2014 Oakland Athletics Preview

Who will lead the Athletics in power statistics this year?

The Oakland Athletics are a very deep and very solid team. There are few holes on the team and they get contributions from most of the hitters in the lineup. The Athletics do lack one thing that some of the other competitors for the American League crown have: one power bat that pitchers have to plan for. This may not be a bad thing, as there could be as many as three guys in the Athletics lineup that could hit over 30 home runs.

Josh Reddick was an powerful force for the Athletics in 2012 after the team acquired him for Andrew Bailey. Reddick was a solid offensive prospect for the Red Sox coming up through the system but after a breakthrough 2008 season, never hitting more than 20 home runs again and seeing his average lower as he struck out more. He had a good 2011 season with Red Sox, but the team was looking to add bullpen depth after losing Jonathan Papelbon and Reddick was seen as disposable. Given a full time role in Oakland, Reddick hit 32 home runs, stole 11 bases, and exhibited his cannon of an arm; he finished 16th in the MVP race and, even with a lack of patience and rise in home runs, the Athletics had an answer for a power boost. In 2013, Reddick was injured a bit and when he was healthy some of his positive trends from 2012 regressed. The most obvious difference was that Reddick hit 5% less fly balls in 2013 than in 2012 and also averaged 5% less home runs per fly ball. Given those ratios, it should not be too much of a surprise that his home run total dropped from 32 to 12. Reddick was a bit more selective with his swings and if he is able to get some better contact, he may be able to get back to hitting 25 or more home runs. It is very important that he does not focus on hitting home runs as that could detract from his better strike zone recognition.

Yoenis Cespedes came over from Cuba as a big time power hitter and has done a pretty job of hitting for power thus far in the majors. He was a top 10 MVP finisher in 2012, with 23 home runs on top 16 steals and a .292 average. He struck out a bit too much, but nothing that was that much of a problem for the Athletics. In 2013, Cespedes was inconsistent and his free swinging ways really hurt him. He may have him 26 home runs, but he had a sub-.300 OBP and appeared to be hacking for the fences way too much. His fly ball rate rose as he hit more home runs, but almost everything else about his game was worse in 2013 than in 2012. The 28 year old Cespedes is in a similar place as Reddick in that he needs to make strides to become a better hitter rather than mash the ball out of the park. He does have extreme power, putting it to display by winning the Home Run Derby in 2013, but his downfall may be his aggression. He has the reputation of a free swinger and that can get him into a lot of trouble with strikeouts and a loss of good contact. Cespedes may be able to hit 30-35 home runs and has the most power potential on the team, but his power may be a detriment to his whole game. The Athletics acquired Cespedes for his power and the team will still rely on that power but it would help the Athletics if he would focus more on finding ways to get on base.

Brandon Moss came out of nowhere to be a very good player for the Athletics the past two years. After bouncing around the Red Sox, Phillies, and Pirates organizations and showing that he had some good power without results at the big league level, it finally clicked at the big league level in 2012 for Oakland. Moss had a .954 OPS with 21 home runs and was versatile in that he played first base and the outfield. The ugly thing for Moss is that he does not have a ton of patience at the plate, which held him up in his pursuit of a major league job, and that was an issue in 2012 and became a big reason for a regression in 2013. He was still very solid with a .859 OPS and 30 home runs in 145 games but his average was down from .291 to .256. He did walk a bit more and strikeout less and those are positive trends that could lead to Moss becoming an All-Star. He showed that he could withstand a full MLB season for the first time and was stronger in the second half of 2013 than the first half. He is having a good spring training thus far and it would not be insane to see Moss with 35-40 home runs this year. His average might only get to the low .270s, but if he builds on the good trends of less strikeouts and more walks, he will be the best offensive player for the Athletics.

When will Addison Russell take over at shortstop?

