With historically bad defense, the Oakland Athletics should finally invest in fielding.
Since the early 2000’s, the A’s have looked for two things when it comes to hitters — on-base percentage and extra-base hits (slugging).
Using both statistics, the A’s were able to beat richer teams in their division, notably the Angels and Rangers, to win the AL West six times. The advanced approach has guided the low-revenue ball club to eight playoff appearances since 2000.
That being said, it’s finally time to make defense more of a priority when evaluating position players.
Through 74 games this season, the A’s lead the Majors in errors with 68, ten more than any other team. They also rank last in defensive runs saved (-41) and UZR (-31.7) amid several other fielding categories.
After viewing these metrics, one has to question the A’s philosophy of “all offense.”
The Oakland club currently has four starters (discounting those traded) with a defensive WAR of -0.5 or less. Such a feat is hard to achieve considering the A’s have only five starters who have played in 64 games or more this season.
Let’s take a further look at the A’s fielding situation:
Slugger Khris Davis has been an unexpected contributor for the A’s since his acquisition from the Brewers last spring.
The left fielder’s 42 home runs last year were the most by an Oakland player since Jason Giambi‘s 43 dingers back in 2000. Davis is on the same track this season, smacking 19 long balls in 72 games.
However, the Fullerton-product’s sloppy play in left field has been cause for an atrocious -1.2 defensive WAR. With Davis likely to be back with the A’s next season, one has to wonder what the slugger can do to improve his play in the outfield.
The former-Padre has been a bright spot for the Athletics as Alonso has posted career bests in home runs and slugging percentage. Slashing an impressive .291/.387/.602, the veteran looks to head to Miami in mid-July as the A’s lone All-Star.
Despite putting up an MVP-caliber year at the plate, Alonso has struggled mightily at first base with a dWAR of -0.9. With the A’s out of contention and his contract expiring at the end of the year, Alonso doesn’t look to be a major defensive threat in the future.
However, with Ryon Healy likely being the A’s first baseman next season, the defense won’t get significantly better.
Receiving starts at third base, first base, and DH, Healy’s fielding has been something for A’s fans to cry about.
The 25-year-old has recorded 12 errors in 73 games this season. According to Fangraphs’s Inside Edge reports, Healy has had trouble with the remote play, the unlikely play, and even the likely play. As part of the A’s future plans, Healy’s fielding troubles will remain in Oakland for a while.
However, the majority of the slugger’s blunders have come while playing third base. With big-time prospect (and VERY good fielding) Matt Chapman likely to man third for the club next year, the A’s faithful should be spared from most of Healy’s defensive woes.
With no obvious young replacement at right field, veteran Matt Joyce figures to be back at the position in 2018.
Joyce has finally showed offensive production in the last few weeks (thankfully), after his hitting under .200 for most of the season. In 64 games, the former-Pirate has slashed a mediocre .227/.328/.419, good for an offensive WAR of 0.7.
However, Joyce’s poor play in the outfield dissolves most of that value.
Though Joyce is capable of the routine play, his poor range largely reflects his inability to get to balls that wouldn’t be considered routine but are normally caught at the Major League level. That, along with his weak outfield arm, is to show for his -0.6 defensive WAR.
Despite being surrounded by a poor defense, a few a players have managed to post positive defensive values, albeit mostly low ones.
Second baseman Jed Lowrie, who is enjoying a career year at the plate, has posted a 0.1 dWAR. Although, he will not likely be around next season, Lowrie’s successor, Franklin Barreto grades out as an average defender with a plus arm.
Despite having much to work on at the plate, young catchers Bruce Maxwell and Josh Phegley have both earned positive dWAR numbers. Both catchers show an advanced ability to block balls and throw runners out on the bases. Maxewll (a left-handed batter) and Phegley (a righty) could be one of the more productive catcher platoons in the near future.
Utility-man Chad Pinder, perhaps, has been the brightest spot on defense, notching an impressive 0.4 defensive WAR. Though he will likely be moved after Marcus Semien returns from the DL, Pinder’s decent range and lively throwing arm should make him a future candidate as a corner outfielder.
Prospect Matt Chapman (aforementioned) looks to become the best defender among the A’s core of young talent. With good instincts and a lively throwing arm, scouts have lauded Chapman as a future Gold Glove winner.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference