Oakland Athletics Predictions

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The Oakland A’s have come out of nowhere to win the AL West in back-to-back seasons. Most picked either the Texas Rangers or the Los Angeles Angels to win the division each year, but the A’s have been the last one standing when the dust has settled. It’s amazing what this franchise has been able to do with a tiny payroll, mediocre attendance and an antique ballpark.

While the Rangers and Angels have unloaded their pocket books, it continues to be business as usual for the A’s. They did make some nice offseason moves in bolstering the bullpen by adding Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson, while also signing Scott Kazmir. These moves should help make up for the losses of ace Bartolo Colon and closer Grant Balfour. Let’s take a look at your 2014 Athletics.

Projected Lineup

Coco Crisp (CF) – Crisp set career highs in homers (22), walks (61) and runs (93) last season while playing an errorless center field. The A’s go as Coco goes. He is not only the leadoff hitter who sets the tone, but also the jokester in the clubhouse who can be seen rocking an afro and tossing pie in teammates’ faces during a victory celebration. He hit eight homers over a 14-game stretch in August, which helped pad his best slugging percentage (.444) since he was 25. The A’s had no other decision but to pick up his $7.5 million option for 2014. Considering his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was a personal-low .258 over a full season in 2013, and his career BABIP is .296, he was actually unlucky. It’s scary how good Crisp could have been last year with a few more of those balls dropping in for hits.

Josh Donaldson (3B) – Donaldson was one of the best players in all of baseball last season. He carried over his solid second half of 2012 into a monster campaign in ’13. Donaldson would finishe fourth in the American League in MVP voting after hitting .301/.384/.499 (average/on-base/slugging) with 24 homers and 93 RBIs. Amazingly, the 28-year-old won’t make more than the league minimum until he’s nearly 30. He was a bit lucky with a .333 BABIP last year compared to a.278 mark in ’12, so there should be some regression here in ’14.

Jed Lowrie (SS) – Lowrie had previously battled injuries throughout his career entering 2013, which was his first season in Oakland. He was basically as big a reason as any that the A’s were able to win the AL West last season. Lowrie managed to play in 57 more games in ’13 than any other season of his career. He made the most out of it, too. The shortstop hit .290/.344/.446 with 15 homers and 75 RBIs. He registered more VORP (value above replacement) with his bat than any other shortstop in the American League. He hit a ton of line drives, which was the biggest reason for his inflated .319 BABIP. It also resulted in 45 doubles, which was the second-most in the entire AL.

Yoenis Cespedes (LF) – Cespedes had a monster rookie season in 2012 when he hit .292/.365.505 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs. A sophomore slump was predictable as pitchers adjusted to his weaknesses at the plate. He would come back and post a .240/.294/.442 line with 26 homers and 80 RBIs in ’13. One of the biggest adjustments opposing hurlers made was to throw Cespedes the curve ball only when ahead in the count. As a result, his strikeout rate (23.9%) went up, and his walk rate (6.4%) went down. He also hit just .233 against right-handers compared to .280 against southpaws. His BABIP dipped 52 points from .326 in ’12 to .274 in ’13, which was most likely due to the adjustments.  It could also have been partly from poor luck, too. Expect a bit of a bounce back season from Cespedes in 2014.

Brandon Moss (1B) – Moss backed up a breakthrough 2012 in which he hit .291/.358/.596 with 21 homers over just 296 plate appearances. He came back and hit .256/.337/.522 with 30 homers and 87 RBIs over 505 plate appearances in ’13. Manager Bob Melvin used him wisely as he is much better against righties (58 career homers) than he is against lefties (8 career homers). Roughly 83 percent of Moss’ at-bats last season came against righties as a result. The A’s have another steal here as they are paying Moss just $1.6 million in 2013. He did have a lucky .359 BABIP in limited action in ’12, and that number regressed to .301 in ’13. I expect it to settle in that area again in ’14.

Josh Reddick (RF) – Reddick was one of the few disappointments in Oakland last season. Off a 2012 campaign in which he hit 32 homers, expectations were high for the 27-year-old right fielder. He hit just .226/.307/.379 last season with only 12 homers, though that did come in 232 fewer plate appearances than in ’12. He was bothered by a wrist injury for most of the season, and it sent him to the disabled list in May, while also flaring up again in August. He has had four straight seasons of improved discipline at the plate, seeing more pitches per at-bat each year. A return to health could see Reddick rediscover his upward trajectory in 2014.

Alberto Callaspo (2B) – Callaspo had the best strikeout percentage (9%) in the league last season. He proved to be a solid addition when the A’s traded former first-round pick Grant Green in exchange for the switch-hitter. Callaspo hit .270/.350/409 in his time with the A’s last season with five homers in 180 at-bats. He is a career .273/.335/381 hitter, so his ability to get on base with solid average and on-base percentage is welcomed in this A’s lineup. They could do much worse than Callaspo at second base.

John Jaso (DH) – Bob Melvin used Jaso against right-handed pitchers as part of a platoon at catcher with Derek Norris last season. He was also used in the role of DH when Coco Crisp’s injury in May forced some defensive shuffling. Only 29 of Jaso’s plate appearances came against southpaws last season. His OBP of .387 raked second in baseball among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances, only trailing Joe Mauer in the category. The one concern is that he had his season cut short due to concussions stemming from foul tips taken off his face mask. That’s why the A’s should look to play him at DH to help decrease the chances of him suffering another concussion.

