Oakland A's 2009 Season Preview

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Oakland A's 2009 Season Preview

2008 record: 76-86

 

Key Additions:

Matt Holliday (OF), Jason Giambi (1B/DH), Russ Springer (RF), Michael Wuertz

 

Key Subtractions:

Huston Street (RP), Carlos Gonzalez (OF), Alan Embree (RP), Greg Smith (SP)

 

A look at the lineup:

Once again Billy Beane has done what Billy Beane does. He went out and looked for a series of manageable contracts that will fit his on base first philosophy. So he shipped out the most dominant closer the A's have seen since Dennis Eckersley, and in return got exactly the kind of player he covets. In one of the biggest trades of the off-season, Beane did the appropriate amount of wheeling and dealing to land Colorado’s superstar outfielder Matt Holliday. In an everything old is new again type move he also managed to reacquire Jason Giambi through free agency, Giambi now follows in the footsteps of Frank Thomas, and Mike Piazza in filling Oakland’s “over the hill but maybe there just enough left in the tank” DH role. It is what looks to be a potentially high powered offense.

 

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki, a Cal State-Fullerton product, is considered one of the top up and coming catchers in all of baseball. A solid glove Suzuki ranked 11th in range factor in the majors last year, he managed only five passed balls, and threw out 36.8% of runners, which was good for 3rd in the majors among every day catchers. Suzukihas spent two years with the big club, but only found starting roll in 2008 where he hit .279, and his OBP was very Oakland like at .346. If there is something lacking in Suzuki’s game, its power, with 148 hits, he managed only 196 total bases and a SLG % of .370. Other than his relatively light (?) power number Suzuki seems poised to have a solid year by the bay. Rob Bowenis the backup; he is a defense first catcher whose numbers would lead you to believe he doesn’t carry a bat to the plate. In 37 games last year, he musters 16 hits in 91 plate appearance and a whopping .219 OBP. He may be fighting for his job in camp.

 

First Base: There are a couple of plausibly scenario’s for the A’s at first, but the one that seems to make the most sense from a runs scored perspective is to have Jason Giambi manning the bag. The A’s realize that Giambi’s short comings are in the field, and that nobody is going to mistake him for Steve Garvey. Giambi did manage to get his range factor up over 9 for the first time in 3 years at 37 years old. He’s definitely lost as step, but the A’s didn’t bring him in to win gold gloves. They put the ink on a $5.25 Million dollar deal because they believe Giambi can still mash. Although the batting average has suffered in recent years, the ability to control the strike zone still results in a hundred plus trips to first base via the walk each year and that was enough entice Billy Beane to make another run at Oakland’s former wild child. Also a bat that could still potentially knock out 30 dingers didn’t hurt either. It bears noting since 1999 Giambi has missed the 30 home run plateau only twice, and in both those years he played less than 100 games. He is going to see some time at DH, and on those nights Daric Barton is going to get a look, his OBP of .419 last September showed promise, but he’ll more than likely be on a short leash and may be sent back to Triple A to get him some swings.

 

Second Base: Mark Ellis is one o the few defensive bright spots on this A’s team, he finish 10thamong regular second basemen in Range Factor last year, and first in fielding percentage. Offensively he managed only a .233 BA, but somewhat makes up for it because of an 88 point bump in his OBP (.321). The strength of his defense makes the job his, but don’t be surprised if you see Cliff Pennington stealing some at bats this year. He’s shown great speed on the base path, and exceptional command of the strike zone in the minor leagues. In 36 major league games last year he managed 24 hits I 99 plate appearances and ground out another 13 walks.

 

Shortstop: Well, here is a definite weakness in the A’s lineup. Bobby Crosby was back from three injury plagued seasons, and unfortunately the POP he displayed in his 2004 campaign was no where to be found. Last year Crosbyposted a 5 year low in homeruns, and that includes seasons where he played 151, 84, 96 and 93 games. Last year Crosbymanaged 145 games for the A’s. When compared to that 2004 season, his last full season, he is a shadow of the player that hit 22 homeruns, with .426 SLG% and .745 OPS. But with Cliff Pennington as his primary backup there is no one in camp to push Crosby out of a potential starting job.

