Friday’s game was probably the most miserable fairly non-consequential regular season game in recent memory. Teams lose in April and by and large it doesn’t mean a whole lot but boy. Losing a game in which you hit five home runs is....not good. Let’s focus on the good.
The top cause for optimism going into 2018 was the A’s offense in the second half of 2017. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson joined a lineup bolstered by Khris Davis and Jed Lowrie which was the third best in baseball during that stretch. We anticipated that run scoring blitz to continue into 2018 but before Friday’s game, that offense had been just terrible.
We’re in the golden era of flyballs. We’ve already seen an increase in the amount of balls hit in the air from last year, the previous high water mark. It’s a small sample of course, but there’s no doubt players are still swinging up to drive the ball out of the park. It was part of the A’s success last year scoring runs - they led the game in flyball percentage in the second half. Predictably, their groundball rate was the lowest. Great! You can’t hit a groundball for a home run and it’s hard to hit a flyball into a double play. Swinging for the fences is a pervasive strategy because it works, and the A’s have the personnel to do it successfully.
If you had a concern about the offense coming into 2018, it probably wasn’t that the flyballs would disappear altogether. Rather, it was that they would stop leaving the yard at such a prolific rate. There was little doubt Matt Olson wouldn’t hit a dinger every eight at bats, but we didn’t and still don’t know how often he will hit them.
Weirdly for eight games, the flyballs disappeared. Going into Friday, the A’s were 24th in flyballs and not coincidentally sixth in groundballs. Also not coincidentally, they sat at just 15th in total runs scored and just 21st in runs scored per game. Not the worst we’ve seen from the A’s, but not good especially from the supposed strength of the roster.
Things changed Friday, when the A’s doubled their season total for dingers in a night. They hit the ball in the air 50% of the time and while the ball won’t always leave the yard at such a prolific rate, they give themselves better chance to score when they elevate. It’ll lead to more doubles and triples too, and doesn’t make for mind numbingly boring baseball full of constant groundballs. The A’s should remain a flyball hitting team from here on out.
Here’s what the A’s batted balls have looked like this year compared to the second half of 2017. Olson, Piscotty, Semien, Lowrie and Chapman have all topped the ball more frequently this season.
|Flyballs||2017 2nd half||2018|
|Flyballs||2017 2nd half||2018|
The moral of the story: the A’s are a team designed to hit flyballs and in the early goings of 2018, they’ve hit a lot of groundballs. That’s unlikely to stick. Throw in a few of the missing dingers during that first week of the season? The A’s might be at .500.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but if the offense is bad it’ll probably take a different shape than it has thus far. The first week was a small sample blip in terms of batted ball types.
It’s not all roses - Matt Chapman isn’t going to hit .400 all year and his high BABIP on groundballs won’t stick. Some low flyball rates are somewhat by design (Powell) and some may indicate a pure decline. Mostly though the team has a lot of room to improve, and it should happen naturally.
The pitching is just terrible.