To all of you readers: this is basically how my friend and I spend our weeks; besides mundane garbage like feeding our families we basically dissect all things Athletic. So I decided to start posting these dialogues within Athletics Nation to expand the discussion. Hopefully I'll be posting quite a bit (under the name BillyBall), and look forward to respond to all of you who call me an idiot. Or a genius, but I'm certainly not counting on that.
A quote from Susan Slusser's blog from last week:
"The A’s of course, are pretty set for relievers as it is. Every day, either Young or manager Bob Melvin has raved about the pitching depth, particularly in the bullpen. I spoke to several of the pitchers vying for one of the final two spots today, Fernando Rodriguez, Mike Ekstrom and Garrett Olson, and they are all well aware it’s going to be tough to crack the A’s relief corps. Ekstrom noted that every team needs lots of relief help over the course of the season – look at the number of relievers the A’s had up and down from Sacramento last year – so he hopes to make a good impression in camp to be one of those guys if he doesn’t win a job out of camp. I asked Melvin about Olson, who has been both a starter (he had a full season at Baltimore as a starter) and a reliever, and he said Olson isn’t penciled in to start a game this spring yet but he is likely to be stretched out a bit so he can do both.
*Here are the A’s players out of options this spring, which could be a factor in the bullpen race: Travis Blackley is among those out of options, for instance, as are Pat Neshek and Chris Resop. Also out of options: Grant Balfour and Jerry Blevins (I’m pretty sure they’re not worried about that much), plus Daric Barton, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Adam Rosales."
So this pretty clearly means that Barton is likely to make the roster unless he has a bad--very bad--spring. The trade of Carter means the A's have rather little depth at 1B in the upper levels of the organization. There's really nobody in the high minors that would fit on the 40-man roster and the A certainly cant afford to lose Barton without anyone to replace him.
Blackley's situation bears watching. Just from watching him last season I would have to guess that he's behind Milone, Straily and Griffin on the A depth chart. But how far behind is hard to say, because he's not really in a good position to help out in the bullpen and the A's would lose him to waivers most likely if he didn't make the club. There are at least 5 guys that are ahead of Blackley for late-innings work, and his salary isn't that cheap ($3M) to make him a long-man.
I'd handicap the race: Griffin #4, Milone #5, Straily to the minors and Blackley either traded or on waivers. Colon serves a 5-game suspension to start the season so this decision might get delayed for a week or two, but that's the most likely outcome. If Blackley pitches his way onto the team it probably comes at the expense of Colon, not Griffin or Milone. But you can guarantee the A don't want to lose him so this decision will certainly wait until the last roster cuts of spring, under the premise that the club might be able to sneak him through waivers when other teams
This is all true. The thing that is interesting is to think about all the guys that contributed to the A's last year that we had never even heard of at this point last year. So I am optimistic but to be realistic for a second...was last year just some magical anomaly? Hard to say.
I do think last year emphasized that A's strategy may be long term smarter than say the Angels. Was it really worth it to sign Pujols when A's got relatively same production from Moss Carter combo? I hope you are wrong about Barton but if he is going to make team can he learn to back up 3rd as well? I really don't see a place for him other than at expense of a true utility guy like Rosales.
Re: your first question. This happens once in a while; teams get career-type years out of a number of players and contend out of nowhere. I hate to say it, but the typical performance of those teams in subsequent years are pretty dismal. History shows that the A's will be around a .500 team this year.
But, a fun exercise nonetheless to dig into the roster a bit. I'm going to list the players by position to figure out whether 2012 was a breakout, fluke, or expected production. (For sake of discussion, a breakout is a player who has established a new standard for his performance and can reasonably be expected to have several similar seasons in his career. Fluke is a player who had a single career year and is more likely to regress to his career norms. Expected would be a player who played in-line with an established level of performance).
Hard to talk about C in much detail since the players have changed so much over the year. Suffice it to say that I like the A's C combo a LOT and I think the players will produce more offensively than the club has seen since the early days of Ramon Hernandez. Put them down for .265 BA / .360 OBP / .510 SLG. That's an all-star at C.
1B: 2012: Carter (established)/Moss (established); 2013: Moss/Barton (tbd)
Let's add some detail to the discussion: I think Carter kills lefties. He's always killed lefties in his career and I think he always will. The problem is when he plays against RHP. As a platoon bat I think we got out of him what we could have expected: prodigious power, lower BA, lots of strikeouts. As a full-time player I think he gets exposed. So I'd call him Expected in the context that the A's used him to maximize his strengths. He did well for us last year, but if HOU wants to play him full time this year will show up looking like a fluke in his career arc--best case he ends up like Adam Dunn, Dave Kingman:someone who hits 35 HR but it comes at the cost of a .200 BA and a ton of K.
