Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Oakland Athletics 2020 Season Preview


       The Oakland Athletics' last game was the AL Wild Card game, a home game played against the Tampa Bay Rays. Both the A's and Rays are very similar, in that they have a bunch of analytic darlings, and they always seem to surprise people. However, while the lineup, specifically the infield, is great, the pitching staff is inexperienced, and the A's might have to wait until their prospects develop for that to improve. As people have said many, many times before, anything can happen in a 60-game season, and I think that will either really help or really hurt the Athletics.

       Offseason additions: OF Tony Kemp, LHP TJ McFarland, RHP Burch Smith, C Austin Allen, IF Ryan Goins.

       Offseason subtractions: IF Jurickson Profar, RHP Blake Treinen, C Josh Phegley, LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Tanner Roark, LHP Ryan Buchter, C Chris Herrmann, C Nick Hundley.

       Rotation
Shoulder surgery in late 2018 and some setbacks forced Sean Manaea to be on the IL until August. In his five starts after returning, Manaea had a 1.21 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 29.2 innings, earning himself the Wild Card start. Manaea bombed in the game, allowing four runs in two innings. Manaea throws a sub-90s fastball about 63% of the time. The pitch's low spin rate helped it have a .148 average against. Mike Fiers became a man-of-the-people (except people that like the Astros) after breaking the news that his old team in Houston, where he won a World Series ring, cheated throughout the 2017 season. On the field, Fiers had a decent season, with a 3.90 ERA in 184.2 innings. A concern with Fiers, who is now 35 years old, is that he struck out only 126 batters for a 6.1 K/9, the worst in his career (minimum 50 innings pitched). Fiers has a good curveball, with a 2781 rpm and a .216 slugging against. Frankie Montas was having a career season, until he was handed an 80-game suspension for the use of PEDs. He returned just in time to make one start. Overall, Montas had a 2.63 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 96 innings. The A's will have AJ Puk, their third best prospect and the 60th best in the league (per MLB Pipeline), start in the rotation. Puk made his MLB debut last year, with a 3.18 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 11.1 innings out of the pen. Puk, recovering from Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss 2018, was mainly a reliever in the minors last year, but was a starter before the injury. Puk's fastball averaged 97.1 miles per hour. The A's top prospect (and 12th best in the league), Jesus Luzardo, could start the season in the bullpen due to a positive test for COVID, before joining the rotation. Like Puk, Luzardo debuted last year and was strictly a reliever, with a 1.50 ERA and two saves in 12 innings with 16 strikeouts. Luzardo's fastball is also, well, fast, with a 96.8 mph average. When Luzardo joins the rotation, whether to start to season or not, Chris Bassitt will be pushed into a swing-man role. In 28 games (25 starts) last year, Bassitt had a 3.81 ERA with 141 strikeouts in a career high 144 innings, plus a 1.194 WHIP. Bassitt has a career average exit velocity against of 86.9 miles per hour.

       Bullpen
At age 30, Liam Hendriks made his first all-star team after taking the closer job from the struggling Blake Treinen. The Perth, Austrailia native had a 1.80 ERA with 25 saves and 124 strikeouts in 85 innings. Hendriks had an xwOBA against of just .229. Hendriks did blow seven saves, and the only closers with more were Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers and Emilio Pagan of the Raya (both with eight). Workhorse reliever Yusmeiro Petit pitched in an AL high 80 games, second in MLB to Alex Claudio of the Brewers. Petit had a 2.71 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 83 innings. Petit walked just 3.2% of batters. Veteran reliever Joakim Soria has played for seven teams and is entering his 13th season. 2019 may have been his worst career season, with a career high 4.30 ERA in 69 innings, but he still struck out 79 batters. Soria's slider had a .061 slugging against. Lou Trivino had a great rookie season with a 2.92 ERA and 10.0 K/9, but he experienced a sophomore slump. Trivino's ERA rose by more than two full runs, up to 5.25. He didn't strike out as many batters as before, with 57 in 60 innings. However, Trivino was unlucky, as his xERA was 3.83. He allows soft contact, with an average exit velocity of 85.5 mph. The A's acquired Jake Diekman mid-season from Kansas City, and brought him back on a two year deal. While his 4.65 combined ERA brought his career total up to 3.90, his 84 strikeouts in 62 innings for a 12.2 K/9 was the second best of Diekman's career. Diekman had an xSLG against of just .301 and allowed just three home runs all season. JB Wendelken isn't a major strikeout guy, with 34 in 32.2 innings last year. But, he is a good pitcher, with a 3.58 ERA and a 0.918 WHIP last year in a middle relief role. Wendelken's fastball, averaging 94.8 mph, had an average against of .173 last year. TJ McFarland is a lefty that can throw multiple innings if you need him to, or just a couple of lefties. He had a 4.82 ERA in 56 innings last year, but had a 2.00 ERA with Arizona in 2018, pitching in 72 innings. McFarland has a very low career K/9 of 5.5. Burch Smith has a good chance of making the team. A 30 year-old with 65 games of MLB experience, Smith had a 5.48 ERA in 21.1 innings last year. 10 of his 17 games were spent with the Giants, where Smith had a 2.08 ERA with six Ks in 8.2 innings. Paul Blackburn is one of the only remaining arms on the 40-man roster with MLB experience. In his 20 game (17 starts) career, Blackburn has a 5.18 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 97.1 innings. Grant Holmes, the 16th best prospect in the A's' system, had a 3.23 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 86.1 innings for AA and AAA, but mainly AA. He had a 1.216 WHIP.

