9 Secrets Behind the Oakland A's Magical Season
It's almost unbelievable that the bargain basement Oakland Athletics can still find a way to contend in today's baseball market. In what many expected to be a throw away rebuilding year for the other team by the Bay, the A's have emerged as a contender in the AL West and are slowly creeping up on the Texas Rangers in the division standings.
We see the A's success now on paper, but what exactly has keyed their improbable run this season?
The A’s always seem to have one of the youngest rosters in baseball, and this season is no different. With an average age of just 28 years (fourth youngest) the A’s have had no problem playing young inexperienced players like Josh Reddick, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin and inserting them into vital roles early in the season.
Playing youngsters has paid off kindly for the Athletics, with Reddick emerging as one of the top ten right fielders in the league and Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin looking like staff anchors to be.
Josh Reddick, Anyone?
He might not be a secret anymore after his infamous "Spiderman" catch in Toronto, but Josh Reddick is having a breakout season with the Athletics, leading the team in almost every statistical category.
Reddick has smashed 22 home runs playing most of his games in the spacious Coliseum, and has driven in 50 with a .861 OPS. Not bad numbers for a kid playing his first full major league season. He’s become one of the most electrifying young players in the league to watch and despite his All-Star game snub, has quickly emerged as a fan favorite in the Bay Area.
Veil of Obscurity
When your team is as young as the Oakland Athletics, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the limelight of the majors and fluxed by the pressures of the show.
However, in Oakland, it’s pretty to fly under the radar (or at least it least it was until the A’s went on a tear this July). With no erroneous pressures or media obscurity playing a small market with little expectations going into this season, youngsters like Jarrod Parker had to have found some level of comfort as they made their way to the show.
Production at First Base
Daric Barton was a huge disappointment for the Athletics, and the emergence of Brandon Moss and Chris Carter has been more than welcome in Oakland.
Moss and Carter have provided the A’s with considerable power at first base, and look like they’re here to stay on the Athletics big league roster. Both Carter and Moss have smacked walk-off hits this season, and have been key cogs in the A’s win machine.
While the A’s have constantly been moving and shifting guys around all over the place, the platoon couplets of Jonny Gomes/Seth Smith and Brandon Moss/Chris Carter have been the most noteworthy this season for the Athletics.
All four have been substantially successful behind the plate this season, but as with most things that come out of Oakland, there’s a bit of an asterisk as to how and why they’ve been successful. Melvin has been strictly starting the left-handed Smith and Moss against right-handed pitchers and Carter and Gomes vice-versa. There’s a considerable drop off in righty/lefty splits for each player and it appears the A’s are increasing the production by playing guys with good splits against specific pitchers. It’s a somewhat innovative way to milk value out of guys and so far it’s worked for the Athletics this season.
Bob Melvin, the Mad Scientist
Bob Melvin earned the Mad Scientist nickname in his days with the Diamondbacks, becoming infamous for altering his lineup almost daily to his team’s success, and his ways haven’t changed one bit in Oakland.
Oakland has a reputation for being a revolving door for ballplayers, and with the way the A’s have called up/sent down guys and battled injury this season, Melvin’s ingenuity got him to Kansas City for the All-Star game, and he might just earn a Manager of the Year award should the A’s continue to win like they have.
Long Balls and the Beane Count
The A’s have been living and dying by the long ball this season, and they’ve led the league in home runs since the All-Star Break. And while that might seem like a basic function of their recent success, let us not forget the Oakland Athletics' sabermetric ways.
The Beane Count, a statistic developed by ESPN’s Rob Neyer, analyzes how teams manufacture runs using the long ball. It sums the team’s ranks in home runs, walks, home runs allowed and walks allowed, analyzing teams that rely on moonshots to produce runs. The A’s rank third on the Beane Count this season, behind World Series Champion St. Louis and the New York Yankees.
Magical Pitching Staff
Maybe it’s just dumb luck and/or the Coliseum, but some how the A’s found a way to have the second lowest payroll in the league, trade away three All-Star pitchers and still find a way to lead the American League in ERA.
It’s hard to pinpoint one source that’s really made the difference. Jarrod Parker has been superb since his call-up in May, but so has Tommy Milone (at least at home) and 39-year-old Bartolo Colon has been an effective innings-eater for the Athletics. The bullpen has been great as well, led by All-Star Ryan Cook, whose 23 inning scoreless streak was grabbing national headlines earlier this season.
However, it is a team ERA, making it a staff effort that helped get the A’s to where they are today. The A’s have a young, tremendously undervalued pitching staff capable of leading Oakland back to the playoffs.
Addition by Subtraction in the Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahill Trades
Many thought the A’s were entering rebuilding mode when they sold off their most prized assets in the offseason, most notably All-Stars Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.
However, Billy Beane has always been apt to determining the true value of players on his roster, and couldn’t have found two better guys to flip in Cahill and Bailey. Cahill, was the team’s ace, winning 18 games in 2012 with a 2.97 ERA and earned Cy Young votes, but it came in a year that he had the lowest BABIP (.224) in the league. Considering that that he is not a strikeout pitcher (just 118 Ks that season and 5.40 K/9) his ERA was certain to balloon, like it did in 2011 (4.11). Beane was wise to sell high on the 24-year-old. It also doesn’t hurt Beane’s credibility that two of the players he got in return for Cahill (Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook) have been absolutely phenomenal for Oakland this season.
And as for the 2009 Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey, his health and closer status made him expendable. He hasn’t pitched more than 50 innings since his rookie year and fits Beane’s trademark sell the closer model. Bailey has yet to appear in a game for the Red Sox, and, Josh Reddick has been absolutely tearing it up this season in right field, leading the A’s in almost every statistical category offensively.