Inside Pitch: Making the most of A’s 93-loss season
Despite a second consecutive last-place finish, 2016 was far from a lost season for the Oakland Athletics.
En route to a 69-93 record — 26 games out of first place in the American League West — Oakland battled through a franchise-record 27 uses of the disabled list, leading to a franchise-high 14 different starting pitchers. Effects of the injuries go far beyond DL stints, however, as key A’s contributors missed games even without trips to the list.
In total, the Green and Gold lost more than 1,800 days to injuries — more than 11 seasons worth of games.
What certainly served as a hindrance to their season may prove to help in the A’s future development, as it provided a plethora of opportunity for players to step into the bright lights and shine. Here are the franchise’s stand-out performers of the season.
Most Valuable Player: Khris Davis
Davis (.247/.307/.524 2016 slash) became the first A’s swinger to reach the 100-RBI mark (102) since 2006 (Frank Thomas, 114). He was also the first Athletic to slug 40 home runs (42) since 2000 (Jason Giambi, 43).
All after batting .221 with three homers and nine RBIs in the season’s first month. His 23 second-half homers were second only to Brian Dozier (28).
“Khrush” enjoyed his biggest performance on the Oakland stage in an 8-5 win over the eventual AL West champion Texas Rangers on May 17. A night that finished with a Davis walk-off grand slam included a total of three bombs and six RBIs from the left fielder.
Moving forward, Davis looks to be a huge part of the A’s 2017 success. Eliminating the slow start, and the fizzled finish — .200 average in September — could find Davis in the league MVP discussion.
Cy Young: Kendall Graveman
Like Davis, who stepped up in the injury-induced absence of Danny Valencia, Graveman (10-11, 4.11 ERA) transitioned into a lead role seamlessly when Sonny Gray was placed on the DL on May 22. Beginning with his very next start (May 24), the Alabama native went 9-2 with a 3.62 ERA over his next 17 starts.
While he did finish his campaign going 0-3 in his final six starts, Graveman played a massive role in the A’s second-half rush that got the team to within seven games of the .500 mark.
Much like Davis, tightening up his April and September production would go a long way in 25-year-old Graveman’s emergence as an elite starter. What his 2016 performance did was put his name on the map for that type of growth.
Rookie of the Year: Ryon Healy (.305/.337/.524)
Healy was called up to the big leagues in the first series out of the All-Star break. His .305 average was highest among qualified (130-plus at-bats) American League rookies — fourth-highest among all rookies. He was also sixth among AL rookies in home runs (13) and eighth in both RBIs (37) and hits (82).
All despite playing just 72 games (No. 11).
The 24 year-old added solid defense at the hot corner — committing nine errors (.954 fielding percentage) — and a pair of 10-plus game hit streaks (14, 10), and showed a knack for clutch performances with a walk-off homer on July 23.
While Healy got it done in the field and batter’s box, Sean Manaea (7-9, 3.86 ERA) carried the load on the bump. The “Throwin’ Samoan” finished with the fifth-highest win total among AL rookie hurlers. His 124 strikeouts were not only a team high, they landed him on the No. 2 spot among first-year pitchers in the junior circuit.
Manaea was one of eight rookie pitchers to get their first win with the A’s, while Healy joined five teammates to collect their first hit in 2016. The 14 debuts offer a promising future for the franchise.
The power of Davis, emergence of Graveman and bright light offered by a massive unit of rookies give the A’s organization reason to be excited heading into the offseason. Now, the trick becomes peppering in some fresh faces, continuing the expert pattern of development shown so often in the past and building toward a healthy 2017.