Last week’s jobs report showed the 59th consecutive month of employment growth in the United States. You never know when subprime lending might trigger another economic meltdown, but even if it happens in the next 10 to 12 years, Marcus Semien should have no trouble finding work.
The A’s shortstop has proven his value in the labor market by demonstrating an ability to consistently hit major-league pitching. Strong of frame and quick of bat, Semien flashes power and hits for average. He also knows his way around the strike zone. This combination of talents puts him in the top 10 percent in the American League with an .853 OPS, the modern baseball statistic catchall “on-base plus slugging” percentage.
The only problem for Semien, 24, is that almost without exception the rules of baseball insist you must field as well as hit. Along the east shore of San Francisco Bay, where designated hitting is allowed, 240-pound Billy Butler was recently retained to swing a bat with no worry of having to play defense. Semien enjoys no such luxury. The A’s put him at shortstop, and for somebody with fielding issues it’s like trying to hide the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
11, number of errors committed by the A’s Marcus Semien this season
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In his 35 starts at short, Semien has committed 11 errors, the most in the majors. The young man who helped lead Cal to the College World Series in 2011 admits to mistakes with his glove and arm. He vows improvement, and A’s management offers unqualified support.
“It’s the first time at the major-league level he’s really had a chance to play every day,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Mistakes will show up a little bit more at shortstop than anywhere else because it’s a high-traffic position. Overall, I’m proud of the job he’s done.”
Semien’s errors are fairly equally distributed between fielding (six) and throwing (five), and the numbers are consistent with his past performance. He committed 10 errors in 33 games last season at third base for the Chicago White Sox, 28 playing three positions with two minor-league clubs in 2013, and 24 in 2012 in Winston-Salem, N.C., the smoking capital of Double-A ball.
Monday night against Boston, Semien’s defense factored into the A’s sixth consecutive loss. His relay in the fourth inning skipped past the plate, allowing Dustin Pedroia to score. Insensitively, official scorers stuck Semien with the error.
Three innings later, Semien couldn’t pull the ball out of his glove to complete an inning-ending double play. Then Boston’s Mookie Betts dropped him with an MMA-style leg whip, adding to his indignity. Another run scored in what would become a 5-4 loss.
He also went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts. But that was Monday.
On Tuesday, Semien flashed some bat. First time up, he clobbered a shot off the center-field fence, rode it to third for a triple and scored the first run in a 9-2 rout of the Red Sox. Three innings later, Semien hit one harder and over the fence in left for his sixth home run. He added a single in the eighth.
“I’m glad to have the opportunity here to play,” Semien said. “I just want to make the most of it, for the team to get better, to work on the mistakes I’ve made, to get better from that and build off the things I’ve done well. As I get older, I want to grow into a leader, and I’m working on that right now.”
The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder views hitting as a matter of daily adjustment. He figures out how pitchers attack him so he can revise his approach. He relies on instinct, never wanting to overthink the situation. He seeks to slow things down at the plate, keep them simple.
Semien is in the top 10 percent in the American League in OPS, but he leads the majors in errors.
Yet for all his success at the plate, he’s been giving back in the field.
“Lot of balls hit my way,” Semien said, “some that I need to do a better job of focusing on. But mistakes will happen. I’ve been playing this game since I was a little kid. You’ll make a lot of mistakes. You’ll make a lot of errors. It’s how your attitude is after the fact. I just want to be the same guy every day.”
Semien’s offense ensures his employment, and his manager is confident he will spend the bulk of his time at his favored position of shortstop, despite his defensive difficulties.
“He continues to work on it,” Melvin said. “He makes no excuses for it. As we get deeper into the season, he’s going to get more and more comfortable playing that position every day.”