Spring training is underway, and the 2019 season is just around the corner. The Oakland A’s had one of the best lineups in baseball last year, but there are some new faces in the dugout this time around to replace the outgoing Jed Lowrie, Jonathan Lucroy, and Matt Joyce. What might the batting order look like when the games begin to count?
It’s early in the spring, as the calendar hasn’t even turned to March yet, but most of the intrigue in terms of roster competitions can be found on the pitching staff. The contingent of position players is mostly set, with only a couple of backup spots left to resolve. Of course, injuries can always change things, or even an amazing Cactus League breakout by some dark horse candidate, but here is the most likely cast of characters for now.
C: Chris Herrmann (L)
C: Josh Phegley (R) / Nick Hundley (R)
1B: Matt Olson (L)
2B: Jurickson Profar (S)
SS: Marcus Semien (R)
3B: Matt Chapman (R)
LF: Robbie Grossman (S)
LF: Mark Canha (R) / Nick Martini (L)
LF/UT: Chad Pinder (R)
CF: Ramon Laureano (R)
RF: Stephen Piscotty (R)
DH: Khris Davis (R)
There could be some other names in the mix, like young up-and-comers Franklin Barreto or Dustin Fowler, but the smart bet on Opening Day is probably some combination of the 14 guys above for 12 available spots. For the moment, it’s not premature to envision how this group could be arranged in a lineup.
Putting together a batting order isn’t crucially important, but it’s worth taking a moment to optimize. There are two things that interest me most in this case, and they are OBP and power. Speed or pure batting average might be useful as tiebreakers, but they aren’t things that will be leading my decision process.
First, we’ve already got a few real-world clues to work with:
- Grossman is “definitely in the mix for the leadoff spot based on OBP, familiarity with role,” reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle (she also mentions he could be the primary LF)
- Chapman most likely bats second “considering what he did last season,” reports Julian McWilliams of The Athletic
- Piscotty or Olson could bat third, says McWilliams, but it might change throughout the year, via Martin Gallegos of the East Bay Times
- Khrush has batted cleanup for basically his entire A’s tenure, though he’s at least mentioned as a candidate for third
Beyond that, who are the standouts in the categories of OBP and power?
OBP: Grossman, Chapman, Martini, are the best, and Laureano was strong last year too. After that there were a bunch of guys in the .330 range, some of whom have upside for more. On the lower end, Semien is a small tick below the rest, and none of the catchers get on base (though Herrmann can at least draw a walk).
SLG: Khrush, Olson, Chapman, and Piscotty are the sluggers. Pretty much everyone else has at least decent thump, though, even the catchers. Only Grossman and Martini are particularly weak in this area.
Those lists line up well with the clues above. Chapman is the only one on both leaderboards, so it makes sense for him to bat second — it can be argued that’s the spot for your best hitter. Grossman is all OBP and no power, so he’s obvious for the leadoff spot. Khrush is the best power hitter and has always made sense at cleanup, and Olson and Piscotty are indeed the next-best dinger threats for that third hole.
Personally, I think Olson’s more Three True Outcomes tendency makes the most sense at No. 3, while Piscotty seems perfect for fifth as a guy who also has power but will hit for a higher average. Of course, the story could change against lefties if Olson is moved down the order for platoon reasons.
From there, it’s a matter of arranging the rest of the guys, which could be done according to any number of preferences. Do you put Laureano up as high as possible so he can use his speed ahead of the more modest hitters at the bottom, or do you put Profar sixth to break up the righty hitters after Khrush/Piscotty? Does Herrmann bat ninth as presumably the worst of the bunch, or do you stick Semien there to break up the lefty catcher and the switch-hitting Grossman? Or even Laureano ninth, as a dynamic second leadoff man?
Here are a couple suggestions. They include my current favorite RHP lineup, and two suggestions for a LHP version.
|#||vs. RHP||vs. LHP1||vs. LHP2|
As things stand, I’m still guessing that Martini opens the year in Triple-A (McWilliams agrees), which would make Grossman an everyday necessity against righties. If so, that would mean the only way to get Pinder any time in the outfield would be against lefties, so I’ve included a version of that even though many folks will disagree with ever benching Grossman against lefties. Pinder could theoretically be stashed in the infield somewhere too, but his defense in LF is so good that I’d prefer to keep him out there when he does play. Besides, I’m not looking for reasons to bench Profar, who I see as a serious breakout candidate.
I’ve left Canha out of each version, but only because we don’t know how he’ll factor in yet. Perhaps someone will get hurt, or hit a big slump, and he’ll slide in to fill that spot. As for the catcher competition, insider Jane Lee notes that it’ll be a platoon of Herrmann and either Phegley (who is out of options) or Hundley (who has an opt-out clause before Opening Day).
It’s almost pointless to start thinking about all this yet, since we don’t know what new developments the next month will bring. But baseball is back, so let’s talk shop.