As this prediction will show, the Athletics should be the team that wins the American League West; this is even without a hitter that could be the number 2 hitter for the Athletics right now. Addison Russell is a very solid hitting, consistent shortstop and should be the shortstop for the Athletics for the better part of the next decade. Unfortunately for him, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, and Francisco Lindor all play the same position as him, so he has been swept under the rug a bit. Soon this will not be the case and Russell will take over as the shortstop and the Athletics will be better off for it.

There is a very good chance that the 2012 draft will go down as one of the strongest drafts in recent history, as most of the top 20 picks in the draft have either aggressively moved up through their respective organizations or have had extreme success in the lower levels. In 659 at-bats since he was drafted, Russell has a .302 BA, 39 doubles, 19 triples, 24 home runs, and 37 steals. Those are extremely impressive numbers, but it is even more impressive when you consider that he was only 18 and 19 as he accumulated these numbers and that he has even had a short stint in Triple-A. He may not have the plate discipline of Francisco Lindor, but as a 19 year old in High-A, Russell still had a .369 OBP and 125 strikeouts compared to 61 walks. He was the best player in the California League for most of the season and did not look overmatched hitting against pitchers that were 2 or 3 years older than him. All of the hitting was impressive, but his fielding is what will make him a stalwart in the Athletics infield and move him up through the system quickly. His defense grades out as outstanding and when added to his solid hitting for a shortstop, Russell may be an All-Star for years to come.

If the Athletics wanted to move Russell aggressively through the system, they could. Alberto Callaspo is a serviceable player, but he is not going to add any value to an already solid Athletics team. He could play all over the diamond and Russell could easily take his spot in the starting lineup. Jed Lowrie is a super utility player at shortstop and could easily move to second base if Russell is going to move up to the majors. The Athletics are a very good team and have flexibility with both Lowrie and Callaspo so it might not be a bad idea if the Athletics move up the talented 20 year old shortstop to the majors. He needs to continue to work on his plate discipline and have his walk rate continue to trend in a positive way. He has had a decent start so far in major league camp in Spring Training, hitting .263 in his first 19 at-bats. It would be smart for the Athletics to let him develop in the minors a bit longer but a hot start should get Russell to Oakland as the starting shortstop.

How good exactly is the Athletics bullpen?

The Oakland Athletics had a very strong bullpen over the past couple years and they did something this offseason that most of the good teams do; they made it even stronger. Through the aggressive acquisitions of Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, and Eric O’Flaherty, Oakland may be in a position to end games once they get a lead in the 6th or 7th inning. This may be a very good thing as the rotation is very young and may not been able to get as deep in games as other rotations could.

Sean Doolittle was a good prospect out of the University of Virginia, in fact was a first round pick as a first baseman in 2007, but had two major knee injuries and a wrist injury that derailed his hitting career and he turned back to pitching. In 2012, Doolittle fully converted to pitching and was absolutely stellar in the bullpen in the minors, moving from High-A to the majors with only 25 innings; albeit 25 innings where he struck out 48 batters with 7 walks and allowed only 2 runs. Since getting up to the majors in June 2012, Doolittle has a 3.09 ERA, 1.006 WHIP, and 9.3 K/9 with a 5: 1 K: BB ratio. His true ERA is even lower, at 2.37 and Doolittle has been very reliable, pitching around 70 innings each of the past two years. He has had 51 shutdowns as compared to only 15 meltdowns over the past two seasons and his fastball has been a true weapon, rated as one of the best pitches in baseball. He was a bit worse in 2013 than 2012, seeing his ERA rise while striking out fewer batters, but it was also his first full season in the majors and everything would suggest that Doolittle will continue to be a lefty force out of the Athletics bullpen.

