Can the A’s fix their ailing offense with a new lineup?
The Oakland Athletics aren’t hitting. It’s not exactly unusual in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Oakland Alameda Coliseum, nor it has it been unusual in recent years. So far in 2016, the team is averaging just 2.7 runs per game, scoring just eight in their last series in which they were swept by the Los Angeles Angels.
It isn’t as though the team hasn’t tried to improve its offense, but it has been a while since the A’s have succeeded. They’ve tried, bringing in Billy Butler and Khris Davis in the last two years, but so far both have backfired.
It’s time they revamp their lineup and put the best hitters out there on a more consistent basis. So it’s time to take a look at all the resources the Athletics have and build their best possible lineup. This will be done without regard to the player’s salaries or promises of playing time made.
Right now, the A’s need their best hitters in the lineup on a daily basis if they want a chance at beating the World Champion Kansas City Royals this weekend and keeping up with their American League West rivals.
The A’s have quite a bit of depth, giving manager Bob Melvin the chance to use platoons at certain positions, which could be actually be hurting the team’s overall offense with some of the better-hitting players not ending up getting regular at bats.
It’s well-known that most hitters do much better if they are able to get at bats on a daily basis. But few of the Athletics have actually been in the lineup every day. Until Friday night, only third baseman Danny Valencia, shortstop Marcus Semien, first baseman Yonder Alonso, second baseman Jed Lowrie and right fielder Josh Reddick have played in all 10 of the Athletics’ games.
Out of those players, only Alonso and Lowrie pose an offensive problem. Lowrie could pick it up a bit. He hit .290 for Oakland in 2013, but has a lifetime average of just .256 and is currently hitting just .216.
Alonso is the main concern here. First base is the team’s weakest offensive position. While Mark Canha is only hitting .083, he has played in just four games. His only hit was a home run.
Canha should be playing first base. His batting average should rise with more at-bats. Alonso has had enough chances, at least for right now.
The A’s do have a number of prospects who could play first base, but Matt Olson would be the one who is most MLB ready. The problem with bringing in Olson to play first base is that he’s exclusively been playing right field for the Nashville Sounds, suggesting that the organization is grooming him to take over for Josh Reddick, whether this season if Reddick is traded or next season when he departs via free agency.
So far we’ve covered third base, shortstop, first base and right field. So there are five more positions to go.
Looking at second base, the A’s brought back Lowrie in a trade with the Houston Astros. Here is where “super-utility man” Chris Coghlan can come in.
Coghlan has played in eight games and is hitting worse than Lowrie, but as his position with the club dictates he’s been moved around defensively. Thus far he’s played second base, every outfield position and has even served as the designated hitter.
With a little more consistency on defense, Coghlan might start hitting better. He hit .321 in 128 games in 2009, taking home the NL Rookie of the Year honors; he has it in him to step it up.
Last season, when Semien was focusing exclusively on his defensive skills, he went through a slight slump. Similarly, Coghlan is focusing on playing defensively at many positions; perhaps a stint at second base could help his batting average a bit and subsequently help the A’s.
A big problem lies with the A’s outfield, specifically left field and center field. Khris Davis was brought in to hit home runs for this team. Instead, he has struck out 14 times and walked only once in 32 plate appearances.
Of Davis’ five hits, just one was for extra bases and it was not a home run. The A’s may be enduring Davis’ slow start, but if the team wants to win games it’s time to stop ignoring his strikeouts and make a change.
Burns has played in seven games which is just not enough. The 26-year-old phenom should be in the lineup every day. He hit .294 in his rookie season and was hitting that high this year, until manager Bob Melvin started sitting him in favor of Davis and Crisp. He is still batting .280.
Burns was named the fastest player in the game by MLB.com and Statcast, he’s stolen three bases and has seven hits to go with his seven games played. He is also great in the outfield, while Davis doesn’t have a very strong arm.
Crisp has a fairly low batting average at .222 but he’s been clutch, hitting key home runs and stealing timely bases. He’s earning his playing time but right now that time comes at the expense of Burns’.
The A’s need to put Crisp in left field and Burns in center on a daily basis if they actually plan on scoring runs and winning games.
Reddick can, will and should continue manning right field. Still, don’t be surprised if the A’s trade Reddick at the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline, but don’t worry too much either. The aforementioned power-hitting Olson should be a suitable replacement.
As for catcher and designated hitter, you’ve got Josh Phegley, Stephen Vogt and Billy Butler. Butler’s poor play over the past year, including his play in 2016, has already had him relegated to just getting in the lineup against left-handers.
However, that doesn’t mean he always has to be in the lineup when a southpaw is pitching – leaving spots open for Vogt, Phegley or even Crisp if Melvin decides to continue playing Davis in left field.
Vogt is and has been one of the A’s most clutch hitters. The 2015 all-star catcher is currently hitting just .216 but he’s the experienced one behind the plate and seems to have an especially good rapport with starting pitcher Rich Hill. Hill pitched an entirely different game in his second start with Vogt catching than in his first when Phegley was catching.
Having either player behind the plate should be fine. Phegley has played in just four games but has hit well; his batting average has risen to .333. He has the highest batting average on the team but of course it’s important to take into account that he’s had fewer plate appearances than most everyone else.
Right now, it seems that if the A’s are going to want to score runs and win games they need a different lineup that is used more consistently.
A lineup more like this:
- Billy Burns, CF
- Chris Coghlan, 2B
- Josh Reddick, RF
- Danny Valencia, 3B
- Marcus Semien, SS
- Stephen Vogt (Josh Phegley), C
- Josh Phegley (Stephen Vogt or Jed Lowrie), DH
- Mark Canha, 1B
- Coco Crisp, LF
How doable this actually would be would be interesting to see. With these specific guys in the lineup consistently, it is possible that a lot of the team’s hitting problems could be solved.
Of course, Lowrie, Davis and Butler will need at-bats from time to time, but having Billy Burns and Coco Crisp as the number one and nine hitters needs to be happening more often.
Canha is interesting at first but with more at-bats he should improve. Also, moving Semien up in the lineup should help tremendously, being that he is the one guy on the team actually hitting the ball out of the yard.
Also, having the two catchers in the lineup may seem odd, but they both are good hitters and Phegley should be getting at-bats more consistently, having had a hit in each game he has played in.
There’s likely to be many that won’t agree with this lineup and that is just fine – but one thing everyone should be able to agree upon is that the A’s need to change something to be able to score runs and support their pitchers who, for the most part, have been stellar so far this season.
If you have a lineup in mind for Oakland that you like better, please leave a comment. You never know what might come of it.