Offensive Reality


741 Runs Scored, 11th in the AL
Team OBP = .338, 6th in the AL
Team SLG = .407, 11th in the AL

It has been 12 years since the A’s have scored so few runs. Why did this happen? The ridiculous number of injuries in 2007 certainly had an impact on the productivity of the offense but it would be a mistake to place too much emphasis on the injury factor. Yes, the A’s used 30 different position players during the 2007 season but several of them made unexpectedly positive contributions on offense. The harsh reality is that the A’s fielded a below-average offense for much of the season even when they were playing their 1st string line-up. What I originally wanted to know was exactly how much offense the A’s got from each position. I’m sorry, but when a team sends 12 guys out to play CF it gets a little difficult to intuitively know how much offensive production the A’s were getting from the spot.

Most of you are familiar with OPS+. For those who aren’t, OPS+ is a metric designed to weigh league and park factors in order to create a league average performance level. You can then compare a player’s OPS to the rest of the league and determine how good his performance actually was. Average is always considered 100; therefore if a player’s OPS is 5% better than league average he’ll get a score of 105. If his performance is 5% worse than league average he’ll get a score of 95. Simply stated, the more players in a line-up with an above-average OPS+ score the better the line-up will be. In 2007 the New York Yankees led the AL (and the majors) in runs scored with 968. It should come as no surprise then that the Yankees line-up regularly featured 7-8 players with well above average OPS+.

The purpose of OPS+ is to compare the performance of all batters without regard to their playing position. The problem with OPS+ is that it compares all batters without regard for their playing position. If you really want to know how good (or bad) a bat your starting SS has does it really make sense to compare his numbers to David Ortiz? Big Pappy had the 2nd highest OPS in baseball last year but he is not going to be playing SS for anyone. It makes more sense to compare your SS with the other guys in the league who have the skills to play the same position. You may have a SS who can hit 30 HR with a 900 OPS and that looks like a great advantage until you find out that every AL team has a SS with the same numbers. OPS+ says you have one of the best hitters in the game but you don’t have any real advantage at the SS position vs. your rivals. Therefore you’ll need to gain an advantage at another position in order to beat the other guy. So with that in mind I took the basic formula for OPS+ and refined the data to account only for hitters who played a like position. I call the results OPSp (p for positional). I’m pretty certain I’ve seen something like this before but it’s been a while and rather than try and track down the info I just rolled up my sleeves and did the math.

Since my original goal was to break down the offensive contributions by position I used the position splits provided by to distribute a player’s offense towards the tally of whichever defensive position he was playing. Nick Swisher, for example, has his season totals divided between RF, CF, 1B and DH. Heck, I even divided Dee Brown’s 3 AB for Oakland between RF and LF. I’m not going to provide links to all 30 players the A’s used in their 2007 line-ups because that would just be insane. I tallied up all the numbers and came up with what should be a 99.9% accurate representation of the offense the A’s got from the respective positions on the field. I also point out the primary offensive contributors at each position to better determine if the A’s are adequately manned at the spot in the coming years. I then took BP’s League Position Batting Stats and used them as a baseline to compare the A’s performance. A quick note while I’m talking about process. OPS+ weighs park factors before rating a player. My data pool contains every at bat from every player at each position; therefore I’m using both "inflated" and "depressed" components as part of the baseline. Using Baseball-Reference’s Park Factor ratings I quickly added up the batting rating for all 14 AL parks and came up with a league average of 100.21. Since 100 is a neutral mark (and assuming that I can actually get an accurate score by adding up all the park factors and dividing by 14) I decided that .21 wasn’t worth an extra step in my math. Nor do I use Park Factor as a multiplier for the A’s numbers. I’ve already accounted for park factor while creating the baseline which includes all the A’s data and to use the multiplier twice seems unnecessary. The Coliseum was a particularly tough place to hit last year but then again if a player struggles to hit in Oakland than maybe he shouldn’t be on the roster of the team that plays half their games there.

Anyways, on to the data. The 1st line will identify the position and give the league average numbers according to BP. The 2nd line represents the A’s cumulative production for that position and the overall OPSp. The rest will be dedicated to discussing individual players of note regarding the position.