Ryan Cook is another one of the strong young arms in the Oakland bullpen. A part of the trade that sent Trevor Cahill to Arizona and brought Jarrod Parker to Oakland, Cook has been the best pitcher out of the Athletics bullpen over the past two seasons. His ERA is sterling at 2.30 with a WHIP of 1.11 and has more than a strikeout an inning since coming over to Oakland. He walks a bit more batters than Oakland would like and was more dominant in 2012 than 2013; he threw more changeups in 2013 than 2012 in an effort to be more of a ground ball pitcher. His ground ball rate was similar in 2013 and 2012, but there were more line drives hit off of Cook in 2013, raise his GB: FB ratio. The biggest issue for Cook is that he throws a strong 95 mph fastball and that pitch was dominant in 2012 and saw a decrease in value in 2013. With such a strong fastball that is thrown 68% of the time, Cook needs to get his value back to that pitch; his slider and changeup can develop off of this pitch and make Cook even more value than he has been over the past two seasons. Cook will be relied upon in the 7th and 8th inning to get some tough outs for the Athletics and will give the Athletics a weapon out of the bullpen.

Luke Gregerson was added to the bullpen for the 2014 season and he should only strengthen a bullpen that was already strong. Over the past five seasons, Gregerson has been a strong reliever for the Padres and the Athletics looked to add some veteran leadership to the bullpen by adding the 30 year old. There is a lot of strength in the Athletics bullpen, but a lot of the pitchers are relatively unproven. Gregerson averages 73 appearances a season since 2009 and has a 1.09 WHIP and averages more than a strikeout an inning during that time period. He had a bit of a rough 2011 where he only had a 5.5 K/9 and 3.07 BB/9, but those ratios returned to their career baselines over 2012 and 2013. The biggest issue for Gregerson is that he had only 29 shutdowns and 15 meltdowns last year; those numbers were able to be contained on a Padres team that did not compete in 2013 but he is now on a competitor in Oakland. He averaged 31 shutdowns and 12 meltdowns in the seasons prior to 2013 and he should return to numbers close to that in 2014. He will a part of the new 8th/9th inning combination with the Athletics and should serve as a part of a good ending to a lot of Athletics’ games.

Jim Johnson has very big shoes to fill, as Grant Balfour was a great closer for the Athletics in the past two seasons. For a team like the Athletics who are ready to compete for a World Series title, it is important that they are able to close down the game, especially considering that the rest of the bullpen is so good. Johnson’s power sinker was devastating 2011 and 2012 as he was one of the best relievers in baseball and a part of a bullpen in 2012 that was 29-9 in one run games and had a streak of over 100 games won where they had the lead going into the 7th inning. He has saved 50 games in each of the two seasons, but in 2013 he had 12 meltdowns as compared to only 3 in 2012. He is not a strike out pitcher and that scares a lot of people. Also, his ground ball rate was down 4% in 2013 and that 4% moved to line drive rate. The eight more line drive hits between 2012 and 2013 may seem insignificant but in one inning spurts, this could be the difference that leads to the Athletics losing games. If Johnson is able to keep his sinker down and induce ground balls, the Athletics strong infield defense will allow him to have a great season as the new closer in Oakland.

The Athletics have a young rotation that will need a lot of assistance from a strong bullpen and that will probably be the case in 2014. With a strong bullpen like the Athletics have, most games that the Athletics lead in the 6th or 7th should be a win.

What will Josh Donaldson do to repeat his great 2013 season?

Josh Donaldson did not come out of nowhere entirely during the 2013 season, he was a first round pick in the 2007, but no one could have reasonably predicted that he would be as successful as he was in only his second full year in the majors. In fact, coming into the season, many assumed that it was his defense that would make him so valuable to the team and that was why he broke camp as the starting third baseman to begin with. After a 4th place finish in the MVP race, it will be important to see why Donaldson was so successful and how that success can translate to the 2014 season.

Donaldson was a first round pick by the Cubs out of Auburn in 2007 and was a part of the trade that sent Rich Harden to the Cubs in 2008. Donaldson was extremely attractive because he was a catcher that hit .346 in Low-A in 2007 with more walks than strikeouts, but was off to a slow start in Peoria in 2008, making him expendable for the Cubs. After he moved on to the California League with Stockton in the Athletics organization, he went back to having an outstanding walk to strikeout ratio and had a .381 OBP between the 2008 and 2009 seasons in High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. Between the 2010 and 2012 seasons in the minors, Donaldson alternated between third base and catcher and his numbers in 2010 and 2011 were pedestrian in Triple-A Sacramento. A hot start in 2012 in Sacramento led to a promotion to Oakland.

