The Oakland Athletics tend to succeed when a strong player is starting at third base
As the adage, “good pitching beats good hitting” proves to be the key to winning seasons, the Athletics have shown that having good pitching staffs have led to post season appearances through their past 48 seasons in Oakland. The winning teams of the 70’s, late 80’s , early 2000s, and even 2012-2014 regularly showed that having exemplary pitchers would lead to division championships and more.
One thing overlooked is that those same winning teams had major players at third base that were superior hitters and fielders. Sal Bando, Carney Lansford, Eric Chavez and Josh Donaldson all played significant roles for those championship teams. Even the 1981 team had All-Star Wayne Gross. With the exception of Lansford, who was a .300+ hitter, the others could be counted on for power and were seated in the middle of the line-up. All could be counted on that when the ball hit leather, the play would be made.
When there was a void at the position with unknowns and has-beens – Craig Paquette, Mike Blowers, Brook Jacoby, Jack Hannahan, Kevin Kouzmanoff, and even last year’s Brett Lawrie – the teams were not so good, often times finishing in the cellar.
For the 2016 season, there appears to be three major candidates to man the hot corner:
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Lowrie was reacquired from the Houston Astros this off season but had only hit .222 with 9 HRs while mostly playing at third base after returning from an early season injury. In 2013 as the Athletics regular shortstop, Lowrie impressed fans with a .290 BA and belting 15 HRs helping the A’s to the AL West Championship.
As fellow writer Samantha Riley pointed out in her preview piece on Lowrie, he tends to be injury prone, his bat is not as strong as it use to be, and many are worried about his arm strength when it comes to making those long throws from third base. To keep Lowie as a regular in the line-up, fans may see him switching to second base.
Without a powerful bat, and a mediocre arm at best, he would not be my choice as the starting third baseman.
After his Aug. 5 acquisition by the Oakland Athletics last season, Valencia’s performance resulted in him assuming the starting role at third base while Lawrie was sent to second and ultimately getting the boot in a trade to Chicago White Sox this offseason. In his 47 games last year with the A’s, Valencia belted 11 HRs and hit .284. Additionally, his .976 fielding percentage was the best of the A’s infielders. Combined stats for 2015, Valencia hit .290 with 18 HRs, showing that third base is his to take.
A concern for the 31-year-old infielder is that he’s mostly performed in a back-up role over his six season career and, until late last season, never had a starting role. Reports are that Valencia can’t handle right-handed pitching, which could be a concern and lead to a platoon role (again).
Valencia seems to gel in the clubhouse with others, a nicety for the young team. If Valencia can lay off the bad breaking balls, he should be able to stay at third all year.
Muncy who played 16 games at third base and 23 at first base, could be the key to the A’s future at the hot corner. Just like Jason Giambi and Yankees World Series MVP Scott Brosius, who both came up in the Athletics’ organization as third basemen, Muncy has a physique for power with his 6 foot, 205 pound frame. With work from hitting coach Darren Bush and Mark Kotsay and fielding practice from Ron Washington, Muncy can develop into the position like former third baseman and last year’s MVP Josh Donaldson did in 2012.
As a lefty, Muncy can provide protection to DH Billy Butler with a 3-4-5 and left-right-left lineup of Josh Reddick in the No. 3 position with Butler and Muncy following. Muncy has the substantial plate discipline needed for a high average and he also has excellent knowledge of the strike zone including the ability to belt quite a few homers every year with familiarity at the plate. Last year showed a canny ability for doubles.
Last spring, Muncy went 12-for-33 with five doubles and two home runs that resulted in a .364 BA . When he was called up last year, he was hitting .293 at AAA-Nashville. Unfortunately, not getting regular playing time affected his hitting. This spring, Muncy should get as much playing time as possible and if he’s not going to start, be placed in AAA to get regular hitting.
As it stands now, none of the candidates have the abilities of the past third sackers from the A’s winning years. Valencia will have to show he can play a starting role in a full season and Muncy needs development and possibly is a year away from Josh Donaldson status. Here’s to another season at or below .500, but let’s hope I’m wrong.