At 30-16 and with the best record in baseball, the Oakland Athletics are continuing to prove skeptics wrong. They don’t have a true star on the roster, don’t possess a veteran ace and their biggest offseason acquisition has been stripped of his closer job in lieu of a former minor league position player. They play in a run-down and sewage-filled stadium and have a payroll the same as the three-highest paid Los Angeles Dodgers players combined.
It’s the Moneyball way that has Oakland atop MLB standings more than a quarter of the way through the season. But how good is Bob Melvin’s squad? Well, let’s take a look.
Oakland’s .255 team batting average ranks 11th in baseball. It currently has only two regular starters, Derek Norris (.343) and Brandon Moss (.301), hitting over the .300 mark. Four hitters with a minimum of 100 at-bats are batting under .250. All this is an indication that the Athletics aren’t to proficient offensively, right? Well, that’s just on the surface.
The Athletics have walked a total of 205 times in 46 games for an average 4.5 times per game. That’s by far the highest total in baseball. They currently have six players with a .350-plus on-base percentage and five players with at least 20 walks. This is, as I indicated before, the Moneyball way.
Moss leads the way with 40 RBI’s and is on pace for a whopping 141 about one quarter of the way through the season. Moss’ 10 homers also rank first on the team. Josh Donaldson is tied with moss at 10 homers and has knocked in 35 runs. These are numbers that have been foreign to the A’s since they became consistent contenders in the American League three years ago. In fact, you have to go back to the days of Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi and even Frank Thomas to find similar individual offensive numbers.
Overall, Oakland is averaging a whopping 11 base runners per game this season. That’s an incrdible mark for a team that is batting just .255 through 46 games. It’s the combination of situational hitting and patience at the plate that has helped Oakland’s offense get off to such a hot start.
Oakland’s starting pitchers have combined for a 20-8 record with a 2.88 ERA, both statistics rank in the top five of the majors. In addition to that, the Athletics’ rotation has tallied a MLB-best .218 batting average against and has given up a league low 88 earned runs in 46 games. To put this into perspective, an average outing for a starter in Oakland is: six innings, 1.9 earned runs, 4.9 hits, five strikeouts and less than two walks.
Sonny Gray leads A’s starters in nearly every major statistical category, including wins (five), innings pitched (60) and ERA (2.10). As a former top prospect and someone who went toe-to-toe with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in the playoffs last season, this wasn’t unexpected. However, it is the success of other starters in a rotation that is without Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin for the season that has been surprising.
Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez have combined to go 9-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 18 starts. Each have put up six quality starts and boast a WHIP under 1.10 on the season. No current A’s starter boasts an ERA over 3.99 on the season. Even former top-five pick Drew Pomeranz, who is with his third organization, has been light’s out. The youngster hasn’t given up a run in three starts this season. If the A’s continue to get this type of domination from the rotation, they’re going to be nearly unbeatable as the season progresses.
If there is a weakness on this A’s team, it has to be the bullpen. They acquired 2013 MLB saves leader Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason. From the outset, Johnson has struggled big time this season. In fact, he has given up as many earned runs as Sonny Grazy and Scott Kazmir in just 18 innings pitched this season. Those 14 earned runs represent over 10 percent of the total Oakland has yielded in 2014. That’s simply ridiculous.
Since Johnson’s terrible start, the A’s have been going to a revolving door at the closer spot, but recently pegged Sean Doolittle to take over that role full time. The former minor league hitter has tallied a 3.13 ERA in 22 appearances this year. The amazing statistic here is that Doolittle has tallied 32 strikeouts compared to just one walk on the season. If you take away a disastrous late-April performance that saw Doolittle yield four runs without retiring a single batter against the Houston Astros, he has given up four earned runs in 23 innings this year.
Overall, the A’s bullpen still ranks fourth in baseball with a 2.76 ERA and first with a .213 batting average against. A lot of that has to do with stellar pitching from the likes of Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero, Fernando Abad and Ryan Cook. Just imagine how good this unit will be if Johnson gets back to 2013 form.
Oakland’s run differential is double that of the second-best team in baseball in that category (Colorado Rockies). To put that into perspective, Oakland’s average margin of victory this season is 2.2 runs per game. That’s utterly ridiculous.
Bob Melvin’s squad has scored the second-most runs in baseball while yielding the fewest runs in MLB. That’s the definition of utter domination. It has shutout opponents six times on the season, while putting up 10-plus runs eight times. Oakland boasts a ridiculous 18-6 record on the road this season and is outscoring its opponents 145-76 in those 24 games. That’s an average score of about 6-3 per game.
The A’s have won 11 of their last 12 games and are outscoring their opponents 77-20 during that span. While some may indicate that the A’s are just in the midst of a hot stretch, they have been downright dominating nearly all season long. A few hiccups here and there aside, Melvin’s squad is performing like the best in baseball. Can this team that possesses a bunch of no-names continue to take baseball by storm as we enter the summer months? If recent history shows us anything, there is no reason to doubt them.
Photo: Kim Klement, USA Today