Friday, March 12, 2021

Oakland Athletics 2021 Season Preview

 


       My boldest prediction last year, maybe in the last few years was that the 2020 Athletics would not make the playoffs and finish 4th in the division, even after they were expanded. Yeah, I was wrong. It wasn't even close. The A's were 12 games over .500, and they had to be well under .500 to miss. I was not a big fan of the A's offseason, but their bullpen is still great, even after losing Liam Hendriks.

Offseason additions: RHP Trevor Rosenthal, 1B Mitch Moreland, RHP Sergio Romo, IF Elvis Andrus, LHP Adam Kolarek, IF Jed Lowrie, C Aramis Garcia.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Liam Hendriks, DH Khris Davis, IF Marcus Semien, LHP Mike Minor, RHP Joakim Soria, IF Tommy La Stella, OF Robbie Grossman, IF Jake Lamb, LHP TJ McFarland, IF Sheldon Neuse, C Jonah Heim.


2020 Trade Deadline summary

Acquired: IF Tommy La Stella.

Traded: IF Franklin Barreto.

2020 record: 36-24

2020 placement: 1st

2020 WAR leader (batter): Mark Canha

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Chris Bassitt


Starting Pitchers

As a unit, the A's did not have a great rotation last year, as Chris Bassitt carried the starters. Bassitt was the only starter with an ERA under 4.00, and was well under 4.00, at 2.29. He struck out 55 batters in 63 innings, with a career low 6.5% walk rate. Sean Manaea had his first bad since 2017, as he finished with a 4.50 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 54 innings. On the good side, Manaea had a 3.93 xERA and a walk rate of just 3.6%. Moving back to the bad, Manaea allowed an average exit velocity of 90.6 mph, and the curveball that he developed was slugged .800 against with a 24.5% whiff rate, which is low for a curveball. 23 year old former top prospect Jesus Luzardo had a 4.12 ERA in 59 innings, striking out 59. Both his changeup and his curveball had a whiff rate over 40%. In eight home games, Luzardo had a 2.40 ERA, but he had a 8.15 ERA in four road games. Returning from a PED-tainted career season, Frankie Montas had his worst year as a starter, with a 5.30 ERA in 53 innings, but he did strike out 60. Montas throws a fastball that averaged 95.9 mph, and batters hit .170 with 23 strikeouts against it. He throws his sinker mostly against lefties, but they hit .356 against the pitch. The Athletics brought back Mike Fiers after he spent months as a free agent. A 35 year old of G-shaped beards and Astros fame, Fiers had just 37 strikeouts in 59 innings last year. His 4.58 ERA and 90 ERA+ was his worst since 2017. Fiers made up for his low 14.4 K% with a 6.2 BB%. His fastball may have averaged 88 miles per hour with an 11.5 percent whiff rate, but it didn't stop it from having a .205 average against and a .361 slugging against. Top prospect AJ Puk is back after missing 2020 with shoulder surgery. Puk debuted in 2019, with 13 strikeouts and a 3.18 ERA in 11.1 innings. His fastball averaged 97.1 mph, and he limited batters to a .175 expected batting average. 

