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Royals series preview: Oak Land Athletics

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Hoping to right the ship against a rebuilding team from the East Bay.

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics
Changeup artist
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

For the second straight series, the Kansas City Royals look ahead hoping to wash a bitter taste from their mouths. While this time isn’t as distasteful as when they opened in Houston hot off a three-game sweep at the hands of the worst team in baseball last year, the Royals did squander two leads in the final game of the series in Houston, leads that if protected rather than Yosted would have set their record at an even .500.

Now the Royals come home, enjoying their home opener on Monday before finishing their disjointed three-game set with the Oak Land Athletics on Wednesday and Thursday, enduring yet another early season scheduling oddity of a series with a scheduled day off built in to protect against inclement weather while irritating creatures of habit. In advance of the home opener, there will be a tribute to fallen Royal Yordano Ventura.

Oak Land finished last year 24 games under .500, one game worse than their Pythagorean W-L suggests they should have been. Aside from a full season of contributions from the players acquired in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick deal, Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas (and potentially late in the season Grant Holmes), the Athletics didn’t make many additions to their roster, signing just Rajai Davis, Matt Joyce, and Trevor Plouffe to bolster a roster firmly in a rebuilding phase.

The series will shape up as follows:

  • Monday - 3:15 PM CDT - Jharel Cotton (RHP) vs. Ian Kennedy (RHP)
  • Tuesday - Off
  • Wednesday - 7:15 PM CDT - Andrew Triggs (RHP) vs. Jason Hammel (RHP)
  • Thursday - 7:15 PM CDT - Jesse Hahn (RHP) vs. Jason Vargas (LHP)

Athletics vs. Royals pitching matchups

Pitcher G IP K K% BB BB% ERA FIP xFIP SIERA fWAR rWAR
Pitcher G IP K K% BB BB% ERA FIP xFIP SIERA fWAR rWAR
Jharel Cotton 5 29.1 23 20.5 4 3.6 2.15 3.76 4.32 4.02 0.7 0.9
Ian Kennedy 33 195.2 184 22.5 66 8.1 3.68 4.67 4.67 4.27 1.7 4.0
Andrew Triggs 24 56.1 55 23.1 13 5.5 4.31 3.20 3.29 3.29 0.9 0.4
Jason Hammel 30 166.2 144 20.8 53 7.7 3.83 4.48 4.34 4.28 1.4 1.1
Jesse Hahn 9 46.1 23 11.3 19 9.4 6.02 5.63 4.97 5.37 -0.2 -0.3
Jason Vargas 3 12.0 11 23.4 3 6.4 2.25 3.15 4.28 3.96 0.3 0.5

Projected to be a league-average pitcher (roughly 2.5 fWAR) in only somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 starts, it is fair to say that Jharel Cotton saw his stock rise considerably in the past year. Going from being a nice prospect on the outside of nearly every top 100 list heading into 2016 to dazzling with his changeup (which might be the best in baseball) and whiff-inducing cutter. His fastball is pedestrian at first glance, but that cambio is a work of art with a 15 MPH drop from his fastball and tons of movement.

Andrew Triggs was just converted to being a starter last season after the A’s claimed him off waivers from Baltimore. Triggs oddly enjoyed much more success in the rotation last year than he did from the bullpen. As a walk-averse sidearmer, Royals’ lefties will likely have a much better time with him than their righties. The Royals also have the benefit of just having seen Triggs a couple weeks back in spring training.

Jesse Hahn struggled mightily in 2016 despite adding velocity and appearing healthy. Hahn was solid in shorter stints in 2014 and 2015, outperforming his 3.40 and 3.51 FIPs in respective seasons with 3.07 and 3.35 ERAs. But with a poor walk rate (9.4 BB%) and meager K-rate (11.3 K%), there was not much that went right for the 27-year-old last year.

Bullpen

Old friend Ryan Madson is currently slotted as their closer with Santiago Casilla and seriously cool dude Sean Doolittle getting the primary set-up duties. Ryan Dull, old friend Liam Hendriks, Daniel Coulombe, Raul Alcantara, and flame-throwing rookie Frankie Montas round out the pen. Coulombe and Doolittle are the only two southpaws in the pen.

