Considering the Oakland Athletics employed one of the best left fielders in the history of the game once, it was kind of sad to see what the team put out there in 2015. The A’s left fielders hit just .199 last season, and that’s unbelievable in this day and age for an MLB team to not have anyone who can hit above the Mendoza Line on a regular basis.
The first part of looking forward to 2016 is assessing the season that just ended, and we’re now going over the team’s results, position by position. That’s 11 articles in the 11 days, finishing before the end of the World Series and by the opening of free agency. By Halloween, you’ll know exactly what the A’s need for 2016. We promise. We’ve looked at the infield already last week, and now we move on to the outfield this week.
Remember, Billy Beane is no longer the Oakland general manager: That role is now David Forst’s to fill, as Beane was promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations at the end of the team’s worst season since 1997. It will be up to Forst now to see if he can get the A’s that elusive 10th World Series title that has haunted the team over its last 10 playoffs appearances since the 1989 MLB championship.
Where to start? Left field was a void for the A’s in 2015 offensively. Five different players spent considerable time in left field for Oakland last year: Mark Canha (48 starts), Sam Fuld (31), Coco Crisp (27), Jake Smolinski (25) and Ben Zobrist (24). Let’s look at these five guys more in-depth.
Canha was the focus of our first-base assessment last week, and he hit just .222 in LF (.634 OPS). The rookie was a much better hitter when playing first base, and his LF struggles contributed to the team’s issues. Zobrist is irrelevant here, due to his injuries and eventual trade—but he was probably the A’s best left fielder this year, even if he got the fewest starts there.
However, giving 58 starts to the light-hitting duo of Fuld and Crisp was a disaster. The Oakland organization’s pathetic obsession with Sam Fuld meant that the team gave him too many at-bats throughout the season (290 ABs in 120 games, hitting just .197 overall), and it took a toll on the A’s ability to score runs. In left field alone, Fuld hit .198 with a .535 OPS—something a guy off the street could probably accomplish with his eyes closed. Crisp, trying to come back from injuries and elderly ineffectiveness, hit .144 in LF with a .411 OPS, meaning Oakland gave a third of its starts in LF to guys hitting like Little Leaguers. Those were automatic outs, basically.
As for Smolinski, he is (at best) a platoon player, and he hit .183 playing left for Oakland. Do the math with all these averages, and you can see just how bad the hole in LF was for the A’s in 2015.
Defensively, the LF corps stunk, too, finishing 12th in the American League in fielding percentage (.976), making eight errors in the process. If Crisp and Fuld were in there for defense, they didn’t help much. Neither has the arm to play left, of course, and the A’s threw out only nine runners from the LF position—two below the AL average.
So where to go in 2016? Fuld better not be on the roster, and Oakland is stuck with Crisp for another guaranteed year of $11 million. Unless Coco makes a miraculous recovery from his injuries, that’s wasted money for a player who can’t play anymore. Canha should be at first in 2016, and as noted, Smolinski is a platoon player at best (.833 OPS versus lefties, just .454 OPS versus righties).
If the A’s need to target a position for whatever free-agent money they have, it’s going to be in left field—where the team cannot afford another disaster like the one they had in 2015. Makes every A’s fan wonder where Yoenis Cespedes is right now, although Oakland never would have been able to re-sign him, anyway.