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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Season Previews, Part 11: Oakland Athletics

2011 Record: 74-88
Pythagorean Record: 77-85
Games out of first: 22

Top Performers by WAR (rWAR for hitters, fWAR for pitchers):
1. Brandon McCarthy, 4.7
2. Gio Gonzalez, 3.5
3. Trevor Cahill, 2.5
4. Coco Crisp, 2.1
5. Josh Willingham, 1.8

2011 Recap
Many people had the Athletics competing last year and some had them even winning the division. That didn’t quite work out for Mr. Moneyball, which was unfortunate since there was a movie honoring his success that came out right at the end of the season. They had disappointing seasons from 2B Mark Ellis and 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, who were replaced by Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore, respectively. Dareic Barton missed more than half the year due to a shoulder injury (and might miss the start of 2012). Josh Willingham was the only player to have over 15 HR (he had 29) and over a .800 OPS (it was at .810). Willingham, Sizemore and Weeks were the only regulars to provide above average production as they were the only players to have an OPS+ and wRC+ over 100. Coco Crisp was exactly at 100 wRC+ and also stole 49 bases. That pretty much sums up the A’s offense as they only averaged 3.98 runs/game. Only Minnesota and Seattle were worse in the AL.

On the pitching side, Gio Gonzalez (3.12), Brandon McCarthy (3.32) and Guillermo Moscoso (3.38) had nice ERAs. However, Moscoso’s 4.23 FIP suggests that he was quite lucky and he will likely not repeat it this year. This is similar to Trevor Cahill who had a 2.97 ERA in 2010 but regressed to a 4.16 ERA in 2011, although his FIP remained largely unchanged, 4.19 in 2010 and 4.10 in 2011. Injury struck Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson. Braden only made 3 starts before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Anderson only made 13 starts before having Tommy John Surgery. Rich Harden provided his usual half-season of work but with terrible results (5.12 ERA, 1.43 WHIP). Overall, what was supposed to be a strength of the team turned into very mediocre results.

Offseason Overview
The A’s were busy, busy, busy this off-season. Billy Beane went into full-out rebuild mode as the majority of his roster is going to be full of rookies and players with minimal major league experience in 2012. Some key transactions include:

- 12/9 – Traded Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow to Arizona for Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook
- 12/23 Traded Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam to Washington for Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, Tom Milone and A.J. Cole
- 12/28 Traded Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney to Boston for Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara
- 1/16 Traded Guillermo Moscosco and Josh Outman for Seth Smith
- 1/24 Signed Bartolo Colon
- 1/26 Signed Jonny Gomes
- 2/13 Signed Yoenis Cespedes (4 years/$36 million)
- 2/20 Signed Manny Ramirez

When it’s all said and done, the A’s have a new starting centerfielder, a new rightfielder, a new DH platoon, 4/5 of a new rotation, a loss of a closer and many prospects.

Notable Additions:
LF Seth Smith
RF Josh Reddick
CF Yoenis Cespedes
SP Brad Peacock
SP Jarrod Parker
SP Tom Milone
SP Bartolo Colon
OF/DH Jonny Gomes
DH Manny Ramirez

Notable Subtractions:
LF Josh Willingham
RF David DeJesus
DH Hideki Matsui
SP Trevor Cahill
SP Gio Gonzalez
SP Rich Harden
SP Guillermo Moscoso
CL Andrew Bailey

Projected Starting Lineup:
2B Jemile Weeks
LF Coco Crisp
RF Josh Reddick
DH Seth Smith/Jonny Gomes
CF Yoenis Cespedes
C Kurt Suzuki
3B Scott Sizemore
1B Brandon Allen
SS Cliff Pennington

Lots of turnover as only Coco Crisp, Kurt Suzuki and Cliff Pennington remain from the opening day 2011 lineup. Daric Barton is due to miss the start of the 2012 season or else he would likely be starting on opening day again in 2012. Manny Ramirez might also be starting if it wasn’t for his 50-game suspension. Many people believe that Yoenis Cespedes might need some time in AAA before seeing major league pitching, although he has insisted that he’s ready. The A’s are the kind of team that could start him at the major league level right away as they aren’t planning on competing. If he struggles, though, a trip to the minors could come.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Brandon McCarthy
RHP Bartolo Colon
RHP Jarrod Parker
RHP Brad Peacock
LHP Tom Milone

Again, lots of turnover as Brandon McCarthy is the only holdover from 2011. Dallas Braden is due back in mid-April and Brett Anderson is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery and is expected back sometime in August. This allows all three rookies, Parker, Peacock and Milone to be in the rotation to start the season.

