The A’s winning the West after a huge offseason makeover in 2015 might seem like an unlikely achievement, but here are seven reasons why this is not at all unachievable:
1. The New-Look Infield
In 2015 the Athletics will be throwing out a fresh face at each of the four starting infield positions. Here’s a quick look:
|1B: Brandon Moss||1B: Ike Davis (Mets)|
|2B: Eric Sogard||2B: Ben Zobrist (Rays)|
|SS: Jed Lowrie||SS: Marcus Semien (White Sox)|
|3B: Josh Donaldson||3B: Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays)|
Especially from an Athletics fan’s perspective, the left side of this chart looks very nice. The names Moss and Donaldson are very important and dear to you; however, the right side of this chart is actually more productive overall. While Moss and Donaldson have the highest wOBA of the eight players at .351 and .339 respectively, Jed Lowrie and Eric Sogard have the two lowest at .300 and .262 respectively. This averages out to be a wOBA of .313. The Average wOBA for 2015’s infield is .320.
You might be thinking that Lawrie does not compare to Donaldson, and you could be right. The fact of the matter is that Lawrie is a downgrade from Donaldson, but not by all that much, meanwhile, Zobrist is a huge upgrade from Sogard at 2B. And even Sogard is an upgrade from Punto as the UTIL infielder.
Other important categories that favor the 2015 infield are BB%, K%, FB%, Contact%, OPS, OBP, etc. Also, the new infield got quite a bit younger and faster.
The 2015 infield also has a higher average wRC+ at 104 in comparison to 2014’s 102.5. These aren’t huge differences, but the A’s are expecting better years from Lawrie, who was injured a lot in 2014, Davis, who hit 32 HR in 2012, and Semien, who hasn’t really had much of a chance in the majors yet. These moves were necessary, not only to save money, but because the 2014 team didn’t actually win the AL West. I’m now going to compare this new INF to a team that did win the West, the 2012 A’s.
The 2012 INF consisted of Josh Donaldson, Stephen Drew, Cliff Pennington and Brandon Moss. There were other guys in the mix earlier on in the season, i.e. Jemile Weeks, Brandon Inge, however, these were the guys that got it done down the home stretch.
|2012 A’s INF||WAR||wOBA||wRC+||2015 A’s INF||WAR||wOBA||wRC+|
|Brandon Moss||2.3||.402||160||Ike Davis||0.3||.324||108|
|Cliff Pennington||1.0||.263||65||Ben Zobrist||5.7||.333||119|
|Stephen Drew||0.0||.310||97||Marcus Semien||0.6||.301||88|
|Josh Donaldson||1.5||.300||90||Brett Lawrie||1.7||.320||101|
|2012 AVG||1.2||.319||103||2014 AVG||2.1||.320||104|
These numbers are almost identical, however the 2015 team has a slight edge in every category. That is despite the fact that the A’s expect growth from the incoming players this season. Even after the significant losses of Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss the A’s infield is more than capable of pushing them toward another Western division title.
2. The Designated Hitter
The Athletics’ DH numbers from 2014 are not where you want them to be. Yes, Melvin will still use this spot as a “half-rest” day for players like Crisp, Reddick and Lawrie, but the newcomer Billy Butler will most likely fill the spot the majority of the time. Butler is a huge upgrade from the A’s team DH numbers last season in which Callaspo, Moss, Norris, Jaso, Vogt, Dunn, among countless others had at bats. Let’s take a look at the 2014 A’s DH numbers vs. Billy Butler’s 2014 numbers. (he also had a down season):
|2014 Team DH||-1.3||.284||82|
This chart shows that Butler is a significant upgrade at the DH spot, as he will bring a lot more production to the middle of this lineup. I should also bring up his career numbers, which are a wOBA of .351 and wRC+ of 117. If Butler can get back to his career form, the A’s offense is looking at a huge boost, but even if he doesn’t and repeats his 2014 performance, the DH spot is still getting a nice upgrade.
3. The Rotation
The starting rotation for the A’s no longer consists of Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel, but it is still a very strong group with huge potential. I’m going to compare the projected 2015 group to the 2012 and 2013 rotations that led the A’s to division titles.
Projected 2015 (2014 STATS)
As you can see, the 2015 rotation wins four out of the six categories. They won the majority of the categories already, but this 2015 staff has the potential to be better than these numbers show. In past years, the A’s success had a lot to do with their strong pitching staff — this is a big reason why I believe they will win the west in 2015 — however, we need to take a look at the projected rotations of the four other teams in the division to see how the A’s compare to each of them.
