Ranking the Best Possible Infield Combos for the Oakland Athletics in 2013

Nick HouserCorrespondent IIFebruary 28, 2013

Ranking the Best Possible Infield Combos for the Oakland Athletics in 2013

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    With 10 infielders on the 40-man roster, the Oakland Athletics certainly have options around the horn. But which combination is the best?

    First base seems clear: Brandon Moss starts, and Daric Barton will compete for a spot on the 25-man roster.

    Second base is a wide-open competition predominately between Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore. Though Jed Lowrie could very well earn the spot, too. Furthermore, Lowrie, a natural shortstop, could bump Hiroyuki Nakajima to second base.

    At this point, Nakajima is slated to be the everyday shortstop.

    Then there's third base.

    Josh Donaldson has a hold on the position dating back to the end of the 2012 season. He has little competition, though it's worth noting Lowrie can play all four infield positions and Sizemore played third in 2011.

    Spring training is going to be interesting.

    With so many players capable of starting, there are more than 20 combinations for these four spots. Of them, here are the best.

    Note: This list will be presented in descending order, beginning with the best possible option. Each subsequent option is the next best alternative. Players listed are in the order of first base, second base, shortstop and third base.

    Credit baseball-reference.com and oaklandathletics.mlb.com for all statistics.

No. 1: Moss, Lowrie, Nakajima, Donaldson

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    There is not a better first baseman on the team than Brandon Moss. Daric Barton has had multiple opportunities to earn and keep first base. Yet, he's been sent down to the minors as recently as last season.

    Meanwhile, Moss hit .291/.358/.596.

    Jed Lowrie may be a better hitter than Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks, but it's hard to tell at this point. While Lowrie has played in five major league seasons to Weeks' and Sizemore's two, his time has been very inconsistent (only 353 games). Sizemore has played in 158 and Weeks played in 215.

    So there's sample size issues.

    The facts we do know are these: Lowrie is a career .250 hitter with some to little power. Sizemore has similar power, but his career average is lower. Weeks replaces power with speed but has otherwise been streaky.

    It's very close.

    Lowrie gets the nod here because of Weeks' inconsistency and Sizemore's combination of position changes and injury. Weeks must prove 2012 was a fluke; Sizemore must maintain health and consistency in one spot.

    Until then, it's Lowrie by default.

    Here I've used WAR as the tiebreaker. Sizemore and Weeks own a career 0.5 to Lowrie's 4.6. Lowrie's highest WAR bests the other two; his low is better than their lows.

    Hiroyuki Nakajima, so far, seems to be making a smooth transition to Major League Baseball.  Between showing up to camp early and rave reviews from the coaching staff, Hiro's setting himself up for success. On the field, he's turned a smooth double play defensively, but he is just 1-for-7 at the dish.

    It's too soon to worry about his hitting, however. Keep in mind, though, it may not fully translate over, as he was a consistent near-.300 hitter in Japan. The talent and ability are there.

    Josh Donaldson is another guy who somewhat wins by default.

    If Nakajima and Lowrie are on the field, there's not much competition to take third away from Donaldson. Sizemore stands the best chance, so let's compare those two.

    In 2011, Sizemore hit .249 in 93 games playing third base for the A's. He also hit 11 home runs and knocked in 52 RBI.

    Then he got hurt and sat out a year.

    Donaldson played 75 games at third last season in Oakland. He hit .241 with nine home runs and 33 RBI. Pretty similar production, and this is considering he did it in less games and hitting lower in the order.

    But it's Donaldson's split that earns him the job.

    In the second half of the season, after bouncing back from a Triple-A stint, Donaldson hit .290. He finished the season very strong and arguably was an integral part to Oakland's playoff push.

    In a tiebreaker, a hot finish beats a missed year.

No. 2: Moss, Nakajima, Lowrie, Donaldson

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    No, there's nothing wrong with your eyes. Those names do look the exact same—except with a minor switch.

    Throw Jed Lowrie at shortstop and move Hiroyuki Nakajima to second base, and this is a still an awesome infield.

    The move allows Lowrie to keep playing at his natural position. Questions over Nakajima's defense (h/t: Susan Slusser of SFGate.com) might be lessened with a move to second. The switch would take Nakajima out of the spotlight of a marquee position and allow fewer defensive plays to be made. Plus, there is less of a necessity for deeper range.

