10 Improvements the Oakland A's Could Make to Bolster Postseason Chances
There's just not a more simple way of saying it: if the Oakland A's want to reach the postseason, they're going to have to improve in a few areas.
Unfortunately, a change in one facet won't make the A's playoff contenders. It's not that easy. Instead, several of the 10 areas listed next must be improved upon for a legitimate shot at progressing toward a World Series.
Oakland isn't awful by any means. There's just things the team could do better. Things they must do better.
Should the Athletics correct these aspects of their game, October baseball will be a given.
No. 10: Starting Pitchers Pitching Deeper into Games
As it stands, Oakland's starting pitchers aren't doing poorly. Most of them average between six and seven innings per start. Still, it could be better.
Though Tommy Milone has pitched into the seventh inning six out of nine times, he's completed the seventh just three times. He's been one of the best on the staff.
A.J. Griffin compares similarly to Milone. Griffin averages around the same innings per game, and he's pitched into the seventh on five occasions.
Bartolo Colon has been a wild card. He'll give you a solid seven in one start. Then the next, he'll give you six or less. And so it goes every other game he starts.
It's not great for Jarrod Parker and Brett Anderson.
Parker averages 5.1 innings. Anderson averaged 4.2 before landing on the disabled list. Dan Straily —Anderson's replacement—isn't doing a whole lot better at a 5.2 innings per start average.
The A's starting pitchers must pitch deeper into games more often and more consistently. The failure to do so puts so much stress on the relievers. Longer, quality starts free up the bullpen, and come playoff time—or down the stretch for that matter—a rested bullpen is a more effective bullpen. Because sometimes, they don't get five days of rest after they pitch.
Statistics in this slide were obtained from ESPN.com.
No. 9: Find a Consistent Lineup
According to Baseball-reference.com, the most common Athletics lineup has been used three times. That's it. Five others have been used twice each. Platooning is understandable, but 39 batting orders in 46 games does nothing for consistency.
Look across the bay at the San Francisco Giants for a comparison. The National League team has used 25 different lineups, 36 if you count the pitchers.
The No. 4 spot in a lineup is important.
Equally important are the men surrounding the fourth batter. A team wants the third hitter to be consistently on base for that cleanup guy. The fifth batter provides protection. Oakland has cycled six guys through the third spot and eight men have hit fifth.
There's no consistency there.
The bottom four spots have seen nine, 11, 14 and eight players, respectively. Although, the backups and injury fill-ins will see time at the back end, so this isn't all that unusual.
Overall, the A's need to find a consistent lineup that works. It's difficult finding rhythm when you're constantly changing spots and so are the guys around you.
No. 8: Stop Giving Up the Long Ball
The most home runs given up by a pitcher in 2013 so far is 13. Keep that in mind. Here's what the A's pitchers have given up:
Jarrod Parker - 11
A.J. Griffin - 8
Bartolo Colon - 7
Tommy Milone - 7
Dan Straily - 3
Brett Anderson - 3
In 35 innings last year, Anderson gave up only one home run. As you can see, he's tripled that total, and he's only pitched 33 innings.
Straily gave up 11 in 39.1 innings last season—a figure that is way too high. Though his numbers are better now, he's shown a propensity to give up the long ball.
Griffin allowed 10 in 82 innings. This year he's at eight in 57.2 innings.
Parker's numbers are the most concerning. In 29 games last year, he only allowed 11 home runs. In 10 games this year, he's already matched that figure.
As a unit, the A's have given up 51 home runs, good for the seventh most in the league. The American League average is 49, and the MLB average is 46.
It's not a major concern, though.
Giving up an obscene amount of home runs won't necessarily doom the team, but in conjunction with the next slide, these two points together certainly could.
No. 7: Less One-Run Games and More Run Support
Remember when "Hudsoned" became a commonly used verb in Oakland? The term arose from Oakland's inability to provide run support for starting pitcher Tim Hudson.
In 2013, it seems like the verb applies to too many of the starters.
Bartolo Colon actually ranks 10th in run support at 6.33, according to ESPN.com. But after him, the number drops to 4.78 for A.J. Griffin (35th), then again to 4.00 for Tommy Milone and Brett Anderson (tied for 58th). The A's score an average of 3.20 runs per Jarrod Parker start (84th).
There's a reason the Detroit Tigers have been considered the favorites. Not only do they have an outstanding pitching staff, but their offense provides three-fifths of the staff with run support over 4.50 per game.
The lowest goes to Justin Verlander (3.90), who hardly needs more than a run most of the time.
Athletics hitters aren't consistent when it comes to supporting their pitchers. This puts more stress on pitchers to be perfect. When they aren't, they exit and the bullpen is called on to work under tighter circumstances. It's not good for anyone.
