How the No-Name Oakland A's Are Sneakily 1 of the Best Teams in the Majors
Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports
Billy Beane is doing it again. He's putting together a roster of misfits who are doing nothing but winning baseball games. And it's all being done with the fourth-lowest payroll in the majors and a bunch of guys the casual fan can't name.
Heading into action on July 27, the Oakland A's winning percentage is .583, good for fifth in Major League Baseball. And they're leading the Texas Rangers in the American League West by four games. All this with a roster of cast-offs and no-names and a ballpark that has a history of sewage backups.
Despite all the disadvantages Beane and Co. have to endure, the A's are one of the best teams in baseball.
And they're doing this while flying far under the radar, as evidenced by their All-Stars.
They had exactly two: Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour.
Over the past year, not just this season, the A's have been really good. Excellent, in fact. Take it from Buster Olney.
The Oakland Athletics' regular-season record since June 10, 2012: 124-72. The best in the majors.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 15, 2013
It's very interesting just exactly how the A's are winning games with so few resources. And yes, there are reasons. This isn't just a long stroke of luck. So let's start with the first and most important reason.
The Pitching Staff
It might seem too general, but World Series have been won with pitching and not much else. And Oakland's staff is one of the best.
Some statistics off the top: The A's team has an ERA of 3.60, sixth in the majors, a deep rotation that is fourth in baseball in innings pitched with 634 and an entire staff that refuses to walk anyone—as evidenced by their major league-low 2.38 BB/9.
The staff is also tied for eighth in baseball in wins above replacement (WAR).
Need more? The A's are seventh in the league in K/BB, with a ratio of 2.88. They're tied with the Reds and Pirates for the lowest WHIP in MLB at 1.19. And they're holding teams to a measly .239 batting average against. That would be fourth-lowest in the majors.
They're not a sexy pitching staff. They don't have the big names or the guys who strike out 200-plus batters. They don't have anyone who throws 100 mph, and the way they get guys out isn't always pretty.
Also, is it too mean to make a joke about Colon and not being sexy? Probably. Let's just move on.
What all this means is that despite how the staff may look or how they go about business, they get the job done.
They don't give out free passes very easily. They force lineups to hit them. And lineups can't seem to hit them, despite the staff throwing fastballs at an average velocity of 90.6, ahead of only the Twins and Giants.
What this tells me is that the A's in general have pinpoint control. They don't throw too hard, and they don't mow down lineups. They locate their pitches and force batters to hit the pitches they give them. They don't make the mistakes that hitters love to feast on.
If you watch the A's play, don't expect to see a pitcher take the mound and look like a prototypical ace. But he sure will pitch like one.
Just like the pitching staff, it might not look like much. But the A's hitters sure do get the job done.
They're ninth in the league in runs with 457, yet 23rd in the league with a .243 batting average.
And other than those two stats, they're really middle of the pack in every other notable category. They're between 12th and 18th in the league in home runs, stolen bases, OBP, slugging and strikeout rate.
Yet they're in the top 10 in runs, and they have been all year.
Just like with the pitching staff, the secret lies in walks. The A's lead baseball in walks and BB percent and are second in walks per strikeout.
What this translates to is a way to counteract an atrocious batting average. Even though they're only hitting .243, Oakland's OBP is .320. Instead of hitting singles, they're trotting to first on ball four.
Although that doesn't quite explain all of it. The other part is that the A's love to hit home runs. Or at least they love trying to.
They lead the league in fly balls, hitting them 40 percent of the time. But they're only 12th in the league in home runs with 107, which is explained by their home run to fly ball ratio of 9.8 percent. That has them tied for 23rd in baseball, and an average ratio is around 11 percent.
And all indications are that the A's should be hitting more homers. They have the home run hitters in Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson. And they're 13th in isolated power. So there should be an uptick in homers down the stretch.
So really, this offense should improve. As unconventional as the strategy is, it seems to be working. Draw walks and swing for the fences. It's an odd formula, but so far a successful one.
Just like in years past, the A's are having success with a lot of leftovers—players who other teams didn't want.
First of all, huge shout-out to FanGraphs for all the statistics throughout this article, and then for this piece on exactly where many of the A's key players came from. I'll run through some of the highlights here.
Coco Crisp was signed for two years, $14 million, along with a third-year team option. Not bad for someone whose WAR over the past two seasons is 4.4.
Donaldson was a throw-in to a deal that sent Rich Harden to the Cubs. But this season he was a near All-Star with a WAR of 4.3.
The A's have paid Colon $5 million over two years. The same Colon who has 14 wins and a 2.54 ERA this season.
Jarrod Parker and Brett Anderson were acquired in trades, and A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily were late draft picks. And their other All-Star Balfour was signed to a two year, $8.1 million dollar deal after his time with the Rays. Pretty good rate for one of the top closers in the game.
The only guy the A's really spent money on was Cespedes. And when you look like he does, run like he does and have such a pretty home run swing, you can't blame them.
There should be a theme that's starting to pop out. Almost all these guys were forgotten about, cut or drafted extremely late.
But Oakland brought them all together. They reinvented moneyball, just in a different way. This time there are no stars like Barry Zito or Miguel Tejada or Tim Hudson.
Just a bunch of guys who believe in the strategy, believe in each other and believe they're great when not many people even know their names. Donaldson being one of them.
The A's Josh Donaldson: "The guys in this clubhouse believe we have one of the best teams in baseball." And I agree.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) July 15, 2013
They may not be household names, but they play like they should be. And if they keep on winning, everyone will know who they are.
All statistics, unless otherwise noted, come from FanGraphs.com.
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