Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking you through all 30 MLB teams, discussing their positives and negatives from the year that was. Regardless of how lopsided it may get, we will stay the course and ultimately determine whether or not their 2015 efforts resulted in a successful season.
The Oakland A’s entered 2015 on the heels of three straight playoff appearances, depending on how you count 2014’s wild card loss to the Royals. After an aggressive trade deadline which saw Oakland acquire Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, the winter saw a trade of their superstar third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays for 3B/2B Brett Lawrie. It was a bold move with Donaldson the most valuable Athletic by bWAR at 7.3 and 7.7 in 2014 and 2013 respectively, but also approaching his age 29 season. Donaldson of course had a huge 2015, posting career highs in slugging, homers, and runs and putting himself in the running for AL MVP. But how about those A’s he left behind?
Well, they finished at 68-94, good for fifth place in the AL West, which saw two teams nobody thought would contend—the Astros and Rangers—wind up at the top.
Oakland scored 649 runs against 729 allowed, a large difference from the 729 runs scored and 572 allowed in 2014.
Lawrie will turn 26 on January 18. He won’t hit the traditional age-27 peak for another year after that. That said, as a 21-year-old, Lawrie made his future life very difficult. In his 43 game debut for the Blue Jays in 2011, he hit .293/.373/.580 with nine home runs and seven stolen bases. Since then he’s averaged just .260/.310/.40 including .260/.299/.407 this year. Lawrie did hit a career high 16 home runs and steal five bases, but he seems to have settled in as a player worth about 2.0 bWAR. Can that make up for the loss of Donaldson? As Billy Beane alludes to in the Moneyball movie, maybe in the aggregate.
Catcher Stephen Vogt had a career year, including his first All-Star Game appearance, but it was a tale of two seasons. Vogt got off to a scorching start, posting OPS figures of over 1000 in April and May before falling to .746, .418, .867, .556 in June through September. The rule of thumb is that catchers tend to wear down as the year goes on and Vogt certainly added to that narrative. An overall performance with 18 homers from a catcher is still enough for Oakland to rely on.
Signed as a free agent, Billy Butler hit 15 homers and 28 doubles as the DH. Josh Reddick bounced back with a 20 homer season, and Billy Burns stole 26 bases. Marcus Semien, acquired from the White Sox in the Samardzija trade, hit 15 homers and stole 11 bases while hitting .257/.310/.405. His defense wasn’t always pretty, but the A’s might have a core among these players.
The rotation didn’t begin and end with Sonny Gray, it just felt that way at times. At 25, Gray was the ace of the staff and while a 3.45 FIP suggests he may not have been as good as his 2.73 ERA, he’s one of the young pitchers to watch over the next couple years. Pitching 208 innings with 169 strikeouts puts him in a different camp than some of the other young guns, but he’ll be one leading the next great A’s team… unless they move him for a king’s ransom.
Scott Kazmir was 109 innings into his season when the A’s traded him to the surprising Astros. Leaving Oakland with a 2.38 ERA, 3.16 FIP, and a 23 percent strikeout rate, the lefty fell to 4.17, 5.19, and 16.7 percent in those categories during his Houston stint. A free agent, he didn’t help the Astros keep their first playoff run in a decade alive long, but he’s from Houston so it might be a nice place for the 31-year-old to stay for a while on a new deal.
Sean Doolittle pitched just 13.2 innings while battling injuries and Tyler Clippard, who assumed the closer’s job, recorded 17 saves in 37 games before he was traded to the Mets.
Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte made his highly-anticipated MLB debut. Even if one newspaper wasn’t quite sure what that meant:
Favorite headline of week. He pitches righty, lefty — and evidently, also underwater. Faces Aquaman in next outing. pic.twitter.com/efxaQxFp8Z
— Neill Woelk (@NeillWoelk) June 8, 2015
Barry Zito came back for three more appearances with Oakland before calling it a career, including a start against the San Francisco Giants and old friend Tim Hudson.
Was it a successful season?
The A’s didn’t have the best year, but a lot of things went right. They’re Pythagorean win-loss was projected at 77-85, and that’s with a selloff leading up to the trade deadline. This team wasn’t as bad as the record shows, which bodes well for 2016.
If the team on the field wasn’t as successful as they could have been, the front office was: Billy Beane was promoted to Executive VP of Baseball Operations after the season, allowing David Forst to ascend to the GM role and keep him within the organization. Stockpiling talent doesn’t just happen in the minors.