TDG’S TRIPLE PLAY: OAKLAND ATHLETICS!
The Triple Play is back for a third season! This regular feature is broken down by staff writers Bob Osgood and Paul Monte and a rotating panel of third writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure! Follow Bob (@BobOsgood15), Paul (@3cardmonte13) and Joe Drake (@JDrake349) on twitter and read their analysis here at the site!
Pitcher: A.J. Puk, Age: 25, Position: LHP
Analysis by: Joe Drake
At the time of this writing, Puk has been placed on the IL with a shoulder strain and headed to see Dr. Neal ElAttrache for further evaluation. The report came back Tuesday that Puk received PRP and a cortisone shot (likely to reduce inflammation) and will miss at least a few weeks. This is the second time this season he’s been hampered by the shoulder, which is concerning.
Okay, back to our previously scheduled programming.
Field of Dreams to the Coliseum
Four years ago, Andrew Jacob Puk, aka A.J., was selected 6th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics. The towering southpaw from Iowa had just completed his third straight dominant campaign at this little school in northeast Florida called… the University of Florida. You’ve heard of it? Oh, good. You don’t need me to explain that SEC baseball is the cream of the crop when it comes to amateur baseball then. Puk was impressive as a freshman, splitting time between starting and the bullpen, but he was unleashed as a full-time starter his sophomore year and never looked back. He racked up 251 strikeouts in 194 innings of work during his college career with a 3.39 ERA and helped lead the Gators to back to back College World Series appearances.
Not only did Puk have the track record at the premier level, but he had the look and the tools of a top of the draft player, too. A.J.’s frame stretches upward 6’7” from the ground and he weighs a healthy 230 or so pounds. You could say that he’s an imposing figure when he toes the rubber. Combine the massive frame with some long hair, and a blazing fastball/slider combination that’s launched from his left hand, and you don’t have to squint to see where the Randy Johnson comparisons come from. And yes, every commentator that sees Puk for the first time makes the “Big Unit” reference like clockwork.
New Big Unit Needs a Tune-Up
Fast forward a few years and our buddy A.J. was climbing the minor league ladder, mowing down professional hitters who dared stand in his way, when tragedy struck. Puk, who looked like he’d just unlocked a new level in 2018 spring camp with the A’s, tore his UCL. Obviously, this has become so common among professional pitchers that Tommy John Surgery is almost a rite of passage (which is insane, if you sit down and think about it), but it’s not something you ever want to see. After grinding through the grueling rehab process (you should read Jeff Passan’s The Arm for an idea of what that’s really like), Puk returned to the field and eventually made his major league debut at the end of 2019, pitching out of the Oakland’s bullpen. Poised to join the rotation in 2020, Puk’s time is now.
I know most of this writeup has essentially been a biography on Mr. Puk, but I promise I have a point. Assuming that his recent shoulder injury is not serious, I’m very much in on A.J. Puk for dynasty leagues (in redraft for 2020, I would drop him now). He checks off so many of the boxes we look for in a prototypical starter. He’s got the size (6’7”, 235lbs), the firepower (sits mid-90s with life), the secondaries (biting slider, solid change, and the curve made a comeback), a simple and repeatable delivery, and the pedigree (dominated SEC, 6th overall pick). Between missing all of 2018 and pitching in very short stints in 2019, plus the emergence of Jesus Luzardo, I think that Puk has been overshadowed recently and lost in the shuffle — but not for me. I’m still excited about A.J.
When he’s on, Puk blowing the fastball by hitters up in the zone and burying the slider in the right-handed batter’s box. He challenges guys with the fastball and gets whiffs with the combination of velocity and life. It’s a little bit of ride with a good bit of arm-side run. He can put hitters away with it by climbing ladder or painting the corner by playing it off his slider. The slider works as an out pitch too, getting guys to swing over it as it snaps under barrels. The change and curve both appear passable as 3rd/4th pitches right now, but he didn’t use them much when working out of the pen in 2019, so it wasn’t a huge sample. Ultimately, when you put it all together, I think that A.J. Puk still has the potential to be a front of the rotation starter. Probably not an ace, unless the command takes an unexpected step forward, but a very good pitcher.
Hitter: Khris Davis, Age: 32, Position: DH
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
Not Crash Davis
Happy Opening Day, kids! As we enter month number 10 of looking at the same leaderboards, Statcast pages, and articles about the same sleepers, I have convinced myself positively and negatively of every player in the league at this point. Except for Pablo Sandoval.
One player who has not had a lot of helium in this draft season is Khris Davis. As I referenced with Luke Voit two weeks ago, beware of the overreaction to the otherwise healthy player, with a one-time injury. Especially, if said injury brings that player’s average draft position down over 100 spots from the previous year. Even more so, when said player was going in the top-50 of the previous year’s draft, it’s probably worth a deeper dive.
Looking at last season alone, as a whole, there aren’t a ton of areas where Davis sticks out. His average and OBP were deplorable, his home runs were cut by more than half despite playing 133 games, and he didn’t play enough games in the outfield to qualify outside of DH heading into 2020. In 2019, he sat in the 60th to 70th percentile in Barrel %, Hard Hit %, and Exit Velocity, which isn’t all that bad but doesn’t scream “bounce back candidate”. A hip contusion and a pitch that hit Davis on the hand are injuries that surely sapped Davis’s power in 2019, which have now had a full year to heal.
