It’s a little known fact that if your team can’t hit for a decent average and doesn’t hit many home runs, it’s going to struggle to score. It’s a crazy complex formula, I know. But somehow, the Oakland Athletics have proved this science to be true, year in and year out. And it seems to have been getting worse, if that’s possible.
In 2011, the A’s ranked 12th in the AL in runs scored, with 645, for an average of just a hair under four runs per game. In 2010, Oakland chipped in 663 runs, and in 2009, they scored—a whopping—759! How did that happen?
Obviously, there has been something of a downward trend over the past couple of seasons. That is largely due to the absence of power, and the inability to hit for high average. Without home run hitters, the A’s have lacked an easy source of run scoring. Home run hitters are like a jukebox at a bar—easy income. You may not have a ton of customers or sell a lot of high-end whiskey, but the jukebox is a guaranteed money maker. The Athletics have not had any easy money in a long time. As a result, they’ve had to reshape their entire roster and adjust their philosophy on how to organize a team.
Instead of acquiring clogging sluggers, Oakland has gone back to the days of BillyBall, as in Billy Martin. The run-and-gun offense is back in the East Bay, and the Athletics have used speed as their primary weapon of choice.
Over the past three seasons, the A’s have averaged 135.3 stolen bases per season. That’s a far cry from their Moneyball days between 2000-2005, when they averaged 46.7 stolen bags. In 2005, they finished with a shocking 31.
The A’s roster in 2012 is full of speedsters. Last season’s AL stolen base leader, Coco Crisp, is back, and he’s healthier. Sophomore Jemile Weeks swiped 22 bags in his rookie campaign. He’ll look to improve upon that number as he embarks on this first full season in the bigs. With Weeks and Crisp forming a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the order, Oakland looks to wreak havoc on the bases instead of trotting around them.
Aside from speed, though, the Athletics will struggle to produce run scoring opportunities. After all, Weeks and Crisp can’t get on base all the time, and they won’t come around and touch home plate if the hitters behind them can’t drive them in. Without much power, the A’s will have to do everything they can to generate run-scoring chances. And they’ll have to capitalize on those obvious situational-hitting moments, i.e., runner at third with less than two outs, runner at second with no outs, etc.
It’s going to be tough, however, as the A’s return only four starters from last season’s lineup. Furthermore, the departures of Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui signal a loss of 41 home runs, 127 runs scored and 170 runs batted in. That’s a lot for a team that ranked in the bottom three in each of those departments.
2012 Forecast: Dry. Extended drought. Look for manager Bob Melvin to draw upon and enforce his National League style of play. There will be a lot of hit-and-run opportunities with Weeks and Crisp at the top of the order. But without any true hitting machines in the lineup, and with Manny Ramirez out until at least the end of May, the Athletics’ ability to score runs will be extremely parched. Expect more of the same from last season—or maybe even less.