Recapping 2018: Oakland Athletics Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Oakland Athletics Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason. Here’s the final results:

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA ATL NYM TBR COL PHI

10 – 1: MIL TOR STL WAS OAK

Nearly twenty years later it can be difficult to remember just how very good those Moneyball A’s teams were. They won a ton of games over a seven-year run starting in 2000 before handing the torch off to the Tampa Bay Rays who went on their own junior dynasty. Even bringing past prices current you can see the team has yet to cross the $100 million dollar level pegging to 2018 dollars. They ramped up to pry the window open still paying a paltry dollar per win under two million dollars, and then mostly held there outside of some bottom out years. They were good again from 2012 to ’14 before having to get back to the drawing board to create a new plan to retool on the fly.

This past season showed the culmination of those efforts with what this model thought was the best offense in the game built upon an already acclimating core that will be mostly in house for a while. Complementary pieces have emerged to provide depth, and there’s still another gear for another guy or two to push into star territory. The pitching, however, was another story. A cobbled together rotation that lost a bright light before the season began sorted itself out down the stretch, though a lot of that was due to aggressive bullpen deployment. Smartly so, as it turns out, due to the sheer number of electric arms housed in their stable. A key departure in Jed Lowrie, and some less impactful losses like Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Joyce add to the conundrum of who is going to get all those outs on the bump. With A.J. Puk coming back at some point in the season, and Jesus Luzardo likely to play a big role eventually, the team has it’s work cut out for them to make the kind of improvements that can get them back to the playoffs.

The offense was incredible and a real joy to watch if you felt like staying up late over here on the best coast. They hit a bit of a snag after a hot start for their longest prolonged run of averagey offense, which showed up even worse on the scoreboard, but some tweaks here and there righted the ship. The second half saw their lesser stretches still coming in around the average, and typically pretty brief. While the offense was persistently quite good, there were also high peaks that saw an entire team hitting like what Eugenio Suarez or Edwin Encarnacion averaged on the season. Those, too, may have been fleeting, but so much of their journey was on the right side, and as you’ll see later on, it absolutely needed to be.

Finally with the defensive shackles removed Khris Davis was able to stay healthy and productive with only a minimum stint on the Infirmary List for a groin issue in late-May the only blemish. Otherwise, he was his normal herculean self including the part where few outside of fantasy circles even pay heed. He strikes out a bit, and took that to the point of uncomfortable down the stretch, but generally walks at an average or better clip to help mitigate some of the damage. Where he really makes his bones, however, is by absolutely mashing the ball. He fell a decent bit short of one of the best expected production on balls in play in the game, but still came in amongst league elites on the shorter actual. Throw in that he was able to accumulate a ton of plate appearances and he was worth forty-plus runs on an average bat.

You can get a feel for when the groin injury was bothering him with his relatively lower contact likely going for hits, but not being able to push it he may have had to settle for singles. Once he sorted that out there was a strong stretch then kind of a downer finish with his lowest exit velocity on the season. Fatigue or injury may have played a role and could lead to the team getting him off his feet more, but no team can replace a bat like this, and with Davis hitting free agency next year it is likely both sides will feel inclined to burn the candle at both ends for wins today and dollars tomorrow.

Khris Davis

Two things you’ll notice on the leaderboard is that the team was abnormally healthy and bound to everyday roles. Oakland had six guys get at least six-hundred plate appearances, and another three getting at least three-hundred. A couple of corner players in first baseman Matt Olson and Stephen Piscotty exemplify this as guys that you just couldn’t take out of the lineup. Olson is more of the power threat, and showed a good deal of not getting to his incredible expectations early on, and when things tightened up it was mostly around the average with a solid close. His early elite exit velocity fell off a little over the course of the season, but he consistently puts the ball in the air, and shows the ability to carry his strong exit velocity to the higher, more productive launch angles. He’ll mostly strike out at a tolerable rate and mix in plenty of walks for that to be a positive.

In a nod to lineup diversity, Stephen Piscotty is a completely different player. He’ll walk more around the average, strikeout a lot less, and not quite get to the same level of pop as Olson. It’s close, though, and Piscotty can play a fine right field, to boot. The extra balls in play at that still very strong expected production makes for one of the better hitters in the game, and doing so with little platoon split. Olson holds his own against lefties, something you cannot say about a lot of lefties, which should give him the ability to continue to see everyday play. These are a couple of borderline stars under control for a long time.

