Fantasy Breakdown: Oakland Athletics for 2021

A preview of Oakland's lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

At A Glance

 

The Oakland Athletics broke their recent postseason curse in 2020 by beating the fancied Chicago White Sox 2-1 in the three-game Wild Card series. After dominating the American League West, winning the division with a 36-24 record, and boasting the second-best record in the American League behind the Tampa Bay Rays, the A’s ran into the old enemy – the Houston Astros – and crashed out in the ALDS, losing 3-1. The A’s had a regular-season head-to-head record of 7-3 against the Astros but a mix of naivety and poor offense cost them dearly against a more experienced and seasoned playoff team in Houston.

The A’s have had a pretty quiet offseason. That shouldn’t be too surprising considering what team we’re dealing with, but they did make one significant move by ending the Khris Davis-era, sending him to Texas for their presumptive Marcus Semien replacement in Elvis Andrus.

While the A’s may appear to be on the downturn, they should still be competitive in 2021. Losing Semien hurts, but the division as a whole isn’t a powerhouse. The Astros don’t appear as strong as they once were, the Angels continue to tread water, while the Mariners and Rangers continue on with their rebuild. There is a path to the postseason here, and it shouldn’t be surprising to see the A’s pull some magic and end up in a good spot this season.

 

Hitters

 

Projected Lineup

 

Infielders

 

Matt Olson (1B)

2020: 28 R, 14 HR, 42 RBI, 1 SB, .195/.310/.424 | 1B #16

2021 ADP: 84.3 (1B #8)

 

Olson had one of the stranger 2020 stat lines. The home runs were still there in full force, as one of the league-leaders in that department, but everything else tanked. The .195 batting average may seem scary at first, but he did see his BABIP fall to .227, by far a career-low.

Now, Olson is not super likely to run a high BABIP, with him being such a pull-heavy, fly-ball hitter. But based on the way he hits the ball, he should definitely be a good candidate to rebound in this department. Everything still looks good in terms of his batted-balls with tons of red in his Statcast profile in the average exit velocity, hard-hit, and barrel-rates being the standout categories. Because of the strong Statcast profile, he isn’t being drafted at much of a discount, but he still appears to be a good option for the position.

Batting average and steals are his weakest categories, but the other counting stats are going to be nice. He’s potentially a 40-home run, 100-RBI player in a full season, and that should not be ignored. His batting average should rebound, and with it, he should regain his status as one of the best first basemen in the league.

 

 

Matt Chapman (3B)

2020: 22 R, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 0 SB, .232/.276/.535 | 3B #31

2021 ADP: 113.3 (3B #14)

 

Injuries were the story of the 2020 season for Chapman. His stellar defense was still on display, as was his strong power, but his strikeout rate surged to a whopping 35.5%, and his plate discipline evaporated, with a walk rate of just 5.3%.

It turns out that he was playing through a hip injury, and was ultimately shut down in September. He should be expected to bounceback, and if he continues to hit the ball as well as he did even while injured, he can bounce back to being an MVP candidate.

The batted-ball numbers are very encouraging, with career highs in barrel (18.0%) and hard-hit rate (51.7%). Those huge gains perhaps shouldn’t be expected to stick over a whole season, but if they’re at the levels of 2018 or 2019, Chapman will still be a very fine contributor, all at a discounted draft cost. The projections also say a bounceback is likely, with a Depth Charts projection of .247/.328/.509 triple slash with 36 home runs and 97 RBI. Definitely don’t count Chapman out. 

 

Sean Murphy (C)

2020: 21 R, 7 HR, 14 RBI, 0 SB, .233/.364/.457 | C #14

2021 ADP: 181.0 (C #10)

 

In the barren landscape that is the catching position, Murphy is actually a pretty good option that is perhaps being overlooked. He’s yet to get significant playing time at the Major League level, but he has been extremely solid in his two cameos in 2019 and 2020.

He seems to do a lot of things right at the plate. He makes great contact with a 49.4% hard-hit rate and 12.7% barrel rate and didn’t chase much at just 19.5% last season. So far, his biggest defect at the plate has been the strikeouts. He’s run a 26.5% clip through his first 200 Major League plate appearances, which is high, but isn’t a death sentence, especially at the catcher position.

Some positive regression could also be expected here as well, as Murphy never had much of a strikeout issue in the minor leagues. In AAA in 2019, he had a strikeout rate of 22.1%, which would be a lot more manageable. Improvements in the strikeout department should help his batting average rebound some, making him an even more complete player.

