As part of our division preview series, we will analyze each team’s projected starting lineups so you’re not saying “wait, who?”—at least for the first few weeks of the season. All projections are subject to change and if the A’s go nuts and sign, say, Mark Trumbo or something, we’ll update this post. Because it could happen, you know. (NB: projections are based on Steamer as the A’s ZiPS projections aren’t out yet.)
*Update 1/3/17: - The A’s have signed Rajai Davis because they are annoying as heck. The corresponding roster move was designating Max Muncy for assignment.
Source: Rajai Davis and the Oakland A's are in agreement on a one-year deal for $6M.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 4, 2017
Davis was a 2-fWAR player for the Indians this year with an 85 wRC+. Steamer projects him to do somewhat worse than that next year, at 82 wRC+ and .5 WAR. Fangraphs doesn’t love his defense, especially in center field (-5 DRS last year), but Davis, even at 36, represents a threat on the basepaths, with 43 stolen bases last year.
C- Stephen Vogt
2016 numbers: .251/.305/.406 (93 wRC+), 1.8 fWAR
2017 projections: .260/.322/.415 (101 wRC+), 2.3 fWAR
Stephen Vogt was drafted when the team was still named the Devil Rays. Those are some old knees hunkering down every day, and Vogt’s window for being an everyday catcher might be slamming shut in a hurry. Despite his poor receiving skills (almost at the bottom in Stat Corner’s framing rankings!), his bat makes him a useful part of the lineup. That didn’t stop the A’s from signing two free agent catchers to minors contracts and offering a spring training invite to a third. Vogt might start to see time at DH or maybe first base, although the A’s already have similarly leaden-gloved Khris Davis, who is a better hitter. In addition to 28-year-old Josh Phegley, Bruce Maxwell is right behind Vogt and put up decent offensive numbers in about a hundred plate appearances, further complicating the A’s catcher situation.
1B - Yonder Alonso
2016 numbers: .253/.315/.367 (88 wRC+), -0.3 fWAR
2017 projections: .272/.339/.400 (104 wRC+), 0.8 fWAR
Negative WAR in a first baseman is a problem Mariner fans understand too well. Alonso’s slash line doesn’t look putrid, but factoring in his poor baserunning (third worst on a team that was terrible on the basepaths), and negative defensive score (second worst on the team behind a defensively miscast Danny Valencia), and you understand why notoriously-tightfisted Oakland was willing to pony up the money for Encarnación. Unfortunately, they missed out on him, as they will likely miss out on Napoli, but Mark Trumbo and Jose Bautista are still out there, if the A’s are serious about addressing one of the biggest holes on their roster—a fix for which there are still many solutions on the FA market. Projection systems like Alonso a little more than his performance this year, but it seems like a lot to ask of a player with a history of uneven offensive production.
2B - Jed Lowrie
2016 numbers: .263/.314/.322 (77 wRC+) -0.7 fWAR
2017 projections: .254/.319/.374 (91 wRC+), 0.7 fWAR
Bless Jed Lowrie and his deviated septum. He is really doing nothing more than keeping second base warm until Franklin Barreto is ready. The A’s kept running Lowrie out this past year, as he soldiered through a hurt foot and a banged-up toe and a spate of other injuries, because he is 32 years old and plays a challenging defensive position and is not named Robinson Canó. Young Chad Pinder is right behind him and might take Lowrie’s job in Spring Training, but needs to fix his yucky .21 K/BB rate first. Joey Wendle is also waiting in the wings with slightly better plate discipline but basically no power.
SS - Marcus Semien
2016 numbers: .238/.300/.435 (100 wRC+), 2.5 fWAR
2017 projections: .249/.315/.423 (102 wRC+), 2.0 fWAR
That Semien was still the second-most-valuable A by WAR while batting ten points under his career average tells you all you need to know about the 2016 Oakland A’s. Semien was feast or famine at the plate this year, hitting a career-best 27 homeruns (more than ten more than any other year!) but also making a ton of outs. Semien worked hard this season to improve his defense and cut down on his errors at short, a position at which the A’s have a lot of organizational depth. He’s done enough to hang on to the starting shortstop job, but the A’s might keep him on a short leash.