Here are the five teams’ projected rotations for 2015:
The Mariners and the Athletics both have really solid pitching staffs. The Mariners have arguably the best pitcher in the American League in Felix Hernandez. The Angels also have a good young ace in Garrett Richards, but he is coming off an injury; it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Sonny Gray proved that he is a true ace last season, going over 200 innings and pitching extremely well in big games. The numbers do give the A’s a slight edge; they won three of the six categories and the Mariners won two of them. King Felix, Iwakuma and the solid supporting cast are hard to bet against, but 1-5, the A’s have a better staff according to last year’s numbers.
4. Speedee Oil Change
Anytime manager Bob Melvin calls on the bullpen, the A’s should be confident. There are so many capable arms out there that it’s really not fair. Honestly, a starter could go four innings with a lead and that would be enough for this bullpen with Otero, Abad, Cook, O’Flaherty, Clippard and Doolittle in the mix. There are plenty of other options as well that might not get a shot because it’s already crowded with talent out there. The starters, however, are very capable of giving you six or seven innings consistently, which makes this bullpen even that much more deadly, allowing Melvin to create left-on-left matchups or vice versa. The fact of the matter is, if you can’t score, you can’t win. While the starting staff is very solid, getting to the bullpen might not be the opponent’s best option when facing the A’s. Another positive for the A’s has been their ability to fight their way back into ballgames the last few years. With a bullpen like this who can keep the deficit where it is, the probability of achieving a comeback is that much greater.
Let’s compare the A’s bullpen to the other teams in the division by highlighting the projected top six bullpen arms for each team:
The Mariners and Athletics each won two out of the five categories. The Athletics also came in second in two other categories. Although this chart shows the Mariners and the A’s as pretty evenly matched, the Mariners have a lot of aging players in their pen, so we cannot be sure if they will keep up the good numbers. The Astros got a lot better by adding Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, but that still wasn’t enough to make them the best in the division, especially after the A’s went out and traded for the two time All-Star, Tyler Clippard. All of these teams except Texas have a very strong bullpen, so trying to come back from a deficit is going to be a tough feat in this division.
The A’s also have a lot of other options past these six players, probably more so than the other four teams, making injuries less of a factor for them.
5. Coco Crisp
When Coco Crisp is at the top of the lineup, the A’s are a better team. Over the past three seasons there’s no player who has had as much of an overall impact on this team than Coco. Whether it’s at the plate, in the field or in the clubhouse, Crisp’s impact is significant. Despite losing a lot of star players, the A’s will not take a step backward because they still have their most important piece in Crisp. If Crisp would have been traded away this offseason, I don’t believe the A’s would be ready to compete for the AL West title in 2015. There would be too long of an adjustment period, someone else would need to step up big time and fill his shoes. Luckily, the A’s don’t have to worry about that yet. Bottom line: the A’s need Coco Crisp.
6. Depth and Versatility
Having a deep roster is always important in a 162 game season. You will have players go on the DL, it is unavoidable. Being able to replace the injured players with capable major leaguers is key to a team’s success in the long run. Billy Beane has constructed a 40-man roster with tremendous depth, especially with pitching. The A’s have eight or nine guys capable of making the starting rotation, not to mention two others (Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin) due back this summer. There are upwards of ten players competing for a spot in the bullpen as well. It will be interesting to see who makes it on to the 25-man roster, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Triple-A Nashville has a stacked opening day roster. Having great options in the minor leagues is key for any team, and the A’s will definitely have that this season with Kendall Graveman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Nolin and Brad Mills, four starters likely to be starting in Triple-A. Also, RJ Alvarez, Eury De La Rosa and Evan Scriber, three above-average bullpen arms will likely be starting down there as well.
The A’s lineup is a very versatile group this season. Eric Sogard, A’s second baseman the last few seasons, has moved into a utility INF role; he plays excellent defense, and for a defensive replacement, he can handle the stick pretty well. Ben Zobrist is known for his ability to play all over the diamond with above-average defense, and also for getting the job done from both sides of the plate; his career wOBA is .344. Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld can play all three outfield positions with ease while providing speed off the bench in pinch running situations. Marcus Semien will likely be the everyday SS, but he can play all over the infield as well. Stephen Vogt will mostly catch, but he can play first base and corner outfield if the A’s need him to. The amount of options the A’s have, if injuries do occur, are limitless. It will be entertaining to see how Bob Melvin constructs his lineup card every day.
7. The Manager
Bob Melvin is the perfect manager for a team of misfits and players who have never played together previously. He will bring this group to play for each other, as a unit, one day at a time. Melvin is great at creating matchups that benefit the team and give them the best chance to succeed. The roster that has been assembled this season is perfect for just that. It is loaded with skilled, versatile players. Bob Melvin has done it before and he will do it again.