Spring Training is well underway in Florida and Arizona, and The Victory Formation has turned its attention towards the upcoming 2011 Major League Baseball Season. As we approach Opening Day, we will be previewing 2 teams a day, 1 AL and 1 NL. Now batting: The Oakland Athletics
Buster Olney pointed out in his blog yesterday that its been almost exactly two full years since Bud Selig announced the formation of a committee to study the A’s stadium situation. At the time Selig said “The time has come for a thorough analysis of why a stadium deal has not been reached. The A’s cannot and will not continue indefinitely in their current situation.” Two years later that situation is as indefinite as ever. The A’s drew 1,418,391 people to the decrepit Coliseum last year, good for 29th in attendance in MLB. They have a small but loyal fanbase that has been demoralized by a general hatred of owner Lew Wolff, who is perceived to be attempting to move the team out of Oakland because he’s attempting to move the team out of Oakland (pointing this out can get you removed from the Coliseum). Its hard to get a fanbase excited by a team when that team has one foot out the door. Those loyal few that do make it out to the ballpark in Oakland next year have a pretty interesting team to root for.
The A’s are sort of the bizarro version of the Texas Rangers, their main competition for first place in the AL West this year. The Rangers have a pretty impressive offense that looks even better because they play their home games in Arlington. The A’s have a pretty impressive pitching staff that looks even better because they play their home games at the Coliseum. Those same factors inhibit the question mark that is the A’s offense, just as they do the Texas pitching staff. It’s likely the division winner is the team that gets the most out of their question mark, and the A’s got a big boost in that department with the decision to keep Neftali Feliz in the pen.
A’s GM Billy Beane made some low publicity but potentially highly useful improvements to an offense that ranked 23rd overall in runs scored in 2010. Josh Willingham and David DeJesus were brought in to flank Coco Crisp in the outfield. This moves Ryan Sweeney and Conor Jackson to reseve roles and limits opportunities for fizzling prospects Chris Carter and Michael Taylor, giving the A’s a great amount of potential depth. Willingham and DeJesus have spent their careers on losing teams in generally small markets and as such aren’t exactly household names. What they are is consistent. Willingham has produced five straight seasons in which he’s earned between 2.2 and 2.9 WAR. David Dejesus has earned between 2.6 and 3.8 WAR six out of the last seven seasons (with a 1.9 mark in a strangely down 2007 in which he received by far the most plate appearances of his career). They also added Hideki Matsui to man the DH role. While he has slowed down and shouldn’t be allowed near the field it is likely he will produce better than the internal options the A’s had for that role.
As for the infield prototypical Moneyball player (if Moneyball meant what Joe Morgan thinks it means) Daric Barton will once again man first base. Barton has two main skills; he’s a defensively gifted first baseman (12.1 UZR last year) and he walks a metric fuckton. Last year he did it 110 times, the most in baseball. He hit 10 home runs, accumulated 57 RBIs, and finished with a .273 average. Yet those walks and that defense meant he was worth 4.9 WAR last year. Househould names Cliff Pennington and Mark Ellis will once again man short and second respectively, and Kevin Kouzmanoff will get what is likely to be his last chance at regular playing time after a winter of rumors about the A’s targeting other possible thirdbasemen, notably Chone Figgins. Catching will be team good luck charm Kurt Suzuki, who slowed down noticeably in the second half last year and could likely use a few more days off than he’s seen the last couple years.
As I said its the pitching where the A’s shine. Trevor Cahill was by far the best pitcher Oakland had last year, throwing, as I read several times, like a young Greg Maddux. Unfortunatly for Cahill his BABIP indicates he was crazy lucky last year, and not in that fun sustainable way. This led to a really interesting debate about how much BABIP and such stats should influence the Cy Voting last year. He is likely due for some regression, but thats okay since the A’s have Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson. Gio, a high ranking prospect who was passed around for awhile finally found some success at the big league level in 2010. This spring he has earned the title of Guy Who Finally Gets It, and if crusty old scouts talking makes your pants tight I suggest you take him in the early teen rounds of your fantasy draft, because after going all but undrafted in February that’s where he’s moved recently. Brett Anderson’s breakout season got delayed by two significant stints on the DL last season, though he did manage a 2.80 ERA when he did start. Anderson’s a ground ball pitcher with great control and if his arm problems are truly behind him expect great things. Dallas Braden, lover of area codes and provider of perfect games, will be the teams fourth starter and right now it appears Brandon McCarthy will hold down the fifth spot initially. Rich Harden’s ghost is a threat to start two, maybe three games at some point, though it appears they may break him as a reliever instead. Still, the bullpen should be a strength. The A’s splurged on relievers Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to go along with a deep group that already included Joey Devine, Michael Wuertz, and ostensible Closer Andrew Bailey, whose health is currently in doubt. The A’s bullpen is another strong contrast to Texas, a team that apparently felt so badly about its relief corps it couldn’t bear to move Feliz out of there.
Prediction: 88-74, first place in the AL West. I simply don’t believe in Texas. Like, I believe that’s a place that was made up to scare small children. As such I have to choose Oakland, since it actually exists.