It’s not entirely accurate to say the 2019 A’s are running it back in 2020, but it’s not a far cry from the truth. Their key cogs are back, and they’re banking on some youngsters filling the vacated starting spots at the keystone and behind the dish. Only three pitchers started 25 or more games for the A’s last season and two of the three are back. They weren’t splashy in free agency or in the trade market, but there are avenues to maintaining or improving upon last year’s 97-win campaign and Wild Card berth.
2020 Futures Odds for the Angels (FanDuel Sportsbook)
- Regular Season Wins: 89.5 (Over -116/Under -106)
- American League West: +350
- Win American League: +1,300
- Win World Series: +2,500
In 2019, Oakland’s offense ranked fifth in wRC+ (107), according to FanGraphs. They were excellent despite a few issues that prevented them from being even better. First, Matt Olson suffered a fractured hamate in the season-opening series in Japan in late March and didn’t return to the A’s until May 7. When healthy, he was a beast amassing a .351 OBP, .277 ISO, and 134 wRC+ in 547 plate appearances. Another month’s worth of plate appearances at his season-long rate of success would have helped Oakland’s offense’s bottom line.
Furthermore, it was a down year for Khris Davis. In his first three years with the A’s from 2016 through 2018, he totaled a .287 ISO and 129 wRC+. In 533 plate appearances in 2019, he was responsible for a .166 ISO and 81 wRC+. Despite his poor showing, he still made hard contact on balls hit in the air. Among qualified hitters, Davis’ average 95.2 MPH FB/LD exit velocity was tied for the 44th-highest mark out of 250 hitters. A bounce-back is probable and would provide the offense another big bopper.
Additionally, a full season of a fully healthy Matt Chapman would be good, too. When writing about Chapman as one of my favorite futures bets for American League MVP, I discussed some pre- and post-injury stats using the injury data provided by Jeff Zimmerman in this piece. The cliff notes version of that write-up is that Chapman totaled a .272 ISO and 143 wRC+ until July 19 and a .233 ISO and 98 wRC+ from July 20 through the end of the year. Maybe the injury isn’t totally to blame, but it’s possible it hampered his performance.
On the flip side of things, Mark Canha enjoyed a career year. He provided the offense a .396 OBP, .244 ISO, and 146 wRC+ after posting a .328 OBP, .200 ISO, and 114 wRC+ in 2018. Shortstop Marcus Semien also had a career year with a .369 OBP, .237 ISO, and 137 wRC+ after rattling off a .312 OBP, .157 ISO, and 97 wRC+ in his first four years with the A’s from 2015 through 2018. Both Canha and Semien can reasonably be expected to take a step back, but both should be above-average offensive players this year.
Jurickson Profar flopped in his only season with the A’s with an 89 wRC+. The untested trio of Jorge Mateo, Franklin Barreto, and Sheldon Neuse will battle for the opportunity to replace him at second base. There’s some upside in this group, but the floors for them are quite low, too.
Catcher is another position undergoing a radical change. Josh Phegley led the position with 342 plate appearances last year and he mustered an underwhelming 82 wRC+. Prospect Sean Murphy’s defense gets the bulk of the praise, but he tallied a 131 wRC+ in 289 plate appearances in Double-A in 2018, a 136 wRC+ in 140 plate appearances in Triple-A last year, and a 135 wRC+ in a 60 plate appearance cup of coffee for the A’s last season. Austin Allen, who was acquired in the Profar trade with the Padres, has an opportunity to earn the backup duties. He was overwhelmed in his first crack in “The Show.” In 71 plate appearances for the Friars last year, he tallied a 73 wRC+. He’s hit at every minor league stop, though, including ripping off a 143 wRC+ in 298 plate appearances at the Triple-A level last year. My money is on Oakland’s backstops outproducing last year’s group offensively this year.
As a whole, this should once again be a strong offense. The pieces are there for another run at a top-five finish in wRC+. When factoring in everything, however, they look more likely to finish just outside the top five while remaining in the top 10.
