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2019 AL West Preview: Oakland Athletics, Overview and Position Players

Can the A’s repeat last year’s miraculous run?

MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Nippon Ham Fighters Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

It’s almost time for the games to start, which means it’s time to conclude our AL West preview series. We started with the two teams in the division who are on opposite ends of the spectrum: the best, in the Astros, and the (most recent) worst, in the Rangers. Now we’re into the murky middle ground of the division, examining first the Angels and now the Oakland Athletics, last year’s pop-up playoffs team. Can they repeat last year’s success? What does their path forward look like? Who actually pitches for the Oakland Athletics? We’ll examine those questions and more this week.

Last year, the A’s were lifted to the playoffs by a late run made possible by a dominant bullpen and the strength of their position players. Let’s look at what their lineup figures to be in 2019:

Oakland A’s Projected Lineup, 2019

Position Player PECOTA (WARP) ZiPS (fWAR)
Position Player PECOTA (WARP) ZiPS (fWAR)
C Chris Herrmann 0.3 0.4
1B Matt Olson 1.9 2.9
2B Jurickson Profar 2.4 2.2
3B Matt Chapman 3.3 4.3
SS Marcus Semien 2.6 2.3
RF Stephen Piscotty 1.7 2.6
CF Ramon Laureano 2.4 2.4
LF Robbie Grossman 1.1 0.3
DH Khris Davis 3 2.9

Key additions:

C - Chris Herrmann

2B - Jurickson Profar

LF - Robbie Grossman

RHP - Joakim Soria

RHP - Marco Estrada

Key subtractions:

2B - Jed Lowrie

RHP - Trevor Cahill

RP - Jeurys Familia

Barring one major change at the keystone, the A’s should run out a lineup very similar to the one that saw them post the second-highest offensive fWAR in baseball last year (yes, higher than the Red Sox, and second only to the Dodgers). They’re switching out Josh Phegley for Chris Herrmann, which is a little like switching your weeknight sweatpants for your weekend sweatpants. One is probably a little nicer than the other, but in the dark you probably can’t tell the difference.

Projection systems don’t see Matt Chapman repeating his stellar 2018, perhaps suspicious of his sky-high BABIP from last year, although the spike in hard contact seems to support the idea of Chapman being close to, if not matching exactly, his breakout year. (For a discussion of why PECOTA, in particular, might be shortchanging Chapman, check out BP ($) for an explainer in their team preview.) Other than that, the projections are mostly close to what the A’s players put up last year, with the usual dings baked in for age and the like. PECOTA has shockingly only projected Khris Davis to hit .245, but let’s face it: death, taxes, and Khris Davis hitting .247. Otherwise, society as we know it breaks down.

One player projection systems like more than we do is center fielder Ramon Laureano. Laureano burst onto the scene late last season, pairing an elegant CF defense with a wOBA of .357, and had fans salivating over his power-speed-defense combo. We cast a wary eye towards Laureano’s near-30% K-rate and wonder how many of his 43% groundballs are hits once teams have a better idea of how to align against him. We feel he’s due for a sophomore slump, and thus happily anticipate July’s Ramon Laureano, All-Star Game MVP.

Second baseman Jurickson Profar looks like he will finally fulfill the hype that tagged along with him for seemingly a decade in Texas as he struggled to get playing time behind Rougned Odor and Adrian Beltre. The Rangers finally provided consistent opportunities—and Profar was healthy—and he put up 2.9 fWAR in almost 600 PA, only to find himself shipped to Oakland as a rebuilding Texas sought younger talent. Still just 26, Profar now finds himself with positional stability he’s long lacked, as he will replace Jed Lowrie at 2B daily. The tools have always been there, and for a player with Profar’s speed, a 108 wRC+ if anything looks a little bit on the low side, as it was in part driven by a mere .269 BABIP. Profar hits lines drives with authority to all fields, plays good defense, and should thrive in Oakland, giving them yet another (ugh) well-above-average infielder in their 20s.

Repeating their offensive production from last year is a tall order for the A’s: Matt Chapman will have to be every bit the world-beater he was last year, and the A’s big-basher lineup will have to continue to average 25 home runs per player (third in MLB last year, well behind the record-breaking Yankees in their dollhouse stadium, and just slightly behind the Dodgers; a feat made even more impressive considering the chilled cinderblock warehouse in which they play). That might not be a challenge in the AL West, given the pitching staff everyone not named the Astros will be running out, but as the A’s early exit from the playoffs last year showed, man cannot live by dinger alone. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at who exactly will be toeing the rubber for the A’s this year, and what might be expected of them.