With the end of MLB's regular season coming this weekend, Bally Sports will review the performance of each club with an eye looking at what happened in 2021 and another at what could happen next season. Our next Exit Interview is with the Oakland Athletics.
What went right
• Frankie Montas got better as the season continued, posting a 2.25 ERA in the second half. He and Chris Bassitt will be anchors for the starting rotation going forward. Bassitt somehow returned to the mound in September after a line drive literally broke his face in mid-August. Sean Manaea, James Kaprielian, Cole Irvin showed promise in the first half.
• Catcher Sean Murphy might win a Gold Glove. He also hit 17 home runs heading into the final weekend.
• Tony Kemp (.341 wOBA) and Mark Canha (.335 wOBA) contributed effective complementary performances on offense. Elvis Andrus ranked seventh among shortstops in outs above average, but the Fielding Bible found him to be a roughly neutral player on defense. The A’s will go with OAA.
• The A’s are 11th in runs scored, 11th in ERA and seventh in OAA (but are -11 in defensive runs saved over at the Fielding Bible, which ranks them in the lower third of the league. Still, breaking things down this way, they were strong in at least two phases. They’re not going to the playoffs, though.
What went wrong
• Manaea, Kaprielian, Irvin and Paul Blackburn had ERAs at or approaching 5.00 in the second half. Bassitt was limited to eight starts after the break because of his injury, which pretty much took them out of the playoff hunt.
• Few teams got less production from their bullpen in the second half than the Athletics. Since the break they’re 19th in ERA, 25th in innings and 25th in fWAR. Among anyone who put in significant innings — Deolis Guerra, Yusmeiro Petit, Sergio Romo, Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Burch Smith and Andrew Chafin, only Chafin (1.53) posted an ERA under 4.45.
• They made a great trade to acquire outfielder Starling Marte, who produced — .311/.353/.458 with five homers and 23 stolen bases in 53 games — like their second-best player after first baseman Matt Olson. However, they didn’t make the playoffs (for other reasons), Marte is a free agent now (whom they probably will choose not to sign) and the deal cost them left-hander Jesús Luzardo.
• Matt Chapman had a career-high walk rate, hit 27 home runs and played typically great defense at third base. It sounds like the usual, but he also batted .211/.313/.405 overall with a .312 wOBA and .194 ISO. All below his standards.
• Ramón Laureano got sacked with an 80-game PED suspension in August, which cut short another season of highlight-reel plays in center field. Coincidentally, the league suspended Marte for the same thing in 2017 when he played for the Pirates.
• Irvin dissed the Mariners early in the season and it has haunted him ever since.
Olson batted .272/.375/.543 with 38 home runs. He also broke the 100 barrier in runs scored and RBIs. He will do well in Gold Glove voting.
Irvin (3.65 ERA in 18 starts) and Kaprielian (2.90 ERA in 11 starts) posted strong first halves, but seemed to wear down in the second half.
Reasons for optimism
• Catcher Tyler Soderstrom, their first-round pick from 2020, batted.306/.390/.568 with 12 home runs in 254 plate appearances at low Class-A and was chosen for the Futures Game.
• Olson is just 27 and isn’t a free agent until 2024. The A’s really should sign him to a contract extension, but it’s not happening until the new collective bargaining agreement with the players association is settled, along with the ballpark issue.
What needs work
• The A’s have one of the weakest farm systems in the league after Soderstrom, which is not what you want to hear for an organization that doesn’t spend a lot of money (about $90 million) on payroll.
• The most obvious issue with the A’s is where they’ll play. They appear to be negotiating two solutions: with the Oakland government on a ballpark at the Howard Terminal site and something in Las Vegas, where team president Dave Kaval spends a lot of time. Unfortunately, the process has alienated A’s fans, many of whom don’t want to give the owner, billionaire John Fisher, another dime of their money for either games or a new park. Their lease at the Oakland Coliseum runs through 2024.
• They somehow have to replace Steve Vucinich, their clubhouse chief and team employee of 54 years.
Happy retirement to Steve.