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2011 Oakland A’s Preview

March 31, 2011

The 2011 Oakland A’s look to have the best shot of the playoffs since the 2006 club, a club that in many ways should not have had a shot at the playoffs as it had some serious flaws and was aided by overplaying their Pythagorean W-L (85-77) to finish with a 93-69 record. This year’s club is better in nearly all facets of the game (perhaps a bit less power though) than the 2006 club. The A’s division offers its own complications as the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers are still a very good team and though I pick them to finish second and miss the playoffs, they’re the current consensus pick of most baseball writers to repeat. The Los Angeles Angels likewise despite a down year last year are still a formidable opponent who can win the division as well.

I changed my opinion regarding the A’s winning or losing the division in the last few days, perhaps I am beginning to become overly bullish (despite a pretty atrocious Cactus League record), but the recent injury to Tommy Hunter to me shone a spotlight on the fragility in the Rangers’ rotation. C.J. Wilson‘s innings pitched in 2010 were well over two times what he pitched in the past, yet he is being relied upon as their ace. Then they’re depending upon Colby Lewis:

IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2002-2007 217.1 6.4 5.1 6.71 5.65 5.05 0.5
2010 201.0 8.8 2.9 3.72 3.55 3.74 4.4

And now they have Alexi Ogando in the rotation, professional starts in his career: 6. These are serious flaws, and in a tight division this puts the A’s at number one. In some ways I almost want to say I’d be more bullish on the Angels right now than the Rangers, there are a lot of things being overlooked with respect to this highly suspect Rangers rotation.

But, for the A’s of course a lot of their winning will depend on their own ability to succeed and the A’s are poised to do so. Naturally it starts with their formidable rotation, four guys in Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden who are extremely talented and compare favorably to the 2010 Giants rotation (this chart is based upon one done in this article on the Hardball Times) :

SF Starter 2010 ERA+ OAK Starter 2010 ERA+
Tim Lincecum 119 Trevor Cahill 139
Jonathan Sanchez 133 Brett Anderson 148
Matt Cain 130 Gio Gonzalez 128
Madison Bumgarner 136 Dallas Braden 118

That rotation won the Giants the 2010 World Series and ours could keep us in contention to win the 2011 edition. Furthermore the additions to the bullpen of Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes give us additional depth. While, I for one do not want to see Fuentes closing games as it appears he will do at the beginning of the season while Andrew Bailey nurses a sore strained right forearm, as another LOOGY in the pen with big game experience, he does offer another look to throw at hitters and gives manager Bob Geren a ton of options in late game settings.

The offense was upgraded from one of the American League’s lowest producing lineups to one that will be average – though I feel average is enough here. The additions of David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham, form a new 3-4-5 core that moves Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki out of those roles where they were woefully underequipped. The high OBP top of the order in Coco Crisp and Daric Barton should provide lots of run scoring opportunities with the new 3-4-5 core and guys like Suzuki and Kouzmanoff supplementing them in a lower pressure position further down the order.

The bench is solid, with a good outfield backup crew in Ryan Sweeney and Conor Jackson, there have been many disappointed by CoJax’ slow spring so much so that there were rumblings that the A’s might release him. I still feel he has a lot to offer and should be productive in the backup. Ryan Sweeney meanwhile is a solid hitter and defender and is a very capable backup at any of the three outfield positions. Backup catcher, Landon Powell is adept at handling a pitching staff if not particularly adept at anything else, and backup middle infielder Andy LaRoche offers the promise of realizing his super-prospect status.

Here is a player by player preview for 2010:

Catchers

Kurt Suzuki – Zook looks to improve upon a down year in 2010. In 2009 he was fifth in the AL among catchers in WAR at 2.6, and in 2010 he fell to 10th at 1.6. Suzuki doesn’t walk much, doesn’t strike out often, and doesn’t have much power. But he should be good for about 12-15 home runs a season and could conceivably do 18 or so if he puts it all together. The key to his success I believe is getting days off. The A’s used him in 145+ games in 2008 and 2009 and then he missed some with injury in 2010 but still managed to make 131 appearances. With more off days Zook should see his offensive production go up.

Landon Powell – As you know if you regularly read this, I am perhaps not lower on any member of the team than Powell. Originally a first round draft pick of the A’s he has not done much with the bat in his 87 games of big league experience putting up a .222/.300/.373 line, behind the plate he has caught a perfect game. There are many who say, well the pitchers like throwing to him to that I bring out the arcane statistic that no one cares about until now when it can barely prove my point:

Player 2010 (cERA)
Landon Powell 4.45
Josh Donaldson 3.99
Kurt Suzuki 3.31

First Base

Daric Barton – I love Daric Barton. He is amazing. He saw more pitches per at bat than anyone in the pros last year save for one player (the Yankees’ Brett Gardner). He plays a great defensive first base too. This year, I expect him to not sacrifice bunt as much as he did, and be a little more aggressive with two strikes. He won’t and shouldn’t go out of the zone too much, but he should be able to keep up his numbers from last year, and maybe poke a few more home runs as well.

