Oakland Athletics: FanGraphs Predicts 11 Win Improvement For 2016

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Aug 31, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso (23) hits an RBI single during the third inning against the Texas Rangers at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 31, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso (23) hits an RBI single during the third inning against the Texas Rangers at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Infielders

The Athletics did build a new-look infield over the offseason by acquiring first baseman Yonder Alonso and former Athletic Jed Lowrie. Additionally, Brett Lawrie’s departure opened up third base to belong to Danny Valencia for the foreseeable future. Marcus Semien will remain the only infield staple from 2015, as Eric Sogard will likely return to the support role that he played in previous seasons.

The most significant move is the acquisition of Alonso. With a career .273 average and .340 OBP, he is a tremendous contact hitter who has an occasional home run pop. He will also slide into the upper-tier of A’s batters who are difficult to strike out, striking out only once every eight plate appearances in 2015.

So not only did the A’s acquire a solid first baseman, but they also upgraded from a position of incredible weakness from last season. Ike Davis’ injury-riddled 2015 campaign made him the only A’s infielder that had a net negative impact on the team with a WAR of -0.4. Compare this to Alonso’s 1.8 WAR from 2015, and the A’s may have just gotten two to three wins better with this acquisition.

The A’s are rolling the dice by giving the every-day second base job to Lowrie. They are hoping to see the 2013 Jed Lowrie, who maintained a .791 OPS, hit 45 doubles and jacked 15 home runs. They are also hoping to not see the Jed Lowrie whose career second base fielding percentage of .975 comes in nine points under the league average, because Sogard has been such a spectacular defensive second baseman in recent years.

Oakland is counting on Lowrie’s bat by giving him the nod, and with good reason. His 2015 season was cut short by injuries, but he is usually worth close to two games over a replacement level player when he plays most of the season. He even achieved a positive 1.0 WAR last season having played only 69 games. If he gets back to form, Lowrie’s presence over Sogard could make the team a whole game better.

The wildcard is Valencia, who will be replacing Lawrie at third base. He played brilliantly in his 47 games with Oakland in 2015, and it was made even more impressive by the fact that he was playing arguably the best stretch of his career on a losing team.

In those 47 games, Valencia achieved a 1.6 WAR compared to the 149 games it took Lawrie to earn a 1.9 WAR. On top of that, Valencia is a whole tier higher than Lawrie defensively, having earned a .976 fielding percentage at a hot corner versus Lawrie’s .937.

Despite this incredible stretch, it’s difficult to not consider Valencia to still be a wildcard. He has certainly had brilliant stretches of play in the past, but he is yet to show that he can sustain that kind of performance.

Having Valencia in place of Lawrie won’t cost the A’s any games, and it may even make the A’s more likely to win one or two more.

Conclusion: Having Alonso, Lowrie, and Valencia play in place of Davis, Sogard, and Lawrie should make the A’s anywhere from four to seven wins better.

Next: The Starting Pitchers

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