The Athletics were the surprise winners of the AL West last year, relying on a power-heavy offense and good, young pitching to conquer preseason favorites in Texas and Los Angeles (of Anaheim).
Fantasy owners who took gambles on some Athletics players last year were largely rewarded, as some oft-injured contributors stayed healthy, while some relative unknowns emerged as reliable fantasy assets. Were said performances sustainable, or should fantasy players stay away from the offense-suppressing environment in Oakland? We take a look in this early preview.
- CF Coco Crisp
- SS Jed Lowrie
- 3B Josh Donaldson
- LF Yoenis Cespedes
- 1B Brandon Moss
- RF Josh Reddick
- DH Seth Smith
- 2B Alberto Callaspo
- C John Jaso
What really sticks out here is power, as the no. 3-6 hitters in the order are each capable of knocking 20-plus bombs during a time when home runs are at a premium. That’s not to say these players are perfect: Cespedes had a down year thanks in part to BABIP and in part to a regression in his approach, and Reddick struggled thanks to BABIP and injury. They finished as the 45th– and 83rd-most productive outfielders in standard 5×5 leagues, respectively, and both are moderate bounce back candidates for 2014. The two biggest surprises, of course, were Donaldson, who came out of nowhere to finish as fantasy’s fifth best third baseman, and Moss, who quietly finished as the 13th-best first baseman in fantasy. The key for the order’s top two hitters, Crisp and Lowrie, was health. Each player had over 575 PA, and each was quite productive. Smith, Callaspo and Jaso don’t belong on rosters in any but the deepest of leagues, although Jaso could be used as a second catcher in a pinch.
There’s not much to see here in terms of infielders: Sogard doesn’t produce enough to be relevant in any fantasy leagues, and the recently signed Punto has never been a fantasy asset. Norris, however, is one of the more intriguing “backup” catchers in baseball, and he’d likely be capable of hitting 20-plus homers in a full season of work. Choice is another interesting name, as he should see plenty of time spelling Reddick and Smith. We’ll address him further below. There’s a possibility that Scott Sizemore, Nate Freiman, or Daric Barton could break with the MLB club as well, and they are also irrelevant.
Along with power hitters, this young, good rotation is the main strength of Oakland’s team. Fantasy owners can take advantage of all of the arms listed above in some way, shape or form, thanks to a favorable home ballpark, a good supporting cast and underlying skill. While Parker is the nominal ace of the staff, his low strikeout rate limits his fantasy upside, as does his penchant for giving up homeruns. He finished as the 66th-best fantasy starter this year, while Straily finished not too far behind at no. 68. Anderson and Gray have the most upside but come with the biggest question marks as well. Anderson has thrown under 200 innings in the last three seasons combined, and can’t be reasonably expected to make more than 20 starts. Gray, meanwhile blew his chance at being a “sleeper” heading into 2014 by outdueling Justin Verlander in the ALDS. He has the upside of a top-30 starter, but it’s tough to gauge him off of 64 MLB innings. Griffin quietly put up the best fantasy season of any starter in Oakland, finishing 30th overall on the back of 171 strikeouts, 14 wins, and a 1.13 WHIP. A .242 BABIP means some serious regression is coming, but he’s worth a flier late in drafts nonetheless.
Projected Closer Candidates
The Athletics will likely move on without closer Grant Balfour in 2014, who’d grabbed 62 saves in 2012 and 2013, combined. Oakland is unlikely to resign Balfour or nab a high profile closer like Joe Nathan or Joaquin Benoit, so it’ll likely come down to Cook and Doolittle, who combined for 49 holds last season. Given Cook’s superior strikeout rate and previous experience closing I’d expect him to get the nod, although the .274/.379/.351 line he’s allowed to left-handers is certainly reason for pause.
Positional Battle to Watch:
Second Base: Alberto Callaspo vs. Eric Sogard vs. Jemile Weeks vs. Scott Sizemore
It’s quantity over quality at the keystone base in Oakland, with four players who don’t figure to be much better than replacement level. As uninspiring as Callaspo is, he’s at least consistent, generally hitting around 10 homers with 50 runs and RBI each, though his average tends to fluctuate with his BABIP. He might lose playing time to Sogard, who’s a better defender but who’s entirely irrelevant in fantasy leagues. As I addressed above, it’s tough to forecast much for Sizemore given that he’s missed most of the past two seasons. Weeks has the highest fantasy upside of any of these options, but Oakland seems to have soured on him and it will likely take a big spring for him to make the roster.
Player to Target: Brandon Moss
There’s no question that Moss is a better fantasy player than he is a major leaguer, as his suspect defense at first base and a 27.7 strikeout percentage leave much to be desired. It’s hard to argue with 30 homers, though, and that’s what Moss produced in 505 PA in 2013, despite playing against only some lefties and in an unfavorable home ballpark. Moss’s BABIP and HR:FB rates don’t indicate that we should see much regression in 2014. I’m not advocating drafting Moss as a starting first baseman next year, but I am guessing that Moss will be undervalued. Take him with one of your final four or five picks and reap the rewards of 25-plus homers.
Player to Avoid: Brett Anderson
Anderson is a ton of fun to watch when he’s healthy, and his rate stats and peripherals are enticing. I’ve been a perennial sucker for Anderson in many leagues, but this year I say no more. He might have all the talent in the world, but Anderson has never thrown 200 innings in a season, has thrown over 100 innings just twice and has started 11 games in the past two years. Anderson is the type of player you should pick up on the waiver wire after a few starts if he’s healthy, but he’s not someone you can count on as a significant part of your pitching staff.
Deep Sleeper: Michael Taylor
Once considered one of the better prospects in both the Phillies and A’s organizations, Taylor has received just 81 PA over three MLB seasons despite three consecutive solid seasons in Triple-A. Michael Choice is the more talented player and the odds-on favorite to break camp with the team this spring, but should he falter look for Taylor to assume his role as a right-handed hitting compliment to Reddick and Smith. There’s not a ton of upside here, but Taylor could hit 10-or-so homers with a respectable average if given about 250 PA. He’s for deep AL-only leagues only.