Relief Pitchers

Liam Hendriks, potentially baseball's best reliever, is out the door, and so is 2020 set-up man Joakim Soria. The replacement closer is Trevor Rosenthal, who the A's signed after he had a bundle of suitors. Rosenthal was infamously a nightmare in 2019, walking 26 batters in 15.1 innings with a 13.50 ERA. He rebounded in 2020, and what a rebound it was, as he had a 1.90 ERA with 38 strikeouts and a 0.845 WHIP in 23.2 innings. He was great after a midseason trade to San Diego, striking out 17 and not allowing a run in 10 innings. Assisted by his 100 mph fastball, Rosenthal limited batters to just a .131 xBA. Lefty Jake Diekman has had productive seasons before, but none like 2020. Diekman allowed just one earned run in 21.1 innings, for 0.42 ERA. He struck out 31 batters, and righties (yes, righties) hit .070 with a .253 OPS against him. Diekman had a .132 xBA and a .242 xSLG against, but his walk issues remained, as they happened at a 14.3% rate. 38 year old Sergio Romo is entering his 14th season in the league for his sixth team, and he is still productive. Romo struck out 23 in 20 innings with a 4.05 ERA for the Twins last year. While his fastball velocity was down to just 85.8 mph on average, Romo's slider had a .174 average against with a 30.6% whiff rate and a 2913 rpm spin rate. Workhorse 36 year old Yusmeiro Petit pitched in 80 games in 2019, and 26 in 2020. In the latter year he had a 1.66 ERA with 17 strikeouts. Since 2015, Petit has a walk rate of just 4.8 percent, and his cutter had a .220 xBA against with a 38% whiff rate and a 79 mph average exit velocity. The most underrated member of the A's bullpen is JB Wendelken, a 27 year old right who has a five pitch mix. He had a 1.80 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 25 innings, and limited batters to a .183 xBA. Wendelken also had an 86 mph average exit velocity against, and his slider struck out 10 batters with a .125 slugging against. Coming over from the Dodgers is lefty Adam Kolarek, who limited fellow lefties to a .203 OPS in 2020. Kolarek had a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings, and since joining the Dodgers mid-way through 2019, he had a 0.88 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. Kolarek also had a high groundball rate of 63.6%. Lou Trivino had a great rookie season in 2018, before regressing in 2019. He got better in 2020, but still wasn't at his 2018 record. He had a 3.86 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 23.1 innings. Trivino also had a .199 xBA and a 3.58 xERA, while his cutter had a .118 average against with a 42.9% whiff rate. A 3rd round pick in 2011 by the Red Sox, 28 year old Jordan Weems finally made his MLB debut in 2020. He throws a fastball that averaged 95.3 mph, and had 2.4 inches of vertical movement above average. He had a 3.21 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 14 innings, while his 1307 rpm changeup had a 61.9% whiff rate. Burch Smith was a viable option in six games, with 13 strikeouts in 12 innings and a 2.25 ERA. Smith also had a 2.04 xERA, a .180 xBA and a 0.667 WHIP. 

Catchers

Sean Murphy's development from top catching prospect in the league to MLB starter has been just what A's fans imagined it would be like. Murphy has a cannon, with a pop time of 1.92 seconds. He finished 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting with seven home runs and an .821 OPS. That OPS was heavily assisted by a very high 17.1% walk rate. Murphy also hits the ball hard, with an average exit velocity of 92.2 mph. The backup catcher job is less cut-and-dry. Aramis Garcia has hit six home runs in 37 career games, but he has a .689 OPS. But at AAA in 2019, Garcia hit 16 home runs with an .831 OPS. He is the favorite for the job after coming over in a trade with the Rangers. Left-handed hitter Austin Allen played in 14 games for the A's last year. He is not a good hitter, going 6-for-31 with a .541 OPS last year.

