Aside from Matsui, DeJesus, and Willingham, Oakland had other players on offense this season that either surprised us or disappointed us. While most players chose the latter, some players like Cliff Pennington and Jemile Weeks surprised us with their solid contributions in 2011.
Ahead Of The Class
These players amazed us more than they disappointed us. Their high level of play warrants a ton of recognition and praise. They’re definitely ahead of the rest.
- Josh Willingham: The A’s outfielder provided the team with a spark on offense this year, leading the team in home runs and RBIs. His 29 home runs are a career-best, and Willingham is expected to receive a ton of offers from other teams around baseball looking for his service. He was easily Oakland’s best offensive player, and if he should sign elsewhere this offseason, the A’s would definitely have a large hole to fill. Grade: A-
- Jemile Weeks: When the A’s traded veteran second-baseman Mark Ellis in order to give Weeks a chance on the big-league level, it marked a significant shift towards the future for Oakland. It was a signal that the A’s were moving on from the old, and embracing the new. Beane’s youth movement continues to march on, and Weeks’ 2011 performance suggests that there’s at least a little hope regarding the A’s future. Weeks put together a strong rookie-campaign, hitting .303/.340/.421 with two home runs and 36 RBIs in 97 games this year. He also swiped a total of 22 bases. He’s a speedy guy, with a defensive skill set that continues to improve. He marks the future of Oakland’s infield for years to come. Grade: A-
- Cliff Pennington: I’m not the biggest Cliff Pennington fan, but I do have give the guy credit for his solid 2011 campaign. Pennington, who started the season by hitting just .228 in April, turned it around in the second-half this year. Overall, the A’s shortstop hit .264/.319/.369 with 8 HR and 58 RBIs in what probably stands as his best year yet in Oakland. Compared to the Troy Tulowitzkis of the world, Pennington is nothing special as a player, but for Oakland, he’s a valuable player to have on offense. Grade: B
In The Middle
These players really didn’t amaze us, but they didn’t exactly disappoint either. Basically, they showed up and did their job in a respectable manner.
- Scott Sizemore: I know, this guy was a pleasant surprise. But just who the heck is Scott Sizemore? He successfully switched positions, and showed a little punch in Oakland’s rather punchless lineup. Overall, Sizemore provided a little stability over at the hot-corner, and that’s important, considering that Kevin Kouzmanoff is no longer in Oakland. Sizemore, 26, should be an interesting player to watch going forward, and I’m sure Oakland will give him plenty of opportunities in the spring to prove his worth. He hit .245/.342/.399 with 11 HR and 56 RBIs in 110 games. Not bad for a guy I’ve never heard of. Grade: C+
- Ryan Sweeney: Sweeney didn’t see much playing time this season, but he performed pretty much as I expected him to. Sweeney hit .265 with a home run and 25 RBIs. The A’s got Sweeney back in 2007 as part of the Nick Swisher deal to the White Sox, but he’s definitely a stark contrast to Swisher. I’m not sure what to feel about Sweeney at this point, as he’s likely not going to see much playing time next season either. The A’s have plenty of other options for their outfield, including Michael Taylor and Jai Miller, so Sweeney is probably a bench-player at best now. Grade: C
- Coco Crisp: Crisp neither disappointed or surprised me this season. He was just O.K. this year. He led the team in stolen bases with 49, but other than that, Crisp’s number this season were just so-so. Last year, Crisp hit .279/.342/.438 with 8 HR and 38 RBIs in 75 games. He managed to stay relatively healthy this season, but he did see drops in his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He just didn’t seem like that catalyst that Oakland expected him to be on offense this year. Overall, Crisp’s 2011 campaign wasn’t disappointing, but it wasn’t anything remarkable either. Grade: C
- Hideki Matsui: Matsui entered the season hoping to add a little spark to Oakland’s lineup. Matsui started the season in a horrendous manner, batting .209/.290/.327 with 6 HR and 34 RBIs at the All-Star break. He then turned on a magical switch that turned him back into “Godzilla,” and he went on to hit .295/.353/.425 with 6 HR and 38 RBI’s in the second-half. Now that’s quite an impressive second-half, but like the rest of Oakland’s lineup, Matsui’s slow first-half start really hurt this team’s playoff hopes early on in the year. At 37, Matsui’s best days are seemingly behind him, but the A’s are still, nonetheless, interesting in bringing Matsui back for another season. At this point, that seems like a possibility, especially since Oakland is set to open the 2012 season in Tokyo, Japan. Grade: C
The Underachieving Group
These players entered the season with some lofty expectations, but failed to live up to those expectations. These players underperformed this season, and their stats probably didn’t do them justice this season.
