Off-Day Observations: On the A's Run Differential

Jason Miller

The A's have the best run differential in baseball by miles. Is it more the result of a strong offense or excellent pitching?

Much has been made recently of the early-season run differential for the Oakland Athletics. The 13-3 statement made against the Cleveland Indians on Sunday ran that figure up to plus-95, which has everyone around the baseball world buzzing. That's an absurd figure, to be sure, but it's made even more incredible when you consider the fact that the Detroit Tigers represent the second-best run differential in baseball, and they're 40 runs behind them at plus-55.

Coming into the season, it wasn't a question of whether or not the A's could meet success for a third consecutive year. As the two-time defending American League West champions, Oakland spent the offseason upgrading their pitching staff, including building up one of the league's top relief corps. They've managed to shake off significant injuries to their starting staff in order to post some of the best numbers off the bump that we've seen from any team this year.

The offense has been there too. Even with an early-season slump from Josh Reddick, the A's are an American League power at the plate, with the likes of Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, and Derek Norris coming through in a big way, in addition to a breakout year from American League Player of the Week Brandon Moss.

The debate here isn't whether or not the A's have a roster that is top-notch in overall quality. They do. The real query here is whether we should attribute that massive run differential more to the offensive exploits of the lineup or to the dominance of their pitching staff.

A quick look at the numbers indicates that the A's are an upper-tier team at the plate. While it's tough to simply throw the elite label at them, especially without an offensive superstar (a la Miguel Cabrera) in their lineup, the numbers represent otherwise. Numbers in parenthesis represent their league rank.

AVG OBP K% BB% ISO wRC+ wOBA BABIP Total Runs
.259 (9th) .344 (2nd) 17.0% (2nd) 10.9% (1st) .162 (4th) 117 (1st) .338 (2nd) .292 (18th) 235 (2nd)

Those are some extremely impressive figures across the board. The fact that the batting average is the least impressive thing on here and still falls into the top third of the league indicates what type of team we're dealing with here. For the most part, it's between them and the Colorado Rockies for league supremacy, so those figures in which they rank second, they're likely tops in the American League. That .162 ISO also illustrates a terrific ability to hit for extra bases, while the BABIP (at least to a certain degree) demonstrates that these numbers aren't some fluke from which the A's will surely regress.

Your top offensive performers (there's no logical order in which they're listed here):

G AVG OBP K% BB% wOBA wRC+ WAR
Josh Donaldson 43 .280 .362 20.1 11.1 .381 146 2.5
Yoenis Cespedes 40 .262 .331 16.9 9.6 .358 131 1.2
Brandon Moss 43 .301 .391 18.3 10.1 .415 170 1.9
Derek Norris 34 .354 .441 13.5 11.7 .435 184 1.4

The A's have that whole strict platoon deal in place for a large part of their lineup, which is why only three of these guys have appeared in at least 40 games (Norris being the exception) and only five on the roster have overall. Even Brandon Moss, perhaps the most consistent offensive player for Oakland through the first almost two months of the season, is considered a "platoon first baseman," making his numbers all the more impressive.

Those offensive figures are absolute dynamite. The A's don't have a player who really stands out as elite as an individual, making them all the more impressive. Then there's the matter of the stellar pitching that the A's boast. The three-headed monster atop the Oakland rotation has helped lead them to great success this season, even with Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin sitting out the year after Tommy John surgeries.

IP ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9
403.2 (6th) 2.83 (2nd) 3.51 (8th) 3.67 (10th) 7.85 (16th) 2.79 (9th)

At first glance, the pitching numbers don't look nearly as impressive as what the A's have done collectively with the bats. Part of that is certainly the struggles of Tommy Milone and Dan Straily, the two gentleman making up the latter part of the starting rotation, as well as new-and-already-former closer Jim Johnson. From a pure numbers standpoint, though, you could easily make the claim that it's the offense that has gotten Oakland to where they are at this point in the season.

There is a whole lot more that could be done with this and much farther down the rabbit hole that one could venture in order to determine which is more responsible. At this point, though, with the A's patiently putting up the massive numbers that they are offensively, it's tough to bet against their hitting. The fact that it's coming from all parts of the lineup makes them that much more difficult to solve. Even so, this is still a top-notch pitching staff that employs the likes of Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jesse Chavez at the top of the rotation. Another arm in the rotation and this is a team we're talking about as a championship contender.

At the end of the day, though, you have to look at this as a cooperative effort. This team is as good as the sum of its parts and it takes outstanding performances both on the mound (in conjunction with an underrated defense) and at the plate in order to build the type of success that Oakland has seen early on.

***All numbers via FanGraphs.

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Athletics Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.

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