November 14, 2013
Fantasy Team Preview
The Athletics were the surprise winners of the AL West last year, relying on a power-heavy offense and good, young pitching to conquer preseason favorites in Texas and Los Angeles (of Anaheim).
Fantasy owners who took gambles on some Athletics players last year were largely rewarded, as some oft-injured contributors stayed healthy, while some relative unknowns emerged as reliable fantasy assets. Were said performances sustainable, or should fantasy players stay away from the offense-suppressing environment in Oakland? We take a look in this early preview.
What really sticks out here is power, as the no. 3-6 hitters in the order are each capable of knocking 20-plus bombs during a time when home runs are at a premium. That’s not to say these players are perfect: Cespedes had a down year thanks in part to BABIP and in part to a regression in his approach, and Reddick struggled thanks to BABIP and injury. They finished as the 45th- and 83rd-most productive outfielders in standard 5x5 leagues, respectively, and both are moderate bounce back candidates for 2014. The two biggest surprises, of course, were Donaldson, who came out of nowhere to finish as fantasy’s fifth best third baseman, and Moss, who quietly finished as the 13th-best first baseman in fantasy. The key for the order’s top two hitters, Crisp and Lowrie, was health. Each player had over 575 PA, and each was quite productive. Smith, Callaspo and Jaso don’t belong on rosters in any but the deepest of leagues, although Jaso could be used as a second catcher in a pinch.
There’s not much to see here in terms of infielders: Sogard doesn’t produce enough to be relevant in any fantasy leagues, and the recently signed Punto has never been a fantasy asset. Norris, however, is one of the more intriguing “backup” catchers in baseball, and he’d likely be capable of hitting 20-plus homers in a full season of work. Choice is another interesting name, as he should see plenty of time spelling Reddick and Smith. We’ll address him further below. There’s a possibility that Scott Sizemore, Nate Freiman, or Daric Barton could break with the MLB club as well, and they are also irrelevant.
Along with power hitters, this young, good rotation is the main strength of Oakland’s team. Fantasy owners can take advantage of all of the arms listed above in some way, shape or form, thanks to a favorable home ballpark, a good supporting cast and underlying skill. While Parker is the nominal ace of the staff, his low strikeout rate limits his fantasy upside, as does his penchant for giving up homeruns. He finished as the 66th-best fantasy starter this year, while Straily finished not too far behind at no. 68. Anderson and Gray have the most upside but come with the biggest question marks as well. Anderson has thrown under 200 innings in the last three seasons combined, and can’t be reasonably expected to make more than 20 starts. Gray, meanwhile blew his chance at being a “sleeper” heading into 2014 by outdueling Justin Verlander in the ALDS. He has the upside of a top-30 starter, but it’s tough to gauge him off of 64 MLB innings. Griffin quietly put up the best fantasy season of any starter in Oakland, finishing 30th overall on the back of 171 strikeouts, 14 wins, and a 1.13 WHIP. A .242 BABIP means some serious regression is coming, but he’s worth a flier late in drafts nonetheless.
Projected Closer Candidates
The Athletics will likely move on without closer Grant Balfour in 2014, who’d grabbed 62 saves in 2012 and 2013, combined. Oakland is unlikely to resign Balfour or nab a high profile closer like Joe Nathan or Joaquin Benoit, so it’ll likely come down to Cook and Doolittle, who combined for 49 holds last season. Given Cook’s superior strikeout rate and previous experience closing I’d expect him to get the nod, although the .274/.379/.351 line he’s allowed to left-handers is certainly reason for pause.
Positional Battle to Watch:
Second Base: Alberto Callaspo vs. Eric Sogard vs. Jemile Weeks vs. Scott Sizemore
Player to Target: Brandon Moss
Player to Avoid: Brett Anderson
Deep Sleeper: Michael Taylor