       Catchers
Sean Murphy is the top catching prospect in baseball, and the 33rd best prospect out of all positions. Murphy, now 25, debuted last year. In 20 games, Murphy had a .245 average, an .899 OPS and four home runs. Of the six catchers to play for the A's last year, Murphy is the only one still on the team. Austin Allen, acquired from San Diego for Jurickson Profar in the offseason, is the favorite for the back-up job. Allen had a .559 OPS in 34 games. Non-roster invitee Carlos Perez is also an option. He did not appear in a major league game last year, but he's played in 212 over his career.

       Infielders
The Atheltics have two corner infielders who are great defenders and hitters. Matt Chapman, who is loved in the analytics community, hit 36 home runs with 91 RBIs last year, plus an OPS of .848. Chapman had 36 more at-bats than he had in 2018, but had seven less hits. Chapman has an average exit velocity of 92.6 mph, and 14 outs above average at third base. At first base is Matt Olson, who could be even better than Chapman. Like Chapman, Olson hit 36 home runs with 91 RBIs, but he played in less games due to a hand injury sustained when the team played in Japan last March. Olson had 12 outs above average. Last year, Semien was the best Athletics infielder, finishing 3rd in AL MVP voting. Semien hit 33 home runs with 10 stolen bases, a .285 average, and an OPS of .892. Semien's defense has improved over the years, but he still had a weak -4 outs above average. Semien had a .601 slugging against fastballs. Chad Pinder is more of an outfielder, but he can start at second base because the A's don't have a better solution after trading away Profar. Pinder hit 13 home runs with a .240 average in a utility role. Pinder had an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph. Franklin Barreto is also in the running at second. Barreto is fast, with a 28.8 ft/s sprint speed. He has a career OPS of just .598. Barreto is the only remaining player acquired in the awful Josh Donaldson trade from November 2014. Rule 5 pick Vimael Machin stole eight bases with a .295 average and an .802 OPS. He is also in the second base race.

       Outfielders
Ramon Laureano, who has made great throws in center field reminding A's fans of a young Yoenis Cespedes, had a breakout offensive season. Laureano hit 24 home runs with 13 stolen bases, a .288 average and an OPS of .860. Laureano hit .338 against fastballs. Stephen Piscotty had a great first season in Oakland, with 27 home runs and an .821 OPS. He struggled in year two, with 13 bombs and an OPS of .720. Injury issues led to Piscotty playing in just 93 games. Mark Canha could start in left field after a career season. Canha hit 26 home runs in 126 games, with a .273 average and .913 OPS. Canha had two outs above average at both right and left field each. Khris Davis did not have a batting average of .247 for the first time since 2014. He had a big down year, with 23 home runs, a .220 average and a .679 OPS. His average exit velocity dropped by 2.4 miles per hour, down to 90.1. Robbie Grossman returns as the 4th outfielder. In his first season in Oakland, Grossman hit six home runs with nine stolen bases and a .240 average. Grossman does not strikeout often (17.8 K%) and walks a lot (12.2% BB%). Tony Kemp, a teammate of Fiers on the scandalous 2017 Astros, can play second base and the outfield, like Pinder. Kemp hit eight home runs with four stolen bases and a .671 OPS for Houston and the Cubs last year. Kemp has a career average exit velocity of just 83.5 mph.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
SS Marcus Semien (R)
3B Matt Chapman (R)
1B Matt Olson (L)
DH Khris Davis (R)
LF Mark Canha (R)
RF Stephen Piscotty (R)
CF Ramon Laureano (R)
C Sean Murphy (R)
2B Chad Pinder (R)

       Projected Rotation
Sean Manaea (L)
Mike Fiers (R)
Frankie Montas (R)
AJ Puk (L)
Jesus Luzardo (L)

       Projected Bullpen
Liam Hendriks, closer (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
JB Wendelken (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Burch Smith (R)
TJ McFarland (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Grant Holmes (R)

       Projected Bench
C Austin Allen (L)
IF Franklin Barreto (R)
IF Vimael Machin (L)
OF Robbie Grossman (S)
2B/OF Tony Kemp (L)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
58-39 record, 1st in AL West
Most home runs: Marcus Semien (25)
Highest batting average: Ramon Laureano (.280)
Highest OPS: Marcus Semien (.875)
Best ERA, starters: Sean Manaea (3.23)
Best ERA, relievers:Yusmeiro Petit (32)
Most innings pitched: Sean Manaea (136.1)
Most strikeouts: Jesus Luzardo (131)
Best K/9: Jake Diekman (14.1)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 30-30
2018: 31-29
2017: 26-34
2016: 25-35
2015: 23-37

       Prediction
The A's are a big second-half team. They have struggled to start off years, and make the playoffs after a big push at the end. The bullpen is not at all deep, the rotation is too young with only two starters that aren't wild cards in Manaea and Fiers. The lineup is good but not as good as teams like the Angels, Yankees, Twins and even the Indians. I predict a fall for the Athletics, finishing 4th in the AL West in 2020.

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