The Oakland Athletics staged a coup last year, beating out powerhouses like the Rangers and Angels on the strength of a pitching staff filled with almost nothing but rookies. A lot of people make a big deal about Billy Beane‘s on-base and OPS focus when it comes to hitters but his real strength is drafting and acquiring phenomenal young arms (and then trading them away once they hit their potential and want a real contract).
The As are confident their young pitching staff can repeat their 2012 success but Beane has actually spent some money to improve the offense this offseason, adding Chris Young, Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, and Jed Lowrie. Can the A’s and their $55 million payroll compete with the Rangers’ $106 million team or the Angels’ $143 million team? They did last year, let’s take a look at what they’re bringing to the table this season.
2012 Team Rankings:
Runs: 14th Overall
Batting Average: 28th Overall
ERA: 6th Overall
WHIP: 6th Overall
Jaso really came into his own for the Mariners in 2012, as much as an average catcher can anyway. He saw career highs in average (.276), homers (10), and RBI (50). He walks a lot, doesn’t strike out much, and can hit a double so he is about as good a middle-of-the-road catcher as you are going to get if he can produce those numbers again.
Norris is the A’s future and the 72nd top prospect in the country coming into last season. He has excellent pop, solid gap hitting, and walks a ton (Moneyball!) to make up for his fairly lousy batting average (.252 in six seasons in the minors). He will probably get the chance to start if he bats higher than the .201 he put up in 209 at-bats in 2012.
Moss has bounced around from Boston to Pittsburgh to Philly without making much of an impact anywhere. His first season in Oakland last year was by far the most promising we have seen as he batted .291 with 21 home runs and 52 RBI in just 84 games. It’s the first time we’ve seen that kind of production from him, and 21 homers in 265 at-bats is a pretty ridiculous pace to keep up but looks like Billy Beane found himself a bargain here.
Daric Barton looks like a pretty big bust with his .249 average and 27 home runs over 484 major league games. Barton was once the league’s 28th top prospect but has never hit more than 10 homers or driven in more than 57 runs. He walks a lot though, so good for him…
After getting a lot of hopes up in 2011, Weeks took a step back in 2012 as he batted .221 with 54 R and 16 SB in 118 games. At 26 and with a knack for getting hurt, it’s tough to tell which version of Jemile Weeks we’ll see this year but it’s hard to get excited about a guy with a .609 OPS last season.
Jed Lowrie was acquired in return for Chris Carter and prospects in February. Although he has never gotten more than 340 at-bats in a season, Lowrie is a good looking shortstop/utility player whose strikeout:walk ration (1:1) fits right into the Moneyball system. His 16 homers last season were a bit of a surprise but they have to give you hope that he is maturing from the backup he was in Boston. He will likely play all over the infield this year since every starting job is currently taken.
Sizemore is a career .239 hitter who strikes out way too much. He has an okay glove but not a great one. These are the reasons he is a third-stringer and I won’t spend any more time on him.
Shortstop: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Jed Lowrie, Adam Rosales – Grade: B-
The A’s brought Nakajima over from Japan in the offseason, hoping to find a good hitting shortstop overseas since there are so few in the states. The 30-year-old shortstop batted .302 with 162 HR, 738 RBI, 141 SB, and a .834 career OPS in eight seasons with the Seibu Lions. He brings a great mix of tools but so did Kaz Matsui so we’ll have to wait and see.
Rosales is a true backup without any real potential to be excited about. Frankly, with the wealth of backup infielders in Oakland there is a good chance he spends his year in the minors.
Third Base: Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie – Grade: C
Donaldson reminds me of when the A’s brought in Scott Hatteberg. He has mediocre pop and a low average but he can get on base (.365 career OBP in the minors, .834 OPS). In 85 games last season he didn’t quite match his minors numbers, putting up a .289 OBP (a no-no for a Billy Beane team) with 9 HR, 33 RBI, and 16 2B. If anyone is going to lose a starting job to Jed Lorie it may well be this kid.
