Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics made a miracle run into the postseason in 2012, and enter 2013 with hopes of competing in an increasingly rough AL West. The underdog A’s seem to be one of the “teams of the internet”, because everywhere I go I see them being touted as legitimate threats to the Angels and Rangers. And I cannot figure out why. The A’s made very few changes to a roster that played out of its mind down the stretch last season. They got huge performances out of guys like Bartolo Colon, Josh Reddick, Tommy Milone, Chris Carter, and Brandon Moss. If the A’s are going to repeat, they’re going to need similar pop-up performances from a bunch of players, because their roster has not changed much.
Cespedes looks every part of the monster player his bizarre scouting video promised, but there isn’t a whole bunch around him in the lineup. Due to the large amount of platoons played by the A’s, it’s probably best to break this down by position:
1B: Chris Carter, the right-handed half of the 1B platoon, and his 137 OPS+ are now in Houston. Brandon Moss killed the ball last season against righties (1.006 OPS), but has struggled mightily against lefties in his career (.721 OPS). And, if we’re being honest, he’s really just struggled in general, with a lowly .251/.317/.442 career line and a 24.6% K%. Asking Moss to play full-time 1B is going to put a lot of strain on his bat, and he isn’t likely to be much more than league-average.
2B: Second base is a nightmare, with Scott Sizemore and Eric Sogard fighting for playing time while Jemile Weeks seems like a total lost cause. The two of them together could form a decent platoon, but expecting anything more than league-average production combined is a dream.
SS: Jed Lowrie is a capable SS, but it’d be a surprise if he plays 130 games. His backup, Hiroyuki Nakajima, was so bad in spring training he was effectively demoted. Lowrie will provide above-average production on the season, but the replacements when he is injured will negate much of his effort.
3B: Donaldson and Sizemore should form another decent platoon on the team, but neither is a special player capable of providing much offense. Donaldson’s OBP was sub-.300 last season, and Sizemore has had trouble hitting enough to maintain a respectable OBP.
Catcher: John Jaso is a very capable hitter if you never let him face a lefty. Derek Norris should provide good pop from the right handed side of the platoon. It’s not the most exciting platoon ever, but could provide a 2-3 wins.
LF: Cespedes is a stud.
CF: Chris Young and Coco Crisp form a very solid platoon in center field. Young has hit lefties very well in his career (.860 OPS) and Crisp has fairly neutral career splits, though he did post a much higher OPS against righties (.774) than lefties (.682) in 2012. The two play very good defense, and combined could turn Oakland’s CF into a productive position this season.
RF: Josh Reddick was one of the better stories of 2012 (especially if you have an active distaste for the Red Sox organization), as he had a 4.8 rWAR season fueled by 32 homeruns and great defense. When you look at his season splits, though, there’s reason to be worried. Reddick got off to a blistering start, but only hit .215/.256/.391 in the second half. Rather than a flukey few months of BABIP regression, it appears that pitchers did figure Reddick out to an extent. His K% increased from 21.5% to 23.5%, and his BB% plummeted from a very strong 10.6% to just 5.4%. His ISO also dropped from .264 to .176. Reddick is going to have to show that he can adjust or he is in for a miserable season at the plate. And call me pessimistic, I think he’s extremely unlikely to be worth 2.2 wins in the field again.
Out of the group, only a few positions are really all that strong heading into the season. The A’s won last year because many marginal players had great years while being played in the perfect platoon. Is it unreasonable to expect Moss, Sizemore and Donaldson to have large years? Individually, no, but Oakland needs all three to have pretty strong years. The 2013 A’s lineup is simply not as strong as the 2012 A’s ended up being.
And the pitching staff isn’t as strong as it was last season, either. Tommy Milone appears to get by on pure magic, because his fastball cannot break a plane of glass. He might be a decent back-end starter, but unless he’s the next Mark Buehrle he’s going to have trouble keeping his ERA in the mid-3’s again this year. Bartolo Colon is older and presumably out of performance enhancers, and cannot be counted on for anything other than 4-5th starter level production. The loss of Brandon McCarthy is huge, even if McCarthy could only be counted on for roughly 140 innings maximum. His innings will be eaten by a “healthy” Brett Anderson, Dan Straily, and the occasional spot start by Travis Blackley. Brett Anderson has never been healthy, but will be ok in the few innings he does throw. Straily is an interesting prospect, but first-year starters are pretty unreliable. There’s also an interesting quality to the A’s rotation, and that is the lack of strikeout pitchers. A staff that has no one who will strike out more than 7.5 per nine is a staff that is very vulnerable to bad luck on batted balls, and will have trouble working out of jams. Even a slight up-tick in walk and home run rates amongst the bunch could cost multiple wins over the course of a season.
The A’s bullpen was absurdly good in 2012, with two relievers posting over 2 rWAR, and three more over 1 rWAR. While Cook, Balfour, and Doolittle do make a strong late-game trio, relievers are extremely volatile and asking your bullpen to provide nearly 10 wins of value for a second year is a foolish place to rest your hopes.
The A’s are run by extremely smart people, and they’re sure as hell going to get maximum value out of their roster. But there is a reason the A’s were unheralded going into 2012, and that’s the lack of star talent on the roster after Cespedes. This has not changed heading into 2013, and playing in a division with the Angels and Rangers is only going to make it that much tougher on this A’s ballclub. I think they’re an 84-86 win team, and think they’ll be fighting for 3rd with the Mariners for much of the season.