The Oakland Athletics are on the home stretch towards baseball season and a lot of fans are pretty excited by what they’ve seen during spring training this year. The team that traded away all of their offense has a run differential of 36 and have scored 155 runs, second to the Dodgers in both categories.
While these stats don’t necessarily equate to success (if they lose 5 by 1 run and win one by 10, they’d have a positive DIFF with a losing record) and the narrative is eerily reminiscent of 2014’s first half, it is a good indication that this team isn’t going to get mowed over night after night during the regular season.
Among American League teams in both spring training leagues, the Athletics fall right in the middle in terms of home runs (23) but rank first in total runs due, in part, to a healthy amount of extra base hits. During spring training the Athletics are hitting for extra bases in 8.9% of their at bats which is an improvement over their 2014 spring training which saw them go for extra in just 6.7% of their at bats.
It is very possible that this team will match their 2014 home run total this spring, needing only six to tie, but at this point in the season their HR% sits at 2.4% compared to 2.5% from 2014. That is a very small percentage considering the “elite” hitting Billy Beane traded away in Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes.
Unfortunately, as is often the case for the Oakland Athletics, the strike out rate is a bit high. In 2015 they are striking out in 21.3% of their at bats which is a shade higher than their 2014 percentage of 20.6. Their 2014 BB% of 11.6% has also dropped to 8.5% which indicates that plate discipline could be a major area of focused improvement in the first few weeks of the regular season.
While the comparison to 2014 is inevitable and warranted, it must also be considered that these stats can be quite misleading. Spring training hitters face pitchers that are far from “big league ready” and who will never see a game in the majors this year. Further, the elite pitchers are trying out new pitches and making adjustments that, sometimes, don’t work in their favor and are easily capitalized on by hitters. Couple all of that with the fact that some guys will swing at everything just to get their rhythm and plate approach back and you’ve got some very crazy numbers.
One area of concern for me that the stats do support needs work is in base stealing. With Coco Crisp, Craig Gentry, Sam Fuld, Billy Burns (who leads the league in hits), and Brett Lawrie all having above average speed, I’d hope to see more “small ball” attempts at manufacturing runs this year, especially considering the lack of home run power in the lineup. Instead what we’re seeing is a 57% success rate (down from 76.9% in 2014) on fewer attempts. The team that leads in hitting should be able to steal more bases than that.
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On the defensive side, the amount of stolen bases that have happened against the Oakland Athletics has gone from .730 to .680 which is a marked improvement and a number the team needs to focus on lowering throughout the season. The team’s error percentage has gone from 1.0 in 2014 to .678 in 2015 which is another indication that Beane made serious upgrades in the infield.
While it may be meaningless to seriously look at pitching stats during spring training, it is worth noting that the ERA for the team has dropped 0.72 since 2014 and the home runs allowed by Oakland Athletics have dropped to 8.5% from 2014’s 15.1%.
Having the most wins in spring training means very little when every team resets next weekend but there is so much to be hopeful for with this team. As someone on Twitter pointed out, I apologize for not remembering who, the team may have lost two 25+ home run hitters but they now have five or six 15+ home run hitters (and a couple who could easily crack the 25 mark) so, in that department, we should not worry.
In terms of fielding defense, particularly in the middle infield, things seem to be shaping up just fine and the team overall looks to be much improved defensively. With that defense working behind a pitching staff that looks to be incredibly strong and very deep, the Athletics may not need an abundance of home runs to get the job done this year.
There are areas of weakness that must be addressed before they are capitalized on in a do or die game next season (remember how we lost the wild card?) but some small tweaks could make this team a quiet juggernaut. Fans must restrain themselves from getting too excited by the spring training stats but any fan who had completely discounted this team in 2015 should seriously reconsider their predictions.