The Athletics had another excellent season in 2019, finishing with 97 wins for the second consecutive season. Unfortunately, their playoff life happened in a flash, as they lost in the Wild Card game for the second consecutive season.
We are all aware of Billy Beane’s thoughts on winning in the postseason — and he’s right, the playoffs are a crapshoot — but he will continue to roll out this excellent A’s team that should make the playoffs for the third year in a row.
Beane is rolling out more or less the same team from 2019, one with strong depth and few holes. There were no major departures, but there were no major additions either, and this is from a team that really should have done more this offseason on that front.
Even though it is difficult to discern how much the sign stealing helped the Astros, I don’t see how they are not significant favorites to win the division yet again, but the Wild Card slots should be up for grabs, with the A’s well-positioned to be right in the thick of things.
I do need to say, in their defense, that when you have a team with strong depth and few holes, it is pretty hard to upgrade, regardless of whether or not they are pretending that they can’t sustain a $200+ million payroll. That being said, they could have really used Yasmani Grandal, who signed for way less than he was worth. With Stephen Piscotty coming off a down year picking up Nick Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna would have been a good idea.
There is a lot of concern about Khris Davis, too, whose offensive production fell off a cliff in 2019. He hit just .220/.293/.387, which adds up to a .289 wOBA that was a whopping 76 points lower than it was the year before. Most surprising is the fact that he hit only 23 HR with a juiced ball, when he hit a league leading 48 HR in 2018! That is disastrous coming from the primary DH.
It’s not to say his two-year, $33.5 million extension that kicks in this year was a mistake. There was no telling that his offense would drop off so much, and besides, one could consider it backpay for his earlier years when he was grossly underpaid for his production.
If it were up to me, I would have signed Castellanos, move Piscotty to the bench, and keep a close eye on Davis to see if he bounces back. If he still continues to be a below average hitter, I would move Castellanos to DH, where he would be best suited anyway due to his poor defense, and put Piscotty back in the outfield and hope for the best. The Wild Card slots are going to be too competitive to let a sunk cost sink your chances.
I love this lineup, though. Obviously it is not perfect, but there is a lot to like here. Marcus Semien had a huge breakout year in 2019, playing in every game and hitting .285/.369/.522. He accumulated 8.1 WAR and was deservedly third in MVP voting. I am sure he will regress some in this upcoming season, especially if the ball becomes dejuiced, but I believe he will be, at worst, a top-ten player in the AL who will be worth at least 5.0 WAR.
Matt Chapman is still awesome and an elite defender, as we all know. Matt Olson, on the other hand, kind of flew under the radar last season as one of the best first basemen in the game. He hit .267/.351/.545 with excellent first base defense. You could almost say he is the first base version of Chapman, though I do not think he is quite the defender that Chapman is.
Pitchers are going to love throwing in front of this infield, as it is likely the best defensively right now. Speaking of which, this starting rotation could sneakily be one of the best in the game. It ranked in the top ten by RA9 in 2019, but it ranked only 20th by DRA, likely because of the favorable ballpark and great defense. I expect that to get a lot better this year, with full seasons from Frankie Montas, Jesús Luzardo, and A.J. Puk.
As always, bullpens are tough to predict. Blake Treinen was arguably the best reliever in baseball in 2018, and then fell below replacement level in 2019. He went from a 1.34 RA9 to a 5.06 RA9. Liam Hendricks was lights out last year, but his 1.91 RA9 and 37.4 K% were way out of line from his track record. At least Yusmeiro Petit has a fair track record of being effective out of the pen. The same can be said about Joakim Soria. With the caveat that variance swamps everything, I think this should continue to be one of the better bullpens in baseball.
ZiPS projects the A’s to win 88 games this year, which sounds about right, but at the same time they have surpassed their projections for two years in a row. I’m particularly high on this team, and think they should crack 90 wins without much trouble. I even see a path for them to dethrone the Astros if enough things break wrong for them and Montas, Luzardo, and Puk pitch to their ceilings. More likely, however, they will win a Wild Card slot again. Hopefully the A’s will see some playoff success this year!
. . .
Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.