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On Regression and the Future

Must move this type of communication to 1st and 2nd base.  Ahem, Weeks and Barton
Must move this type of communication to 1st and 2nd base. Ahem, Weeks and Barton

After another satisfying victory against the currently hapless Halos last night, the A's now stand at 22-21. This is starting to garner some national attention. Steve Berthiaume has been calling the A's "plucky", Buster Olney mused about the A's .500 record last week, and the MLB Network anchors repeatedly mention how much of a surprise it is that the A's have hung onto 2nd place for so long. Indeed, I believe most A's fans are pleasantly surprised at how this season has gone so far record-wise. And this is despite playing with Josh Donaldson a scarecrow at 3rd base most of the year, Yoenis Cespedes missing significant time with a hand injury, and Kurt Suzuki being among the worst offensive catchers in MLB. So, with Brandon Inge on track to returning next week, Brandon McCarthy being on track for an early June return, Cespedes potentially returning around then, and Brett Anderson returning around August, this team has nowhere to go but up, right?

Well, I'm here to tell you the immediate future might not be so rosy. The warning signs of regression are there: the A's pythagorean record stands at 20-23. The one-run game record is 6-2. The A's have won 4 of 5 extra inning games. They've lost 5 of 7 to the Mariners. Teams of the A's ilk, basically, shouldn't have such a fine record in close games and shouldn't lose to teams like the Mariners so consistently.

Of course, this is the baseball, the most random of all sports, and things happen. Take the Giants last year - they had a 33-22 one-run game record and managed to stick around in the playoff hunt until the bitter end. A similar team, the 2010 Giants, managed to win the World Series despite having slightly poorer hitters than the A's that year. It's quite possible that a confluence of events could happen that keep the A's in contention (one of which being the Angels continuing to underachieve). Beane might then be convinced to make some win-now trades to try and push this team into one of the play-in games newly instituted for 2012.

Let's say, though, that those things don't happen. The A's falter sometime around mid-June, and their record plummets accordingly. There is still reason to be optimistic about the near-future. For example, the trades Beane made in the offseason have proven to be extremely beneficial for the A's thus far:

  • While Gio (who is also due for some regressIon) is tearing through the NL, Tom Milone is a capable 3rd/4th starter, and Derek Norris is poised to challenge for the starting C job in 2013.
  • Josh Reddick is the best all-around RF in the AL right now, while Bailey is on the DL
  • Jarrod Parker has above-average stuff and should pan out as a 2nd/3rd starter.
  • Ryan Cook has emerged as a top setup man, and future closer. Plus, his beard is cool.

And that's not even including the future contributions of Cespedes, a healthy Anderson, and the lower-level guys we got back in the aforementioned trades.

So, while today's record is a pleasant surprise, just remember that this is mostly gravy. The real excitement is yet to come.

Join dwishinsky for #lawyerball tonight, gametime 7:05. Graham Godfrey goes for the A's, so let's hope the offense can score more than 2 runs.