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What went right/wrong for the Oakland Athletics in 2016?

Not great, Bob (Melvin)

Toronto Blue Jays v Oakland Athletics

Here at Lookout Landing, we’re keeping our look at the Oakland Athletics going with an examination of what went right and what went wrong for the A’s in 2016. As we all know, over the course of a 162-game season, plenty of things tend to go right and, unless you’re the Chicago Cubs, far more things tend to go wrong. This was very much the case for the A’s, who experienced their second consecutive sub-70 win season.

What Went Right?

When I consider the 2016 Oakland Athletics, the first significant positive that comes to mind are the multiple transactions involving LHP Rich Hill.

Hill was signed for $6 million prior to the start of the season, a result of a brief but overwhelmingly successful stint with the Boston Red Sox in 2015 that saw Hill put up a 1.1 fWAR and 2.50 xFIP over 19.2 IP. The move was considered a gamble by some, but the potential payoff was evident: a dominant Hill would give Oakland a formidable one-two punch with ace Sonny Gray and if the team tanked, Hill could easily be sold off at the deadline for a prospect or two.

With Hill, the A’s were able to have their cake and eat it, too. Hill established himself as a dominant presence on the mound (76.0 IP, 2.5 fWAR, 2.39 FIP) and after the Athletics fell entirely out of the playoff race, he was shipped off to Los Angeles (along with OF Josh Reddick) for Grant Holmes, Jharel Cotton, and Frankie Montas. Going by, the trio now accounts for the team’s No. 3, No. 10, and No. 15 overall prospects.

The Athletics also saw promising developments from several young players in 2016. 24-year-old 3B Ryon Healy managed a 134 wRC+ over 283 plate appearances in his rookie season and figures to be a consistent, middle-of-the-order presence for years to come. 26-year-old SS Marcus Semien looked significantly better at shortstop and finished the year with a career-best 2.5 fWAR. In addition to the position players, young arms Sean Manaea and the previously mentioned Jharel Cotton had strong debuts on the mound. Both figure to be a big part of the rotation in 2017.

Other things that went right:

  • Khris Davis hit a career-high 42 home runs during his 2.5 fWAR season. Davis’ value continues to be plagued by poor defense, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Athletics flip him for another batch of shiny prospects in 2017.
  • Closer Sean Doolittle had a healthy return to the bullpen down the stretch, providing thirty-nine innings of fairly dominant relief work (0.6 fWAR, 3.68 xFIP). A healthy Doolittle in 2017 would make their bullpen significantly better.

What Went Wrong?

To speak briefly: literally everything else.

Sonny Gray, their staff anchor for the two seasons prior, suffered multiple upper-body injuries and was limited to 117 woeful innings. His 4.67 FIP was the 36th-worst in all of baseball (minimum: 100 innings). After looking like a rising star for so long, Gray suddenly finds himself surrounded by question marks.

Meanwhile, several position players–Josh Reddick, Danny Valencia, Stephen Vogt, and Billy Burns, to name a few–took a step back from their 2015 performances:

Hey, Billy Butler got better! How about that? At one point in the season, Butler got so tired of not being able to hit baseballs that he turned his attention to trying to hit another target: teammate Danny Valencia.

And while all of this was going on, LHP Drew Pomeranz was busy being a breakout star for the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox. In December 2015, the A’s had traded Pomeranz for LHP Marc Rzepczynski (now a Seattle Mariner) and 1B Yonder Alonso (-0.3 fWAR in ‘16). A few months later, the Padres would flip Pomeranz for top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza, which is a slightly better return.

It uh, it was not a fun season down in Oakland.