- Kurt Suzuki: Suzuki’s value to Oakland used to extend well beyond his handling of the young pitching staff. Now? Not so much. Suzuki still displayed a decent amount of power, going deep 14 times this year, but his offense as a whole just wasn’t up to par. Going back to his 2009 campaign when he led the A’s in RBIs with 88, the A’s catcher was a threat both on offense and defense. This year, though, he had a hard time finding consistency at the plate. He hit just .237/.301/.385 with 14 HR and 44 RBIs in 134 games this year. Perhaps a lighter work-load next season will help Suzuki’s numbers? Just a thought. Grade: D+
- Adam Rosales: Now I know what you’re thinking, Rosales’s stats are downright atrocious, but is that really his fault? The guy never got a consistent number of at-bats this season, and really never developed a rhythm at the plate in 2011. He played extremely well last season as a utility-role guy on Oakland’s bench, hitting .271/.321/.400 with 7 HR and 31 RBIs in 80 games. This season, however, he hit a paltry .098/.162/.197 with two home runs and 8 RBIs in 24 games (61 at-bats). The guy brings a certain energy to the team, as evident by his hilarious home run “trots,” and if healthy, I see Rosales rebounding nicely next year in a utility role for Oakland. Grade: D
- Daric Barton: I was very tempted in putting Barton in the next category, but considering that he suffered from a torn labrum all season, I’ll cut him some slack. Barton, 26, was once considered a lock as Oakland’s first baseman of the future, but after this season, that’s no longer the case. Barton hit just .212/.325/.267 with no home runs and 21 RBIs in 67 games (236 at bats). Barton will likely compete for a position during spring training, but with Brandon Allen and Chris Carter in the mix, Barton may find winning his job back a difficult task. This once super-hyped prospect is now in the fight for his career. Grade: D-
- David DeJesus: Like with Barton, I was very tempted to move DeJesus down into the next category below, but considering he’s a proven veteran player, I’ll cut him some slack too. DeJesus’s stint in Oakland will likely go down as one to forget, as the veteran saw his numbers drastically decline this year. He hit just .240 in 131 games this year for Oakland. The DeJesus addition was a bust, and I’m pretty confident when I say that DeJesus will probably be in a different uniform come Opening Day 2012. Grade: D-
These players did not have a great 2011 campaign.
- Kevin Kouzmanoff: Kouzmanoff was supposed to provide a sense of stability at third base following the Eric Chavez era, but Kouzmanoff failed in that respect. He performed miserably this season, hitting just .221/.262/.353 with 4 HR and 17 RBIs in 46 games this year for Oakland. He was later sent down to Triple-A, without coming back to Oakland. He was later traded to the Rockies, where he hit .237/.301/.366 with 3 HR and 14 RBIs in 26 games. Grade: F
- Daric Barton & David DeJesus: While technically they’re not listed in this category, they should be based on their poor 2011 stats. Consider this a warning, Barton and DeJesus.
The following players did not play long enough to make a lasting impression (good or bad). Further evaluation is needed…
- Brandon Allen
- Michael Taylor
- Chris Carter
- Jai Miller
OVERALL: The Athletics finished in third-place in the AL West this year, and missed out on the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. The future is somewhat bright, with players Michael Taylor, Chris Carter, and Michael Choice looking to make an impact on offense. Based on this season, however, the A’s did not perform well enough to convince me that this team will be serious contenders next year. Offensively, the A’s need more than a few tweaks here and there to really fix their problems. Grade: C-