January 28, 2013 by Matt Musico
The Oakland Athletics weren’t expected to accomplish much in 2012. With the Rangers coming off back-to-back trips to the World Series and the Angels acquiring both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson over the winter, the most baseball analysts figured the A’s would accomplish was possibly finish ahead of the Mariners to stay out of the AL West basement. The outcome of last season is the perfect example as to why championships aren’t won in December and January, but on the field.
The A’s finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak, allowing them to snatch the AL West title from the hands of Ron Washington and the Rangers, as they edged Texas by one game with their 94-68 record, when most thought their record would be something more like 68-94.How did Oakland and 2012 AL Manager of the Year, Bob Melvin, have so much success?
Well, as usual, they were able to get solid starting pitching, and got it from young hurlers like Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker. Their 3.48 team ERA ranked 6th in the MLB, while their 1.24 team WHIP was also 6th best. However, their .238 team batting average was third-worst in the league…so it was timely hitting that helped bring the A’s back to the postseason for the first time since 2006. The offense Oakland needed to be successful mostly came from the outfield, as Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith, and Yoenis Cespedes showed their value throughout the course of the year. Here’s what they each did last season for the AL West Champions:
Crisp: .259/.325/.418, 11 HR, 46 RBI, 68 R, 39 SB in 120 GP
Reddick: .244/.300/.463, 32 HR, 85 RBI, 85 R, 11 SB in 156 GP
Smith: .240/.333/.420, 14 HR, 52 RBI, 55 R, 2 SB in 125 GP
Cespedes: .292/.356/.505, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 70 R, 16 SB in 129 GP
What are some of similarities between these four? Outside of Smith, they each racked up double digit stolen bases, which also means they have the ability to cover some ground in the outfield. Although Cespedes is the only outfielder with a batting average over .260, each of them still has an OBP over .300, and if you don’t count Reddick, none have one lower than .325. So, Moneyball is still alive and well. Finally, Reddick is the only player out of these four that played in more than 130 games.
How did this happen? Well, the injuries to both Crisp and Cespedes allowed Smith to get some more playing time in the field, as he was spending his time filling in for each while they were banged up. So, when Beane decided to swing a trade for Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Young back in November, many people wondered what the A’s were going to do since they now had five players for four spots in the lineup (including DH).
At their annual Fan Fest, they were asked about their plans for the outfield, and we found out that Reddick, Cespedes, and Crisp will remain the primary starters, while Smith will get most of his time as the designated hitter and Young will be moving around to all three outfield positions. Will this strategy work? That remains to be seen, but I think it will. Not only will rotating Young through each of the outfield positions keep the injury-prone starters heathier and more fresh for the dog days of August and September, but it allows Melvin several options when it comes to finding an arrangement and rotation that works best for the team. If they’re struggling offensively, he has plenty of choices to try and jumpstart the lineup.
Beane also acknowledged they’re set up well in case one goes down with an injury, and judging by what happened last year, there’s a good chance someone will eventually head to the disabled list. If that happens, Melvin won’t have to worry about plugging in a part-time player for two weeks or more, as he’ll have the resources to insert a proven outfielder that is game ready because of the rotation he will have set at the start of the season.
It is tough to have five viable options for four positions, but when team’s are getting set to play 162 games over the span of 180 days, there needs to be depth in a roster if an organization expects to get to the postseason, and that’s exactly what the A’s have done for themselves heading into 2013.
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