MLB Handicapping: Examining the Oakland Athletics Success
by Trevor Whenham - 7/3/2014
Maybe there is something to this whole moneyball thing after all. The Oakland Athletics have lost their last three games, yet they are still comfortably not just atop their division or league, but they have the best record in all of baseball. We have become used to success from this team - they have been in the playoffs each of the last two years. They have lost to the Tigers each of the last two years, though, and have not seemed like they have underachieved in doing so. This year, though, they are operating on a whole new level.
So, is this a sustainable level of performance for this team? Are they really the best team in the American League? Or are they going to come back to earth in the second half of the season? Here are six factors to consider:
Pitching: When you look at this team on paper you really don't expect to see the numbers that they have put up. They are tops in opposing batting average, second in ERA and fifth in quality starts. Pitching has been a big part of the equation so far. There are a couple of issues, though. First, the rotation has been weakening as the season has progressed. The first reaction when you look at the rotation is that they have overachieved, and as the season progresses it seems like they are realizing who they really are. I mean, when Scott Kazmir is your biggest name in the rotation you have some real concerns. Kazmir hasn't been healthy for a whole season since 2007, so he is going to be running into some new territory soon. Jesse Chavez and Sonny Gray have never been through a whole season, so they are walking new ground, too. Drew Pomeranz is hurt, and their depth is being exposed. This is a hard rotation to trust, and it just doesn't seem like there is enough payroll flexibility to do anything about it down the stretch. For no other reason than this it's hard to believe that the A's will finish atop the standings.
Bats: The team is first in runs scored and second in on base percentage, so there is a lot to like about how the team is performing. There is plenty of balance, too, as many share the load - which makes them more immune to slumps than a star-dependent squad. If there is a concern, though, it's at second base. They are fine defensively in the middle, but the platoon of Sogard and Punto have been a disaster at the plate. The team really needs to upgrade the position, and there are plenty of choices that could really help and should be available - if the team is serious about winning and willing to spend a little cash. Improvement from this position is going to be a key.
Management: Bob Melvin took over the team in the middle of June, 2011. That means that he is in the midst of his third full season. He has made the playoffs in each of the first two full years, and he was Manager of the Year in 2012. He is a strong manager, and he is obviously an excellent fit for the personnel on this team. Perhaps the best thing he does is to use platoons more aggressively and creatively than any other manager. It wouldn't work in a lot of spots, but it sure works here.
Division: It's hard to believe given the way things had gone for so long, but the AL West in the best division in baseball right now. If the season ended today the A's would be the top seed, and the Angels and Mariners would be the two wild cards. It is quite possible given how things have turned out that they could have three playoff teams by the end of the season, too. Playing a tough division obviously makes success a little harder for a team, but that is balanced somewhat by playing an underwhelming Texas team and a terrible Houston one.
Experience: It would be a lot harder to trust this team if they hadn't been a playoff team the last two years. The pitching is an obvious concern, but they know how to win when it matters, and it's not like they have had world-class rotations the last two years. Given the lead they have over the pack, their depth and their experience, it is hard to imagine that they won't at least be a wild card team.
Betting performance: The A's are one of only three teams in the league that have been profitable all season on the moneyline both at home and on the road. The other two are Milwaukee and, shockingly, the Twins. Only the Brewers and the Mariners have been more profitable overall on the moneyline, and thanks to their offensive strength they are also the third-most-profitable team on the runline. They have gone "over" the total 42 times in 80 tries, so they are essentially a break-even proposition
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