Moss is a tougher call; the thing that makes me call last year a fluke was that he hit nearly 50 points better than his career batting average last season, and in a much more difficult hitters' park (previous stints were in BOS and PIT). At the same time, his history was only about 650 AB prior to Oakland and all those as a part-time player--so it's hard to know which is the true performance standard.
So..what to expect? I think the A's will get far less power out of the position this year, given the loss of Carter. They'll probably hit for a lower average as Moss regresses toward his .251 career number. They'll get better OBP out of the spot if Barton plays a meaningful number of games, so that could make up for some of the loss. I'll forecast a .265 AVG, .350 OPB, and .545 SLG out of the spot this year.
2B 2012: Weeks (established)/Pennington (established); 2013: Weeks/Lowrie (established)/Grant Green
In this case I mean established in the context of "not so great"; you can't look at Weeks' 2012 campaign and wishcast that he'll all of a sudden return to a dynamic 2011 version of himself. Pennington was basically what we expected, though he got better as he moved to 2nd after the Drew acquisition.
Weeks and Lowrie actually form sort of an interesting power/speed platoon; the strongest part of Weeks' game is his baserunning, and the strongest part of Lowrie's game is his power. (At the same time Lowrie can't steal and Weeks can't hit for power. Glass half full or half empty?). Lowrie is a switch hitter, so there's no need for a lefty/righty platoon here, but I could see Lowrie playing second in games where they were facing flyball pitchers and Weeks in games where they were facing extreme groundball types with low K rates.
Grant Green is a wildcard. I will frankly believe it when I see it--until he's actually playing and producing with the big club I'm rather tired of people talking about his prospecty brightness.
What to expect out of 2B this year? I think they get better performance than last season, albeit still with a low batting average as none of the contenders for the job are likely to hit .300 this season. In the aggregate I'll forecast a .255 BA, .340 OBP, .430 SLG, and an aggregate of 25 stolen bases out of the group of players who man the position.
SS 2012: Pennington (established)/Drew (Fluke); 2013 Nakajima (TBD), Lowrie (established)
Drew did pretty well for the A's in his short stint, well enough to earn himself a bigger contract than the A's were willing to give him to stay. He was basically a league-average hitter at short, which is more than we'd had there for a while. I'd like to say that it all ends well and he's productive again with the Sox, but the more likely scenario is that he simply regresses through injury or ineffectiveness.
So what for 2013? Nakajima is a mystery, as it is difficult to forecast performance based on Japanese League statistics. His 2012 Japanese League stats look a lot like what you'd expect from someone like a fully healthy Stephen Drew--.290 BA, 15-HR power, decent OBP--but the projectability of those numbers are limited.
Ironically enough, if you WERE to take a stab at translating those numbers you'd probably come up with a forecast a lot like what you could expect from Jed Lowrie--another reason the trade was rather mysterious to me. Lowrie, as mentioned above, is a low-BA, moderate-OBP type who would have 15-20 HR power. At SS, that's an asset. At 2B or 3B, not so much. So the two players will probably end up looking very similar, and provide something like a combined line of .240 BA, .335 OBP, .490 SLG with 20 HR out of the position.
3B 2012: Josh Donaldson (FLUKE); 2013 Donaldson (Fluke), Lowrie (established), Sizemore (tbd)
A tale of two players: In the first 4 months of the season Josh Donaldson was about the worst player in baseball. When his turn came up in May for the A's 3B Carousel Spectacular! he limped through with a .170/.167/.321 line. Yes, his batting average was actually higher than his OBP, which can happen when you don't draw a single walk. The stats, as bad as they are, don't do justice to how bad he was--his was a performance that had to be seen to be appreciated.
Then August came around. Perhaps he gained more confidence, perhaps the pitchers he faced weren't as good, but something happened--he hit .290 the rest of the way along with 8 of his 9 HR and 26 of his 33 RBI.
If you annualize his end-of-season performance he's a .290, 24 HR, 85 RBI and 10 SB over nearly 500 AB. That's easily All-Star production, even a down-ballot MVP. So--which is the player that you think shows up this spring? The .170 hitter or the All Star?
I don't want to dive into the numbers too deeply--let's just say that his improved hitting in late summer WASN'T confirmed by a significantly high walk rate or decreased K rate. My stats side thinks that late season performance was fluky, and, honestly, my eyes did as well. Donaldson routinely batted 6th or 7th in the lineup despite that performance, so Melvin clearly saw things the way I did.
This fact makes the acquisition of Lowrie begin to make sense; Lowrie is really cover for the likelihood that at least one of the combination of Donaldson, Nakajima and Weeks will flop. I'd put Donaldson down as the most likely candidate to regress, and he might not even make the team out of spring training.
If that's the case, then 3rd is going to be a problem area for the A's all season unless Lowrie gets the job full-time. I have a hard time thinking Scott Sizemore will be able to contribute meaningfully until later in the season, as his injury has a long recovery time and he's going to need to regain his batting eye by playing full-time somewhere that isn't in the A's major league lineup. My prediction for 3B is something like a .235 BA, .310 OBP, .480 SLG with maybe 15 HR.