Matt Olson

Stephen Piscotty

Two other complementary players were Chad Pinder and Jed Lowrie. The latter made up for a patchy injury history prior with two excellent years at the dish after his second trade from the Houston Astros to the Bay. Lowrie’s production was a bit choppy with an incredible start fully justified by expectations then a prolonged lull where the actual results dug out faster before playing out the second half at an average or better level. A true switch-hitter with almost no platoon split he pairs a good eye with better than average strikeout rates. His contact shows tons of liners and higher with launch angle going higher as exit velocity took two spaced-out steps down. The New York Mets got themselves a really good stick.

Replacing him in the lineup, if probably not at second base, will be Chad Pinder who saw carefully-managed part-time work last year mostly in the outfield. His expectations show little platoon split, though he didn’t get anywhere near them in actuality versus righties. That shows up in his production as a persistent gap due to the near even split in handedness faced, and might lead to continued groomed opportunity. The strikeout improvement was necessary eventually settling in around the average. He paired this with an average or better walk rate. The exit velocity fell off linearly, but the spray shows a guy that keeps the ball off the ground and has enough pop to hit a few out.

Chad Pinder

Jed Lowrie

When folks talk about a high-floor/low-ceiling prospect they typically mean a guy that has the glove to play at the highest level, but don’t think much of the bat getting where it needs to be. When these folks miss, they miss out on star-level players. Matt Chapman might be a burgeoning star that those folks likely missed. He showed a weird reverse handedness split that only showed up on the expected side with very strong actual results with the above average walk rate getting cut into a bit by the worse than average strikeout, while playing similarly regardless of pitcher type. Chapman showed himself to be an average or better hitter throughout the season with strong peaks and overperformance in the second half making up for the early shortfall. A commitment to tightening up the zone after letting it get away from him pushed his non-contact into a good place before the walks fell off later in the year with the punchouts coming back. His exit velocity was borderline elite and seemed to gradually pick up steam by the end of the year, and he pairs this ton of hard contact with high liner angles that go for extra bases when they split defenders or find a corner. There are a few pokes, but the contact profile suggests more of a doubles hitter. Offseason thumb surgery should clean up a nagging in-season issue, but these types of injuries have a tendency to linger due to how hard it can be to build back the atrophied muscles.

Matt Chapman

Everyday shortstop put a ton of work in to become an above average defender. Pair that with his nearly average bat, and you’re talking about one of the better under-the-radar players in the game. The long stretch in the middle came in at a below average to bad level, but he made up for it with a couple of hot stretches. Keeping the K-rate under twenty percent, while also walking a good deal means a better chance at non-zero outcomes, and you can see that he puts the ball in the air quite often. This manifested more as less productive balls above the nitro zone, which likely go for outs often with all that foul territory in Oakland. The exit velocity was a little on the weaker side, but did climb up to stick at a higher level later in the year when he started to look like an average or better hitter more often.

Marcus Semien

We have seen plenty of pitching units that were absolute abominations so I don’t want to put Oakland in that class, but of the very good teams they had much worse pitching that held them back from that top tier where the five teams left to cover resided. The fact that they ended up looking this good speaks well to an aggressive management style that recognized early failure could not be allowed to hold back the dynamic offense. While the team relied on a plethora of true everyday hitters Oakland had only on pitcher see more than five hundred batters. That lone true starter, Sean Manaea, saw a solid season cut short due to shoulder surgery that jeopardizes his 2019. Instead, the team leaned heavily upon a rock star bullpen, and cycling starters hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Additionally, having above average defenders all over the field gives credence to a lot of the overperformance, which should be likely to continue. It helped the team go on their incredible run this past year, but if success breeds aspirations of yet more, and this is where the team’s greatest challenge lies if they hope to reach the upper echelon.

The best hurler on the club was Blake Treinen who alongside uber-prospect Jesus Luzardo came over the year prior in trades for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. Oakland has benefitted incredibly as Treinen found another gear, and the ability to shoulder a massive workload out of the pen. The strikeout rate was league leading even managing to find yet another gear for a long stretch over his third quarter. Unlike a lot of high strikeout guys he manages to avoid the walk very well with his worst stretches merely approximating the average. Even better was his ability to continuously draw weaker contact over the course of the season, while doing a good job of keeping the paltry contact down. Treinen was one of the best relievers in the game last year, and looks likely to continue that elite performance.

Blake Treinen

A couple more well-rode relievers were Lou Trivino and Yusmeiro Petit. The former came relatively out of nowhere to have a wonderful first half that looked even better in reality, but the close of the season finished off a regressing second half where the strikeouts came back down to the average and the better walk rate proved more blip than trend. He did a good job of avoiding hard contact throughout so this might be less a situation where he wore down due to the workload and more that batters started to have a better feel for his stuff later in the year. An extreme fly baller, Yusmeiro Petit rode that great defense to an over-performing first half that had him looking pretty, and when the perspectives matched up it was at that lower actual level. Goosing the strikeouts later helped the expected get back to that better level, and it came with much better exit velocity. An incredible workload out of the pen gives him extra value to a team looking for outs wherever they can find them, which should bode well for his future opportunity in the middle to late portions of games.