 

Third Base: Eric Chavez is another injury plagued Athletic. If Chavez can make it to the park in one piece there is potential for great things in 2009. Before the issues with his shoulders, he was one of the best third basemen in all of baseball, but following another off-season surgery, who knows what to expect. To try to project his numbers is impossible. If he were able to produce up to his 162 game career average the A’s would take it all day. But who knows if he will be able to reproduce is 162 averages of  29 homeruns, 98 RBI, 70 walks and .270 batting average . All those numbers are based on if he can get to the plate 588 times, a feat which he has managed only three times in the last seven years, and not in the last three. Unfortunately for Oakland, his back up Jack Hannahanmanaged to produce only a .218 batting average and a .342 SLG% in 436 at bats last year. It could be a tough year at the hot corner for the A’s if we see a lot of Jack Hannahan over there. 

 

Left Field: A real bright spot of the Oakland A’s. They may have pulled one of the best young left fielders in the game into the fold with there off season trade for Matt Holliday. It is reasonable to assume that Holliday’s number may see a slight dip because of the change in parks and leagues. But I am not so sure that he’ll have all that much trouble adjusting to the city by the bay. It is also worth nothing Holliday has never had this much power around him in a line up before. Defensively Holliday is sound, and will likely post slightly above average numbers for a left fielder. If I were to project his numbers this year, I’d look at his road splits from Colorado, which were a very respectable, .296/.370/.486. Considering the added comfort of his new park, I would expect those to be below the level he actually performs at. Even though his power and doubles numbers dipped last year, I would expect to see him back closer to 30 homeruns and 40 doubles when it’s all said and done.

 

Center Field: Ryan Sweeneyplayed all three outfield spots for the A’s last year. But it looks like he is going to land as the leader in the race to secure the starting centerfield job. Although it looks to be potentially a platoon situation with Rajai Davis, I would expect that Sweeney will see most of the starts. Although Davis steals a ton of bases, he doesn’t get on base enough for these Moneyball A’s. That being said, Sweeney has had an awful time with south paws. So we might see the right handed stick of Davis get a chance to shine if he can show that he has figured out the left handed puzzle.

 

Right Field: In 120 big league games Travis Buckhas managed to compile 14 home runs and a .266 BA vs a .347 OBP. Unfortunately he’s seems to suffer from the same sort of Oakland Syndrome at Crosby and Chavez. If Buck can stay on the field, he is far and away the best right field option in Oakland. There is talk of trying to get Daric Barton at bats, which shifts Giambi to the DH spot and Jack Custinto right field. Compared to Cust defensively Buck can flat out pick it. But Oakland has never really been that concerned with defense in the past as it pertained to constructing their line ups. Travis Buck is going to have to win this job out of camp, or you may see the aforementioned scenario play out, and Buck sent to Triple A to get his at bats.

 

DH: In the DH spot the A’s are fielding the Moneyball proto-type. In a perfect world Jack Cust doesn’t own a hat or a glove. He wears his helmet everywhere and carries a big stick. Since landing in Oakland,Cust averages 180 strikeouts, 108 walks and 30 home runs. On the flips side he has a career fielding percentage of .961. You’ll see Giambi get some starts at DH, but this line up is best with both bats in it and Cust swinging for the fences, not defending them.

 

A look at the pitching:

Starters: This rotation is full of questions marks from Justin Duchscherer’s health, to the development curve of Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher and Gio Gonzalez. What version are we going see? Who really knows? Unlike the A’s rotations of the past the Big 3 are all gone, as are Dan Haren, and Rich Harden. This group is a roll of the dice collectively and inconsistency will more than likely be the only consistent theme this year.

