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September 14, 2005
Six Teams, Four Spots
In recent years, where September was all about the A's, Angels, Red Sox and Yankees, I've run four-team standings to reflect the race for three postseason berths in the AL. If MLB is going to reduce a division title to merely a playoff spot by instituting a wild card, I think the next logical step is to think of each league as one big pool from which four teams emerge, at least in the plurailty of years in which the layout of records allows. 2005 is one of those years:
White Sox 88-55 .615 -- Red Sox 84-60 .583 4.5 Indians 83-62 .572 6.0 Yankees 81-62 .566 7.0 Angels 81-63 .563 7.5 A's 80-64 .556 8.5Here's the way to think of the AL down the stretch: the top four teams in this list go on to the postseason, provided at least one team from each division is in the top four. If not, skip over #4 and take #5.
For those of you annoyed that I would list the White Sox…I don't care. The only thing saving them right now is regular doses of the Royals and Tigers. Since August 1, they're 7-1 against those two teams, 12-19 against everyone else. The Indians--probably the best team in the league right now--get six games against them starting with a three-game series at Jacobs Field next Monday. The White Sox haven't locked up anything yet.
The series of this week has also taken place in Cleveland, where the A's and Indians have reverted to the April versions of themselves, scoring sporadically and hitting tons of ground balls. The A's hit into five double plays last night, all in the last seven innings, all of which wiped out leadoff baserunners. They've been reduced to walking and hitting ground balls, a recipe for disaster for a team that has little to no speed.
The Indians took the game by being the team that finally remembered how to drive the ball, getting homers in the seventh and eighth innings to retain their slim edge on the Yankees and A's.
I still don't completely understand the A's offense. It's actually not among the league leaders in groundball/flyball ratio (tenth, at 1.14), which doesn't make sense when you watch a series of slow guys hit like Luis Castillo for two nights. However, they are fourth in the league in ground balls hit, a byproduct of being last in the league in strikeouts, and they lead the league in groundball double plays, the intersection of ground balls and being third in the league in runners put on first base (1B+BB+HBP) and third in DP opportunities, behind only the league's OBP monsters in New York and Boston.
The A's have, loosely speaking, become a science experiment. You know that traditionalist complaint about strikeouts, the one statheads have been trying to refute for years? The A's have essentially traded strikeouts for balls in play, and it's produced a team that hits into a million double plays. The idea may be to take the Angels' approach and add in some selectivity, but without the Angels' team speed or the power that the Yankees and Red Sox have, the A's offense sputters.
For this to work with the current roster, the A's have to hit for power, they have to drive the ball. With the OBP in place, the key numbers become slugging and isolated power, as is evident in the monthly stats:
OBP SLG ISO R/G April .314 .343 .102 3.71 May .325 .347 .102 4.15 June .356 .464 .173 5.48 July .347 .462 .176 5.96 August .325 .419 .161 5.04 September .310 .383 .132 3.92Compare May and August: the A's had .325 OBPs in both months, but when they drove the ball in August, they scored nearly an extra run a game. This may seem a bit obvious--we know that OBP and SLG correlate with run scoring--but I think it illustrates that a team with the A's profile, with their lack of speed and their low strikeout approach, needs those extra-base hits even more.
If I'm doing the correlations correctly, the edge isn't as great as I'm making it out to be. OBP correlates with run-scoring at .89, while SLG correlates at .94 and ISO at .92. I wonder if G/F ratio by month would be an interesting number to look at.
The A's can't change their roster or their approach at this point, but they may wish to consider changing their lineup. Jason Kendall is just killing this team. It's a pretty bad idea to hit the right-handed batter whose lost a step and who hits ground balls 62% of the time in the #2 hole. Kendall leads the AL in GIDPs, with 23, and with his .340 OBP (and .310 SLG), isn't exactly making up for it on those occasions where he doesn't make two outs. It doesn't matter who replaces him; there's simply no worse choice on the team than Kendall.
A couple of other notes from last night's action: