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Oakland A’s lineup arguably the best in baseball

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They aren’t quite scoring the most runs, but they’re doing the best hitting.

Salute!
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s faced the Red Sox last weekend, and Boston entered the series as the hands-down hottest offense in baseball in the early going. However, the A’s shut them down so thoroughly that Oakland’s lineup may have wrestled away that title.

It’s certainly not a unanimous decision. The green and gold ranks only 6th in runs/game (5.18), with the Red Sox still topping that category. Scoring is the ultimate goal on offense, so that will always be an important measure. But there’s more than one way to skin a spreadsheet, so here are some other MLB rankings for the A’s:

  • 1st in wRC+ (120), 3rd in OPS (.787)
  • T-4th in isolated slugging (.174), T-4th in HR (28)
  • T-11th in walk rate (9.4%)
  • 2nd in average (.269), 1st in BABIP (.327)
  • T-4th in average w/ RISP (.281)
  • 2nd in hard contact rate (39.9%)
  • 1st in position player fWAR (5.1), 2nd in bWAR (5.3%)

The important one is at the top. The A’s are only third in OPS, but that’s because the leaders (BOS/NYY) play in silly Little League parks rather than the cavernous Coliseum with its unforgiving marine layer. Oakland tops all of MLB in wRC+ and OPS+, the adjusted versions that account for park factors and such things. Leading the sport in the all-in-one hitting metrics is a great start to an argument for having the best offense.

Breaking it down further, power is the main ingredient in the success. They’re also getting some good fortune in the BABIP department, which they’re at least partly earning by hitting the ball as hard as anyone, hitting as many liners as anyone (T-2nd in MLB), and keeping the infield popups at bay (9th-lowest). Time will tell how much of that high batting average they can maintain.

Factor in their not-terrible, roughly average defense, and the A’s also lead in position player fWAR, just a tick ahead of the Angels. Switch to bWAR and it flips, with the Angels leading the pack and Oakland in second. Boston may still be in the conversation for best offense, but for best overall lineup on both sides of the ball? The answer is currently out west, one way or other.

All of this is just a snapshot in time, of course. There’s nothing specifically meaningful about being the best on April 23, after 22 games played, but it’s the kind of benchmark we should be excited about in any sample size on a rebuilding team. The lineup so far is as good as we hoped and probably better, and at least a few of the pitchers are coming around too. The reasonable hope this year was to get back to .500, and that’s exactly where we are now.

Here’s a look down the lineup, organized by wRC+ (100 is average, higher is better):

  • Jed Lowrie (179): He still leads MLB in RBI (23), tied with Javier Baez of the Cubs. Still got that four-digit OPS, too (1.008). He finally had an 0-fer on Sunday to break a seven-game hitting streak.
  • Mark Canha (167): He got a hit off of each one of Boston’s daunting lefty starters.
  • Matt Chapman (156): His batting average has stabilized, but his plate discipline still looks great (12.8% BB, 20.2% Ks) and his tiny swinging-strike rate is lower than Lowrie’s.
  • Khris Davis (143): Most dingers in MLB since 2016, most recently a game-winner off David Price.
  • Matt Joyce (143): Only Bryce Harper and Joe Mauer have higher walk rates (21.9%).
  • Matt Olson (113): Still searching for power, but producing in the meantime.
  • Stephen Piscotty (108): This is closer to the hitter we were expecting, but hoping to see more on defense.
  • Marcus Semien (100): Went 4-for-7 against Sale and Price last weekend.
  • Jonathan Lucroy (85): Still waiting for the bat to come around, but when you catch a no-hitter you get a pass.

The A’s are average or better hitters at all but one position, and the only weak spot is the veteran defensive catcher. They won’t all stay at their current heights, especially Lowrie and Canha up at virtual MVP levels, but there’s every chance this lineup can continue to be a terror from top to bottom.

The next stop is Arlington, which has been back to playing like a hitter’s park so far this year. The Rangers are in last place in the AL West, which is a great reminder that we aren’t. Time to mess with Texas!