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Oakland (Lucas Harrell) @ Chicago (Brett Anderson)

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Texas 3, Oakland 1
Oakland 3, Texas 1
Texas 7, Oakland 4

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

DTGG Season Preview: The Offense, or Hey, It's Not as Bad as You Think!

The A's have had some bad offenses in recent years.  They haven't scored 800 runs since 2002 when they scored 800 exactly.  Last season, a year in which run scoring was a fair amount lower than in 2002, five AL teams scored 800 times (and the Jays scored 798).  So we're used to seeing middling to horrible offenses out of the A's.  But we also know that having a not-very-good offense doesn't preclude success.  With those middling offenses (including the 2002 team that scored 800 runs), the A's made the playoffs thrice and came in second in the AL West twice.

Obviously you don't want to have a middling (or worse) offense.  But paired with a good pitching and defense an average-ish offense can give you a puncher's chance at the postseason.  Last year, the A's scored the 9th most runs in the AL (out of 14).  If they want to compete, they'll have to do better than that, but not necessarily by that much.  They scored 759 runs last season.  They scored 771 runs when they won the AL West in 2006 and 768 runs in their 2003 AL West winning season. 

Let's take a position-by-position look at how the 2010 A's stack up offensively against the 2009 squad with the help of CHONE projections.

Kurt Suzuki - .274/.313/.421 in 132 starts at C with total 614 PAs
Landon Powell - .229/.297/.429 in 30 starts at C with total 155 PAs

2010 (CHONE Projections)
Kurt Suzuki - .275/.335/.405
Landon Powell - .227/.314/.399

Suzuki has been pretty consistent during his time in the majors.  He's been more or less a league average hitter the past 2 and a half years.  There's no reason to think he'll be anything but league average again.  Powell's numbers from his rookie season (and his projection) seem to accurately reflect his true hitting ability.  Whether he puts up better (or worse) numbers probably depends on the amount of PAs he gets.  With Suzuki proving he can play nearly every day, Powell will only see about 150-200 PAs, which leads to a high variance in possible outcomes for his final numbers.

The bottom line is that the A's should expect the SAME amount of offensive production out of their catchers this season as they got in 2009, which isn't surprising considering they're bringing back the same guys in their late-20s.

First Base
Jason Giambi - .193/.332/.364 in 58 starts at 1B with 328 PAs
Daric Barton - .269/.372/.413 in 46 starts at 1B with total 192 PAs
Bobby Crosby - .223/.295/.357 in 24 starts at 1B with total 272 PAs
Tommy Everidge - .224.302/.365 in 19 starts at 1B with total 97 PAs

2010 (CHONE Projections)
Daric Barton - .261/.366/.413
Eric Chavez - .234/.315/.392   
Jake Fox - .259/.318/.454

This is pretty gross.  The good news is that most of the grossness above is from the 2009 lines.  CHONE projects Barton to hit basically the same way he did in the majors in 2009, but despite the disappointing forecast it beats (by a lot) what the A's got out of their first basemen last year.  Heck, even Chavez is likely to produce more than the unholy trinity of Giambi, Crosby, and Everidge "contributed" last season.

There's no way the A's get less out of first base than they did in 2009 with all signs pointing to them getting at least a little BETTER production.  There's also upside here; there's a pretty decent likelihood that Barton outhits that projection, Chris Carter proves to be ready or that Chavez isn't quite that bad.  Heck, the chance that all three of those things happen is more likely than the A's doing worse at first. 

Second Base
Mark Ellis - .263/.305/.403 in 105 starts at 2B with 410 total PAs
Adam Kennedy - .289/.348/.410 in 49 starts at 2B with 586 total PAs

2010 (CHONE Projections)
Mark Ellis - .248/.312/.386
Adam Rosales - .245/.310/.395    
Eric Patterson - .262/.326/.402

Kennedy came out of nowhere and hit surprisingly well last year, though he got most of his PAs while playing third.  Ellis hit OK and, like always, spent a third of the season on the DL.  Ellis will probably put up a pretty good impression of his 2009 season this year, which will leave a good chunk of playing time for Adam Rosales and/or Patterson (or perhaps Steve Tolleson or Eric Sogard).

Perhaps a healthy Mark Ellis will be able to beat the output he and Kennedy put up last year or perhaps Rosales or Patterson thrive in his inevitable absence.  Those aren't unreasonable propositions, but the smart money is that the A's will get WORSE output out of the position.

Third Base
Adam Kennedy - .289/.348/.410 in 78 starts at 3B with 586 total PAs
Jack Hannahan - .193/.278/.303 in 34 starts at 3B with 134 total PAs
Bobby Crosby - .223/.295/.357 in 42 starts at 3B with total 272 PAs

2010 (CHONE Projections)
Kevin Kouzmanoff - .259/.304/.431
Eric Chavez - .234/.315/.392

As good as Kennedy's season was last year, it wasn't especially strong for a third baseman, and was not nearly strong enough to make up for the horrific offensive numbers Hannahan and Crosby put up while manning the hot corner for the A's in 2009.  Kouz doesn't figure to be a superstar, either offensively or defensively.  What I do expect is for him to be healthy and be roughly league average with the bat.  An average bat all season would definitely be BETTER for the A's than the half season of below replacement level production they got last year.

