Better Know A Rival: Oakland A's

Blog: Athletics Nation

AN's team preview

Players listed are based on my best efforts to gather information and are not guaranteed to be correct

Position Players

C: Kurt Suzuki
1B: Daric Barton
2B: Mark Ellis
SS: Cliff Pennington
3B: Kevin Kouzmanoff
LF: Rajai Davis
CF: Coco Crisp
RF: Ryan Sweeney
DH: Jack Cust

Bench-C: Jake Fox
Bench-IF: Eric Chavez
Bench-Util: Eric Patterson
Bench-OF: Gabe Gross

Depth:

C: Landon Powell
1B: Chris Carter, Sean Doolittle
2B: Adam Rosales, Adrian Cardenas
SS: Adam Rosales, Adrian Cardenas
3B: Adam Rosales, Adrian Cardenas
OF: Travis Buck, Michael Taylor, Sean Doolittle

A year ago, I used this space to talk about how, while the A's didn't have a great lineup, they were equipped with enough depth to deal with a number of injuries.

This time around, I'm going to use this space to talk about how, while the A's don't have a great lineup, they are equipped with enough depth to deal with a number of injuries.

The have a capable replacement for Suzuki. They have a capable replacement for Barton. They have a capable replacement around the rest of the infield. They have a capable replacement in the outfield. And, of course, they have a capable replacement at DH. Once again, the Oakland A's are deep. This is a deep team. You could make a legitimate - a mediocre, but legitimate - starting lineup out of guys on the bench and stuck in the minors.

Depth, however, is no substitute for high-level talent, of which the A's are a bit short. Let's talk about the offense first. The highest career wRC+ - that's park-adjusted wOBA against the league average, like OPS+ - of anyone in the starting lineup is 125, belonging to Cust. 125 is pretty good. What about second-highest? 103, for Kevin Kouzmanoff. Oakland's second-best bat is just about league average. People are concerned about the Mariners' offense, but at least we have Ichiro, Figgins, and Bradley. The A's only have one guy you can safely predict to come in over 100. Eric Chavez is at 116 for his career, but he hasn't swung a good bat for a long, long time. Daric Barton has promise, of course, and looks to have recovered from a miserable 2008, but even he's no sure thing.

At the plate, this is just a whole lot of average, backed up by average. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Balance is good, and average is fine if you're solid everywhere else. The A's don't really have any offensive holes. They just don't have a lot of offensive upside, either, and while Carter and Taylor are on the way, there's not much room for them to make a difference in 2010, or at least not for a while. Seems to me like this could end up being the most predictable team offense in all of baseball.

Ah, but position players don't only contribute at the plate, now do they? Of course not. And while Oakland doesn't stand out with the stick, they have a lot of ability with the glove. Davis, Crisp, Sweeney, and Gross make up quite possibly the best defensive outfield in baseball, with the worst career UZR/150 of the group being Crisp, at +10.9 as predominantly a center fielder. It's not as pretty around the infield, but then that's almost an impossible benchmark, and it's not like they're hurting in the diamond. Ellis, Barton, and Kouzmanoff are all probably a little above average, and though Pennington is a bit of an unknown, he's not a liability.

Oakland can defend, everywhere, and depending on how well Figgins and Lopez adjust to their new positions and how often Bradley plays left, they may very well keep up with us, if not pass us by. That's an unknown but excellent outfield they've got, and not even a major injury would slow them down very much.

Don't sell this unit short. There's barely any name value and there's not a lot of offense, but they're going to catch a lot of balls that teams put in play against them, and that defensive contribution really brings it all together. Of all people, Mariner fans should understand why this group of guys is better than many think. It's almost as if Billy Beane knows what he's doing.

Starters

SP: Ben Sheets
SP: Brett Anderson
SP: Justin Duchscherer
SP: Dallas Braden
SP: Gio Gonzalez

Depth:

Trevor Cahill
Vin Mazzaro
Josh Outman (recovering, Tommy John)
Clay Mortensen

Oakland's position players, as a group, seem exceptionally predictable. Here's where we find the volatility.

We know that Anderson is really good, as a hard-throwing lefty who stays in the zone, gets his strikeouts, and keeps the ball on the ground. But aside from him, you've got two guys who didn't throw a pitch in 2009, a guy who doesn't miss many bats and gives up fly balls, and a guy with a 5.5 BB/9 competing for the fifth slot with a guy with a 1.3 K/BB. You can envision a scenario in which things go Oakland's way, but it's also really easy to see how this could go wrong.