LF: AL Average 335 OBP/426 Slugging = 761 OPS

Team: 346 OBP/400 Slugging = 746 OPS  (OPSp = 97.2)

Shannon Stewart: 576 AB  290/345/394  739 OPS  (OPSp = 95.5)

Shannon Stewart epitomizes the underwhelming nature of the A’s 2007 offense. Oakland got more than they had any right to expect out of Stewart, spending $1 million on a back-up and ending up with a full time starter. His numbers look fine on the surface and he sports a 101 OPS+ but when you compare him to other LFer’s his production is 4.5% weaker than the average. Shannon Stewart, bright light that he was in the Oakland line-up, was a below average hitter relative to his position. The main problem with Stewart is he lacks power. He has hit more than 13 HR in his career exactly once, although to be fair he was on pace for a 17 HR season in 2004 if he had managed a full season. At his best, Stewart was a gap hitter capable of 40+ doubles a year. That did a lot to make up for his lack of HR clout. Stewart still shows the pop to hit 10-12 HR a year but he’s not driving the ball into the gaps like he used to. He hasn’t hit 30 doubles in a season since 2003 and he played full seasons in ’05 and ’07. Nor was he on pace to reach 30 doubles in ’04 or ’06. Stewart turns 34 next year, he has a history of foot problems and he’s shown diminished power over the last 4 seasons. It seems a stretch to think that he’s got anywhere to go but down.

And the A’s are talking about bringing him back?

I’m sorry, but that would be a commitment to mediocrity. That’s the kind of bonehead move the Washington Nationals would make, our GM is supposed to be smarter than that. Stewart’s 2007 season should have been enough to earn him a multi-year deal worth somewhere around $5 million annual. That may not sound like a lot of money (or commitment) but we’re talking about a player you’re going to want to see less and less of if you want to see the A’s get better. We’re already at that point so there’s no reason to waste the time, the resources and roster space on someone who cannot be expected to offer even average offensive production at his position. Here’s another fun fact. That league average 761 OPS was the lowest total produced in the last 5 years so that number is probably going to go up next year. I don’t see any reason to think Stewart would be able to catch up.

CF: AL Average 340 OBP/414 Slugging = 754 OPS

Team: 332 OBP/379 Slugging = 711 OPS  (OPSp = 89.1)

Nick Swisher: 211 AB  261/370/479  849 OPS  (OPSp = 124.5)
Mark Kotsay: 206 AB  214/279/296  575 OPS  (OPSp = 53.6)

Turns out, CF wasn’t the deep, dark black hole I was expecting it to be offensively. Thank Swisher for that. Bad news is, it sounds like Mark Kotsay gets first dibs at the job in 2008. That’s a problem because unless he can return to (at least) his 2005 form with the bat Mr. Kotsay will provide another below-average offensive contributor to the line-up. And don’t even think about him getting traded before the season starts. Kotsay’s got an $8 million price tag and a balky back that cost him most of 2007 that combo makes him fugly to potential suitors. I’m sorry, but no one is going to get that drunk at the Winter Meetings!

I’ve got a question.

Can Nick Swisher play CF as a full time gig?

RF: AL Average 359 OBP/465 Slugging = 824 OPS

Team: 372 OBP/444 Slugging = 816 OPS  (OPSp = 99.1)

Travis Buck: 210 AB  276/368/467  835 OPS  (OPSp = 102.9)
Nick Swisher: 173 AB  254/368/393  761 OPS  (OPSp = 92.4)
Jack Cust: 159 AB  270/431/566  997 OPS  (OPSp = 141.8)

RF was the AL’s offensive powerhouse last year and the A’s did OK. Thank Cust for that. Swisher’s power outage in June coincided with Kotsay’s return to CF. Coincidence? Maybe. Swisher finished the year with an 836 OPS, his poor showing while playing RF last year was a fluke, nothing more. Either he or Travis Buck would provide the A’s with average or better offense in RF next year.

1B: AL Average 348 OBP/443 Slugging = 791 OPS

Team: 366 OBP/436 Slugging = 802 OPS  (OPSp = 103.6)
Team (-): 357 OBP/409 Slugging = 766 OPS  (OPSp = 94.9)

Dan Johnson: 356 AB  233/344/404  748 OPS  (OPSp = 90.1)
Daric Barton: 72 AB  347/429/639  1068 OPS  (OPSp = 167.5)

I didn’t include Swisher’s numbers because there is no way Swish will spend much time at 1B next year as long as Cust and Barton are on the roster. But you’ll notice that I include two sets of team stats for the A’s. The top score was the final cumulative OPS, the bottom score reflects what the A’s 1st basemen had accomplished before Daric Barton came to Oakland. That’s right, Barton’s wild September lifted the overall total almost 9 points. That 802 OPS is a lie of sorts, for the first 5 months of the season Oakland was receiving below-average offensive production from 1B. If there is one position on the diamond where offense takes 1st and 2nd priority it is 1B and if Daric Barton hadn’t come into town hitting like Pedro Cerrano, Roy Hobbs and Steve Nebraska all rolled into one then I think Beane’s #1 priority would have been to find a 1st baseman who could hit worth a damn.

