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5 Statcast storylines for '17 Athletics

March 31, 2017

As the 2017 season begins, so does the third season of Statcast™, the state-of-the-art technology that has tracked every play in every Major League ballpark since Opening Day 2015. And with two full seasons of data now collected, plus advances in applying that data, Statcast™ is better than ever. New

As the 2017 season begins, so does the third season of Statcast™, the state-of-the-art technology that has tracked every play in every Major League ballpark since Opening Day 2015. And with two full seasons of data now collected, plus advances in applying that data, Statcast™ is better than ever. New metrics, such as Catch Probability and Hit Probability, will provide a deeper layer of analysis and further our understanding of the game.
With that in mind, here are five Statcast™ storylines to know about the Athletics heading into the 2017 season.
1. Solid wood
Khris Davis broke out for 42 home runs (tied for third in the American League) and an .831 OPS (his best over three full Major League seasons), and it's easy to understand why when looking at the quality of Davis' contact. Davis tallied 65 barrels -- balls whose combination of exit velocity and launch angle give them a minimum .500 expected batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage -- last season, the fourth-highest total in the Majors.
Better yet, however, was that Davis became the game's most efficient slugger by knocking a barrel in 18.2 percent of his batted balls in play.

Most barrels among Major League hitters in 2016

  1. Jose Cabrera: 72
  2. Nelson Cruz: 68
  3. Mark Trumbo: 67
  4. Khris Davis: 65
  5. David Ortiz: 62
    Highest percentage of barrels per batted ball in play in 2016 (minimum 200 balls in play)
  6. Khris Davis: 18.1 percent
  7. Nelson Cruz: 17.9 percent
  8. Chris Carter: 17.8 percent
    2. Gray skies over the Bay
    The A's fortunes have typically gone the way of Sonny Gray's fortunes, and both had a season to forget in 2016. The right-hander's arm troubles last season may have hindered his command of his four-seam fastball, which he left up in the zone far more often than he did in 2015. Meanwhile, Gray induced less of the weakest-contact plays from opposing hitters, as they "topped" the ball for grounders and hit "under" it for weak fly balls less against Gray in 2016 than in '15.

2015
Pitches in upper two-thirds of strike zone: 29 percent
Barrels/pitches: 4.5 percent
"Topped" rate: 43.1 percent
"Under" rate: 23.0 percent
2016
Pitches in upper two-thirds of strike zone: 34.4 percent
Barrels/pitches: 6.3 percent
"Topped" rate: 41.8 percent
"Under" rate: 17.2 percent
3. Rising to the challenge
Stephen Vogt saw only one pitch in 2016 with a perceived velocity (or how fast a pitch appears to the hitter) of 100 mph or higher, but he made the most of the challenge. On Aug. 7, Vogt was thrown an 0-2 fastball from then-Cubs closer Albertin Chapman with a perceived velocity of 104.5 mph. The A's catcher met Chapman's pitch on the outer half and smacked it to the opposite field, giving Vogt the third-hardest pitch by perceived velocity to be turned into a hit in the Statcast™ Era (2015-present).
Highest perceived-velocity pitches hit for hits in 2015-16

  1. 105.6 mph: Xander Bogaerts (from Carter Capps on July 7, 2015)
  2. 105.4 mph: Francisco Cervelli (fom Aroldis Chapman on Aug. 31, 2016)
  3. 104.5 mph: Stephen Vogt (from Aroldis Chapman on Aug. 7, 2016)
    4. Tantalizing stuff
    Conventional thinking says successful pitchers are able to get hitters to swing so they can generate strikeouts and use the defense behind them. As a rookie, Sean Manaea executed that philosophy as well as anyone in 2016. The southpaw got opposing hitters to swing at 52 percent of his pitches last season, the highest rate of any starter who threw at least 2,000 pitches.
    Manaea not only got hitters to take the bat off their shoulders; he also got them to chase. Among pitchers who threw at least 1,000 pitches outside the zone, Manaea ranked 12th in swinging strike rate.

Highest swing rate among Major League pitchers in 2016 (minimum 2,000 total pitches)

  1. Sean Manaea: 52.0 percent
  2. Matthew Shoemaker: 51.8 percent
  3. Clayton Kershaw: 51.8 percent
  4. Max Scherzer: 51.8 percent
  5. Danny Duffy: 51.5 percent
    Highest whiff rate on pitches outside the zone in 2016 (minimum 1,000 pitches)
  6. Michael Pineda: 17.9 percent
  7. Clayton Kershaw: 17.6 percent
  8. Noah Syndergaard: 17.2 percent
  9. Sean Manaea: 14.4 percent
    5. Losing the arms race
    Oakland struggled in many defensive categories last season, but its biggest shortcomings may have been on throws from the outfield. The A's ranked at the very bottom of the Majors in terms of average arm strength on "competitive throws" -- throws at or above players' 90th percentiles.
    Bottom five outfields on "competitive throws" in mph by a team in 2016
  10. Oakland Athletics: 83.3 mph
  11. San Francisco Giants: 84.0 mph
  12. Philadelphia Phillies: 86.0 mph
  13. San Diego Padres: 86.3 mph
  14. Arizona Diamondbacks: 87.1 mph
    Bottom five projected outfields on "competitive throws" in mph by a team (based on pre-Opening Day '17 rosters)
  15. Oakland Athletics: 82.6 mph
  16. San Francisco Giants: 84.3 mph
  17. Kansas City Royals: 86.2 mph
  18. New York Yankees: 86.6 mph
  19. San Diego Padres: 86.6 mph
    Bottom five outfield arms on "competitive throws" in 2016 (minimum 10 tracked throws)
  20. Khris Davis: 72.1 mph
  21. Coco Crisp: 77.7 mph
  22. Chris Young: 79.5 mph
  23. Denard Span: 79.7 mph
  24. Delino DeShields: 81.1 mph

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.