In 2014, the Oakland Athletics hit 146 home runs. That total was good for 13th in MLB, but within a dozen of fifth place. In the last six months, they have traded four of their top five sluggers -- Cespedes, Donaldson, Moss, and Norris -- and not added anyone who is particularly likely to hit 20 bombs next year. With dingers on the decline in Oakland and most of the biggest guns now out of town, who will pick up the slack and do the heavy lifting in 2015? Will there be enough muscle to keep the runs flowing?
In order to get an idea of what Oakland's power numbers will look like next year, we will once again turn to the Steamer projections. As expected, no one is projected for 20 homers, but surprisingly there are seven guys in double-digits. They are:
Josh Reddick (18)
Ike Davis (17)
Brett Lawrie (16)
Marcus Semien (16)
Billy Butler (15)
Coco Crisp (13)
Stephen Vogt (12)
Now, there is more optimism in those projections than normal. Reddick could easily hit 18, but he hasn't in either of the last two years. Davis is clearly still getting some credit for his 32-homer 2012 campaign, and 17 seems more like a best-case scenario than a median estimation. Coco is getting credit for his career-high 22 from two years ago, and we can't assume he'll be his old self until we see how his damaged neck responds to an offseason of rest. Butler is getting the benefit of the doubt on a bounce-back, not all the way to his peak but to his respectable 2013 numbers. But still, none of these projections are wildly unreasonable or pie-in-the-sky homerish. They are all realistic, just on the happier side.
Overall, Steamer has the 2015 A's down for 124 homers. That total would have ranked 22nd last year, so that's definitely a big drop and its significance can't be downplayed. Unless one of those double-digit guys steps up and breaks out for 25, or someone else like Josh Phegley or Mark Canha emerges and goes big, or a new acquisition is brought in to add some more pop, the lineup will be weaker next year. If it wants to come close to last year's success, it will have to make up for the decline of that particular skill by doing something else better -- getting on base, or making contact, or hitting doubles, etc.
How big of a deal is a drop in homers? That's difficult to say, since so many different factors go into an offense, but it definitely matters. In the first half, when the A's were sixth in MLB in homers, they were second in scoring. In the second half, when they dropped to 20th in long balls, they also fell to 13th in scoring. They were good at other stuff too -- they led MLB in walks, for instance, and had the second-fewest strikeouts -- so they were still able to operate despite the drop in power, but it definitely took its toll. And although a couple of good OBPs went out the door in Donaldson and Norris, Butler and Davis bring their own strong credentials on that front with which to replace them. Still, it's hard to see how the team can get better than leading MLB in walks by 44 over the runner-up, as it did last year, so we can't count on an improvement in plate discipline to make up for the missing dingers.
One thing that could potentially help the A's 2015 offense is better balance in the lineup. In 2014 they only had five double-digit home run hitters (albeit three more guys had nine apiece), and they had complete offensive sinkholes at DH, second base, and first base, with a weak bat at shortstop. Now, despite the lack of a true star, they have potentially above-average bats at DH, catcher, first, short, third, center, right, and possibly left if Vogt plays there a lot or Canha pans out. They were only above-average at four spots in 2014. And hey, second base can't be worse than it was last year, can it?
There's no guarantee that the lineup balance will make up for the loss of stars, or that all of these guys will hit their projections. But I can't help but notice that the two teams who made the World Series last year ranked 17th and 30th in homers and succeeded because they made up for that deficiency in other areas -- the Giants had above-average hitters at every single position and the Royals had their strong rotation and lockdown bullpen. Homers are important, but you can succeed without them.
The A's have lost a lot of power from their 2014 squad, but they dealt from a position of strength and have sneakily replaced the vast majority of their lost homers by grabbing hitters who are under-the-radar but figure to be solidly above-average. A lot of Oakland's sluggers are gone and the decrease in long balls will surely hurt, but it might not be as drastic as it seems at first glance and it might be made up for in other ways. It's feasible that the offense won't be much worse overall than it was last year.