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June 6, 2012
The Platoon Advantage
Oakland is Just Terrible (No Offense)
As an A's blogger, I've considered it a point of honor, my sacred duty, really, to avoid writing in this space about the Oaklands. At this point, though, even after a 12-1 whipping of the best team in baseball on Monday, a whipping that included Jarrod Parker carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning, the team is so bad that I feel compelled to put my misery on display.
As I write this, in the evening on Tuesday, June 5th, the team with the 11th pick in the ongoing draft sits at 24-31, the third-worst record in the American League and the sixth-worst in baseball. That's bad, but probably not bad enough to justify an essay on a general-interest website of this caliber about their badness. The Cubs still exist, after all.
But then you start digging in. You look at the team's run-differential (185 scored, 210 allowed) and you see a squad that "should" have a .444 winning percentage. That's actually a little bit better than their actual record, but it does push them down to fifth-worst, as the Royals (the Royals!) pass them by, escaping the bottom five.
The A's team audit page here at BP cracks me up every time I look at it. About halfway down the page, you see the smiling faces of the top three hitters and top three pitchers on the squad, ranked by BWARP and PWARP respectively. On the A's page, the six names are accompanied by five mugs wearing six hats. Each hat belongs to a different team.
Josh Reddick, the hero so far with his 14 homers, his .541 slugging percentage, and his 1.8 WARP, wears last year's Red Sox cap. Seth Smith, who hasn't hit for power or average, but who has walked like he was born to be an Athletic, wears a Rockies lid. Yoenis Cespedes looks like this:
(I'm counting that as one of the six hats.)
On the pitcher side, Bartolo Colon looks as jolly as any major-league player ever has, but he does so in Yankee pinstripes. Jarrod Parker has a goofy grin and Arizona's snake-styled D on his hat.
Only when you get all the way to the right side of the page do you find Brandon McCarthy with his 4.33 FRA in 64 innings, 0.5 WARP, and the hometown green and gold on his head. And McCarthy, if you read Nick Cafardo or have ever heard of Billy Beane, could well be pitching and tweeting in another uniform by the time August rolls around.
The thing you learn as an A's fan the last few years is that it can always get worse. So: tied for sixth-worst record in baseball, fifth-worst Pythagenpat record -- what next? How about the second-worst second-order record in baseball per our Adjusted Standings, a mark that uses the team's underlying offensive statistics rather than its actual runs scored.
The difference between the A's first-order and second-order records is an affront to right-thinking fans everywhere: they have, through some combination of timely hitting, luck, and sacrifices at the altar of Baseba'al, scored three and a half wins worth of runs more than they "should" have.
How do you get to a place where your team has scored 185 runs, third-fewest in baseball (not third-fewest in the American League -- third-fewest in baseball, as in: "fourteen teams that are forced to let a pitcher bat have scored more than runs than the A's"), and yet has outperformed the number of runs they ought to have scored?
Here's one way: they've hit .220/.324/.372 with runners in scoring position.
You: So? That sucks
The league does hit better with runners in scoring position than it does overall -- Baseball-Reference sees a difference in OPS+ of about 3 percent. The A's, though, by that same measure, are 22 percent better than their overall line with runners in scoring position. You can understand how a fluke like this would happen, of course: when your team bats .213/.291/.336, you just don't have that many runners in scoring position. Small samples ahoy!
Before we move on, everyone's favorite game:
The A's with runners in scoring position have basically the same batting line as Chris Denorfia. The A's overall slash line fits best with Ian Stewart. Denorfia is a bench player for the Padres, who are one of the two teams that have scored fewer runs than Oakland. Ian Stewart, I am sad to say, is a starter for the Cubs, who lead Oakland by just six runs.
Is there any hope for the A's in looking at their third-order standings, which are like the second-order standings, except adjusted for quality of competition?
Nope! They slip into dead last in baseball in third-order record, a smidge worse than the Twins. ("A smidge" is here defined to mean ".001 winning percentage points.") Their third-order record is actually the tiniest bit better than their second-order figure (0.4 wins better, in fact), but it's not enough to keep them out of the dank, disgusting, dangerous cellar. (The AL East has a nice cellar. The Blue Jays are down there drinking wine, having a nice time in the candle-light. The cellar the A's occupy is like the Cabin in the Woods cellar. You shouldn't go down there, and you shouldn't touch anything if you do. You'll probably die.)
Despite the constant shuffling of the A's roster, Oakland does actually have some players who wear green and gold in their profile photos. The problem is that all of those hitters are terrible:
Hooray for Adam Rosales, I guess?
Recker, Barton, Sogard, and Taylor are all currently playing in Sacramento. Allen was designated for assignment. Crisp might or might not be a bench player, with Collin Cowgill supplanting him in left field (and Yoenis Cespedes in center). Weeks and Pennington's jobs are safe, and Suzuki's probably is, too, though at least there, Derek Norris is creeping up.
Before the A's weird offensive explosion against the Rangers on Monday night, they were slugging .329. The last team in baseball to slug .329 or worse was the 1986 St. Louis Cardinals. That team had, the year earlier, lost a seven-game World Series to the Royals, so they were surely just suffering from a malaise brought on by the heartbreak of finishing so close to the championship.
The A's ... well, we'll need a whole different narrative for them. Something about how the constant losing for the last five years has infected the A's who have been around the team the most, how only the fresh blood can muster enough energy to actually perform like major-league ballplayers.
On April 28th, I had a piece at ESPN's SweetSpot blog about Yoenis Cespedes, how awesome he was, and how much fun A's fans were having watching him. Well:
I'm sorry. In more ways than you can know.
I would like to write a prescription for all of this awfulness. Demand that the A's call up their hot Triple-A prospect, unblock a blocked bench player, trade a pitching surplus for a real hitter, release the Kraken, something. I can't do it, though.
They already traded their pitching surplus this winter, sending Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso to Colorado for Seth Smith, who is second on the team in TAv among guys with more PA than Adam Rosales, and shipping out their closer, Andrew Bailey (bad teams don't need closers), for the aforementioned Josh Reddick.
Their best prospect is Michael Choice, who is (a) an outfielder (the A's are already solid in the outfield); (b) playing in AA for the first time as a 22-year-old; and (c) not exactly ripping it up, with a .263/.350/.359 line that doesn't scream "call me now, I am your savior!" He's still a good prospect, of course, but he's not going to pull the A's out of the basement.
Cowgill is already on the team and hitting for so little power that even his decent .338 OBP doesn't result in a good True Average. Carter plays so little defense that the A's are apparently happy with Kila Ka'aihue at first. Grant Green is another outfielder, and one with a .318 OBP to boot. Derek Norris ... well, Derek Norris might be the catcher sooner rather than later, but benching Kurt Suzuki would be tough, and trading him will be well nigh impossible if he keeps his .191 TAv.
No, the Kraken isn't coming. These A's just have to hit better.
Not that it really matters whether they hit better or not. Even if everyone regresses to what PECOTA thinks they're capable of, which involves a whole lot more regression upward than downward, their playoff odds as of this writing stand at 0.4 percent, up from 0.0 percent before Monday's game. The A's, 12-1 wins over the Rangers and near no-hitters thrown by phenom starters aside, are well and truly done.