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2006 Team Previews: Oakland Athletics, Positional Players

In 2004 the difference between Mark Ellis and his replacement (thanks to Ellis' season long injury) Marco Scutaro was enough for the Angels squeak out the division on the strength of their lineup. The injury to Eric Chavez obviously also caused problems, but the difference between the Angels and A's really was small enough to be determined by something like the switch from Ellis to Scutaro, even with an injury to Chavez. In 2005, the difference between Bobby Crosby and his injury replacement Marco Scutaro was enough for the Angels to just capture the division once again, this time on the strength of their rotation. I think I might say that the A's lost because they lost out on Rich Harden for some time due to injury, because I feel bad picking on Scooter, who in all honesty, is a fine league average player who can play multiple infield positions with skill. It just so happens that the players he is replacing are important pieces of the puzzle for Oakland.

Billy Beane has done his best to avoid a repeat of 2004 and 2005 this year; the depth the A's currently have astounds me really, both in the rotation and on the bench. The outfield consists of Nick Swisher, Mark Kotsay and Milton Bradley. Not only is it three centerfielders, but they are all capable of playing elsewhere in the outfield. They also have Jay Payton and Bobby Kielty backing up in the outfield, and both of those players can be likened to Scutaro in that they are league average, useful, and helpful. The infield has Scooter and Antonio Perez, both projected to be league average. Nick Swisher can play first base. DH has Frank Thomas, with Payton and Johnson backing him up. Throw all that depth in with the rotation and the bullpen, along with the extremely solid defense, and you have yourselves a team that, on paper, should have no trouble taking the American League West Crown. Of course, as always, injuries are a possibility, but the A's have done an excellent job addressing those issues with a multitude of contingency plans.

  • Acquired
  • Raul Casanova
  • Frank Thomas
  • Milton Bradley
  • Antonio Perez
  • Lost
  • Scott Hatteberg
  • Erubiel Durazo
  • Alberto Castillo
  • Andre Ethier
Thoughts on the loss of Andre Ethier can be found in that link above by BtB'er Sal, but here is the part to take away from it if you don't feel like going through it (although I recommend you do):
For the Dodgers, they receive a prospect who is almost sure to contribute to what should be a very solid 2007 squad. For next year, the big question is who will join JD Drew and Jose Cruz, Jr. in the 2006 outfield? The right acquisition could make them NL West favorites.

The most important lesson for AL West fans is that Oakland's "rebuilding" project is over. When the A's get rid of a high-level prospect for a player with one- or two- years of arbitration eligibility, you can be sure that they are gunning for the playoffs.

Losing Hatteberg doesn't matter at this point, because the A's have effectively replaced him with Dan Johnson. The same goes for Durazo, as a Thomas/Payton combination throughout the season will outproduce his 2005, and most likely his previous efforts as well, although that is up for debate. Milton Bradley is a great addition to the team, especially if you can keep him as angry as possible.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

2005: Jason Kendall .271/.345/.321; -5.77 pNRAA; -8.65 pNRAA/GP
2005: Adam Melhuse .247/.284/.381; +1.95 pNRAA; +0.76 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jason Kendall .270/.333/.338; +1.70 pNRAA; +2.41 pNRAA/GP

More of Kendall's negative value came from what Rate considered to be below average defensive play, rather than his anemic bat. The good thing about being an anemic hitting catcher is that an EqA of .240 is only .004 below the league average at that position. A Rate2 of 96 is four full runs below league average per 100 games played. No love from David Gassko's Runs Above Average system either, as Kendall is listed at -6.1 RAA per 150 games played (third worst among qualifying catchers). David Pinto had Kendall in the bottom half of catchers according to his Probabilistic Model of Range system.

Kendall's faults are certainly overstated, considering he is a catcher, but the fact that he is around league average offensively as a catcher and somewhat below average defensively shouldn't sit well with the A's. Thanks to Kendall's projection of +1.70 pNRAA, the A's have above average projections for every single starting positional player; Kendall was obviously the one I was worried about while calculating the numbers.

