Reliving the 2017 Season: Oakland Athletics Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: 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 team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting 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 two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP ATL

As a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays, probably no one understands the plight of the Oakland Athletics quite as well as me and my fellow fans. Due to entrenched economic disadvantages the team continually must retool in an effort to cut overhead while providing some semblance of competence. Occasionally the team will catch lightning in a bottle before having to further spin off competent contributors in the hopes that the next run will be the one that pays it all off. In 2017 that hopey/dreamy stuff went about as expected.

Sort of. The patchwork pitching started out reasonably well right around the league average. That would be the high point as the rest of the season alternated between acceptably bad and flat out awful. Observed performance pretty closely mirrored expected throughout the season giving confidence that these poor marks were fully “earned,” but the more surprising thing is just how well they hit as a club.

They came out of the gates hitting the ball hard, then went through a lull that saw them cross over into below average for a long stretch. From there they flat out mashed the rest of the season. They hit better than what they received early on, and flipped that down the stretch, but most of the middle of the season saw them posting about what should have been expected. This was a dynamic offense that just couldn’t pitch enough to stay in games.

Their seasonal line showed some stuff to like out of the pitchers coming in a little better than average on the walk, but a lower relative strikeout rate. Where they really got hurt was on balls in play where you can see a worse than average xwOBA* that saw them post around 75 runs worse than the average staff. Oakland struck out a ton when they were at the dish, but also saw some lift in their walk rate. The buried lede is that they flat out mashed when they did manage to put balls in play with a team level .403 xwOBA*. The 62 surplus runs they posted wasn’t enough to make up for the pitching, but barring the trades that they always seem to make most of this offense should be back in place for 2018.

Several bats were well above average, but none were quite to the elite level posted by Khris Davis. Yeah, he gives a good bit back with the glove, but few sluggers in the game show this kind of production. He wasn’t alone, though as Jed Lowrie showed his normal very good production, while staying healthy for seemingly the first time in forever. They also received the very best of his year from darling of the Air Ball Revolution Yonder Alonso before flipping him to the Mariners. Then you get to the Matt law firm of Joyce, Olson and Chapman who showed lots to like in samples great and small.

It wasn’t all gravy as Adam Rosales did next to nothing in a fairly large sample, though his observed production was welllll ahead of what his line should have looked like. Rajai Davis was flipped, but gave very little, and we can probably close the book on the Mark Canha era. Marcus Semien battled injury to come in a bit lower than average, though he was a good bit better than his eventual replacement, the youngster Franklin Barreto who wasn’t quite ready this year. Certainly not a death sentence for a 21 year old in his debut cup of coffee.

As good as Krush Davis was this year he saw dramatically lower production than he should have expected to start the year. Once the temperatures came up, though, everything looks mostly in line, and very strong. The strikeout is still a looming issue, but he more than makes up for it by wailing on the ball, while posting the best walk rate of his career. Those walks help him keep an even keel when things aren’t going well, and do well to boost his line when he is scorching. What is left is one of the most feared sluggers in the game, and someone that could be a valuable trade chip in real life. If he is traded to a more friendly offensive environment he might end up being one of the very best mashers in the game.

While not one of their very best hitters, Matt Joyce would be a fine fit for every lineup in the league. His well above average walk rate comes with a league average strikeout rate meaning he can work deep into counts without giving too many away. All those extra pitches lets him see a higher percentage of mistakes than his peers around the league, and when he gets one he knows what to do. You can see a little lull towards the middle of his season, but he finished exceptionally. The start was more than fine, though he did see a sizeable gap between what he did and what he oughta to start the year, much like Khris Davis above. The recipient of a two year, $11M contract prior to the season the A’s will welcome him back next year knowing he has pretty much already banked the cost of his contract.

