The A’s have the best pitching in the majors, with an ERA a half-run lower than the Giants, but inconsistent hitting has kept them mired around .500. Since a big trade is highly unlikely, here are two suggestions to improve their hitting with the current roster:
- Quit trying to pretend that Daric Barton is a major league first baseman.
Barton was a highly touted young hitter when he came to the A’s in 2004 with Dan Haren in a deal that sent Mark Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit well as he moved up in the minor leagues, but he has been largely a bust with the A’s, from a .226 average as a rookie to .273 last year, but with only 10 home runs. This year, he’s been barely over .200.
Corner infielders are supposed to provide power for a team, but the A’s are getting virtually nothing from Barton and Kevin Kouzmanoff at third. There is some hope that Kouzmanoff is just in a slump because he’s 29, in his prime and has been a decent power hitter in the recent past. He hit as many as 22 homers in a season at San Diego, which has the worst home run park in baseball, and had 16 for the A’s last year.
But there’s little hope Barton will ever develop power, and he’s not even hitting for average this year. Yet, manager Bob Geren keeps him in the No. 2 slot in the batting order, day after day.
My solution: Put Conor Jackson at first base. Jackson, who played some third base at Cal, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, but when he’s been healthy he’s shown some signs of power. He’s trying to hit the ball out, too, instead of just taking pitches, as Barton does, sometimes through strike three.
Then David DeJesus could be moved into the No. 2 slot, so the A’s would get some production there.
- Give up on the Hideki Matsui experiment. Matsui has had a great career in Japan and in the U.S., but he’s a liability for the A’s, not hitting for either power or average. Lately, he hasn’t played at all when the A’s face a left-handed pitcher.
Josh Willingham was the DH in Sunday’s game against the Orioles, and his three-run homer was the difference in the A’s 6-4 win. Willingham is on a pace to hit 27 home runs this season, which is phenomenal for the current A’s. He’s not much defensively, so keeping him as the DH would allow Geren to play an outfield of Ryan Sweeney in right, Coco Crisp in center and DeJesus in left, which would be a great defensive outfield.
That would also give the A’s more flexibility because, though they had Matsui work in the outfield before the interleague series with the Giants, he’s really not capable of playing out there now. The A’s didn’t even try it that weekend.
It probably won’t even take 90 wins to win the AL West this year. The A’s certainly have the pitching to do it, but they need to make these changes to beef up their hitting.