Orlando Cabrera - .280/.318/.365 in 100 starts at SS with 448 total PAs
Cliff Pennington - .279/.342/.418 in 60 starts at SS with 229 total PAs

2010 (CHONE Projections)
Cliff Pennington - .245/.326/.343
Adam Rosales - .245/.310/.395 

Cabrera was, is, and always will be an empty batting average king.  25 years ago most teams would be drooling over a shortstop that could hit .280 pretty consistently.  Today we understand that a .280 average accompanied by minuscule walk rates and no power (and rapidly declining defense) is virtually worthless.  And that's what the A's got out of Cabrera last year.

Pennington's success at the dish was a bit of a surprise and potentially a fluke.  His .342 BABIP in Oakland was 42 points higher than it was last year in Sacramento lending some credibility to CHONE's projecting Pennington to be worse in his second year in the majors.  That said, Pennington's modest upside, combined with the fact that Cabrera contributed next to nothing at the plate last year, means that the A's will likely get THE SAME production out of their shortstops this year

Ryan Sweeney - .293/.348/.407 in 121 starts in the OF with 534 PAs
Rajai Davis - .305/.360/.423 in 97 starts in the OF with 432 total PAs
Matt Holliday - .286/.378/.454 in 92 starts in the OF with 400 total PAs
Scott Hairston - .236/.262/.391in 54 starts in the OF with 248 total PAs
Jack Cust - .240/.356/.417 in 50 starts in the OF with 612 total PAs
Travis Buck - .219/.287/.333 in 27 starts in the OF with 115 total PAs

2010 (CHONE Projections)
Ryan Sweeney - .286/.350/.409
Rajai Davis - .270/.329/.375    
Coco Crisp - .254/.330/.370    
Eric Patterson - .262/.326/.402
Gabe Gross - .238/.332/.387
Jake Fox - .259/.318/.454
Jack Cust - .235/.370/.441    

One of the bad indicators of the Holliday deal was this: his hitting was a disappointment in Oakland, but was still better than anything the A's can expect out of their current group of outfielders this year.  Also, Rajai Davis solid season at the plate seems like an anomaly.  He had a .361 BABIP last season compared with a .285 BABIP in 2008 and a .321 figure in 2007.  That 2007 number, or the midpoint between his oddly high figure last year and 2008's oddly low number is a more accurate reflection of his true talent.  CHONE smartly looks for Davis to regress in 2010.  As you can see, Sweeney's projection for 2010 is very similar to his 2009 numbers.

The good news (for this exercise at least) is that the other 2010 A's outfielders don't have to do much to outhit their non-Holliday 2009 counterparts.  CHONE, and most other projection systems see Cust bouncing back, and Crisp, Fox, and Patterson are likely to provide more offensive value than Hairston and Buck did last year.  Still, though, the half season of solid hitting that Holliday provided last year will be hard to compete with.  Thus, I see the A's outfield, as a group, hitting SLIGHTLY WORSE this season.

Designated Hitter
Jack Cust - .240/.356/.417 in 96 starts at DH with 612 total PAs
Jason Giambi - .193/.332/.364 in 22 starts at DH with 328 PAs
Nomar Garciaparra - .281/.314/.388 in 18 starts at DH with 169 total PAs

2010 (CHONE Projections)
Jack Cust - .235/.370/.441
Jake Fox - .259/.318/.454

I mentioned earlier that Cust looks to bounce back from his disappointing 2009 season and CHONE agrees.  Garciaparra's line resembles Orlando Cabrera's which was unacceptable for a shortstop, let alone a DH.  Giambi's line is arguably even worse.  Cust, Fox, and whoever else the Bob Geren pencils into the DH spot are bound to be BETTER than their 2009 counterparts, probably by a fair amount.

By this method, it looks like the A's offense will be better than it was in 2009.  Though they might get less out of the second base position and slightly less from the outfield, I expect major improvements from the DH and 1B positions, as well as a marginal improvement at third.

This admission probably exposes the fan in me, but I find the CHONE projections (which I adhered to pretty well in the analysis) to be a bit conservative.  I could see good arguments for Barton, Sweeney, and Pennington all outperforming these numbers, while I couldn't really point to one player's projection being too high.  I also didn't include Michael Taylor or Chris Carter (or Adrian Cardenas) any of whom has the chance to have an impact on the A's run-scoring this year. 

I won't go crazy and predict the A's will have one of the top 5 offenses in the AL this year.  But I'd place the 759 figure from last year as their lower bound with an upper bound of about 800.

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