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American League Two-a-Days: Oakland Athletics

LiveBall Sports previews the American League this week.

Team Synopsis: Oakland Athletics

2013 record: 96-66
2013 runs scored: 767
2013 runs against: 625
2013 pythag. record: 96-66

On June 1, 2012, no team in baseball was more inept at scoring runs than the Oakland Athletics.  Since, no team has been better.

The Athletics were a complete team last year: offense, defense, rotation, bullpen.  They were my pick to represent the AL in the World Series.  They led 2-1 and had a lead late in the game at Detroit in Game 4 of the ALDS, but coughed up the lead, then went back to Oakland in Game 5 and ran into a determined Justin Verlander.  Season over.

It will be nearly impossible for the A’s to repeat 2013, a year in which basically everything went right in the regular season.

Who is having a good spring?

C Stephen Vogt, SS Jed Lowrie, and OF Josh Reddick are the regulars having strong starts, although no one is standing out offensively for the A’s more than 1Bs Brandon Moss, and Daric Barton.  LHP Scott Kazmir, an aggressive offseason acquisition from the Indians, looked good in his outing.

Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Athletics

They were really excellent last season.  The A’s have no real offensive weaknesses in their lineup.  Alberto Callaspo may not be a great idea of an everyday second baseman, but if you’re willing to live with the defensive hit of him and Jed Lowrie up the middle, the A’s can put offensive assets in at all 9 spots in the lineup.  Sometimes they’ll go with Eric Sogard at second who doesn’t really have much power, but the A’s idea of a nine hitter is a .322 on base guy.  Or as the Yankees call it, a top of the order guy.

Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Athletics

There are a lot of regression factors with the defense and the bullpen that will hammer the A’s this year.  It’s still conceivable that the A’s could lead the league in run prevention in 2014.  They do play home games below sea level and with a ton of foul territory.  But they are looking up at the Royals and the Tigers in that regard.  And the rotation does leave a lot to be desired, although part of Billy Beane’s plan is to always trade off starting pitchers before they get expensive.

The A’s are overall a very good defensive team, but there is a delicate balance between having nine hitters in the lineup and having guys who can defend the middle of the diamond.  The A’s have both types of players on their roster, but baseball rules require them to play only one at a time.

Oakland has never really invested in their farm system very much, and while other organizations can pull guys up at mid-season to help the push for the playoffs, the A’s usually are stuck going bargain shopping outside the organization.  Every once in a while you can pluck Alberto Callaspo or John Jaso, but it isn’t a reliable way to cheaply improve the roster.  At least not during the season.

The Projections

The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Athletics is 38.4, 8th in the American League.  Their 23.9 Batters WAR projection is 3rd in the AL. Their 14.5 Pitchers WAR projection is 8th in the AL.  Cool Standings projects the 2014 Athletics to win 86 games, a 10 win decline over last season.  Josh Donaldson is the Indian with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 4.5.  Scott Kazmir is the pitcher with the best average projection at 2.4 WAR.

The Athletics vs the rest of the AL West

The AL West is a below average division, and the weakest of the AL divisions in 2014.  This despite having four above average teams and an “improved” Astros team.  This is the case because no teams in the AL West are a lock to win 90 games.  According to Cool Standings, the division winner is projected to win 86 games.  It’s a true four team race in 2014.  The Astros will not participate.

LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 Oakland Athletics

It is hard to build a preseason favorite without stars, and the 2014 A’s aren’t an exception.  This is not the preseason favorite that the Tigers and the Red Sox are, even though the A’s were just as good as those teams last year.  The truth is, when making projections, teams that feature Pedroia/Ortiz and Cabrera/Verlander are just starting ahead of a team that’s best two players are Josh Donaldson and Coco Crisp.

My prediction for the 2014 Athletics is right in line with what the numbers think of them: 86-76. This is a prediction that the A’s can easily outperform.  There is better than 86 win talent on the roster.  But even as sensitive to the concept of replacement level as the A’s are and have always been, a team that is built this way can endure long stretches of ineffective hitting or pitching.  And if the whole team is failing to produce, there’s not one thing the general manager or field manager can do to get the dead weight out of the lineup.  Last year the A’s had the benefit of a strong start to finish effort from the entire roster, but if they don’t get a similar effort from this group, they will fall short of the 90-win mark.

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