2005 Record: 88-74(2nd Place AL West Division)
2005 Runs Scored: 772
2005 Runs Allowed: 658
Pythagorean 2005 Record: 93-69
Last season, the A's had lots of things go wrong and still finished second in the division to the Angels at 88-74. Whether it was Eric Chavez's terrible start, Bobby Crosby's injuries, Scott Hatteberg's decline, the young inexperienced pitching, Nick Swisher's unbalanced play in his first full season, or the disappointing early season performance of Octavio Dotel, the A's had very little going in their favor last season and still finished 14 games above .500. This season, with the younsters a year older, Dotel and Hatteberg out of town, and veterans Milton Bradley and Frank Thomas joining the team, it is hard to find a weak spot on the Oakland Athletics. With the Angels noticeably weaker and the Rangers having not solved their pitching problems, 2006 will be the year for the Athletics.
2005 Starters: Jason Kendall
Projected 2006 Starters: Jason Kendall
One of my favorite hobbies last season was making open, relentless, ceaseless fun of the Great Jason Kendall Acquisition of 2005. Jason certainly had a dubious season in '05, with 0 homeruns, a .321 Slugging percentage, and 27 double plays. But, at the end of the season, I think Billy Beane was happy with what he got - 150 games, 601 at-bats, 39 strikeouts, 20 HBPs, and a well handled pitching staff.
Turns out the acquisition was solid after all. Not worth the 10 million Kendall made last season, but solid nonetheless. At 32, Kendall probably has two more seasons of similar play left.
2005 Starter: Dan Johnson, Scott Hatteberg
Projected 2006 Starters: Dan Johnson, Nick Swisher
A couple of months ago, it looked like Dan Johnson would be the DH on this team, with Swisher playing first. Now, with the addition of Frank Thomas, Johnson finds himself back at first, with Swisher in left field.
Dan "What's Not to Like" Johnson was a first year player in 2005, and performed admirably. He is a classic Beane-er - he had a nearly 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio, he hits for power, and he gets on base. At 26 and ready for a full season of action, Johnson helps this team on offense, though The Fielding Bible shows him to be a rather average defensive first baseman. If Thomas has injury problems, this will be Swisher's position.
2005 Starters: Mark Ellis, Marco Scutaro
Projected 2006 Starter: Mark Ellis
After missing all of 2004 to shoulder surgery, last year was Ellis' best year yet in the bigs. He nearly matched his career homerun total in one season, and had exactly as many hits and RBI as he did in 2003, despite plating in 32 fewer games. He hit .316, got on base to the tune of .384, and dramatically improved his strikeout to walk ratio. His slugging percentage was .477, up 83 points from his career high.
In 2003, Ellis was second in the majors in plus/minus, according to the Fielding Bible, and in his first year back he dropped to eleventh, an understandable decline after a year off. However, his double play percentage went from 20th in the league to 10th in the league last season, so not all is lost. On defense, Ellis is solid, on offense he is helper, not a hurter, and he makes less than half a million in salary. He is an asset.
2005 Starters: Eric Chavez
Projected 2006 Starters: Eric Chavez
Last year I played in two fantasy leagues. In one, Eric Chavez was my first pick, and in the other it was Carlos Beltran. It was a frustrating fantasy season for Asher. . . .
Eric Chavez made his major league debut on my 21st birthday, September 8, 1998. In other news, some guy named McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season that same day. . . .
In 2004, Chavez missed 37 games and was amazing, with a .397 OBP, 29 homeruns and 95 walks in 125 games, though 21 double plays. In 2005, he played in 160 games, and cut down his double plays from 21 to 9, a remarkable improvement. He also lower his home total by two, in 35 more games, lowered his OBP 68 points, lowered his slugging 35 points, walked 37 fewer times, and struckout 30 more times. At the age of 27, Chavez seemed primed to have one of the great offensive seasons by a third baseman, and he fizzled.
So, what to expect this year? Well, he probably won't be 2004 Chavez, but he shouldn't be 2005 Chavez either. He is not a 1:1 guy - 2004 was an aberration - and he is not a 400 OBP guy - also an aberration.
2006 Eric Chavez Prediction - 36 HR, 120 RBI, 102 runs, 180 hits, 45 doubles, 77 walks, 120 strikeouts, .281/.367/.535.
On defense, The Fielding Bible lays quick waste to the notion that Chavez is overrated. We have all seen him patrol the huge foul territory in Oakland with dominance. In the last three years, he has ranked 6th, 7th, and 3rd in plus/minus rating, and last season he was the number two player in the majors in terms of fielding bunts. In fact, he was among the leaders in terms of fewest opportunites to field a bunt, indicating that batters don't even think about laying bunts down the third base line.
2005 Starters: Bobby Crosby, Marco Scutaro
Projected 2006 Starter: Bobby Crosby
After winning the AL Rookie of the Year, Crosby missed time due to injury at both the beginning and the end of the year, which led to his missing about half of the season. This is a real shame because, at 25, Crosby improved in almost every aspect of his game last season. If he is healthy this season, he should be one of the top three offensive shortstops in the American League.
The Fielding Bible shows Crosby to be solid defender, ranking near the top ten in plus/minus and fouth in double play percentage. A full season with Crosby and Ellis healthy could mean great things for the Athletics young pitching staff.
