30 Clubs in 30 Days: Oakland Athletics

Some little bits of news to discuss before I get into the A’s. Lance Lynn signed with the Twins, bolstering their rotation, and the Patriots traded for Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton. With Lynn gone, the only real free agents left of significance are Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Greg Holland. As for Shelton, the former 12th overall pick was a disappointment in Cleveland but I think he fits New England’s system a lot better, as they like to use a true nose tackle a lot more often than Cleveland does, which is what Shelton is at 6’3 345 pounds. And the big news of course is Richard Sherman agreeing to sign with the 49ers on a 3 year $39M deal. So without further ado, let’s get to this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days featuring the Oakland Athletics.

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2017 Results:

Record: 75-87, 26 games behind Houston Astros, 10 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: RF Stephen Piscotty, C Jonathan Lucroy, DH Brandon Moss, RP Ryan Buchter, RP Yusmeiro Petit

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B Ryon Healy, SP Jesse Hahn, DH Chris Carter, RP John Axford

Best Offensive Player: DH Khris Davis

Best Pitcher: Kendall Graveman

Depth Chart:

C-Jonathan Lucroy, Bruce Maxwell, Josh Phegley

1B-Matt Olson, Brandon Moss

2B-Jed Lowrie

3B-Matt Chapman

SS-Marcus Semien

LF-Khris Davis (DH), Matt Joyce

CF-Dustin Fowler, Boog Powell

RF-Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha

SP-Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mendgen, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn

Bullpen-Blake Treinen (CP), Yusmeiro Petit, Chris Hatcher, Santiago Casilla, Liam Hendriks, Ryan Dull, Ryan Buchter, Danny Coloumbe

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Bob Melvin (8th season with Athletics)

Hitting Coach-Darren Bush

Pitching Coach-Scott Emerson

1st Base Coach-Al Pedrique

3rd Base Coach-Matt Williams

Bench Coach-Ryan Christenson

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I feel like the Athletics are just the most obscure team in baseball and the only reason they really get any sort of attention is because of Moneyball, both the movie and the book. Otherwise, I doubt anybody would ever pay them a second thought. They don’t have any superstar players and they won’t compete for the postseason but they also won’t be so bad that they’re a talking point. They’re just kind of there. Here’s a look at their lineup to prove my point.

1. Jed Lowrie-2B

2. Stephen Piscotty-RF

3. Matt Chapman-3B

4. Khris Davis-DH

5. Matt Olson-1B

6. Jonathan Lucroy-C

7. Marcus Semien-SS

8. Matt Joyce-LF

9. Dustin Fowler/Boog Powell-CF

Jonathan Lucroy was considered one of the top catchers in the game for a while, but he had a down year in 2017. Having split time between the Rangers and Rockies, Lucroy hit .265 with 6 home runs and 40 RBI and a 1.2 WAR. He just agreed to a 1-year deal with the A’s a couple days ago and as of this writing, Lucroy has not been officially introduced as an Oakland A. If he can bounce back and return to his 2016 form, the heart of the A’s order could be deadly. Khris Davis has been an absolute monster at the plate since the A’s acquired him from the Brewers prior to the 2016 season as he’s had back-to-back 40 home runs seasons in Oakland. He’s been extremely consistent in his two years there, as he hit .247 in both seasons while hitting 42 home runs in 2016 and 43 in ’17, and was worth 2.4 WAR in ’16 and 2.3 in ’17. So you kind of know what you’re going to get with Davis in an A’s uniform. Where the projection comes into play is from the two Matt’s in this A’s lineup: Chapman and Olson. Chapman made his Major League debut last season and despite a low batting average of .234, he slugged .472, showcasing a pretty good power stroke while also playing excellent defense at third base. His 19 DRS in 84 games would’ve led all AL third basemen had he played enough to qualify and would’ve ranked just behind Nolan Arenado for best in baseball. As for Olson, he played 59 games for the A’s last season and hit 24 home runs, which equates to a 65 home run season over 162 games. He also plays above average defense at first base, being worth 4 DRS in his limited action. Both he and Chapman are two guys the A’s organization is really excited about. Centerfield is the one position in this lineup that is a question mark as to who is going to man it. Dustin Fowler is a highly rated prospect that the A’s acquired from the Yankees in the Sonny Gray deal at last year’s trade deadline while Boog Powell is a guy they acquired from the Mariners in exchange for Yonder Alonso around the same time. Fowler is notable as being the Yankees prospect who injured his knee in his first big league game last season and was shelved for the remainder of the season. He has yet to have his first big league plate appearance. Powell played in 52 games last season and hit a solid .282 while playing a good defensive outfield. I think I’m going to give the slight edge to Powell to be the Opening Day starter but I think it’s going to be Fowler in the long run.

