The Oakland A’s have struggled in just about every aspect of the game over their last three cellar-dwelling seasons. They’ve seen rotations fall apart, bullpens implode, defenses vanish, and lineups dry up, all while suffering more than their fair share of injuries.
But they’re finally starting to come around in one of those areas. With the influx of powerful rookie hitters from Triple-A Nashville, suddenly this is a team that can hit — from top to bottom.
In a season that opened with a lineup full of veteran stopgaps, suddenly the A’s have nearly an entire unit of above-average hitters. Granted, some of their numbers come in small samples after only recently joining the team, but it’s still worth something that nearly every one of those small samples is leaning in the happy direction. Check out all the triple-digit numbers in the wRC+ column (i.e., above league-average).
That’s every single position except for catcher, the one place at which you least mind punting offense. And even there, our rookie at least has strong plate discipline and a promising BB/K rate, with plenty of time to develop into a solid hitter.
Powell sticks out for some obvious small-sample shenanigans, with his .429 BABIP in just a couple weeks of play. But even when some of those bloops stop falling in for cheap singles, he still has on-base skills that could keep him above average overall.
Better yet, this isn’t even the whole of it. Behind this starting nine, there’s also a strong utilityman/super-sub in Pinder, ready to take over for almost anyone who exits the scene for any reason. And all of this is before top hitting prospects Franklin Barreto and Renato Nunez are called up next week (via Susan Slusser, S.F. Chronicle), or before headline acquisition Dustin Fowler joins the team next year post-injury, among others. Nunez is still tied for the lead in all of Triple-A with 32 homers (Pacific Coast and International League), while Barreto was just named to the latest MLB Pipeline Team of the Week.
As a team, Oakland still ranks poorly in most offensive categories over the full 2017 season. However, if you chop it down to just the second half, when the rookies were fully taking over the lineup, suddenly they’re 5th in MLB in wRC+ (109) thanks to top-10 marks in both walk rate and isolated slugging (7th in both). Even their .258 batting average has been in the top half, without the help of any fluky BABIP luck. They’re still mostly dinger monsters, but they’re gradually starting to diversify.
There’s still a long way to go before the Bat Pack can truly graduate from hot rookies to established, terrifying demolition team. There are a few high strikeout rates whose owners need to prove won’t get in the way of sustained success, though at least each of those guys is also smashing dingers to make up for it. The whole group could stand to add a bit of OBP, especially once Lowrie and Joyce move on, though on the bright side Khrush and Semien have trended upward while Powell and Olson have flashed skills in that area.
In the meantime, at least the early returns are good. Every remaining veteran is earning his keep and then some, and nearly every rookie is off to a wonderful start to his MLB career. They’re beginning to string together long rallies more often, and they’re making a habit out of late-inning comebacks. The A’s still need more work to shore up their pitching and defense, but at least the bats have woken up in the early stages of this youth movement.