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First Contact: The A's New Offensive Philosophy

The A's have always been willing to strike out a little (or a lot) if it meant getting on base and hitting for power. But in 2015, the hitters in Oakland are making more contact than ever.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the Oakland A's struck out more than any other team in the league. And I don't mean just all the teams in the MLB that year... I mean that the 2012 A's struck out more than any other team in the entire history of the American League. And yet, that team didn't have a historically inept offense by any means; in fact, they were quite a bit above average. The A's realized that strikeouts on offense aren't necessarily completely detrimental to the team, as long as those players that strike out a ton also contribute in other ways (getting on base, hitting for power). That's how the Brandon Mosses, the Adam Dunns, and the (*braces for angry mob with pitchforks*) Jack Custs of the world earned their keep, and were significant contributors to a major league offense despite their massive strikeout totals.

This year, though, something very strange has happened. We're now 20 games into the season, and the A's have the 2nd lowest strikeout percentage in the whole league (the Royals, entirely unsurprisingly, have the lowest). When the A's traded Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, and Josh Donaldson this offseason, it was very apparent that the faces and names in the lineup were going to be very different. But what's quickly becoming apparent is that the A's offense is completely different than the types of offenses we've been used to seeing over the past several years.

It's not just the fact that the A's aren't striking out; it's that they're making good, quality contact like they never have before.

The A's are Still Incredibly Patient

The following chart shows the A's MLB ranks in two important categories of plate discipline: O-swing% (the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone swung at) and Z-swing% (the percentage of pitches inside the strike zone players swung at:

O-Swing% Z-Swing%
MLB Rank (Out of 30) 27th 30th

As you can see, the A's still have their famed Moneyball-esque patience. They rank 27th in the MLB in swinging at pitches outside the zone, but even more fascinating, they rank dead last in all of baseball in swinging at pitches in the strike zone. Again, this is something that we've noticed in A's teams before; if I had a dollar for every facepalm A's fans made watching Daric Barton watch a perfectly hittable fastball go right by him without ever lifting the bat from his shoulder, I could buy out Lew Wolff. You'd think that not swinging at strikes would lead to more strikeouts, but...

The A's are Making Tons of Contact

Here's another chart that will put some of this into perspective, again with the A's MLB ranks, this time in categories of contact (K% is strikeout percentage, and SwStrike% is the percentage of swings and misses).

Contact% K% SwStrike%
MLB Rank (out of 30) 4th 29th 30th

To reiterate: the A's have the lowest percentage of swings and misses in the whole league (despite what watching Brett Lawrie would tell you). They're making TONS of contact. They're not striking out. And yet they're not the Royals. The Royals are 6th in the league at swinging at pitches outside the zone, while the A's are 27th. The A's, rather than making contact with any pitch that comes their way, are sitting and waiting on their pitches to hit (as evidenced by being dead last in swinging at pitches in the zone), and when they do swing, they're getting the bat on the ball.

The A's are Still Getting on Base (And Hitting For Power)

The most important question, though: it's all well and good that the A's aren't striking out, and are making good contact, but is that actually translating into offensive production? I've got one more chart for you of the A's MLB ranks in some offensive categories (BB% is walk pecentage, OBP is on-base percentage, SLG is slugging, and wRC+ is an overall rating of offensive production relative to the rest of the league):

MLB Rank 19th 5th 9th 7th

This chart, to me, is the most telling of all. I was shocked to find that the 2015 A's are 19th in the league at drawing walks. But I was even more shocked to find that despite that, they're still 5th in the league at getting on base. While we normally associate a high OBP with a strong walk rate, getting a lot of hits will get you there too. When you're constantly making contact on hittable pitches and watching the other ones go by, you're going to get some good results.

And it's not just that they've become a singles-hitting team; despite all this, they're still ranked 9th in the league in slugging and 7th in wRC+.

The 2015 A's offense looks very different than we're used to. Gone are the "three true outcomes" guys of years past, and replacing them are hitters who patiently wait for their pitch to hit, and when it comes, are actually able to get the barrel on the ball consistently. Instead of relying on a few sluggers and well-timed home runs to produce the wins, consistent contact hitting throughout the lineup is the new game for the A's.