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This is probably one of the least sexy pitching rotations in the Majors but it could also be one of the more underrated. Kendall Graveman is likely going to be the ace at the start of the season but he would probably be the #3 or 4 starter on most other teams. He’s not bad, his ERA is consistently in the low-4’s, but he’s not the guy you’re going to breathe a sigh of relief for when you see that it’s his turn in the rotation. The guys the A’s are hoping develop this season are Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton. Manaea was one of their top prospects and he’s gotten some significant action the last couple years. He had a 3.86 ERA in his 2016 rookie season and 4.37 last year, however that number was inflated due to a rough second half, as he had an ERA over 5 after the All Star break. He’s a talented lefty that the A’s hope can be their future ace. Cotton is another guy with a lot of talent but hasn’t quite figured out how to pitch in the Majors just yet. He debuted in 2016, making 5 starts and he pitched really well in those outings, posting a 2.15 ERA. He got a chance to pitch a full season in 2017 and he didn’t have nearly as much success, pitching to a 5.58 ERA in 24 starts. A lot of that was due to a very high HR/9 rate of 1.95, which would have led the Majors had he pitched enough innings to qualify. The dimensions of Oakland Alameda County Coliseum are pretty neutral towards hitters and pitchers so you can’t really blame the high home run totals on a bad pitcher’s ballpark like you can with Coors or Chase Field so Cotton’s going to have to work on not leaving the ball over the heart of the plate if he’s going to take the next step.

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The A’s bullpen has some decent pieces. Blake Treinen is going to be the closer and he was inconsistent in 2017, as he had an ERA well over 5 prior to being traded to Oakland by the Nationals. However upon joining the A’s, Treinen returned to his 2016 form by posting an ERA of 2.13 in 35 games, recording 13 saves in the process. If Treinen can keep that up, the A’s should feel very comfortable with a close lead in the 9th inning. After him, newly-acquired Yusmeiro Petit is a solid reliever and Santiago Casilla was at one point a stud closer across the bay with the Giants. One guy who could be a wildcard for the A’s is Ryan Dull. Dull had a very strong 2016 season, posting an ERA of 2.42, however he struggled mightily in 2017 despite an increase in his K/9, posting an ERA over 5. He’s a guy who has shown closer potential and can be a real asset to this bullpen if he can get more consistent.

Overall, I think I’m slowly talking myself into this Oakland team. On paper they’re not very impressive, but a lot of this will depend on how their young guys perform, particularly Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Dustin Fowler. If those guys can build on the promise they showed last year, Oakland could be a sneaky team in a tough AL West. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but I can see them as a potential sleeper in the American League. If their young talent can continue to improve, I think the A’s could be my darkhorse team much like the Rockies were last season.

Projected Record: 77-85, Last in AL West

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. I’m on Spring Break now and I’ll be partying it up in Fort Lauderdale but that doesn’t mean I won’t be keeping up with the blog. I’ll make sure I have each post scheduled before I go out so never fret. Join me tomorrow where I preview the Philadelphia Phillies, who have a lot of young talent just waiting to get an opportunity. Let me know what you think of the A’s chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Anaheim Angels

