2019 Record: 97-65
Second Place, AL West
Team ERA: 3.97 (6th in MLB)
Team OPS: .776 (10th in MLB)
What Went Right
Despite another rag-tag group of starting pitchers, the Athletics won 97 games for the second straight year. Also for the second straight year, they were bounced in the Wild Card game. The offense was once again among the best in the league. Marcus Semien was the team’s best overall player, setting new career-highs in homers (33), RBI (92) and OPS (.892) while playing excellent defense at shortstop. He should receive some down-ballot MVP votes. Matt Chapman had some ups and downs, but still managed a career-best 36 homers and continued his Gold Glove play at third base. Matt Olson wasn’t impacted by his early-season hamate bone surgery, slugging a career-high 36 homers in 127 games. Ramon Laureano backed up what he showed in a small sample in 2018 while Mark Canha was the biggest surprise among the position players, socking 26 homers with a .913 OPS in 126 games. Liam Hendriks picked up the slack for Blake Treinen, posting a 1.80 ERA with 25 saves and a 124/21 K/BB ratio over 85 innings. Frankie Montas was the staff ace before being handed an 80-game PED suspension. Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson, and Chris Bassitt all had sub-4.00 ERAs. Sean Manaea had a successful return from shoulder surgery for the stretch run.
What Went Wrong
The A’s had another successful year largely without much help from Khris Davis, who had the worst season of his career while batting .220/.293/.387 over 133 games. Coming off a historic 2018, Blake Treinen struggled with a 4.91 ERA over 57 appearances while missing time with shoulder and back injuries. He effectively lost his closer job in mid-June. Lou Trivino also failed to repeat his 2018 form, posting a rough 5.25 ERA in 61 appearances. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo suffered a muscle strain in his left shoulder in late March and a Grade 2 late strain in July, limiting hm to pitching in a relief role upon his first call-up to the majors in September. Acquired from the Rangers in a three-team trade over the winter, Jurickson Profar endured a case of the yips and took a step back from his 2018 production at the plate. Stephen Piscotty appeared ready to take off after slugging 27 homers with an .821 OPS in 2018, but he scuffled with a .249/.309/.412 batting line and also missed time with ankle and knee injuries. Marco Estrada was a free agent dud after joining the A’s on a one-year, $4 million contract.
**Marcus Semien has been a fringe mixed league player in recent years, but his production reached a whole new level this season. In addition to slugging a career-high 33 homers — more than double his total (15) from last year — he posted a strong .285/.369/.522 batting line. He was an above average hitter for the first time in his career, with his OPS jumping all the way from .706 in 2018 to .892 this year. Despite some stiff competition at shortstop, he finished the season as the No. 6 ranked player at the position. While the breakout was unexpected, he’s made some steady progress in his approach since his early days with the White Sox. His strikeout rate sat at 22 percent in 2017, but he brought it down to 18.6 percent in 2018 and 13.7 percent this year. Meanwhile, he increased his walk percentage to a career-high clip of 11.6 percent. Chasing fewer pitches, making harder contact when he does swing. That progress portends good things moving forward.
**The sweet is never as sweet without the sour — yes, I just quoted Vanilla Sky, my apologies — but that’s what the A’s experienced with Khris Davis this year. It was disappointing enough that he failed to hit .247 for the first time since 2014, but he actually collapsed all the way to a .220/.293/.387 batting line. This was after signing a two-year, $33.5 million extension in spring training. Davis was actually a below-average hitter for the first time in his career, homering just seven times in his final 284 plate appearances. He went 29 games without a homer at one point, which is hard to fathom from him. Davis’ strikeout rate wasn’t all that different than what we’ve seen in the past, but he didn’t loft the ball as often and he didn’t hit the ball nearly as hard — barrel percentage, average exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage included — compared to his recent output. With such a steep drop-off, it’s certainly reasonable to point to injury as the culprit. It should be said that Davis was having a typical Davis-like campaign before injuring his oblique/hip running into a side wall in early May, so a full offseason of rest could be the best thing for him. Power is plentiful right now, so some readjustment is needed given his profile, but he could prove to be a decent value in drafts in 2020.
**While Davis disappointed, Matt Olson helped carry the load for the A’s offense. There was some question about what the A’s and fantasy players could expect from him after his hamate bone surgery in late March, but his power resurfaced immediately upon his return in May and didn’t let up. In fact, he slugged seven homers over his first 21 games. Olson would finish with a career-high 36 homers in 547 plate appearances after amassing 28 in 660 plate appearances in 2018. He was again among the elite in terms of average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage and his fly ball rate was basically unchanged from 2018, but was more pull-happy than we’ve seen in the past. He’s firmly established himself as a top-10 option at first base.
**This was a bit of a strange year for Matt Chapman, who increased his home run output from 24 to 36 while seeing his OPS+ fall from 137 to 126. He was actually sporting a .918 OPS prior to leaving a game on July 17 with an ankle issue. While he still provided plenty of power the rest of the way, he hit just .198 over his final 62 games. His strikeout rate jumped to 27.7 percent during that time, so this wasn’t a matter of bad luck. A’s manager Bob Melvin said in August that Chapman was still dealing with soreness in both his ankle and his knee, so that needs to be taken into account when evaluating his season. Similar to Davis, rest should do him wonders. He still has an elite batted ball profile to fall back on.
**Ramon Laureano was widely discussed as a sleeper candidate in fantasy drafts this spring. He failed to justify that status over the first six weeks or so, hitting .216 with a .592 OPS through his first 36 games. Those who were patient with him (or picked him up off the waiver wire) were rewarded in a huge way, as he posted a monster .318/.364/.616 batting line with 18 homers, 46 RBI, 49 runs scored, and nine steals over his next 71 games before going down with a stress reaction in his right shin. He missed all of August, but picked up from where he left off in September, ultimately finishing as top-30 outfielder and top-100 overall player in mixed leagues. His blend of pop and speed appears sustainable, so he should be worth the investment in 2020.
**Frankie Montas’ momentum was slowed due to his PED suspension, but there were some real changes behind the breakout. In addition to adding velocity, the use of a cutter helped lead to the best strikeout (26.1) and walk (5.8) percentages of his career. Outside of Montas, the A’s rotation lacked for fantasy-relevant names this year. That will change in 2020, as Sean Manaea will be ready to rock for a full year and Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk should be ready for their first extended opportunities in the majors. Manaea posted a 1.21 ERA and 30/7 K/BB ratio in 29 2/3 innings over five starts in his return from shoulder surgery this year and figures to be a late-round pick next year. The hard-throwing Luzardo will have the most hype of the group assuming he can stay healthy this time around. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Puk threw just 36 2/3 innings between the majors and the minors this year, so he might have an abbreviated workload in 2020. He’s not quite as polished as Luzardo, but the upside remains very high.
**Due a raise from his $6.4 million salary in arbitration, Blake Treinen is looking like a prime non-tender candidate this offseason. Such a scenario would have been unthinkable this time last year, as Treinen had one of the best seasons a reliever could possibly have, but his fortunes flipped dramatically in the other direction this year. In addition to missing time with shoulder and back injuries, he posted a disappointing 4.91 ERA over 57 appearances while losing his closing job to Liam Hendriks. He more than doubled his walk percentage compared to 2018 while allowing nine homers in 58 2/3 innings. He gave up just two homers in 80 1/3 innings last year. Injuries certainly played a part, so he’ll have no shortage of suitors if the A’s cut him loose. As for Hendriks, he has a strong case to be considered a top-10 closer going into 2020 drafts.