Key Bench/Bullpen:
OF Collin Cowgill
1B Daric Barton
INF Adam Rosales
INF Eric Sogard
RP Grant Balfour
RP Fautino De Los Santos
RP Joey Devine
RP Brian Fuentes

The key here is that after the trade of Andrew Bailey there is no obvious replacement. The A’s have four viable candidates in Balfour, De Los Santos, Devine and Fuentes – and all could get save opportunities during the season.

Roster Strength
Depth and flexibility. Billy Bean is making sure he has enough depth at almost every possible position with the question marks surrounding the rookies and injury-related players. Brandon Allen is going to start the year as the first baseman, but there’s also Daric Barton, prospect Chris Carter and minor leaguer Kila Ka’aihue available to play that position. Sogard can play all the other infield positions and Sizemore came up as a second baseman, so can easily slide over there if the need arises. If Cespedes has to spend some time in the minors, Coco Crisp is a viable option to play CF. Cowgill can play all the OF positions and even though they are slated to DH, both Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes are capable of playing the corner OF positions (Smith was slated to play LF before the acquisition of Cespedes). Then there’s Manny Ramirez sitting on the back burner, ready to contribute after he serves his suspension.

With Braden and Anderson out, the A’s have 3 rookies who are as close to major league ready as they come in Parker, Peacock and Milone. Bartolo Colon was acquired to also give rotation depth.

Roster Weakness
Inexperience. Not only with all the rookies mentioned above, but with Smith and Cespedes as well. While Smith is a veteran, this will be his first tour of duty in the American League. Cespedes has played 8 years in the Cuban National Series and has played in several international leagues too including the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the Dominican Winter League prior to his signing. However, he’s faced very minimal major league quality pitching. Other starting position players, Josh Reddick (403 PA), Scott Sizemore (592 PA) and Jemile Weeks (437 PA) have very limited ML experience. The trio of rookies in the starting rotation, Parker, Peacock and Milone, have combined a little over 43 ML innings. This inexperience is going to show as these players will have their ups and downs (and some cases literally as they bounce between AAA and MLB).

2012 Outlook
The Athletics are going to put a talented ball club on the field in 2012. The question remains, though, how much of this talent is going to show in the boxscore as these players are adjusting. There are going to be moments where everything clicks for them and then there are going to be some growing pains. These growing pains are going to prevent the Athletics from competing this year. However, there’s a good foundation in place that can make the Athletics relevant again in 3-5 years.

ZiPS projects Seth Smith as the Athletics best hitter at 97 OPS+. That’s right, not one player on the A’s roster is projected to be above average according to ZiPS (to be fair, they didn’t give a projection to Yoenis Cespedes). The pitching side is kinder as they have Brett Anderson (3.78 ERA, 107 ERA+), Brandon MCarthy (3.81 ERA, 107 ERA+), Dallas Braden (3.88 ERA, 105 ERA+) and Tom Milone (4.02 ERA, 101 ERA+) as being above average. For the relievers, Joey Devine and Grant Balfour come out on top, almost with duplicating results. Devine has been projected with a 3.57 ERA and 114 ERA+, Balfour with a 3.60 ERA and 113 ERA+. This should give an idea of who should get the most save opportunities.

Potential Breakout Player

Scott Sizemore. Sizemore may not be the most talented hitter on the Athletics active roster, but he’s the most ready to have a breakout year. Twice Scott Sizemore was handed a starting spot with the Detroit Tigers and both times he flopped. He was unable to carry his minor league numbers (.308/.389/.500/.889, 17 HR, 21 SB in 2009 and .298/.378/.472/.850, 9 HR in 2010) to the majors. Then he got a new team and a new position and finally was able to have success at the ML level, hitting .249/.345/.433/.778, 11 HR, .343 wOBA, 118 wRC+ in 93 games with the A’s in 2011. At 27 years old, he is primed to build off of that success with a full year in 2012. ZiPS projects Sizemore to hit .247/.326/.383/.709, 12 HR, 9 SB in 2012. Given that Sizemore has always had a decent OBP, the .326 mark seems too low.

Jemile Weeks could potentially build off of his half-season with the A’s as well. He hit .303/.340/.421/.761, 22 SB in 97 games. However, it’s going to be hard to duplicate that .350 BABIP, so a little regression is likely. ZiPS is projecting .267/.318/.374/.692, 4 HR, 21 SB for 2011.

Potential Bust
Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes is a talented athlete as depicted from his Youtube video. He’s quite a hitter too as he hit .333/.424/.667/1.091 with 33 HR in 90 games in his most recent season in the Cuban National Series. He tied Jose Dariel Abreu to lead the league in HR, breaking the 32 HR record set by Alfredo Despaigne. However, many scouts believe the Cuban league is about equivalent to AA. It’s hard for a player to jump right into MLB from AA and continue hitting. There is going to be an adjustment period, one that may require a trip to AAA. There’s little doubt that Cespedes will be able hit at the MLB. The question is when will he hit at the MLB level? That may not happen consistently in 2012.