Second Base

Mark Ellis – Ellis is taken for granted. The only member left of the aforementioned 2006 playoff club, he is a steady fielder, who does not get noticed though he should for his fielding. Offensively he is OK, health is a concern with him, and he too should be handled with some kid gloves to ensure his potential is maximized and he stays injury free.

Third Base

Kevin Kouzmanoff – Last year was a terrible year for Kouz as he swung at anything thrown between Richmond and Fremont. He was relied upon in the middle of the order last year a spot that clearly did not suit him. This year he is moved down in the lineup, he is no longer with a new club, and hopefully the resulting lowering of pressure should provide dividends in terms of performance. This spring he lit the world on fire hitting .413/.449/.571 in Cactus League play. I expect a bounceback year from him.

Shortstop

Cliff Pennington – Pennington is gifted with the glove and a cannon for an arm. He is an exciting player to watch whose UZR ranking was third among MLB shortstops. He also is a threat on the basepaths, last year going 29-for 34 (85.2%) when swiping bases. The switch hitting Pennington battled some shoulder issues this spring, but appears healthy and ready to go.

Outfielders

Josh Willingham – Willingham came over from the Washngton Nationals in an offseason trade to provide some pop in the middle of the lineup. While this’ll be his first year hitting the marine layer of the Coliseum, he is good for 20 home runs a year should he stay healthy. Willingham is a very consistent 2.5 WAR player who is a slightly below average defender who will need to quickly grow accustomed to the Coliseum’s vast acreage in foul territory.

Coco Crisp – Coco has the potential to really be a star on this team. He can hit for average, has some pop in his bat, and has speed. He is above average defensively though runners will test his weak arm. Coco’s biggest problem is staying on the field. Only thrice has he played in more than 130 games (2004, 2005 and 2007) and has played in 49 and 75 games a piece the past two years. If one the field he is a dynamite player who will cause pitchers fits in the leadoff spot.

David DeJesus – DeJesus came to the A’s from the Kansas City Royals in one of the first moves of the offseason. He is an above average defender and a solid contact hitter striking out far less often than the average MLBer. He is a veteran and coming from Kansas City this will be his first real taste of a pennant race. As the likely number three hitter, he will have lots of opportunities with men on base which is fine as he hits .315/.382/.447 with men on, as opposed to .276/.348/.415 with the bases empty in his career.

Designated Hitter

Hideki Matsui – Godzilla comes to Oakland. The first true Japanese star to play in the Bay Area, and a star he is, just asked the huge media contingent following him around everywhere. Matsui has declined in recent years and had a tough spring but I think he is going to have a decent year and is especially valuable for keeping the club steady through a playoff push given his experience, remember he was the 2009 World Series MVP while still with the Yankees.

Bench

Andy LaRoche – Late addition to the 25-man roster, Andy LaRoche mashed all spring. The former top prospect looks to finally make good on his can’t miss status of yesteryear. He should get a decent amount of playing while Adam Rosales is on the DL as Pennington and Ellis both need to be handled with some care. Could be a good pinch-hit option if he shows he really has his stroke back.

Ryan Sweeney – Sweeney has no power, but collects singles like philatelists collect stamps. Chicks dig the single to right. Sweeney is a good defender at any of the outfield positions, with a bit more pop in the bat he likely would be a starter on virtually any other club. Great guy to have on the team.

Conor Jackson – Jackson has had two down years. I feel they are on account of his battling Valley Fever, others feel he just has diminished skill. 2011 really will put this argument to rest. When on, Jackson is a capable hitter who should get 15-20 home runs. Regardless he is going to be selective at the plate and is not going to make outs hacking.

Starting Rotation

Trevor Cahill – The big question for A’s fans was just how lucky was Cahill last year? There was a wide gap for Cahill between his ERA, FIP and xFIP (2.97/4.19/3.99) that has many thinking he was just plain lucky, especially when coupled with his .236 BABIP remarkable for a guy with a 56% GB%. Cahill is good, but he isn’t that good. He did benefit from a solid defense and expects to again this year, plus he himself is good defensive pitcher. I anticipate a regression, he needs to get his strikeouts up but regardless even if he is the fourth best pitcher on this club, that is not something to complain about.

Brett Anderson – Brett probably possesses the most pure talent of any A’s hurler. Last year in 19 starts he posted a 148 ERA+ and had good peripherals with 6.0 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9. I anticipate his strikeout rate should go up, he is a tough lefty with a great slider. The key for Anderson is and likely will always be, staying healthy. If he does stay healthy he is a Cy Young Award caliber southpaw.

Gio Gonzalez – Gonzalez has what has to be the best curveball seen in Alameda County since Barry Zito. A strikeout machine in the minors, he has battled problems with control in the Majors but every year has improved both his walks and his home runs allowed, though it seems at the cost of strikeouts.

