The Oakland Athletics played another close game on Tuesday night, and this time Oakland's top two relievers, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, were unable to lock the game down. The bullpen has had a lot of close games to deal with, whether the A's have been leading or trailing, and the offense has given them no relief.
Bad relief nights will happen even to award-winning bullpens, but A's hitters have to start putting more runs on the board so that at least some of those bad nights have a chance to coincide with good nights in the Oakland run column. Right now, the hitters are doing very little to reward what has overall been a solid bullpen over these nine games.
The A's don't have a "runners in scoring position" problem or a "can't manufacture runs" problem so much as they have an overall "can't draw a walk or get a hit so far" problem:
The A's are tied for last in the American League in wRC+ with 75, representing a .227/.271/.346 batting line. They're even with the Twins, who are winless in seven attempts. Against the National League, they're ahead of only two teams that started the year in a rebuild mode (the Phillies and Braves) and the defending pennant-winning Mets. Oakland has played nine games and only scored five runs or more in one of them.
But it's not like the team has hit poorly up-and down. Five hitters have an above average wRC+, and two are within spitting distance of getting there in this young season. The other six, however, have generally represented holes in the lineups they've been in, save a few particularly clutch hits that have helped the A's win the four games they have won:
|A's batting statistics through April 12, ordered by wRC+ (source: FanGraphs)|
Those six will start hitting better. You know Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, Billy Butler, Chris Coghlan, Yonder Alonso, and Mark Canha are not sub-.244 on base percentage players or sub-.200 hitters. Some of them may have bad years, but they won't all each put up one of the worst 50 on base percentage seasons since the DH rule was instituted in 1973 (min. 300 plate appearances). They aren't six Rob Picciolos.
But they must start drawing walks again, and hopefully at a better clip than the 2015 AL average of 7.7%. Lowrie, Coghlan, Alonso, and Butler have the four highest career walk rates of the hitters on the active roster. Khris Davis is 8th and Mark Canha 10th, but neither is far from the AL average. The ability to take a walk plays a big part in why these players are valued hitters, so for those six to have two walks between them in 145 plate appearances (1.4% walk rate) is just a killer:
They are the six players that have taken 27 of the 36 starts so far in the fifth through eighth positions of the lineup, with the catchers taking all but one of the rest. Nothing epitomizes the futility of having a big hole in that part of the lineup more than Tuesday night's contest, where Marcus Semien hit two solo home runs out of the nine spot. Here are how the four hitters that hit before him did:
It sure would have been nice for Marcus Semien to have someone other than on deck hitter Billy Burns to high five as he crossed the plate. It sure would have been nice for Marcus Semien to come up a fourth time. Instead, Butler, Davis, Lowrie, and Canha went 0-for-14 with a double play on Tuesday. Semien was left in the on deck circle, unable to bat a fourth time, as Huston Street recorded the final out in the one-run loss.
Statistics from FanGraphs.