OF: Let's talk about them as a package, along with the DH role, since there's bound to be a lot of interoperability here.
2012: Crisp (established), Reddick (breakout), Cespedes (breakout), Smith (established), Jonny Gomes (fluke). 2013: Crisp (established), Reddick (breakout), Cespedes (breakout), Chris Young (fluke), Smith (established)
Conceptually, the A's replaced Pennington and Gomes with Chris Young and Nakajima. Setting aside the leadership qualities for a second, that's a significant improvement to the A's bench. More importantly, it gives the A's legitimate cover for the 75 games that Coco Crisp is bound to miss due to injury this season.
So let's break it down a bit. Josh Reddick had my favorite season for a low-OBP player ever; I don't tend to like players who don't take walks, but Reddick just put so much PRESSURE on opposing pitchers when he was at the plate. Hard to quantify by looking at stats only, but watching Reddick play last year made me believe he was an all-star. He was the toughest at-bat in the A's lineup until September. It's easy to look at his numbers from last season and pass on him, but my recollection from watching the games was him hitting a million line drives that just happened to be at people. Again, without diving into the numbers in detail, his down performance in the 2nd half of the season wasn't confirmed by a rise in his K rate, so he was hitting as many balls as he was in the first half. They just didn't fall in.
What happens in 2013? Hits fall a little more, and he continues to control ABs which will improve his walk rate. I think that impacts his power a bit, but that combination works just as well. I predict .268/.335/.480 with a few more stolen bases and about 27 HR.
Crisp, on the other hand, basically had the same season he always has--his 2012 (.259/.325/.418) was almost identical to his career line (.279/.327/.409). In this case, however, he just did all the work after the all-star break. Consider: .231 prior to ASB, .281 after. 5 doubless prior to ASB, 20 after. He had significantly more hits, walks, HR, Runs, RBI and SB in the last 2 months of the season than he did in the first 4.
One of the fringe benefits of having Chris Young is that Crisp might be able to stay fresh longer. So I'll assume that he's going to have a similar line as his career arc--say .270/.330/.410--but he'll be relatively stable over the course of the season since he'll be spotted more days off.
Cespedes could have won the ROY or the MVP last season--that's how good his year was. The only reason he didn't at least garner more consideration was because of Mike Trout, who had the best rookie season since Fred Lynn in 1975. Regardless, he's the difference between the A's finishing 1st and 3rd in the AL West last season.
Most players have a sophomore slump as the league discovers and exploits weaknesses they missed the first time around. I say Cespedes bucks the trend--he's clearly a phenom and has enough experience to figure this out. He's not affected by any particular situation or pitch type--he hit about the same against flyball pitchers as groundball pitchers, about the same against finesse/movement pitchers as he did against power pitchers. That's more typical of players with several years in the majors.
The only thing stopping YC is health. They don't have a replacement if he's out of the lineup for more than a week--neither Young nor Seth Smith are able to replace his production meaningfully--so the A's are going to need to give him frequent rest. Assuming he plays in 145 games and gets 550 AB, then I think we're looking at a Reggie Jackson-like season here. Say .295/.375/.550 with 30 HR and a ton of RBI.
Chris Young had 40 AB in April before he separated his shoulder. During that time he hit .410 with 5 HR, 13 RBI, 8 Runs and a pair of SB. His career up to this point was basically a poor-man's version of Josh Reddick's 2012: he hit for power but at the expense of batting average and OBP and struck out way more than he should. His career averages were remarkably consistent in his four seasons where he played nearly a full season he had 32, 22, 27, and 20 HR; and batting averages of .237, .248, .257, .236 in those same years.
He came in to 2012 intent on changing his approach at the plate and just lit up spring training. He hit over .400, OBP over .500 and slugged .800. Most importantly, he walked a LOT more than he struck out. That lasted all of the first month of the season; then he destroyed his shoulder on May 1st, tried to come back too early, and never really recovered.
Assuming he's back and healthy--I've seen nothing to indicate otherwise---he's good enough to start for the A's in CF. That said, he's right handed and has a pretty significant platoon advantage against lefties for his career, so if the team wants to spot him early he's very capable of getting into games against lefties to spell Crisp, Reddick or Cespedes at any time.
I'm really bullish on Young; even just hitting his career average of .239/.311/.437 makes him an asset to the club as a 4th OF. But I am betting that this wager pays off to the tune of a starting role, and a season of .260/.345/.525, with a kicker of 20 HR and 20 SB.
Overall, what am I saying? I think the A's will gain production in the OF, C and will lose production at 1B and 3B. They're likely to get similar production to what they had last season at 2B and SS, which wasn't good to begin with. That sounds rather negative, but the team will ultimately be driven by what the OF are able to do, so if the OF performs as I've hoped, the team will be better offensively than last season.
OK, pitchers in my next post.