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June 6, 2012

The Platoon Advantage

Oakland is Just Terrible (No Offense)

by Jason Wojciechowski

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
Me: They're at .213/.291/.336 overall
You: /faints

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:

Batter Year with the team TAv PA
Jemile Weeks 2 .244 223
Adam Rosales 3 .344 19
Cliff Pennington 5 .215 207
Anthony Recker 2 .177 37
Daric Barton 6 .240 126
Eric Sogard 3 .168 71
Kurt Suzuki 6 .191 176
Coco Crisp 3 .146 119
Michael Taylor 2 .168 16
Brandon Allen 2 .103 7

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:

March 28th to April 27th: .254/.349/.507, five homers in 83 PA
April 28th to June 3rd: .229/.245/.292, zero homers in 49 PA, three weeks lost to a hand injury

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.

The next five guys on Kevin Goldstein's off-season list are all pitchers. After that comes Derek Norris, Grant Green, Chris Carter, and Collin Cowgill.

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.

Jason Wojciechowski is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Yoenis Cespedes,  Josh Reddick,  Seth Smith

23 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Rick Lopez

But Cespedes will come around, right? RIGHT???

Jun 06, 2012 05:52 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

It does strike me as very unlikely that he's as bad as he was in May (plus a few days on either side of May), but I can't be objective about this.

Jun 06, 2012 09:59 AM
 
bdoyle978

Isn't Green a shortstop?

Jun 06, 2012 06:39 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Not anymore

Jun 06, 2012 07:53 AM
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

What Sam said. The A's moved him to the outfield last year. The hope is that he can play center.

Jun 06, 2012 09:52 AM
 
hessshaun

What's up with all the lines? Just curious, I wondered it the entire read, which I enjoyed thanks.

Jun 06, 2012 08:48 AM
rating: 0
 
yadenr

Also curious, is this a new BP format?

Jun 06, 2012 09:01 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

Thanks for the kind words.

Behind the scenes details! The lines are my fault. BP style seems to be a *** to separate sections, which I used when I was writing, but which Markdown apparently translates into horizontal rule tags. I didn't realize this, and I also didn't realize how goofy it would look.

Jun 06, 2012 09:57 AM
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Behind the scenes dialogue --

Wait that wasn't intentional? I liked it. I wouldn't do it for every piece, but in this case I didn't think it looked goofy at all.

Jun 06, 2012 10:12 AM
 
BP staff member Ian Miller
BP staff

+1. I like em and was already trying to figure out how to use them in my next thing!

Jun 06, 2012 10:20 AM
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I'm sorry I made fun of the A's on yesterday's Hit List.

Also, enjoyed that piece in a funeral dirge type of way. Hopefully Cespedes gets a face.

Also, BP should sell hats with giant white question marks on them.

Jun 06, 2012 09:37 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

You shouldn't make fun of the A's, whose offensive production will turn around now that they can start penciling early-season acquisition Brandon Inge into the lineup.

Jun 06, 2012 18:52 PM
rating: 3
 
pobothecat

Enjoyed this a lot, lines included. (Works, somehow.)

"Beaneball" has a new reader. Notify your advertisers.

Jun 06, 2012 10:30 AM
rating: 1
 
pobothecat

Jason --- quick A's question. If not Blackley, who? Are they waiting on Peacock? Any insights into this? Thanks.

Jun 06, 2012 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

Awesome, thanks! You have increased my readership by 11%.

In theory, Brad Peacock should be a better pitcher than Travis Blackley. For now, though, his numbers at AAA are fine, but hardly dominant enough to force a call-up. Some of that is in his hits allowed, which might be his pitching or it might be his defense or it might be bad luck. I haven't watched him, and I haven't talked to anyone who has, so maybe how he's actually pitching is a Kevin Goldstein question.

Anyway, I doubt the A's are in any rush with him. Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey were supposed to be stopgaps at the very least, and possibly legit rotation options, but they've worked out about as well as the A's offense.

Jun 06, 2012 10:46 AM
 
Nowhereman

Another question (from an A's fan!)--the A's haven't had much in the way of successful player development in a long while, despite all the losing and resulting better draft slots. All the good "young" players the A's have brought up in recent years have been guys they've traded for. At what point do the A's just fire their minor league development, scouting, and draft personnel. Beane's always had a good eye for trades (though the recent crop of prospects he traded for are all bombing badly with the exception of Millone), but no free agent (of any value) ever wants to sign with Oakland (except Willingham... oops). The team is therefore utterly dependent on the draft and easily snookered GM's like the guy who ran the KC Royals a decade ago. Given their utter failure to draft any decent players, isn't it time to re-evaluate?

Jun 06, 2012 19:24 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

...but no free agent (of any value) ever wants to sign with Oakland (except Cespedes... oops).

Jun 06, 2012 20:11 PM
rating: 1
 
lmarighi

And all they had to do was pay him a higher annual average value and give up two years of his service time to convince him that Oakland was great!

Jun 07, 2012 06:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Those problems aren't unique to Oakland. Consider Toronto with the deflated value of the dollar. I remember Gary Sheffield being upset about going to a team (Miami?) because he'd then have to pay sales tax. And some don't sign with the Cubs because they don't like day games (or because they suck). Heck, I think it's been argued that most free agents are overpaid.

Jun 07, 2012 15:30 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Er, income tax, not sales tax.

Jun 07, 2012 15:30 PM
rating: 0
 
Nowhereman

I'm not saying the problem is unique to Oakland, I'm saying it's a given, and wondering if they can't do better in the avenues they have more control over. Cespedes was given a very good deal, and wasn't a major league player prior to coming here, so he had no preconceptions about Oakland.

Jun 08, 2012 10:31 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I actually think the bigger problem with Oakland attracting free agent hitters has to do with how the ballpark degrades offensive value. On the flipside, it does allow Beane to flip his pitchers for more value.

Still, though Cespedes personally might not have had a bias for or against the A's but his agent should've been aware about how the Coliseum would affect Cespedes's offense.

Jun 08, 2012 13:52 PM
rating: 0
 
AWBenkert

I'll bet your
sentiments would be different today.

Nov 10, 2012 05:48 AM
rating: 1
 
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