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Jed Lowrie leads MLB in RBI, and other small-sample April stats

The Oakland A’s offense is one of the best in baseball right now.

RBI machine!
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s are heating up. They’re on a four-game winning streak after sweeping the White Sox in dramatic fashion, which has improved their record to a more respectable 9-10 after an ugly start. Of course, the real test comes this weekend in the form of the Red Sox, but let’s take a moment during this off-day to enjoy where we’re at.

6th in scoring

The A’s offense looked like a potential strength entering the season, and so far they are indeed putting on a show. They scored 30 runs in the three games against Chicago this week, and they’ve plated 60 in their last seven contests (LAD, SEA, CHW). Overall their 5.47 runs/game ranks sixth in MLB, more than a run better than average (4.38). Some other league ranks:

  • 2nd in wRC+ (124) and OPS (.794)
  • T-2nd in HR (26)
  • T-5th in isolated slugging (.174)
  • T-7th in walk rate (10.0%)
  • 2nd in Hard Contact rate (39.5%)

They do lead the sport in BABIP (.325), so we’ll see how that goes. For what it’s worth they’ve earned part of that by avoiding popups (9.8% of flies, 6th-lowest), and they also make their share of contact while maintaining a league-average strikeout rate. We’ll revisit the strikeout thing after a weekend against Pomeranz, Sale, and Price.

A’s hitters are coming through in the clutch, as well. They’re 6th in batting average with runners in scoring position (.293, compared with .270 overall), and only Houston has more sac flies. They’re still not great at getting the runner home from third with less than two outs, but hey, progress!

The Red Sox have been even better at the plate, leading the league outright in runs/game and wRC+ and lots of other stuff. This weekend is going to be a clash of two of the best lineups in baseball.

RBI machine

The leader of Oakland’s charge has been Jed Lowrie, who is playing out of his mind so far. On a team featuring Khris Davis, Matt Olson, and Matt Chapman, it’s Lowrie who tops the pack with six homers.

Lowrie is so hot that his 21 RBI lead the entire majors. That’s not a stat we usually put a lot of meaning into, but hey, when your guy is leading in anything positive it becomes a fun talking point. Second place is Bryce Harper with 18, and Yoenis Cespedes is tied for third with 17. Of course the asterisk here is that the A’s have played all 19 of their scheduled games so far, while over half the league has only gotten in 17 and the Twins have played as few as 13. The same caveat applies to the fact that Lowrie’s tied for fourth in dingers.

His batting average won’t stay at .346 all year, but for the time being it’s helping him rank 8th in wRC+ (183). His torrid start has him 4th in fWAR (1.3) — behind teammate Matt Chapman in 3rd (1.4). (Did Gregorius and Mookie Betts are the leaders, at 1.5 each. On the bWAR scale, all four of those players are tied for third with 1.4, behind Mike Trout and Corey Dickerson at 1.6 each.)

No mercy

It hasn’t been a one-man show, though. The A’s lineup has been a monster from top to bottom, with above-average lines at nearly every position. A quick word on each (in order of their wRC+):

  1. Mark Canha (188): He’s only had 27 plate appearances, but there’s finally offense coming out of CF after the early slumps of Boog Powell and Jake Smolinski.
  2. Jed Lowrie (183): See above
  3. Matt Chapman (167): Cooled off slightly as his BABIP normalized but still keeping his strikeout rate low at 18.3%, about the same as Lowrie. He’s also the fastest runner on the team and the 2nd-fastest third baseman in the league, or maybe the fastest depending on which position Philadelphia’s Scott Kingery settles at.
  4. Matt Joyce (148): His enormous 22.2% walk rate ranks third in MLB, and he’s also maintaining his power from last year.
  5. Khris Davis (146): His strikeout rate (23.9%) is the lowest of his Oakland career, though he’s still swinging-and-missing at his usual rate. The four homers in three games last week reminded us what he can do when he gets hot.
  6. Matt Olson (122): Showed signs of life in Wednesday’s marathon, going 4-for-6 with two doubles, two walks, and his first career walk-off hit.
  7. Stephen Piscotty (114): In our last stats adventure we noted his unusually high groundball rate, and that did indeed normalize from a league-leading 74.3% down to 56.4% (with a career benchmark of 46.2%). With more liners came more hits, including a bunch of doubles and his first dinger.
  8. Jonathan Lucroy (99): His 10.2% strikeout rate is tied for 10th-lowest in the league, and his 91.3% contact rate is tied for second. He’s not hitting it hard, but at least he’s pretty much never missing (3.3% swinging strikes).
  9. Marcus Semien (84): On the bright side, he’s 7-for-12 with runners in scoring position, so at least he’s making the most of his hits. He also leads the team with three sac flies, so really it’s like he’s 10-for-15 in doing productive things with RISP (or 12-for-17 if you toss in his walks).

That doesn’t even include Chad Pinder (121), who figures to see plenty of time this weekend against Boston’s southpaws. Backup catcher Bruce Maxwell (71) is at least putting the ball in play, as has always been his strength (19.0% K-rate). On the down side, not a great start for Jake Smolinski (-39).

We were expecting a powerful Oakland offense this season, and so far we’ve got it. Here’s to five (or six) more months of fireworks!