Why the 2015 Oakland Athletics Will Make the Playoffs

Watching your favorite team tank is every fan’s worst nightmare.  If you are a fan who roots for your team to lose, turn in your fan card right now because no one should ever want to see their team struggle.  The most recent case is supposedly the Oakland Athletics.

Despite making the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive season, Billy Beane decided to go on a selling spree.  They ditched their two best bats in Josh Donaldson (.798 OPS) & Brandon Moss (.772 OPS), their number 3 starter in Jeff Samardzija (3.14 ERA in 111.2 innings), and an elite reliever in Luke Gregerson (2.12 ERA in 72.1 innings).  Predictably, the As also did not pursue resigning their rental ace, Jon Lester (2.35 ERA in 76.2 innings).

Going from all-in on a World Series bid to a fire sale of the teams’ best players is understandably difficult.  With that being said, Billy Beane IS NOT trashing the team and still has the Oakland Athletics set up for the playoffs.

WARNING: I am going on a tangent about the ridiculous criticism of the Yoenis Cespedes-Jon Lester trade.  If you are a person who thinks the Athletics were on the losing end of the Cespedes-Lester trade, there is no hope for you.  Lester was exponentially better than Cespedes after the trade.  Seriously, the As did not lose because of that trade.  In fact, it was that very trade that saved their wild card hopes last year.  Without further ado, here are 3 reasons why the Oakland Athletics will make the playoffs in 2015:

  1. The Oakland Athletics have a starting rotation that is capable of withstanding the regular season storm

Quality starting pitching depth is the key to making the playoffs.  Simply having a dominant 1-2 combination like the 2014 White Sox will not cut it.  The 3-5 starters all have to contribute, and there needs to be 1 or 2 other guys that can make a few starts when a starter or two inevitably gets hurt.  The Oakland Athletics have the starting pitching talent and depth to last a full season and here is why:

  • Sonny Gray is a legitimate ace: Gray continued his brilliance from 2013 by pitching 219 innings with a 3.08 ERA last year. Those numbers were 11th and 24th respectively in the majors.  He just turned 25, so there is a realistic possibility that he performs even better in 2015.
  • Drew Pomeranz becomes a mainstay in the rotation: Pomeranz made 10 starts last year and threw 52.1 innings with a 2.58 ERA as a starter. Pomeranz struggled in Colorado, but seems to have found a home in Oakland.  He probably won’t sustain his 2014 pace like Gray, but the As should get 150 or so quality innings from the guy.
  • Jesse Hahn: Like Gray and Pomeranz, he’s another pitcher in his mid-20s who had a very good 2014. Even if his ERA balloons from 3.07 to 3.57, it won’t matter too much because the As will have another legitimate starter
  • Someone from Kazmir, Griffin, and Parker will be healthy: Every one of these guys can pitch when healthy. Unfortunately, they all come with injury risk.  Kazmir was the lucky one last year.  It could be him again or one of the other two.  If Oakland is really fortunate, maybe 2 of them will stay healthy

Oakland also got this guy named Kendall Graveman from the Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson Trade.  Graveman showed a taste of what he can do last year by throwing 4.2 innings in 5 relief appearances with a 3.86 ERA and .86 WHIP.  As a worst case scenario, Graveman will be an elite reliever.  He will most likely find starting pitching success next year and here is why:

  • Graveman is MLB ready now: Prospects are guys that dominate certain levels of the minor leagues, but not all. Major league players are guys that dominated all levels of the minors and can play at the highest level.  Graveman is not a prospect.  He is a major league caliber pitcher.  He had a 1.83 ERA in 167.1 innings in the minors including a 1.88 ERA in his 6 starts at AAA.
  • Graveman’s increasingly improved control: Graveman’s K/BB ratio in A+ ball was 3.56. He upped that to 4.4 in AAA and had 4 strike outs and 0 walks in the majors.  Pitchers with good control tend to have success in the majors.

