The Oakland A’s sit 61-62 through 123 games, 8 games behind division leading Texas – a position much better than bettors might have wagered in March, but far from exciting. Their young starting rotation has garnered quite a bit of attention, their infield defense deserves even more of the spotlight – without question, this is the league’s best defensive infield.
At first base, Daric Barton’s 6.1 UZR is good for 2nd in the AL (behind only Justin Morneau – though Morneau has missed a significant portion of the season’s 2nd half) and his range factors lap the rest of the field.
Adam Rosales has filled in admirably as Mark Ellis has missed significant portions of the season with injuries – Ellis has consistently been one of the AL’s best second basemen, and Rosales has delivered similar numbers. Together, the tandem would rank as the league’s best defensive second basemen, individually they are 3rd and 4th, respectively.
On the hot corner, Kevin Kouzmanoff has started 116 games and sports a league best 10.6 (and his strong 20009 campaign defensively would indicate that the 2010 numbers are anything but an aberration).
At shortstop, Alexei Ramirez has been a revelation for the White Sox and should coast to his first gold glove (though the voting for those can be so unpredictable it wouldn’t be shocking to see Ramirez miss out), but Cliff Pennington has had a strong first year as Oakland’s starter, 4th in UZR amongst qualified starters in the AL.
Billy Beane will be busy this off-season, and the infield is no exception. Pennington and Barton are now just beginning their careers. Kouzmanoff is under team control for a few more seasons and should be extended or offered arbitration. Mark Ellis may be the most challenging decision – the A’s hold a $6M club option (with a $500k buyout). Ellis’ defense is unquestioned, but he’s a lifetime .250 hitter with a penchant for DL trips. Adam Rosales is probably not the starting second basemen on a championship team, but he could prove more than adequate as a replacement for Ellis, with near approximate defense and similar hitting numbers. The $6M saved might be better of put in the Carl Crawford fund.
As a baseball fan, however, here’s hoping that Beane and the A’s keep the league’s best defensive infield behind the young (and very promising) starting staff for a few more years.