The Oakland Athletics are still a few years away from completing their rebuild, and projection systems recognize that.
- Current Fangraphs projected record: 77-85 (5th in the AL West, 20th in MLB, 11th in the AL)
- Projected runs scored per game (RS/G): 4.73
- Projected runs scored against per game (RA/G): 4.96
- PECOTA projected record: 77-85 (4th in the AL West)
As Jake pointed out in the pitching section, the A’s rotation has multiple question marks. Fangraphs has the staff allowing almost five runs a game, and PECOTA sees Sean Manaea as being their best pitcher, for a WARP of 1.1.
How can the Athletics leap over their lowly projection?
If the A’s are to break .500 this year, they’ll need players on both sides of the ball to step up. The offense is full of young, high-ceiling players who could blow past their projected scores; PECOTA only has Matt Olson for 2.1 WARP, which is almost what he accumulated in just 216 PAs last year.
PECOTA sees a mere 6.6 WARP coming from the entire pitching staff, indicative of the limited experience level in the starting rotation. PECOTA has Andrew Triggs for .6 WARP, significantly lower than he logged in limited action in either of the last two seasons. Steamer likes him more, for 1.3 WAR; if Triggs continues to show flashes of the strong pitcher he was in 2016 when he posted a 17.6% K-BB rate, that can do a lot to help solidify a rotation that doesn’t have a clear fifth starter. Or fourth, at the time of this writing. The bullpen projects to be a strength for the Athletics, with new signing Yusmeiro Petit able to provide multi-inning relief and multiple late inning options in Santiago Casilla, Blake Treinen, and ex-Mariner Emilio Pagan. If the A’s can get to the later innings with a lead, their bullpen should be able to deliver a win, and maybe help lift them nearer to .500.
What might hamstring Oakland this year?
The A’s are young, and young players can struggle with consistency. After posting a wRC+ of 132 in 283 PAs in 2016, Ryon Healy took a step back in his full first year as a pro, and the A’s shipped him off to the Mariners this off-season. They won’t have that option if young players like Matt Chapman or Matt Olson take a step back; this year will be as much a referendum on Oakland’s ability to develop young talent as anything. PECOTA projects Matt Chapman for 3.5 WARP, in part thanks to his excellent defense, but his bat will have to keep pace as MLB pitchers have more time to adjust to him as a batter.
What reinforcements are available on the farm?
The A’s farm is deep, and some of them are pretty close to MLB. Top pitching prospect A.J. Puk threw well in 64 innings last year at Double-A, maintaining his impressive strikeout rate even as he faced tougher competition. Franklin Barreto didn’t exactly burst on the scene in his cup of coffee last year, but he’s young and loaded with tools, and has raked at every stop on his minor league career. If the A’s are out of contention at the trade deadline and Jed Lowrie repeats his success from 2017, he’ll make an appealing trade candidate for a club looking for infield help, opening a spot for Barreto. Also close to ready is top prospect Jorge Mateo, who should debut for Triple-A Nashville this year. Top catching prospect Sean Murphy is probably still a solid year out—too bad, because catcher is one position where the A’s have some instability. With the strength of their farm, things are win-win for the Athletics: either the A’s surprise everyone and play well in a competitive AL West, or they lose, sell off pieces, and their young players get MLB exposure in the way the young Astros players did during their rebuild.
The A’s are still in the midst of their rebuild, and as such have little incentive to try to compete in a tough division. The talent on the farm is almost MLB-ready, and the A’s are best served to exercise patience and let young players get the bulk of playing time and development. Retaining Khris Davis and signing Yusmeiro Petit show that the A’s aren’t planning to tank right out of the gates, however, in case a Yankees-style Baby A’s revolution catches fire, but they’re well set up to trade off those assets if they’re out of contention, which is the much more likely outcome. Enjoy the A’s while they’re bad. With the infusion of youth talent they have coming down the pipe, they’ll soon enough outstrip the Mariners’ bare-bones farm.