How the West will be Won – By the A’s

by JohnBowen

Last year the Oakland Athletics quietly managed to finish .500 to snap their losing-season streak at three and have just as quietly been making additions across the board to bolster the team all off-season – and they aren’t done. If these players hold up (a big “if”), this team will be playing ball in the post-season – and with their rotation, they could be the team to beat.

Let’s start with the initial product: The 2010 Oakland Athletics, who finished a respectable 81-81, second in the AL West, 9 games behind Texas.

Based on the number of runs they gave up versus the number of runs they scored, they were actually a little unlucky, as their expected Win-Loss record was 85-77. Now, wins are earned on the field, not in the stat-book, but I just wanted to counter any idea that the A’s were a poor team that stumbled onto a .500 record like the 2005 Washington Nationals who, the very next season, did predictably poorly. Now let’s take a look at the biggest pieces that they’re going to be missing from the year before:

Ben Sheets, SP – Sheets was signed to a 1 year, 10 million dollar deal before the 2010 season. Presumably, Oakland GM Billy Beane’s plan was to trade him for prospects, but in typical Ben Sheets fashion, he got hurt and missed the last two and a half months of the season. While he was with the team, he was far from the ace he was signed to be, going 4-9 in 20 starts with a 4.53 ERA (92 ERA+), 1.391 WHIP, and over a strikeout less per nine innings than his career average. He didn’t even average 6 innings per start. Baseball Reference lists him as being worth about 0.4 Wins Above Replacement. I think that’s generous. By any account he is virtually the definition of “replaceable.”

Jack Cust, DH – After being non-tendered the previous off-season, Jack Cust ended up signing a 1-year, 2.6 million deal with the A’s anyway. Cust strikes me as the prototypical Billy Beane player: has deficiencies (slow, no glove, low batting average, lots of strikeouts) that undervalue his assets (power, walks) and make him an affordable player for Oakland’s limited payroll. That’s why I was surprised that he was non-tendered last year, and allowed to walk this year for a deal smaller than what he made in Oakland.

That said, Beane easily replaced him, which brings us to the additions that the A’s have made:

Hideki Matsui, DH – Billy Beane paid a little extra for an upgrade at DH by going out and signing Hideki Matsui. It’s not entirely clear by an immediate glance at the numbers that this is an upgrade; Cust actually has a slightly higher OPS+ since 2007 (125 to 121, in about as many games). But Matsui’s lower strikeout total could definitely prove to be a key factor in improving the A’s chances; he’s got a pitcher-friendly park and an offense that scored just 663 runs in 2010, so you know he’ll be involved in quite a few 1-run games, and that’s when strikeouts hurt the most. In addition, Cust’s higher OPS+ could just be a result of rarely playing against southpaws, against whom he hits just .225, with a .371 slugging percentage. Matsui has much more consistent lefty/righty splits.

Josh Willingham and David Dejesus, OF – Don’t look for either of these gentlemen’s names among the MVP finalists next year; you won’t see them there. It doesn’t matter. They could very well be the difference maker that propels the A’s to the top of their division. Don’t worry about how they compare to Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz. Instead, look at how they compare to the gentlemen that they’ll be replacing. Last year, the conglomerate of gentlemen patrolling the corner outfield positions (Gabe Gross, Ryan Sweeney, Eric Patterson, Conor Jackson, and company) hit .257/.325/.394 and .247/.287/.342 for leftfield and rightfield respectively.  Compare that to Willingham (.260/.373/.476 since 2008) and Dejesus (.300/.363/.443 since 2008).

Rich Harden, SP – Ok, I know what you’re thinking: John, how on Earth will this end up helping the A’s? We’ve seen this movie before. This is the guy that’s going to lead the A’s rotation to victory? The guy hasn’t had a full season since 2004. That’s just it though – he doesn’t have to be the guy. Beane signed Harden to a low-risk, 1.5 million dollar deal with a major potential upside, as we’ve seen in some of his flashes of brilliance. And if not? He’s currently in line to be the number 5 starter, behind Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Brett Anderson. Losing him wouldn’t change the bottom of the rotation any more than last year, but having him pitch to that potential we’ve heard so much about could produce a lot of extra wins.

