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An SB Nation blog for Oakland Athletics fans



Updated: 2017-03-23T20:55:59-07:00

 



Oakland A's spring training 2017: 5th outfielder vs. 8th reliever

2017-03-23T20:55:59-07:00

The A’s have a decision on their hands for the 25th spot on the Opening Day roster. The A’s are potentially holding onto an eighth reliever over a fifth outfielder according to John Hickey. Take a deep breath and a nice drink of the hardest alcohol within arm’s reach. That seems kind of dumb, and we’ll unpack it more, but this is apparently the A’s final roster question. It appears that barring injury, 24 of the 25 roster spots are occupied, leaving the last spot to be fought for by some combination of Alejandro De Aza, Jaff Decker, Frankie Montas, Raul Alcantara, and Daniel Coulombe. Eighth reliever or fifth outfielder? That is the (very stupid) question. The argument for a reliever There is none. Okay, I’ll try. Let’s start with the possible logistics. According Hickey, there are six locks for the pen: Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Santiago Casilla, John Axford, Ryan Dull, and Liam Hendriks. Those are some solid names and John Axford. A fine start. The seventh spot would likely go to Raul Alcantara, the long man. Hickey doesn’t explicitly mention Alcantara, but carrying eight relievers without a long man would be slightly more dumb than, well, carrying seven relievers without a long man. My feelings on this topic aren’t a secret. The problem with that is the dearth of lefties in spite of the pen being completely full. All seven guys listed above deserve a spot, but there’s no LOOGY. Enter Daniel Coulombe. Coulombe has all the makings of a lefty find in the pen, but his spring has been less a bit of a disaster until his last few outings. Thanks to his rough start and his final remaining option, he’s on outside looking in for the final spot. Complicating matters more is Frankie Montas. There’s a Spring Training tradition of baseball people being shocked at the stuff top prospects, like said baseball people don’t have internet access. This year’s version is Montas, known fireballer who has already tasted the bigs. While Coulombe has struggled, Montas has succeeded and while there’s little utility to spring stats, his success makes his already near arrival seem even closer. I do get and love the idea of starting with Montas on the roster for a few reasons. For one, his injury prone ways makes me think getting him in the majors sooner than later is the right move. We saw how valuable a reliever can be last year, and Montas has the chance to be a truly special pitcher. With his ability to be a sort of long man, he could effectively end games after six innings, he could give the A’s a serious leg up in extra inning games, and getting him used to the majors now would make him more ready to lead a playoff run in 2018 and beyond. Either Coulombe or Montas would make the A’s better. We saw how important bullpens were in the 2016 playoffs, an there’s little doubt both arms would help the A’s get key outs at critical times. There’s a bit of a wrinkle if Alcantara wins the fifth rotation spot. That would open up a bullpen spot and allow for a fifth outfielder. Alcantara probably isn’t the best option to start but it’s a possibility. There’s still a chance you could fit both Coulombe and Montas on the roster from there, but the logjam is certainly less of an issue. The argument for a fifth outfielder The four outfielders in front of this hypothetical fifth are Khris Davis (can’t throw), Rajai Davis (can’t reallyyyyy field), Matt Joyce (definitely can’t field), and Mark Canha (we don’t really know if he can do anything at all). Mark Canha is awesome, his swing is as sexy as his sideburns, and there’s legit reason to get excited about his bat. Defensively, he’s a question mark at best. He’s under-qualified to play first, left has been a struggle and he’s barely played the field in right where he’s scheduled to platoon. He’s also currently being floated as the backup centerfielder in spite of never really playing there and being just oh so unqualified. From a purely numbers standpoint, an additional outfielder capable of playing all three spots is a no-b[...]



