Spacious Thoughts: an Oakland Athletics Preview

I will continue to use this picture every year. SLOTH STILL LOVE CHUNK!

A brief look at an opponent we play this week.

Offense: Jemile Weeks-2B, Cliff Pennington-SS, Josh Reddick-RF, Yoenis Cespedes-CF, Seth Smith-LF/DH, Jonny Gomes-DH/LF, Daric Barton-1B, Kurt Suzuki-C, Eric Sogard-3B. Bench: Anthony Recker-C, Colin Cowgill-OF, Josh Donaldson-INF.

Please do note that once Coco Crisp gets back from his ear infection, the lineup will change. Jemile Weeks, as you may have guessed/already known, is the younger brother of perpetually injured Brewers' second baseman Rickie Weeks. Neat! Thanks to a .350 BABIP, Jemile had a great first season in the majors last year (.332 wOBA). He's likely to always have an above average wOBA as a result of his speed, but not that high above average. If he can walk like he did in the minors, he'll be able to put up quite a few 25+ SB seasons. Don't expect him to ever hit many more than ten homeruns in a season though, unless he decides to go all Asdrubal Cabrera on us. He makes me happy I've never watched MLB Fan Cave. Cliff Pennington is not much of a hitter and was in his rightful place at the back of the batting order until Coco developed vertigo. Cliff doesn't hit for power or get on base much, but when he does get on he is a capable enough thief. His 2012 season will go a long way in determining if he's more like his strong 2010 campaign or his weaker 2011 year. I'm still in the camp that believes he's an above average fielder, which should keep him in the majors for a while.

Josh Reddick came over from the Red Sox in exchange for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. Reddick hardly seems to walk, making him yet another BABIP reliant hitter. Unlike Weeks and Pennington, Reddick acutally has some pop in his bat. He'll hit somewhere around 15 homeruns this season with 30+ doubles and should grow into a bit more power, as he's only 25 years old. He's been good defensively in his 159 games in the majors, but small sample sizes and all that. He does have a strong arm. Yoenis Cespedes is managing to live up to the hype. He crushes the ball when he makes contact (4 HR, 2 2B), he's playing solid enough defense, he's a burner on the basepaths (4 SB, 0 CS), and he's even managed to draw seven walks already. It's an impressive start for a player many thought needed time in the minors. But it's not all Lesley Gore songs. He is striking out an alarming 30.3% of the time he comes up to bat. If he doesn't start adjusting, I see no reason to actually throw him anything in the zone.

Normally Seth Smith and Johnny Gomes would be the two halves of a DH platoon, with Smith hitting right handers and Gomes being a terrifying human against southpaws. But Coco Crisp had to go and let yeast and bacteria grow to unreasonable amounts within his ear canal. Pretty irresponsible of you Coco. For shame. Anyways, Smith has always been good at hitting righties and bad at playing defense and hitting lefties, so this DH platoon is pretty much the best thing for him. In a weird twist, Smith was the backup QB to Eli Manning at Ole Miss. Why is this so weird? Because his former Colorado Rockies teammate Todd Helton was the starting QB ahead of Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Double neat! Jonny Gomes had a heart attack in 2002. That has nothing to do with anything, but man what a story. If he could actually play defense, Gomes wouldn't be that bad of a candidate for an every day job. His platoon split isn't as pronounced as Seth Smith's, but so it goes. Gomes is currently second on the team in homeruns. Expect him to stay in the top three, even with limited playing time. This is not a powerful team.

Daric Barton is coming off the worst season of his professional career. Barton is an on base machine (14.1% career BB%), but completely lacks the power you'd expect from a first baseman (.367 career SLG). He's one of the best defensive first basemen in the game, but it will be interesting to see how the Athletics handle his arbitration years. Kurt Suzuki's OBP has been trending the wrong direction since 2008, reaching a career low of .301 last season. He's been walking about the same rate, but his BABIP has cratered over the past two seasons. The Hawaiian has displayed decent power, averaging 14 homeruns over the past three years. He's average when it comes to throwing out runners. If Oakland hadn't signed Cespedes and Crisp this winter, Suzuki would have been the highest paid player on the team. He makes $5MM this season. Eric Sogard sounds like he should be a character in some book you were required to read in high school. Instead, he is the bespectacled third baseman in Oakland whose wedding video is strangely available on Youtube. Sogard has a good eye at the plate (glasses jokes!), as he walked more in the minors than he ever struck out. He has no power though, so even if he plays good defense he won't be much more than a stopgap.

Pitching: Brandon McCarthy-RHP, Bartolo Colon-RHP, Tom Milone-LHP, Tyson Ross-RHP, Jarrod Parker-RHP, Grant Balfour-CL.

Anyone else happy to see Brandon McCarthy finally make it? And not with the Texas Rangers? McCarthy finally managed to stay healthy for an entire season and wound up becoming the surprise of the season for the lowly A's. So what helped make him so valuable (other than staying healthy)? Developing a cutter. McCarthy no longer relies as heavily on his low 90s four-seamer and now regularly throws a cutter in the same speed range. This allowed him to cut down on walks, which had previously been quite the bugaboo for him. In addition to the cutter, this season he's been using a sinker, a curveball, and a changeup. Bartolo Colon continues to amaze despite being both fat and old. He's only walked two hitters in 27.1 innings and somehow struck out 19. How is he doing this? Stem cells and magic. Bartolo is using a four-seamer that still sits in the low-90s, a sinker, a slider, and a changeup.

Tom Milone came over from the Washington Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Milone is the lone southpaw in Oakland's rotation. He has displayed impeccable command and control in the minors, dominating at every level. He's 25 years old and never had problems with the longball in the minors, which will only be helped by playing in the Coliseum (ignoring ridiculous actual name of stadium). Milone throws a four-seamer in the upper 80s, a changeup, a cutter, and a curveball. Tyson Ross is a rather nondescript pitcher. His minor league numbers have been good, but not great or at all overwhelming. He keeps the ball on the ground, so he should be fine as a back to mid rotation kind of guy. He throws a four-seamer in the low to mid 90s, a sinker, a slider, and a changeup.

Jarrod Parker is the top prospect in the A's farm system. Parker was the key piece received from trading Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks this winter. And guess what team he'll be pitching his second major league game against? Hooray! Parker throws a four-seamer in the mid to upper 90s, a strong slider, and a curveball. I'm actually looking forward to seeing him pitch, even though it may end badly for us. Grant Balfour won the closing job this spring, after Oakland traded away the fragile (and already hurt again) Andrew Bailey. The Aussie has been off to a strong start, already notching four saves in his belt despite not striking hitters out at his usual high rate. It has only been ten innings though, so it's too soon to worry. Balfour throws a low 90s four-seamer, a slider, and the occasional curveball.

Outlook: Kind of like Baltimore, Oakland is a team that has for some reason given our White Sox trouble. That trend has begun to reverse in recent history, as the Sox went 6-4 against the A's last season. We only play Oakland six times this year, which is kind of weird. I'm thinking we go 4-2.


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