Wednesday, February 20, 2013

2013 Oakland Athletics Preview

Hey, remember three years ago when it seemed like everyone was celebrating the demise of Billy Beane after Oakland's third straight losing season?  Joe Morgan was probably cackling with glee while swirling good Scotch in a snifter.  Well, which one of those gentlemen is still employed in baseball today?  I'll give you a hint; is no longer an active web page.  Last season, due to trades, one ugly injury (Brandon McCarthy fielding an Erick Aybar line drive with his dome), and a PED suspension, the A's ended the season with a rotation made up entirely of rookies, yet still charged from behind to steal the AL West from the Rangers before losing to Detroit in the ALDS.  So Moneyball isn't dead after all, huh?  Allow me to remind everyone that Beane's philosophy isn't so much religiously tied to on-base percentage as it is to exploiting market inefficiencies on the cheap.  For further proof, check out the projected lineup below.

DH  Coco Crisp (S): .263/.327/.392, 10 HR, 36 SB, 2.4 WAR
C     John Jaso (L): .260/.364/.392, 6 HR, 3.4 WAR
RF   Josh Reddick (L): .247/.311/.470, 30 HR, 3.9 WAR
LF   Yoenis Cespedes (R): .297/.364/.515, 28 HR, 18 SB, 4.1 WAR
1B   Brandon Moss (L): .265/.335/.486, 25 HR, 2.0 WAR
CF   Chris Young (R): .240/.325/.436, 23 HR, 17 SB, 3.4 WAR
3B   Josh Donaldson (R): .246/.310/.424, 17 HR, 1.6 WAR
2B   Scott Sizemore (R): .246/.336/.403, 15 HR, 2.6 WAR
SS   Jed Lowrie (S): .261/.344/.447, 15 HR, 2.8 WAR

The leadoff spot seems like the best place to stick someone with a high OBP, right?  So why are Crisp and his mediocre bat there instead?  Because the legitimate on-base threats in this lineup are Cespedes, whose power belongs in the middle of the order, and Lowrie, who is made of porcelain.  Jaso would be an option, but he's a slow catcher and will likely be platooning anyway.  Speaking of platoons, there will likely be several this season.  Jaso will split time with the younger Derek Norris, who experienced some struggles in his rookie year after being part of the Gio Gonzalez haul.  Seth Smith will see some time as the designated hitter, with Crisp possibly moving to the outfield in Young's place on some of those days.  Lowrie will also play third, with new Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima playing shortstop, and Sizemore will share second base with Jemile Weeks.  So really only Reddick, Cespedes, and Moss are likely to play a full season's worth of games at one spot.  That flexibility will give manager Bob Melvin all kinds of opportunities to make the most of matchups.  Oakland has power, some speed, and youth on its side, with only Crisp of all the players mentioned above being older than 30.  The only true star in this group is Cespedes, who would have been a worthy Rookie of the Year candidate if not for some guy in Anaheim.

Defensively Melvin should have almost as many options as with the lineup order.  Oakland has the luxury of four plus defensive outfielders in Crisp, Young, Reddick, and Cespedes, with all four of them capable of handling even Oakland's vast center field at least adequately, with Young being the best option.  Lowrie can provide quality defense at three infield positions when he's not in traction, although his range at short has declined precipitously with all of the injuries (I left Nakajima out of the projections above because there weren't any available numbers for him).  The rest of the infield is competent if not flashy, as is the catching duo.

LHP   Brett Anderson: 172.0 IP, 134 K, 41 BB, 3.61 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 3.4 WAR
RHP   Jarrod Parker: 207.0 IP, 170 K, 75 BB, 3.52 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 3.7 WAR
LHP   Tommy Milone: 178.0 IP, 152 K, 41 BB, 3.59 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.4 WAR
RHP   A.J. Griffin: 155.0 IP, 128 K, 36 BB, 3.58 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 2.9 WAR
RHP   Bartolo Colon: 157.0 IP, 100 K, 32 BB, 3.85 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 2.4 WAR

Anderson, the best of the bunch, only made a handful of starts after his return from Tommy John surgery last year, and will probably be limited in his innings in 2013, like Stephen Strasburg without the circus.  The trio of Parker, Milone (another part of the Gonzalez trade), and Griffin (plus Dan Straily should his presence in the rotation be necessary) all should improve in their sophomore campaigns, especially given the trial by fire they underwent in last season's playoff push.  It is possible (and the number of projected innings for Milone and Griffin reflect this) that last year's sudden increase in innings could cause one or more of them to experience a bit of a hangover in 2013, so that's something to watch for.  Oakland is hoping that Colon returns from his suspension and is still an effective pitcher in his age-40 season (did you just feel really old all of a sudden?).  There are no strikeout artists on this pitching staff, but as mentioned earlier, the defense (especially the outfield) is geared to make any pitcher look better.

Hard-throwing Aussie Grant Balfour is back to close, with Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle providing the major late-inning support.  Jordan Norberto, Jerry Blevins, and Straily (or whomever is the odd man out in the rotation) round out the bullpen.  This Oakland team won't sneak up on anyone in 2013 the way they did in 2012, but Beane was once again very active in the trade market, picking up inexpensive assets that fit with the roster and will give Oakland a chance to continue challenging the Angels and Rangers in the AL West (it helps that they get to fatten up on Houston and Seattle). I like the A's to fall short of the division this year, but be right in the thick of a tough wild card race that could include six or seven teams.