Year K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2008 9.0 6.6 2.4
2009 9.9 5.1 1.3
2010 7.7 4.1 0.7

Despite that, I expect Gio to continue to grow as a pitcher. He got off to a very good start in Cactus League play and the one area he really needs to improve on this season – and I expect him to do so, I really feel this is a big year for Gio – is not allowing starts to snowball out of control. Gio has been prone to meltdowns where one problem just creates more and more, he needs to better work out of trouble and he will be in good shape.

Dallas Braden – Braden’s perfect game last year, along with his calling out Alex Rodriguez, got him and the “209” a lot of attention last season. It was his solid pitching that really should have garnered him the most attention. He is a lefty who throws slop but doesn’t give up the long ball. Every year he gets better with his control, and he is by far the best interview on the team. Braden isn’t afraid of anyone or anything on the mound, which is really important for a team that plans on playing meaningful baseball well into September.

Brandon McCarthy – The injury prone McCarthy has never lived up to his potential. McCarthy has changed his approach no longer trying to (or perhaps even able to) blow fastballs by hitters anymore. I expect him to do well, pitching in the spacious Coliseum should help him too. His career has not featured pinpoint control (3.4 BB/9) but in the spring this year he didn’t miss often striking out twenty, while walking only one batter in his twenty-six innings of work.

Bullpen

Brian Fuentes – With Andrew Bailey on the 15-day disabled list, Geren has said that due to Fuentes’ past experience as a closer he will get the ball in the tense late inning situations and traditional save opportunities. I do not like this idea. Fuentes is a LOOGY, continually he has become worse and worse against right-handed hitters which is not a situation you want to throw a closer into. I think as a LOOGY the Merced native is great, if his role expands beyond that it could spell trouble.

Michael Wuertz – Wuertz has a devastating slider than in 2009 generated the most whiffs per swing of any pitch (min. 150 AB) (49.7%). He has dealt with injury issues but still racks of strikeouts with that nasty slider that he throws roughly 2/3 of the time. If you need a temporary closer in my mind he is a better option than Fuentes.

Craig Breslow – The smartest man in baseball, the Yale graduate Breslow is a great lefty out of the pen. Unlike Fuentes or Blevins his splits aren’t as dramatic and though righties hit better off of him, it doesn’t result in the batting practice like numbers of the other two. Breslow has battled some injury issues this spring but looks to be ready to contribute. He makes a ton of appearances being second in the American League in both 2009 and 2010 with 77 and 75 games respectively.

Brad Ziegler – The crazy sidearm motion makes Brad Ziegler close to a ROOGY. His funky delivery has resulted in a 7.2 K/9 in 2010 vs. right-handed hitters compared to a mere 2.9 K/9 when facing lefties. The bigger and more startling split is with walks where last season lefties with lots of time to watch the pitch presumably walked a staggering 10.0 BB/9 compared to righties at 2.1 BB.9. Ziegler could potentially be a closer option though his splits too are a bit nerve racking for such a higher pressure spot.

Grant Balfour – The Australian Balfour is an above average right-handed pitcher who thrives in high pressure situations. Look at these stats from 2010 and then tell me you don’t want him to be your closer while Bailey rehabs:

Leverage K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Low 8.3 3.0 0.7
Medium 9.6 1.7 0.6
High 10.2 3.7 0.0

Balfour does have a tendency to be a bit inconsistent from year to year, but that is true of a lot of relievers. All in all he is a very capable back-end arm who should get a lot of opportunities in Oakland.

Jerry Blevins – Blevins is a LOOGY who is extremely ineffective against right-handers. It is a little disconcerting to have so many pitchers in one bullpen with such wide disparities in their splits. I think he is likely the first person sent down once Andrew Bailey returns. If he, Fuentes and Ziegler appear in a lot of games – which I expect them to do – I anticipate seeing a lot of Bob Geren strolls to the mound this upcoming season.

Bobby Cramer – Cramer’s story is a great one. After being out of baseball, then playing in independent leagues, then spending last season with Quintana Roo of the Mexican League, Cramer came up to Oakland in September making a few starts. He is a tough guy, seemingly a class act, and I don’t think he will be fazed by much. That said, he isn’t an exceptional pitcher (most exceptional pitchers don’t bounce around independent leagues and Mexican ball) and is yet another left-handed pitcher in the bullpen, though he unlike the others is also good for a spot start and long-man relief. If Rich Harden recovers from his injury (always and if, not a when) look for Cramer to pack his bags for the trip up I-80 to Sacramento.

So there you have it, your 2011 Oakland A’s. I expect them to go 92-70 and win the West, tomorrow at 7pm they begin that quest.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebuilding Season permalink
    April 1, 2011 1:45 pm

    You got reffed on MLB Trade Rumors: http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/ Grats!

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