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  1. I just have a lot of trouble handicapping the AL West this pre-season, for a plethora of reasons. Yes, I like that bullpen. Yes, I’m fond of Texas. I am aware of the general consensus about the Angels. But I’m not ready to concede Orange County’s entry. If someone can get Scioscia to stop taking the Libyan funny pills vis a vis Mathis, there’s a chance in Disneyland™.

    Comment by Bob Hudgins — March 11, 2011 @ 1:37 am

  2. Wow, your words are quite elegant. Thumbs up.

    Comment by Dave Cameron Needs a Wikipedia Page — March 11, 2011 @ 2:51 am

  3. Having a number of groundball specialist starters, while having the best defensive infield in baseball (the gold glove voting is a disgrace), is something that should be highlighted a little more.

    Comment by TheGrandSlamwish — March 11, 2011 @ 2:56 am

  4. I think Oakland will easily win 85 games and might reach 90 if they somehow get 500 ABs out of Coco and “The Hammer”.

    Comment by kick me in the GO NATS — March 11, 2011 @ 4:33 am

  5. Bob – I agree that I think a lot of people are underrating the Halos. Frankly they finished last season one game worse than Oakland at 80-82 yet it seems the sub .500 record has everyone treating them as if they went 70-92. Their pitching has the potential to be very good especially if Kazmir gets it together.

    Comment by David Wishinsky — March 11, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  6. While I agree with most of the article, and good work Matthew, I disagree with the key player being designated as Brett Anderson. Anderson is key only in so much that he stays healthy – which while it is vital, if we assume everyone stays healthy I think the key is Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez has had a great spring thus far, and is likely the third starter on this club, if he can pitch well this well during the regular season the A’s are in good shape. Furthermore, as a lefty he has the ability to neutralize a good number of their possible opponent’s stars come playoff time (particularly the Yankees).

    To me the key to the A’s season isn’t the quality of our talent so much as our ability to stay healthy. The quality is there, the health hasn’t been. The A’s have a glaring lack of depth, especially vis-a-vis the Rangers and injuries can quickly derail a good season. Hopefully the new training staff works out because I anticipate the A’s to be neck-and-neck with the Rangers all summer long.

    Comment by David Wishinsky — March 11, 2011 @ 8:34 am

  7. Oakland’s Pythagorean W-L last year was for 85 wins instead of the 81 they got. Now that they’ve improve their bullpen and have an entirely new 3-5 in the lineup, I imagine they’ll be able to pull off more close victories and lead to a tight race in the AL West,

    Comment by Ryan — March 11, 2011 @ 8:44 am

  8. Prediction… Brandon McCarthy gets injured, likely due to terrible mechanics.

    Comment by Bill — March 11, 2011 @ 10:00 am

  9. Don’t look now, but Andy LaRoche is doing this so far: .409/.536/.955 with 3 2Bs, 3 HRs, 5BBs and 3Ks.

    (Well, OK, you can look, but don’t get too excited).

    Comment by D4P — March 11, 2011 @ 10:23 am

  10. I know that this team improved this off-season, but I really don’t see them as more than a .500 team. Matsui, Willminham, Crisp and Ellis are all high injury risks. There is not one bat in the lineup that has a high probability of hitting 20 hrs this season. They’ve made improvements to the bullpen but to me it seems like a waste of the teams money and draft picks to get Balfour and Fuentes. Their staff is young and talented. But Trevor Cahill way outperformed his peripherals, Gio Gonzalez finally put together a good season and they had a fluky season from Vin Mazarro (who’s gone). If Brett Anderson can stay healthy and be their ace this will be a great staff. If not they won’t repeat last years numbers. Then the slight improvement to the offense won’t matter.

    Comment by Preston — March 11, 2011 @ 11:18 am

  11. Yeah and after Kazmir gets it together they can sign Billy Koch and assume he now has movement on his fastball and then they can bring in Daniel Cabrera, who, i’m sure has gotten his control problems fixed by now, and if that doesn’t work I’m sure Joel Zumaya is due for a run of good health.