With the baseball season quickly approaching, I thought I’d give this type of segment a try. Depending on how it goes, I may decide to do football as well when August rolls around. 30 MLB clubs in 30 days. My rules for when teams get to go are simple, it’s alphabetically in order of location. And yes, we’re starting with Anaheim because the Angels play for Anaheim, not Los Angeles of Anaheim. That’s stupid. Plus if you translate from Spanish, their name is The Angels Angels of Anaheim. Yes that was stupid to do but so is calling your team a city of a city. So enough bitching, before I get to the Angels, I want to bring to light the changes to pace of play that Major League Baseball has announced a few changes, the one major one being the limiting of number of mound visits per game. There used to not be a limit except that the pitcher had to be pulled if they were visited by a coach twice in one inning, but now they’re only allowed to be visited by coaches and players 6 times per 9 innings with an extra time being granted for extra innings. There are a couple of exceptions, for example if it is clear to the umpire that the pitcher and catcher were not on page with the last pitch, the catcher can ask for a mound visit that the umpire can grant without it counting against them so that he and the pitcher can get their signs straight. This change is long overdue because too many visits can cause a game to absolutely DRAG. Still no pitch clock but I’m still not sure how you’d be able to enforce that so I’m not bitching. Now, on to the Angels.

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2017 Results:

Record: 80-82, 2nd in AL West, 21 games behind the Houston Astros, 5 games behind the Minnesota Twins for the 2nd Wild Card spot

Notable Offseason Additions: P/OF Shohei Ohtani, 2B Ian Kinsler, 3B Zack Cozart, OF Chris Young, 1B Chris Carter

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B CJ Cron, RP Fernando Salas, OF Ben Revere, 2B Brandon Phillips, RP Yusmeiro Petit, 3B Yunel Escobar, CP Bud Norris

Best Position Player: CF Mike Trout

Best Pitcher: Garrett Richards

Depth Chart:

C-Martin Maldonado, Carlos Perez, Rene Rivera

1B-Albert Pujols, Chris Carter

2B-Ian Kinsler, Jefry Marte

3B-Zack Cozart, Luis Valbuena

SS-Andrelton Simmons

LF-Justin Upton, Chris Young

CF-Mike Trout

RF-Kole Calhoun

SP-Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, JC Ramirez

Bullpen-Blake Parker (CP?), Jim Johnson (CP?), Cam Bedrosian, Alex Meyer, Blake Wood, Noe Ramirez, Jose Alvarez, Kenyan Middleton

Wildcard-Shohei Ohtani

Coaching Staff:

Manager: Mike Scioscia (18 seasons with Angels)

Hitting Coach: Eric Hinske

Pitching Coach: Charles Nagy

1st Base Coach: Alfredo Griffin

3rd Base Coach: Dino Ebel

Bench Coach: Josh Paul

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I included an additional position of “Wildcard” for Ohtani mainly because we’ve never really had a player quite like him. A guy who can hit 100 mph as a pitcher and hit over .300 as a hitter, the biggest story following the Angels this year will likely be him. And that’s saying something, especially considering the best baseball player on the planet plays centerfield in Anaheim in Mike Trout. Ohtani’s usage in Anaheim will be one of the more interesting tasks that manager Mike Scioscia has had in his tenure as Angels manager, his 18-year term is the longest among active managers. Ohtani has also battled injuries during his time in Japan so I wonder if being a two-way player has anything to do with that. I think that if things start compounding on him and he struggles, then Scioscia will can the experiment and relegate him to whichever he is performing best at, or wherever the Angels need him most.

The Angels seem to be gearing up for a run at a World Series based on the series of moves they made in the offseason. It started with the signing of Ohtani, then they acquired Ian Kinsler in a trade with the Tigers and signed Zack Cozart away from the Reds. On paper, their lineup is as imposing as they come, even with Albert Pujols’ albatross of a contract. Here’s a look at what the Angels could be rolling out there when opening day against the Indians comes.