Overall, Murphy is a solid hitter that does a lot of things well. He should be hitting in the middle of the A’s order, and get plenty of opportunities to drive in runs, which should make him a nice fantasy option. Murphy should be a solid option should a manager miss out on the top catchers.

 

Mitch Moreland (1B/DH)

2020: 22 R, 10 HR, 29 RBI, 0 SB, .265/.342/.551 | 1B #25

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

A late addition to the Athletics’ lineup this offseason, the one-time Gold Glove winner at first base should slide into the DH role for the A’s, because of Olson’s superb defense. That’s okay, because Moreland was brought in to provide more of a punch to the offense and hopefully add some power.

Moreland got off to a spectacular start in 2020 while playing for the Red Sox, with a .328/.430/.746 slash line and eight home runs in the first 22 games of the season, playing almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. He was shipped to the Padres at the trade deadline and didn’t match his solid first half, as he OPS’d just .609 in 73 plate appearances with the Padres.

Nobody was quite expecting Moreland’s hot start to last, and when looking at some of his Statcast metrics, Moreland was actually worse in 2020 in the expected stats such as xSLG and xwOBA, as well as in hard-hit rate than he was in 2019. While he’s not bad in any of the Statcast metrics, his profile doesn’t suggest that he is the type of hitter that we saw him perform like in the beginning of the 2020 season.

That’s not a shock, but what type of hitter should we expect him to be going forward? Moreland should probably be expected to regress back to his 2018 level of performance (.245/.325/.433, 101 wRC+) in a full season, with the potential to hit around 20 home runs. The projections seem to agree, with the Depth Charts aggregate projections from FanGraphs pegging him at a 96 wRC+ and 21 home runs. He won’t contribute much in batting average, so for fantasy purposes, it’s all about power and runs driven in, and well, Moreland’s power profile isn’t going to jump off the page. Barring another hot stretch as he had at the beginning of 2020, Moreland likely won’t have much mainstream fantasy use, with most of his fantasy relevance coming in extremely deep or AL-only formats.

 

Elvis Andrus (SS)

2020: 11 R, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB, .194/.252/.330 | SS #57

2021 ADP: 320 (SS #37) 

 

It’s been a few seasons since Andrus has been a league-average hitter, a feat he last accomplished in 2017. His poor 2020 season saw him end up with just a 58 wRC+ and for the first time his career, sub-replacement level, led to the Rangers announcing he would be getting bumped from his long-time shortstop job to eventually being traded from the only organization he’d ever known.

Now in Oakland, Andrus should be penciled into the starting shortstop role, replacing the departed Semien. Andrus’ bat has been in decline, but he probably should be expected to rebound from his 29-game shortened 2020 campaign. What makes him interesting for fantasy purposes though are the stolen bases. He got back to his high-steal ways in the 2019 season with 31 swiped bags, but was on pace for somewhere around 16 steals last year, prorated of course over a whole season.

He may not touch 30 steals again, but he should have the playing time in hand to steal somewhere close to 20, should he be allowed to run. Combine that with a bat that should rebound and could provide ten or so home runs, and he will have fantasy value. It’s not the most optimal way to increase stolen base totals, and he likely won’t be rostered except for extremely deep or AL-only leagues, but there is a path to productivity here.

 

Chad Pinder (2B/OF)

2020: 8 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, .232/.295/.393 | 2B #69

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

Since his standout 2018 season in which he produced a .258/.332/.436 triple slash, Pinder has been just a .239/.291/.413 hitter, and was relegated to part-time status in the shortened 2020 season. By necessity, he figures to get the majority of the playing time at second base, with Tony Kemp there to back him up.

Either way, Pinder is not expected to be much more than a league-average hitter. He’s been trending that way in terms of his Statcast metrics, with his xwOBA and xwOBACON from 2020 being nearly identical to the league average. He’s shown some decent ability to hit the ball hard, with a hard-hit rate of around 44% the last two years, but he puts so much of his contact on the ground that not much has come out of it.

Pinder’s fantasy value is likely to be more in AL-only leagues, although his multi-eligibility may make him relevant at some point in shallower formats when injuries inevitably start to happen. 

 

 

Outfielders

 

Ramon Laureano (OF)

2020: 27 R, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 2 SB, .213/.338/.366 | OF #65

2021 ADP: 143.7 (OF #41)

 

After emerging as a star-level player for the A’s back in 2019, Laureano did regress some in 2020. His defense was still stout, and he walked a lot more than previously, but his power dropped quite significantly. His slugging percentage dropped from .521 in 2019 to a paltry .366.