First Base
2005: Scott Hatteberg .256/.334/.343; -30.05 pNRAA; -40.26 pNRAA/GP
2005: Dan Johnson .275/.355/.451; -11.82 pNRAA; -12.88 pNRAA/GP

2006: Dan Johnson .272/.353/.462; +4.22 pNRAA; +5.62 pNRAA/GP

Johnson's projected improvement comes more from his defense than his bat, although that takes a slight tick upward as well. He was terrible defensively according to Rate, posting a -8 Fielding Runs Above Average, whereas this year he is projected for -1 FRAA. Gassko has him above average, and Pinto has him ranked 22nd out of 46 using Runs Saved per 27 Outs. So the projection for 2006 seems very accurate; it all depends on whether his bat grows or not at this point. Johnson has a mild platoon split, but it is really interesting and inconclusive for me at the moment.

  • L/R
  • Versus LHP: .283/.395/.407
  • Versus RHP: .272/.339/.467
I can't argue with either of those lines, and the combined result seemed to work out in 2005. I'll be watching his splits in 2006 to see what happens though. If only we had some way of collecting minor league data in order to get splits and MLE's for me to use when I feel like it.

Second Base
2005: Mark Ellis .316/.384/.477; +22.07 pNRAA; +26.92 pNRAA/GP

2006: Mark Ellis .283/.355/.426; +15.49 pNRAA; +19.20 pNRAA/GP

Ellis was the best positional player on the Athletics roster last year according to pNRAA and pNRAA/GP. He is projected to be the third best positional player on the 2006 roster, behind Bobby Crosby and Eric Chavez. This may seem surprising to some (not the folks at AN of course), but let's take a look at something from an article I wrote earlier in the offseason:

Here is an interesting tidbit that BtB writer Dan Scotto noticed while we were discussing this article. Dan noted that Ellis cut down on his strikeout rate markedly between 2003 and 2005, while improving his walk rate slightly.

2002: 13.4% K/PA, 10.9% BB/PA
2003: 15.1% K/PA, 7.7% BB/PA
2005: 10.5% K/PA, 9.1% BB/PA

There might be something to his new and improved numbers. Will it remain a part of his skill set in 2006? That I cannot tell you. PrOPS, a system developed by J.C. Bradbury, author of the weblog Sabernomics, says that Ellis was very lucky in 2005. You can retract my pessimism caused by that tidbit of info somewhat due to this new piece of information, but I still expect some regression in 2006. With his defense, a line of .280/.350/.415 or so is valuable.

That came out immediately after Frank Thomas was signed. Since then, the PECOTA projections were released, and Ellis is expected to have a line of .283/.355/.426. I'm hoping that I'm right and PECOTA is right, because as I said, with his defense, he is very valuable to the A's.

Third Base
2005: Eric Chavez .269/.329/.466; +7.52 pNRAA; +12.03 pNRAA/GP

2006: Eric Chavez .271/.354/.479; +20.16 pNRAA; +30.24 pNRAA/GP

Eric Chavez had a disapointing 2005, but most of that stems from the fact that many expected him to win an MVP award that year. He improved as the year went on, and his pNRAA was actually a good deal above average. Aside from a lousy April and May (.218/.276/.317 in 202 at-bats) he was very good, hitting .293/.353/.537 the rest of the way in 423 at-bats. In that same time frame, he hit lefties very well (.294/.372/.490), which is an excellent sign, considering some of his past struggles.

I expect Chavez to fulfill his projection for the 2006 season, as long as he can stay off of the disabled list. Rate seems a little down on his defense, although Gassko's system thinks he was the fourth best overall in 2006 among third basemen, and Pinto's Runs Saved per 27 Outs has him 23rd of 40, while his PMR has him at 22nd of 39. Is Chavez overrated defensively? 2/3 systems here seem to think so, although he is above average by all accounts. Something to watch (or just one more reason for me to be excited about my incoming Fielding Bible. That's right: in a few days, I won't have to ask for help with The Fielding Bible, because I'll finally have one, just in time for the team previews to be over...wait...