Something a lot of people may not realize about Sheets is that, over his 55 starts between 2007-2008, he ran a K/9 of 7, and not the 9+ he ran between 2004-2006. He has a lot of name appeal, but he's not going to be a breathtaking ace, even if he makes a full recovery. And there's no guarantee that he comes back at 100%, or that he remains healthy for very long. As for Duchscherer, the last time he was healthy, he wasn't as good as his sparkling ERA. Fine pitchers, both of them, but perhaps overrated by the sunny and selective nature of memory. And, of course, they're obvious risks.

Braden's fine as the #4, and there are worse things than having a #5 like Gonzalez who strikes people out like a crazy person. (I'm assuming Gonzalez wins the competition.) The depth consists of Cahill - who's 22 and accomplished in the low minors - Mazzaro - who's 23 and somewhat accomplished in the high minors - Mortensen - who's almost 25 and less accomplished than Mazzaro - and Outman, who was pitching pretty well until his elbow gave out. The A's have a collection of arms with a fair amount of talent.

Where it becomes troublesome is if they start to run into injury problems. You can't take for granted that Sheets and/or Duchscherer will stay healthy, and you can't take for granted that the depth guys will be able to translate their minor league numbers into the bigs. On paper, this is an above-average rotation, but it wouldn't take a lot for things to veer off course. Brett Anderson's a terrific young southpaw, but in order for this team to make the playoffs with that group of position players, they're going to need more pitching than Anderson can provide on his own.

Relievers

Andrew Bailey
Brad Ziegler
Michael Wuertz
Chad Gaudin
Jerry Blevins
Joey Devine
Craig Breslow

Depth:

Brad Kilby
Edwar Ramirez?
Henry Rodriguez
Justin Souza
Pedro Figueroa

I don't actually know how this is going to work out - there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of guys currently or recently battling little injuries. Andrew Bailey has/had tennis elbow. Craig Breslow has/had elbow tendinitis. Michael Wuertz has posterior rotator cuff tendinitis. Joey Devine is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has/had elbow tendinitis. And so on and so forth. They already lost Jon Meloan for the season.

All that aside, if the A's can get their bullpen together and healthy, it's going to be a solid unit. Bailey and Wuertz form a lethal late-inning pair of power arms. Ziegler is murder on righties and a groundball machine against everyone. Gaudin's murder on righties, too. Blevins is a good all-around lefty reliever, with Breslow as a serviceable specialist. The last time Joey Devine was healthy, he struck out 49 guys in 45.2 innings. And there's talent in the depth, too, as Kilby's ready for the bigs, Ramirez - if they keep him - has demonstrated an ability to strike batters out, and Souza and Figueroa both have good enough stuff to step into the middle innings if needed.

The real fun one? Rodriguez, who throws a 100mph fastball and has used it to gather hilarious minor league results. Hello, potential concussions.

If this unit stays healthy, it's going to be a nightmare to face, and it's good enough that even a major injury to Wuertz or Bailey probably wouldn't come as a death knell. Breslow, Gaudin, and Ziegler run pretty extreme platoon splits, but with seven guys in the pen, Bob Geren can afford some specialization, which works to their benefit. God help us if Devine comes back at 100%.

Overall

Hey, you know who this team sounds a lot like? Us. Mediocre offense, wonderful defense, topheavy rotation, and a deep, talented bullpen. The rosters aren't identical, but what we may have in rotation talent, they might make up for in position player depth. These are two very, very similar teams, so it shouldn't come as any surprise when projection systems fail to see much of a difference. The run differential gap between the M's and the A's, according to the Diamond Mind simulations I linked yesterday? 21 runs. Mariners +10, A's -11. That's close.

Ignore anyone who writes the A's off as a contender this year. They're not the most talented team in the division, but they're deep, they're young, and with depth and youth come upside and the potential to surprise. They could win the West. Not like in a "it's mathematically possible" kind of way. In a legitimate, they-have-a-real chance kind of way.

Why You Should Root For Them If The Mariners Drop Out

Talk about your surprises. The M's have gotten a lot of attention for their high-profile offseason. The Angels get attention for winning this division like every year. The Rangers get attention for being filled to the brim with high-level talent. Nobody in the media seems to care that the A's even exist right now, so if things go wrong with us, it'd be somewhat satisfying to watch Oakland and its gang of talented nobodies make a real push. In addition, I'd like Billy Beane to win something so his critics shut up, and also, if the M's struggle but the A's succeed, at least we could point to them as evidence that the model can work.

Why You Should Root Against Them If The Mariners Drop Out

I'd be pretty steamed if the A's got to win with the model we've made famous. On top of that, their games are really boring, and I personally can't stand Jack Cust. Texas is way more fun.

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