By Jason Wojciechowski on July 17, 2007 at 2:52 PM
It's the end of an era for the A's. This is the worst record the A's have had at this point in a season since 1998, and it's relatedly the first time they'll have been out of contention since that year. Interestingly, the A's made almost no trades that year, their only deals being to pick up Tim Worrell and Ed Sprague, so there's no real precedent in terms of a fire sale. The precedent that makes me happier is that Oakland ended up with the ninth pick in the 1999 draft, which of course became Barry Zito.
The other positive, besides a potential Barry Zito draft pick, is that Jason Kendall is finally gone. I mean no animosity toward Kendall, who by all reports was a standup guy. He'll be remembered for his mad dash to home to win a game against the Angels when K-Rod carelessly let a ball roll behind him off the pitcher's mound, as well for getting all up in John Lackey's grill after a hit-by-pitch. As well as Lackey is doing for my fantasy team this year, any enemy of his is a friend of mine.
In any case, Kendall's tenure in Oakland also involved him never cracking a .350 slugging percentage and only once in his three seasons (or two and a half) breaking that mark for on-base percentage. Even in his best year, 2006, he managed to ground into 19 double plays and have an OPS over ten percent lower than the league average. No one expected him to be the Jason Kendall of 1999, when he hit 332/428/511, but no one expected him to put up a 46 OPS+, either, as he did this season.
For the now, this means that Kurt Suzuki will get his "baptism by fire," in the words of Billy Beane. He stands a good chance of outhitting Ramon Hernandez's average years, I think, and if he can approach Hernandez's standout age-27 season in 2003, when he hit 273/331/458, then so much the better. He's already one homer away from hitting as many out as Kendall hit in his entire time as an A's backstop, so at the very worst, the A's will finally be replacing one of their punch-and-judy hitters with a guy who's actually a threat to drive the ball. The task, as shown by Suzuki's seven whiffs in 29 at-bats and .241 batting average, will be getting the ball in play. But still, I'll take a Suzuki strikeout over a Kendall grounder to third any day.
Speaking of strikeouts, one last note: Jack Cust has whiffed 79 times in just 193 at-bats this year. That's one every 2.44 at-bats, or one every 2.99 plate appearances. Adam Dunn, famous for his monster whiff totals, racked up 195 strikeouts in 2004, but at a rate of only one every 3.49 plate appearances. Cust, in other words, makes Dunn look like a piker, and that's quite an accomplishment. Cust's Three-True-Outcomes percentage is 57.2% this year. That means the fielders have to do something when he comes to the plate less than 43% of the time. That by itself doesn't mean much in terms of value (he's quite valuable, after all, because two of those three outcomes, walking and homering, are positive contributions), but it does mean that we're getting to see a very unique player going to work every day.