What if the Oakland Athletics’ were 57-50?
Imagine how this season would look if the Oakland Athletics’ had a record that was seven games over .500. Hypothetically, they would be in second place in the AL West, locked into a pennant race battle. Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir and Tyler Clippard would all still be with the team, and fans wouldn’t be scouring the Internet for news of prospects who won’t make an impact for two to three seasons.
Here’s something to think about: according to baseball stats guru Bill James, the A’s should be in just that situation.
Pythagorean winning percentage sounds like a complex math formula, but it’s fairly simple. James developed the formula himself, and Baseball-Reference.com uses a modified version, but it’s basically this:
"(Runs Scored)^1.83(Runs Scored)^1.83 + (Runs Allowed)^1.83"
Don’t be intimidated by the math – the answer is simple. Based on the runs the A’s have given up (410 runs) and the runs they’ve scored themselves (441 runs), the 2015 Oakland Athletics are far better than their record. In fact, they’re 57-50, according to this formula.
Now, everyone knows that games don’t always work this way. Just because a team scores 12 runs and their opponent scores two, it doesn’t make the winners a better team. However, over the course of a season, this formula typically evens out and shows what a team is truly capable of. At least, it shows what they would have been capable of, if the cards had fallen their way.
Let’s look more closely. The Athletics’ are 11-25 in one-run games. In those games, they’ve allowed 139 runs to score, but have scored 125 of their own. Because of that, they’ve lost two out of every three one-run games.
On the other hand, they’re 18-12 in games where the run differential is five runs or more. In those games, the A’s have scored 177 runs while allowing just 124.
What that says is that the A’s generally have stellar pitching, and they do have a strong offense. Getting the two halves of the team to coincide is another matter entirely. Add in the fact that “runs allowed” includes defensive mistakes, and the Oakland Athletics are the worst defensive team in the league, and it’s no wonder that they’ve struggled.
Yet, it didn’t need to be that way. Sonny Gray leads the AL in WAR for pitchers, and is second only to former Oakland Athletics’ pitcher Kazmir in ERA. Gray also has the fifth-highest overall WAR among all major league players, including position players. With talent like Gray and Kazmir, where did it go wrong for the A’s?
Even their position players have been unexpectedly good. No one thought Stephen Vogt would be an All-Star this season. Josh Reddick hasn’t played this well in his entire career. Billy Burns shocked the league after his May call-up, and might even have a shot at Rookie of the Year for his efforts.
But there have been devastating losses, as well. Coco Crisp was expected to be a big part of the team after returning from elbow surgery, but instead, he returned from the disabled list on Monday after missing two month with neck soreness. Sean Doolittle has missed the entire year, as well, shaking up the bullpen and leading to a disastrous year for the relief crew. Evan Scribner, Fernando Abad and Dan Otero have been disappointing, and Ryan Cook was so bad that the A’s traded him away at the deadline.
Maybe there really is no reason to be concerned for next year. Perhaps the A’s encountered some bad luck, coupled with bad defense from young players like Marcus Semien, and it was just enough to push them from 57-50 to 47-60. While it might seem like a big leap in their record, the distance from first place to last place is never far in major league baseball, and the A’s should have been in a much better place at this point in the year based on their run differential.