His barrel rate and maximum exit velocity are right in line with where they were in 2019, but the biggest culprit appears to be a big drop in hard-hit rate. By FanGraphs’ contact-quality measures, he dropped from hard-hit rates of almost exactly 40% in 2018 and 2019 down to just 32.8% last season, with a 17.2% soft-contact rate that was among the league’s highest. Add to that an increased rate of groundballs and pop-ups, and we have a pretty good explanation for his power outage last season.

It is difficult to fully understand what to make of this in such a short season, though. His projections seem to suggest that he’ll recover, but not to the level we saw in 2019, with a Depth Charts aggregate projection of .247/.325/.450 with 27 home runs. It makes sense for his slash line to drop from his previous highs, especially considering the ball should be less lively in 2021, but those projections are still quite encouraging. Throw in around ten stolen bases, and Laureano should be a valuable player.

That upside is what is keeping his ADP as high as it is, even after a down 2020. Drafting managers must evaluate Laureano between other late-round outfielders. Safer players such as Michael Brantley to AJ Pollock are being drafted in the same range, big power bats such as Jorge Soler and Franmil Reyes will be options as well, but Laureano may be the more complete player if everything is rolling. It’s up to the manager though to decide what they prefer. He’s more of a speculative pick than some of the other options but has the chance to pay off quite nicely. 

 

Mark Canha (OF)

2020: 32 R, 5 HR, 33 RBI, 4 SB, .246/.387/.408 | OF #43

2021 ADP: 254.0 (OF #72)

 

Like Laureano, Canha also regressed from his 2019 highs. His slugging dropped over 100 points to just .408 but he did remain productive overall due to his plate discipline being as strong as ever. With a 15.2% walk rate, Canha maintained his reputation from 2019 as an on-base machine.

For him to get back as an all-around fantasy contributor though, he’ll need to bounce back in the power department. On the surface, things still look good for Canha. His hard-hit rate is right in line with where it was in 2019, and he actually got more balls in the air compared to previous years, all while cutting down on his pop-up rate. These all look to be good signs, and don’t exactly line up with such a low slugging percentage.

Turns out, those more balls in the air weren’t hit all that well. He lost 13 feet of average fly balls distance from 2019 to 2020 as well as two miles-per-hour of average exit velocity on his fly balls and line-drives. A less lively ball definitely wouldn’t help his power comeback and the projections do see the power improving, but not to the 2019 level.

Canha should still be an important part of the Oakland lineup, which means he’ll get plenty of opportunities to both score and drive in runs. He should have low-20s home run power, which would make him a nice fantasy contributor. At his ADP, Canha is worthy of a pick. He should be a good, productive player, just not at his 2019 level. He’ll be much more valuable in OBP leagues as well.

 

 

Stephen Piscotty (OF)

2020: 17 R, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 4 SB, .226/.271/.358 | OF #63

2021 ADP: Undrafted (OF #121)

 

Piscotty likely isn’t the player that he was earlier in his career with the Cardinals or in 2018 with the A’s, but he is still decent. 2020 was his worst season yet, but that is probably not fully representative of who he is as a hitter. Strikeouts were a big part of his struggles last season, as he struck out a whopping 31% of the time in the shortened season. That is by far a career-high for him, beating his previous career-high by 10%. It is concerning, especially when you see that his chase rate was also up by 10%.

While his strikeout rate may be higher than his career 21.3% rate going forward, he probably shouldn’t be expected to keep striking out at a 31% rate in the future, so regression should be expected. It’s hard to work around such a high strikeout rate, but when Piscotty did make contact, things generally did go okay. His .362 wOBACON is not far off from his .370 mark from 2017-2019, and his xwOBACON of .386 is near-identical to his 2019 mark and better than the league average.

The strikeout issues need to be resolved though for him to get back to being the hitter he can be, and the ugly 2020 performance is keeping his ADP down. He likely won’t be drafted except for deep or AL-only leagues, but he could be a waiver wire gem later on in the year if the strikeout issues get resolved. 

 

 

Watch List Considerations

 

The A’s bench options are mostly inexperienced at the Major League level, with perhaps explains why they opted to bring in veterans such as Andrus or Moreland this offseason. Outfielder Seth Brown looked to be penciled into a starting spot before the Moreland signing, but he could be headed for AAA to start the season. He can be relevant later on in the year, especially if others start to struggle in the lineup. Rule 5 Draft pick Ka’ai Tom is an intriguing prospect, who has long had great minor league numbers but isn’t expected to do much in his first taste of Major League pitching. He figures to make some appearances, but without locked in playing time, at least at the moment, he won’t be a priority in drafts.

