Betting on the A’s, Vol. I

The A’s will finish in the top three in the AL for stolen bases.

The A’s currently lead the major leagues in stolen bases. What! Gone are the days of Jeremy Giambi plodding around the diamond with a Krispy Kreme 12 pack stuffed in his back pocket. It’s not quite back to Rickey Time, but this year’s A’s feature base-stealing threats at… basically every position. Derek Norris will take one if you’re not looking. Moss has a positive BsR, which is not usual for a first baseman. Josh Reddick seems like he’s stolen a base more often than he’s gotten a hit this year. And Coco Crisp is defying Father Time by stealing more bags than anyone else thus far.

Are they likely to continue this? I think so, particularly since everyone in the outfield is capable of stealing 20 bags. I don’t think they’ll finish as the league leader–the Brewers had 150+ last year!–but top 3 in the AL is definitely possible, and I like this strategy so far. I’ll take it.

 

Who will finish the season as the A’s second baseman?

If I had to bet on this, I would say, “Can I please not bet on this?” Because there is very little evidence that the second-base situation has stabilized, even with the unfortunate exit of Scott Sizemore from the depth chart. Sizemore actually had been my favorite thanks to his offensive potential, and we’re left to choose between Andy Parrino (just sent down), Adam Rosales (just called up), Eric Sogard (still fly), Jemile Weeks (still in AAA), and Jed Lowrie (still playing SS with Nakajima on the DL).

So far the job has basically been split between Parrino and Sogard, with Sogard getting more starts. Parrino was just sent down, mostly because of struggles at the plate. In an ideal situation the A’s don’t need a ton out of their second baseman, who will likely hit in the 9 hole whoever they are. To my eye, Sogard has shown good range, though he’s had a couple of errors as well. I think Melvin will try Rosales, who was off to a very hot Spring Training before a minor injury. Rosales has also posted the lowest season wRC+ I’ve ever seen– -4 in 68 PAs in 2011 — so really it’s a question of who won’t be terrible with the bat and can field the position. I’m betting on Rosales, even if I feel more attached to Sogie, who almost hit a game-tying HR at Fenway in Game 1 last week.

Who will end the season as the A’s closer: Cook, Balfour, or someone else?

I am betting Balfour keeps the job, but I bet Cook will end the season with a higher WPA. Yes, Balfour’s FIP (5.62) is terrifying and indicates his ERA (2.25) isn’t sustainable. I think he’ll definitely stabilize in between those numbers, and hopefully closer to the ERA. However, it seems to me–I’m not checking the numbers–but it seems like maybe what is going on is that BoMel realizes Balfour does best when he’s insanely pumped up, which happens best in the 9th. He also realizes that Cook might actually have better stuff (although his fastball is a little straight sometimes), and that Doolittle might be better than either one–so we’re seeing him deploy Cook and Doolittle in the highest-leverage situations, which often seem to come up in the 7th or 8th rather than 9th.

Which starting pitcher will end the season with the most wins on the staff?

I am predicting a Frank Thomas ’06 season for Bartolo Colon. Colon is off to an excellent start to the year, thanks to two things: 1) crazy good control. Colon threw 38 innings without a walk to start the year. As we’ve seen from Jarrod Parker’s early struggles, it doesn’t matter how good your stuff is if you are walking batters. If you’re not walking anyone, even if you give up a tater, it’s likely to be a solo shot and not the Jack Cust 3-Run Special. 2) Colon’s velocity is up. He’s touched 95 on occasion, and his velocity chart shows no recent downward trend. I for one was worried that his velocity would fall off the table after (presumably) ceasing steroid use after last season’s suspension. That doesn’t seem to be the case so far. I think Colon wins 16 or 17.

While the best case would be for Jarrod Parker or Brett Anderson to take a leap towards elite status, it looks like that would be asking a bit much of that duo given their early-season returns.

Over/Under: Hiro Nakajima, 60 GS

We don’t have a picture of him, because he hasn’t played yet!

Under. The projection systems remain kind to Hiro, but the fact that he was supposed to be out for only a few games–which has now turned into 20+–is not a good sign. It’s unclear whether he’s being kept on the DL for precautionary reasons or if he really is presently injured, but none of the vibes from Spring Training seemed positive. He struggled to hit and there were whispers of range problems at SS. At the time I wondered whether the range problems could mean a move to 2B, where the A’s (still) have a void. Maybe he’ll take America by storm and be the second coming of Ichiro, but right now I’ll be surprised if he’s a contributor. Obviously I would like to be wrong on this one!

Over/Under: Josh Reddick, .300 OBP

Over! Over! Please let it be over!

One thing is clear: Josh Reddick is not done evolving as a hitter. He had almost identical wRC+ numbers–107, 108–in his 2011 and 2012 seasons, but he got to those numbers in very different ways. His ISO spiked from a fairly average .177 to .221 last year, while his average and OBP both took ~30 point dips. Which path will Josh take? Is it possible for him to have the best of both worlds? Reddick is Chili Davis’ biggest–and most important–project.

Over/Under: # of pitchers who start a game for the A’s this year, 9

We’re at 6 so far. If any one of the starting five goes down, Straily (the #6) is going to be the first one to fill in. He might be better than half the rotation right now anyway. But last year’s club had 10 different players start a game. Will this year be the same?

I don’t think so. Last year there were a number of rookies who came into the rotation late in the game, such as AJ Griffin. Because there was a lot of uncertainty the coaches didn’t necessarily know what was on their hands and spread starts around to learn more. This year they hopefully know more about each starter than before. Godfrey, Ross, Blackley and McCarthy are all gone. I think we’ll see 8 starters this year–the starting five, Straily (who we’ll see a lot of), Weiland, and maybe another. Milone strikes me as the probably IP leader, just because I don’t see him getting hurt or falling off so badly that he’s sent down.

 

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