When you click on this link, you might be a bit surprised to see the A's ranked 14th in MLB in runs scored in 2015. The A's, a team that lost 96 games and employed Billy Butler scored more runs than the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and even the World Series runner up New York Mets. Granted, the A's have the massive advantage of employing a DH (not a fat joke) compared to those NL playoff teams, but still, that many runs is a bit unexpected. In the AL, the A's ranked 9th in total runs scored in spite of playing in a major pitchers' park, giving up in late July, and fielding a lineup that was largely regarded an offensive gascan.
For a team designed to be carried by its pitching, that's actually not so bad. While I'm skeptical that the A's actually expect to compete next season, the design should remain the same: strong pitching, decent hitting and pray for a miracle. If the offense can put up a roughly average season, the A's might stand a chance. Is this a reasonable expectation?
A question which is often posited on AN is the true nature of the A's offense in 2015. While the overall numbers bear out a borderline average lineup, there are often questions about if we should trust the lump sums (and rightfully so). Let's look:
The A's 2015 was plagued with offensive peaks and valleys, but at times the offense more than did its part. The A's offense cratered when Zobrist was injured in May and reached a further low in July prior to his trade. But even without Zobrist in August and September/October, the A's put up decent numbers. For the A's offense to do its part in 2016, months like May and July can't happen. In those two months, the A's lost 10 games in which they gave up 3 or fewer runs. They were shut out 5 times and scored 3 runs or fewer 32 times. They straight up stank during those two months.
Take away those two months, and the A's offense was downright decent. A question looming for the A's in order to have a decent and consistent offense is....
Can Jed Lowrie stay healthy and do his best Zobrist impression?
Assuming the roster looks similar to 2015's squad, the Jed Lowrie acquisition is a huge part of this team. Lowrie has proven his ability to hit in Oakland, putting up a downright Zobrist like .290/.344/.446 line in 2013. Like most players/living creatures, he's aged some since then and is likely a little past his physical peak. That said, a line similar to Zobrist's 2015 could give the lineup the boost it needs to be part of a competitive team.
Other personnel changes
Yonder Alonso didn't inspire a lot of love for his bat when the A's traded for him, but it's important to remember who he's replacing. While Yonder's Bartonian power won't light up the leaderboards, the A's new first baseman was able to out hit Davis by .090 OPS points in 2015, over a 2 bWAR increase (much of which came from defense). So say Lowrie doesn't hit quite at Zobrist's level (a very reasonable assumption), Alonso's bat could provide the boost needed.
Replicating or improving on 2015
In spite of a horrendous year, some A's players put up career numbers in 2015. For a 2016 miracle run, it'll be imperative for these guys to repeat.
-Danny Valencia: Valencia put up his best career numbers in 2016 and after his arrival in Oakland, the former platoon partner was able to succeed against his like handed opponents. It's unclear if Valencia really can hit RHP or if it was a small sample blip, but should Valencia hit like he did in 2015 over a full season he would likely garner All-Star attention.The A's also only benefitted from Valencia's bat for a portion of 2015, so having him for a full season could represent a major offense upgrade if he sustains his performance.
-Billy Burns: 2015 was a career year for Burns, largely due to it being his first. In all seriousness, Burns was a solid contributor in spite of an inability to fully harness his 80 grade speed. Should Burns learn to read a pitcher's motion or a flyball or remember how to take a walk, he could take another big step forward. However, the opposite could happen as well: Burns BABIP could plummet leaving him largely ineffective.
-Marcus Semien: With a record setting error pace for the beginning parts of 2015, Semien was on the receiving end of lots of criticism in the baseball world. In spite of this, Semien wasn't salty and worked hard to improve his game. It's hard to believe after such an awful start Semien was essentially a league average player at the end of the day. As a minor leaguer, Semien was a strong hitter which showed in essentially his rookie year and further improvements in his offensive game can give the A's the boost needed to get to league average.
What do you think?
The A's offense won't be expected to break any records in 2016 and they won't. They'll simply be expected to put up decent run totals while being carried by pitching. Can they do it?