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…and Asking New Questions for April

April 1, 2011

So with my sterling track record firmly in place (1-for-7), let’s ask six questions about the A’s this April as we begin the 2011 campaign.

1. How will the A’s deal with the temporary loss of Andrew Bailey?

I am not a fan of Brian Fuentes filling in as a closer. Susan Slusser reported paraphrasing for Geren that,

“it will be Fuentes closing, even appearing in the eighth sometimes if that’s the inning that’s the key inning (based on opposing hitters, game situation), etc. Geren said he might use Grant Balfour on occasion, depending on the situation, as I wrote the other day, but there wasn’t any ambiguity about who will be closing. He specifically mentioned Fuentes’ experience as one of the major reasons it will be the four-time All-Star.”

Fuentes is a LOOGY, his splits are terrible. It will be an adventure anytime that he enters the game in a save situation with a right-handed hitter up. This job should be going to either Grant Balfour or Michael Wuertz. So long as Fuentes is in the closer role, the A’s will miss Bailey.

2. Will Hideki Matsui start to hit?

History says, sort of. For his career the slowest month for Matsui is April where he owns a .271/.366/.432 mark. I would be very pleased if he put up those numbers and don’t anticipate him to. However, I do anticipate April again should be his weakest month. Even as the spring has progressed he’s done better as of late than he did at the beginning. If I were to throw a guess out there I am going to throw up a .240/.320/.370 line for him for April.

3. How will Geren use the bench?

Andy LaRoche and Ryan Sweeney both hit very well in the Cactus League, but switching to a part-time role can be a bit trying when trying to maintain the consistency that an everyday gig gets you. I think Sweeney likely will find his way into the lineup somewhat frequently due to his added value of being able to play all three outfield positions. Likewise, LaRoche should get a good amount of playing time with Mark Ellis needing frequent rest (or he should need it at least) and Cliff Pennington being given a bit more rest than usual given his return from an injury. Now Conor Jackson who really struggled this Cactus League and could benefit the most from added playing time, it is hard to see how he fits in. Like starting left fielder Josh Willingham is right-handed so there isn’t an opportunity for a platoon of sorts, and also Jackson is a worse fielder meaning he won’t be a late inning defensive sub. Daric Barton never takes a day off and is a better hitter than Jackson so its unclear how he will be used. If he isn’t used he might struggle to regain form and be a very expensive and little used bench player. Landon Powell should be put on at least an every five day rotation (perhaps automatically done by “whenever Dallas Braden starts”) because Kurt Suzuki needs to get more rest than he has been getting.

4. Will quick starts by Chris Carter and Tyson Ross begin to build “backup quarterback” sentiment amongst fans?

The most popular player on any football team is always the backup quarterback. He is always the answer. While baseball doesn’t have something completely analogous to that, prospects lighting up Triple-A come close. If Carter gets off to a big start in Sacramento, especially hitting a lot of home runs (they come easier in the PCL than most places) if this is coupled with a slow start could this make A’s brass move him into the lineup somehow? Likewise with Tyson Ross should Brandon McCarthy struggle, if he has a few good starts how quick will the drumbeat be to get him in Oakland? I do not think that the A’s will bring either guy up in April, unless there is an injury to a starter. Both should be developing in Sacramento and I expect them to be throughout April. A quick start by the A’s and it is largely irrelevant what happens with anyone in Sacramento.

5. Will Trevor Cahill come back to earth?

Cahill last year had splits that indicated he had a great deal of luck. There are unexplainable instances where certain players perform in ways we don’t expect them to consistently, such as the low HR/FB rate of Dave Righetti‘s Giants pitchers. Cahill is very strong defensively, and he has a very good defensive team behind him. He throws a good sinker that induces lots of groundballs to said great defense. So his very low BABIP (.236) could potentially be maintained as a below average BABIP, but it is completely unsustainable at that low of a level. This simply means that Cahill needs to start getting more strikeouts, or his ERA will creep upwards. It’ll be interesting to see how much Cahill regresses, and it’ll be very pleasantly surprising to see him not regress, immensely surprising if it happens with no real change in his K/9 or BB/9 rates.

6. How important is a fast start?

Very important. The A’s have a tough schedule early on, going on the road to Minnesota and Chicago and having home series with both Detroit and Boston. The 1984 Tigers’ 35-5 start allowed them to effectively coast through the rest of the year (69-53, .566) and effectively ended other team’s playoff hopes by the end of May. The A’s won’t have that luxury, but putting some separation between them and particularly the Angels (who can be a pesky team this year) will go a long way to making the year easier. A slow start is particularly of concern because you don’t want a relatively young team pressing, and it is just difficult to make up ground and not control your own destiny later on.


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