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October 10, 2001

Behind the Green Door

The A's Offense

by Keith Law

One criticism levied against the A's this year is that they are somehow too dependent on home runs. There are two reasons to scorn this pointless argument. One is that it's essentially a last-gasp defense of batting average: The A's have a poor team batting average, and we all know that's bad, like pollution and spoiled milk and Limp Bizkit, so therefore they must be too dependent on the things they are doing. But a better reason to drop this argument like a bad habit is that it's false.

The A's do, indeed, score plenty of runs on the long ball--but that's only part of the story. The A's offense is structured more around the base on balls than anything else, because of an organizational belief that having men on base is the most effective way to score runs. It's not revolutionary or even unusual; the Mariners and Padres also followed the Tao of Ted and racked up the runs by drawing walks--even, in the Padres' case, without much power to speak of.

So when the A's don't homer, they still fare well by putting men on base. And when the A's do homer, they fare well because they tend to have men on base already. Don't believe me? Look at the numbers:


HR   Majors    A's

0      3.08   3.15
1      4.56   4.85
2      6.09   7.15
3      7.40   9.14
4      9.57  10.38
5     10.83    n/a
6      9.00    n/a
7     13.00    n/a

To read: When hitting zero homers in a game, the average major-league team in 2001 scored an average of 3.08 runs, while Oakland scored an average of 3.15 runs.

Note that the A's scored more in every scenario, even when failing to homer at all. If you wanted an indictment of team batting average as a useful measure of offensive performance, this is it. The A's finished ninth in the league in batting average, just .004 ahead of the 12th-place Tigers, and still finished fourth in the league in runs, scoring more runs than the average AL team when failing to hit a home run.

If you read this site regularly, you know that walks matter. This is just another nail in batting average's coffin.

Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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