The 2015 Oakland A’s deserve to have a book and movie written about them, but it won’t be nearly as warm and fuzzy as Moneyball. From run differential to one-run losses, the Athletics were truly a statistical anomaly last season. CG Technology has the win total for the 2016 A’s set at 76.5. Here’s why we think the A’s will be much-improved this season…
2015 Recap: Where would you like to begin? Oakland finished the 2015 season with a record of 68-94 and a run differential of -35 (694 runs scored versus 729 runs against). The A’s had identical home and away records at 34-47. Oakland went through two separate stretches during the 2015 season where the wheels just fell off. Between April 30 and May 22, the A’s went 5-17, with nine one-run losses. And to close the season, Oakland lost nine of 10 games in late September. The A’s were 19-35 in one-run games last season – The most one-run losses for a team in 80 years.
Key Additions/Subtractions: Ryan Madson and John Axford have been brought in to solidify a bullpen that was really bad in 2015. The A’s finished last in save percentage, had the fourth-most losses for relievers, had the fifth-most blown saves, and allowed the second-most inherited runners to score. Utility man Danny Valencia was acquired from Toronto before last season’s trade deadline and provided an immediate offensive spark for the A’s, recording a hit in 10 of his first 11 games in Oakland. Valencia hit .305 with an OPS of .917 in August. Last season, he saw playing time at DH, first base, second base, third base, right field and left field.
Schedule Notes: Getting off to a good start will be important for the A’s. Ten of Oakland’s first 13 games are at home, but two extended east coast roadtrips will immediately follow. The A’s will play 19 games in the Eastern or Central time zone in the first two months of the season. Ask the Mets how nice limited travel early in the season is – They left the Eastern time zone for one series before June 1 last season. The A’s get a relatively nice break for Interleague play, getting paired up with the NL Central. The Brewers and Reds could be two of baseball’s worst teams in 2016, and the NL Central’s two best teams, the Cubs and Pirates, will both travel to Oakland.
Our Pick: Last year was the exception, not the rule. Prior to the 2015 disaster, Oakland won 88, 96, and 94 games the previous three seasons. Advanced analytics suggest that last year’s team should have been at minimum a 77-win team, and probably closer to an 81-win team. Billy Butler suffered through the worst year of his career with dramatic drop-offs in average, slugging, on-base percentage and OPS. Butler should be poised for a bounce-back year with a little more protection around him in the lineup. Twenty-five year old shortstop Marcus Semien will be entering his second season in the big leagues. Semien experienced a tale of two seasons in 2015: The first half saw him hitting .280 but he was creating errors at a record pace. Semien’s fielding was much-improved in the second half of the season, but he hit .213 in June and .183 in July. He’s formed a strong bond with new third base coach Ron Washington, which A’s fans are hoping turns into a much more complete season in 2016.
With an improved bullpen, another strong season by ace Sonny Gray, and overall growth and improvement from younger guys like Semien, the A’s should be poised for a much different 2016 season. We’ll be looking to back over 76.5 wins for Oakland.