Speaking of Daric Barton, a lot of people are content with having him in the 2008 line-up. Now I don’t have a problem with Barton being in next year’s line-up but that sense of contentedness bothers me. I don’t think the Barton we see in 2008 will be the same guy we saw last September. The guy we saw in September posted a 1068 OPS in 72 AB, which was 241 points higher than he managed in his 5 month stint in AAA last year. To this day, Daric Barton has never hit more than 13 HR in a season since turning pro. The power surge he showed in September should be considered just that – a surge. It seems unrealistic to expect or even hope for similar production over the course of the 2008 season. I’m counting Barton as being an asset next year, but let’s not get carried away. He’s got the on-base skills and gap power to be an above-average hitter at 1B next year but no more than that.

DH: AL Average 355 OBP/447 Slugging = 802 OPS

Team: 358 OBP/463 Slugging = 821 OPS  (OPSp = 104.4)

Mike Piazza: 298 AB  282/319/426  745 OPS  (OPSp = 85.2)
Jack Cust: 192 AB  245/390/484  874 OPS  (OPSp = 118.2)

Let us give thanks and praise to Jack Cust. He split his at bats between LF, RF and DH and it was his production that allowed the A’s to post average numbers in RH and above average numbers at DH. Ultimately though, when 2007 was said and done Mike Piazza was another reason why the A’s offense was so unproductive. He had more at bats as the DH than anyone and his numbers were poor. Piazza was 38, switching leagues and had someone atomic drop his shoulder into hamburger so I’ll refrain from calling him a bust. At the same time, I’ve got no problem saying "see ya".

3B: AL Average 334 OBP/427 Slugging = 761 OPS

Team: 334 OBP/429 Slugging = 763 OPS  (OPSp = 100.3)

Eric Chavez: 340 AB  241/307/447  754 OPS  (OPSp = 96.6)
Jack Hannahan: 144 AB  278/369/424  793 OPS  (OPSp = 109.8)

What kind of numbers could a healthy Eric Chavez put up? Will we ever get to find out? And how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie roll center of a Tootsie pop? The world may never know.

C: AL Average  318 OBP/395 Slugging = 713 OPS

Team: 299 OBP/340 Slugging = 639 OPS  (OPSp = 80.1)

Jason Kendall: 292 AB  226/261/281  542 OPS  (OPSp = 53.2)
Kurt Suzuki: 204 AB  245/326/412  738 OPS  (OPSp = 106.8)

Jason Kendall.


Jason LaRue managed to work himself into a platoon job in KC for a while, but for all intents and purposes when Jason Kendall was Oakland’s starting Catcher he was the worst hitting starter at his position in all of baseball.

I feel very confident in Kurt Suzuki’s ability to provide at least league average offense from the Catcher position starting in 2008. Eventually he could produce well above average numbers but I will not burden him that expectation next year.

2B: AL Average 339 OBP/416 Slugging = 755 OPS

Team: 325 OBP/435 Slugging = 760 OPS  (OPSp = 100.7)

Mark Ellis: 582 AB  277/336/442  778 OPS  (OPSp = 105.4)

Less than 50 AB went to Oakland 2nd basemen not named Mark Ellis. You know, if you want to blame something or someone for giving me the idea to write this diary, blame anyone who called Mark Ellis the best 2B in the AL last year. He’s certainly a good player and the defensive metrics all call him "Daddy" but a 105.4 OPSp raises a questioning flag. 6 2nd basemen posted a higher OPS in the AL, including Placido Polanco who’s 846 OPS was almost 70 points higher than that of Mark Ellis. THT’s RZR says Polanco was the 2nd best defensive 2B in the AL and while he was clearly a step behind Ellis his 52 point OBP advantage makes up some (if not all) of that lost ground.

Mark Ellis was a barely above average offensive player and his OBP percentage was actually 3 points below league average. His advantage can be traced directly to his career high in HR and doubles. If you think Ellis can duplicate his power stroke in 2008 than no worries. If you suspect otherwise....

