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2007 Oakland Athletics Team Preview

by Keith Glab,
March 18, 2007

2006 Record: 93-69 (First Place AL West Division)
2006 Runs Scored: 771
2006 Runs Allowed: 727
Pythagorean 2006 Record: 85-77

Every year the Bill James Handbook compiles a team efficiency summary, which shows how well teams converted game events into runs scored and runs prevented, and how well they translated that run differential into wins.  In 2006, only two teams exceeded their "Efficiency Wins" by more three.  The New York Mets won 97 when they were expected to win 92, and the Oakland Athletics exceeded their predicted 82 win mark by eleven games.

The A's did not manage this feat with timely hitting; as a team, they batted .243 with runners in scoring position and .237 from the 7th inning on.  Those extra 11 wins were the product of a fine bullpen and a substantial amount of luck.  

Like any other offseason, the A's lost big in free agency, but they also got hit with a big injury this time.  Frank Thomas and Barry Zito left for greener pastures (money, not uniform color), and Mark Kotsay's back surgery could render him inoperable for the whole season.  The acquisition of Mike Piazza softens the blow to the offense, but nothing has been done to address the other deficiencies.  Usually, the A's can fill holes at the major league level by utilizing their well-stocked system.  The Oakland farm is as impressive as ever, but most of the impact players are at least one more year away from arrival.  For the most part, the club is relying upon oft-injured players staying healthy all season for a change.

If Oakland doesn't have an inordinate number of things go right for them in 2007, they will likely succumb to a substantial down year from their assembly line of 90+ win seasons. 

2006 Starter -
Jason Kendall
Projected 2007 Starter -

Kendall wasn't utterly useless this year.  His .373 OBP out of the leadoff spot wasn't enough to justify his ludicrous contract (especially when his OBP leading off an inning was .308), but he produced a reasonable amount of offense for a catcher and wasn't a travesty behind the dish as he was in '05.

If there's a silver lining with Kendall, it's that he batted .323 with a .391 OBP in the second half.  Perhaps all of the nagging injuries that he never deigns to tell his coaches about were finally gone and he's now ready to revitalize his career.  If not, at least the Pirates pay $5 M of Kendall's salary this year, and at least Kendall does a better job of selling jeans than backup Jeremy Brown does.

First Base
2006 Starters -
Dan Johnson, Nick Swisher
Projected 2007 Starter -

Johnson began last season by going 0-for-25.  Things did not improve much until June, when Johnson hit .321 and drove in 16 runs.  Then he struggled again in July, prompting a demotion to Sacramento.  There, he would put up his typical .950 OPS-type minor league numbers before getting a recall again in September, where he would once again disappoint.    

The plan for 2007 was for Dan Johnson to play his way into a starting job during spring training.  Then Mark Kotsay went down for the majority of the season, and Johnson got the gig by default.  At 27 years of age, it's time for Johnson to show that he can handle the show, because uber-prospect Daric Barton breathes down his neck. 

Second Base
2006 Starter -
Mark Ellis, Marcus Scutaro
Projected 2007 Starter -

Ellis is definitely one of the best defensive second basemen around.  He ranks 4th in +/- rating over the past three years despite not playing in 2004, and made only two errors last year in between breaking two of his fingers.  As nice as his defense is, it looks more and more as though his 2005 offensive numbers were made possible in part by a deal with the Devil.

Third Base
2006 Starter -
Eric Chavez
Projected 2007 Starter -

Eric Chavez can't possibly be as bad as he was last year, can he?  He batted just .241 with 22 homers, both seven-year lows, and even his defense faltered (not hat it prevented voters from blindly handing him his sixth straight Gold Glove Award).  His strikeout rate and walk rate have both been much higher these past three seasons than they were towards the beginning of his career.  Unfortunately, his batting average and slugging percentage have declined for four straight years.  I don't see that happening a fifth straight time, but I also don't see his renaissance - necessary for the A's to have a competent offense - happening this season.     

2006 Starters -
Bobby Crosby, Marcus Scutaro
Projected 2007 Starter -

"If he [Crosby] is healthy this season, he should be one of the top three offensive shortstops in the American League."