Elsewhere, Tony Kemp may be good for some stolen bases, but without everyday playing time right now, may not have much mainstream fantasy use. Vimael Manchin was a Rule 5 pick last year that was on the roster all season but now will likely spend 2021 getting more seasoning in the minors. Jed Lowrie is back on a minor league deal, but it’s been a while since he’s been on a field, and he’ll be 37 in April.

In the outfield, Skye Bolt has a great name but isn’t projected to be a major factor. The same is true for Buddy Reed, but he’s not likely to be on the Major League roster save for being an extreme depth option. Overall, there isn’t much here to consider for the watch list, but in typical A’s fashion, they’ll probably end up with someone coming out of nowhere and looking like a stud. Your guess is as good as mine as to who it’ll be, though. 

 

Starting Pitchers

 

Chris Bassitt (Locked In Starter)

2020: 5-2, 63.0 IP, 55 K, 2.29 ERA, 1.16 WHIP | SP #24

2021 ADP: 190.96 (P #69)

Repertoire: 38.2% Sinker, 23.0% Cutter, 16.5% Four-Seamer, 10.3% Changeup, 9.4% Curveball, 2.6% Slider

 

Bassitt has quietly been one of the more solid pitchers in baseball the last two years. He doesn’t do it in a flashy way, with a strikeout rate of just 21.1% last year, but he makes up for it with a good feel for the strike zone and the ability to allow weaker contact. Those command gains show up mostly in his walk rate, as he set a new career-high in that department with a 6.5% mark, which has been trending in the right direction the last few years.

Bassitt is probably not good for a 2.29 ERA over a whole season, as there are some indicators that suggest some regression. First, his strand rate last season was 85.6%, which was fourth-best in baseball. Some movement back toward his career 75.8% should be expected, but that’s not the be-all, end-all.

Additionally, his HR/FB% should be expected to come back down to earth. Home runs were his biggest weakness back in 2019, and his improvement in that department in 2020 was most likely largely due to his home ballpark in Oakland. Namely, Bassitt did not allow a single home run at home last year. He should allow fewer home runs in a pitcher-friendly environment in Oakland, however, he should still give up a few homers in that ballpark. Additionally, with full travel to other divisions expected for 2021, Bassitt will get to tour some more hitter-friendly environments outside of the two western divisions, so he should allow more homers almost by default.

That’s not to say that Bassitt will bad next year. He should still be quite good, but definitely just not at the same 2.29 ERA mark that he ended up with in 2020. The projections expect an ERA somewhere around 4.30, which will definitely be quite good and useful at his current ADP. Combine with what should be a good amount of wins, and due to his stellar command and ability to generate weak contact, Bassitt’s WHIP should be strong as well. Bassitt has been underrated and undervalued in fantasy drafts. At his current ADP, he should be a very nice option for some fortunate fantasy managers that are able to draft him.

 

Frankie Montas (Locked In Starter)

2020: 3-5, 53.0 IP, 60 K, 5.60 ERA, 1.51 WHIP | SP #156 

2021 ADP: 155.60 (P #55)

Repertoire: 38.1% Sinker, 25.1% Slider, 24.0% Four-Seamer, 12.9% Splitter

 

Montas had really gotten our attention in 2019 with a stellar season before a PED suspension was handed down on him, which ended his season. Some were skeptical about who the real Montas was coming into the following season, but he came out of the gate strong in 2020 with a 1.57 ERA in his first four starts, as he looked to be picking up right where he left off.

Then things got worse. He struggled immensely afterward, with an 8.70 ERA in his final seven starts. He dealt with some injuries last year, specifically back and neck, which likely had an impact on his performance. It’s fair to chalk some of his weakened 5.60 ERA up to those lingering injuries.

When looking at his stuff, Montas did continue to display the skills that made him so intriguing prior to last season. He was still striking out a good amount of hitters and ran an 11.7% swinging-strike rate, nearly identical to 2019. He also didn’t lose command while injured, as he landed slightly more pitches in the zone on a rate basis than in 2019, as well as more first-pitch strikes. He should be able to maintain his strong K:BB ratio in the future, especially as he continues to recover from his injuries.

Montas is, without a doubt, a good pitcher. We still have yet to see a full season’s workload from him, and we may not see it this year as teams are going to be cautious with innings totals. But with the innings that he does get, Montas should be productive. Expect an ERA around four with a good helping of strikeouts. At his current ADP of around pick 150, that is a profile that will be hard to turn down.

 

Jesus Luzardo (Locked In Starter)

2020: 3-2, 59.0 IP, 59 K, 4.12 ERA, 1.27 WHIP | SP #86

2021 ADP: 101.33 (P #37)

Repertoire: 30.5% Four-Seamer, 24.8% Changeup, 23.5% Curveball, 21.2% Sinker

 

The former top prospect has made just nine starts at the big league level, but he should finally get a locked-in spot in the rotation this season. Initially working out of the bullpen last year, Luzardo was more good than great, but he still oozes potential that will make him quite the fantasy target.

