In today's Hot Links post we referred to an article in which Jeff Luhnow used the 2014 A's as a cautionary tale:
We saw Oakland trade away pretty good players last year to win a division and they ended up getting eliminated in the wild-card game.
Yeah...that's right. The A's traded:
*Billy McKinney, Dan Straily, and Addison Russell to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on July 5, a day in which they had a 3.5-game lead in the division. On July 31 the A's traded Yoenis Cespedes and a Comp B pick to the Red Sox for Jonny Gomes and Jon Lester. On August 1 the A's had a 1-game lead in the division.
There are some other transactions in there, but those were the big ones. We know Handsome Dan Straily quite well. The 20-year old McKinney was the A's 1st Round pick in 2013 and is currently in Double-A with a .741 OPS after dominating the Carolina League to a .976 OPS and was Baseball Prospectus' #81 ranked prospect coming into 2015. You know Addison Russell - the Cubs' shortstop of the future - who ranked as a top-5 prospect in MLB.com, Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus' 2015 rankings. Yoenis Cespedes had put up 2.8 WAR in 101 games for Oakland before he got traded. He's currently with the Tigers, hitting .289/.319/.486 with a 3.2 WAR.
It's useless to speculate whether the A's would currently be better than their 44-52 record were they to have Addison Russell and Yoenis Cespedes in their lineup, but let's try to see how the A's managed to add Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, and Jason Hammel to their team and lose the division, ending up with the play-in game, which Jarrod Dyson won.
Well, it's pretty simple, actually: From August 1 to the end of the season, the A's were the worst team in the AL West. Check the record:
So...how? When the A's traded for Lester, I emailed my cousin and said (yeah, I checked this): "Welp. Looks like the A's are your 2014 World Series Champs." He wrote back: "Yep." That's deep, man.
These trades were about bolstering their rotation. They added Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel to the rotation, replacing three-fifths of their starters with an SP1, SP2, and an SP4, to go along with Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. That's ridiculous. But check it out...
Mar 31-July 5: .232/.294/.349 allowed, 3.16 ERA/1.17 WHIP
July 6 - Sep 28: .234/.286/.365 allowed, 3.30 ERA/1.12 WHIP
It's the same pitching staff. Trading away what they did resulted in a loss of 8 OPS points (.643 before the trade, .651 after the trade).
Let's take the overall offense from the beginning of the season to July 31, when they traded away Cespedes. Cespedes, in particular, was hitting .256/.303/.464, a 116 wRC+. The team as a whole hit .253/.329/.405. From Aug 1 - end of the season, the A's hit .225/.301/.331...So yeah, the offense went from a .767 OPS at the Trade Deadline to a .632 OPS after it.
Who dropped the ball? From March 31-July 31, here are your nine leaders in PAs (in descending order):
Josh Donaldson: .247/.330/.467 (.797 OPS)
Yoenis Cespedes: .256/.303/.464 (.767 OPS)
Jed Lowrie: .241/.323/.358 (.681 OPS)
Brandon Moss: .259/.340/.503 (.843 OPS)
Alberto Callaspo: .234/.307/.307 (.614 OPS)
Coco Crisp: .274/.372/.416 (.788 OPS)
John Jaso: .285/.358/.465 (.823 OPS)
Derek Norris: .300/.401/.476 (.877 OPS)
Josh Reddick: .243/.301/.400 (.701 OPS)
Now from August 1 - September 28:
Josh Donaldson: .271/.368/.432 (.800 OPS)
Coco Crisp: .203/.277/.280 (.557 OPS)
Derek Norris: .228/.299/.297 (.596 OPS)
Sam Fuld: .210/.275/.312 (.587 OPS)
Josh Reddick: .294/.337/.510 (.847 OPS)
Brandon Moss: .162/.321/.254 (.575 OPS)
Jed Lowrie: .272/.316/.344 (.660 OPS)
Stephen Vogt: .186/.244/.305 (.549 OPS)
Alberto Callaspo: .193/.248/.246 (.494 OPS)
HOLY CRAP. The A's went from a lineup with six batters with an OPS over .750 at the Trade Deadline, to a lineup with six batters with an OPS under .600. Brandon Moss, Alberto Callaspo, Coco Crisp, and Derek Norris' OPS's each dropped over 100 points. Moss, Crisp, and Norris all experienced OPS drops over 200 points.
I don't know that you can adequately plan or foresee a team OPS drop of 135 points. But with the benefit of hindsight we can see that Billy Beane strengthened the wrong aspect of his team. Why are we - an Astros blog - posting this? Mainly to show that making the big trades don't always pan out. Because of the drop in offense, the Angels lapped the A's, forcing them to the Wild Card game where - oddly enough - the A's had a 7-3 lead heading into the bottom of the 8th, a 7-6 lead heading into the bottom of the 9th, and an 8-7 lead heading into the bottom of the 12th before the Royals won on a walk-off, and the A's Go-For-It season fell short.
So in the end it was their pitching that kept them out of the next round of the playoffs. And now they don't have Yoenis Cespedes, Addison Russell, or Billy McKinney. Sometimes baseball is a faithless whore. GMing is hard.