2005: Bobby Crosby .276/.346/.456; +17.85 pNRAA; +14.99 pNRAA/GP
2005: Marco Scutaro .247/.310/.391; +2.56 pNRAA; +3.02 pNRAA/GP

2006: Bobby Crosby .269/.346/.451; +18.06 pNRAA; +23.29 pNRAA/GP

Now see? It wasn't that Scooter wasn't a good player in 2005; it was just that Bobby Crosby was the second best player on the roster, and losing his bat and glove certainly hurt the A's chances.

Crosby's 2006 projection seems pretty accurate to me, although I may throw a few more points of slugging and on-base in there; nothing to quibble about though. His pNRAA is what matters to me, and he is certainly capable of that. Staying healthy is another story, and the A's certainly need Crosby in the lineup and on the field. He is projected to be the second best player on the team once again, and even with the depth of the team his is a talent you do not want to be without for too long.

Left Field
2005: Bobby Kielty .263/.350/.395; -0.04 pNRAA; -0.04 pNRAA/GP
2005: Eric Byrnes .266/.336/.474; +16.13 pNRAA; +9.52 pNRAA/GP
2005: Jay Payton .269/.302/.451; -3.38 pNRAA; -2.33 pNRAA/GP

2006: Nick Swisher .252/.347/.453; +5.38 pNRAA; +6.50 pNRAA/GP

The A's actually got a good deal of production from their left fielders in 2005, with Kielty playing average ball, Payton coming in via trade and maintaining basically the same level of play, and Eric Byrnes pre-production dropoff was excellent.

In 2006, Nick Swisher projects to be above average by a few runs, and if he stays healthy, that makes a great deal of sense to me. I thought that he could win the Rookie of the Year last year when the season started, but injuries and the pitching performance of a certain Oakland hurler derailed those dreams. No matter, Swisher should be around in 2006, as long as he doesn't take after Byrnes' habit of crashing into stuff.

Center Field
2005: Mark Kotsay .280/.325/.421; -3.54 pNRAA; -4.92 pNRAA/GP

2006: Mark Kotsay .277/.332/.414; +4.98 pNRAA; +7.12 pNRAA/GP

Most of Kotsay's production dropoff had to do with the injuries he dealt with all season long. I am extremely interested to see what the Oakland front office thinks of his defense (or maybe the why more than anything) because David Gassko has him well below average, at -12 RAA per 150 games, with BP 's projected Rate2 coming in at 101. Pinto had him 14th of 42 centerfielders with a Runs Saved per 27 Outs of 1.810. I'm not sure how Gassko got the results he did (paging David Gassko, Anonymous Hero).

Will Carroll's risk analysis system recently gave Kotsay a red light, and Carroll had this to say:

As Kotsay ages, the chronic back problems work more and more against him. He?s still mobile but he?ll likely see more episodes and longer downtimes until he just walks away. The two-year extension the A's inked with Kotsay in July was a gamble.

Then again, Thomas Gorman also may have said it, since the THR's are done by Will and various other medical author from BP now. Either way, it was said.

Personally, I advocated attempting to trade Kotsay last year to the Yankees when they were begging for centerfield help. That never materialized, with Kotsay signing an extension instead. As Carroll mentioned, it was a risk, and the A's are at least built to absorb the blow dealt by an extended Kotsay injury. Milton Bradley can slide to center, with Payton/Kielty taking over in right or left, depending on what happens with Swisher. Actually, Payton could just slide into centerfield as well. I just realized that this team has four centerfielders, all capable of playing league average or better (Payton's pNRAA changes to +1.50 with a centerfield adjustment). Impressive. Depth is certainly key for this team.