    Comment by Big Jgke — March 11, 2011 @ 11:58 am

  12. !!!!!!!

    Comment by adohaj — March 11, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

  13. They may not have a Pujols but they don’t have any Melkey’s. Look at the giants and their offense last year. It isn’t a perfect comparison since the giants pitching was better. But there is no reason to not think they can’t be in the race.

    Comment by adohaj — March 11, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  14. The reasoning for why the A’s will be good this year sounds a lot like the 2010 Mariners are going to win 95 games talk. Great pitching and defense, the offense is ok. It’s hard to score runs when you need to string four hits/walks together in an inning to do it. And my other point is everyone acts like the fact that the pitching was great last year means it will be this year. I have concerns that Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden don’t strike out enough batters, Gio Gonzalez will walk to many and that Brett Anderson might not pitch all that often.

    Comment by Preston — March 11, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  15. player/era/fip/xfip/babip

    cahill/2.97/4.19/4.11/.236–200 IP
    anderson/2.80/3.21/3.75/.294–110 IP
    gonzalez/3.23/3.78/4.18/.274–200 IP

    the best chance for improved performance from the top 3 starters is through more innings from anderson. he’s the key as his health is worth another 2-3 WAR while improvements/regressions from cahill and gio, in my guess, would probably even out.

    Comment by erich1212 — March 11, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  16. The FIPs of the pitchers are less important than the ERAs because we’re not, here, trying to judge their individual greatness. We’re trying to judge the team’s ability and ERA is probably a better indication of the team’s run prevention than FIP and some mention of how the team “has good defense.” Well, actually, park-adjusted RA would be best.

    Cahill and Braden and all may not be able to achieve these results in a vacuum (on the “average” team), but they will be pitching in essentially the same context this year…most notably, in front of a strong defense.

    Comment by Minstrel — March 11, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

  17. This is just a solid, tight team. It doesn’t really have holes or weaknesses. It doesn’t have an A-Rod for example, but there aren’t any glaring deficiencies and it just seems capable and well constructed. The bullpen, early on, looks bulletproof and the rotation should be very, very good.

    Comment by MC — March 11, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

  18. The Giants had a couple huge offensive breaks. Age 33 Huff and Burrell both produced mammoth seasons and Posey gave them an amazing rookie season. That’s 2.5 lineup spots (.5 for the half season from Burrell) posting .850 or better OPS. The only Athletic to post an OPS over .800 was Cust, who left. Half the line-up didn’t even post an OPS over .700.

    Forget the pitching. It’ll be either good or great. The A’s season, once again, is entirely about health. Crisp, Willingham, and Matsui stay off the DL and the A’s win the West. Those three start to go down and they have another season of Matt’s in the OF and it’s back to .500 for Oakland.

    Comment by Mac — March 11, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

  19. This is assuming that their ability to outperform their FIP’s was entirely the strong defense and park factors. I’m not saying this isn’t a possibility, but one season is not a large enough sample size to assume that luck didn’t play a larger role.

    Comment by Preston — March 11, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

  20. Cept that’s what the Padres did. And uh, Oakland did it last year. With a worse offense?

    Comment by Reuben — March 11, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

  21. Preston I agree 100%. I just can’t see this team contending for the West. Their lineup is a joke in my eyes. I agree that there isn’t a single guy who is a given for 20+ HR. How many teams have won pennants with so few homers in the last two decades? It’s like the A’s are a replica of the mid-80’s Cards with Tom Brunansky and a bunch of cheetahs running all over teams…just without cheetahs…. The pitching and defense both figure to be good, maybe even very good, but they’ll have to be better than that to carry the offense. The Balfour and Fuentes signings were stupid and might be the A’s undoing. When the offense clearly needs help and pitching is already your team’s obvious strength, why devote 14% of your 2011 payroll to two middle relievers? I understand they struck out on Beltre and didn’t have many alternatives but you’ve gotta find a way to improve the offense with the $9 mil they are spending on Balfour and Fuentes. They would have been better off holding onto that money and waiting until the deadline to make a big splash if the team was in contention.

