1 Oakland Athletics Playoff aspirations could die on the vine if Jermaine Dye doesn't bounce back

April 04, 2004

The Athletics are well known for ignoring conventional statistics
in evaluating players, but giving the cleanup spot to a hitter
who had a .172 average with four homers and 20 RBIs last year
seems a bit radical even for general manager Billy Beane. What is
this, Moneyball II? Is there some algorithm that tells Beane that
this is a wise move?

The idea does make some sense when you look at the hitter's name
instead of his numbers. Rightfielder Jermaine Dye will bat fourth
for Oakland because, in the A's estimation, his puny 2003 stats
were an aberration. Beane and manager Ken Macha, among others,
believe that Dye will be the kind of run producer he was before a
succession of injuries derailed him the last two seasons. If
they're right, Oakland should have just enough offense to contend
for its fourth AL West title in five years. If Beane and Macha
are wrong, third baseman Eric Chavez probably won't have much
protection in the No. 3 spot in the order, and the A's could be
so challenged offensively that even their holy trinity of
starting pitchers--Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito--might
not be able to get them back to the postseason.

"I don't think there's any question," says Beane, "that we need
Jermaine to be his old self."

Dye's old self, the one who was an All-Star and a Gold Glove
outfielder, was last seen in 2001, when Oakland acquired him from
Kansas City in a midseason trade. He contributed 13 homers and 59
RBIs in 61 games, helping the A's put together a second-half
charge that earned them the AL wild card. But in the playoffs Dye
fouled a ball off his left leg and shattered the tibia. He
started the following year on the disabled list, and it wasn't
until late in the season that he was near full strength again.

Dye's 2003 season brought more suffering, beginning with torn
cartilage in his right knee in April (he was sidelined for a
month) and a separated right shoulder in July (on the shelf until
September). He played in only 65 games, and his .172 average was
the lowest in the majors among players with at least 200 at bats.

"That was like another player who put up those numbers," Dye
says. "That wasn't me. A lot of people around here have told me
you just have to throw out last year, and that's what I'm trying
to do."

Oakland's optimism about Dye, 30, stems partly from the fact
that, for the first time in two years, he was able to use the
off-season for conditioning rather than rehabilitation. Although
he is 6'5" and weighs 220 pounds, Dye has never had the kind of
upper body that would make anyone confuse him with a BALCO
customer, but after spending the winter working out at Athletes'
Performance in Arizona, he feels stronger than ever.

"I haven't felt this good since my last full year in Kansas
City," asserts Dye, who hit .321 with 33 homers and 118 RBIs in
2000 with the Royals. "Being stronger should help me stay away
from injuries, and when I can stay on the field, I know I can
produce."

His spring performance bears him out. Dye was one of Oakland's
most impressive hitters during camp, driving the ball with his
old authority. "He's raking," Chavez said during the preseason.
"He's got that confident look in his eye again."

The rest of Oakland's lineup doesn't look quite so robust. The
offense took a massive hit--the latest in what is beginning to
seem like an annual series of departures for economic
reasons--when shortstop Miguel Tejada left for Baltimore as a
free agent. The A's believe they have a more than adequate
replacement for Tejada in prized rookie Bobby Crosby, but even if
Dye bounces back and Chavez, who signed a six-year, $66 million
extension during spring training, supplies his customary power,
Oakland isn't likely to improve much on last season's 768 runs
scored, which ranked ninth in the league.

That means a heavy load will fall on Oakland's pitching staff,
which wasn't helped by the loss of closer Keith Foulke, another
free agent, to the Red Sox. "Some things never change," says
Chavez. But some things do, and the A's trust that one change
will be in Dye--back to playing the way he used to.
--Phil Taylor

COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES SAFETY FIRST After two seasons ruined by injuries, Dye must regain the speed and power that made him an All-Star in K.C.
COLOR PHOTO: HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES RHODES

IN FACT
Oakland's 3.02 ERA at home last year was more than a half run
lower than the AL's next best: Seattle's 3.54.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Athletics

"When Mark Mulder's healthy he's as good as anybody, but they've
pushed him back in starts this spring because of a hip
problem.... Barry Zito looks like he's in midseason form, and
he's developed a cutter to go with his fastball, his changeup and
that nasty curve.... Rich Harden concerns me. His splitter is
nasty, but when he doesn't get it over, the fastball gets hit....
In the pen they don't have a natural closer. Arthur Rhodes is not
the Arthur Rhodes of the past who threw 95 mph.... Mark Kotsay
will lead off, and I expect him to have the season he had two
years ago when he hit .292 and 17 home runs. He'll also be the
best centerfielder they've had in years.... Bobby Kielty is
definitely an upgrade over Terrence Long.... Eric Chavez has
always been an outstanding hitter.... They've got to use Erubiel
Durazo at DH. He's horrible in the field.... Eric Karros was a
nice pickup. He and Scott Hatteberg will share time at first....
Bobby Crosby will struggle at the plate as all kids do, but he'll
be a decent big league player someday--though I worry about his
lack of range.

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Kotsay
2B Ellis
3B Chavez
RF Dye
DH Durazo
1B Hatteberg
LF Kielty
C Miller
SS Crosby

MARK KOTSAY [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 200 .266 7 38 6

BOBBY KIELTY [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 143 .244 13 57 8

JERMAINE DYE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 71 .172 4 20 1

BOBBY CROSBY (R)*

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 178 .308 22 90 24

MARK ELLIS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 281 .248 9 52 6

ERIC CHAVEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 13 .282 29 101 8

SCOTT HATTEBERG

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 223 .253 12 61 0

DAMIAN MILLER [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 242 .233 9 36 1

BENCH

ERIC KARROS [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 235 .286 12 40 1

ERIC BYRNES

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 270 .263 12 51 10

DESIGNATED HITTER

ERUBIEL DURAZO [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 140 .259 21 77 1

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Tim Hudson 5 16 7 7.1 1.08 2.70
LH Mark Mulder 8 15 9 7.2 1.18 3.13
LH Barry Zito 11 14 12 6.6 1.18 3.30
LH Mark Redman 93 14 9 6.6 1.22 3.59
[New acquisition]
RH Rich Harden 138 5 4 5.6 1.50 4.46

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

LH Arthur Rhodes 78 3 3 3 1.31 4.17
[New acquisition]
RH Chad Bradford 164 7 4 2 1.26 3.04
LH Chris Hammond 176 3 2 1 1.21 2.86
[New acquisition]

(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

2003 RECORD
96-66
first in AL West

MANAGER
Ken Macha
second season with Oakland

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)