And a “Major Leaguer” Shall Lead The 2017 A’s

Opening day in Oakland this year marked the return of Rickey Henderson as the field the Athletics play on is now named for him. Quite the honor!

Henderson was the rare combination of a player who was on base 40-percent of the time, could read pitchers’ body-language (4-to1 stolen base to caught stealing ratio) and who was also blessed with enough power to hit one out of the park every ten games or so.

The game also marked the return of an outfielder, who put up really good numbers for the club nearly a decade ago. That was before he headed out for Toronto on the first stop of a three-team tour.

The A’s don’t expect him to supply Henderson’s 70 stolen bases a year or his home run power, especially considering the spacious, windy Coliseum.

What the A’s need are ground balls. Remember Willie Mays Hayes from “Major League?” Cue Rajai Davis in “Major League 5 –Back From The Indians.”

The A’s needed a leadoff hitter and lured Davis back to Oakland for a second stint this off-season.

Good news. He had 43 stolen bases for the Tribe last year while hitting a dozen homers. Bad news: he hit just .246 and a career year for strikeouts. Also, his .306 on-base average was sub-par, tied for 125th among all players.

Think about this. His 43 stolen bags were fourth-most in the majors. Think what kind of damage he could do if he could swing the .369 stolen-base leader Jonathan Villar posted for the Milwaukee Brewers.

There’s hope. Davis has shown in the past he can strikeout a little, hit a lot, and get on base.

In 2009 and 2010, Davis posted OBPs of .360 and .320, average 50 walks and fewer than 80 strikeouts. He also hit .305 and .284.

He’s only approached that average once since. Coincidence it was the year he had the highest ground balls to fly ball ratio? Maybe. Maybe not. But he struck out 106 times last year and hit .249.

The A’s need more, with the powerful, but strikeout prone Khris Davis, the consistent if not overly-threatening Stephen Vogt and third baseman Ryon Healy batting behind him.

The A’s need ground balls and clouds of dust on the base paths distracting pitchers from Jed Lowrie or Marcus Semien or whoever is batting behind Davis.

In the bigger picture, the A’s are going to need runs and sparkling defense to have any chance of winning.

To say the A’s starting pitching is suspect is an understatement.

These are the five starters statistics from 2016: Kendall Graveman, 10-11 4.11 ERA, Sean Manaea 7-9, 3.86 ERA (but first team in the all-hair league), Jharel Cotton 2-0, 2.15 ERA in 5 starts, Andrew Triggs 1-1, 4.31 ERA in 6 starts, Raul Alcantara 1-3 7.25 ERA in 5 starts. Sonny Gray hopes to return to 2015 form when he returns from the disabled list.

If the team can get to the 6th inning three of five days, it should celebrate.

The bullpen should be okay. Ryan Madson’s back and still throwing 94 mph. Ryan Dull has a great slurve. And Santiago Casilla should be able to prove that maybe the Giants aren’t that great at handling relievers as he settles into his setup role.

But it still goes back to Davis and what kind of table he can set. Six strikeouts, zero walks and a .118 OBP so far in 2017 haven’t given the A’s power hitters much to feast on and Davis found himself batting ninth to start the fourth game of the year.

A’s manager Bob Melvin has been preceded in the rich history of the game by two men who have led less-than-stellar teams. He and Davis would do well to learn from them.

As the real Earl Weaver once said, “Pitching keeps you in the games. Home runs win the game.”

But, as Lou Brown said, ” Every time I see you hit one in the air, you owe me 20 push-ups.”

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