In 2020, Luzardo didn’t quite display the elite strikeout rate that he did in his minor league career, at just 23.8%, but that should trend higher with experience. He didn’t have an issue with allowing too many walks either, which is arguably just as important for a young pitcher, if not more so. His walk rate from last year at 6.9% was right in line with where it was during his brief 2019 Major League debut as well as his 31 inning stint in AAA that same season.

Repertoire-wise, Luzaardo is mostly fastball-changeup, while he also features a curveball. Both the fastball and changeup have excellent movement compared to their peers. Specifically, they have good horizontal movement or break, and with good breaking action on both the fastball and changeup, they should pair well together and fool a lot of hitters, especially if he locates them well.

The downside about Luzardo this year is that there are just so many question marks about how much he will actually pitch. He hadn’t thrown many innings as a professional even pre-COVID, and he’s thrown just 114 innings in the last two years across all levels. Workload management is likely with Luzardo. 150 innings may be the cap, and all of those innings may not come as a starter, as the team may decide to utilize him as a reliever if he’s getting close to his innings cap.

This will have an impact on his fantasy value. Consider that there are more certain innings being drafted in the same range as Luzardo in veterans such as Zack Grienke and Charlie Morton. Those two pitchers will not have many restrictions, if any at all, and should be workhorses throughout the entire season. Luzardo has more upside than both of them, but he still may not end up accumulating more fantasy value than the other two just due to the number of innings.

Roster construction will be key if rostering Luzardo. If you get to pick 100 and already have two or three quality starting pitchers, Luzardo should be a good option to bank on upside and quality innings. However, if you get to this spot in the draft with just one starter, certainty in a Grienke or Morton may be more necessary. Overall, there is no doubting Luzardo’s upside and potential. He should be a quality starting pitcher, but just with a lot of uncertainty about just how much he’ll pitch this year.

 

Sean Manaea (Locked In Starter)

2020: 4-3, 54.0 IP, 45 K, 4.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP | SP #79

2021 ADP: 245.19 (P #92)

Repertoire: 54.3% Sinker, 28.0% Changeup, 14.0% Curveball, 3.7% Slider 

 

Manaea had a good 2020 season, as he moves further away from the shoulder injury that kept him out at the end of 2018 and most of 2019. He doesn’t have the most exciting profile as a pitcher as he relies more on control and command rather than strikeouts, but Manaea has made it work throughout his career, and has been a solid starting pitcher since his debut back in 2016.

His profile potentially will leave him overlooked in fantasy drafts. What he lacks in strikeouts and flamethrowing ability he makes up for with stellar control. His walk rate was just 3.6% last season, a rate that was one of the best in the league. To go with that, Manaea is also an extreme groundball pitcher, and 2020 was his best season yet in that regard, with a groundball rate allowed of 50.6%.

Baseball Savant’s pitch tracking suggests that he was throwing a sinker last season as opposed to a four-seamer that was the primary pitch in prior seasons. It may have just been a case of pitch reclassification, but it does make sense that a sinker would allow more grounders. He compliments the sinker with a changeup which is his best whiff pitch and also the pitch that hitters have the least success with in terms of both batting average and slugging against. The changeup works well with his sinker, due to its outstanding level of drop. It lands in the bottom of the zone very often , and actually generated a higher rate of groundballs than his sinker did in 2020.

Manaea definitely isn’t the flashiest pitcher, but he should still be quite a productive one. His ADP of around pick 245 is probably too low at the moment, although there are still some questions, like the other Oakland pitchers, about just how many innings he will pitch. As a veteran, the team should probably lean on him a bit more, but we just don’t know how the lingering effects of the shoulder injury may affect his innings count. Still, he should have an ERA in the low fours, with good control, which should pay off handsomely considering the relatively low draft cost.

 

Mike Fiers (Possible Starter

2020: 6-3, 59.0 IP, 37 K, 4.58 ERA, 1.37 WHIP | SP #90

2021 ADP: Undrafted

Repertoire: 31.6% Four-Seamer, 28.6% Slider, 16.0% Changeup, 12.2% Curveball, 11.6% Sinker

 

The A’s did bring Fiers back into the fold as a free agent this winter, and he should be the team’s fifth starter out the gate. Fiers has been a reliable starter for most of his career, but now at age 35, there are signs of decline.

