The A's have always been good at being underrated. They lack star power (except for maybe in Josh Donaldson), as evidenced by their continual All-Star snubs. Sure, they currently have the best record in all of baseball, but what has truly been underrated about this year's A's squad is its run differential. Plus-135. The next best team, the Giants across the bay, has a run differential of plus-49. The A's lead the league in run differential by 86 runs. Shouldn't this be a big deal?
SO, HOW GOOD ARE THESE A'S?
As the chart on the right shows, the 2014 A's have had the best start of the season since 1984, ranking fourth overall since 1964, when the Motor City Kitties also posted a .684 Pythagorean winning percentage through June 23. Those Tigers went on to win the 1984 World Series, a trend which is prevalent among the most dominant nine teams through this point in the season since 1964. In fact, four of the nine teams went on to win the World Series, three others lost it, and two lost in the NLCS. While these teams all regressed slightly during the latter portion of the regular season, they still won an average of 102 games, with no team winning fewer than 97. To me, this appears like pretty good company for the A's.
SO, THE A'S ARE WINNING THE WORLD SERIES THEN, RIGHT?Okay, okay. Let's slow our roll a bit here. Every team on this list, save for the 1998 Braves, played in the era before the Wild Card (introduced in 1994), and every team except for the 1998 Braves and the 1984 Tigers played before the expansion of divisions and the addition of the Division Series (introduced in 1981). Essentially, before 1981, if a team was one of the top two teams in its conference, it was one of two teams with a shot of playing in the World Series. Today, four (or five, depending how you count the Wild Card playoff game) teams all vie to be their conference's lone representative in the World Series, so having a superb regular season record doesn't get you as far.
One of the things that makes what the A's have done so remarkable is that parity has risen to almost unprecedented levels across the league. It's been 16 years since the 1998 Braves came close to matching what the A's are doing today; before that, 14 years had passed since any team put up a Pythagorean win percentage this far in the season above .660. But before 1984? Four teams in the 1970s, and two all-time great O's teams in the 60s all dominated the league. While the league's teams has trended toward mediocre (records-wise) in recent decades, the A's stand out as dominant, a feat which has become exceedingly rare. Here's to Oakland's historic early season dominance. Maybe someday, someone will notice.