The 2024 Oakland Athletics are not projected to be a good team. Let's just get that out there off the rip. This is a team that lost 112 games last year and has not made any meaningful improvements to the major league roster.
Yes, the Athletics have made some moves around the edges that should make the 2024 team a bit better. And they've added some depth to the minor league system that Fangraphs ranked 28th in the league at the mid-point of 2023, which does include the additions of last year's draft class.
No, this team won't be contending down the stretch but they should be better than they were last year. A full season's worth of contributions from guys like Mason Miller, Tyler Soderstrom, Joe Boyle, and others should hopefully push this team closer to the 60-65 win range, though that's still bad.
No projection model is going to love the Athletics heading into 2024. But let's take a look at Fangraphs' ZiPS projections and see what stands out.
3 takeaways from the projections
In a bit of a surprise, Zack Gelof is not projected to earn the highest fWAR figure for the A's next year. That honor belongs to lefty JP Sears, who ZiPS projects to be worth 2.6 fWAR. They have Sears pegged for 143 innings, which would be a pretty sharp drop from last year's mark of 172.
The run estimators don't love him. Sears had a 5.15 FIP last year despite the 4.54 ERA, which probably means some negative regression is heading his way. SIERA was a bit friendlier, giving him a mark of 4.62, but neither is what you're looking for from a top of the rotation arm.
Sears' biggest asset will be the health. If he can stay upright and make the full slate of 32 starts again, it will be a major plus for an Athletics team that has a bunch of back-end arms but nothing at the top end.
Another one that really surprised me is that ZiPS has Rule 5 pick Mitch Spence projected for 135 innings. Even with Ken Waldichuk's status up in the air, I'm not yet convinced that Spence is going to start the year in the rotation.
He did throw 163 innings for the Yankees' Triple-A club in 2023, so he has at least achieved that level of volume. It was a significant jump from his 130 innings pitched across two levels in 2022, but the fact that he's been healthy enough to throw that much, even in his age 23 and 24 seasons, is commendable.
The problem to me is that despite the volume last year, it came with a 4.47 ERA and a 5.21 FIP, and he struck out fewer than 22% of batters faced. The stuff might play up in the bullpen but that skill set doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
If Spence is throwing that much, it means that he's pitching well, which would obviously be a good thing for the A's. The team has enough options that if he's struggling, he shouldn't be in the rotation. It should be an interesting competition in spring training for those open rotation spots.
The final piece I'll mention here is that ZiPS sees Darell Hernaiz as a full time player for the A's in 2024. He's projected for 559 plate appearances, which would make him the every day shortstop. Hernaiz hit well for the A's in Double and Triple-A last year.
ZiPS sees that continuing, projecting him as a slightly below average hitter with strong defense, good for 1.6 fWAR. That would be a fairly strong showing for the 22 year old. There aren't many who doubt Hernaiz's ability to become a good defender at short. However, he'll need to hit to keep the job.
Nick Allen will be nipping at Hernaiz's heels, itching for another shot at the job. Allen is a good defender at short, but he posted a .550 OPS in 329 plate appearances in 2023. That just isn't good enough to keep him on the field. Hernaiz hopefully has a bit more in the tank, as the team certainly doesn't need another dead spot in the lineup.
Overall, the projections are bleak. The system doesn't love Shea Langeliers, Esteury Ruiz, or JJ Bleday, and it has Mason Miller projected for just over 50 innings. The A's are going to need more than the bare minimum from the younger guys if they want to avoid losing 100 games for the third consecutive season.