MLB Team Roundup: Oakland Athletics
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2021 Record: 86-76
Third Place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.02 (13th in MLB)
Team OPS: .722 (17th in MLB)
What Went Right
While they finished 10 games above .500, the A’s were a distant six games back from a Wild Card spot, failing to make the postseason for the first time since 2017. They weren’t without their bright spots, though, particularly on the pitching side of things. Frankie Montas struck out 207 batters while compiling a 3.37 ERA and 1.18 WHIP across 32 starts. Chris Bassitt missed five weeks of action after a line drive to the face resulted in a fractured jaw and cheekbone, but he was fantastic when able to take the mound with a 3.15 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 159/39 K/BB ratio over 157 1/3 innings. Sean Manaea had a dreadful August which put a dent in his final numbers, but overall he was really good with a 3.91 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and a career-high 194 strikeouts. James Kaprielian was really good before tiring late, and Cole Irvin was a solid member of the rotation, as well. The bullpen was led by Lou Trivino, who had a nice bounce-back season while serving as the team’s main closer. Andrew Chafin was also superb down the stretch after being acquired at the trade deadline. Fewer things went right on offense, but Matt Olson was a star, putting up a .911 OPS with 39 home runs, 111 RBI and 101 runs scored. Starling Marte was a stud the last two months after the A’s traded for him, and Tony Kemp had a nice year at second base and left field.
What Went Wrong
Oakland’s group of position players featured plenty of disappointments. After foolishly letting Marcus Semien walk as a free agent, the A’s replaced him with Elvis Andrus, who was one of the worst-hitting regulars in baseball with a lowly .614 OPS across 146 contests. His season also ended prematurely due to a fractured leg. He clubbed 27 home runs, but Matt Chapman finished with just a .716 OPS and was wildly inconsistent at the plate in his first season back from hip surgery. Sean Murphy didn’t have the breakout year many were expecting, posting a .710 OPS while losing playing time to Yan Gomes down the stretch. Ramon Laureano was popped with an 80-game PED suspension in August, which will result in him missing the first month of 2022, as well. He also dealt with a hip injury prior to that which eventually required core surgery. Speaking of surgery, Trevor Rosenthal never threw a pitch for the A’s after signing a one-year, $11 million contract last winter, first undergoing thoracic outlet surgery and later hip surgery. Jesus Luzardo struggled so badly early on in 2021 that he was sent back to the minors and eventually traded, A.J. Puk had an ERA over 6.00 both at Triple-A and the majors and Mike Fiers missed almost all of the season with elbow problems.
** Hitters coming back from hip surgery can often struggle, and that was certainly the case in 2021 with Matt Chapman. The 28-year-old had two very productive months in June and August, but he was truly dreadful in the other four months. After doing a great job of steadily cutting down on his strikeouts from 2017-19, he’s fanned at a rate well over 30 percent since the start of 2020. Chapman’s exit velocity was also down significantly this season. The third baseman’s future has been clouded, and he could be on the trade block with the A’s looking likely to rebuild. Chapman being dealt could enhance his chances to rebound.
** Matt Olson obviously entered the 2021 season with a pretty lengthy body of production, but he stepped it up even more so this year. The first baseman hit for his usual power, clubbing a career-high 39 home runs while slugging .540. What pushed Olson to the next level, though, was a remarkable drop in his strikeout rate, from 31.4 percent in 2020 all the way down to 16.8 percent in 2021. Making so much more contact obviously gives Olson a better chance to hit for average, and it hasn’t come at the expense of power, which has made Olson a truly elite hitter. Like Chapman, Olson is also a candidate to be traded this winter. Getting out of Oakland surely wouldn’t hurt his fantasy prospects.
** Does Frankie Montas have another gear? At the end of June, Montas held a 4.72 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 92/24 K/BB ratio over 87 2/3 frames covering 16 starts. From July on, he posted a 2.17 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 115/33 K/BB ratio across 99 1/3 innings in 16 outings. What makes the latter run even more impressive for Montas is that he did it while blowing past his previous career high in workload. The righty’s splitter has become one of the best pitches in baseball, and his four-seamer has turned into a weapon, as well.
** Sean Manaea’s velocity was up in 2021 at its highest level since his rookie season back in 2016, and it helped lead to a 25.7 percent strikeout rate which was easily a full-season high for the big left-hander. He was able to maintain his excellent control, as well, and reached 30 starts for the first time in his career. Manaea has had trouble staying healthy at times in his career and can often be hurt by the home run ball, but he’ll have some momentum heading into 2022. Worth noting again, though, is that he’ll be a trade candidate and perhaps the most likely A’s player to go since he’ll be a free agent after next season.
** Trying to evaluate Ramon Laureano for 2022 is going to be difficult. As mentioned above, he still has nearly a month left on his PED suspension, so at most fantasy managers are only going to have him for five months. And, of course, we don’t know how much of a boost the banned substance might have been giving him both from a performance and health standpoint. That said, there aren’t many guys these days who are a threat to put up a 20-20 pace and Laureano is one of them.
Team Needs: After the exit of manager Bob Melvin and what looks to be a looming punt on the 2022 season, the A’s needs could be ever-changing and they ultimately might not want to address them aggressively, anyway. As it stands right now, though, the middle infield and the outfield are very much lacking, and they’re facing multiple bullpen departures, as well.