While Fiers is not a pitcher that relies on velocity, it is still concerning to see that his fastball velocity dipped to 88 miles-per-hour on average last season after averaging 90.4 miles-per-hour the previous season. That velocity dip is likely correlated to his strikeout and swinging-strike rates reaching new career-lows at 14.4% and 6.1%, respectively. He also allowed groundballs at a much lower rate, with his groundball rate declining from 40.3% in 2019 to 36.0% in 2020. All these things together likely explain the drop-off in performance last season.

It is certainly possible that Fiers is just a placeholder for the team in the fifth starter spot. The A’s have three young pitchers in Grant Holmes, Daulton Jefferies, and James Kaprielian that could use some more time in AAA to make up for last season, and one of them theoretically should be able to take Fiers’ spot in the rotation at some point in the season. Even if Fiers was guaranteed 30 starts in 2021, he still wouldn’t be very fantasy relevant. He’ll likely go undrafted in standard leagues, and will probably not get much consideration on the waiver wire except for maybe a favorable stream or two throughout the season.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

They were mentioned as potential Fiers replacements, but the trio of Holmes, Jefferies, and Kaprielian are pretty much Major League ready but could use some more seasoning in the minors. All three are on the 40-man roster and should be on the shortlist for replacements in case of injuries elsewhere in the rotation. Jefferies is probably the most well-regarded pitcher of the three, as he was the team’s fifth-best prospect by FanGraphs coming into the 2020 season, and without minor league games, probably remains that way coming into this season. He has had injury issues as well though, so he may not get pushed too hard. 

AJ Puk is also a pitcher to watch. The former top prospect has also dealt with a medley of injuries over the years including his latest, shoulder surgery in September that has his status for the beginning of the season in question. Reports suggest that he’ll be ready for spring training, but he’s a big question mark as to what his innings or role may be. He’s yet to make a Major League start, so it is possible that he starts the year in the bullpen, but for now, it’s probably a wait-and-see situation or a late-round dart throw for Puk. The talent is definitely still intriguing, though.

 

Relief Pitchers

 

Bullpen Roles

 

Trevor Rosenthal (Closer)

2020: 11 SV, 1 HLD, 23.2 IP, 38 K, 1.90 ERA, 0.85 WHIP | RP #5

2021 ADP: 177.88 (P #64)

 

A late signing for the A’s, Rosenthal signed a one-year contract reportedly worth $11 million. That’s quite a hefty bill for a team such as Oakland, so the expectation should be that he was brought in to be the closer for the team. That sounds a wise decision considering how great he was in 2020, as he rebuilt his career following Tommy John surgery and a disastrous 2019 split between the Nationals and the Tigers. He had to settle with the Royals on a minor-league deal in 2020, but he made the team and was excellent, pitching to a 3.29 ERA in 13.2 innings before being traded to San Diego at the deadline for legitimate prospects. Once in San Diego, he didn’t give up a run for the entirety of his time there, as he pitched ten scoreless innings in a high leverage role to close out the season.

Walks were the big issue for Rosenthal in 2019, but he seemed to get those issues under control in 2020, with a walk rate of 8.8%, a number right in line with his days in St. Louis. His fastball velocity has remained constant through both the surgery and struggles and sits around 98 miles-per-hour, and he features a slider with great movement that earns a good amount of whiffs. It’s easy to see what made Rosenthal so intriguing on the open market, as he looks more and more like the pitcher he was as a Cardinal. However, there is still risk here as we are just talking about 23.2 innings in 2020. The projections don’t quite know what to make of it either. They seem to agree that the strikeouts will still be solid, but the walk rate will regress and that Rosenthal should have an ERA around four. That risk may keep his ADP low, at least low relative to other relievers with a locked-in closer role, but if he out-produces his projections, Rosenthal should remain one of the more valuable relievers in fantasy this season.

 

Jake Diekman (Next in Line)

2020: 0 SV, 13 HLD, 21.1 IP, 31 K, 0.42 ERA, 0.94 WHIP | RP #32 

2021 ADP: 360.54 (P #134)

 

With Liam Hendriks departing the team via free agency, it looked like Diekman was going to be the frontrunner for the closer job. With the signing of Rosenthal though, that looks to be dead, at least for the moment.

Diekman has been around for a while and has good seasons in the past, but nothing quite like his dominant 2020 season. The super-low 0.42 ERA is definitely not going to stick, and his 96.9% strand rate is a big reason why, but Diekman’s repertoire is legit. His fastball has long had good movement, but in 2020, his slider took a step forward. He added around eight inches of break to the pitch in 2020 compared to 2019. With two great pitches with movement, Diekman set a new career-high in swinging-strike rate at 17.3% and saw a huge jump in strikeouts, all the way up to 36.9%, good enough to rank in the 96th percentile.

