FanGraphs released its projections for the 2016 season on Monday, and while they project a fifth place finish for the A's in the AL West, they come in at 79-83 with a minus-14 run differential. The projected winner is the Houston Astros at 86-76:
|2015 Result||2016 Projected Full Season|
I think how one feels about this projection depends on how one felt the A's performed in 2015. If you think 68-94 was a reflection of the true talent of the 2015 club, this projection is ludicrous. There's no way the A's improved by 11 wins with the offseason it had.
If instead, however, you're more inclined to tie Oakland's poor result to historically bad timing of bad results, trusting talent evaluation tools like FanGraphs' BaseRuns tool, then this result makes some sense. BaseRuns evaluated the A's as an 80-82 team had it had an expected distribution of events, but as Jeff Sullivan put it:
The biggest problem, by far, for last year's A's? The bullpen, for months, was a disaster. Reasonably talented relievers made the wrong pitches at the wrong times, and the team lost countless heartbreakers. That helps to explain why the record and the BaseRuns record don't match up.
While it wouldn't make sense to say that Oakland's moves this offseason have added up to 11 wins difference, it would make sense to say that the horrible timing from last year's bullpen should not be repeated, and the result of simply not having an historically unclutch bullpen could bring it all together.
The A's should return a strong catching core, but you'll have to hope for breakouts at other positions if you want to shake Steamer from its long memory and its desire to regress all humans to the mean:
|FanGraphs WAR projections by position|
|A's 2015 fWAR||4.9||0.3||0.5||1.4||2.0||0.0||2.7||2.4||11.5||-0.1||-0.9||24.7|
|A's 2016 fWAR (proj.)||3.6||1.9||1.4||2.7||1.3||1.3||1.3||3.2||11.3||3.6||0.5||32.0|
|AL West Rank||1||1||5||3||5||1||4||2||4||1||5||5|
|AL West projected fWAR|
|*Components may not sum due to rounding|
Whoever constructed the A's depth chart for FanGraphs has some good ideas about playing time:
- Mark Canha cobbles together 483 plate appearances with 175 trips to the plate as a first baseman, 168 as a left fielder, and 140 as the designated hitter. Billy Butler only gets 490 plate appearances as the DH as a result.
- Joey Wendle gets 119 plate appearances at second base, which he will get whenever Jed Lowrie does sustain an injury.
I don't concur on several points:
- Jed Lowrie is assigned to second base, third base, and shortstop on a 350-105-84 split when moving between positions has never been his preference. Some players are good at jumping between positions, but Lowrie does not feel he's that sort of player.
I expect Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semien, and Danny Valencia to stick as the main players on the infield, with Eric Sogard stepping in to play defensively when one of them needs a day off.
- Coco Crisp reaching 385 plate appearances will be a feat, and I think Mark Canha and Sam Fuld will feature far more frequently out there.
- Starting pitching is a little bit off:
- 181 innings for Rich Hill is extraordinarily optimistic.
- 103 innings for Chris Bassitt is quite pessimistic.
- Sean Manaea fails to feature in the depth charts at all.
All in all, I don't think any quibbles I have detract from the general projection of 32.0 WAR or the depth chart call of a 79-83 campaign. Of course, the standings might change with the late development of the free agent market, but that's where we are now.
And you know, sometimes good things happen (like in 2012) and sometimes bad things happen (like in 2015). Five games go the A's way and suddenly the A's are in the running for the Wild Card, or even the division. Five games go against the A's and we're calling for heads to roll again.