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Recalibrating Oakland A's playing time with Coco Crisp healthy and Billy Butler a platoon DH

Twenty games gone, and the Oakland Athletics have made some surprising playing time decisions in this first month.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Right after the Chris Coghlan trade at the start of spring training, I came up with an educated guess of how Oakland's playing time situation could shake out, given a few assumptions based on public statements from the front office. Let's review how things look now that we're 20 games into the season.

I've come up with a simple model that assigns the remaining plate appearances this year based on the proportion of plate appearances each player has gotten against each handedness pitcher, with the assumption that the A's will face a left-hander in 30 percent of plate appearances for the rest of the season, and compared it to my spring training guess (which I've proportionally drawn down from an assumption of 6300 plate appearances to 6100, which is about the AL team average):

You can see some major differences, let's break those out into a separate chart showing the difference between my preseason projection and where things are headed so far with just the 13 players that remained after Andrew Lambo was optioned to Triple-A:

There are some caveats. I think Yonder Alonso getting two starts in the first series of the season was an aberration. He won't start against left-handed pitchers in the future. Danny Valencia's trip to the disabled list is too magnified in this projection, as well.

I'll get more into detail as to why I think Stephen Vogt has too many plate appearances in the projection right now (and why Josh Phegley has too few), though for others we'll need to see changes in how Bob Melvin uses his squad.

The early reluctance to play Mark Canha against righties

I did not suspect that the A's would be so reluctant to play Mark Canha that they would allow him to sit for five straight games just to avoid batting him against a right-handed starter, nor did I think Canha would not start against a righty until the 12th game against a right-hander this season, but here we are.

There is evidence that Oakland's reluctance to play him is softening, however. Including Tuesday's omission from the lineup, he's started two of the last five games against right-handed pitchers. Last Thursday, Canha started and batted second against Yankees right-hander Luis Severino after six games off against right-handed pitching.

Last Sunday's appearance could have something to do with wanting to rest Coco Crisp after he played the first two games in Toronto. With Chris Coghlan locked into third base for now, Canha was the best choice to DH among the remaining right-handers.

Billy Butler, platoon DH vs. left-handers

While this was a possibility after his 2015, I'm surprised the A's didn't even give him a chance to fail or succeed as a full-time DH this year. After three starts against Chicago's left-handers, Butler:

  • sat for five straight games against right-handed starters,
  • was allowed to go 0-for-2 with a walk against Matt Shoemaker and Joe Smith on April 13, and
  • go 0-for-2 with a GIDP against Kris Medlen and the Royals on April 17 before being pinch-hit for by Jed Lowrie when right-hander Kelvin Herrera entered the game.

And that was the last time Butler started against a right-handed pitcher.

Part of it may be that given how the roster was constructed, the A's would rather spread the DH plate appearances around to give everybody playing time. Khris Davis has a plurality of the non-Butler plate appearances and starts at DH, which helps get his weak arm out of left field.

But it really must come down to the field staff and the front office's assessment of Butler going forward. Their actions make it seem like they just don't see him as being all that useful of a player, and I suspect that they're just waiting for one of our top prospects at Triple-A Nashville to start pounding on the door to take his place on the roster.

Coco Crisp and his vesting option

I had pegged Coco for something like 240 plate appearances in the preseason, given what I knew about his health at the time. Instead, Crisp is on a pace for double that, and has played in 16 of 20 games so far.

I would have thought the A's would let Khris Davis, Chris Coghlan, and Mark Canha rotate through left field primarily. Instead, we're seen Crisp in left field paired up with Billy Burns in center for six starts so far.

Crisp has a vesting option for $13 million with 550 plate appearances or 130 games played in 2016, according to Cot's Contracts. It otherwise will be a team option with a $750,000 buyout. While he probably won't come close to the plate appearance mark, with him in the lineup for Tuesday's game, he'll be on pace for 131 games played.

However, I would think that if Crisp gets over 130 games, it's because he's playing so well it actually would be at least a debatable question whether to pick up his 2017 option anyway. I suspect that Crisp will experience some ailment at some point that will leave him short of that vesting point, which he's barely on pace to hit now as a healthy player.

Danny Valencia's DL stint

This simple model magnifies Danny Valencia's DL trip too much because it's not seeing him as a player who is going to miss 15 days but rather a player who has not played in six of the club's 20 games so far. Valencia played in 14 of the 16 games before his injury, so Valencia will probably end up closer to 550 plate appearances.

So who is getting more playing time right now because Valencia is out? Jed Lowrie is the biggest beneficiary. While Chris Coghlan will get the bulk of third base appearances until Valencia returns, Coghlan would have played a lot of second base to rest Jed Lowrie. Now, Lowrie needs to be on the field more frequently with the right-handed batting Tyler Ladendorf becoming the primary defensive backup at the keystone and at the hot corner.

Stephen Vogt is getting more time from Josh Phegley, for now

Stephen Vogt has been in all 15 of the A's starting lineups against right-handers, once as a left-hander (Opening Night), and pinch hit twice. He's also been allowed to stay in games when he faces a left-handed reliever, either because he had already pinch hit for the catcher or because the opponent could have forced a worse righty-on-righty matchup.

The result is that Vogt appears to be taking a lot more time from Josh Phegley, but I think that will normalize as the season goes on with Phegley taking something closer to 250-300 plate appearances, and Vogt around 450-500.