    Comment by boxx — March 12, 2011 @ 12:39 am

  22. Some of the comments I’m seeing baffle me.

    “They don’t really have holes”…The A’s cleanup hitter is Josh Willingham. I repeat JOSH WILLINGHAM!!! When your two big guns are Willingham and a declining, injury prone 37 year old Matsui, that my friend constitutes a weakness.

    “Forget the pitching, it will be either good or great”. Do they A’s have a terrific young rotation? Yes, but to pencil them in as no worse than good is silly. If they all continue to take steps forward they will be very good but that is far from a given. How often do rotations this young progress without major bumps and growing pains? Three fifths of the rotation is 25 or younger and they lack an established ace at the top. Can a healthy Anderson or Cahill be that guy? Perhaps, but they still have a long way to go before anyone can say they have proved it.

    Comment by boxx — March 12, 2011 @ 12:42 am

  23. I wouldn’t rule out improvement from all 3.

    Comment by bSpittle — March 12, 2011 @ 2:30 am

  24. Cahill will likely strike out more this year, just as he struck out more last year than his rookie season.

    Comment by bSpittle — March 12, 2011 @ 2:32 am

  25. Carter waiting in the wings.
    And Michael Taylor waiting to surprise people.
    The kids (barton, pennington) will improve.
    Suzuki will bounce back.
    Add Willingham and Dejesus.
    And a stronger bullpen.

    And this a team that could have won 85 games last season.
    With heath, this is a really good team.

    Comment by bSpittle — March 12, 2011 @ 2:38 am

  26. No mention of Joey Devine?

    Comment by skoorbo — March 12, 2011 @ 3:46 am

  27. anything is possible, sure, but it seems to me that the most likely route to 2-3 WAR is from anderson staying healthy, no?

    Comment by erich1212 — March 12, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

  28. “And my other point is everyone acts like the fact that the pitching was great last year means it will be this year.”

    I don’t see how it regresses. The rotation is plenty young enough to keep improving. I would be shocked if the rotation was healthy and DIDN’T improve upon last year. With the offensive upgrades the pitchers don’t have to feel like they HAVE to throw a shut out in order to win.
    Speaking of the offensive upgrades only one person mentioned DeJesus. Between Matsui, Willingham, DeJesus, a full year of Crisp and improvement from Barton/Suzuki there should be plenty of offense to keep them in games. Couple that with a solid rotation and killer bullpen I think you have a recipe for a playoff appearance.

    Comment by Pinnius Clump — March 12, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

  29. On what planet is Matsui (who is now the full time DH) “injury prone”???? He’s had nothing but freakish injuries but is nowhere near as deserving of that title as say, Coco Crisp is. Willingham is a fine hitter, his last 5 seasons he’s been between 827-863 OPS, if you think thats a “joke” you should have seen who was hitting 3-4-5 for Oakland last year, it wasnt pretty and they STILL won a lot of games. Bottom line the offense is better, but it doesnt need a star like Pujols when the pitching and defense is so good.

    There’s a lot of illogical statements being made in this post. The A’s were a pythag 85 win team last year with a joke of an offense. Now the offense is better, Willingham is good for 825-850 OPS and is in a contract year. Daric Barton led the AL in walks at only age 24 and is looking like Youkilis as his ceiling now. Barton is key, he really is looking like a special hitter. The A’s have one of the deepest teams in baseball and to question them like that is really insulting. You are the only one baffling anyone in not showing this squad respect.

    Comment by PL — March 12, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

  30. Gio Gonzalez will be the name on everyones list at the end of this season. He’s really really great and the wildness is calming down. Either him or Anderson will be the ace of this team. Dallas Braden really flies under the radar too in terms of how actually good he is. Both Gio+Braden had better WARs than Cahill last year. Cahill really is the 4th best starter on this team.

    Comment by PL — March 12, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  31. Cool so the A’s should go get Mike Jacobs and Jeff Francoeur so they can have 20+ HR guys huh? I’d rather have good hitting than power hitting, logic and history agree.

