2020 Record: 36-24
First Place, AL West
Team ERA: 3.77 (5th)
Team OPS: .718 (17th)
What Went Right
The A’s cruised to their first AL West crown in seven seasons, finishing seven games ahead of the second-place Astros. They also won their first postseason series since 2006, beating the White Sox in the Wild Card Series before falling to the aforementioned Astros in the ALDS. The pitching staff led the way, with Oakland getting particularly strong performances from their bullpen. Liam Hendriks followed up his breakout 2019 campaign with an even better showing in 2020, posting a microscopic 1.78 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 37/3 K/BB ratio over 25 1/3 innings while collecting 14 saves. Jake Diekman didn’t give up his one and only earned run until September 23. Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, J.B. Wendelken, Lou Trivino and Burch Smith were also reliable. The rotation was, surprisingly, led by Chris Bassitt, who finished third in the AL with a 2.29 ERA. The starting five beyond that lacked consistency, although Jesus Luzardo and Sean Manaea both had their moments. Robbie Grossman was arguably the team’s best position player with a .826 OPS, eight home runs and eight stolen bases. Sean Murphy had a rough first month but a stellar second month, finishing with seven dingers and a .821 OPS. Mark Canha led the club with a .387 on-base percentage and drove in 33 runs.
What Went Wrong
Disappointments abounded when it came to the A’s offense. Perhaps the biggest one was Marcus Semien, who went from a top-three AL MVP finish in 2019 to a lowly .679 OPS in 2020. Ramon Laureano (.704) and Matt Olson (.734) also finished below the league average in OPS, although Olson was fine from a home run (14) and RBI (42) perspective. Matt Chapman launched 10 bombs himself, but he posted just a .276 OBP while battling through a nagging hip injury which eventually required season-ending surgery in mid-September. Those hoping for a Khris Davis bounce-back didn’t get it, as he was even worse at the plate than he was in 2019 and didn’t even play every day anymore. Similarly, Stephen Piscotty continued to regress with a .629 OPS. On the pitching side, Frankie Montas was a flop for fantasy managers with a 5.60 ERA over his 11 starts. Mike Fiers continued to see his strikeout rate plummet (14.4 percent) and he finished with a 4.58 ERA. A.J. Puk developed a shoulder issue during spring training and his rehab ultimately didn’t work, as he eventually had surgery in September.
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** What is Jesus Luzardo’s upside going into 2021? Luzardo oozes talent, boasting a combination of stuff and command that could make him one of the best pitchers in the game. He showed flashes in 2020, striking out a batter per inning and not allowing a run in three of his starts. The southpaw also mixed in a few clunkers, though, ultimately finishing with a middling 4.12 ERA. The A’s were careful with Luzardo’s workload, having him make a few relief appearances and not letting him exceed 100 pitches in any outing. Luzardo has never thrown more than 109 1/3 innings in a pro season and has had some arm issues, so whether the A’s loosen the reins and he’s able to stay healthy are things to wonder about. The ability is certainly there.
** After his first four starts of the 2020 season, Frankie Montas was sitting on a 1.57 ERA and 22/9 K/BB ratio over 23 innings. Unfortunately, a back issue then popped up and he posted an 8.70 ERA over his final seven outings. How much the back injury factored into his struggles isn’t clear, but what certainly was clear was Montas was unable to overcome his control (9.7 percent walk rate) and home run (10 allowed in his final 30 innings) problems. Montas still fanned 60 batters over his 53 frames, including 13 in his final regular season start. He’s likely to return plenty of value if he falls too far in fantasy drafts next spring.
** Matt Chapman steadily cut his strikeout rate and upped his walk in his first three major league seasons, posting career bests in each mark in 2019 with a 21.9 percent strikeout rate and 10.9 percent walk rate. However, he regressed in the opposite direction dramatically in both areas in 2020, posting just a 5.3 percent walk rate and 35.5 percent strikeout rate. Chapman injured his right hip in early September and had surgery in mid-September to repair a torn labrum. Manager Bob Melvin indicated that it’s an ailment the third baseman had been dealing with, although it’s unclear for how long. It’s possible Chapman’s downturn at the dish can be explained away by the injury, or perhaps it was just the kind of fluky thing that can happen in a 60-game season. Chapman is expected to be healthy by Opening Day, but it’s not a minor surgery he’s coming back from. His health will be closely watched by fantasy managers in the spring.
** Sean Murphy could be in line for big things next season. After putting up a .203/.321/.333 batting line with two home runs over his first 27 games of the season, the 26-year-old catcher then exploded for a .277/.424/.638 line with five dingers across his final 16 contests. He also went deep a couple times in seven postseason games. To put a cherry on top, Murphy also posted some eye-popping Statcast data with a 92.2 exit velocity that ranked in the 91st percentile. Murphy has some swing-and-miss to his game and he can’t run, so he’s probably not going to help you in batting average. However, he draws his walks and crushes the ball when he makes contact.
** What will Chris Bassitt do for an encore? Bassitt had a relatively ho-hum 3.72 ERA going into September of this season, but he then allowed just one run over four outings in the final month to push his ERA down to 2.29, which ranked third in the AL. The right-hander cut back on his two-seamer usage and threw more four-seamers and cutters, a recipe that obviously worked for him. Bassitt did give up some of the gains he had made in the swing-and-miss department but combated that by walking fewer batters. He’ll turn 32 in February and has thrown 100 innings at the big league level just once in his career, so Bassitt can’t be counted on for a full workload. That said, he’s gone from a relative afterthought to someone who will be drafted in all mixed formats next spring.
Key Free Agents: Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks, Robbie Grossman, Tommy La Stella, Mike Minor, Yusmeiro Petit, Jake Lamb, Joakim Soria, Mike Fiers, T.J. McFarland
Team Needs: At least one big bat is probably needed. It might come in the form of a middle infielder, as the A’s starting shortstop and second baseman are both slated for free agency. Chad Pinder could fill one of those spots. Oakland’s rotation looks to be in pretty good shape, but Hendriks’ possible departure would leave a big hole in the back-end of the bullpen.