I was thumbing through the Chronicle this morning (it's ok to still read newspapers) and took note of the A's team statistics through the halfway point. As of the All-Star break the A's have the third best team ERA in the American League at 3.85, trailing only the Yanks and the Rays. I used ERA instead of FIP, because ERA is a team effort and I'm talking about the team instead of a player. The A's are also ranked sixth best in the AL for giving up free passes with a total of 289, not too bad. OPS against is fourth best in the league at .715. For what it's worth we also lead the AL in shutouts.
Of course there are various areas in pitching that the Athletics could improve on, but I would say relative to the league that our pitching has been a success.
Although errors are subjective, and for some reason are never given to Derek Jeter during his home games, the A's are ranked 8th in the AL with 53 and ranked 7th best in terms of fielding percentage. The A's rank 13/30 teams in team UZR although I'm not very confident in this statistic in this particular scenario, but I'm putting it out there for you to interpret. Because advanced defensive statistics aren't quite up to par with advanced offensive and pitching statistics, I feel in order to determine how successful team defense is, you have to look at it subjectively. For the sake of this post, I would say that team defense hasn't been a particular problem for the A's this year.
We can attribute the A's 3rd place standing to their lack of success in terms of offensive production. But where in lies the actual problem?
The A's rank 9th in OBP at a clip of .324. I'm not a fan of batting average, but I'll put it out there that the A's rank 7th in the AL with a .262 BA. Thank the baseball heavens that, as Scott Ostler put it in selecting his Bay Area All-Star team, Ryan Sweeney could fall out of bed hitting .300!!! We rank 11th in runs, 9th in doubles and are tied for last with the Sea-Men with 57 home runs. 57!!! Although I don't think you need to necessarily save the world with home runs in order to win, just ask the Toronto Blue Jays, but it is clear that the A's need to improve in that category.
These offensive stats are fairly saddening, but with one of the best pitching staffs respective to their league, you wouldn't think that the A's could be as far out of contention as they are.
The problem is (drum roll please) team slugging!!!! We're third to last in the league, with Cleveland on our tails as they are only .001 behind us. Last year we ranked dead last in team slugging. I only went as far back as 2005, but no AL playoff team ranked in the bottom third of the league in slugging.
With the strength of our pitching we don't necessarily have to be one of the top slugging teams, but the A's have to improve in that aspect of their game (remember an improvement in home runs, is also an improvement in slugging).
This season is not lost yet, and as we know anything can happen in baseball, but looking onto next year it would seem that the A's have a particular weakness that needs to be addressed. It's hard to envision what Billy Beane will do at the trade deadline but I don't expect the A's to be buyers.
Carter and Taylor were supposed to add life to the A's dying offense but it would appear that they will need some more time in the minors, particularly Taylor. The A's seem set with Zook, Barton, and Kouz in their respective positions for next year. Everywhere else on the diamond could get upgraded if Billy Beane chooses to do so.
The Athletics have a ton of payroll flexibility for the trade deadline and the off-season. Here's a list of the upcoming free agent class courtesy of http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2009/09/2011-mlb-free-agents.html I'll say this; I would love for the A's to go get Carl Crawford, but who wouldn't.
So what do you think the A's need to improve on in order to be a more competitive team? Who do you think the A's should go out and acquire, whether it be through trade, free agency, or internationally in order to be more competitive?