Infielders

Even though he played in all 60 games, Matt Olson had the worst year of his career. He hit 14 home runs, but also had a .195 average and a .734 OPS. His strikeout rate increased, up to an unhealthy 31.4%. Olson is a great defender at first base, but he had zero outs above average in 2020. Defensive runs saved were nicer to Olson, as he had five in that category. On the plus side, Olson had an average exit velocity of 92.3 mph and a 13.9% walk rate. Tony Kemp is an above-average defender, and he can play corner outfield as well as second base. He stole three bases with a .664 OPS in 49 games last year. He walked more times than he struck out. I could see the A's explore a trade for a second baseman, like they did with Tommy La Stella last trade deadline. In camp on a minor league deal is Jed Lowrie, who is banged up from knee surgery, and played in just nine games from 2019-2020. Lowrie was an all-star at second for the A's in 2018, so there is some hope. The team decided to replace Marcus Semien with an expensive option in Elvis Andrus, something that I was not in approval of. Andrus was going to lose the Rangers shortstop job if he was not traded, which isn't a good sign. He had a .582 OPS in 29 games last year, and his speed and defense has regressed. Andrus had a below-average 26.3 ft/s sprint speed, and -2 outs above average. Elite defender Matt Chapman also increased his strikeout rate, up to 35.5%. He hit 10 home runs with an .812 OPS. Chapman also had an average exit velocity of 93.6 mph, with an 18 barrel percentage, and a 51.7% hard hit rate. He had a high 38.2 line drive percentage, but a scary low .276 OBP. Utilityman Chad Pinder played second and third base plus corner outfield last year, and has played first base, shortstop and center field in the past. Pinder also played a lot of third when Chapman was injured at the end of the season. He had a .688 OPS and a 93 OPS+, plus an average exit velocity of 92.3 mph. Mitch Moreland has won a Gold Glove before, and is a good enough defender at first base to be a starter, but with Olson there, he will be the starting DH. Moreland had a 1.177 OPS in 22 games for the Red Sox last year, but had a .609 OPS after a trade to San Diego. It evened out to an .894 OPS. Moreland also had a .551 OPS with a 14.4 barrel percentage. 

Outfielders

Ramon Laureano is a great defensive center fielder, and his offense goes under-the-radar. Laureano had an .860 OPS in 2019, but that fell to .704 in 2020. He still hit six home runs with two stolen bases, and his OPS+ was a league average 100. He also had three outs above average in center, and walked 10.8% of the time. With Robbie Grossman off to Detroit, you can expect Mark Canha to be the full-time left fielder. Canha can play all three outfield positions plus first base, and he had a .795 OPS with a 126 OPS+ in 2020. He also had a 15.2% walk rate with one out above average at each corner outfield position. Canha really struggled against breaking balls, going 3-for-53 with 20 strikeouts in at-bats ending with one. Stephen Piscotty remains the starting right fielder, although his numbers were bad last year, to say the least. He struck out 31% of the time while only walking at a 5.3 percent rate, and he had a whiff rate over 30% to fastballs, breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Piscotty also had a .629 OPS and a .398 xSLG. Something needs to change for him in 2021. The fourth outfielder will likely be Seth Brown, a 28 year old who played in seven games last year, but went 0-for-5. Brown debuted in 2019, hitting .293 with an .815 OPS in 26 games. In 112 AAA games in 2019, Brown hit 37 home runs with a .986 OPS. I'd say he's earned this opportunity. Rule 5 pick Ka'ai Tom was a 5th round pick by Cleveland in 2015. He spent 2019 between AA and AAA, and hit 23 home runs with five stolen bases, a .290 average and a .912 OPS. 51 of his 132 games were at Triple-A, and Tom hit nine home runs with a .933 OPS there. 

Projected Rotation
Chris Bassitt (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Jesus Luzardo (L)
Frankie Montas (R)
Mike Fiers (R)

Projected Bullpen
Trevor Rosenthal (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
Sergio Romo (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
JB Wendelken (R)
Adam Kolarek (L)
Lou Trivino (R)
Jordan Weems (R)

Projected Lineup
LF Mark Canha (R)
1B Matt Olson (L)
3B Matt Chapman (R)
DH Mitch Moreland (L)
C Sean Murphy (R)
CF Ramon Laureano (R)
RF Stephen Piscotty (R)
2B Tony Kemp (L)
SS Elvis Andrus (R)

Projected Bench
C Aramis Garcia (R)
IF Chad Pinder (R)
OF Seth Brown (L)
OF Ka'ai Tom (L)


Much more than last year's team, the 2021 A's are flawed. They did not do a great job at filling the holes for their departing players on offense, and while the bullpen reconstruction was fine, it wasn't enough to make the offseason a success. With that said, the Athletics are still the best team in the division. I won't make the same mistake of betting against them as I did last year. This team will win the AL West once again. 

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