"Moneyball" was a great movie and all, but much of the last decade or two has made it really tough to believe that Billy Beane really is a genius. The Oakland Athletics had a good stretch a few years back - they won the division in 2012 and 2013 and made the playoffs again the next year. They were mediocre for five years before that, though, and have been really bad the last two years - 68 and 69 wins. Teams take steps back - that happens. Teams like the Royals and Astros have been terrible, but they were building assets and developing their resources, and then they came out the other side. The A's have a pretty bleak roster and a farm system that isn't exactly inspiring, either. It's just frustrating.
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Athletics 2017 Projected Lineup
Khris Davis is an underappreciated slugger. He had 42 home runs last year, which was third-best in the majors, in his first season with Oakland. In a 3.5- season career he has 102 home runs, which is the equivalent of 35 per 162-game season. He just turned 29 years old at the end of last year, so there is no reason to doubt that he can keep it up again. He's the centerpiece of what is otherwise a pretty underwhelming lineup.
The team spent some money in free agency, but it is very hard to get excited about the three primary offensive guys they added. Thirty-six-year-old Rajai Davis was brought in to be the leadoff hitter. He's only on a one-year deal, but it still seems like a lousy idea - he's hardly at his peak productivity. Trevor Plouffe is also on a one-year deal to play third base. That's a puzzling move - 25-year-old Ryon Healy came up from the minors last year and was very effective. However, with Plouffe around, his development is halted and he'll primarily be a DH. It would only make sense if Plouffe was a massive defensive upgrade, but that's not the case. Matt Joyce was brought in on a two-year, $11 million deal to play right field. He struggles to stay healthy and isn't particularly productive when he is active. This is a roster that wasn't particularly good last year - their 653 runs scored were the worst in the American League - and it is tough to see how they are better with these additions.
The existing roster has issues, too. Yonder Alonso is a rare first baseman without a lot of power or productivity. Stephen Vogt is a journeyman catcher who hits like one. Jed Lowrie can't stay healthy and offers little offensively. Marcus Semien had 75 RBIs last year, but his average was abysmal. It's just not an exciting group - certainly not one with a whole lot of upside.
Athletics 2017 Projected Rotation and Closer
The biggest priority on the mound is for Sonny Gray to remember he is Sonny Gray. He was third in Cy Young voting in 2015 and was pretty lousy last year. There is nothing structural being reported, and he's only 27, so there is no reason he can't get back on track. The team really needs him to. Sean Manaea was decent in his first year last year, and there is some upside there. Jharel Cotton looked good in five starts last year, but those are the only five starts of his career, so it's tough to know what they'll get from him. Kendall Graveman is still young, but his two years of experience make it hard to believe he's anything but a journeyman. And Andrew Triggs has six career starts. So we have one star-caliber pitcher who needs to rediscover his lost game, and four raw, inexperienced guys who aren't blue chips. The rotation could, I suppose, work quite well if everyone pitched to their potential. There are so many questions, though, that we have to assume that the performance will be closer to the floor than the ceiling - and that floor is very low.
Santiago Casilla was signed for $11 million over two years to join the bullpen and will likely be a heavy usage setup guy - probably setting up saves for closer Ryan Madson. That's two 36-year-old guys looking to close out games, but at the least they are both solid enough. The depth of the bullpen isn't too bad, either. The bullpen isn't the best in the majors by any means, but it is the easiest aspect of this team to get excited about.
Athletics Futures Odds
Needless to say, oddsmakers are not optimistic about this squad. At +2500 at BetOnline they are, by a large margin, the longest shots to win the tough AL West. They are also the longest shots by a wide margin to win the American League pennant - they are at +8000, and the Twins and White Sox, both teams with not much going for them in the present, are at +6600. Their World Series chances are relatively a little better - they sit at a massive +15000, but that gives them a better chance than NL duds the Padres, Reds and Brewers.
Khris Davis is the chief power source for this team, and he's relevant in the home run race - at +2000 he's behind only 10 players to win the crown. Sonny Gray is listed as a Cy Young contender, but at +5000 he's not a serious one.
Athletics 2017 Predictions
There is something slightly interesting going on here. The season win total sits at 73.5 games, which is at least four wins up from where it opened. For a team expected to be lousy, that's a pretty sizeable improvement. So the question, then, is if they are terrible or just bad - because the ceiling for this team is really not very high. I guess I get why some people would believe in this team, but I really don't, and the higher total just makes the "under" more attractive in my eyes.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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