Elliot Grossman. 27th April, 2011 - 3:32 am
Billy Beane spent some extra money this past offseason, increasing Oakland's payroll by roughly $10 million from the previous season. He traded away some relatively unknown prospects in order to construct a more efficient offense that can complement the A's talented pitching staff.
Beane understood that if the Athletics wanted to compete for a playoff spot in the 2011 season, there was no doubt they needed to add some much needed power hitting to their offense. In 2010, the A's ranked 13 out of the 14 American League teams in home runs with only 109 and ranked 12th in the AL in slugging percentage with a team mark of .378. The A's hitting in 2010 was downright disheartening. It was the main cause for their .500 record of 81-81, despite their amazing pitching, which ranked first in the AL in earned runs, runs, and hits allowed.
Beane made some absolutely necessary offseason moves in acquiring talented hitters to put the A's in a position to compete for a playoff spot; especially considering they have arguably the best hitting team in Major League Baseball in their division (the Texas Rangers). Also, the lack of emergence of the A's formerly hyped-up prospects made acquiring offensive firepower even more of an essential offseason requirement. This article will analyze how Beane constructed the A's offense for 2011 and their outlook for the season.
- Josh Willingham was acquired by the Athletics for two prospects; pitcher Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown. This was a really good move by Beane, especially considering both the prospects that were traded away are relatively low-level and unknown. Willingham is an ideal Billy Beane player, in the mold of a Nick Swisher. He is a classic A's cleanup hitter with pop in his bat and patience at the plate. While he is by no means a great fielder or a great average hitter, he does have fine power and a good eye at the plate. Willingham is a threat to hit between 20-30 home runs every season. What is also impressive about Willingham is his quality plate discipline. Willingham has a career walk ratio of an 11.5% and a career OBP of .366, which is over 100 points higher than his career batting average of .264. He knows how to get on base and has some pop in his bat, which has led to a very efficient career OPS of .839. When he has been healthy, he has been a productive MLB player and he will bring some much needed power-hitting to help jumpstart the Athletics' offense.
- Hideki Matsui signed a one-year contract with the A's for $4.25 million. This was another quality acquisition of a savvy veteran by the Athletics. While Matsui can no longer play defense and will likely be limited to the DH role, he provides more power to the A's middle of the lineup. Though he is past his prime, he is another ideal A's hitter; a player who can take a walk and potentially hit 20 home runs a season. Though Matsui will likely not produce up to his career OBP of .847, he is classical Beane veteran DH on a one-year contract, who is low-risk and high reward type of acquisition (think Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza, etc.).
- David Dejesus was acquired by the Athletics for Vin Mazzaro and minor league pitcher Justin Marks. It was a good move for the A's to pick up Dejesus when his trade value was low following an injury-plagued 2010 season. Vin Mazzaro, who was the A's 5th starter, is nothing special with a career 10-17 record and a career ERA of 4.72. The acquisitions of Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy further softened the blow from the departure of Mazzaro. Dejesus is a quality average hitter who will give the A's around 10 home runs this season. He has decent career walk ratio as well at around 8%, which has led to a respectable career OBP of .359. Dejesus is also a good defensive outfielder who covers a lot of ground with his speed and can play all outfield positions. He brings speed, average and a little bit of power the A's offense and was an overall nice acquisition.
- Andy LaRoche was another nice cheap signing for the Athletics, giving them an infield utility man, who can play a multitude of positions and fill in for injured player or a player who is slumping. I wouldn't expect too much from the former designated for assignment free agent, but he's got energy and versatility, which are a nice attributes.
Key Returning Offensive Players:
- Daric Barton was probably Billy Beane's favorite hitter last year and the most valuable member of the A's offense, because of his amazing plate discipline. Barton led the A's in bases on balls, with 110 BBs and had a terrific walk ratio of 16%. Barton was one of only two players in 2010, along with Albert Pujols, to have more walks than strikeouts. As a result, in 2010 Barton led the Athletics in OBP, runs, games played, hits, and total bases. Barton was also second on the team in OPS (first amongst the A's returning players) with a .798 OPS, despite belting in only 10 jacks and not being known as a power hitter. Barton is classic Billy Beane type of player who can play great defense and get on base with ease. He is a staple in the A's offense and is only 25 years old, with room to further improve his game. If he could develop his power hitting, he would become an untradeable asset to the Athletics.
- Kevin Kouzmanoff led the Athletics last year in home runs with 16 and also tied for the team lead in runs batted in (with Kurt Suzuki) with 71. He is not great average hitter and does not have the best patience at the plate, but he a great defensive player at the third base position. Kouzmanoff also has some nice pop in his bat and will be helpful to the A's middle of the lineup this season. But A's fans should note that as Kouzmanoff's defense has gotten progressively better as his career as went along, his offensive production has diminished every season since his 2007 season. In Kouzmanoff's 2007 season, he posted career highs in BA, OBP, slugging percentage and walk ratio. In 2010 Kouzanoff posted career lows in BA, OBP, and slugging percentage. This is a troubling fact for Billy Beane and A's fans.