Lou Trivino

Yusmeiro Petit

Two more relievers that profiled fairly similarly, Ryan Buchter and Emilio Pagan, were two more guys that put the ball in the air a ton. These two profile more as specialist types as Buchter was much more effective against lefties, while Pagan, who was profiled much more in depth previously, obliterated righties while struggling with lefties. Buchter was kind of a sum of the parts adds up to more guy with averagey strikeout and walk rates who allowed fairly soft contact on all those pop ups and less scary fly balls. Pagan showed more volatility in his much larger sample showing a better, longer trough, but also a more persistent issue with underperforming his otherwise strong expectations. The huge flyball rate makes him more prone to that volatility as something as small as a wind-aided couple of extra feet could be the difference between the best and worst outcome. This is something else I looked into finding that there have been an inordinate number of cheapies in his career, but the most egregious came ahead in the count on fastballs that caught too much of the plate. That seems like something that is fixable, and could allow him to find another gear after a breakout season.

Ryan Buchter

Emilio Pagan

Finally, we get to the first starter as we arrive on Trevor Cahill. He was essentially an average pitcher, which makes him a fine mid-rotation or better guy as a starter. The early overperformance likely led folks to think he was better than he was, but after meeting at the higher level there was one more solid trough to come that was a bit more justified. The name on the front of the jersey might be perpetually changing, but Cahill was as consistent as ever at keeping the ball down, and continuing to defer to the walk instead of giving in to a batter. The walk spikes are then rather obvious, and an anchor on the average or better strikeout rate much of the season. An elbow issue early led to a minimum stint on the Infirmary List, though a more severe achilles injury later cost him a month. He turned this fine season into yet another one-year deal to play elsewhere, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in this instance, and should likely be an effective, non-flashy out-getter.

Trevor Cahill

Similar from the perspective of being a journeyman bounce around guy, Brett Anderson is something of a lesser version of Trevor Cahill mostly due to annual sabbaticals on the Infirmary List. A recurrent shoulder strain wiped out half of his season, but after some initial stumbles he had a fairly strong second half. There was some overperformance during his best stretch, but the expected production also liked him once things settled down. He doesn’t strike out many, and did well to cut the walks to virtually nothing, but like Cahill he does well to avoid the no doubter. Part of that is likewise keeping the ball on the ground with softer contact. Anderson remains unsigned, but as a wild card guy that might find more health as a twice through guy on a regular rotation his stuff might play up and he might stay more healthy leaving him as an interesting guy that might be available on a minor league deal like last winter.

Brett Anderson

Throughout his career Sean Manaea hinted at being a guy that leaned to the top of a rotation, but there were enough poor runs to leave him more firmly entrenched as a mid-rotation guy. Early on, he looked like an absolute ace with expectations saying pump the brakes, he’s more good than great. Things went the other way for a while, but he reined it in to be something like an average or better starter the rest of the way. Until the shoulder blew out putting all of his future plans on hold. The A’s not only lost a rotation stalwart, but the history of shoulder surgery recipients casts a dark shadow on Manaea being able to ever come back at this level if he even makes it back. This makes him easy to root for, and hopefully fans will get a chance to see him in this upcoming season.

Sean Manaea

Rounding out the pitchers we come to Edwin Jackson continuing his tour of the league after a mid-season signing and Daniel Mengden who was another recipient of the Houston Astros coming over with Jacob Nottingham in a Scott Kazmir trade back in 2015. Jackson looked fine by the actual results, but this was likely heavily influenced by the strong defense as the expected levels were far higher throughout. The walks continued to be an issue, and paired with a below average walk rate meant a heavy dependence on managing contact. He did that reasonably well with soft contact getting softer over the course of the year. He mostly did a good job of straddling the nitro zone, but the walks to do so coupled with so much contact in the productive liner areas meant short fingernails for A’s fans. The mustachioed Mengden played that same game of relying on the defense leading to an outstanding stretch of actual results before everything came crashing down with an even worse stretch. Prior to the extended spike he was looking something like a back of rotation guy even by the less impressed expectations, but a team looking for clarity in their starting pitcher mix probably would like to play their Clear Weather card to lift the fog surrounding Mengden.

Edwin Jackson

Daniel Mengden

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Mark Canha

Ramon Laureano

Matt Joyce

Nick Martini

Dustin Fowler

Jonathan Lucroy

 

 

 

Chris Bassitt

 

Chris Hatcher

Frankie Montas

 

Andrew Triggs

Mike Fiers

Kendall Graveman

 

 



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