The 2016 Oakland A's have played 51 games, which is nearly one-third of their season. They have scored 203 runs overall, and their rate of 3.98 runs per game ranks 12th in the AL and far under the league average of 4.35. Clearly the offense has been subpar, but in what specific ways has it struggled?
The A's team batting line of .247/.296/.390 offers one immediate answer: they can't get on base. While that .247 average is comfortably in the middle of the AL pack, their OBP is the worst in the league, thanks to a 6.1% walk rate that is dead last in all of MLB. They've become an aggressive team, with a top-10 swing rate, and that's fine if you do something with the ball when you make contact. But all they seem to be accomplishing is eschewing walks rather than earning more hits. That's pretty clearly the root of their problem. At some point you need to get on base, one way or other.
The one area where they make this up, though, is home runs -- their 54 long balls rank eighth in the AL. Oddly, though, they aren't hitting a lot of doubles to go along with those homers, which is why their slugging is still a couple dozen points below average. They're right on the AL average of eight triples, but they lag behind in two-baggers (13th in AL, 13 behind league average). I'm going to focus on this area, not necessarily because it's what's wrong with the lineup, but simply because I want to know why it's happening.
I decided to take a stab at figuring out why the A's hit homers but not doubles, but so far I've come up empty-handed. My first thought was inspired by Khris Davis: perhaps the big swingers in the lineup are so all-or-nothing that they really have no in-between, either making contact and blasting it into oblivion or simply missing completely. However, that isn't supported by the numbers: the A's make the sixth-most contact in MLB, and only seven teams make fewer swinging strikes. Davis remains the poster boy in terms of swinging for the fences, as he's leading the league in swinging strikes and just one off the AL lead in dingers, but he's an outlier in a lineup that makes plenty of contact. This is not an all-or-nothing lineup.
What about their batted balls? Are they just hitting it on the ground too much, stopping them from finding the gaps or banging the walls? Nope. Only eight MLB teams hit a lower rate of grounders, meaning the A's keep the ball in the air as much as anyone. That means that, even though they've hit their fair share of homers, they're only 24th in HR/FB. They make a lot of contact, it's usually in the air, and although it clears the fences often it doesn't do so as often as it could.
Doubles usually come on liners and flies, rather than grounders. On their line drives, the A's are hitting just .639 (29th in MLB), and on their fly balls just .203 (28th). Both are far below the MLB averages (.688, .242). That seems like bad luck, unless teams are successfully shifting against them and turning hits into outs via smart positioning. But that's not happening either, as the A's actually hit better when teams shift against them, ranking 20th against shifts (.291) and 27th against a normal defense (.274).
The A's swing a lot, and they make a lot of contact. They chase out of the zone a lot, but to be fair they tend to hit it when they do. They could stand to swing slightly more often at pitches within the zone, but the point is that they aren't sitting around waiting for walks (and, in turn, aren't getting those walks). Their rate of hard-hit balls is in the bottom half, but so is their rate of soft-hit balls, and again they're good at keeping it off the ground. And finally, they have the muscle to send it far over the wall on a regular basis, and they don't lack footspeed as a group (top-half in stolen bases and FanGraphs' Speed Score). So why in the world can't they hit doubles? I'm open to suggestions on this one, including the suggestion that we're talking about a difference of about 10 extra-base hits over 50 games so it could just be a small-sample fluke.
A quick ranking of the A's hitters by OPS+. I set a minimum of 50 PAs, which means I've left out bit players like Tyler Ladendorf and Jake Smolinski, as well as the oft-used Josh Phegley.
Danny Valencia | 142
He's been on a power spree since returning from the DL, but he's also hitting .325 overall. He's still far better against lefty pitchers, but he's holding his own against righties as well. For what it's worth, Josh Donaldson's OPS+ is 140, two points lower than Danny's, albeit with far better defensive numbers.
Josh Reddick | 140
Get well soon, Josh.
Khris Davis | 115
His power is for real and if they don't invite him to the Home Run Derby then I don't even know why they're bothering with it. But outside of those blasts he's contributed virtually nothing, with a .272 OBP. He's cut down his strikeout rate a little bit, but he's averaging one walk every 10 games. He's a free swinger, sure, but more than that pitchers don't seem afraid of giving him pitches in the zone -- he's among the top-10 in swinging at pitches in the zone and dead last in making contact with them. There's just no reason to pitch around him, as long as you're willing to accept an occasional homer.
Marcus Semien | 101
All he needs to do is get that .220 batting average up. He's hitting for power, drawing his walks, keeping the Ks reasonable, everything. But his BABIP is just .232, and not for any good reason. Get that average up to .250, which I think is around his true talent level, and his numbers will look dynamite.
Coco Crisp | 98
I'm still in a little bit of shock about how good Coco looks. The overwhelming preseason fan perception was that he was finished, and I generally agreed albeit with the ever-present nagging thought that one should never fully give up on Coco until he officially retires. But he's still cranking out league-average offense, with a bit of power and speed and solid plate discipline just like the old days. Slightly less of each of those things, but none of them are gone completely. It might seriously be time to make him a full-time DH, though, because holy hell he has nothing left in the outfield. Not even in LF. The range is gone and the arm was never there to begin with.
Jed Lowrie | 97
Good old dependable Jed. Nothing flashy, but a solid veteran to cover a thin position. He's the very definition of average at this point, and we've learned over the last few years that a team can do much, much worse than that at second base.
Stephen Vogt | 89
He's going downhill at the plate but I'm not sure why. Pitchers appear to be going after him more, as he's completely stopped drawing walks. He's swinging more, both inside and outside the zone, but the biggest change is that pitchers are pounding the plate against him.
Billy Burns | 70
He's hitting .343 on the first pitch! But that's down from .479 last year. He's still seeing lots of first-pitch strikes and he's hitting them almost as much as he did in his rookie year, but some of the magic has worn off so far. He's among the best at making contact, and his numbers aren't hurt by defensive shifts, so hopefully his luck will improve as the season goes on. The other explanation is that the league figured him out.
Billy Butler | 66
Ugh. I guess he got the big hit on Sunday, but it was basically a popout that no one got to in time.
Yonder Alonso | 54
He was on fire during the East Coast road trip, but since returning home he's 4-for-31 over his last dozen games, with two walks and no extra-base hits (.311 OPS). Still love his defense, though.
Chris Coghlan | 50
I don't wanna talk about it so read Jeremy Koo's explanation instead: Victim of the shift and the outside strike.