    Comment by PL — March 12, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

  32. Not to mention every single defender except Willingham and maybe DeJesus are in the top 5 defenders per position in baseball. The A’s defense makes the good pitching look outstanding, this team doesnt need to score 6 a game to win.

    Comment by PL — March 12, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

  33. PL what history also dictates is that you need to score to win. I do respect the strengths of this team. The pitching and defense figure to be good. The problem is that the offense lacks power and speed. Matsui has had bad knees and quads for a few years now and those things don’t improve when you’re on the wrong side of 35. I can see them winning 85 as their pythag suggested they should have but that won’t be enough to win the division

    Comment by boxx — March 12, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

  34. Here are the MARCEL’s* wOBAs for the starting 9**

    Coco .333
    Barton .342
    DeJesus .340
    Willingham .356
    Matsui .344
    Suzuki .310
    Kouz .305
    Ellis .310
    Pennington .319

    How is this anything other than an average offense? No standouts, no big homerun power, sure; but an average offense it still is.

    *MARCEL is the most pessimistic of the projections on Fangraphs
    **Obviously with this team health is an issue, but their back-ups aren’t too bad, as the article mentions.

    Comment by Danmay — March 12, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

  35. This is a minor point…but how could you say this team lacks speed! They were third in the majors last year. Sure they lost Rajai, so they won’t likely be third this year, but they are at least average.

    Comment by Danmay — March 12, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

  36. Pennington & Crisp are both good for 30 steals, what are you talking about?

    The pythag I mentioned was last years one, it was 85 with a completely inferior team to this one. Logic and reason show that if healthy and with less regression than progression with the players previous seasons, there’s nothing to say that this wont be a 90 win team this year.

    Comment by PL — March 12, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

  37. PL- To be fair I forgot about Pennington so they do have a little more speed than I’m giving them credit for and I agree with Danmay that they are probably average. That said if I was building a team and my team lacks homerun hitters than I would load up on speed a la the Cards of the 80s. I’m not looking at numbers but can you find me a team with comparable offense to this year’s A’s team that has won a division title recently? I guess we will agree to disagree. I’m not saying what I am to be a dick or to piss off A’s fans because I’m a fan of the Mets and am clearly in no position to talk crap about anyone’s team. But I’ve seen plenty of Willingham and Matsui and the fact is that those guys are miscast as heart of the order guys. I agree the team looks improved from last year but the division as a whole figures to be much better. The Angels figure to be better with a full year of Haren atop the rotation, a healthy Morales and a solid year out of Wells. Seattle will be better by default. Texas also looks to be very good again as the losses of Vlad and Lee I think will be cancelled out by the additions of Beltre and Napoli, an injury free year from Cruz and a bounce back year from Kinsler. Hey I understand that they underperformed their pythag last year but we are still looking at a team that will need a 10 win improvement from last year in a tougher division.

    Comment by boxx — March 12, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

  38. Oh and I meant “then” and not “than”. I figured that I should correct myself before the Defenders of Lingual Purity do it for me.

    Comment by boxx — March 12, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

  39. Yeah, that seems reasonable.

    Comment by bSpittle — March 13, 2011 @ 1:55 am

  40. An average offense is still an improvement over the A’s offense last year, which was than the Mariners. And that’s not a compliment.

    Comment by whobob — March 14, 2011 @ 3:12 am

  41. Okay, so the A’s are pretty good if they stay healthy. If not, they won’t be pretty good.

    Wow, the reader comments in this particular thread are rather revelationary. *grin*

    Great pitching and average offense can, and has, gotten it done. They key is whether they get great and average, and I seem to agree with what everyone else is saying, which is basically “they could”, without giving a certain tone on it.

    A league average offense while playing half of your games in Oakland, would be a pretty good offense … perhaps a little too optimistic.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — March 14, 2011 @ 4:03 am

  42. I’m not a regular reader here (I followed a link from athleticsnation), but I’ve got a few comments for you.

    The team’s pythag has been mentioned a few times. They’ve underperformed it every year that Geren has been manager. I don’t expect that to change this year, but I do have a lot of optimism that the team can make the playoffs anyway.