2005 Starters: Bobby Kielty, Mark Kotsay, Nick Swisher, Jay Payton, Eric Byrnes
Projected 2006 Starters: Swisher, Kotsay, Milton Bradley
Defensively, The Fielding Bible makes clear that this is not an outfield to get excited about. None of these guys excelled in plus/minus rating or throwing stats last year, and there is no reason to expect them to this year. The one thing that should be said is this - if on defense, your most important position is center, followed by right, followed by left, well, the A's have a centerfielder playing right, and a rightfielder playing left, so perhaps Bradley and Swisher will play to their upsides.
On offense, the acquisition of Milton Bradley and Frank Thomas means that an outfield which was set to feature Bobby Kielty and Jay Payton has been significantly upgraded. Payton had one good year - it was in Colorado. He should have stayed there. Kielty gets on base base to the tune of a .355 OBP, which is all he has going for him.
In Bradley, the A's have acquired a potential problem, but also a potential star. Three years ago, in his first full season in Cleveland, he was a 3-4-5er, and he has battled injury problems and attitude problems the last couple of years which have prevented his return to form. If healthy, and if he behaves himself, there is no reason Bradley could not have a wonderful year. But those are two big ifs.
Nick Swisher made his splash last season - this season he will have to improve. He showed that he could hit Major League pitching hard, but he also showed that he could miss major league pitches often - to the tune of 110 Ks in 131 games. All of his numbers should go up this year, at the age of 25, as he plays more regularly and has a starting job all season.
Mark Kotsay is a smart player, which is baseball for "not a lot of skills." He doesn't strikeout much, is one season removed from 190 hits, .314 average, and .370 OBP, and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes in the field. That having been said, he's also not very fast, doesn't score a lot of runs, doesn't have a lot of power. This is the type of guy who Yankees fans run out of town, but who Billy Beane sees as a cheap, solid, long-term solution who won't hurt you and doesn't cost a lot of money. Except that he made 6.5 million last season for a 746 OPS, but I digress.
2005 Starter: Scott Hatteberg
Projected 2006 Starter: Frank Thomas
Won't waste your time here. If he is healthy, Big Frank hits 35 homeruns with a .280/.410/.530. If he is hurt, the Athletics are a little bit weaker.
2005 Front Three Starters: Barry Zito, Danny Haren, Joe Blanton
Projected 2006 Front Three: Zito, Rich Harden, Blanton
Not to kiss up, but Beane's management of his rotation the last few years borders on sorcery. Seriously. He threw caution to the wind trading Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson last off-season, and Joe Blanton and Danny Haren promptly stepped in with solid seasons. The A's got 200 plus innings from their front three (though at 27, 24, and 24, you have to wonder if this is pushing the youngsters too much too soon), and his best pitcher was 23 year old Rich Harden, who only managed to start 19 games but posted 121 Ks in 128 innings.
The key here is that all of the Athletics pitchers performed better in the second half than they did in the first half, indicating that there was a learning curve to overcome. All of these guys have talent, and this year they should be better than last.
Other 2005 Starters: Kirk Saarloos, Harden, Kennedy
Other Possible 2006 Starters: Esteban Loaiza, Danny Haren
Loaiza would seem to be a dubious acquisition, but he is a veteran who knows how to pitch, doesn't walk alot, and, as the Nationals learned last year, gives the team a chance to win games. The addition of Loaiza gives the A's four pitchers who pitched 200 plus innings last season, a rarity. He is a solid acquisition.
Haren was the second best pitcher on this team last season, but is fourth or fifth on the team's depth chart behind veterans Zito and Loaiza, and hot-shots Blanton and Harden. Haren is good enough to be the one or two for a lot of teams, and will probably finish the season higher than his pre-season depth chart placement indicates.
2005 Top Relievers: Huston Street, Ricardo Rincon, Justin Duchscherer, Kiki Calero, Keiichi Yabu
Projected 2006 Top Relievers: Street, Claero, Duchscherer, Jay Witasick, Chad Gaudin
Huston Street was one of my top five MVP candidates in the AL last season. He was a real difference maker. He is flat-out good, and now he'll be around for a full season as closer at the age of 22. Octavio Dotel and Ricardo Rincon have departed, which is good news. Joe Kennedy and Kirk Saarloos will probably be in the bullpen this season after the arrival of Loaiza, meaning the A's will have two starters who can serve as middle relievers.
The addition of Louisianian Chad Gaudin could be a tremendous boost to the bullpen. This dude can throw. He has faltered at the major league level so far in his career, but at the age of 23, he may be finally ready for a full season of duty.
Predicted 2006 Record: 95-67
The A's will have to have faith that a) Frank Thomas and Bobby Crosby can be healthy, and b) their young pitching staff can hold up. If those two things go right, the sky is the limit for this team. With their offense where it is, this is a team that can win a relatively weak American League West, and with its pitching where it is, the A's should be able to go deep in the playoffs. If healthy, this team has all the tools - great rotation, great bullpen, good up the middle defense, good middle of the order offense, solid and consistent play behind the plate, veteran leadership, and young talent. The A's should make a run at the World Series in 2006.
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