This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.
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An outcome becoming annoyingly frequent to A’s fans, the team underperformed middling projections, finishing last in the AL West. While on simple run differential the team looked no better, BaseRun standings indicate the team once again suffered some bad luck. Unsurprising for a team led by Jed Lowrie and a bunch of pre-arb players, the A’s embodied inconsistency in 2017. While this led to many losing streaks of four games or more, the team also had an inspiring finish to the season behind the backs of rookie Matts; Olson and Chapman.
Billed as a team without any substantial weaknesses or strengths coming into 2017, the A’s actually saw surprisingly varied results. Joining in on the MLB-wide dinger craze with 234 (4th in the MLB), the A’s finished 7th-best with a 102 wRC+, hurt by below-average base running and a league-worst -60.5 defensive runs. The pitching staff finished in the bottom third in the league in FIP and xFIP, mixing above-average performances by some of the rotation and bullpen with a putrid output from a number of younger players.
Offseason in Review:
Key Additions – Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit, Stephen Piscotty, Emilio Pagan
Despite possessing a low payroll, the A’s had a quiet offseason, mainly shoring up an already interesting bullpen. The team is clearly targeting flyball-heavy RP who can pitch multiple innings, zigging while the rest of the league looks to get as many short-stint groundball/strikeout specialists as they can. The A’s hope these additions outpitch their FIPs and xFIPs, continuing to induce weak contact and pop-ups to take advantage of spacious o.Co Coliseum.
Key Losses – Ryon Healy, Jesse Hahn
While both Healy and Hahn have some flashes of brilliance and possess some interesting tools, neither of these pieces should come back to bite the A’s. Healy is young and has shown good to great power in the past, but hasn’t built on his abhorrent walk rate or defense, culminating in a pretty limited player. Hahn flashed an interesting repertoire in 2017, he just couldn’t find any consistency, while the A’s still possess a number of interesting and inconsistent SP options to bet on moving forward. Some regression is expected for key hitters Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, although Olson leads the team with a 2.7 projected WAR. Similar to 2017, the A’s should have adequate depth and options across the board but are void of star players to build a competitive team around.
The projections see much of the same for the A’s this season, predicting a 4th place finish in the division. Steamer doesn’t believe in the pen’s ability to continue out-pitching their peripherals, whilst also not really seeing any starting option as above-average. ZiPS is slightly more optimistic on Khris Davis, (2.5 WAR) but agrees on a below .500 finish for the team.
While youngsters like Franklin Barreto and Dustin Fowler could come up and make a big impact this year, any illusions of playoffs stem from big advancements from Olson, Chapman, and Sean Manaea. Matt Chapman (2.7 sWAR) looks to be a cornerstone for the next competitive A’s team, provided Billy Beane doesn’t trade him to Toronto. Whoops. At a minimum, Chapman looks to combine well above-average power with great defense. With any improvement in his contact skills, Chapman could easily transform himself into one of the better players in the league. Matt Olson checks in with a similar offensive profile, he just lacks the defensive prowess. A more limited ceiling could still help propel the A’s to one of the better offenses in baseball again. As the de facto ace, Sean Manaea (2.0 sWAR) gives the A’s their best chance at finding an above-average SP. He’s still young enough that a big step forward is still possible, though his health and performance come with a lot of risks.
Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:
With graduations of key players over the past few seasons, the A’s have fewer prospects looking to make an impact in 2018. Franklin Barreto looks to wrangle the starting SS spot from Marcus Semien at some point (or take over at 2B), becoming a cornerstone player for the franchise. Trade acquisitions Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler should hang around the high minors and make a big league appearance provided good health in 2018. Top pitching prospect A.J. Puk looks to build off of a fantastic 2017 campaign, potentially pushing into the majors around the All-Star break.
The projections see a similar finish for the 2018 Athletics: a good offense led by dingers, but not enough pitching to get out of the AL West basement. There are tons of interesting young players in the system, however, leading to aspirations of competition in 2020 or sooner. If the A’s can get improvements from a few starters, and get healthy seasons from their upper-level prospects, the team should be in much better shape following the 2018 season.