Going into Friday’s action, the Oakland Athletics lead the American League West with an MLB leading .692 winning percentage. They are 18-8 43 percent through the shortened 60-game season, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.
Despite being perennial contenders the last few seasons, this Oakland roster is filled with names that are unlikely known to most casual fans.
On the offensive side, the A’s, Oakland is strong at seven of their nine positions, with one of their deficiencies at DH.
With proven players, and young players, including some who have significantly increased their walk rate in 2020, the Oakland offense looks like it can keep pace with the big boys of the AL.
Here’s the starting roster for the 2020 Athletics as it current stands:
A’s 2020 Roster
|Matt Olson||First Base||110||0.5|
|Tony Kemp||Second Base||100||0.3|
|Matt Chapman||Third Base||129||1|
|Robbie Grossman||Left Field||191||1.2|
|Ramon Laureano||Center Field||126||0.8|
|Stephen Piscotty||Right Field||106||0.4|
|Khris Davis||Designated Hitter||96||-0.3|
Catcher Sean Murphy has suited-up for Oakland in 22 of their 26 games, has posted an offensive rate 17 percent above average. He’s been one of the best everyday catchers in baseball, Murphy has increased his walk rate this season (it’s sitting at a strong 17.2 percent), which supplements an anemic .226 batting average.
Oakland’s infield is hit-or-miss from an offensive perspective, but the strong performance from Matts Chapman and Olson so far have made up Marcus Semien’s difficulty at the plate.
Matt Chapman has been one of the best players in baseball the last two seasons, posting 6+ fWARs the last two seasons. Chapman is coming off a 36-home run season, and already has eight in the first 26 games (a pace better than last year).
Matt Olson has nine home runs in 26 games despite only having seven singles! His .112 batting average on balls in play will of course rebound positively, so there is still considerable upside for Olson.
In the outfield, Robbie Grossman has completely turned it around after a disappointing first season in Oakland. Last year Grossman ended the season with an 88 wRC+. He managed only six home runs in 138 games, an underwhelming total for a corner outfielder. This season, Grossman already has four home runs in 26 games, his walk rate is up, as is his exit velocity.
Ramon Learano has played in 22 game (and he’s survived a multi-game suspension for his theatrics against the Astros a couple weeks ago). When he’s bee on the field, he’s been excellent, having more than doubled his walk rate from last season (from 5.6 percent last year to 12.6 percent this year).
If Oakland is going to make a move at the trade deadline, their one glaring hole on offense is at the designated hitter slot where Khris Davis is not impacting the team’s offense much at all. The more pressing need however is their starting pitching.
In any season, starting pitching is tougher to acquire at the trade deadline than a one-dimensional designated hitter. It’s relievers that get moved more often than impact starters.
This season, with an expanded playoff structure that includes more than half the league, combined with pitcher injuries that are more detrimental due to the shortened time players have to get healthy, starting pitching will be harder to come by on the trade market than other years.
Starting pitching is the A’s biggest detriment this season. Though the quintet of Mike Fiers, Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, Jesus Luzardo, and Chris Bassitt has done a good-enough job to keep Oakland in games, and keep the games close enough to get to their bullpen, it’s a suspect rotation to take into a short series against teams with powerful offenses such as the Yankees, Twins, and Astros.
Mike Fiers is averaging about five innings and two runs per start, which is serviceable, but hardly what’s needed to keep pace with other teams’ number one starters, a distinct disadvantage for Oakland in any short series.
Sean Manaea is yet to get out of the sixth inning in any start this season, and he’s given up 21 runs in 25 innings. He’s still looking for that elusive first ‘quality start’ of six innings of three runs or fewer.
Montas had steadily improved through his first four starts, and he had put together two consecutive impressive seven-inning performances against Seattle and Houston (he gave up only one run in the combined 14 innings) but as it goes with middle-of-the-rotation starters, he got slammed by the Diamondbacks in his most recent start, where he gave up nine runs and couldn’t get out of the second inning. Eesh.
Chris Bassitt has been quite a decent option at the fifth starter spot, and in a playoff series, it’s not out of the question he gets a mid-series nod. In 27 ⅔ innings, he’s given up nine runs. His best game came in a three-game sweep of the Astros, where he gave up only one run in seven innings.
This brings us to Oakland’s Achilles’ Heel, their bullpen.
With a pitching staff that is likely to be quite similar to what they have today, Oakland is going to have to rely on their offense and their bullpen if they’re going to make a World Series run.
Oakland has one of the best closers in baseball in Liam Hendriks. Hendriks has faced 49 batters and has struck out 20 of them so far this season. He’s allowed only ten baserunners in his 13 ⅓ innings, and only two runs have scored on his watch.
From a middle relief perspective, the A’s have other known commodities such as Yusmeiro Petit, journeyman Joakim Soria, and Jake Diekman. They also have relatively unknown pitchers including Lou Trivino, and J.B. Wendelken.
Assuming the starting pitchers continue to go fewer than six innings on a regular basis, this relief corps will have to pick up one-third of the innings on the season, and perhaps more in the playoffs.
So far this year, right-handed Petit and left-handed Diekman have been serviceable, but not great by any means. They are both allowing on-average, more than one baserunner per inning to date --- hardly a way to put out mid-game rallies.
Soria has been the next-best option behind Hendriks. In 11 ⅔ innings, he’s struck out 15 batters and allowed only two runs. At 36 years old, the abbreviated season may most benefit him, as he can go all-out in the ~40 innings required of his services.
The back of the bullpen is mediocre at best. Much like the middle-of-the-rotation, there are going to be ups-and-downs, making for a volatile position in playoff games.
The A’s have a chance to capitalize on a fast-start, and take advantage of a potent offense. In a year with more short playoff series, they’re going to need to bolster their pitching if they’re to breakthrough in the 2020 playoffs.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano