Transaction Scripts: Billy Beane’s Gamble with the A’s

If Beane’s gambles do not pay off there may be plenty of seats available in 2015

As I started to dig into the Athletics roster in review of their litany of transactions I have to admire the willingness of Billy Beane to tinker with the team. In 2014, Oakland hit 146 home runs and drove in 686 runs as a team. But as a result of players leaving either via trade, retirement or release, the remaining production on the roster is 49 home runs and 265 RBI. It doesn’t take advanced sabermetrics to see that more than two thirds of the A’s offense is gone. And it doesn’t stop there. Of their 162 pitcher starts from 2014, 65 are also gone, along with 50 quality starts. Wait, there’s more. In losing Luke Gregerson to Houston via free agency, 22 of Oakland’s 61 holds from 2014 have also disappeared. Is Billy Beane a Kinks fan? For some reason music has been on my mind lately and the song “Do It Again” popped into my head while trying to find a way to write up Oakland’s mentality. The Kinks are probably before your time but I thought I would mix in some of lyrics as I take a look at how Oakland is attempting to rebuild on the fly.

“Standing in the middle of nowhere,
Wondering how to begin.
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday,
Between now and then.

And now we’re back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again.”

Semien has a nice blend of power and speed which should entice fantasy player's to remember him in the late rounds as a MI with upside
Semien has a nice blend of power and speed. Fantasy owners should target him in the middle rounds

Why yes Mr. Beane, you will need to do it again. In 2014, the A’s pushed all the chips into the middle, banking their World Series hopes on the back of their starting pitching. It failed, and as a result, a new plan needs to be drawn up. Beane gave up prized shortstop prospect Addison Russell to the Cubs for Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. He then traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester, who inevitably lost the Wild Card play in game to the Royals. This offseason, Beane has dealt Josh Donaldson, who led the team in almost every offensive statistical category to Toronto for young pitching and Brett Lawrie, who at just 24 years old may need Oakland as much as they need him. After giving Brandon Moss a chance, the A’s were rewarded with 76 home runs and 220 RBI over the last three seasons. But at a time when power is scarce, they only got Joey Wendle from the Indians in return. With only one year remaining on his contract, Jeff Samardzija was a player that Beane decided he had to trade as well, and he got five pieces in return including potential starting shortstop Marcus Semien. Is this a lateral move in comparison to Addison Russell? After the dust seemed to be settling Beane dealt another All Star in Derek Norris to San Diego for pitchers Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez. This is the one deal I could really get behind as Hahn fared well in his major league debut in 2014 and Alvarez represents a talented young arm in the bullpen with his 95 MPH fastball.

“Where are all the people going?
Round and round till we reach the end.
One day leading to another,
Get up, go out, do it again.

Then it’s back where you started,
Here we go round again.
Back where you started,
Come on do it again.”

This is what A’s fans are wondering looking ahead to 2015. I can offer up some suggestions, but with the Angels looking to build upon their momentum from last year and the Mariners adding Nelson Cruz, it remains to be seen if the A’s can contend this year. Does Beane want to? Not only that, there have to be some more moves on the horizon as the present roster does not seem ready to compete. With A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker working their way back from injuries the present rotation appears to be Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Hahn. Stephen Vogt will appear just about everywhere on the field and lineup to keep his bat active but this team is relying heavily on Brett Lawrie and Marcus Semien on the left side of the infield. Their starting pitching and bullpen may keep them in games, but will they score enough runs to be a real threat?

Acquired by the A’s: Alex Hassan OF, Ike Davis 1B, Brett Lawrie 3B, Sean Nolin LHP, Kendall Graveman RHP, Franklin Barreto SS, Joey Wendle 2B, Marcus Semien SS, Chris Bassitt RHP, Josh Phegley C, Rangel Ravelo 1B, Michael Ynoa, Jesse Hahn RHP, R.J. Alvarez RHP

Traded or left via Free Agency: Josh Donaldson 3B, Derek Norris C, Jeff Samardzija RHP, Jason Hammel RHP, Brandon Moss 1B/OF, Kyle Blanks 1B, Alberto Callaspo 2B, Nick Punto SS, Jon Lester LHP, Adam Dunn DH

“And you think today is going to be better,
Change the world and do it again.
Give it all up and start all over,
You say you will but you don’t know when.

Then it’s back where you started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
Come on do it again.”

When looking at the fantasy prospects of the players that are new to Oakland, we have a mixed bag. If Billy Butler can regain his career HR/FB% he can return to a 15 home run player as projected by both Steamer and ZiPS. But there is no excitement generated there. Lawrie has burned far too many in the past so 2015 either represents the perfect storm to get him on the cheap or he may lose his relevance in fantasy outside of AL-only. It would appear that the biggest beneficiaries of Oakland’s new faces are Marcus Semien, Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez. Starting with the additions to the offense, a chart showing what Steamer and ZiPS feel about the new Athletics is displayed below:

Oakland Athletics Offense Projection Chart

For Billy Butler to help the Athletics he must recover from his career low HR/FB% of 6.9 back to 10.9. If this occurs, his power will return and he should hit about 15 dingers. There is some discrepancy regarding his potential RBI total but this offense will be a landmine to project as it is full of platooners, injury risks and unproven youngsters. Because of his chance to be the Opening Day shortstop, Marcus Semien will be an intriguing middle infield option for 2015. After a rough debut last year, Semien went to the minors and returned in the second half.

Marcus Semien 1H: 43 G, 22 R, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 3 SB, .218/.287/.327
Marcus Semien 2H: 21 G, 8 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .273/.333/.485

While both of his projections forecast double-digit home runs and stolen bases, I think ZiPS is more accurate when setting his value in 2015, which is enticing as long as you are willing to tolerate a sub .240 batting average. Ike Davis could be a source of cheap power in AL-only leagues but that may be the peak of his upside. He does have some power, though it has been in decline the past three years peaking with a HR/FB% of 21.1 and dropping to 10.3 last year. I am not going to predict a Brandon Moss turnaround for Davis in Oakland, but Moss arrived with only 23 home runs in his big league career and was promoted at age 28. Davis will be 29 in 2015 but has a 32 home run season in his past. While that is likely an outlier, I think he can hit the 17 forecasted and maybe even reach 20.

Brett Lawrie is the biggest wild card here. He has barely averaged 100 games per year over the last three seasons but has still managed double-digit home runs each year along with 22 stolen bases during that span. Reckless play on the turf in Toronto has kept many a player injured in and is part of the reason why Melky Cabrera signed with the White Sox. Even though it seems as though he’s been around forever, Lawrie will turn just 25 this year. I was on the Lawrie train last year but it would take a steep discount for me to buy in 2015. However, he cannot be ignored considering the dearth of talent at the hot corner.

On the pitching side of it all I did cover many of the prospects in an article here if you wish to check it out. This time I will focus on Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez as the prizes in the Derek Norris trade. Beane was trading from strength with his abundance of catchers and sold high on Norris whose power finally played in 2014. Here are the Steamer and ZiPS projections for the new arms in Oakland:

Oakland Athletics Pitching Projections

Starting with Jesse Hahn, if he can win the fifth spot in the rotation he will become an AL-only upside play after a solid finish to his 2014 season with the Padres. In order to survive deeper through the lineup he may need to develop a third pitch, but here are his pitch speeds and batting averages against in two different charts (courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net):

Jesse Hahn Pitches and VelocityJesse Hahn Results and AveragesThe other reason I am high on Hahn as the fifth starter in Oakland is due to his ability to produce groundballs. Note his groundball/ball in play percentages:

Jesse Hahn GB rates with pitches

As a fifth starter with upside in Oakland, he can use the ballpark to his advantage and pitch better than his projection. In an effort to strengthen the bullpen, Oakland will take a chance on Michael Ynoa and high upside hurler R.J. Alvarez who wowed the Padres after they acquired him from the Angels last year in the Huston Street trade. It would not surprise me if Alvarez works his way into the eighth inning role by the end of the season replacing Luke Gregerson. Again courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, here are Alvarez’s speeds from 2014 while in San Diego:

RJ Alvarez Pitches 2014

His 95 MPH fastball and slider combo will play well in high leverage situations. Alvarez struck out 61 in the minors in 43 and a third innings with a 1.25 ERA last year. All he needs is an opportunity.

“The days go by and you wish you were a different guy,
Different friends and a new set of clothes.
You make alterations and affect a new pose,
A new house, a new car, a new job, a new nose.
But it’s superficial and it’s only skin deep,
Because the voices in your head keep shouting in your sleep.
Get back, get back.

Back where you started, here we go round again,
Back where you started, come on do it again.”

It would appear that Billy Beane is walking a fine line with his upheaval of the Athletics roster, but that verse has been written before. Only time will tell but it will take each player acquired playing at or higher than their projected level to make it worth the gamble. I know A.J. Preller is getting all the accolades in San Diego for having brass balls but Beane has been doing it for years.

Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, MiLB.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/2V9RGm (Beane), http://goo.gl/wpsJfQ (Semien)

Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

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