Let's get back to that offense not scoring runs.
The A's have had to come back 13 times in 48 games, or 27 percent of the time. They are having to play catch up in over one-quarter of their games. Oakland has played in 15 one-run games. They're 9-6 in those efforts.
Take the last six for example.
In four of those games, they were unable to score more than two runs. Six of the last 10 have been decided by one run, and luckily half of those have been wins.
At the end of the day, a win is a win.
Yet, the A's have a problem if they can't score runs or provide support to their pitchers, who give up a ton of home runs.
No. 6: Play Adam Rosales More
It's not that Eric Sogard is playing poorly. It's more that Adam Rosales adds an unexplainable spark to the lineup. Perhaps it's his humorous, dedicated hustle around the bases.
Furthermore, Rosales nearly matches Sogard's production in less opportunities.
"Rosie" has produced just under "Sogie" in doubles, RBI and walks. He has more home runs and a better batting average too.
But look at the difference between the two and how they got to their current batting averages. Sogard's has gone up and down. It's been as low as .125 and as high as .297. Rosales has been much more consistent, getting hot in the beginning of May and remaining above or near .300 until the May 21 game.
Melvin likes to play the hot hand. Right now, that's Rosales. Why not try him?
No. 5: Must Win Against Non-AL West Opponents
Against everyone else, they're 8-15.
Oakland can't depend on wins against only the AL West competition. The Athletics have to win outside of the division too, because after all, if they get into the postseason, they'll likely face non-West teams.
No. 4: Stop Making Errors!
The A's have committed 27 errors in 2013, which is the 13th most in Major League Baseball. The league leader has committed 37, so Oakland isn't that far behind.
But mistakes give bases away for free. All it takes is one error and a home run, and an opposing team is up two runs. And when—going back to prior slides—too many games are decided by one run, a single error can be the difference between a win and a loss.
No. 3: Hit Better Against Right-Handed Pitchers
The A's are doing very well against left-handed pitchers. Nine of 20 hitters are batting .250 or higher. Against right-handed pitchers, only six men hit above .250. Take a look at these averages, with production against lefties on the left and against righties on the right:
Josh Donaldson (.388/.276)
Adam Rosales (.353/.161)
Seth Smith (.350/.255)
Shane Peterson (.333/.000)
Nate Freiman (.324/.000)
Jed Lowrie (.296/.303)
John Jaso (.286/.248)
Derek Norris (.261/.179)
Yoenis Cespedes (.250/.200)
Coco Crisp (.237/.289)
Brandon Moss (.189/.266)
Eric Sogard (.176/.264)
Only Moss, Sogard, Lowrie and Crisp hit better against right-handed hurlers. Those are stark differences. And the biggest problem is, the Athletics are bound to face more right-armed slingers than lefties.
A turnaround has to happen.
Some of the best right-handed pitchers await within the division: Felix Hernandez and Yu Darvish are among them.
No. 2: Less Dependence on Yoenis Cespedes
By this point, it's pretty well documented how the A's have won around two-thirds of the games they've played with Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup. But without him, they lose about two-thirds of their games.
In 2013, that trend continues. The A's are 21-12 when Cespedes plays.
May 21 is the epitome of the Athletics' dependence on Cespedes. The team won 1-0 on a solo shot in the third inning. Obviously, none of the other six hits did any damage.
Too often the A's have gone late into games down or tied with hopes coming down to a Cespedes at-bat.
But it shouldn't be that way.
It's fascinating as a fan to watch the damage this one guy can do. When he comes up to bat, many are confident that this is the perfect guy, and rightfully so. But it's too much to depend on one guy all the time.
Other guys need to play the hero. Other guys need to step up in Cespedes' absence.
No. 1: Get Healthy!
A's starting shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima started the season on the disabled list and hasn't played a major league game yet. His backup, Adam Rosales, also began the season hurt. In early April, second baseman Scott Sizemore re-injured his knee and is out for the season.
There's the middle infield.
Less than a week after Sizemore went down, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes landed on the 15-day DL. And just a few days after his activation, Coco Crisp went down with a strained hamstring. Within the same week, outfielders Chris Young and Josh Reddick landed on the disabled list as well.
And there's your outfield.
The latest injury victim is Brett Anderson. The bug has hit the starting rotation now.
Players do everything they can to avoid injury. Most of the time, it's a fluke thing. Still, the team isn't going to make the postseason when two or three everyday players are sidelined at the same time during the course of the season.
Maybe it's a switch in pre-game stretching. Maybe it's teaching Anderson not to field balls anymore. Whatever happens, it needs to happen fast because too many prime guys have sat out and it's not even the halfway point.