Right Field
2005: Nick Swisher .236/.322/.446; -10.99 pNRAA; -14.40 pNRAA/GP
2005: 2005: Bobby Kielty .263/.350/.395; -0.91 pNRAA; -0.91 pNRAA/GP

2006: Milton Bradley .279/.355/.447; +8.88 pNRAA; +10.04 pNRAA/GP

When healthy, Milton Bradley is one of the better overall players around. His projection here seems a tad low, so let's give him an EqA of .298 rather than .289 (his 75th percentile line)

2006: Milton Bradley .289/.365/.470; +13.76 pNRAA; +15.69 pNRAA/GP

Much better, and seemingly more accurate for my tastes. Of course, I'm probably losing to PECOTA in the projections war, so don't shake my hand until the season is over. David Gassko's RAA system gave Bradley a rating of 3.1 RAA per 150 games, which only seems a tad higher than the Rate figure. Pinto has Bradley listed under centerfielders, which doesn't really help our cause.

Designated Hitter
2005: Erubiel Durazo .237/.305/.368; -20.57 pNRAA; -8.44 pNRAA/GP
2005: Scott Hatteberg .256/.334/.343; -20.05 pNRAA; -26.86 pNRAA/GP

2006: Frank Thomas .239/.345/.502; +9.37 pNRAA; +5.25 pNRAA/GP

If Thomas can remain healthy, and everyday seems to point more towards yes than no, although there is certainly considerable injury risk everyday for him, the A's will havea major hitter in the middle of their lineup. An EqA of .295 (which he is projected to have) is a massive deal, as it is expected to be second on the team behind Eric Chavez by .001 points.

The terms of the deal are as follows:

  • One-year, $500,000
  • $1.4 million in roster bonuses if on the active Major League roster or on the Disabled List with an injury unrelated to Thomas's left foot problem.
  • $1.2 million in incentives for plate appearances
Those incentives are broken down even further. The roster bonuses are given out on May 1 and June 15 at a cost of $325,000. Two bonuses for $375,000 a piece are given out on July 15 and August 15. The plate appearance incentives are broken down by $200,000 increments and given out for 300, 350, 400, 450, 500 and 550 plate appearances. One of my favorite contracts from the offseason, and an excellent risk, especially if it pays off.

The Athletics lineup is very balanced, with no real weak spots in it. Let's take a look projected lineup based off of last year's as well as the depth charts around the Internet, as well as the lineup I would use.

  1. Projected Lineup
  2. Ellis
  3. Kotsay
  4. Crosby
  5. Chavez
  6. Thomas
  7. Bradley
  8. Johnson
  9. Swisher
  10. Kendall
This lineup is expected to score 5.280 runs per game, which is 855 runs. The lineup is very deep, but I think I'd switch a few things (surprised?).
  1. Marc's Lineup
  2. Bradley
  3. Chavez
  4. Ellis
  5. Thomas
  6. Johnson
  7. Crosby
  8. Swisher
  9. Kendall
  10. Kotsay
This lineup is expected to score 5.310 runs per game, or 860 runs. The A's lineup is so deep and similar, player by player, that the lineup simulator does not really change the outcome all that much. Frank Thomas is the only real power hitter, and Mark Ellis is the only guy who doesn't look like he'll consistently cross the .450 slugging mark (besides Kendall of course). Combine this lineup with the pitching staff they have assembled, and the very good-to-excellent defense they have put together, and you have yourself the most likely victor in the American League West. Should be an excellent race out West this year!

Make sure to check out the Rangers preview that I posted this morning. Get used to scrolling down to read all the content this week, as we have to pump a great deal of it out relatively soon. David Pinto's Day by Day Database is probably my favorite tool on the whole Internet, and I use it constantly within these previews. There are only a few days left in his March Pledge Drive, so get those last minute donations in if you can! Also be sure to order a copy of The Hardball Times Baseball Annual so you can access these statistics that I reference so often. Extremely useful, and well worth the money, even this far into the offseason.