Once in Oakland, Donaldson moved to third base for good and, although he was not a force offensively, was good enough to be in the running to be the starter at third in 2013. Nothing could have predicted that Donaldson would have the offensive season that he had in 2013, but his walk rate and strikeout rates were back to the solid ratios of the past and much better than the paltry numbers from 2012. In fact, most of Donaldson’s ratios returned to those that he had when he was taking his first try at A ball in 2007 or when he tore up Triple-A for 51 games in 2012. He had a .883 OPS with 24 home runs, 37 doubles, and 93 RBI. His defense continued to be elite, in fact he was the third best defensive third baseman in the American League, and he even had a higher WAR than MVP Miguel Cabrera.

For Donaldson to be as successful in 2014, he needs to continue to hit the ball hard. A ground ball hitter in 2013, Donaldson needs to make sure that those grounders find holes or his average will fall off a bit. He was a decent base runner in 2013 and had a jump in HR/FB ratio, two trends that will continue to give Donaldson value. He may not be nearly an 8 win player again in 2014, but his defense and solid walk and contact rates will keep Donaldson as a 5 win player; this is much more than the Athletics envisioned when they acquired him in 2007 and will keep him as a vital part of the Athletics’ success.

Why are the Athletics going to win 95 games?

The Oakland Athletics may be the best team in baseball. In fact, there were a couple different projection methods that were examined in these analyses and none of them had the A’s winning less than 93 games. Their bullpen is very solid, the rotation is young and deep, the lineup has great depth, and there is very good leadership with this team. Projections are great and math is not everything, though, and there are a couple things that may hurt the Athletics and could even keep them out of the playoffs. Brandon Moss has been very good in spurts over the past few years and the projections like him a lot more than his true talent, the same goes with Yoenis Cespedes. There has been enough written on Josh Donaldson and there are reasons to believe that his numbers from last year were an aberration. Moss needs to keep up with what he has done in the past, Cespedes needs to be less streaky, and Donaldson needs to show that last year was not a fluke. If those three things can happen, the A’s could quietly have the best lineup in baseball. There are many young, strong arms in the rotation and there is every reason to believe that their respective best seasons are coming soon.

 

5 You Know:

1. AJ Griffin

2. Josh Donaldson

3. Jed Lowrie

4. Brandon Moss

5. Yoenis Cespedes

 

5 You Will Know:

1. Addison Russell

2. Sonny Gray

3. Raul Alcantra

4. Michael Ynoa

5. Billy Burns

 

5 You Should Remember:

1. Billy McKinney

2. Bobby Wahl

3. Daniel Robertson

4. Renato Nunez

5. Dylan Covey



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Maxi
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Maxi

Don’t forget that we replaced that bum Chris Young for Craig Gentry….super upgrade for our 4th OF that will make the A’s really potent on the bases with or without Coco.

Love the bullpen this year, love the lineup flexibility, and I really hope Russell gets a July or August call-up.

Let’s go Oakland!!!!!!

Babyspittle
Guest

I look forward to seeing what Burns can do.

adony sosa
Guest
adony sosa

You will soon get to know LEE SOSA…. remember the name

Jose
Guest
Jose

The best thing about the A’s is that they have sneaky good power up and down their lineup. 3rd in the AL in homers last year, four guys over 20 Hr (and one guy who should have been, Mr. Reddick . . .), all while playing in the Coliseum. Not bad.

Yehuda
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Yehuda

If they keep beating the bad teams they will win the West

Ginger Phillips
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Ginger Phillips

WAHL! WAHL! WAHL!

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