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One Way the A’s have Improved: Defense

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Adam Rosales’ return marks an improvement for the A’s team defense.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s made another uninspiring move yesterday when they brought back former utility man Adam Rosales. The only real negative reaction I have to this signing is that it likely means less Joey Wendle and Chad Pinder in 2017, which is either a good thing or bad thing depending on how you view those two.

Adam Rosales is a player fans know and like. He works hard, displays a good attitude, and is a valuable clubhouse presence. He also made some interesting gains in power and hard contact in a limited role in 2016.

The likeliest scenario is that the Rosales reunion doesn’t move the needle much, but it also doesn’t cost much. However, Rosales returning to Oakland further signals one important, but incremental, change the front office has enacted this offseason: improved defense.

The 2016 A’s were one of the worst defensive teams of the past decade. They were particularly poor defenders at three key positions: third base, second base, and centerfield. That is where Rosales, Rajai Davis, and Trevor Plouffe come in.

The Numbers

A’s Centerfield Defense

Player Inn DRS ARM UZR UZR/150 Def
Player Inn DRS ARM UZR UZR/150 Def
2016 CF 1433.1 -17 -1.3 -4.4 -3.8 -1.9
Rajai Davis (2016) 595.1 -5 1.8 1.3 3.6 2.3
Rajai Davis (Career) 4497 0 -3.9 5.3 1.5 13
Fangraphs.com

Oakland centerfielders were bad in 2016. Billy Burns, Coco Crisp, and Jake Smolinski received the bulk of the playing time at that position, and Crisp was the biggest drag on the overall defense. As you can see Davis represents a tremendous upgrade in all the areas I tracked.

A’s Second Base Defense

Player Inn DRS UZR UZR/150 Def
Player Inn DRS UZR UZR/150 Def
2016 2B 1433.1 -12 -6.2 -4.9 -3.7
Adam Rosales (2016) 199.1 2 0.9 6.3 1.2
Adam Rosales (Career) 1007.1 13 6.6 8.2 8.4
Joey Wendle (Career) 210.2 1 1 7.5 1.7
Fangraphs.com

Jed Lowrie received by far the most innings at second base in 2016 and therefore was the biggest reason the team received such poor defense from that position. Wendle represented an immense in-house defensive upgrade based on his small sample and the acquisition of Rosales only further strengthens the team’s defense up the middle.

A’s Third Base Defense

Player Inn DRS UZR UZR/150 Def
Player Inn DRS UZR UZR/150 Def
2016 3B 1433.1 -23 -24.5 -19.8 -22.1
Trevor Plouffe (2016) 519.1 -4 -7.7 -17.1 -6.8
Trevor Plouffe (Career) 4687.1 -7 -17.5 -4.6 -9.5
Adam Rosales (2016) 253 1 3 13.7 3.4
Adam Rosales (Career) 922.2 -3 -3.3 -4.8 -1.7
Trevor Plouffe (2014-2015) 2327.2 5 8.4 4.7 12.4
Fangraphs.com

Trevor Plouffe wasn’t a great defender in 2016 (or in most of his career) but he was still better than Ryon Healy and Danny Valencia at the hot corner. Rosales is also a competent third baseman when called upon. But the final row is telling. Plouffe was injured in 2016, but prior to that he was actually a very good third baseman. Plus he was drafted as a middle infielder and has played every defensive position except centerfield, catcher, and pitcher.

Conclusion

The base line for these three is set low enough that almost anything they provide on defense will be an improvement over what the A’s had in 2016. The potential for more is what makes the most recent position player acquisitions interesting.

I’m not naive to suggest these three veterans make the 2017 A’s a contender, but they bring something to the table that the 2016 A’s lacked. The defensive improvement at just these three positions could be enough to add a couple wins in 2017, not to mention the possibility of continued development from shortstop Marcus Semien and catcher Bruce Maxwell.

All of that might not be a ton to get excited about, but at this time of year and with this roster, at least it’s something.