Derek Norris (C) – Norris makes for an excellent platoon option alongside Jaso. He hit just .149/.261/.184 against righties last year compared to a .320/.410/.580 slash line against left-handers. That’s why 56 percent of his plate appearances came against southpaws last year. That number would have been higher if not for Jaso’s concussion issues, coupled with his poor glove behind the plate. That being said, I fully expect Melvin to deploy the platoon strategy as much as possible provided both catchers stay healthy.

Projected Rotation

Jarrod Parker (RHP) – You have to overlook the first and final month of the season to realize that Parker’s 2013 campaign was a step in the right direction. He posted a 2.81 ERA from May through August, but the bookend months added nearly a full run to his overall number. The end result was a 12-8 campaign with a 3.97 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, which the A’s will certainly take year in and year out. His mechanics were off to start the year, and he clearly wore down to end the campaign due to his career-high 197 innings pitched. He has one of the nastiest changeups in the game today. Opposing batters whiffed on 49 percent of his offerings, which was the best mark in all of baseball. It is concerning that his velocity dropped as the season wore on, but once this 25-year-old becomes conditioned to pitch 200 innings, he has the potential to be one of the top starters in the league.

Sonny Gray (RHP) – Gray was excellent in his limited action as a rookie in 2013. He went 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with a 9.4 K/9 over 65 innings pitched. The 24-year-old features a mid-90s fastball with a devastating curveball. He battled Justin Verlander twice in the ALDS, including a dominant Game Two performance that was his most impressive outing of the season. He struck out nine Tigers over eight shutout innings. This youngster has one of the brightest futures of any starter in the game today.

Scott Kazmir (LHP) – Kazmir credits an offseason training regimen for gaining two mph on his heater last season. He hadn’t been heard from previously since 2010′s disaster in which he went 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA over 28 starts with the Angels. He was one of the best stories in all of baseball in 2013, resurrecting his career with the Cleveland Indians. He went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA and 1.32 WHIP while striking out 9.2 batters per nine innings. Kazmir was even unlucky last year as opposing batters finished with a .325 BABIP against him. That mark should drop down closer to his career BABIP allowed of .305 in 2014 as long as he can stay dedicated to the work it took to make the comeback last season.

Dan Straily (RHP) – Straily had given up a whopping 11 homers over 39 1/3 innings in 2012, yielding 16.7% homers per fly ball. He improved dramatically in that category in 2013, allowing a mere 8.2% HR/FB. Straily finished 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 152 1/3 innings for the A’s in his first near-full season as a starter. The 25-year-old did lose a tick off his fastball, averaging just 91 mph, but that was likely due to extending his innings for the first time in the big leagues. He has a plus-slider that resulted in the majority of his strikeouts last year, but he used that pitch 27 percent of the time, which could lead to future health concerns. However, Straily is just another one of the young, underrated starters in this rotation.

A.J. Griffin (RHP) – Griffin led the team in innings last season, going 14-10 with a 3.83 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over 200 innings. He posted an impressive walk rate of only 2.4 per nine innings, while also upping his strikeout rate from 7.0 K/9 in 2012 to 7.3 in ’13. Obviously, the guy throws a ton of strikes, which can work against him occasionally. It’s the reason he led the MLB in home runs allowed (36) last year. His 33% ground ball rate was the lowest of any other qualified starter in the big leagues as well. Griffin’s height and high arm slot make it hard for him to produce grounders. Still, the overall numbers were tremendous despite the home run deficiencies, and Billy Beane is pleased to have this 26-year-old anchoring his rotation.

Bullpen

The Athletics featured one of the strongest bullpens in the league last season. Their relievers combined for a 24-18 record and the sixth-best ERA (3.22) in the majors. However, they lost their All-Star closer from the past two years in Grant Balfour. That’s why they went out and signed former Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, as well as former San Diego setup man Luke Gregerson.

Johnson started poorly last year for Baltimore, but posted a 1.75 ERA from May 29th-on to eliminate any concerns. The fact of the matter is that he has saved a combined 101 games for the Orioles over the past two seasons. Gregerson (2.88 career ERA) has been one of the most underrated setup men in the game in his time with the Padres. Ryan Cook (6-4, 2.54 ERA in ’13) and Sean Doolittle (5-5, 3.13 ERA in ’13) round out another solid bullpen for the A’s in ’14.

Betting Odds

  • To Win World Series: 20/1
  • To Win AL Pennant: 10/1
  • To Win AL West: 2/1

2014 Season Win Total: 88.5

The sports books are finally giving the A’s the respect they deserve by setting this total at 88.5 wins. They had to after the team won the AL West in back-to-back seasons while averaging 95 wins in the process. As a result, I no longer believe there is value with the ‘over’ on the A’s in 2014. I would lean toward the ‘under’, but for the most part, the books have set the number right around where I think the A’s will winish.

Prediction: 2nd Place AL West (88-74)

Billy Beane is at it again. The guy continues to put together a winner despite one of the lowest payrolls in the game today. There’s no reason to believe the A’s won’t compete for an AL West title considering they have basically everyone back from last year, and their bullpen is now even deeper with the addition of Gregerson. Their lineup is one of the best in the American League.

The A’s must prove they can make of for the loss of Colon, who had 18 wins and a 2.65 ERA a year ago. While this young staff is as deep as any in baseball, these youngsters must now prove that they can handle a full season’s workload. I believe Oakland will be right with Texas up until the final week of the season, but I’m giving the slight edge to the Rangers to win the division due to their improvements this offseason.

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