Mark Canha has open road to Oakland A’s outfield

2017-03-23T17:19:22-07:00

During the offseason, it was difficult to gauge Mark Canha’s place on the Oakland A’s depth chart. He had a spot on the team as a role player at the beginning of last year, but after missing basically the whole season it was fair to question whether he’d have to work his way back up from Triple-A — whether that meant physically shaking the rust off or merely re-proving himself. There is no longer any real mystery, though. The A’s haven’t made any official announcements regarding the final spots on the Opening Day roster, but it’s pretty clear that Canha will get one of them. That’s especially true now that Jake Smolinski is out of the picture indefinitely due to shoulder surgery. Even before Smolinski went down, Susan Slusser’s article two weeks ago about Canha trying out in CF implied that he was the fourth outfielder while Smolinski, et al, were competing for a potential fifth spot. Either way, though, a glance at the remaining depth chart in the A’s spring camp illustrates why Canha has an open road to a roster spot: Mark Canha (R)Jake Smolinski (R) (injured)Alejandro De Aza (L)Jaff Decker (L)Chris Parmelee (L) Other depth options already reassigned to minors: Jaycob Brugman (L), Andrew Lambo (L). Kenny Wilson (R), Max Muncy (L), and maybe Matt Olson (L) and Renato Nunez (R). The A’s have three obvious starters. From LF to RF, they are: Khris Davis, Rajai Davis, and Matt Joyce. However, the left-handed Joyce fits best as a platoon player, which means carrying a right-handed partner as the fourth outfielder would be optimal. With Smolinski out, Canha is literally the only option. (For the potential fifth spot: It’s always good to have a backup option in CF, especially when your starter is 36 years old and doesn’t hit much to begin with. A lefty would be ideal in that role, to offset the righty Rajai. In other words, De Aza or Decker. But that’s a topic for another post.) Smolinski out Before we look at Canha, let’s consider what the A’s lost when Smolinski got hurt. His calling card is that he’s a lefty masher, with a career 138 wRC+ against southpaws. For that reason alone, he may have made the most sense as the fourth outfielder — Canha is probably the better option as an everyday player, but the job in question only requires hitting against lefties (when Joyce sits), making Smolinski the better fit. He’s a specialty guy and this was his perfect niche. Meanwhile, there’s nothing lost on defense. Smolinski is probably slightly better in the corners than Canha, but not enough to make a significant difference — both of them are fine. I don’t want either of them playing CF except in a mid-game injury scenario. (Canha actually brings extra versatility at 1B, though Alonso and Healy probably have that position on lockdown for now.) Reverse splits: Not a thing With Smolinski out of the picture for now, though, Canha is the only right-hander who can platoon with Joyce in RF. That means we need to address a weird fluke that came out of his 2015 rookie season: reverse platoon splits. He posted a 128 wRC+ against righties, and a 65 against lefties, and when that’s a player’s only MLB data point it can be difficult to ignore. But please, ignore it. First off, platoon splits don’t work in that small of a sample size, with just a couple hundred plate appearances per side. Secondly, looking at the bigger picture, he displayed normal splits the previous three years in the minors, from High-A up through Triple-A. But most of all, there is an anecdotal reason why the numbers turned out the way they did in 2015 beyond just pure randomness. Early in the season, when he was in a strict platoon role, he was suffering from an extended illness that visibly affected him. You could tell just looking at his face on TV that he wasn’t right. Then, later on, when he was back to full health and the team was in tank mode, he moved to an everyday role and faced primarily righties. That means his L/R splits could more accurately be described as his sick/healthy[...]



Oakland A’s spring training link roundup: Team USA wins 2017 World Baseball Classic

