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The Oakland A’s Feature MLB’s Best Position Players

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Top to bottom this roster is strength on top of strength

New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics
The 2018 Oakland A’s, thanks to a career-year from Jed Lowrie, have baseball best crop of position players.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Your 2018 Oakland A’s now have MLB’s best position players. It never occured to me that, outside of maybe the first week of the season, I’d be writing that. But here we are in early September and the A’s, as a group, boast baseball’s highest fWAR total among MLB position players.

2018 MLB fWAR Top-10

Rank Team Off. Def. WAR
Rank Team Off. Def. WAR
1 Athletics 54.4 26.9 27
2 Cubs 16.2 65 26.9
3 Red Sox 57.9 11.1 26
4 Yankees 69.7 -7.6 25.2
5 Dodgers 53.4 10.1 24.9
6 Braves 1.5 54.6 24.1
7 Indians 38.5 12.5 24
8 Astros 67.3 -22.7 23.1
9 Cardinals -2.2 46.9 22.7
10 Angels 14.6 25 22.6
Fangraphs.com

They’ve done this by providing value on both offense and defense, ranking within the top-5 of MLB teams in off and top-10 in Def.

The Obvious Contributors

Matt Chapman has been Oakland’s best overall player in 2018. His defense alone makes him immensely valuable to the A’s. He leads MLB in defensive runs saved and sits inside the top-5 in both ultimate zone rating and Fangraphs’ defense rating. Chapman also has taken a huge leap offensively and has put together one of the finest seasons the A’s have ever seen from a third baseman. His 143 wRC+ is 4th best ever for an Oakland A’s third baseman, trailing Josh Donaldson’s 2013 mark of 147 and Sal Bando’s 1969 and 1973 seasons. Overall Chapman’s 6.4 fWAR is already 3rd-best all-time among Oakland third basemen, and 14th-best overall.

Jed Lowrie was Oakland‘s best player last season and he is having his finest season yet in 2018. Rock-solid defense and career-best offense has propelled Lowrie toward a 5-win season. Aside from his 2010 season with Boston in which Lowrie recorded just 171 at-bats, he sports career-highs in BB%, HR, RBI, OBP, SLG, OPS, wOBA, and wRC+. Lowrie is among the top-15 players in baseball this season by fWAR and, get this, has locked up the best season of any second baseman in Oakland A’s history.

Much has been made of Khris Davis’ home run onslaught, but that is a justified reaction. Any time a single player does something historic like smack 40 or more home runs in three consecutive seasons we must take notice. Davis is also having a career year, posting career-bests in ISO, SLG, wOBA, wRC+, and is approaching his career-high in fWAR. It’s likely we also see him set a new career-best RBI total, as well. He now has two of Oakland’s top-15 DH seasons. Davis has been, in many ways, the heart and soul of this A’s team and is exactly who Oakland thought they were getting back in 2015 when they acquired him. From Fangraphs’ conversation with Oakland assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz:

“Prior to acquiring him, I remember we ran a simulation estimating how many of his home runs would’ve been out of the Coliseum — as if he were hitting in our park — and it ended up being some amazingly high percentage.”

The Surprises

Perhaps no Athletic has impressed me more this season than Marcus Semien. He is not a great hitter, but he is fine enough for an every day shortstop. And if it weren’t for him spending so much time batting leadoff we may appreciate the job he’s done a whole lot more. His current 98 wRC+ is above average for major league shortstops, and actually is the second-highest of his A’s career. He has been remarkably consistent with the bat in his four seasons with the A’s. It is on defense that Semien has proven himself to be quite valuable and also where has shown tremendous improvement. Semien has gone from defensive black hole to livable to well above-average in his four years here.

Semien’s Defense Year-by-Year

Season Inn DRS UZR UZR/150 Def
Season Inn DRS UZR UZR/150 Def
2015 1304.2 5 -11.7 -12.2 -0.5
2016 1385.1 -6 -6.2 -5.5 1
2017 747 -9 -3.5 -6.2 0.3
2018 1270.1 8 7.8 6.6 14.3
Fangraphs.com

I realize that his improvement on defense, this season specifically, is largely thanks to the elite defenders at the corners (the Matts Chapman and Olson). Still, there is no denying how much more comfortable Semien looks up the middle and how many more plays he easily makes as compared to his first years in Oakland.

Ramon Laureano needs no introduction after the attention we’ve given him this week (from Alex here and from me here). There is no denying the impact he has made on both sides of the ball the past month-plus. He’s been a very pleasant surprise in that most expected him to be a 4th outfield and at best a platoon mte for Dustin Fowler. However he looks like a mainstay and regular centerfielder for the foreseeable future.

Those with Utility

You may not realize that Chad Pinder has increased his walk rate by 4% and trimmed his strikeouts by nearly as much. He also has been a plus defender at each of his stops around the diamond this year en route to a career best 110 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR.

Mark Canha has been among Oakland’s most volatile players the past few years. But the work he did for the A’s in centerfield earlier this season and the way he has rebounded to put up 1.7 fWAR as a part-time player after being worth -1.1 fWAR the past two years combined is nothing short of a miracle.

Honorable Mention

Matt Olson and Stephen Piscotty have been very important for the A’s. Neither has been the best player on the team, but they have been steady offensive contributors and quality defenders, especially Olson who leads AL first baseman in DRS, UZR, and Def.