Oakland A's Offense Parties Like It's 1899
by Robert Ferringo - 6/14/2007
Sometimes it's as if the Oakland Athletics are playing a different sport. It's like baseball, only slower. And more subtle. And more boring. And with much less scoring. It's as if they're a group of re-enactors, like the high school history teacher and the local antique spoon dealer that get together on Saturday's to dress up like bigoted soldiers and relive the Civil War. Only instead of The Battle of Elkin's Ferry it's as if the A's are recreating what baseball was like in 1899.
That Oakland is a little timid with the timber is no new revelation. Call it Small Ball, Billy Ball or Boring Ball. But the A's are consistently among the best teams in the league and one of the best bets in Major League Baseball. However, their true value may not be in the 85-95 wins that they seem to manage each season but instead in understanding how to play this team against the total.
As of Friday, Oakland was an incredible 22-39-3 against the total this season. And that's after they "erupted" for 17 runs in three games in Houston, sliding over the total in each of the three games played at Minute Maid Park. That's a 64 percent 'under' clip and anyone playing a dime on the A's against the total this season would have already raked somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000.
Score one (or 39) for futility.
But the question is whether or not this is a dependable trend that we can expect to continue for the rest of the season, or a passing fancy that will even out as the dog days set in. Oakland's 64 percent 'under' performance in their first 65 games is by far their most severe start to the season in the last decade. But even as one of the most reliable 'under' clubs in the league over the past two years they still only ended up at 55.2 percent. So will the A's continue to cash 'under' with UEFA soccer scores or should we look to fade them as Oakland's offense creeps towards the 21st century and the 'overs' balance out?
Oakland is consistently one of the weakest hitting teams in the league and they certainly haven't disappointed this year. Their 4.2 runs per game place them 24th in Major League Baseball and 12th in the American League. They are also second to last in the A.L. in batting, total bases, and doubles and clean-shaven starters. Just a hunch, but I'm going to guess that there are a few A's starters available on your fantasy baseball waiver wire.
We continue to dominate the diamond, posting our seventh profitable week in the eight that we've been handicapping. We're at +121 Units for the season, nearly halfway to our goal of +250 Units and $150,000 in profit. Hopefully this week we can take another step up the ladder. Here are some arenas where we may be casting our lot:
Nick Swisher is really the only thing resembling what baseball fans would refer to as a "hitter". That's because he's the only player with more than 110 at-bats that's hitting over .280, and his .287 average represents a Ruthian plateau for his teammates. The A's routinely field a lineup boasting five players batting .245 or less, including cleanup hitter Eric Chavez (.245).
Yet, despite their limp lumber, Oakland remains one of the more efficient offensive clubs in the league. Thanks to an average of four walks per game the A's are a respectable 14th in on-base percentage. They are also fourth in runs batted in with the runners in scoring position and two outs. And they must be doing something right: they're tied for the eighth in the league in wins, which tells me they can score when they need to.
Also, one of the big reasons for Oakland's slow offensive start is the fact that they're missing Mike Piazza and Milton Bradley. Those two key lineup cogs have combined for just 165 at-bats this season due because of various injuries. Bradley's been out with a strained calf and Piazza sprained his shoulder in early May. Further, Shannon Stewart has been nursing some nagging issues and may not be available this weekend.
Barring any more unforeseen healthy setbacks, Bradley, Piazza and the rest of the gang should be back in tip-top shape by the end of July. With those big bats supporting the rest of the A's patient, selective crew the A's could work their way up to the level of "acceptable" at the plate.
The second part of Oakland's 'under' equation has been their devastating pitching staff. No Hudson. No Mulder. No Zito. No problem. The A's pitching, supported by a home ballpark roughly the size of Greenland, has the No. 2 ERA in the Majors at 3.13 and is tops in quality starts (42). Further, Oakland has given up three runs or less in 33 of their 65 games this season while hurling seven shutouts.
Most non-roto nerds may not recognize the names Joe Blanton, Chad Gaudin and Joe Kennedy, but that crew is doing work as the next generation of Young Guns in the A's organization. There isn't a weak link amongst them, and with phenom Dan Haren spearheading the rotation I don't see their dazzling display of strike zone dominance coming to a close any time soon.
That being said, the A's are 7-22-4 against the total this year in McAfee Coliseum. From a basic statistical standpoint there's no way that they should continue at that unprecedented rate. Also, it's proven that temperature has a direct relationship with scoring; meaning that as the weather gets warmer the scoring should increase. Northern California is no exception. Finally, due to the unbalanced schedule the A's will be facing more divisional opponents in the second half of the year. As teams get a third, fourth or even fifth crack at Haren and the rest of the A's starters and relievers then they should be able to find ways to decipher their deliveries.
Oakland is always going to be a consistent 'under' team. However, as we saw in Houston, they are still susceptible to the whims of 'over' umpires. They'll also become much more potent offensively when they get some big boppers back in the lineup. And as the mercury rises and as teams become more familiar with Oakland pitching then the only logical conclusion is that more runs will be scored and more games will go 'over' the now deflated A's totals.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.