Saturday night, I had the pleasure of catching the Oakland A’s take on the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore’s Camden Yards. In addition to being a beautiful night, the first we’ve had on the East Coast in more than a week, and one of baseball’s best ballparks – if you haven’t been, go, its awesome- game 2 of Saturday’s day/night double header was a crisp and enjoyable game to watch.
Ubaldo Jimenez tossed 8 solid innings in his first start in forever and Chris Davis launched a mammoth 2 run shot to help Baltimore notch a 5-2 win and earn a doubleheader split after Oakland took game one. But in watching the A’s, I couldn’t help think there was something missing. Sure, it was game 2 of the day but most of Oakland’s starters were playing and the lineup lacked any sort of fearsomeness or hint that it might be capable of competing in the AL West.
Of course, the A’s aren’t a bad team, but it doesn’t feel like it’s a team capable of being a good team either. Watching them meekly go down against a pitcher with an ERA north of 5 and a fastball topping out at 91 inspired me to go back and look at the numbers.
Right now, Oakland is 14-17, 4.5 games behind Seattle for 1st in the West. They have a -16 run differential, good for 4th worst in the AL and are currently 10th in the AL in runs, 10th in batting average, and dead last in on base percentage.
That last number really jumps out at you. Billy Beane‘s Moneyball approach to constructing a team has always emphasized on base percentage, even at the expense of everything else. To see him with a roster that gets on base slightly more than 29% of the time is jarring.
Looking at the A’s starting lineup, it’s clear that the roster is built more for balance and depth than around one or two key pieces. Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick are clearly the team’s two best hitters, Lowrie is hitting .315 with a .356 OBP and Reddick is now batting .301 with a .355 OBP and 4 homers. Ideally though, those guys are complimentary pieces, not the main event. Lowrie has no homers this season and is usually a single digit home run guy, his value comes from a high average at a premium defensive position. Reddick is a power threat but not the kind of guy you’d intentionally walk in a big spot and seems best suited as a 5 or 6 hitter. Its’s also likely his average will fall quite a bit before all is said and done.
Beane, I think, knows this, and the plan in Oakland was never really to build a lineup around those two guys. Instead, the A’s are supposed to have a deep lineup, solid but not spectacular from 1-9. It just hasn’t worked. The team’s home run leader is Marcus Semien, an offense first shortstop who has 8 bombs and a .216 average. Stephen Voght, Billy Burns, Yonder Alonso, and Chris Coghlan are all under producing and Billy Butler, who never really seemed to fit with what the A’s were trying to do, has been a disaster, posting a sub -.200 average despite making more than 11 million dollars this season.
Thing is, even if all those guys were playing to their career norms, they don’t exactly form a murder’s row.
Moreover, there isn’t really a breakout candidate among the group. Semien is 25 and Burns is 26, but they are the youngest starters. Everyone else is in their late 20’s or early 30’s and pretty much are what they are at this point. Without impact prospects coming up, the A’s are looking at a below average offense all year long.
The AL west is tough. The Mariners are in first, but the Rangers might be the best team. Texas has a lineup built around Adrian Beltre, Rougned Odor, and now Nomar Mazara as well. High priced duds Prince Fielder and Shin Soo Choo are at least contributing something and Joey Gallo is waiting in the wings (currently the AAA DL wing) to add some pop at some point too. Both Seattle and Texas will be around all summer. Moreover, the Houston Astros might have the most talent in the division. They’ve struggled since last July but Carlos Correa and company are sort of the sleeping giant of the AL West, ready to roar to life at a moment’s notice/ as soon as they figure it out.
The A’s, it should be noted, are known for defying expectations, especially mine, and beating out opponents who might be better on paper. But that seems really, really unlikely with this group. These A’s seem prime for rebuild, they need an influx of talent and, more importantly, a new look because this Josh Phegley- Mark Canha version isn’t going to cut it.
Rumor has had the A’s fielding offers on Ace Sonny Gray for some time. They should trade him. They should also trade Rich Hill because he probably has a lot of value right now. Maybe they can trade them together and target a young, near big league ready, middle of the order bat. Gray and Hill would look nice in Boston’s rotation in exchange for one of their myriad position player prospects. Maybe Rusney Castillo and Blake Swihart? Maybe the A’s could get Aaron Judge from the Yankees for two high caliber big league starters. Maybe Marcel Ozuna from the Marlins if they feel they can go for it in the NL East. Maybe the aforementioned Joey Gallo from Texas.
Whatever the trade is, the A’s should make it. The lineup they have in place is well balanced, it’s just at an all together lower level than many of the other ones in baseball, especially in their own division. Fivethirtyeight gives Oakland a 15% chance to make the playoffs, and they’ve proven me wrong before. But their other projection from Fangraphs, a 76-87 final record, seems much more likely.