SS: AL Average 322 OBP/391 Slugging = 713 OPS

Team: 289 OBP/358 Slugging = 647 OPS  (OPSp = 81.4)

Bobby Crosby: 349 AB  226/278/341  619 OPS  (OPSp = 73.5)
Marco Scutaro: 146 AB  247/313/308  621 OPS  (OPSp = 76)
Donnie Murphy: 111 AB  234/306/468  774 OPS  (OPSp = 114.7)

Marco Scutaro: 338 Total AB  260/332/361  693 OPS  (OPSp = 84.7)

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

The A’s options include A-Rod at $30 million annual, trade for a SS or live with Donnie Murphy’s short range and hope his bat continues to develop.

Anything else requires more magical pixie dust than is currently available.

If the A’s insist on putting Bobby Crosby in to the 2008 starting line-up than Beane should dedicate the season to loading up on young talent in an effort to rebuild the roster and the farm system. You do not win baseball games with Bobby Crosby in the starting line-up. You win in spite of him. A few days ago Nico wrote a piece that called Crosby an above-average defensive SS with a below-average bat and suggested that the A’s could do worse.

Crosby was the worst hitting starting SS in the major leagues last year.


There were several reasons why the A’s fielded such an inept offense last season. They got below-average production out of LF and prior to Daric Barton’s call-up, 1B. They got poor production out of their primary DH. They gave starting roles to the worst hitting Catcher and SS in the AL and while giving another 200+ at bats to one of the weakest hitting CFers. 3B and RF offered only average production and those numbers were only met by the achievements of players who started the 2007 season in other organizations.

Some of the problems have already been corrected. Kendall is gone and Piazza should soon follow. With any luck Shannon Stewart will be let go and replaced by a full season of Travis Buck. Hannahan is in place to back up 3B if Chavez isn’t ready to go in April. Cust and Barton will have their names in the Opening Day line-up.

Unfortunately I can see the A’s standing pat with the rest of the roster. I can see the following line-up card and it worries me.

C: Suzuki                      (106.8 OPSp)
1B: Barton                    (110.7 OPSp)* Estimate based on his AAA performance
2B: Ellis                        (105.4 OPSp)
3B: Chavez/Hannahan (100.3 OPSp)* No clue what April will bring
SS: Crosby                   (73.5 OPSp)
LF: Buck                       (123.8 OPSp)* 07 Totals weighed vs. AL position average
CF: Kotsay                   (53.6 OPSp)
RF: Swisher                  (103.9 OPSp)* 07 Totals weighed vs. AL position average
DH: Cust                      (127.7 OPSp)* 07 Totals weighed vs. AL position average

That leaves 2 huge black holes in the line-up and there are question marks surrounding the top 3 OPSp producers. It’s possible that the above line-up could be nearly as hamstrung as the 2007 version if the A’s catch a few bad breaks. Hey, in a perfect world Kotsay could surprise us and contribute near league average offense while Buck stays healthy, Cust is for real and Swisher continues to improve. Crosby will still suck with the bat but at least he offers a reliable glove for part of the season.

This leads me back to an earlier question. Can Swisher be an average defensive CF on a full time basis? Sure, it’s not the ideal defensive alignment but consider what it does to the line-up.

C: Suzuki                     (106.8 OPSp)
1B: Barton                   (110.7 OPSp)* Estimate based on his AAA performance
2B: Ellis                        (105.4 OPSp)
3B: Chavez/Hannahan (100.3 OPSp)* No clue what April will bring
SS: Crosby                   (73.5 OPSp)
LF: Buck                       (123.8 OPSp)* 07 Totals weighed vs. AL position average
CF: Swisher                 (122 OPSp)* 07 Totals weighed vs. AL position average
RF: Cust                       (122 OPSp)* 07 Totals weighed vs. AL position average

I slipped Cust into RF just to show that there wouldn’t be any significant drop-off in his production if he was in the field. This opens up the DH slot for the A’s to find the best possible bat, thus strengthening the line-up further. Now I understand the desire to keep Cust away from a job that involves defense. I too would prefer if the A’s could find a hitter who could play a competent RF while swinging a potent bat, but we need to face facts: It’s a lot easier to find a bat who can smash and play DH than it is to find a bat that can smash and play RF. But if Swisher can handle CF than his presence creates a lot less pressure for Buck and Cust to produce. Add in an extra plus bat and you have the potential for a very good line-up.

Which after what we watched in 2007 would be a refreshing change.