1. Ian Kinsler-2B

2. Mike Trout-CF

3. Shohei Ohtani-DH

4. Justin Upton-LF

5. Kole Calhoun-RF

6. Zack Cozart-3B

7. Andrelton Simmons-SS

8. Albert Pujols-1B

9. Martin Maldonado-C

Whether the lineup actually ends up looking like this is a different story because if I’m Scioscia, I honestly have no effing idea what to do with some of these spots. We really don’t know what Ohtani is capable of at the dish against Major League pitching and batting him third out of the gate like where I’ve got him slated may be a little premature. Also trying to place 5-8 was extremely difficult, Pujols being the most frustrating considering he will be making $27M this season as a 38 year-old who is WELL past his prime but kind of has to be in the lineup because he’s making so much. He’s still dangerous but he’s a far cry from the player he was in St. Louis. I put him 8th trying to ignore his name value, even though that will likely slot him higher in the order. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see him batting cleanup just because he’s Albert Pujols. It’s also difficult to place guys like Kole Calhoun, Zack Cozart, and Andrelton Simmons because I think all three guys are capable of hitting at the top of the lineup. It’s just a matter of getting the most out of them. Calhoun has been a nice complement to Trout in the past whereas Cozart has struggled to remain healthy and one has to wonder if Simmons’ offensive breakout in 2017 was a fluke.

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One thing is for certain, though, this team will play defense. They’ve got two guys, Maldonado and Simmons, who rated #1 in the Majors at their position in DRS, with Simmons being #1 overall at any position, former gold glove winners in Kinsler, Pujols, and Calhoun, and Trout may have yet to put a gold glove on his mantle, but he’s one of the best home run thieves in the game. Last season the Angels were 2nd best in the Majors in Fangraphs’ defensive rating as a team, trailing only the Red Sox, and it appears that they have only improved defensively. Which they may need based on the issues they’ve had with their pitching.

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The Angels weren’t awful in pitching last season, as their team ERA of 4.20 was 12th in the Majors, but their performance outplayed their talent. Their best pitcher, Garrett Richards, made all of 6 starts last season due to injury (he pitched to a 2.28 ERA in those 6 starts) and he hasn’t pitched a full season since 2015. After him there really isn’t anything on the roster worth getting excited over. Ohtani will be interesting to watch, as I think he’s a better pitcher than hitter, but after him the Angels were sending out Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs, Parker Bridwell, and JC Ramirez primarily. Of that group, only Bridwell had an ERA under 4 (3.64) and that was probably a bit fluky because his strikeouts per 9 was abysmal (5.43). It leads one to believe that his lack of missing bats may come back to haunt him.

Their bullpen had some success last year, but they lost their best reliever, Yusmeiro Petit, to the division rival Athletics. Their closer role isn’t set after they lost Bud Norris to the Cardinals, but they do have some options. Newly-signed Jim Johnson appears to be the favorite, as amongst his competition he’s the only one with significant closing experience and success. He was excellent for a few years with the Orioles before falling off the face of the Earth for a couple years. The other legitimate option is Blake Parker. Parker had a very good 2017, where he pitched to a 2.54 ERA while striking out over 11 batters per 9 innings. If Johnson does win the closer’s job, which I anticipate he does, I expect Parker to be the 8th inning man and he’s a solid option for that.

Overall, I think Mike Scioscia is coaching for his job this year. It’s been 16 years since he led them to their only World Series title in franchise history and as of late they’ve been very inconsistent, as they’ve only made the playoffs once since 2010 (2014, where they got swept by the Royals in the ALDS). If the Angels fail to make the playoffs, I’ve got to imagine that ownership will be weighing their options. Scioscia’s a good manager, don’t get me wrong, but the production hasn’t been there of late. I don’t think they’ll win the division. The Astros are just too good to unseat at the moment. But I do think they’ll be right in the thick of the Wild Card race. Their pitching is going to be critical. They didn’t really do anything in the offseason to bolster their rotation so improving what they have and keeping them healthy is going to be the most important thing in Anaheim. If they can do that, I think they will at least make the Astros sweat because they’re going to hit and they’re going to play the field. But I think they’ll be one of the AL Wild Card teams.

Projected Finish: 86-76, Second AL Wild Card Team

That’s going to do it for the Angels on the first edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I preview the Arizona Diamondbacks, who look to improve on their huge breakout season that saw them win the Wild Card game but fall to the eventual NL champion Dodgers in the NLDS. Let me know what you think of the Angels’ chances this season in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.