Bonus Bust: Seth Smith. Smith has never played in the AL. He also had the benefit of playing in a hitter’s park. That is going to change for him in 2012. Smith has turned into a decent hitter; over the last three years he’s hit .275/.346/.487 with a 113 wRC+. However, he’s only hit .248/.326/.410 with an 87 wRC+ on the road over that same time span. Just like Cespedes, there’s going to be an adjustment period as Smith learns how to hit in the AL and the Coliseum is going to expose his weaker hitting away from hitter-friendly Coors Field. As mentioned earlier, Smith is projected to be the Athletics’ top hitter with a line of .245/.322/.408 with 12 HR and a 97 OPS+ in 2011.

Potential Prospects that can Contribute in 2012
Newly acquired starting pitchers Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone are all expected to log many innings at the major league level this year:

Jarrod Parker – Spent the entire year in AA last year, expect for 1 start at the ML level, going 5 2/3 IP, giving up 0 runs, 4 hits, 1 BB and 1 K. In AA he made 26 starts, 3.79 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 1.28 WHIP, 7.71 K/9, 3.79 BB/9. He didn’t pitch at all in 2010, recovering from Tommy John surgery. Luckily he had no setbacks in 2011. His best pitch is his sinker and he also has a plus slider (not used often after his surgery), an improved changeup and an occasional curveball. Baseball America ranks him at #26 in it’s top 100 prospects and his ceiling is top of the rotation starter.

Brad Peacock – Spending time in AA and AAA last year, Peacock had a 2.39 ERA, 2.63 FIP, 0.99 WHIP, 10.86 K/9, 2.88 BB/9 in 25 games (23 starts). In his limited 12 innings in the majors, he put up a great 0.75 ERA. He has 3 above average pitches, a low-90s fastball, a 12-6 curveball and a changeup. He is expected to be a #2 or #3 starter. Baseball America currently ranks Peacock at #36 in it’s top 100 prospects.

Tom Milone – In AAA last year, he had a 3.22 ERA, 2.24 FIP, 1.03 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 0.97 BB/9 in 24 starts. He then made 5 starts for the Nationals, 3.81 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 5.19 K/9, 1.38 BB/9. He has a below average fastball, however his changeup is outstanding and given his BB rate, his command is exceptional. His breaking ball still needs development. Unlike Peacock and Parker, he isn’t rated among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects.

First baseman Chris Carter – Cater has shown tremendous power in the minor leagues, hitting .278/.371/.544/.915 with 21 HR in 2011 and .258/.365/.529/.894 with 31 HR in 2010. However, that hasn’t been able to translate in the majors yet. Scouts are claiming that he’s purely focused on hitting home runs, which could result in a low batting average. Some scouts believe his skill set will not be able to translate to the big leagues.

Catcher Derek Norris – It’s probably going to take a trade of Kurt Suzuki but there’s a great possibility that Norris could become the everyday catcher by the end of the season. Norris spent the entire year at AA last year, hitting .210/.367/.446/.813 with 20 HR and 13 stolen bases. Norris is described as an offensive first catcher, which is worrisome given his .210 AVG. He swings and misses a lot, which will prevent him from having a high batting average. His high OBP is a plus and when he does make contact, he makes some damage as evidence of his SLG. Defensively, he still needs some work, but it has improved.

Projected Record: 70-92
Projected Finish: 3rd Place
Projected MVP: Brandon McCarthy (around 3.5-4.0 WAR)

Final Thoughts
Dionne Warwick wants to know the way to San Jose and so do the Athletics. The Athletics have tried to get a new stadium for years now and one possibility is to relocate to San Jose. The problem – the Giants are claiming that territory as their own. A’s owner Lew Wolff is still awaiting approval by MLB to relocate there. If the A’s are able to get a new stadium built in San Jose, they can potentially generate more revenue than they are now which could lead to a bigger payroll. A bigger payroll would mean that the A’s could bring in complementary players to go along with their current youth of players and start competing once again (and potentially prevent another possible firesale).

The Athletics have a lot of prospects that will help this year, but they have even more talent in the minors that’s expected to contribute in the following 1-2 years. SP A.J. Cole is currently ranked #57 by Baseball America (ETA: 2014), SP Sonny Gray, ranked #65 (ETA: 2013) and OF Michael Choice, ranked #80 (ETA: 2013). It should be fun being an A’s fan over the next few years, even if it doesn’t yield immediate results, especially if they are able to relocate to San Jose.

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