Davis gets so much notoriety for the impossible .247 average in four consecutive seasons. But should he get more buzz for the 40/100 in three straight seasons, as well? A man with this power can be had with the 175th overall pick in July redraft leagues. Although it may seem like a distant memory at this time, Davis had Statcast on his side to support his power breakouts from 2016-2018. In fact, there was barely anyone better. Working backward:
In 2018, when it came to Barrels (per plate appearance and batted ball event), the list went: 1) Joey Gallo 2) Khris Davis. The Expected Slugging % of .564 beat the actual of .549. Davis’s 48 HRs may not seem that outrageous after the juice we saw from the baseball last year until you realize that only three hitters in all of baseball even reached the 40 HR plateau (J.D. Martinez 43, Gallo 40), along with 123 RBI that was second in MLB, only to Martinez’s 130.
In 2017, the 43 HR and 110 RBI were backed by the fourth-best Barrel Rate (17.7%) the third-best Hard Hit (51.5%), and the 5th best Exit Velocity (92.2 mph).
2016? 42 HR, 102 RBI, top four in both Barrel rates. Looking at the 2016 Barrels by Plate Appearance gives the most wonderful company of true designated mashers that this generation has seen.
Davis’s season is explainable, starting with the hip injury on May 21. There is obviously the concern that fundamental changes made to the swing to account for those injuries need to be expunged from the system, which explains a bit of the drop in value, but Davis was on pace for 39 HRs and 94 RBI at the time of his injury, along with, wait for it … a .247 average.
I believe that Davis will finish the season as a top-100 player this season while knowing that I only need to reach around pick 150 to snag him. In dynasty, at the age of 32, he has plummeted down lists but I would still put him in my top 150. He may not be the guy that you “build around” on a dynasty team, but I wonder how contending teams have felt about Nelson Cruz clogging up that DH spot throughout the second half of his thirties. If you can afford the BA/OBP loss, I highly recommend floating a top 250 player/prospect who has some helium right now at Davis’ owner if your Utility spot is open. Having played 116 games in the outfield as recently as 2017, Davis has almost exclusively been the DH for two seasons now which I expect to be the case for the rest of his career, helping with wear-and-tear. Enjoy the 40 HRs for a couple of more years, or maybe eight years if he goes on the Nelson Cruz Diet.
Prospect: Daulton Jefferies, Age: 25, Position: RHP, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Paul Monte
Pinch your nose
What’s more exciting than a pitcher who pitched a total of 20.1 innings in his first three years as a pro? That’s where I’m going today. Most of us have our favorite teams, the team we follow closer than any other and because of that, we develop some biases. As a life-long Oakland A’s fan I tend to track their prospects closely, it’s a huge advantage in dynasty to know who the Yankees will be signing/trading for in 5 years. There are two very good pitching prospects in the A’s system, one of them you just read about above. The other is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. It’s easy to see why a 24-year-old with a total of 99.1 innings in his pro career is overlooked.
Daulton Jefferies was drafted in the 39th round out of high school in 2013 but opted to go to school at Cal instead and the A’s drafted him 3 years later in the first round as the 37th overall pick. On the shorter side of the pitcher height chart, Jefferies relied on his command to limit batters in his college career. He was expected to be the type of pitcher that could move through the system quickly once his innings were built up. He was able to get seven innings in before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017 and his recovery was a long one as he only logged two Arizona Rookie League innings in 2018 as a 23-year-old. The A’s were not ready to give up on their former first-round pick and Jefferies responded with a great 2019. After starting the season in High A where he dominated, he was promoted to Double-A Midland where he continued to find success. The numbers, on paper, were very good. 79 innings pitched across two levels, 93 strikeouts and just 9 walks with a 3.42 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.
Was it a mirage?
If you just looked at those numbers, you would not get the full picture. The A’s used an interesting tactic with Jefferies to help protect his arm and allow him to rebuild his stamina. They kept him on a standard every five days schedule but did not allow him to pitch more than 3.2 innings in any of those appearances. He was used in a tandem with another starter, rotating between relieving and starting. There are two ways to look at this. First, his numbers are likely inflated. He did not have to turn over the lineup the third time, and if he pitched well enough, some guys didn’t even get a second look at him. He was able to treat every outing as a reliever would, knowing he didn’t have to pace himself to throw 100 pitches over 6 innings. On the other hand, he is uniquely equipped to be used in the 2020 shortened season. Many pitchers will not be going 6 innings this season as the stoppage due to Covid-19 has left many pitchers behind in the season prep. The shortened summer camp will mean more four innings appearances and a long reliever to bridge the gap to get to the late-inning pitchers.
Jefferies ended spring training in March with a biceps pull and was optioned to Triple-A. He was recently added to the 60-man roster for the 2020 season and I fully expect to see him in the bullpen at some point this year if he is healthy. Long-term, I still like his chances to start. He will need to build up innings this year, which will be difficult under the circumstances. He is worth rostering in deep leagues and any head to head points leagues. As an A’s fan, I can dream that Jefferies will pair up with Luzardo and Puk and give the A’s the next “Big 3” to match up with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito 20 years ago.
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