Cespedes looks like a star after just one season in the majors in which he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind only Mike Trout. The 27-year-old Cuban defector batted .292 with 23 HR, 82 RBI, 70 R, 16 SB, and a .861 OPS in just 487 at-bats. If he stays healthy, he could be the best offensive player the A’s have had since Miguel Tejada.
At 33, Crisp continues to be a reliable speedy outfielder, putting up another 39 steals in 2012. He isn’t great at anything else and gets hurt more than you’d like him to but he is a good fit in the Oakland outfield.
After three seasons flirting with a spot in Boston, Reddick absolutely broke out in his first full year in the majors, hitting 32 HR, driving in 85 runs, and scoring 85 of his own while stealing 11 bases. He and Cespedes could really hold down that outfield for a long time if they both stay on the field.
It’s possible Chris Young overtakes Crisp as the centerfielder or perhaps someone moves into Seth Smith’s DH spot but it’s hard to envision a guy with a $28 million contract sitting on the bench. Chris Young is another one of those guys Billy Beane loves, low average but good OBP (by comparison anyway) and a good mix of tools. He was slowed by injuries last season, hitting a career-low 14 HR and stealing just eight bases but the previous year he hit 20, drove in 71, and stole 22 bases and could definitely do it again if given a full time spot.
Smith is a very solid outfielder and DH who put up 14 HR, 52 RBI, and 55 R in 2012. It’s hard to tell how much playing time he will actually get but Oakland should really trade him if they aren’t planning on using him because he could be a pretty good starter elsewhere.
I would like to think Anderson is a good pitcher but how can anyone tell since he’s only played 19 games in the last two seasons. Overall, in 68 starts spread across four seasons, he is 25-25 with a 3.57 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and a 3:1 K:BB ratio. He plays well when he plays but he has the makings of the next Mark Prior written all over him.
Milone looked very promising in his rookie year going 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. He mostly pitches to contact so the WHIP is right around where it will stay but you have to love a 25-year-old kid that only walks 36 batters in his rookie season. If he can lower his home run totals (24 in 2012) he could be great.
Parker came over from Arizona is return for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow and immediately paid off. The 23-year-old rookie went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.26 WHIP while allowing just 10 homers in 29 starts. He looks fantastic and is just starting out.
Griffin is another great looking A’s rookie who rocketed through the minors, making just 44 starts but putting up a 3.15 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 289 IP. He didn’t miss a beat moving up to the majors, going 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. The only blemish on his numbers were 10 home runs allowed but he looks like the real deal (just like every other pitcher Oakland brings up).
Straily is the rawest of the bunch and has just seven major league starts under his belt. Last year he put up a 3.89 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 39 IP. The one thing that set him back were the 11 homers he gave up in just seven games since he the most he ever gave up in the minors was 13 over 148 IP. He has more development to do but I can definitely see another season without a single A’s starter owning an ERA over 4.00.
The 35-year-old Balfour looked terrific in his first year as closer, saving 24 out of 26 games and putting up a 2.53 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Balfour has really become one of the best relievers in the game, owning a 2.44 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over the last three seasons.
Cook and Doolittle got their first real tastes of the majors last season and pitched lights out, Cook putting up a 2.09 ERA and 0.94 WHIP and Doolittle owning a 3.04 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. Like the rotation, the As bullpen is filled with ridiculously talented young arms.
Blevins and Resop are the veterans in the pen. Blevins has been in the Oakland pen since 2007 and owns a 3.35 career ERA. Last year he went 5-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 1.07 WHIP which is the pitcher he has grown into. Resop spent his last three seasons with Pittsburgh where he put up a 3.91 ERA and 1.43 WHIP last year so he is definitely the odd man out here.
Team Grade: B+
Fearless Prediction: 96-66, 2nd in AL West