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Will the Oakland A's Hit Righties?

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We agree, Stephen. You haven't been able to hit righties this season.
We agree, Stephen. You haven't been able to hit righties this season.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

We're still at a point in the season when the small sample size caveat applies virtually everywhere you find baseball analysis. Still, picking up on trends, good or bad, can be helpful to any major league team no matter how few innings have been played.

One negative trend I've noticed since the season began is troubling, and should it continue it would be tough to overcome for the hopeful 2016 Oakland Athletics. Through eight games, five of which have been started by right-handed pitchers, A's hitters have been horrible against righties.

In 195 PAs versus righties the A's rank 26th in baseball with a 71 wRC+, 28th with a .262 wOBA, and 28th with a .206 batting average. Last season the A's were 20th, 22nd, and 19th in those metrics, respectively. To compare the 2016 A's are batting .274 versus lefties with a 90 wRC+.

You can't succeed on offense if you can't hit right-handed pitching. Period. The Texas Rangers had the lowest wRC+ versus righties of all MLB 2015 playoff teams and they placed 16th in the league.

It's no surprise to see Josh Reddick leading the way with a .313 average and 234 wRC+ against right handers (apologies to Josh Phegley, but your one hit in three ABs vs. RHP is being left out). What, or better yet, who is causing the A's to look so poor against righties?

The Culprits

Jed Lowrie is a career .245 hitter versus righties. So, not great, but also not as bad as his early showing of .227. Here's the thing, Lowrie batted .206 versus righties last season and .210 versus righties in 2011. He batted .258 against righties every year in between. He jumped out to a productive with 7 RBIs already is back to playing everyday. He's usually a good hitter against fastballs and curveballs, but he hasn't been hitting them well so far in 2016. Perhaps he's taken a little longer than expected to adjust to full-time second base duty. My expectation is that we'll see Lowrie heat up soon, especially if last night's 2-for-4 effort is any indication.

To say Khris Davis has struggled so far would be a major league understatement. The powerful righty has struck out in more than 40% of the time and has shown next to no power despite a 50% hard-hit rate. He's a career .253 hitter against righties and may just be pressing a little bit too much in an attempt to carry his new team. He is batting just .188 versus righties this season with zero extra-base hits. He also has been a slow starter in his career with just a .230 average in March and April. It is not time to freak out quite yet.

My excitement over the Chris Coghlan acquisition is well documented. However, he's been one of the team's worst performers versus right-handed pitchers in 2016. He was one of the best hitters against righties in 2014 and 2015 but hasn't quite found his stride yet in 2016. He is batting just .190 this season and has received all but two of his PAs against righties, so what gives? A .200 BABIP and 12.5% hard-hit rate could be to blame. His lack of patience might also be a reason for his early slump. Coghlan has yet to take a walk this season and has struck out 30% of the time, nearly double his regular K rate. He is swinging slightly more than usual and has swung at pitches out of the zone 15% more than he did in 2015. He had a great spring and is only being used in situations that fit his skillset. Coghlan will be fine as the season goes on.

Stephen Vogt hasn't looked good against righties at all this season, which is odd considering he was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball last season, especially versus righties. Vogt is batting just .167 this season against righties with one walk and one extra-base hit. He hasn't hit the ball with much authority and his performance against changeups has been lacking. So far his contact rate is nearly 10% lower than it was last season and he's swinging at more pitches out of the zone. Vogt was a very disciplined hitter in 2015 so I expect him to come around shortly.

One last player that is affecting the A's early inability to hit right-handed pitching is Billy Butler. His mention here isn't due to poor performance rather than lack of opportunity. Despite not publicly being in a straight-up platoon at designated hitter Butler has received just one plate appearance against a righty. Last season he batted .269 with a 101 wRC+ versus right-handed pitchers. Currently the A's have plenty of "good" options against righties so Butler has't gotten his chances against them. Only time will tell if he will.

Conclusion

All in all I'm not too worried about the A's lack of production against righties. The season is just eight games old and the team has played in only pitcher's parks so far. If the calendar turns to May and the hitters mentioned above are still struggling against right-handed pitchers I will start to worry. Until then the pitching staff has done nothing but prove last season's poor showing was a fluke and has been able to keep the A's in all but one game.

What do you think?