--Asher Chancey, 3/11/06

I'm certain that I wasn't the only reader to find this statement fall-on-the-floor funny.  Whether Asher was overlooking Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, or Michael Young I do not know, but I guess we should give him credit that he may have accidentally predicted the downfall of Jhonny Peralta.  We can't even say that Crosby might have performed better if not for injury, because his .229 BA all accumulated before he fractured his vertebra.  I expect Crosby to be dining with Pat Listach, Bob Hamlin, and Jerome Walton at the Rookie of the Year Busts convention of 2010.

2006 Starters -
Mark Kotsay, Jay Payton, Milton Bradley, Bobby Kielty, Swisher
Projected 2007 Starters -
Bradley, Kielty, Swisher, Shannon Stewart, Ryan Goleski

Nick Swisher ought to have a fine offensive season, but he's not yet the type of consistent hitter who should be anchoring an offense.  The rest of the outfield is trouble.  Would you believe that Milton Bradley has only eclipsed 101 games played in a season once?  Shannon Stewart is two years removed from his last productive season, and Bobby Kielty should not be counted on as anything more than a fourth outfielder.

One positive outcome from the Kotsay injury is the likelihood that Rule V pick Ryan Goleski can now spend the entire season on the Oakland roster.  Coming off wrist surgery, however, Goleski will struggle to replicate his impressive 2006 numbers from the Cleveland system.

Designated Hitter
2006 Starter -
Frank Thomas
2007 Starter -
Mike Piazza

Mike Piazza's numbers will explode now that he has left PETCO Park and gotten out of the catcher's crouch.  But they still won't approach the behemoth results that the Big Hurt achieved last season.  As for this year, Piazza is more likely to be healthy than Thomas.  This is one instance where an intelligent baseball move will nevertheless result in a downgrade for the ballclub.

Top of the Rotation
2006 Starters -
Barry Zito, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton, Esteban Loaiza
Projected 2007 Starters -
Rich Harden, Haren, Blanton, Loaiza

The A's will miss Zito's durability more than they will his talent, since Rich Harden is the Mark Prior of the American League.  Haren and Blanton have shown themselves to be dependable young workhorses, but I wouldn't want them as the #1 and #2 pitchers in my rotation.  If inconsistency's your thing, you'll love Esteban Loaiza.  But now that he is 35 years old, expect more bad stretches than good stretches.

Bottom line, if Harden can't make more than the 20 starts per season that he has averaged over the past three years, this pitching staff's ERA will rank in the bottom half of AL teams.

Bottom of the Rotation
2006 Cast -
Harden, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Halsey
Possible 2007 Options -
Halsey, Joe Kennedy, Jason Windsor

For every start that Harden cannot make, he not will be replaced by a league average pitcher, he'll be replaced by a Brad Halsey or a Shane Komine.  The best hope for the bottom of the Oakland rotation is Jason Windsor, a 24-year old prospect who went a combined 17-3 last year.  Joe Kennedy is a younger version of Loaiza who throws from the left side; it's a coin flip as to how he will perform this year.

2006 Mainstays -
Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero, Chad Gaudin, Kennedy
Probable 2007 Bullpen -
Street, Duchscherer, Calero, Gaudin, Alan Embree

The Oakland A's should once again sport one of the best bullpens around.  At just 23 years young, Huston Street is among the game's best closers, and Justin Duchscherer could close for most major league teams.  Alan Embree ably assumes the left handed duties if Kennedy is indeed used in the rotation.  If this deep bullpen somehow struggles, converted outfielder Marcus McBeth could surprise people as a key contributor. 

Final Word

Last season, a fantastic bullpen propelled a good Oakland A's team to greatness.  But I don't think there's much that any bullpen can do for a team this mediocre - not in a tough division and a tough league.  The offense will be worse without Thomas, the defense will be worse without Kotsay, and the pitching will be worse without Zito.  Even if everything else goes right - Chavez and Johnson make comebacks, Harden stays healthy, Crosby and Ellis hit their way out of paper bags - it is still very difficult to envision these A's finishing better than third in the AL West.


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