San Francisco Giants & Oakland A's: 3 Reasons Why the A's Are Better
It seemed settled forever on June 23 of this season that the San Francisco Giants were the Bay Area's best team.
The Giants beat the A's 9-8 that day to clinch the season series and improve to 40-32 for the season. While the A's were playing better than most prognosticators expected, they were only 34-38 at the time—ten games back in the division.
While Billy Beane was still competent enough to build mediocre teams on shoestring budgets, his candle appeared to have flickered out in the heavy winds of his post Moneyball fame. Brad Pitt's A's had made the playoffs on the big screen in the 2011 film version of Moneyball, but the last time the A's made the playoffs in real life was back in 2006.
While the A's toiled in mediocrity, the Giants had been competitive for three straight seasons—winning the World Series in 2010.
The Giants continue to sell out their privately-financed, waterfront ballpark every night, which has enabled them to run up a $130 million payroll. Across the Bay, the A's are playing in a football stadium with the league's second worst attendance and second lowest payroll.
Even worse, the Giants are adamantly preventing the A's from moving to San Jose, where the A's have their sights set on a new ballpark. In 1992, then A's owner Walter Haas handed the Giants territorial rights to Santa Clara County when the Giants were considering a move of their own to San Jose.
20 years later, the Giants large payroll and sellout crowds are dependent on the deep pockets and growing population of the technology-rich Silicon Valley. The Giants appear to have no intentions of yielding San Jose, the Bay Area's largest city, to the A's. Meanwhile, Bud Selig's Blue Ribbon Committee that was formed to study the A's stadium issue over three years ago has yet to offer any resolution.
On June 24, in the finale of the 2012 Bay Bridge season series, Derek Norris connected for his first big-league homer—a walk-off three-run shot off of Santiago Casilla—to propel the A's to a 4-2 win over the Giants. The A's have gone 48-22 since that day to take the lead in the American League wild card chase, and to get within three games of the Texas Rangers in the AL West.
The Giants have also been one of the best teams in the game since losing on the Norris walk-off home run. They are now 81-62, seven games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
If the season ended today, both Bay Area squads would be in the postseason. While a rematch of the 1989 World Series remains unlikely, if the two teams did meet in the postseason, the A's would be the favorite for three reasons.
Record, Run Differential and Schedule Strength
At 82-60, the A's are 1.5 games better than the Giants this season entering play Thursday.
However, records can often be misleading. The A's not only have a better record than the Giants, but they also have a much better run differential. The A's have outscored their opponents by 86 runs this season, while the Giants have only outscored their opponents by 48 runs.
Pythagorean record is a measurement that predicts win-loss record based on run differential. The A's Pythagorean record is 81-61, five games better than the Giants (77-66).
Baseball-Reference also uses a rating system called the Simple Rating System, which factors in run differential and strength of schedule. Since the A's play in the American League, which the rating system considers superior to the National League, the A's come out even further ahead by this measure.
According to their record, run differential and strength of schedule, the A's are better than the Giants. How have they done it?
Defense and Bullpen
The A's lead all of baseball in Defensive Efficiency, a stat that measures the percentage of balls in play turned into outs by the defense.
The A's have turned 72.3 percent of balls put in play into outs this season, compared to 71.1 percent for the Giants, who rank 13th.
The A's also come out ahead of the Giants in the two defensive metrics used by FanGraphs, Ultimate Zone Rating (+16 to +8) and Defensive Runs Saved (+7 to -30).
While the Giants have the more talented starting rotation, the A's defense has propelled the team to a 3.38 ERA, third best in the game. The Giants 3.74 team ERA is good for eighth best in the league.
Oakland's 2.85 bullpen ERA is second best in the game, and nearly a full run better than that of the Giants (3.65).
The Long Ball
While the A's have the better record, defensive numbers, starter's ERA and bullpen ERA, the Giants have actually outscored the A's this season (4.41 runs scored per game for the Giants to 4.27 for the A's).
As a team, the Giants are hitting .267/.325/.392/.717 compared to .236/.308/.399/.707 for the A's, who only have the advantage in the power department.
However, the advantage in the power department is a massive one for the A's. While both parks suppress home runs, AT&T Park is playing like Yellowstone this season, so there is some noise in the home run numbers for the Giants—who lead the league in scoring on the road this season.
Despite playing in a pitcher's park, the A's have blasted 167 home runs, ninth best in the game. The A's have eight players with double-digit home run totals: Josh Reddick (28 home runs), Yoenis Cespedes (18), Brandon Moss (18), Jonny Gomes (16), Chris Carter (14), Seth Smith (13), Brandon Inge (11) and Coco Crisp (10).
Meanwhile, the Giants are dead last with only 87 home runs this season. The only active Giant with more than eight home runs is MVP candidate Buster Posey, who has hit 21 so far.
As their nearly identical records indicate, these are two very evenly matched teams. The A's have the better record and run differential, and they've also played a tougher schedule than the Giants.
The Giants have been the better offensive team, but the A's have a massive edge in home run power. Both teams are above average defensively and on the mound, but the A's come out ahead in the overall run prevention category.
Since the A's are likely to make the postseason as a wild card, they'll have to win a one-game playoff just to get into the dance. Thus, a rematch of the 1989 Fall Classic is highly unlikely.
However, if both teams somehow get to the World Series, the edge on paper would go to the A's despite their modest payroll and decaying ballpark.
The Giants might be able to prevent the A's from ever moving to San Jose. However, the numbers suggest that the Giants can't prevent the A's from laying claim to the title of the Bay Area's best team in 2012.