Oakland’s 2019 starters were a largely unexciting group, yet they totaled the eighth-best ERA (4.02). They ranked a much less impressive 24th in SIERA (4.86). Mike Fiers led the team in starts (33) and innings (184.2) and he’s listed atop their depth chart again this year. He’s an innings eater who totaled a 3.90 ERA that clobbered his 5.19 SIERA. Was he lucky? Probably.
Having said that, Fiers isn’t a stranger to beating his ERA estimators. In 2018, he totaled a 3.56 ERA that was in stark contrast to his 4.25 SIERA, and his 4.02 career ERA also bests his 4.20 SIERA. Frankly, I don’t understand how he does it. I don’t think he’ll produce a sub-4.00 ERA again this year, but I also don’t think he’ll approach his ghastly 5.19 SIERA from last year. An ERA in the low to mid-fours feels right and that has real-life value while he chews up innings.
Frankie Montas had a breakout season that was put on hold due to a PED suspension. In 16 starts spanning 96.0 innings, he ripped off a 2.63 ERA and 3.76 SIERA. Montas made only one start after returning from suspension in September, but it was a dazzling turn in which he held the Angels to one run on four hits, two walks, and six strikeouts in six innings. I’m mostly buying his breakout — albeit not at a sub-3.00 ERA level, but a low to mid-3.00s ERA is attainable.
Sean Manaea spent most of last season rehabbing from shoulder surgery he underwent in September of 2018. He made up for lost time by spinning a sterling 1.21 ERA in five starts spanning 29.2 innings, but he was quite lucky. The lefty’s 3.86 SIERA is a better indicator of his true level of talent. Nevertheless, last year’s return was encouraging and he’ll provide the rotation a boost.
The projected rotation also features a pair of tantalizing rookie southpaws, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk. Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline ranked the duo among the top-10 lefty pitching prospects. The ceilings for both are lofty, but it’s possible they’ll have some hiccups against big-leaguers. Both received their first taste of big-league joe last year out of Oakland’s bullpen and they both flourished. Luzardo is the better bet for immediate success and I’m bullish on his 2020 outlook. If Puk stumbles, he could be a valuable bullpen piece with Chris Bassitt providing an in-house fallback option. Bassitt made 28 appearances (25 starts) for the A’s last year and he tallied a 3.81 ERA (4.47 SIERA) in 144.0 innings.
The A’s should pitch at an above-average level this year. There’s potential for even greater than being merely above-average, too.
2019 Record and 2020 Record Projections
|2019 Pythagorean Win-Loss||97|
*Baseball Prospectus uses fractional wins in their PECOTA projections and I rounded to the nearest win in the table.
Both FanGraphs and PECOTA from Baseball Prospectus project the A’s to tumble 10 or more wins from last year’s total of 97. Interestingly, the Pythagorean win total that’s identical to their actual win total in 2019 suggests the A’s weren’t lucky and were actually legitimate.
I’m going against the projection models and picking the A’s to go over their total of 89.5 wins. Simply put, this team looks at least as good as last year’s on paper. Further, it’s anyone’s guess how the reigning American League West and American League Champion Astros will perform in the wake of getting busted in a sign-stealing scandal. The A’s have the depth and high-end talent to give the Astros a run for the division while also fending off a high-upside Angels squad. Their +350 line to win the division is a little shorter than I’d like to tie money up on for a future, but it’s a viable bet. I’m more drawn to their longer odds to win the American League and the World Series.
Pick: Athletics Over 89.5 wins in 2020
Chicago White Sox Team Preview
Toronto Blue Jays Team Preview
Washington Nationals Team Preview
Cleveland Indians Team Preview
New York Yankees Team Preview
Houston Astros Team Preview
Cincinnati Reds Team Preview
Los Angeles Angels Team Preview
Atlanta Braves Team Preview
Boston Red Sox Team Preview