As recently as two seasons ago the offensive attack at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum was stagnant. The A’s ranked 12th in the American League in runs scored as they struggled with just about every facet of hitting. That trend continued through the start of the 2012 season as well. At the All-Star break just one season ago Oakland ranked last in the AL in runs scored, scoring just a mere 19 runs more than worst-in-baseball San Diego. But something clicked during that magical 2nd half run a year ago. Oakland started pummeling the ball, scoring a run and a half more per game than they did before the summer’s festivities in Kansas City, as they rode their offense to a 51-25 finish and the AL West title.
Before the start of the 2013 season many were wondering which A’s offense was going to show up. Would it be the anemic, strikeout-friendly lineup that struggled to get things going during the season’s first half a year ago, or would it be the walk-off winning, home run bashing unit that propelled Oakland to the playoffs? Well, if early returns are worth anything it’s safe to say that last season’s 2nd half wasn’t a fluke. The boys in green and gold are punishing opposing pitchers once again, outscoring every other team in the Major Leagues. So how have the A’s been able to do this? Let’s take a look:
Jed Lowrie, A.K.A. Billy Beane’s Annual Bargain
One of the annual rites of each and every baseball season over the past decade or so has been the rise of one of Billy Beane’s bargain bin acquisitions. Last year he was able to turn an injured Andrew Bailey into Josh Reddick, who promptly turned into a bearded tour de force at the plate and in right field. This year’s trip to the bargain bin has netted another similarly useful and similarly talented player: Jed Lowrie.
Lowrie came over from the Houston Astros at the start of February in exchange for 1st baseman/DH Chris Carter and pitcher Brad Peacock. Neither player has done much since being flipped to Houston. Carter leads baseball with 43 strikeouts on the season, predictably struggling now that he’s acquired a full-time role. Peacock’s finally been given the chance to start, although Astros’ fans may wish the team chose to use him in some other capacity. Peacock is 1-3 as a starter and he’s carrying an ERA north of 8 thanks to his inability to locate pitches on the mound.
Lowrie, on the other hand, has been Oakland’s best player thus far, hitting .344/.425/.584 with 10 doubles and 3 homers. Lowrie’s shown a big increase in his plate discipline, walking 13 times, and he seems to be enjoying life in a big ballpark, where he can hit plenty of doubles.
Lowrie’s also proven to be a major point of stability at shortstop for Oakland, which has to be nice for manager Bob Melvin. The A’s never could find the right mix at shortstop a year ago, sending out the likes of Cliff Pennington and Stephen Drew, only to see them flail at the plate night after night. Oakland shortstops managed to hit just .203 a year ago and they got on base at a .272 clip. With Lowrie now in place for the foreseeable future, Billy Beane won’t have to worry about the shortstop position anytime soon
Lowrie’s not the only Oakland ball player stroking plenty of doubles this season as the entire A’s lineup has gotten into the act. If you take one quick glance at the American League offensive leader board, you should notice one thing real quick: the A’s have hit a ton of doubles. Lowrie, Coco Crisp, and Josh Donaldson are all tied for 2nd in the AL in doubles with 10 apiece, just 3 behind leader Mike Napoli of the Red Sox. The Oakland hitters are embracing the ball park they play in by using the spacious O.co Coliseum outfield gaps frequently and the result has been a pile of runs.
Platoons, Platoons, Platoons
No franchise in baseball does a better job of paying attention to the righty/lefty splits than the Oakland A’s. Sure, other managers such as Joe Maddon and Joe Girardi will give the splits a look when devising a lineup, but nobody uses platoons more effectively than Bob Melvin in Oakland.
The best platoon the A’s currently have running is taking place at catcher where John Jaso and Derek Norris split time. The pair have combined to hit .307/.404/.375 and their 27 combined hits are best among all catchers in baseball. Unfortunately the duo still need a bit of work behind the plate because opposing base runners have had free reign on the base paths. Norris and Jaso have combined to allow 17 stolen bases thus far while catching just one runner but those numbers should improve as the season goes on.
The A’s have also done an excellent job with their roving designated hitter, using 8 different players in the role already. Oakland’s designated hitters lead baseball in both homers and double thus far and their combined .908 OPS is excellent when compared to the rest of the league.
It’s amazing that Billy Beane can continue to build successful ball clubs on the cheap year in and year out. It was the Angels offense and their highly priced duo of Hamilton and Pujols who were supposed to instill fear in the hearts of AL West pitchers. Instead it’s been the A’s and their bottom 5 payroll that have bludgeoned the ball out west and they are doing so at less than half the cost of what the club in Anaheim spent.
This summer’s shaping up to be another fun one by the bay because the A’s should score even more as the weather heats up. Yoenis Cespedes returned to the lineup on Sunday after a two-week absence and made an immediate impact, hitting a homer and scoring 2 runs. It’s also highly unlikely that Josh Reddick hits .153 with just a single homer all season, and when that pair heats up it will be even tougher for opposing pitchers to work their way through this exciting Oakland lineup.