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Could such a punchless A’s team win the AL West?

Jan 28, 2011, 6:00 PM EDT

Coco Crisp

If the A’s bring in Chone Figgins to replace Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base, they’d enter the season with a lineup that looks something like this:

3B Chone Figgins
RF David DeJesus
1B Daric Barton
LF Josh Willingham
DH Hideki Matsui
C Kurt Suzuki
2B Mark Ellis
CF Coco Crisp
SS Cliff Pennington

My 2011 projections call for that group of nine to hit 102 homers. Here’s the breakdown:

Figgins – 2
DeJesus – 11
Barton – 14
Willingham – 19
Matsui – 17
Suzuki – 13
Ellis – 9
Crisp – 10
Pennington – 7

Of course, the 2010 A’s hit just 109 homers. Kouzmanoff, who would presumably be shipped off in a Figgins trade, was the team leader with 16, followed by the also departed Jack Cust and Suzuki with 13 apiece.

The A’s were one of three teams last season to have no one hit 20 homers, the others being the last-place Mariners and Royals.

In the last 20 years, only one team has reached the postseason without having a 20-homer guy: the 2005 Padres pulled off the feat, claiming the NL West with an 82-80 record before getting swept by the Cardinals in the NLDS.

Since then, one team has reached the postseason while hitting fewer than 135 homers: the 2007 Angels. Here’s a list of the postseason teams with the fewest homers from the last five years:

2006 Twins – 143 HR
2007 Angels – 123 HR
2008 Dodgers – 137 HR
2009 Dodgers – 145 HR
2010 Braves – 139 HR

And for what it’s worth, those five teams went 2-5 in the postseason, with both Dodgers teams winning one series and then getting eliminated in the NLCS.

So recent history certainly hasn’t been kind to teams that can’t knock the ball out of the park about once per game. Odds are that someone on the A’s will get to 20 homers this year — Willingham should if he stays healthy enough to reach 500 at-bats — but the pitching is going to have to be excellent if the club is going to overtake the Rangers.

  1. scatterbrian - Jan 28, 2011 at 6:39 PM

    Minor quibble, but you seem to be comparing your projections of just nine players to last year’s entire team (the A’s had 26 non-pitchers get plate appearances last season, 24 of them hit home runs).

    How many plate appearances are you projecting for that starting nine?

    • raiderdave - Jan 28, 2011 at 6:59 PM

      Great point and great question. My other quibble is that everyone in the lineup will be batting in a much more natural spot in the batting order (i.e. no Suzuki or Kouzmanoff hitting cleanup or even the 5-hole).

      While I definitely do not see the A’s as a power hitting team, I think they will be much better than “punchless.” But for them, hitting 135+ home runs would be nothing short of a phenomenon.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Jan 28, 2011 at 7:04 PM

      Well, I have the bench of Conor Jackson, Ryan Sweeney, Adam Rosales and Landon Powell projected to hit 22 homers. Plus I have eight more for Chris Carter in 170 at-bats, though if he gets that many plate appearances, it’s probably going to mean that either Willingham or Jackson failed to come through.

      • raiderdave - Jan 28, 2011 at 8:50 PM

        That is all pretty fair. However, Carter getting called up would probably have to do a lot more with a fragile A’s outfield that doesn’t really have a lot of power throughout. I think Crisp will hit about 10 even if he does miss a lot of time as he did last season, especially with a little bit better of a supporting cast.

        Either way though, on paper, the A’s are only as good as their power stats from previous years show. And if certain fragile pitchers on the roster are able to hold up, they could also be flipped for a true power bat later on down the line.

  2. apbaguy - Jan 28, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    It’s not impossible to hit 40 HR’s at the Mausoleum. It’s a question of being a really good hitter. So for these guys, for them to perform at their best, probably means only Matsui and Willingham have a chance at 20, unless somebody really gets hot on a Texas road trip.

    Kurt is probably better cutting back on that extra-large swing he parlayed into last year’s .308 OBP, for instance.

    Last years World Champion Gigantes hit 162 HR’s but importantly held their opponents to 134. The A’s need one of their guys to do an Aubrey Huff and have a near career year.

    But really, the A’s do not have a hitter as good as Posey or Sandoval from a pure talent perspective. And Huff, Burrell and Uribe are all more capable power guys. So Billy Beane still has work to do.

  3. clydeserra - Jan 28, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    When you forget about dingerz and remember that that team will prevent a ton of runs, then yeah, its possible that a punchless A’s team can win the division. They are depending on Texas’ pitching to be worse than it is though.

    • raiderdave - Jan 28, 2011 at 8:38 PM

      Subtracting Cliff Lee and replacing him with a huge question mark in Brandon Webb, along with some possible regression from their many young starters last year, I think it is very likely that Texas’ pitching will be worse than it was last year.

      We will be seeing a vastly different (hopefully improved) A’s team that was still in contention with Texas up until a week before the season ended, going for a Texas team that isn’t really all that much different on paper.

  4. Kevin S. - Jan 28, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    Yeah, I’m not terribly worried about this team’s lack of overall pop. They’ll get on base, run well, play good defense and have good pitching. Given the current state of the AL West, that probably puts them in contention.

    • Old Gator - Jan 29, 2011 at 5:08 AM

      That sounds perilously like the predictions we heard for the Mariners last year.

      • Kevin S. - Jan 29, 2011 at 8:31 AM

        Did the Mariners fail because of how they were constructed or because they lacked the talent (or even because half their regulars had career-worst seasons)?

  5. Old Gator - Jan 29, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    For all I know, it was something in the water. It’s just that the 2010 Mariners were acknowledged to be comparatively sockless and their suppositions of contention were be based on “run prevention,” which before last year was what we used to call “pitching and defense.”

  6. roycethebaseballhack - Jan 29, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    Having watched quite a bit of the AL West from the bleachers in Arlington, seeing The A’s get some offensive depth is a bit unnerving. At this point, it looks like Figgins wants to stay in Seattle, which works fine for me. Keep in mind that Oakland’s pitching was/is far better than their Win/Loss record shows. If they get some real depth and speed on the bases (eg, Figgins…), they’d probably see another ten-odd wins bubble up.

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