Previewing the Oakland Athletics | The Process Report

Previewing the Oakland Athletics

The devastating leg injury to Kevin Kiermaier that was always the dark shadow on the smiling, happy contract that he signed has come to pass. Get it out of your system. Nobody is going to feel sorry for the Rays who now need to figure out how to replace a league average hitter that brings a great glove. Unlike last year when he similarly went down for nearly two months the Rays seem better poised to get by during his absence. Desmond Jennings was the natural replacement last year, but knees don’t get better, and he showed it missing essentially the rest of the season only days later. Fool me once and all that, but the Rays are better positioned to absorb this sort of loss.

Neither Mallex Smith nor Peter Bourjos project as league average players over a full season. They have too many issues with same-handers, and it’s not like they do a ton against their opposite-handed counterparts, to just plug and play. Thing is, Kiermaier also has massive splits that see him as a poor candidate versus lefties that is able to be smoothed over, because his glove is that good. Neither of these guys are at that level, but they’re sound defenders that should be average or better meaning the team won’t have a sieve in centerfield this go round. Both should be able to put up average or better lines with carefully managed playing time that allows them to hide their weakness and promote their strengths. Doing so could reasonably approximate what the team loses with Kiermaier on the shelf at the plate, and the downgrade is more digging into the defensive surplus more than digging a hole. Long story short, I think these guys aren’t super sexy, but the team should be able to persevere provided further injuries do not erode the accrued depth. Let’s get to the numbers:

Over the last 30 days the Rays have been around a league average offense that continues to be driven by hitting the ball hard, but is held back by the massive strikeouts that come with selling out for power. Well, the Athletics ride the exact same strategy. Lots of strikeouts, plenty of walks, and they hit the ball even harder. The strikeouts throttle what could be an amazing offense, but it’s hard to have one without the other (on sub-$100M budgets).

Breaking it down to the player level you can see that Alonso has been heavily platooned, but so freaking good. Without a lefty on the staff, currently, the team will have to work well to avoid letting the late bloomer break out. Similar good hitters like Davis, Lowrie, Healy, Joyce, and the newcomer Chad Pinder are not only productive hitters, but they do so with balance from both sides of the plate. Jed Lowrie is healthy so therefore he is hitting, and will need to be another focal point as his switch-hitting bat never takes a day off. A downside of these good hitters is that none of them is even an average defender. In fact, the Athletics are one of the worst defensive teams of all time. The Rays will need to avoid running themselves out of innings, but staying aggressive and forcing execution will be the key.

Delving into just the balls in play component you can see that the A’s have even been a good bit unlucky, and should probably be an even better offense in the form of runs scored if things were falling more naturally. Khris Davis is probably the biggest positive regression candidate as he is obliterating baseballs, but seeing results that are well below expectations. Healy is probably the one guy that is over-performing, but even if he falls to his expected production he still represents a prominent threat. On to the pitchers:

While the Athletics held a sizeable advantage at the plate it looks like the Rays hold a similar edge on the bump. Oakland walks too many and gives up harder contact than Tampa Bay. They also don’t get strikeouts the way the Rays have of late.

The staff actually looks mostly fine as Sonny Gray has bounced back from various ailments to be pretty good recently, and he’s joined by Sean Manaea and former Rays farmhand Jesse Hahn as better than average starters enjoying good success. Triggs and Cotton, however have been worse than average, though the current layout has the Rays missing the latter. Needless to say, beating up on Andrew Triggs in the opener could go a long way in series that will see these teams play four games in three days. Goring the bullpen early in the series will have tangible benefits later as the opponent will need to either extend a starter more than they would like or go with the relievers they would prefer to avoid. Hendriks gives them a legitimate multi-inning guy, Madson is a fine end of game guy, but they also have John Axford, Josh Smith, and Ryan Dull as fine options. It’s a mostly fine pen that does have some weaknesses, but few teams go seven deep.

Focusing on balls in play you can see that the Rays have been a bit unfortunate, while the A’s have seen results closer in line with expectations. Manaea looks like a big time regression candidate, but he’s a lefty, sooooooo.

Getting swept by the Mariners makes this a series that the Rays need to win three out of four if they hope to ever start making up ground in the division. It will be a difficult task as the Athletics, on paper, are a tough team that tries to overwhelm you with the bats, and get enough pitching to stay in the game in the meantime. Their defense doesn’t show up here, but it’s deplorable, and perhaps the biggest edge the Rays have. They’ll need to force Oakland to execute, and leverage every single mistake if they want to take this series.

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