The Oakland Athletics, and their GM Billy Beane, could be considered one of the biggest reasons that there are hundreds of blogs like this one on the internet right now. They're all about the hunt to find big production where there is perceived low value. While other clubs may have caught up to Oakland's "moneyball-ness" in recent seasons, it doesn't mean that Oakland can't unearth more gems as they try to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2006. This year, One2Watch4 could be Ryan Sweeney.
Sweeney is a hulking 6-foot-4 player who has been a regular starting outfielder for Oakland each of the last two seasons. Well, more hulking in stature than production. Of the 71 outfielders with 900+ PA over the last two seasons, Sweeney ranks 64th in slug pct and 66th in isolated power behind such non-sluggers like Denard Span and Jacoby Ellsbury. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Sweeney’s OPS+ the last two seasons have been 99 and 100. That’s as average as you can get.
So why keep even keep this guy around? If he’s so average, why not just give one of you minor leaguers a shot in the bigs? Turns out, Sweeney is really good at some other things besides pure power.
Despite not having the natural ability to power balls out of stadiums, Sweeney consistently finds a way to get on base. Fangraphs.com shows that Sweeney is above average at making contact and his line-drive percentage has been on the rise as a major leaguer. His OBP has consistently hovered around .350 over the last two seasons in an A’s uniform, and those are key characteristics of a money “Moneyball player”.
After returning from the DL from a sprained knee on June 18 last season, Sweeney’s splits were .324/.371/.464. Impressively, he got even better as the season went on without the benefit of Matt Holliday in the lineup after July 23. In 57 Holliday-less game, he had an .866 OPS and was entrusted with the 3-spot in the batting order down the stretch as Oakland went 35-33 in that span.
And because of his defensive prowess, Sweeney will get plenty of chances to stay in the lineup. According to data compiled by Baseball Info Solutions, Sweeney rated not far behind Ichiro Suzuki defensively among right fielders. That sampling is based on only 600 innings worth of data (Sweeney also rated among the outfield Web Gem leaders in 2009), and thus bears watching to see if he's legitimately of that caliber.
Sweeney won’t be the sexiest name you see when perusing box scores this season, but he’ll be one to keep an eye on as Oakland tries to get back to winning a majority of its baseball games.