Last Year: 81-81, 2nd in AL West
Manager: Bob Geren
C- Kurt Suzuki (R)
1B- Daric Barton (L)
2B- Mark Ellis (R)
3B- Kevin Kouzmanoff (R)
SS- Cliff Pennington (S)
LF- Josh Willingham (R)
CF- Coco Crisp (S)
RF- David DeJesus (L)
DH- Hideki Matsui (L)
The 2010 season did not feature a typical Billy Beane type of offense. The team was middle of the pack in OBP, in the bottom three in HR and in the top three in stolen bases.
Billy Beane tried to improve on those numbers by adding Josh Willingham and trading away Rajai Davis. Willingham will average about 20 home runs and put up a .370 OBP. David DeJesus was also acquired to boost some of those numbers by taking over for Ryan Sweeney, who will be moved to the bench. Expect DeJesus to post a line of .290/.360/.440 with 10-13 home runs.
Coco Crisp will continue to hit leadoff for the A's, after injuries limited him to only 75 games. In those 75 games, Crisp played well, hitting eight home runs and stealing 32 bases. I think those same numbers are what Crisp will contribute to the A's this season. A line of .275/.340/.390 should be reasonable for Crisp to achieve.
Hideki Matsui will take over at DH, and give the A's some consistent power and OBP from the position. I do worry about Matsui setting a career-high mark in strikeouts in 2010, but he should produce 20 home runs and at least a .360 OBP.
The A's infield isn't a power-hitting group. Kurt Suzuki really struggled at the end of 2010, which could be a product of the amount of innings he has caught over the last three years. Geren should get him some more rest, and he will produce a line closer to 2009. Daric Barton isn't a typical power-hitting first basemen. Barton has great discipline, but will only hit 10-15 home runs. Look for a line of .270/.385/.410.
Mark Ellis' seasons have fluctuated over the last few years due to injury, but he should hit around seven to 10 home runs and post a .270/.340/.390 line. Cliff Pennington hit six home runs with 29 stolen bases and a .250/.319/.368 line in 2010. Pennington doesn't have the raw skills to improve on those numbers.
Will the A's make the playoffs?
At 3B, Kevin Kouzmanoff's numbers have been declining since 2008. I think 2010 may have been an aberration, and the effect of switching leagues, plus a low BABIP. Kouzmanoff should hit around 18-20 home runs with a .260/.310/.420 line.
The A's had the fifth-best team UZR in 2010, and they have plus defenders at almost every position. However, Kurt Suzuki had a poor season behind the plate, despite having the reputation as one of the better defensive catchers in the American League. He had the second-lowest CS percentage among all catchers.
I believe the A's have the best infield defense in baseball. Daric Barton had the best UZR of any 1B in 2010. In addition, Ellis, Kouzmanoff and Pennington are all in the top three in UZR at their respective positions.
The outfield isn't as strong. Josh Willingham is the A's worst defender, he had a minus-4.4 UZR in left field. Coco Crisp is the A's best outfielder, and is considered one of the better center fielders in baseball. David DeJesus is considered slightly above average in RF. Hideki Matsui should only be used at DH.
OF- Connor Jackson (R)
IF- Eric Sogard (L) (IF- Adam Rosales out until May)
OF- Ryan Sweeney (L)
C- Landon Powell (S)
RHP- Trevor Cahill
LHP- Dallas Braden
LHP- Brett Anderson
LHP- Gio Gonzalez
RHP- Brandon McCarthy
The A's rotation will continue to be a strength for this team in 2011. The staff is led by 23 year-old Trevor Cahill, a sinkerballer who had a breakout year in 2010. Cahill relies on that heavy sinker to record a lot of ground-outs. Unlike other sinkerballers, Cahill has above average secondary pitches. He struck out more than five per nine innings, walked 2.87 per nine and allowed 19 HRs. I don't think he will have the same success, but look for a 3.50 ERA and similar BB and K rates.