2017-03-23T09:00:28-07:00

There are 11 days left until Opening Day for the Oakland A’s. Let’s check out the latest news in the meantime! WBC Team USA won the 2017 World Baseball Classic! The United States had never even medaled before, topping out at fourth place in 2009, but now they’ve won gold in the fourth installment of the international tournament (previous winners: Japan twice, and Dominican Republic). Team USA defeated Puerto Rico 8-0 in the championship game on Wednesday. Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman was named the MVP of the tourney. Here’s the full recap from MLB’s site. Backup catcher Ryan Lavarnway is in camp after a great experience in the WBC (Carl Steward, Mercury News). Injuries Sonny Gray visited a lat expert on Monday, and he could be back earlier than expected (Susan Slusser, S.F. Chronicle). However, he learned last year not to rush things (John Hickey, Mercury News). In the meantime, the A’s aren’t planning to look outside the organization to help cover for Sonny’s absence (Joe Stiglich, CSN). In Slusser’s story about Sonny linked above, she also updated Chris Bassitt’s positive progress as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse suggests the following while Sonny is out: 3-man rotation, piggyback tandems for the last two spots (i.e., two long men teaming up for one long “start”). Joey Wendle has been out the last week due to a shoulder issue. Not sure precisely when he’ll be back. (Slusser, Stiglich) Jaff Decker, competing for a final outfield spot, is dealing with an oblique strain (Susan Slusser, S.F. Chronicle). He was “easing back into action” on Wednesday (Stiglich). Other player news Frankie Montas is legitimately in the mix for the A’s Opening Day bullpen (John Hickey, Mercury News). Here’s Slusser’s take. Among the in-house rotation depth in the minors, hot prospect Daniel Gossett could be here sooner than later (Joe Stiglich, CSN). We could also see the team’s No. 1 prospect, infielder Franklin Barreto, sometime this season (Slusser). Get to know the A’s new 3B, Trevor Plouffe! (Susan Slusser, S.F. Chronicle) Khris Davis and Matt Chapman both went to CSU Fullerton, and they’re fans of each other (Jane Lee, MLB.com) Yonder Alonso doesn’t always hit, but he’s always fun (John Hickey, Mercury News) Fun stuff The A’s released their new TV ads (click here to watch), with the theme of “Rooted in Oakland.” As part of A’s Spirit Week next week, fans can trade in their Giants hat for an A’s hat. One of the events where you can do so will be the unveiling of this mural on Monday: New A's mural underway at 19th & Webster. Hella impressive. #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/e32qhIORqh— Oakland Fan Pledge (@FanPledge) March 19, 2017 Have a great Thursday, Athletics Nation! [...]



Trade in your Giants hat for an Oakland A’s hat!

2017-03-23T07:06:23-07:00

(image)

Green is the new black.

This year marks the 50th season of Oakland A’s baseball, which began in 1968 after a move (i.e. significant upgrade) from Kansas City. They will celebrate that milestone at their Spirit Week, starting next Monday, March 27.

The team sent out a press release Wednesday morning detailing the various events and promotions going on next week, but the best part came at the very end:

Trade in your Giants cap for an A’s one: Fans can trade in a San Francisco Giants cap for a new Green and Gold A’s cap at all public Spirit Week events, including the April 1 Bay Bridge game at the Coliseum.

trollolololol

If you ever planned on convincing your casual-fan friend to make the switch, this is the time to do it! Share some Doolittle tweets with them, show them pics of Mengden’s mustache, and invite them over to watch Moneyball while you nonchalantly bring up fun facts about the 1989 World Series. You’re doing them a favor here, really. The tickets are cheaper, and BART and you’re there.

Here’s your list of opportunities to swap caps, if I am interpreting the press release correctly:

  • Mon., March 27, noon: Oakland City Hall. (Flag raising with the mayor.)
  • Mon., March 27, 6-9 p.m.: 19th St. & Webster. (Unveiling a new A’s mural! This actually sounds fun.)
  • Wed., March 29, 8-9 a.m.: Peet’s Coffee, 1111 Broadway in Oakland. (Get a free coffee too!)
  • Thu., March 30, 4:30-5:15 p.m.: Coliseum Plaza, between Coliseum & Oracle. (BART Takeover, ride to AT&T Park as a big group; sounds like a college rally but we could probably use one of those.)
  • Sat., April 1, noon first pitch: Oakland Coliseum. (Bay Bridge Series, Game 3.)

Those are your options, as near as I can tell. Go forth and spread that green and gold gospel!

And I know just the fans to start with. Anyone happen to have their number?

(image) Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

C’mon you two, you both know A’s green will match your eyes and look incredible. Protect this house.

Your Splash Bro knows what I’m talking about.