Now, the A’s look like they’re out of the Adrian Beltre sweepstakes, but that’s probably for the best. Scott Boras was looking for a deal in the range of five years, 90 million dollars, which is an absurd price to pay for a small market team for a guy who has had just two great years, especially considering how he performed the last time he signed a 5-year deal to play in a pitcher’s park. Personally, I think Beane was irrational in offering as much as he did (5 years, 64 million).

Meanwhile, the Angels and Rangers missed out on the big free agents that they were going for, and have done very little to improve their rosters; even if Beltre does end up signing with one of them, the impact will be more felt in their pocketbooks than on the field. Seattle isn’t competing next year; not even close.

The biggest question mark – and the thing that could derail Billy Beane’s latest plan: injuries. Willingham, Dejesus, Harden, Brett Anderson, and Coco Crisp all spent time on the DL last year. Hideki Matsui has been healthy for the last two years, but he’s not getting younger and who knows how long his knees will hold out for him. If all these gentlemen go down with injuries, the A’s are going to be in trouble. But that was part of Beane’s plan from the start. He would love to sign a durable, high-performing stud, but with his limited resources, he had to take risks on less expensive players with deficiencies – in this case, brittleness.

If enough of these guys remain healthy, the Athletics are my pick to win the American League West. They were an 81-81 team last year behind the best pitching staff in the American League; I predict that the latest additions, along with a little more luck than last year will put this team at about 90 wins, which is exactly what the Rangers put up in 2010. And once a team gets to the post-season, the tremendous pitching could put the boys in green over the top.

25 Responses to “How the West will be Won – By the A’s”

  1. Chuck Says:

    Meh.

    I don’t like Oakland’s pitching, they just don’t miss enough bats for me.

    The A’s had just one guy on the whole roster last year with more K’s than innings pitched and he was traded a couple of weeks ago.

    I agree with the premise of 90 wins taking the West but I think last year was a fluke for them and the chances of them winning 75 games is better than 85.

    Maybe they can bring back Eric Byrnes for LF?

  2. Cameron Says:

    Harden’s intention is actually a spot start/long relief guy I think. That’s what Oakland said when they got him, they’re still looking for a #5 starter after the Iwakuma deal fell through.

    I like Oakland next year. If the staff can at least be comparable to last year, not necessarily better, the new bats will help the team compete.

    Chuck, remember this. Texas has no definitive ace pitcher after Lee anymore and they’ve lost Guerrero and so far haven’t brought him back. While they’re still a good team, they’re demonstrably weaker right now without adding more pieces.

  3. Chuck Says:

    From what I’ve heard, Harden and Brandon McCarthy will battle for the fifth spot, with the loser being, well, the loser.

    I don’t disagree Cameron and you could say the same about the Angels too, I guess.

    Oakland for sure will score more runs, especially if they can get any power from Chris Carter, so maybe that will make the difference.

  4. Cameron Says:

    Erm… I may wish to withdraw my previous statement. Texas looks to be signing a 5 year 85 million dollar deal with Adrian Beltre. This may mean they trade Young, but he’s already played every position on the infield, why not make him your new first baseman?

  5. Chuck Says:

    Came across an article by Jim Baumbach of Newsday who says he surveyed “almost half” of the BBWAA voters and estimated the vote percentage for Jeff Bagwell to be 37.1%

    He went on to say the only two electees this year will be Blyleven and Alomar, with the biggest gainer of the holdovers, surprisingly, being Jack Morris.

    For those who care, Tim Raines’ percentage goes down.

  6. John Says:

    “Maybe they can bring back Eric Byrnes for LF?”

    lol

  7. John Muir Says:

    No one seems to remember or think about Josh Outman. He was Oakland’s number 1 rookie pitcher before going down with Tommy John surgery. Everything I read he is is pitching well. I say he has a good shot at making the starting rotation

  8. Chuck Says:

    When you wrote this, John, I thought you were nuts.