3B - Ryon Healy
2016 numbers: .305/.337/.524 (134 wRC+), 1.1 fWAR
2017 projections: .274/.312/.432 (102 wRC+), 2.1 fWAR
John is going to have a more in-depth look at Ryon Healy later today, so I’ll keep this brief: either you believe in Ryon Healy, or you don’t. The disbelievers say he has no prospect pedigree, chases outside the zone too often, and his numbers last year were the product of small sample size. Projection systems mostly back this view. The believers—and Eno Sarris is one of them—say that Healy has learned to find power in his swing, and has brought a new approach to spraying the ball to all corners of the field. My gut feeling says Healy is the real deal and someone who could cause many headaches for the Mariners in the future, especially if he learns to take a few more walks, but I’d be very happy to be wrong.
The A’s outfield is a bit of a question mark, but here are three guys who, if the season started today, will likely start a decent number of games in the outer abyss of O.co, and one guy who probably shouldn’t be allowed to (try to) catch baseballs anymore.
2016 numbers: .239/.299/.345 (78 wRC+), -0.3 fWAR
2017 Projections: .256/.318/.402 (98 wRC+), 0.8 fWAR
A mediocre arm in left field and a mediocre bat combine to make Smolinski the most uninteresting member of a pretty lackluster outfield. He can hit lefties alright, but will probably start more games than he should. I don’t know what else to say; his Wikipedia page doesn’t even have any fun, irrelevant facts to share with you. In a swarm of amorphous Oakland Athletics amoebas he’s one of the least exciting blobs to focus your microscope on.
2016 numbers: .165/.252/.303 (65 wRC+), 0.2 fWAR
2017 Projections: .235/.305/.385 (89 wRC+), 1.1 fWAR
Oh, what’s this? Is this a glimmer of hope for the A’s or, at least, someone more interesting than Jake Smolinski? Why yes, you’re in luck...sort of. Eibner was acquired last season in the Billy Burns trade, made 40 some starts for the A’s and was mostly not so good. He’s got some upside, particularly when it comes to power and production, but I’m skeptical of any major breakout year from a 27 year-old “prospect”. However, it’s worth noting that the A’s have a monstrous, gaping hole in center field (no, really, there’s no one), and at this point the poor folks at Athletics Nation are trying to convince themselves that a platoon of Eibner and Jaycob Brugman wouldn’t be the end of days. Brugman hopped between AA and AAA last season and I refuse to write about him here because that act in itself would involve more effort than the A’s front office has put into resolving their center field problem overall.
2016 numbers: .242/.403/.463 (137 wRC+), 1.3 fWAR
2017 Projections: .232/.349/.393 (107 wRC+), 0.7 fWAR
See now this is where things get kind of fun. And it’s worth noting that the “fun” part of the A’s starting outfield is 32 years old, which tells you more about this team’s depth than any of my silly words could. If you happen to care about what some guy name Jeff says about baseball players, acquiring Joyce may have been the A’s best move of the offseason. As with many of the other outfielders on this roster, he’s most often been deployed as a lefty platoon hitter, though last year’s success (largely due to a change in hand position) could lead to more regular playing time. Assuming Joyce continues to find success with these new mechanics, he could be a far more troublesome thorn in the Mariners’ side than he was during his truly catastrophic 2015 tenure with the Angels. The new pop in his bat, coupled with last season’s league-leading walk rate, makes him a hard out and I anticipate cursing his name many times over in 2017. If he is indeed a traditional platoon bat, the A’s don’t currently have a solid partner for him; Khris Davis may need to get some time in the field, opening up the DH spot for some sort of terrible rotation versus lefties.
2016 numbers: .247/.307/.524 (123 wRC+), 2.5 fWAR
2017 Projections: .247/.312/.475 (113 wRC+), 1.9 fWAR
Thanks to the acquisition of the above-mentioned Matt Joyce, Khris Davis will likely act primarily as a DH in 2017, barring some great O.co tragedy. Last season he hit an obscene 42 home runs, of which approximately 40 came against the Mariners (7 of those, in turn, came off poor Nate Karns...and that’s only a slight exaggeration). He probably won’t do that again but even the Steamer-projected 32 dingers, which seems like a steep drop, aren’t anything to sniff at. We cannot predict the future, but I can say with certainty that Khris Davis will continue to be an annoyance during the 700+ games when the Mariners play the A’s. I would sign him to my All-Dinger All-Star Team in a heartbeat, but during the M’s series I’d rather Davis stay locked up in the room where Dipoto hid Vidal Nuno all last season.