Team Profile – Oakland Athletics
By this point, I’m sure most people have seen the movie Moneyball. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, and he becomes the first manager to really embrace sabermetrics when it came to putting together a winning team with the Athletics. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, sabermetrics are all those stats that people often overlook; stats that can often be better indicators of a player’s performance than just his wins or losses. For hitters, that includes stats like how they hit with runners in scoring position, or their value over a replacement player. For pitchers, it’s a stat like walks and hits per inning pitched. Paying attention to more than just the RBIs or ERA helped Oakland put together a championship caliber team, and sabermetrics are a big part of how the game of baseball is played today.
Unfortunately, Oakland has slipped a little bit since those glory days. The team made it all the way to the ALCS in 2006, but that was the last of the winning days. Since then, Oakland has struggled to rise above third in the division. This season is no different, as both the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels are jockeying for first place, leaving the Athletics and Mariners without a place in the division race. While they’re not necessarily out at only eight games behind, it’s going to take a lot of good luck and hard work to get back in the race.
After 2011, Oakland decided that the best thing it could do was restock by trading away top starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, as well as former Rookie of the Year closer Andrew Bailey. In their places, the A’s brought in rookies Jarrod Parker (acquired for Cahill from Arizona) and Tommy Milone (acquired for Gonzalez from Washington). Bringing in two rookies to replace two proven veterans might not be the smartest move in the book, but the pieces obtained from both trades make sure that the Athletics have a well-stocked system that can help them compete in the future.
The current rotation includes Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and Travis Blackley. Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey both had their shots, but a lot of earned runs in 13 combined starts took both of them off the active roster, giving Blackley his shot as a starter. McCarthy and Parker have been very solid at the top of the rotation, with ERAs under 3.00 and WHIPs near 1.25. Colon and Milone are getting all the run support, though, with six wins apiece, despite having ERAs well over 4.00. It’s a rotation that’s sorely lacking in experience, but as a whole isn’t pitching too poorly.
The Oakland offense has five guys at the top with batting averages that could be strung together for a decent number of wins … if it could be done consistently. But, if they could all be strung together with enough regularity to win more games, then the averages would be much higher. Right now Brandon Moss holds the top spot at .300, with Collin Cowgill, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick sitting around .275. Despite only having an okay average, Reddick is probably the best player on this team right now. He’s a legitimate power threat, with 15 home runs, yet he has some significant speed, with six stolen bases and four triples.
From top to bottom, the offense has been below average. Some guys have picked things up a little bit (including Brandon Inge, who went from hitting .100 for the season with the Tigers all the way up to .252 now that he’s had a change of scenery), but for the most part this offense is riddled with average players with only one true threat, who can be pitched around without much fear.
The Oakland bullpen is riddled with inconsistencies and injuries. However a good many of the pieces are pitching very well. Ryan Cook has an ERA and WHIP under 1.00 in 26 outings. Jim Miller and Jerry Blevins both have sparkling numbers as well. After sacrificing Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox, Oakland has had some closer troubles this season. Both Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour have had their fair share of save opportunities. Both have done well (Balfour – 7/9, Fuentes – 5/8), and Balfour has definitely stepped into the role well with a 3.03 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.
This bullpen hasn’t been bad, by any means. They’ve suffered from some inconsistency from time to time, but most of the inconsistent players are no longer on the active roster, or currently injured. With five pitchers on the 40-man roster also currently on the Disabled List, the top of the reliever list is finally performing at a winning level. But, due to the hit-or-miss nature of the starters this season, and the lack of run support by the offense, the bullpen is coming into losing games, barely able to hold things where they are and give the offense the slightest chance to come back and win.
Keys to Success
The Athletics are close to .500, but they play in a division with two top-tier teams in the sport. The likelihood of outshining both before season’s end is an almost nonexistent probability, especially with the kind of year Josh Hamilton is having in Arlington. If they’re going to find any sort of success, they’ll need to find an offensive threat near the trade deadline. With the year he’s having, some protection for Reddick would be great. But unless they’re willing to trade the farm, no player who’s actually having the kind of year necessary to put the A’s back in a position to succeed will be traded away. So it’s really up to the current offense to put some things together. With the way the bullpen has been pitching as of late, all they need is to come into a game with a lead, and the odds are high that they’ll easily hold onto it. People always ask, “Which would you rather have: Great pitching, or great hitting?” The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter which one you’d rather have, because unless you can put together a little bit of both, you’ll never be a team that’s anything other than a middle-of-the-pack nonfactor.
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