2014 Finish: 88-74 (Second Place)
Projected Batting Order
CF Coco Crisp
3B Brett Lawrie
2B Ben Zobrist
DH Billy Butler
RF Josh Reddick
1B Ike Davis
C Stephen Vogt
LF Sam Fuld
SS Marcus Semien
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
RHP Sonny Gray
LHP Scott Kazmir
RHP Jesse Hahn
LHP Drew Pomeranz
RHP Jarrod Parker
CLOSER Sean Doolittle
The Oakland A’s have had an interesting offseason. Billy Beane was extremely active due to the financial constraints placed upon him by his team. The A’s pinned their hopes to the move to San Jose, but the San Francisco Giants turned to MLB to shut that down. For that reason the A’s are stuck in an old park dealing with an apathetic fan base in an area that is far more interested in the Giants. More immediately, that means the A’s are forced to cut ties with players sooner than other teams for economic reasons, not baseball ones.
There have been numerous changes for Oakland again this offseason. Gone is a litany of quality players including Josh Donaldson, Jon Lester, and Jeff Samardzjia.
In return the A’s got quality prospects and a few major leaguers including Ben Zobrist, Jesse Hahn and Brett Lawrie. Add to that free agent Billy Butler and the Athletics feature a team that is still talented, but doesn’t cost as much to put on the field.
The hope is that this team can still hit enough to support a talented young pitching staff. While many think this will be a down year and stretch of mediocrity for Oakland, I’m not so sure. I think Beane got enough quality major league players back and has enough pitching talent to stay interesting in the division at the very least.
Over the past few years, the A’s have featured a very strong offense to go with some talented pitching. Last year the offense slipped bit and it cost them. The A’s hit 244 as a team, tied for second to last in the league. Interestingly they were third in runs scored, but sat in the bottom half of hits, HR and SB, which means they may have been a bit lucky. Beane knew he couldn’t afford to hang on to all the pieces of last year’s team and also felt that that team couldn’t win the division. So he made some trades to keep the A’s competitive in the short term and rebuild a bit for the long term.
This year’s offense looks vastly different from the 2014 version. At third, the A’s traded away their best player, Josh Donaldson and got Brett Lawrie back. While he’s certainly a downgrade over Donaldson, the A’s hands were tied due to their financial constraints. But getting a player of Lawrie’s caliber back is not too bad. Lawrie’s biggest issue has been health, as he’s never played in more than 125 games in a season and was limited to 70 games last year. In that time, he hit 247 with 12 HR and 38 RBI. But his AVG has dropped each year he’s played and he didn’t even attempt a stolen base last year. Lawrie is a fastball hitter who doesn’t handle breaking stuff well. Additionally he gest upset easily and plays poorly when he’s angry.
Billy Butler will join the A’s as their primary DH. He is a line drive hitter with a career 295 batting average. Butler played in 151 games with the Royals last year, but still hit fewer home runs (9) than any season other than his rookie year. Playing in Kansas City saps power some, but playing in Oakland saps it even more. Butler’s numbers are trending down as he gets older, with his AVG and HR totals dropping consistently over the last 3 years. But I think he’s got something left in the tank. He won’t hit 300 with 40 doubles and 100 RBI anymore, but I think he can hit 270 again, with perhaps 10 HR and 70 RBI.
Coco Crisp is the spark that gets the offense going. This year, the A’s are moving him out of center and into left, hoping the move will keep him healthy. He’s a career 270 hitter with 297 career SB. But his speed has been a bit sapped by age and his AVG has dropped over recent years. Last year he hit 246 with only 19 SB. But he gets on base at a 330+ clip and is a great clubhouse presence. Also, he’s got some pop with 9 HR last year and 22 in 2013. I think a full season from him (which is probably only 140 games) can see a return to the 260 territory with a 330+ OBP, 25 SB, 10 HR and 75 R.
The last major offensive piece in Oakland this season will be Ben Zobrist, who was added via trade from the Rays. Zobrist is a very talented player who can contribute a little bit in each category offensively and play just about every position on the field. Last season, he hit 272 with 10 HR, 10 SB, 52 RBI and 83 R. I think the A’s will ask Zobrist to hit third this year. I like him for 270, 10 HR, 70 RBI, 70 R and 10 SB.
The rest of the A’s offense is a mixed cast. Ike Davis will play first and hope to finally be healthy. After hitting 32 HR in 2012, Davis has only managed 20 in the last two seasons. He did stay on the field for over 140 games last year, but hit a meager 233 with 11 HR between the Mets and Pirates. Marcus Semien was brought in to upgrade the defense at short. His offense is a question. Right now I don’t expect much as he doesn’t handle off speed stuff well and swings for the fences more than he should. Josh Reddick is the best player remaining on the offense, but he is streaky. He hit 264 with 12 HR and 54 RBI last year. After hitting 32 HR in 2012, Reddick has failed to appear in 120 games in either 2013 or 2014 and spread 24 HR across those two seasons. If he can stay healthy, think another 240 season with 25 HR. Stephen Vogt will be the primary catcher. He was a pleasant find last year hitting 279 with 9 HR over 84 games. However he has only 149 games of experience under his belt. He always looks to pull the ball with power, so I suspect the AVG will drop. But he could contribute 15 HR, which would be a welcome addition on this club. The center field battle will be between Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry. Fuld, the lefty, has more experience. He hit 239 over 113 games for the Twins and A’s last year but saw a major drop in production after arriving in Oakland . Craig Gentry faired a little better in his 94 games with the A’s last year. He has great speed, going 20 for 22 on the bases, but not much else. I expect a timeshare with both players getting about 300 ABs.
