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Oakland Athletics series preview: Worst in the West

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MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The World Champion Kansas City Royals have just 20 games remaining to leapfrog four teams and make up four games on either of the two times tied for the pair of American League Wild Card spots. The next team standing in their path is the erstwhile Kansas City hometown team, the Oakland Athletics. The latest incarnation of Billy Beane’s squad shares the ignominy of possessing the second-worst record in the American League (with the St. Petersburg Devil Rays). Things have gone so wrong that former Royals Billy Butler and Danny Valencia came to blows a couple weeks back, leading to the weekend’s designation for assignment of Butler.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Game One: Monday, 6:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA fWAR rWAR
Ross Detwiler (L) 13 36.2 25 14 5.15 4.43 5.03 4.97 0.3 0.3
Dillon Gee 29 112.0 86 31 4.34 5.10 4.65 4.40 0.0 0.7

Bouncing between Cleveland and Oakland (and Columbus and Nashville), Detwiler has fit the bill of fungible number six starter. His mediocre K rates, run-of-the-mill walk rates, and pedestrian repertoire (four-seam, sinker, curve, and change, with only the change playing well this year). His minor-league numbers this year did nothing to distinguish himself as much more than a junkballer on the shuttle between Oakland and Nashville. Of course, the Royals’ history is littered with forgettable lefty opponents who have laid waste to them, so anything could happen.

Game Two: Tuesday, 6:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA fWAR rWAR
Jharel Cotton 1 6.1 3 2 1.42 5.20 6.07 6.47 0.1 0.4
Danny Duffy (L) 38 155.1 167 32 3.13 3.42 3.72 3.38 3.2 4.0

Jharel Cotton got quite a bit of love from Carson Cistulli at FanGraphs this week, with his cambio being described as plus-plus (and looking it). As Cistulli notes, he “produc[ed] the best strikeout- and walk-rate differential among all 57 Triple-A qualifiers in 2016.” Fortunately for the Royals, Cotton yielded more than his fair share of dongs and got bit by the sequencing spider, leading to just the 35th-best ERA at the level. As Cistulli points out, Cotton’s change is objectively unique in that it features a drop of nearly 15 MPH from his fastball and drops two more inches than the average offering from other major-leaguers. He may experience the typical rookie growing pains that pitchers of his ilk do, but if the Royals were to struggle against a pitcher with a rock-solid changeup, it would be far from the first time.

Game Three: Wednesday, 6:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA fWAR rWAR
Sean Manaea (L) 21 120.2 104 32 4.40 4.34 4.11 4.13 1.2 1.6
Yordano Ventura 28 162.2 120 68 4.26 4.71 4.64 4.79 1.1 1.7

Battling a back injury, former Royals supplemental first round draft pick Sean Manaea looks to make his first start since leaving his August 29 start after recording the first out in the fourth inning. After a few hiccups in the early parts of the season, Manaea has settled down and shown flashes of being the sort of starter that his prospect pedigree suggested. In nine starts since July 10, the key to last year’s Zobrist deadline deal has struck out 55 and walked 12 while maintaining a 2.97 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 3.56 xFIP in 60.2 innings.

Game Four: Thursday, 6:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA fWAR rWAR
Daniel Mengden 11 56.1 57 30 6.39 4.55 4.73 4.68 0.4 -0.5
Edinson Volquez 30 171.2 5.09 4.38 4.42 4.57 1.7 -0.4

To say Daniel Mengden has a strange wind-up is an understatement. Look for yourself. His move to Oakland has allowed him to embrace his old delivery, and his velocity has increased in part due to that. He was positively dominant in the minors this season, posting a 0.78 ERA in 23.0 Double-A innings and a 1.67 ERA in 75.1 Triple-A innings. That said, the results have not been especially good. Mengden has been roughly replacement level (at least if one took an average of both measurements of WAR). BABIP and LOB% have actively worked against him in his 56.1 major-league innings. His walk-rate has also risen, leading to some self-made problems. The ERA isn’t pretty right now, but it could well be misleading.

The Batsmen

Name Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR rWAR
Joey Wendle (L) 2B 27 0 2 5 1 .189 .312 .264 .266 65 0.1 0.2
Marcus Semien SS 534 23 62 56 9 .235 .296 .429 .310 95 2.0 2.5
Stephen Vogt (L) C 445 11 43 41 0 .254 .301 .404 .302 89 1.4 1.7
Khris Davis LF 533 35 72 86 1 .246 .296 .509 .338 114 1.6 2.1
Yonder Alonso (L) 1B 172 5 14 14 1 .146 .215 .272 .214 30 -1.5 -0.5
Danny Valencia RF 441 16 60 47 0 .292 .349 .463 .349 121 1.0 1.4
Ryon Healy 3B 192 8 20 22 0 .290 .319 .486 .341 116 0.3 0.8
Bruce Maxwell (L) DH 50 0 3 7 0 .244 .300 .333 .277 73 -0.1 -0.1
Jake Smolinski CF 272 7 25 27 1 .254 .321 .381 .308 93 0.5 0.3
Bench Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR rWAR
Matt McBride C 43 0 4 2 0 .214 .233 .286 .225 37 -0.2 -0.1
Arismendy Alcantara (S) Util 17 0 1 0 2 .176 .176 .176 .155 -11 -0.2 -0.4
Max Muncy (L) Util 125 2 11 8 0 .189 .312 .264 .266 65 0.1 0.1
Chad Pinder IF 33 0 0 2 0 .156 .152 .188 .144 -18 -0.4 -0.5
Brett Eibner OF 146 5 14 16 0 .212 .276 .394 .285 75 0.3 0.3

*Stats through Saturday, September 11

If looking for the least valuable unit of position players, one need not look further than the Oakland A’s. Worth just 1.4 fWAR as a unit, the combined miserable performance of the team both offensively and defensively has been a full six wins worse than the next closest terrible team (the Phillies). The bright spots have been limited to the Marcus Semien, whose power and speed have made up for his not getting on base enough, and Khris Davis, whose power has made up for his not getting on base enough. With Billy Butler cut loose, Coco Crisp, Billy Burns, and Josh Reddick dealt, and Mark Canha, Sam Fuld, Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard, and Josh Phegley on the 60-day DL, the A’s active roster is barely distinguishable from their Pacific Coast League affiliate’s.

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