The Athletics might not have a more pressing question than what to do with Ryon Healy. He ran with the job in 2016 as something of an unheralded player, and got off to a fine start this year. Then he cratered to become worse than average over the rest of the season. This looks like a case where an undisclosed injury may have prevented him from being the type of slugger that he had shown previously, but it could also be a case of the league starting to figure him out as an aggressive, pull-centric hitter. In totality, he was around a league average bat, but he showed enough to both like and dislike that another team might think they can get him back on track. With a plethora of internal options to replace him I would not be surprised if Healy is wearing a different cap in 2018. Moving to a more hitter-friendly environment might do wonders for him, but so would taking a walk more than once a week.

It is no mystery why Oakland struggled so mightily in getting guys out. Their starters were poor, at best, and things got even worse once they traded rotation stalwart Sonny Gray over the summer. Jharel Cotton could stand to trim his walks a bit, but he showed an ok strikeout rate, and did well to limit authority on contact. Andrew Triggs was similarly around an average pitcher, and someone they will count on to take a step forward next year. He should be something like a mid-rotation starter, but on a team bereft of even those types of guys he is currently being counted on to do too much.

The rest of the starters were a bit of a mess with Daniel Gossett, Chris Smith and Kendall Graveman posting a combined 50+ runs worse than average. The bigger issue will be getting scintillating lefty Sean Manaea figured out. The strikeouts are great to see, but he was a little worse than average with both his walks and production on balls in play. Potential is a gift and a curse, and I feel that Manaea has the makings of a fine top of rotation pitcher, but he will need to improve.

The bullpen showed some things to like early on, but they did well to trade Doolittle and Madson to get the electric arm of Jesus Luzardo, and others. Underrated multi-inning guy Liam Hendriks will be back, and pairing him with Ryan Dull should give them a couple of nice arms in front of the backend. Nice buy-lows on Santiago Casilla and Blake Treinen, another piece of the Great Bullpen Selloff ca. 2017, should provide plenty of ability closing it out, but it’s difficult to see positives beyond this collection of good, but not great arms.

Like many guys with an elite change up, it is often more about getting to the pitch than wondering if it will leave a batter looking silly. When Cotton has to go with his other stuff it can lead to vicious damage on balls in play or the slower death of the walk so it is not all that surprising to see such large gaps between observed and expected performance. Ignoring reality to focus on the earned you can see what looks like a fairly solid pitcher who took his lumps from time to time. Additionally, the close of his season might be chalked up to fatigue after posting the most innings of his career in the Show. He is not a finished product, but that doesn’t mean he will reach his potential, either. Getting a little bigger physically might help his velocity and ability to hold up over the grind, but it will be meaningless if he can’t command his pitches where he wants.

Coming into the year Graveman looked like the kind of mid-rotation depth the team would need to make it through a long season. While his ERA/FIP was relatively close to the year prior you can see lots to be concerned about. At times, he looked like an average type of starter that is fine for his role, but these were the exception to the rule. The rest of the time he looked like a bad starter that lives and dies with his quality of contact. More often than not that contact was loud leading to poor results. On a better team he would probably serve well as a swingman type that can occasionally spot start, while getting mid-game outs with aplomb the rest of the time. He’ll need to be more than that if the Athletics are penning him in as one of their starters.

You can see why I like Manaea quite a bit. Strikeouts are great, and his total production was extremely strong to start the year. It would prove to be his high water mark. The two very rough stretches he went through were sustained over long terms making him a non-viable starter when it wasn’t going well. His actual production was incredibly bad during that second poor stretch, though even regressing the balls in play you can see he was still not good. Finishing on a relative strong note might put to bed concerns about injury, but as one of their few promising arms they’re going to need to figure out how to avoid prolonging the bad. Getting him back to what he was to start the year could lead to him being a breakout starter, but there are so many ifs here that it seems unrealistic. The talent is in there, though.

Leaderboards

With nearly a third of the league covered we can look at the top-20 hitters and pitchers to get a sense of context for how well their players performed, such as, just how very good Khris Davis was this year. Below that you will find the team ranks in each of these categories, where you will find that Oakland looked an awful lot like the Detroit Tigers by posting incredibly hitting production paired with next to no pitching.



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