- Coco Crisp will be the A's everyday centerfielder and lead-off hitter if he can avoid they DL and sustain his health, which is relatively unlikely considering his career trajectory. He is an extremely valuable player when healthy; being a switch hitter with great quickness and the ability to hit for average. He can take a walk and hit for power as well. Crisp had 8 HRs in only 2010 in only 75 games, with a respectable walk ratio of 9.1%. He was also third on the A's last year (second amongst the A's returning players) in OPS with a .779 OPS. He will need to be healthy if the A's are to make a playoff run this season.
- Mark Ellis is another oft-injured fan favorite, known for his great defense and clutch hitting. Ellis had a great hitting season last-year despite the injuries, posting career highs in BA and OBP. He has respectable career walk ratio of 8.2% and has some pop in his bat with a career slugging percentage of .402. However he is more important to the A's as a team-leader, clutch performer, and a defensive presence than as a hitter or offensive force.
- Kurt Suzuki had a terrible 2010 season in which he had drastic drops in slugging percentage, OBP, and BA. However, his 2010 season was the result of some bad luck, in which he had a BABIP (batting average of balls in play) of .245. This was more of a reflection of good defense and being a statistical anomaly, than his offensive skill. If you hit the ball in play, you are probably going to hit it where there aren't any fielders, around 30% of the time. Therefore most players usually have BABIP of around .300 and BABIP does not suggest any type of superiority between players. For example in 2010, Hideki Matsui had a BABIP of .302 and Albert Pujols had a BABIP of .299. Despite 2010 being tough season for Suzuki, he was still tied for first on the A's in RBIs, with 71 RBIs, and tied for second on the A's in HRs, with 13 jacks. He has some pop in his bat and has more protection in the lineup this season. It is very likely he will have a turnaround season in 2011. He is only 27 and has plenty of time to turn his career around.
- Cliff Pennington is a good defensive shortstop, but a terrible hitter. He is a singles hitter with not much pop in his bat. Pennington batted .250 in the 2010 season with a respectable walk ratio of 8.7%. However he is not going to be able sustain a career as an MLB starter if he hits like he did in 2010, especially with prospect Grant Green's nice season in single-A+ in 2010.
- Conor Jackson was a nice mid-season acquisition in 2010 by the A's. He can play first base and outfield and has some power, as well as some good plate discipline; he has an effective career walk ratio of 10.5% and two 15-HR seasons. He represents a nice utility man who can provide power and get on base. Sort of a poor man's Jack Cust, with more defensive skill.
- Ryan Sweeney is a nice lefty average hitter. He is a good utility outfielder to have and matches up well with right-handed pitchers.
A's Top Offensive Prospects who might see the Majors in the 2011 Season
- 1B/OF Chris Carter is also reminiscent of a Jack Cust. Thought to be the A's top prospect in 2009, after posting terrific numbers in Double-A, including: 24 HRs, 101 RBIs, 108 runs, a walk ratio of 16.3%, a BA of .337, and an OPS of over 1.000. However, his transition to triple-A and the Majors in 2010 was very disappointing with drastic statistical drop-offs. He has severe holes in his swing, despite his terrific power and cannot be expected to be an average hitter in his career. He isn't a great defensive player either and could end up being a DH; especially since he will not be pushing Barton off first base anytime soon. Carter will likely see some time in the Majors this season, especially if an outfielder on the A's gets injured. He will need to have a better showing than he did in 2010, if he wants to remain in the big leagues.
- OF Michael Taylor used to get Dave Winfield comparisons because of his awesome 6'6 frame, long arms, athleticism, and the awesome stats he posted in the Phillies farm system. However his transition to the A's farm system was below par to say the least. Now he is already 25 years old and is starting the year in triple-A once again. Taylor may see some time in Majors this season, but expectations for him have decreased with every season and A's fans no longer expect much from him.
- 2B Jamile Weeks is the younger brother Rickie Weeks and a poor-man's version of his brother. He is 24 and is starting the year in triple-A. He only batted .267 in double-A in 2010 and has also had some durability issues in the past. He could see some time in the Majors this year, but will only be called up if he shows improvement in triple-A, or the A's have a multitude of injuries to the infield.
- SS Grant Green is an impressive power hitting prospect at the shortstop position. In the single A+ league in 2010 Grant had 20 HRs, 107 runs, 87 RBIs and posted a slugging percentage of .520. However he has some question marks surrounding his high strikeout ratio, low walk ratio, relatively low OBP considering his BA, and his poor defensive play. He likely will not see the Majors this season, but the way Cliff Pennington has produced thus far in his career, he could end up being called up sooner than expected.
Billy Beane made some quality offseason moves acquiring some much needed power hitting veterans who know how to take walks and get on base. The moves had to be made because of the lack of improvement displayed by the A's top prospects. Their top prospects are now mainly Single-A players such as Michael Choice, Yordy Cabrera, and Max Stassi. Beane had to make moves and he went out and acquired his type of players. The A's batting lineup is sure to be more productive than it was in 2010. The A's might even be able to make the extra push to get them into the playoffs from their newly acquired power hitters and with some re-emergence and improvement of their continuing players. While this rather unlikely, they could plausibly finish second in their division ahead of the Angels and Mariners once again, with a better record than they held in 2010.