Position Players

Catcher

An All-Star in 2016 thanks to a strong first half, Stephen Vogt’s 2016 was decidedly less impressive than either of the two seasons prior as he faded hard down the stretch. His defensive contributions salvaged an underwhelming year at the plate, as he was worth 1.8 fWAR in spite of his .305 wOBA, 93 wRC+ campaign. Getting his back is Josh Phegley, who didn’t do anything particularly well last year but was worth 1.9 fWAR in 73 games in 2015.

First Base

The uninspiring Yonder Alonso will get the lion’s share of the playing time at first. Logging 153 games in 2016, Alonso was worth -0.3 fWAR, thanks to being the Yonder Alonso that saw him traded twice during his young, club-controlled years despite his prospect pedigree. Of course, given Alonso’s spring and his first week, there is the possibility that his offseason attempt to change his luck by altering his swing path—take note, Eric—has reshaped Alonso into a force to be reckoned with, one that his former status as a top prospect might have portended. Behind Alonso on the depth chart at first are Ryon Healy and Mark Canha, the latter being the primary backup across the outfield, too.

Second Base

The oft-injured Jed Lowrie stands atop the mountain at the keystone, with Adam Rosales behind him. Just as seemingly every member of the A’s did last year, Lowrie had a down season, posting the worst wRC+ (77) at the major-league level since his 32-game stint in his first season in the bigs back in 2009. Lowrie’s big first week probably doesn’t mean that much, but it would support a reasonable conclusion that Lowrie’s 2016 was a blip on an otherwise solid (if injury-ridden) career. Utility infielder Adam Rosales backs up second, short, and third.

Shortstop

All sorts of power, no sorts of plate discipline, Marcus Semien rode solid defense and a .197 ISO to 2.5 fWAR season, no thanks to his .238 AVG and .300 OBP. When you’re only league-average (100 wRC+) in a season in which you hang 27 dongs, there are probably some holes in your game, but his production is nothing to sneeze at coming from shortstop.

Third Base

Possibly just keeping a seat warm for either slugging defensive wizard Matt Chapman or Renato Nunez, familiar enemy Trevor Plouffe signed a one-year pact to fill the gap. Plouffe hopes to reestablish value after a below-replacement-value 2016 torpedoed any shot he had at a multi-year deal after being worth 5.9 fWAR over the two seasons leading up to his walk year. Ryon Healy came up through the minors at third, and Rosales provides further insurance at the hot corner.

Outfield

Left to right, the outfield will be Khris Davis, Rajai Davis, and Matt Joyce. The non-brothers Davis are each coming off productive 2016s, with the slugging Khris worth 2.5 fWAR thanks to a 123 wRC+ fueled by his 43 dongs, and Rajai being worth 2.0 fWAR in Cleveland last year thanks in large part to his prowess on the basepaths (43 steals while being caught just six times). Matt Joyce managed a mere 293 PA in 140 games played. He was quite productive despite his half-time assignment (1.3 fWAR) and walked a whopping 20.1% of the time, but his defensive deficiencies limited his utility. With the opportunity to log some time at DH, Joyce’s bat could find its way into the lineup much more than it had been in Pittsburgh last year.

Designated Hitter

The A’s primary designated hitter on their depth chart is Ryon Healy, who revamped his swing in 2016 and saw his power numbers shoot up as he crushed 27 dongs across three levels including 13 in 72 games upon getting called up to The Show. In that debut, he slashed .305/.337/.524 with a .364 wOBA and a 134 wRC+. Of course, he was beneficiary of a .352 BABIP and walked just 4.2% of the time while striking out 21.2% of the time, so there are some signs that regression to the mean could be a bit of a problem. If Healy falters, Davis, Vogt, and Joyce could surely shoulder some of the burden at DH.

All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.

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Poll

Who wins the series?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Royals sweep
    (26 votes)
  • 62%
    Royals take two of three
    (77 votes)
  • 12%
    A’s take two of three
    (15 votes)
  • 4%
    A’s sweep
    (5 votes)
123 votes total Vote Now