The early draft market didn’t seem to be valuing Diekman much before the Rosenthal signing, and isn’t likely to rebound anytime soon, considering that he won’t be projected for as many saves. Rosenthal is still a risky player, as mentioned in his profile, so Diekman could still get a handful of saves or be moved into the closer’s role outright should Rosenthal struggle, so he should be a name to keep an eye on, but for right now, he’s more of a holds candidate.

 

Sergio Romo (Holds Option)

2020: 5 SV, 10 HLD, 20.0 IP, 23 K, 4.05 ERA, 1.15 WHIP | RP #70

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

The A’s brought in the veteran Romo as a free agent to hopefully provide some stability after losing the dominant Hendriks. He’ll be 38-years-old on Opening Day, but he’s still a solid reliever, and is returning to the Bay Area after many good years on the other side in San Francisco.

With a fastball clocking in at around 85 miles-per-hour, Romo is a flamethrower by any means. He makes it work though with excellent secondary offerings: the slider and changeup. The slider is the better of the two, with a usage rate of over 60% last season, and by far Romo’s go-to pitch. His slider has had whiff rates over 30% essentially for his entire career and is a good source of strikeouts. His changeup also gets whiffs and strikeouts but is used almost exclusively against left-handed hitters, which he doesn’t face many of, thus explaining the low overall usage rate. The pitch, like his slider, has delightful movement-both vertical and horizontal-and is a good option to try and quiet lefty bats. The good secondary offerings help shadow his poor fastball, but the pitch has historically been his hardest-hit, as hitters tend to a lot of damage to it when they get to see one. That’s allowed Romo to have elevated home run per fly ball rates over the years, although he is going to call a pitcher-friendly park his home this season, so it may not cause him too much trouble this year.

Overall, Romo will likely be the main set-up option and the next man up for the closer role, which means he’ll have fantasy interest just by default, it just won’t be during drafts. If something should happen to Diekman, Romo will quickly get pounced off the waiver wire, so keep tabs on him.

 

Lou Trivino (Holds Option)

2020: 0 SV, 0 HLD, 23.1 IP, 26 K, 3.86 ERA, 1.11 WHIP | RP #149

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

The departure of Hendriks isn’t the only loss in the Oakland bullpen. The departure of another veteran, Joakim Soria, will have a trickle-down effect for the rest of the bullpen. A pitcher like Trivino will be bumped up to a higher leverage role. He didn’t record a single hold last season, but should accumulate a good amount of them this year just by default and moving up a peg in the bullpen hierarchy.

In a lower leverage role in 2020, Trivino did improve upon his 2019 woes, by improving in both walks and strikeouts. His walk rate had a more modest improvement down to just below 11%, but the bump in strikeouts to 28% is more encouraging. Nothing changed much in his repertoire, as his pitches still moved similarly in 2020 as they did in 2019, so better results on batted-balls allowed and a higher, more closer-to-average strand rate seem to be the biggest factors in his ERA coming back down to a better level. Fantasy managers should expect a similar season in terms of ERA from Trivino, but now with more holds opportunities, he should be more fantasy relevant than in past seasons.

 

J.B. Wendelken (Holds Option)

2020: 0 SV, 2 HLD, 25.0 IP, 31 K, 1.80 ERA, 1.12 WHIP | RP #71

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

Wendelken should also be in a higher leverage role this season after being more middle-relief for the team in prior years. He recorded two holds last year in 21 outings, but that total should rise, especially after the good season he had in 2020. The 1.08 ERA maybe won’t stick, but the strikeout gains from 26% in 2019 to 29.2% in 2020 look legitimate.

His pitches have great movement, both the vertical and horizontal type, and he altered his pitch mix in 2020 to feature his slider as his main secondary pitch. Hitters did a lot of whiffing on his slider (33.3%) and didn’t do much damage on it when they actually did put it in play. His fastball didn’t get whiffs at the same level, but hitters also struggled to do much damage to them.

In addition to strikeout gains, Wendelken also generated groundballs at the highest rate of his career at 46%. Wendelken is definitely trending in the right direction and could be one of the most important arms in the bullpen for the A’s this season. For fantasy purposes, he’s a deep option at best right now, but keep tabs on him should he move up the pecking order.

