MAKE NO MISTAKE, THERE ARE STARS ON THE 2013 A’S
In some of my past blogs this season, I’ve touched on many of the reasons this A’s team would eventually win 96 games and capture its second straight American League West crown. Those reasons ranged from veteran players like Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, John Jaso and Chris Young buying into the platoon/matchup system with productive, selfless play that was one of the earmarks of this year’s club, to the depth and versatility of the roster making the 2013 A’s a sum much greater than its parts.
Yet, as I said recently to a network TV producer, it’s also become tiresome hearing so many national broadcasters and writers spew out the rhetorical comment: “We haven’t yet figured out how this scrappy Oakland team does it with all their rather anonymous players, virtually none that are household names, but they’ve managed to win the division again.”
Well, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I’m here to tell you two things. One, Bob Melvin’s players do hustle and are extremely competitive but 185 home runs—third most in the American League—doesn’t sound like scrappy to me. And two, those that haven’t taken the time to learn more about our club are really doing a disservice to many of our players, many of whom are indeed stars.
Josh Donaldson was one of the most consistent, productive and clutch third baseman in baseball this year. He batted .301 with 37 doubles, 24 home runs and 93 RBI, and arguably played Gold Glove defense in the field. Some baseball writers have projected him a Top 5 finisher in the league’s MVP balloting.
Coco Crisp might possess the most unique skill set of any leadoff hitter in the majors. He ranked sixth in the AL in runs scored (93)—maybe the best indicator of a great leadoff man—but also paced all leadoff men in home runs with 22, which tied him with the great Campy Campaneris for second all-time among leadoff hitters in Oakland history behind Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson (28). Then add to that the fact that Coco stole 21 bases and ended the season on a 138-game errorless streak in center field, where he regularly stole extra base hits from opposing batters, and you can see why he’s one of baseball’s most coveted players.
Then there’s Jed Lowrie, who many believe might win his first Silver Slugger Award this year. He hit .297 at shortstop, which ranks second in the American League at that position, with leader Jhonny Peralta (.306) missing 50 games due to his PED suspension. Beyond that, Lowrie nearly chased down Manny Machado (51) in hitting the second most doubles (45) in the league. He tied for second in the AL in three-hit games (17).
And Brandon Moss emerged as one of the best pure power hitters in the game this year. Sure, he’s a platoon player at first base and in the outfield. But when you finished tied for eighth in the American League in homers with 30, and drove in 87 runs in only 446 at-bats, you can pretty much take the asterisk off his accomplishments. Despite his limited play, he hit more homers than Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano, Mike Trout and Adrian Beltre, and drove in more runs than Evan Longoria, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez. Moss, who owned the best power numbers in the American League during the final six weeks of the season (12 HR, 32 RBI), was also Mr. Clutch. He tied for third in the league in hitting home runs with two outs (14).
And, beyond featuring five 10-game winners in their starting rotation, the A’s boasted some individual pitchers that compare favorably with any in baseball.
The ageless Bartolo Colón was Oakland’s anchor all season long, ending the regular season with the second-best victory total (18) and ERA (2.65) in the American League. A former Cy Young Award winner and multiple All-Star—including this season—Colón has to be a serious candidate for his second Cy Young Award. When you look at his stats, and then consider what he meant to a team that won 96 games and a divisional flag, there’s a strong argument to be made.
While his stats aren’t as flamboyant as Bartolo’s, Jarrod Parker was virtually unbeatable for much of the season. Yes, his final stats were 12-8 with a 3.97 ERA. But from May 22 to Sept. 16, Parker went unbeaten in 19 consecutive starts. You have to go all the way back to 1931 to find an Athletics’ pitcher who duplicated that feat, and his name was Lefty Grove.
Admittedly his final month on the mound was probably more exciting than he—or you—would have preferred, but any way you slice it, Grant Balfour was one of the best closers in the league. His No. 4 ranking in save percentage (92.7%) and No. 6 ranking in total saves (38) would certainly suggest it.
And besides being an All-Star on Twitter, Sean Doolittle was the best relief pitcher in the majors when it came to stranding inherited runners. In fact, his numbers in that category were astounding. Of the 32 runners he inherited, only two scored all season. That’s essentially 6% scoring. Talk about clutch.
So I’ve named eight players, and haven’t even mentioned the potential biggest star of all, the Cuban Crusher, Yoenis Cespedes. Even though he missed 27 games, mostly to injury, he still clobbered 26 homers and drove in 80 runs, while ranking among the AL leaders in outfield assists. While his throwing shoulder has acted up of late, there’s hope that he can return to the lineup for Game 1 Friday and pick up where he left off during a torrid September (.314, 6 HR, 19 RBI in 22 games). Of course, the nation is already familiar with his monstrous swings, thanks to him winning this year’s Home Run Derby during the All-Star exhibition.
While hopefully you agree with me about these A’s earning star status, there’s no doubt that real stardom is achieved on the biggest stage. What is that I hear? Is that opportunity knocking on the Coliseum front door? I believe it is.