Our previews of the AL West continue, with the next team in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Oakland Athletics, who finished in last place in the division last season
The A’s are coming off two straight seasons with fewer than 70 wins, and this season won’t get off to a good start. SP Sonny Gray, the team’s ace, is expected to miss most of April as he starts the season on the disabled list while recovering from a lat strain he suffered in spring training. The team is trying to make improvements, acquiring a number of hitters this offseason, including signing OF Matt Joyce to a two-year contract and inking 3B Trevor Plouffe and OF Rajai Davis each to a one-year contract. With Gray out for the time being, the A’s rotation is made-up of largely inexperienced pitchers, including SPs Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton.
The A’s .246 batting average was the fifth-worst in Major League Baseball. They hit 169 home runs,which was the 10th-fewest in the majors. Their .699 OPS was the worst in the American League and third-worst in MLB. OF Khris Davis hit 42 home runs last season — which was tied for third-most in the majors — with a .247 average and .831 OPS. SS Marcus Semien added another 27 homers to the team’s total but hit just .237, and DH Ryon Healy hit .305 with 13 home runs in 72 games. C Stephen Vogt hit 14 home runs with a .251 average. With the Twins, Plouffe hit .260 with 12 home runs, while Davis hit .249 with 12 home runs and 43 steals — the most in the AL — with the Indians.
The A’s 4.51 ERA was tied for the sixth-worst in MLB and their 1,188 strikeouts were the fourth-fewest in the majors. The bullpen’s 42 saves ended up in the bottom half of the league. In an injury-shortened season, Gray posted a 5.69 ERA — nearly three runs worse than in 2015 — with 94 strikeouts in 117 innings over 22 starts. Manaea posted a 3.86 ERA with 124 strikeouts in 144.2 innings, and Graveman put up a 4.11 ERA with 108 strikeouts in 186 innings. In five starts, Cotton posted a 2.15 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 29.1 innings. RP Ryan Madson was the team’s main closer, recording 30 saves with a 3.62 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 64.2 innings. RP Sean Doolittle, who tallied 4 saves, had a better season than Madson with a 3.23 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 39 innings.
The A’s made some acquisitions this winter that could help their offense, but they didn’t do anything to address their pitching — which is a bigger issue for the team. With Gray, who didn’t have a good season in 2016, likely out for nearly a month, the team has to rely on inexperienced guys on the mound — including Cotton, who has appeared in five games in his big-league career, although he has pitched well in that limited sample size. The bullpen is another issue because Madson, who is expected to get the first shot to pitch in the ninth, doesn’t have stuff that is good enough to be a closer. Don’t be surprised if Doolittle takes over the role sooner than later, but he’s also not the lights-out closer that most teams would like to have.
The A’s were one of the worst teams in the majors last season and that will likely continue into 2017. They don’t have a true star on the team; Khris Davis and Semien can hit home runs but they don’t hit for average. Their rotation is made up of inexperienced and unproven guys. who would have to take major steps forward to help the team have a significant improvement over last year’s 69-93 mark. It won’t be much better, though, because they’re probably, at best, a 70-to-72-win team.