Brett Anderson has the tools to become one of the top pitchers in the league. He throws a heavy 92 MPH and has one of the better sliders in baseball. He complements both with a decent curve and changeup. Anderson has great command, but he has dealt with elbow injuries over the last two seasons.
Dallas Braden is a junkballing lefty whose fastball averages at 86.7 MPH. Despite his fringe fastball, Braden has been able to become a reliable pitcher because of his screwball-like changeup (Check out tomorrow's best changeups). His changeup makes his fastball seem like it's 90 MPH. Braden's great control and low HR rates will allow him to put up similar numbers in 2011.
One could make a case that Gio Gonzalez was Oakland's most reliable starter last year. Gonzalez throws a low 90's fastball with one of the game's best curveballs. Gonzalez walks too many (4.13 BB/9) but his ground ball rate, HR rate and K rate are all above average. Many projections see him taking a step back due to his low BABIP, but I think Gonzalez puts up similar numbers.
I think Brandon McCarthy takes the last spot in the rotation. McCarthy hasn't been able to stay healthy over the last couple of years, but he has shown he can be successful. McCarthy throws the standard four pitches, but he apparently has started throwing all two-seamers instead of four-seamers. The jury is still out on McCarthy.
RHP- Andrew Bailey (Closer) (Start season on DL)
RHP- Grant Balfour
LHP- Brian Fuentes
RHP- Michael Wuertz
LHP- Craig Breslow
RHP- Brad Ziegler
LHP- Jerry Blevins
LHP- Bobby Cramer
RHP- Rich Harden (Will start season on DL)
I love what Billy Beane has done with the A's bullpen. Each pitcher has a different style, and possesses a different strength. Andrew Bailey has had two successful years at closer using low 90's fastball, cutter and curveball. Bailey has been aided by very high LOB percentage, so don't expect an ERA below 2.00 this year.
Grant Balfour is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, but he strikes out more than a hitter per inning. Balfour used to exclusively throw fastballs, but he has mixed in more sliders as his velocity has decreased.
Brian Fuentes is a great left-handed specialist. Fuentes has lost a little velocity, so he isn't good candidate to close anymore. Fuentes is still very tough on lefties, and will be featured prominently in the late innings.
Craig Breslow is the other lefty in the bullpen, and he is capable of getting both lefties and righties out. His 90 MPH and good slider allows him to strikeout more than eight per nine innings.
Michael Wuertz will throw his slider 65 percent of the time, while working his fastball (89.6 MPH) off of it. Wuertz doesn't have the best control, but his slider makes him tough on right-handed hitters and he records a lot of strikeouts.
Brad Ziegler is a submarining sinkerballer, and is exceptionally tough on right-handed hitters. He doesn't have enough velocity or a good enough changeup to get left-handed hitters out. I never loved him in a set-up role, but he is a perfect candidate for middle relief on this club.
NOTABLE NON ROSTER INVITEES
RHP- Fernando Cabrera
RHP- Vinnie Chulk
RHP- Willie Eyre
IF- Andy LaRoche (R)
OF- Matt Carson (R)
KEY PLAYER: Brett Anderson
Brett Anderson has pitched very well in his two years with the Oakland A's, but his biggest problem has been staying healthy. If Anderson is able to make 30 starts, I think he will have the best season of anyone in the A's rotation.
PROSPECT TO WATCH: Tyson Ross
Tyson Ross was ranked as Oakland's No. 4 prospect by Baseball America. He pitched in 25 games out of the bullpen for Oakland last season, and struggled. He will average 92-93 on his fastball and mix in a changeup for show against left-handed hitters. His out pitch is a mid-80's slider. He has impressed early this spring. If he doesn't make the club out of March, he will be up sometime this year.
PROJECTED FINISH: 2nd in AL West
The A's have a real shot to win this division. The A's pitching staff could carry them to the playoffs, much like the Giants last year. In addition, the A's might have the best defense in baseball. I don't think the lineup has enough power for them to pass the Rangers. They will be competitive the entire way, and should be a factor in the wild card race.