(image) Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports




Liam Hendriks: Elite Relief Pitcher

2017-03-22T13:00:02-07:00

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Through the first half of 2016 Liam Hendriks carried a 6.00 ERA and allowed a .354 wOBA (.354 is a solidly above average mark, for a hitter) — how can he be elite? In the second half he decreased his ERA by nearly four full runs and his wOBA by 101 points. Unlucky doesn’t even begin to describe his first half results.

Several things improved for Hendriks in the second half of the season. His BABIP dropped from an unsightly .414 to a much more sustainable .281. His K-BB% increased by 4%, his home run rate decreased by more than half, and his LOB% jumped by more than 10%. By the end of 2016 he had returned to being the relief pitcher the Oakland A’s acquired more than a year ago.

Strangely, Hendriks’ 2015 and 2016 seasons are almost identical by a few metrics.

Transitioning from starting pitching to reliving has turned Hendriks’ career around quickly. From 2011-2014, among starters with at least 150 IP, Hendriks allowed the third highest wOBA and the second highest ERA. Since becoming a reliever in 2015 he’s been among baseball’s best at doing what pitchers should do well: getting lots of outs by striking batters out and limiting walks. He ranks very highly in IP, K%, BB%, FIP, xFIP, and fWAR over the past two years.

The last row is the most telling, to me. Among current Oakland relievers Hendriks posted the best marks in each of those six categories since 2015. The only former-Athletic that bested Hendriks in anything is Evan Scribner, who in hindsight, shouldn’t have been discarded so easily.

I have been banging the drum with regard to Hendriks for a while now, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered just how good he’s been as a reliever within the context of Major League Baseball. By fWAR he was the 17th best reliever in baseball in 2015 and then 25th best in 2016. As 2016 went on and Hendriks improved he was relied upon more and more, which is a trend I believe will continue in 2017.

He’s a large reason why the 2016 A’s boasted one of the best bullpens in baseball and I expect he’ll be an even bigger part of the team’s 2017 success.




The Oakland A's new identity is a lot like the last one that worked

2017-03-20T10:22:26-07:00

It’s fair to say that the Oakland A’s organization has appeared a bit lost for the last three years. They made a few enormous gambles in 2014 in an attempt to extend their unexpected run of success, but their luck ran out and everything went sideways. After their heartbreaking loss in the Wild Card Game that fall, it felt like they spent the next two seasons wandering in a stunned daze, making only a half-hearted attempt toward both competing and rebuilding and therefore failing at both. It was difficult to discern their long-term goal, probably because they made it clear they didn’t think they could afford to have one beyond a couple years out. But all that might finally be changing in 2017. As optimism grows off the field, between a leadership shakeup, a re-commitment to the city of Oakland, and what feels like legitimate progress on a new stadium, there also appears to be an actual plan brewing for the roster itself. They’re going back to their roots and growing a team from within, rather than trying to cobble together a squad of nothing but misfit toys while paying big to patch holes on the fly. * * * From 2012-13, it seemed the A’s could do no wrong, other than hitting against Justin Verlander. Their star-pitcher-for-prospects trades all struck gold, their expensive international signing panned out into a bargain star, a few young arms emerged out of nowhere, and the various platoon guys and role players they collected jelled into a playoff roster. All of this was business as usual, though. None of these cost-cutting, buy-low, youth-oriented, value-maximizing strategies were new for the A’s, but they all came together at once when we least expected it and we were treated to Moneyball 2: The Platoon Advantage. It was just the next wave of Youngsters ‘n’ Hattebergs. But as 2014 went on, the script flipped. The young rotation was hit hard by injuries, and the lineup later followed suit. Many of the hotshot rookies from the past couple years faded back toward mediocrity. Their desperate midseason trades cost them dearly but didn’t push the needle far enough. The previous two years had felt like a fairy tale, and now the clock had struck midnight and whatever Sogardian elf magic had been fueling their success was gone. * * * It’s easy to point at July of 2014 as the turning point from good times to bad, and maybe it was. But teams do wild things in the pursuit of winning a title, and even if I didn’t and don’t agree with every move they made, I can still understand why they acted so aggressively. Besides, refueling via major midseason trades was straight out of the A’s normal playbook; the only difference was that these deals were particularly bold and expensive. That month certainly changed the A’s on-field fortunes, as will happen whenever you mortgage some of the future to maximize the present, but it was not solely responsible for the dark times that followed. Once the A’s had taken their best shot and missed in 2014, they seemingly had two choices. They could double-down one last time and restock around their remaining All-Star core, or they could cut the cord, hold their periodic firesale, and start building their next winning team. Instead, they chose a curious third option: hold the firesale, but try to keep winning now without ever rebuilding. It did not work. For the next two years the A’s seemed to alternate between making win-now moves and forward-thinking deals. They’d trade one star for prospects and then some prospects for a new star, shed a big salary and then sign an overpriced free agent, take a flyer on an interesting breakout candidate and then block him behind a safe veteran with no upside. Granted, many of the individual moves made sense on their own and I probably liked and defended many of them, but looking back now all I see is a hodgepodge of counteracting measures with no real goal or purpose in mind. A competing[...]



