Athletics

Why A's Marcus Semien attributes his breakout season to switching bat

Why A's Marcus Semien attributes his breakout season to switching bat

Who knew a few ounces could make such a difference?

Marcus Semien has been having his best season as a pro, on pace to set career-highs in batting average (.273), on-base percentage (.359), and wins above replacement (5.7).

What has been the key to Semien’s breakout season? He made a switch in the weight of the bat he uses at the plate. He recently explained the changes to Marcus Thompson of The Athletic: 

Part of Semien’s improvement at the plate is credited to a bat switch. Last season, Semien used a 34-inch bat. But this spring, he switched to 33.5 inches. He said the smaller bat made his hands feel quicker.

Then, on June 7 in Arlington, Texas, he got a lighter version of the new bat, dropping down to 31.5 ounces. That night, Semien went 4 for 5 with two home runs and drove in four of the A’s runs in a 5-4 win over Texas.

Since that day in early-June, Semien is hitting .287 with 15 home runs and 33 runs batted in. 

“The first game I used it,” Semien told Thompson. “I was like, ‘I’m sticking with this bat.'”

The former Cal baseball standout also has focused on his launch angle and exit velocity, allowing him to improve his power numbers.

“If you’re pulling it down the line,” he explained, “all you’ve got to do is hit it 95 (miles per hour) with a 27 (degree launch angle) and it’s a home run. Because I don’t hit the ball like (Aaron) Judge or them dudes that hit it 115 (mph)."

“I can’t hit it that hard. But if you hit it at the right angle, a home run is a home run.”

Semien’s defense also has dramatically improved. After playing the majority of his career at third base with the White Sox, Semien took over as primarily a shortstop in 2015 after being included in the Jeff Samardzija trade. 

Semien proceeded to lead the league in errors with 35 in 2015, posting a fielding percentage of just .947. He’s made major strides since then -- posting a career-high of .980 so far in 2019 -- placing him above the league-average of .970 for shortstops.

[RELATED: Tanner Roark continues to pay off for A's, stymies Yankees in 5-3 win]

“This is a self-made guy,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Once he took off with (former third base coach) Ron Washington and found the work ethic and fundamentals of the position, it’s been him. He’s had quite a few guys working with him. But his understanding of what he needs to do and how he can better is unlike anybody I’ve ever been around.”

The A’s are hoping those fundamentals can help them secure a playoff spot in the AL, where they currently sit in a tie for the second wild-card spot. 

A's Tony Kemp to join MLB players standing up against systemic racism

A's Tony Kemp to join MLB players standing up against systemic racism

Professional athletes have at times been outspoken against racism and police brutality against Black Americans.

That’s especially true in the NBA and at times in the NFL.

Baseball players have been far quieter in terms of pre-game displays of protest in the past, outside of former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell kneeling during the national anthem late in the 2017 season.

Oakland second baseman Tony Kemp says that’s about to change.

“It’s definitely going to look a bit different,” he said Monday in a video conference with A’s reporters.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

That’s being discussed by the Players Alliance, a group of current and former Black players devoted to using their platforms to enact positive change.

Kemp is part of a group led by Curtis Granderson, C.C. Sabathia and Edwin Jackson that wants to act and speak out against racial injustice, especially after recent acts of police brutality against Black Americans and the ensuing protests that have brought greater attention to the systemic racism that has existed in the United States since its inception.

[RELATED: Jesus Luzardo 'itching to get back' to camp after coronavirus test]

Black players across MLB plan to make a statement on Opening Day of this shortened 60-game season protesting racial inequality and police brutality against Black Americans.

“Right now, for Opening Day, most guys are going to have a different avenue,” Kemp said. “Some guys are going to have a piece of black cloth to show unity. Some guys might kneel. Some guys might have a black hat to hold over their heart. There will be something that will be shown on Opening Day and I plan on being a part of it. I feel like it’s one thing to talk about what you’re going to do but, if you don’t have any actions to go along with it, I don’t think it really means anything.

“I think that Black players will be participating in doing something on Opening Day, and it’s going to be unified. I’m excited to see it. “

The A’s have been supportive of Kemp’s +-1 Effect, a movement focused on changing minds about racism through conversation, one person at a time.

Kemp expects the same support from A’s teammates with whatever he chooses to do on Opening Day.

“I know that a lot of teammates will be supportive and have our backs with it,” Kemp said. “That’s important.”

Franklin Barreto ahead in A's second base race, competition remains

Franklin Barreto ahead in A's second base race, competition remains

The main position battle for the A’s as summer camp continues remains at second base, even with a recent trade that sent Jorge Mateo to the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later.

“I feel good right now about the situation,” Franklin Barreto, via translator, said in a Zoom interview with reporters on Monday. “Regardless, I’m going to keep working hard every day. Right from the beginning, I’m going to do the best I can to prove to the team I can play every day at second base and be able to contribute and help the team get some wins.”

It appears that could be the case, he’s been hitting well for the A’s during camp and it’s being noticed. Still, he has a tendency to be one of those guys who performs well in the spring or exhibition games and when it’s time to produce during the regular season, he comes up short.

Barreto knows that but doesn’t appear to deter from his mission.

With Barreto, he has Tony Kemp behind him who is a lefty bat the team went out to find during the offseason. He could offer as a platoon option at second base. He also knows no matter who gets the job, him, or others, they’ll be up to the challenge.

“Whoever gets to run out there on a particular day will get the job done, whether it’s me, Barreto, [Vimael] Machin or [Chad] Pinder,” Kemp said in Monday’s media availability. “These guys have been good. They are tremendous ballplayers and they’re here for a reason.”

“I just try to come here every day and put my best foot forward and continue to try and get better each day. Whoever gets run out there will take care of the job and whoever comes in behind him will swing the bat well and play good defense. It has been a good mixture of guys out there.” 

Barreto said the same thing with compliments toward Machin who was snagged by the A’s in the Rule 5 Draft this offseason and is viewed as a prize. He also said Machin is a great teammate and could create some noise coming off the bench if need be.

A’s manager Bob Melvin has been asked continuously about the situation at second base, and even despite the Mateo departure, he knows there will be multiple ways to utilize that group.

“We’ll try and match up on that one, left and right,” Melvin said Monday.” On the left side, we have Machin and Kemp. On the right side, probably Barreto and Pinder.  We’ll figure out where we’re going with that, but we typically have a couple of spots where we platoon and that probably is one of them.”

[RELATED: Sean Manaea 'has no respect' for Astros involved in cheating scandal]

Pinder is able to be placed anywhere and be fantastic at it. His diversity is something that proves beneficial. Last season alone he played in every position but pitcher and catcher. He’s also coming off of a strong Cactus League spring. 

It appears it continues to be a good problem to have.