 

Justin Duchscherer is going to be counted on to be the ace of the staff, and at first glace the 31 year old 2.54 ERA from a year ago sparkles. His career mark of 3.14 is impressive. Even while being shut down in August, he made a career high in starts (22). Unfortunately that’s the problem, before last year he had five career starts and hadn’t made one since 2003. The other issue raised is that he has now twice had major hip surgery. If the A’s get more than the 22 starts from a year ago out of the Duke they should count themselves lucky. He has the ability to be a front end of the rotation guy, but he has to stay on the field to do it.

 

Dana Eveland was a product of the Dan Harentrade that sent the former Cardinal and Oakland Athletic back to the National league Diamondbacks. If he can get his walk number down, he maybe an effective starter in the majors, but that is a big IF. He averages more than four walks per nine. Last years 6.32 punch outs per nine were respectable, especially for a pitcher that gets a lot of ground ball outs. But Eveland is just the first question mark in a long line of A’s pitchers. He did manage to go 9-9 in 29 starts and show some durability logging 168 innings in his first full season in The Show.

 

Sean Gallagher has to find the strike zone. He’s got very raw, but very good,stuff. His fastball clocks in around 93-94 and he definitely can throw a big league curve. He was 5-7 with a 5.15 ERA split between the Athletics and the Cubs last year. Like Eveland he averages almost 4.5 free passes per nine innings pitched. But with his stuff, he also managed 103 K’s in only 115 innings of work last year. (54 in 56 innings in Oakland.)

 

Gio Gonzalez showed a knack for the strikeout in his 7 starts last year. He managed 34 in 34 innings pitched. Unfortunately his also threw in 25 walks to compliment his efforts. His 1-4 record and 7.68 don’t do much in telling you what kind of pitcher he is. He is going to have to considerably lower his 20.8 pitcher per innings numbers to work deeper into games. Numbers like that combined with the high strike out and walk per innings totals show him as a nibbler. He’s going to have to challenge big league hitters. If he does that can he get them out? The quick answer is yes…..on days when he feels good with his curve as his out pitch.

 

The fifth starter spot will either go to soft tossing lefty Dallas Braden who went 5-4 with a 4.14 in 19 appearance (10 starts) with the A’s last year. On the other hand if James Simmons can impress out of camp, the 21 year old that finished up 9-6 last year with a 3.51 ERA and 120 strikeouts against 32 walks in 136 Innings pitched in AA last year.

 

Bullpen: With key off-season acquisition Michael Wuertz bringing his strike out per inning tally out to Oakland to assist Brad Zeiglerthis pen should be rock solid this summer. Zeigler managed a 1.06 ERA last year and 47 appearances logging 59 innings for the Athletics last year. The real question remains, which of the candidates is going to close for these Athletics? It seems the A’s are happy to leave Zeigler in a set up roll and move Joey Devine and his 0.56 ERA to the back end of the pen. But that could all change very quickly.

 

Outlook:

 

The team is much improved over a year ago, the heart of the lineup, Holliday, Giambi, Cust, Chavez have a chance to knock out 100 plus homeruns between them on an Oakland team that managed only 125 all of last season to rank 11th out of the 14 teams in the American League. Their starting rotation is full of young arms that are going to be consistently inconsistent. Luckily they’ll be backed up by a solid bullpen. When it breaks right down to it, the 24 game gap between the Angels and A’s is a lot of ground for any team to make up in just one off season, but luckily they’ll play Seattle and Texas a lot and that may give the kids some confidence.  When running the 162 game averages of the projected starting lineup we see an A’s team that should score approximately 816 runs or more than all but 4 clubs in the big leagues last year.

 

Prediction:

Oakland, spits, claws, and more importantly walks their way to the top of the AL West in 2009. Even with some of the health and consistency question marks, I see a down year in the division and Oakland team with a red hot offense that takes the crown with a record of 95-57.

 

Find this preview as well as the other 30 major league teams at: www.rbimagazine.com

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