Checking in on the A’s Spring Training battles

2017-03-19T19:58:46-07:00

Who is likely to make the Opening Day roster? Spring Training is a little past its halfway point, and the roster picture is starting to come into view. With injuries and roster cuts abound, we can take a more accurate guess at who will start the season on the 25-man roster. Here’s how the positional battles have broken down thus far. The pitching staff Just two short months ago, the A’s pitching depth seemed unreal. There were eight guys with legit claims to a rotation spot and seemingly no obvious way of finding all of them spots. Then, baseball did was baseball does and both Daniel Mengden and Sonny Gray went down with injuries. The direction of the rotation is now much clearer. It’ll come down to five of six players (Jharel Cotton, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Andrew Triggs, Jesse Hahn, and Raul Alcantara) with the battle most likely coming down to the final two. The loss of Sonny Gray makes the Raul Alcantara decision a little bit easier. With the A’s depth being downgraded from amazing to enviable, holding onto Alcantara is a bigger priority. He’ll probably start as the long man but should another guy go down, he’ll slot into the rotation. That’s just about what Alcantara should be. That’ll make Jesse Hahn the five, provided he can survive the rest of spring showing control, command, and a general competency. The A’s have noted that Daniel Gossett is next up on the list of starters, should that be needed. The righty had a successful spring and is on the verge of the bigs, adding another layer of depth alongside Zach Neal. The Bullpen Alcantara’s likely addition is bad news for someone in the pen, most likely Daniel Coulombe. He’s the man with options and his rather miserable spring will likely land him in Nashville to start. From a baseball strategy standpoint, that’s not great as the A’s lone bullpen lefty is now Sean Doolittle. Coulombe will likely be in the bigs sooner than later, though, as there’s often turnover in a team’s pen. That pen is shaking out to look something like this: Ryan Madson (R) Sean Doolittle (L) Ryan Dull (R) Liam Hendricks (R) Santiago Casilla (R) John Axford (R) Raul Alcantara (R) Fifth outfielder As it stands, the ever imaginative A’s are planning to use Mark Canha as their fourth outfielder. They envision he’ll be able to play all three slots in spite of the fact he can barely handle one which is a long winded way of saying the A’s better carry a fifth outfielder and he better be able to pick it. There are two guys vying for that spot, Jaff Decker and Alejandro De Aza. Both would trump Canha defensively and would provide nice depth for an outfield with none. Decker has higher upside with the bat, while De Aza is the better defender. De Aza can opt-out should he not make the big league roster, which shouldn’t be much of a factor in the decision making. Decker’s spring has been impressive on the field, but he’s currently battling an oblique injury. If he can’t make it back sooner than later, his chances will be oh, bleak. I need real baseball in my life. For my money, the A’s just have to carry that fifth outfielder. Mark Canha as the fourth outfielder is a disaster. If things go according to plan, and yes they’ve actually planned this, the outfield will at some point will be Khris Davis, Mark Canha, and Matt Joyce. Mother of god. First base This was always a bit of manufactured battle, as the potential advantages of keeping Matt Olson over Yonder Alonso are small, and the A’s were always likely to give Alonso the nod. Still, it’s worth noting that Olson struggled mightily in Arizona and will need more seasoning in Nashville. Alonso on the other hand? With his mighty new swing, Alonso is hitting a rather comical .333/.486/.593 solidifying an already solid spot on the roster. The enormous gap between BA and OBP will tell you not to take these number all th[...]