    The additions of Fuentes and Balfour certainly changes things.

    If Bailey comes back healthy, the A’s just might have the best bullpen in the AL.

  9. John Says:

    The amazing thing is that Beane wanted to give Beltre 13M a year over 5 years. Which, in my opinion, would’ve been nuts given the A’s financial situation.

    He’s taking the money he’s saving and signing several puzzle pieces that will prove to be way more valuable than Beltre ever would’ve been.

  10. John Says:

    There are rumors surfacing (via MLBtr, so, ya know…maybe) that the A’s have taken an interest in acquiring Chone Figgins in a trade for Kevin Kouzmanoff.

    Interesting idea, although I don’t see any way that Figgins is enough of an upgrade for the extra cash that Beane will have to fork over (leaving me to wonder…how much extra cash is there exactly?)

    I mentioned that I thought Russell Branyan would be a perfect pick-up for a platoon with KK, though I was kind of assuming that Beane’s Chavez/Sheets money was down to only a couple million.

    Thoughts?

  11. Cameron Says:

    Beane hasn’t met his yearly dumbass move quota I suppose.

  12. Chuck Says:

    The A’s are on Figgins’ no trade list.

    Conversation isn’t relevant until he waives it.

  13. John Says:

    If I was on the Mariners, I would waive my entire no-trade list.

  14. Cameron Says:

    If Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, and A-Rod left a city that sucked their cock like a cheap hooker, expect to see Ichiro in a new uniform sometime.

  15. John Says:

    The difference is that Ichiro will be 38 when his current contract expires.

  16. Chuck Says:

    As long as Nintendo is the primary owner of the M’s, Ichiro isn’t going anywhere.

  17. John Says:

    touche.

    If the A’s are going for Figgins, he’ll take them off his no-trade list.

    Guaranteed. He’s been paying attention.

  18. Chuck Says:

    Sure, John, just like that.

    Oakland’s the asshole of California, and Figgins’ is going to pack up and move there just because they signed a couple of relievers?

    Um, no.

    There’s probably three or four reasons why Figgins’ doesn’t want to play in Oakland, and none of them are baseball related.

    Well, maybe one.

    I wouldn’t want to play 81 games in a landfill either.

  19. John Says:

    I think Chone Figgins wants to win baseball games.

    I wouldn’t want my season to be irrelevant by July 1.

    I would much rather play in a landfill than on a team where my clean-up hitter #3 hitter is going to hit .210.

  20. Raul Says:

    The Mariners’ season will be irrelevant by February 1st.
    Hey, if Figgins wants to go, I’m sure the Mariners won’t beg him to stay.

    The Mariners have to focus on the development of Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley.
    I don’t know much about Michael Saunders. I read somewhere that he appeared to be a solid minor league prospect but it looks like he’s struggled in limited Major League at-bats. They have Michael Pineda on the way, also.

    I’m not saying the Mariners will win the AL West soon, but possibly 2015? If Felix is still there…

  21. John Says:

    It’s a distinct possibility; Jack Z knows how to draft and run a good farm system, there’s no doubt about that.

  22. Bob Says:

    So does Daniels in Texas. And now they have Nolan Ryan and his cash, plus a fan base that is all giddy from last year, despite their loss to San Fran.

  23. JohnBowen Says:

    So, a quick update:

    The “upgrades” that I was so big on?

    Rich Harden (hasn’t played yet)

    Willingham: .214/.297/.411
    Dejesus: .250/.322/.288
    Matsui: .228/.254/.404

    But, the A’s rotation has given up 25 runs in 101 innings pitched, keeping the A’s at .500.

    Despite Texas’s hot start, I’m sticking with my pick (especially since Hamilton is out for 7 more weeks or so).

  24. Dugout Central » Blog Archive » If the A’s Offense were a single MLB player… Says:

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