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Oakland A's 2016 middle infield by the projections

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We've got ZiPS, PECOTA, and Steamer spitting out numbers for the Athletics. But what do they even mean? We dive in with part two of our series, looking at Oakland's middle infielders.

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Defensive improvements for Marcus Semien should continue into 2016.
Defensive improvements for Marcus Semien should continue into 2016.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Monday I took a look at the A's outfield projections from ZiPS and Steamer at FanGraphs, and PECOTA projections from the Baseball Prospectus 2016 annual. Today we dive into the middle infield. While Jed Lowrie and Eric Sogard have been in the majors for a while, Marcus Semien has the most room to grow.

Up the middle

Marcus Semien and Jed Lowrie should get the bulk of starts at shortstop and second base this season, respectively, with Eric Sogard the incumbent candidate to fill in for one or the other. Tyler Ladendorf is probably the third shortstop and center fielder on the 40-man roster, but he bats right-handed like Semien and like Billy Burns' natural side. Max Muncy was also working with Ron Washington at second base near the end of the year, and he bats from the left side, but he didn't get much time at second base before injuries forced him out of winter ball.

As for prospects, Chad Pinder will start the year in Triple-A and he'll have every opportunity to stick at shortstop. Second baseman Joey Wendle is set to repeat in Triple-A to see if his plate discipline improves from his 2015 campaign, in which he struck out 114 times and walked just 22 times in 577 plate appearances.

Marcus Semien, SS

2015 was Marcus Semien's first year having just one position and getting regular playing time at the major league level. Defense was obviously where Semien had the biggest room to make improvements, and adding Ron Washington to the coaching staff in late May was a boon to reversing what had been an embarrassing showing at shortstop.

Marcus Semien
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR K BB SB Def/FRAA WAR(P)
2016 ZiPS 618 .244 .312 .394 .314 15 133 53 12 Def: -4 2.4
2016 Steamer 590 .251 .318 .411 .317 17 117 50 10 Def: 1.5 2.4
2016 PECOTA 522 .250 .325 .409 TAv: .268 14 112 49 10 FRAA: SS -3 2.7
2015 601 .257 .310 .405 .311 15 132 42 11 Def: -3.3 1.7
2013-15 (avg) 309 .251 .304 .396 .307 8 75 21 5 Def: -1.0 0.8

All three projection systems see improvement for Semien as he enters his age-25 season. PECOTA is most optimistic in giving Semien a 15 point bump in his on base percentage over 2015.

Semien beats these projections if it turns out Ron Washington actually is to coaching A's infielders what Ray Searage is to coaching Pirates pitchers and Semien breaks out with the bat. Semien falls short if he backslides on defense towards where he was at the start of 2015.

One fun part of PECOTA and ZiPS are the listing of top comparable players. PECOTA gives us Brad Miller (0.9 fWAR/2.0 WARP in his age 25 season), Kyle Seager (4.0/4.9), and Dustin Ackley (0.9/1.1). Miller and Ackley are what you would get if Semien can hold the line on both sides of the ball. But Seager's 2013 is a fun comp for a breakout on offense, with the defense coming around a year later. ZiPS spitting out Jay Bell in his prime isn't too shabby either.

Jed Lowrie, 2B

Is playing in Oakland a magic health elixir for Jed Lowrie? The A's had better hope so. Lowrie has only exceeded 500 professional plate appearances in a season four times, in his two years in Oakland in 2013-14 and in his first two full professional seasons in the Red Sox organization in 2007-08.

Beyond health, the big question with Lowrie is whether the bat that made him a key contributor to Oakland's 2013 postseason run, and its absence that contributed to Oakland's 2014 near collapse, will make a comeback in 2016.

Jed Lowrie
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR K BB SB Def/FRAA WAR(P)
2016 ZiPS 423 .247 .315 .384 .301 9 62 36 1 Def: -2 1.1
2016 Steamer 482 .252 .324 .383 .308 10 72 43 2 Def: -1.1 1.3
2016 PECOTA 589 .253 .318 .388 TAv: .258 12 92 49 1 FRAA: 2B -19 0.2
2015 263 .222 .312 .400 .305 9 43 28 1 Def: 0.9 1.0
2013-15 (avg) 497 .263 .330 .404 .321 10 71 43 1 Def: 1.2 2.1

The positional adjustment for a second baseman is +2.5 runs per 1,458 innings on defense, so PECOTA and ZiPS/Steamer have widely divergent views on Lowrie's defense. What PECOTA is trying to find, I think, are 32-year-old players who had a poor defensive full season up the middle two years ago, were mostly moved to third base one year ago, and then moved back to the middle infield this year. Surprise surprise, older players who had terrible range at shortstop two years ago tend to be even worse when they get put back in that position.

Jed Lowrie beats his projections if he doesn't have the second base range of a Hummer with two flat tires climbing a mountain or if his unexciting bat was affected by the thumb ligament injury he suffered in 2015. Lowrie misses if the Coliseum doesn't actually give him Three Stooges Syndrome.

Eric Sogard, 2B/SS

Here is how Eric Sogard has continually been on the A's active roster for the last four seasons:

  • In 2012, Scott Sizemore tore his ACL in spring training, missing the entire season.
  • In 2013, Adam Rosales strained his intercostal in spring training, Hiro Nakajima turned out to be not that good, and then Scott Sizemore tore his ACL again in the first month of the season, missing the rest of the year.
  • In 2014, Scott Sizemore became a free agent. Jake Elmore strained his quad and was out for most of the year and never recovered enough to be a better alternative. The main alternative to Sogard was Nick Punto, signed in the offseason.
  • In 2015, Lowrie and Punto departed, and Sogard actually started the season as the best bench option for both second base and shortstop. He got 400 plate appearances because Ben Zobrist was hurt for a month while he was with the A's, and then Zobrist needed to play a lot of outfield when Ike Davis and Coco Crisp were out, too.
Between Eric Sogard, Tyler Ladendorf, and Max Muncy, Sogard is the best bet for a bench middle infielder simply because he is a good second baseman and Marcus Semien has shown he does not need that much time off.
Eric Sogard
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR K BB SB Def/FRAA WAR(P)
2016 ZiPS 370 .246 .298 .314 .275 2 44 24 7 Def: 2 0.3
2016 Steamer 213 .246 .303 .326 .279 1 27 15 5 Def: 1.2 0.3
2016 PECOTA 148 .247 .306 .333 TAv: .238 1 19 11 3 FRAA: SS 0, 2B 1 0.5
2015 401 .247 .294 .304 .266 1 50 23 6 Def: 3.1 0.4
2013-15 (avg) 380 .247 .305 .315 .278 1 46 27 9 Def: 0.7 0.7

Eric Sogard will reach five years service time and gain the right to refuse minor league assignment on July 19.

Sometimes good things happen

I wouldn't get too excited about a 2-3 win shortstop, but I just keep having this nagging feeling that Semien will be a better shortstop than any of us can imagine. If any position player on this club breaks out into having a ridiculously good season, I think it's him.

As for second base, I'm really looking forward to Joey Wendle or Chad Pinder's eventual debut.