    The team set a franchise record for most games lost to the DL in one season last year. Many of their new additions are injury prone, but still that is statistically almost guaranteed to improve.

    Most of their training staff is new and they have a new surgical team. I’m hoping that leads to less and shorter DL trips

    They have a new hitting coach. Not actually new. He’s the one they had the last time they made the playoffs in 2006. I’m not going to lay an ALCS appearance at his feet, but he’s got to be an improvement over Skaalen and Van Burkleo.

    The team for some inexplicable reason kept Eric Patterson and Jake Fox on the roster for three months instead of DFAing the dead weight. There are no such charity cases this year.

    Gabe Gross played 105 games with an OPS of .601. Gone

    Sweeney was the starting rightfielder last year. Barring injury he’s now the fourth outfielder (and will do a far better job of it than Patterson or Carson).

    Jerry Blevins pitched in 63 games last year. Barring injury he’ll be in AAA this year.

    This is a young roster that played through a lot of adversity last year and never gave up (the one thing I will give Geren credit for), and ended up at .500 even after all that I just detailed. This year they believe in themselves and will scratch and claw their way to the final out of the final game. I can’t see into the future, but my money’s on them.

    Comment by rudirules — March 14, 2011 @ 6:09 am

  43. It is a misconception that the Giants won the World Serries with their starting pitching. It was also their deep bullpen and their power. If you knock out their starting pitcher early, they will shut you down with their deep bullpen. If the Padres made the playoffs, they would of been one of the rare teams that made the playoff without power. Don’t get too excited about good pitch, no hit teams.

    Comment by James — March 14, 2011 @ 6:10 am

  44. @boxx – these preseason predictions usually aren’t worth the electronic storage that they’re recorded on.

    Obviously there’s a lot of give depending on how the offense does. BUT assuming .850 OPS’s out of Matsui and Willingham (which may be a big assumption), it is pretty tough for a team with 4 pitchers with about a 3.50 ERA not to win a lot of games. The offense doesn’t even have to be that good. I mean if they give up 4 runs a game so that’s 650 given up over a season, they only have to score like 700-720 runs to have a run differential of 50-70, which is probably good in most years for 1st or 2nd place. They gave up 626 runs last year.

    If you assume less injuries this year, maybe Josh Outman as the #5 starter, a better bullpen, it’s at least conceivable that they might give up 600-615 runs. Really I don’t think this is so out of reach because Philly gave up 640 runs last year and Atlanta gave up about 629. Assuming the improved offense can score 700 runs that is a pretty good run differential.

    I think the point remains that, although they don’t have 20+ home run hitters or guys with +.900OPS, they should have 3 guys that are about .800-.850 OPS.

    It’s really not too different a team compared to the 2010 Rays and they did well, although I think the Rays had a better team.

    Also because of recent moves I am not a fan of the A’s front office, but I still think it’s a pretty good team. Then again that’s what I thought about the Mariners last year.

    Comment by MC — March 14, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

  45. I see a bunch of comments referring to the A’s as having an average offense now. They were a putrid offense last year. From what I’m seeing they replaced Sweeney, Cust, and Rajai with Matsui, Willingham and Dejesus. Cust and Willingham are a wash (128 OPS+ for Cust 129 for Willingham in 2010). DeJesus is a much better all around player offensively than Davis but he did steal 50 bags and that speed wasn’t replaced. Lastly Matsui is a big upgrade over Sweeney but he’s 37 and declining. I see an improved offense but was it enough of an imrpovement to where we can now call this an “average” offense?

    Comment by jpg — March 14, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  46. The whole 20 home run debate is kind of ridiculous, but I just wanted to point out that every time Josh Willingham has had 400 or more at bats, he has hit at least 20 homers. Also, the 2003 Minnesota Twins won the AL Central, winning 90 games with only one player who hit 20 home runs (Torii Hunter). The ’05 San Diego Padres won their division without a single 20-homer guy, but they also only won 82 games.

    Comment by Tom — March 25, 2011 @ 7:52 am

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