No. 3: Moss, Lowrie, Nakajima, Sizemore

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    If you read the last slide (and hopefully you did), you've seen the arguments for Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie and Hiroyuki Nakajima.

    You've also seen how close Josh Donaldson's and Scott Sizemore's stats are.

    If Sizemore does indeed bounce back with no issues and picks up right where he left off in 2011, there's no reason he shouldn't be on the field.

    After all, he had the second-best on-base percentage in Oakland in 2011.

    If Sizemore doesn't earn second and Donaldson slips at third, he can easily return right back to the spot he left void in spring training last year.

    To spare you more confusion, the next logical option would be: Moss, Nakajima, Lowrie, Sizemore for all the same reasons above, swapping Lowrie's and Nakajima's defensive positions. Numbers/ranking-wise, this will not be reflected in the following slides.

No. 4: Moss, Sizemore, Nakajima, Donaldson

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    Let's assume a few things.

    Say Moss takes first (seems like a no-brainer), Sizemore earns second and Nakajima does in fact start the season as the everyday shortstop as planned.

    Looking at the stats, we're really splitting hairs here when it comes to comparing Donaldson, Sizemore and Lowrie. They're quite similar hitters.

    If it comes down to Donaldson and Lowrie for the final spot, though, two things must be considered in Donaldson's favor.

    First, that hot finish I mentioned in a prior slide.

    Second, Donaldson has more practical experience. He was in Oakland last year; Lowrie was not. Donaldson played third in 2012; Lowrie played shortstop.

    There's a transition for Lowrie. The same cannot be said for Donaldson.

    Therefore, if it's close, Donaldson must keep his job.

No. 5: Moss, Sizemore, Nakajima, Lowrie

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    I did warn you there are more than 20 combinations, right? Bear with me, I'm not ranking every single one. We're almost there.

    This one is easy.

    The same logic applies to Moss, Sizemore and Nakajima once again. Between Donaldson and Lowrie, I've explained support for Donaldson.

    If not him, Lowrie at third is the next best option.

No. 6, 7 and 8

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    So as to not make your head spin, here's an easier breakdown of a few more options, all including Jemile Weeks.

    Don't sleep on the guy.

    There's a reason he was called up in 2011. There's a reason he hit .303 in 97 games. It couldn't have been a simple fluke.

    So far, he's hitting .625 in two spring training games (5-for-8) with two doubles. It's just spring training, but that's impressive for a guy who lost his job and got sent down in 2012. So far, Weeks is out to prove 2012 was the fluke, not 2011.

    A return-to-form Weeks up the middle with Nakajima would be dazzling. Moss and Donaldson at the corners would be steady defensively and powerful offensively.

     

    No. 6
    Moss
    Weeks
    Nakajima
    Donaldson

     

    No. 7
    Moss
    Weeks
    Nakajima
    Lowrie

     

    No. 8
    Moss
    Weeks
    Nakajima
    Sizemore

Conclusion

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    These are just eight options—the five best and a few bonus options. Of course there are more. I've omitted any use of Daric Barton, Grant Green, Adam Rosales, Andy Parrino and Eric Sogard. I'm also banking on Hiroyuki Nakajima not flopping.

    Obviously the best combination involves Brandon Moss at first base.

    Nakajima has all but been guaranteed the starting shortstop role, and Jed Lowrie takes on spring training as the ultimate utility player. Lowrie's past as an everyday shortstop bodes well for him, though, to find a spot as a starter.

    Not only is there such depth around the horn, the players—Josh Donaldson, Scott Sizemore, Jemile Weeks and Lowrie—are very similar.

    Depth is a pro.

    But if the A's hope for one of these career .240 to .250 hitters to suddenly step up and shine to push the team past 2012's production, well, all of them being so similar could be a con if none can.

    Still, the potential is there.

    Donaldson may continue to solidify his role as an everyday player. Nakajima's transition could be as smooth as butter. Sizemore could bounce back, or Lowrie can find a new everyday position.

    Or Weeks can rebound and throw a monkey wrench in the whole thing (and these rankings).

    Platoons and monkey wrenches. That's the A's way.