In short, any team with this kind of starting pitching depth is a postseason threat.

  1. Oakland has the bullpen depth to win late games

The Royals showed the world what an amazing bullpen can do.  Despite having a mediocre offense, and some starting pitching struggles in the playoffs, they were one game away from winning it all thanks to the pen.  Oakland’s bullpen isn’t quite to the level of Kansas City, but it is still very good:

  • Dan Otero 2014:         86.2 IP, 2.28 ERA (Career ERA = 2.35)
  • Sean Doolittle 2014:  62.2 IP, 2.73 ERA (Career ERA = 2.97)
  • Fernando Abd 2014:  57.1 IP, 1.57 ERA (Career ERA = 3.61)
  • Ryan Cook 2014:        50.0 IP, 3.42 ERA (Career ERA = 2.77)
  • Jesse Chavez 2014:     20.1 IP, 3.54 ERA (Career ERA = 5.15) *All numbers are as a reliever
  • Eric O’Flaherty 2014: 20.0 IP, 2.25 ERA (Career ERA = 2.81)

Oakland has relief pitching depth that few teams can match.  Their biggest weakness was closing out games. The Colorado Rockies were the only team with fewer saves than the As.  Oakland also had the 3rd worst save percentage in the majors as they saved only 59.62% of their opportunities.  Closing out games improved once Doolittle took over as the full time closer on May 10th.  From that point on, Doolittle converted 21 of his 24 save opportunities (87.5% rate) and will continue that in 2015.

Oakland also has some younger guys such as Raul Alcantara, RJ Alvarez, and Sean Nolin (Donaldson Trade) who could also become mainstays in the bullpen.  With a bullpen like this, Oakland will definitely win a lot of close games.

  1. Oakland’s offense will be just good enough 

The As managed to score the 4th most runs in the majors last year despite ranking 10th in OBP and 13th in OPS.  They should see a 50-60 run decrease even if they maintain their OBP and OPS numbers from last year.  I do anticipate a decrease in scoring from Oakland’s offense, but it will not be enough knock them out of the playoffs.

Obviously replacing Donaldson and Moss will be difficult, however it is not impossible.  Neither Donaldson nor Moss was an offensive juggernaut, and there are enough pieces in Oakland to get them to where they need to be:

  • Brett Lawrie will stay healthy: Lawrie went from being an upcoming star in 2011 (posted a .953 OPS in 150 at bats in addition to playing elite defense) to a continual headache in the blink of an eye. After 3 disappointing seasons, the guy clearly has something to prove.  He only turns 25 next year and has the talent to be better than Donaldson.  Even if he doesn’t surpass Josh, Lawrie should at least replicate what he did.
  • Marcus Semien will succeed as a full time player: Semien can play 3 different positions, has 15 HR/15 SB potential, and is a patient hitter. Billy Beane loves guys who get on base and Semien can do just that.
  • Billy Butler is a massive upgrade at DH: In 2012, Butler set career highs in home runs, RBIs, and OPS. Each of those numbers took a decline in 2013 and fell further in 2014.  If Butler returns to 2012 form that will be amazing, but even 2014 Butler is a huge upgrade over what Oakland had last year.  Alberto Callaspo put up a .580 OPS as the team’s primary DH and Adam Dunn’s .634 OPS wasn’t much better.  It’ll be pretty hard for Butler to not be an improvement.

Oakland’s offense suffered last year from everyone (except for Donaldson) collapsing down the stretch.  The 2015 squad probably won’t eclipse the start from 2014, but they definitely won’t finish as poorly either.  The Cardinals managed to make the playoffs last year despite finishing 24th in the majors in runs scored.  I have a hard time seeing Oakland finish that poorly.  This offense won’t be elite, but it should be good enough.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article.  Any comments (barring ones that knock the Cespedes trade) are greatly appreciated.

By: Milap Mehta

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