 

Yusmeiro Petit (Middle Relief)

2020: 0 SV, 7 HLD, 21.2 IP, 17 K, 1.66 ERA, 1.11 WHIP | RP #74

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

The A’s and Petit reunited late in the offseason and for Petit, he should return to his role of bridging the gap to the late-innings by providing his usual, solid consistency. Similar to fellow vet Romo, Petit is not a flamethrower, as his average fastball velocity is just 88 miles-per-hour. Unlike Romo though, he doesn’t get a very high rate of strikeouts. His 19.3% strikeout rate last season was his lowest since 2016. His stats from last year should be expected to regress as well, mainly due to a strand rater that was actually a perfect 100%, something that is definitely not going to stick.

Expect some overall regression from Petit in 2021, but he should still be a serviceable, yet unspectacular reliever. His fantasy impact is likely to be extremely limited. He likely won’t be the first option should something happen to Diekman or Romo, so he won’t accrue many, if any, saves. While he was once a top option for the A’s for holds, he may have been passed over in the pecking order for other options such as Trivino or Wendelken. This likely leaves Petit as a pure middle-relief option. He may get a few holds, but probably not on a consistent enough basis for him to be rostered on many fantasy teams.

 

Jordan Weems (Middle Relief)

2020: 0 SV, 0 HLD, 14.0 IP, 18 K, 3.21 ERA, 1.21 WHIP | RP #168

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

Weems was a good story last season for the A’s, as the long-time Red Sox farmhand was signed to a minor league deal before making his long-awaited Major League debut at the age of 27. He did quite well in his limited 14-inning sample, with a 3.21 ERA and encouraging peripherals to back it up. His strikeout rate was 31%, although he did struggle with command with a 12.1% walk rate.

His changeup was the best pitch in his repertoire, with a .091 batting average against and a whopping 61.9% whiff rate. That definitely shouldn’t be expected to stick with more innings in the future, but a plus changeup with a good slider to go with it (35.7% whiff rate last season), should give him a good foundation to be a successful middle reliever.

The projections are low on Weems due to a small Major League track record and shaky command. That means for fantasy reasons, he won’t have much interest at all on draft day, but he could be an extremely deep league option for a handful of holds.

 

Adam Kolarek (Middle Relief)

2020: 1 SV, 3 HLD, 19.0 IP, 13 K, 0.95 ERA, 0.79 WHIP | RP #33

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

Coming over from the Dodgers in the Sheldon Nuese trade, Kolarek was never all that high up in the pecking order with so many bigger names in the same bullpen. He could end up a high leverage role for the A’s at some point this season should the other names struggle, but for now, Kolarek should be penciled into a middle relief role.

He’s a groundball specialist rather than a flamethrower, as he has a career groundball rate of 63%, with a sinker that he threw nearly 80% of the time in 2020. His 0.95 ERA from last season is definitely inflated due to a .185 BABIP and 95.6% strand rate. His ERA should regress to somewhere around the mid three’s. A good pitcher’s park and a defense full of great gloves is theoretically a good environment for him, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising to see him outperform his peripherals, as he has done previously in his career.

For fantasy purposes, Kolarek is not likely to be in a high-leverage role, and he may only pick up a small helping of holds, which makes him less fantasy-relevant, but he could end up being more should other names struggle ahead of him.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

In terms of other names in the bullpen, Nik Turley, Burch Smith, and Paul Blackburn are other middle-relief options but all three are unlikely to make much of a fantasy impact. Dany Jimenez is a Rule 5 draft pick who has had good strikeout rates in the minor leagues going back 2017, so he could find a role in the bullpen, but there’s no reason to consider him for fantasy purposes right now.

What was said about the A’s young pitchers in Holmes, Jefferies, Kaprielian, and Puk in the starting pitcher section could all be applied to them in the bullpen as well. The A’s may decide to use them out of the bullpen at times to better limit their innings, and one of them could end up in a high-leverage role. For fantasy purposes, the A’s top three pitchers in the bullpen are definitely going to be the most relevant. Some guys may pop-up throughout the season and end up playing a role, but for now, there are still a lot of question marks.

 

2020 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Design by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)

Matt Wallach

Matt studied accounting at UAlbany, is a Yankee fan, and writes for Pitcher List and Rotoballer where he can work with even more numbers to analyze baseball players, which is a lot more fun.

  • Avatar Informedfan says:

    How do you do an article like this and not even mention AJ Puk?

    • Avatar Scott Chu says:

      While I’m excited about Puk and think he has a bright future, it’s hard to envision more than 60-70 innings for him in 2021. He’s coming off of shoulder surgery and will start the year in the pen. Assuming he stays healthy, he could be an interesting play in various spot starts.

      He did make it into Nick’s rankings, and you might find a little more to go on there but Puk is more of a guy to watch for 2022 for fantasy purposes.

  • Account / Login
    >