Oakland A’s spring training 2017: Fifth round of cuts puts roster at 40

2017-03-19T17:21:02-07:00

The Oakland A’s reassigned five players to minor league camp on Sunday afternoon. They began spring training with 70 players in MLB camp, but this new round of cuts brings that number down to 40 — of course, it needs to be 25 by Opening Day. Here are the five players reassigned on Sunday, including two minor league veterans and three top prospects (number in parentheses is the prospect’s ranking on our Community Prospect List): RHP Chris Smith C Matt McBride RHP Daniel Gossett (#9) C Sean Murphy (#25) 2B Max Schrock (#10) Also see: 1st round of cuts | 2nd | 3rd | 4th All five of these players are important in their own ways, but none were relevant to the conversation regarding the Opening Day roster. Furthermore, none are on the 40-man roster, which is why they were “reassigned” to the minors rather than optioned; the three prospects have not yet begun using their option years. The first two players on the list serve as veteran depth. Smith spent most of 2016 starting in Triple-A, but toward the end of the year he was called on to help the A’s beleaguered bullpen and responded with a couple dozen excellent innings. It was his first MLB action since 2010, and he’ll turn 36 in April, but he proved to be a quality emergency backup. Meanwhile, McBride didn’t hit much last year in his brief MLB callups, but his actual catching ability was fine and at some point you can’t ask for too much out of your 4th-string backstop. He’ll be in Nashville in case Josh Phegley gets hurt. As for the prospects, the best of the bunch is Gossett. His breakout 2016 campaign, fueled at least in part by a revamped pitch selection, catapulted the former 2nd-round pick from High-A up to Triple-A. He only made a few starts for Nashville last year so he still needs to prove himself at that final minor league stop, but he has a distinct possibility of debuting in Oakland’s rotation later this summer. Next up is Schrock, who was acquired from Washington at last year’s trade deadline for reliever Marc Rzepczynski. His top skill is that he virtually never strikes out, and that ability to hit for contact has a lot of folks at Athletics Nation dreaming big on him as a sleeper prospect — our CPL has him rated higher than all other sources. Finally, Murphy was a 3rd-round pick in last summer’s draft, and he brings an elite throwing arm behind the plate combined with a chance to be a plus hitter. *** Also see: Nico interviews Schrock at spring training *** There are now 40 players in MLB camp, though that doesn’t necessarily mean much for game purposes because extras are often borrowed from minor league camp. For example, on Sunday against the Rockies the A’s starter in RF was Tyler Marincov, a Double-A prospect who is “assigned to [the] Oakland Athletics” according to the team’s transaction logs (along a couple dozen other prospects) but doesn’t count toward that total of 40. We’re nearing the point where the A’s will have to make some actual roster decisions in their next rounds of cuts. They’re just about out of low-level prospects and backup-backup depth guys, and everyone left has at least a vague outside shot of breaking camp with the team. Remember, four of the 40 remaining players are out of the picture due to long-term injury, so really there are only 11 cuts left to be made in order to take this group down to a 25-man unit for April. Here’s the full spring training squad. Players in italics are non-roster invitees. Players in strikethrough have been reassigned to minor league camp. Players with **asterisks will miss the start of the season to injury. (Note that some of the injured players could wind up on the 60-day DL, which would make room to add replacements to the 40-man roster.) Pitchers Hitters Starters **Sonny Gray (R) Sean Manaea (L) Kendall Graveman (R) Andrew Triggs ([...]