The A’s will miss Cespedes, Moss and Donaldson, their three best hitters last year. They’ve added Lawrie, Zobrist and Butler, good players but not as good as what they lost. I think the A’s will see their offense suffer a bit, with perhaps a better AVG, but fewer R and HR.
The defense should be greatly improved. Ike Davis, for all his issues, is a good defensive first baseman and an upgrade over Moss. Ben Zobrist is not as strong as Eric Sogard at second, but plays the position well. Semien is a big upgrade over Jed Lowrie in terms of range alone. Brett Lawrie is very good defensively at third and will be a lot better than Donaldson. Crisp was a bad defensive center fielder last year, but should be good in left with his speed. Reddick is great in right. And both Fuld and Gentry are good in center. Stephen Vogt needs to work a lot on his defense behind the plate. Butler is the primary DH and not good at first, but not as bad as most people believe. Eric Sogard is still around to back up second, freeing Zobrist to back up just about every other position. This defense isn’t great, but it is a big improvement over Oakland’s 2014 squad.
The A’s pitching staff kept them relevant last year. While recent years have seen them survive more on their offense, 2014 saw a return to the norm in Oakland with the pitching carrying the team. They were second in the league with a 3.22 team ERA, first in team WHIP at 1.14 and they allowed the second fewest hits and walks. The A’s will try to repeat that success, despite the loss of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzjia, additions at midseason who played very well down the stretch.
Sonny Gray is the ace. He went 14-10 over 33 starts last year logging 219 innings and a team leading 183 Ks. He pitched to a 3.04 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 232 BAA. He has great stuff, one of the best curves in the game and a phenomenal feel for what to do on the mound. Think 15 Wins, 200 IP, 175 Ks and an ERA around 3.
Scott Kazmir returns for another season by the bay in the midst of a career renaissance. He led the A’s with 15 wins last year to go with a 3.55 ERA. There was concern that his season with Cleveland in 2013 was a bit of an outlier, but he was even better last year in Oakland. Playing in the Coliseum helps, but Kazmir has enough experience to know how to pitch with diminished stuff. There is concern that his second half swoon (4-6 with an ERA over 5) is a sign of things to come. I think he may struggle some this year, but believe he can pitch at least as well as he did in 2013 with the Indians. Think double digit wins with an ERA around 4.
Jesse Hahn is a very talented young pitcher who the A’s got back in a trade with the Padres. In 14 games and 12 starts, Hahn went 7-4, his only year in the majors, with a 3.07 ERA and 70 Ks in 73 IP. He could stand to avoid the walks a bit, but he is very young and will be getting a lot more experience this year. Hahn has a great future and will be a building block for Oakland for the next few years. He’s got a good sinker with some up and coming secondary pitches.
Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin are coming back from Tommy John surgery and hoping to contribute.
Parker missed all of last year but hopes to be back for Opening Day. He’s not a huge strikeout guy, but he is able to keep his team in games by limiting runners. If he comes back strong, the goal is 175 good innings.
Griffin is further behind schedule and not expected back until around the All Star break. He is 21-11 over 47 big league starts with a 3.60 career ERA. He’s got good stuff, but may not be back to full strength until next year.
Until both are ready, expect to see Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez fill the void. Chavez made 33 appearances and 21 starts for the A’s last year, going 8-8 with a 3.45 ERA. He allows too many runners but gives the A’s quality, competitive innings.
Drew Pomeranz has the size and stuff to be a star, but it hasn’t translated yet. He’s your classic 5 inning pitcher who shuts down a lineup the first time through, but struggles as they see him again. However I think he is a sleeper candidate this year.
Sean Doolittle, the closer, will anchor the bullpen. Doolittle, a converted first baseman, has been a reliever at the major league level for the last three years. Last year, his first year as the primary closer, he notched 22 Saves while pitching to a 2.73 ERA. His 0.73 WHIP was sparkling and his 169 BAA and 89 Ks in 63 IP show how dominating he was. Unfortunately, Doolittle is coming back from an offseason shoulder injury and will likely miss the start of the year.
Tyler Clippard will likely start the season as the closer and then go back to the setup role when Doolittle returns. Ryan Cook and Eric O’Flaherty make up the rest of the bullpen’s core and hope to keep the A’s in the conversation for best bullpen in the league.
Pitching will carry this team. It will have to as the offense if fairly diminished from last season. Hahn may be the key, as we know what Gray and Kazmir can do. If the A’s are going to taste postseason baseball this year, then this pitching staff will have to once again be one of the best in the league.
The A’s are consistently competitive despite their financial situation. They were a playoff team last year but almost missed the postseason and were sent home after the single elimination wildcard game. They lost their three best offensive players and their two best starters. They have enough talent to compete, but their offense is not as good as it was last year. Neither is their starting staff. Add to that the talent on the Angels and Mariners and I just can’t see this team making the postseason.
I’ll put them down for 85 Wins and a third place finish in the division. That will have them on the outside looking in of the postseason.