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6 small-sample stats after the Oakland A’s first homestand of 2018

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Chapman is great, the lineup needs more power AND clutch, and the pitchers are playing to contact.

Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have completed their first homestand of 2018, so it’s time to sort through the early statistical returns. The team wound up going 3-5 over eight games against the Angels and Rangers, but they could have just as easily been 5-3 with a little more luck (or even better than that with some clutch hits). Here are some interesting stats after the season’s first week.

No clutch

The A’s rank 13th in MLB with a 106 wRC+, which by definition is above the average mark of 100. The team above them on the list is at 112, and the team below them is at 101.

However, they’re only 21st in runs-per-game. Their 3.38 mark is nearly a full run below league average (4.27). This won’t surprise anyone, but they’re hitting well right up until it matters and then they’re failing to come through in the clutch. They have 18 plate appearances with a runner on third and less than two outs, but they’ve only scored him six times (also three walks though, so really it’s more like 6-for-15).

It’s only been a week, and these stats are both tiny samples and not particularly predictive at any size. But still, this type of thing is worth monitoring because at some point you do need to drive in those runners from third. Biggest culprits so far with runners in scoring position:

  • Matt Olson: 1-for-9, RBI, 3 BB, 4 Ks
  • Matt Joyce: 0-for-6, RBI, sac fly, 1 BB, 2 Ks
  • Boog Powell: 0-for-7, K

Again, the point isn’t to worry about those guys after one week, just to see who needs to start stepping up. And the good list w/ RISP:

  • Jed Lowrie: 4-for-11, 5 RBI, 2 doubles, 2 Ks
  • Matt Chapman: 2-for-6, 4 RBI, HR, double, BB, 2 Ks
  • Marcus Semien: 2-for-4, 2 RBI, sac fly, BB, K

Honorable mention to Khris Davis, whose 5 RBI in this split mostly came on a three-run homer (he’s also K’d five times in 11 tries, which is not good). Regarding Semien, he’s come up twice with a runner on third and less than two outs, and he’s come through both times (one of them a walk-off!).

Where’s the power?

The A’s biggest strength was supposed to be their power. They finished fourth in dingers last year and looked even thumpier entering this season, but so far they only have five homers. Their .114 isolated slugging ranks 26th in the league.

On the other hand, they’re at least making up for the lack of pop with some good luck in the meantime. Their .328 BABIP ranks third behind just the Braves and Astros, while their K and BB rates are right around average. Expect to see a few of those fortunate hits be replaced by glorious dingers as the summer moves on — and perhaps finding more extra bases will help lead to more efficient scoring and less reliance on just one more clutch single.

Chapman!

Matt Chapman’s first 33 plate appearances have produced a line of .400/.455/.633, with a team-leading two homers. His 216 wRC+ ranks 27th in MLB (minimum 10 PAs), or 16th if you cut down to just qualified everyday hitters. Love ridiculous early-season baseball stats!

The third baseman is still making most of his highlights on defense, but so far he’s also been the A’s best hitter. This is why Athletics Nation has been so over-the-top excited about him the last couple years. Obviously he won’t keep hitting .400 because he’s at least 60% human, but if he continues being a star at the plate then he becomes a legitimate MVP candidate and a worthy replacement -- dare I say, a potential upgrade — over Josh Donaldson.

Don’t run on Lucroy

The A’s found themselves a veteran catcher at the last minute this winter. He hasn’t made much noise at the plate yet, and his first two throws on attempted basestealers were borderline embarrassing.

That latter trend did not continue against Texas. After the Rangers succeeded on those first two steals, Lucroy threw out the next five runners who challenged him. He got Rougned Odor twice, plus Elvis Andrus, Ryan Rua, and Drew Robinson. Two of those outs came at third base.

Lucroy’s five caught stealings lead all MLB catchers so far. He led the league over a full season as recently as 2016, with 44 runners nabbed (though Sal Perez had a better percentage).

Pitching to contact

Oakland pitchers so far have the lowest strikeout rate in MLB (14.5% of batters, 5.4 K/9) as well as the lowest walk rate (4.3% of batters, 1.6 BB/9). No A’s hurler has issued more than two walks so far. They’ve allowed the second-highest contact rate, behind only the Giants.

And how quality has that contact been? Opponents have hit the ball fairly hard, but they’re not clearing the fence (ninth-lowest HR/FB rate). They are popping up a lot, with Oakland tied for fifth in that category (16.7% of flies, twice the rate of HR/FB). Overall they’re around middle of the pack in BABIP allowed, which is even better when you remember that all contact made against A’s pitchers must be fielded by A’s defenders.

Mengden’s mirage

If you look at the box score then you might conclude that Daniel Mengden is off to a poor start. That is simply not true.

He was utterly let down by his defense in his first outing, and to make it worse the official scorer refused to give the A’s any errors on horrendous fielding mistakes so most of his runs were earned. In his second outing, he was victimized by poor luck (a key hit deflected off his foot and into no-man’s land) and more bad defense (his own fault this time, botching the throw on a sac bunt).

Add it all up, and Mengden has a 6.55 ERA but a 2.23 FIP. That’s the second-biggest discrepancy in MLB among anyone who’s made two starts (after Jordan Zimmermann). The true talent level is surely somewhere in between those two marks, but his performance so far deserves to be closer to his FIP — which, by the way, is even better than the number put up by Sean Manaea so far (2.78).