For the first month of the season, the Oakland A’s had one of the best lineups in baseball. By early May they were second in MLB in wRC+, and among the leaders in runs per game. Virtually every hitter in the lineup had an above-average line, and the whole group was rolling.
And then the clock struck midnight, and all at once the lineup fell silent. On April 27 they beat Dallas Keuchel and the Astros 8-1, an impressive feat against a recent Cy Young winner. In their next 11 games after that, they’ve managed only 26 total runs. Only twice have they scored more than three in a single contest, and they’ve gone 4-7 over that span.
Here are Oakland’s ranks over the last 14 days. This split actually includes that 8-1 victory over Keuchel, so these numbers are slightly better than they could be:
- 30th in wRC+ (62), 29th in OPS (.600)
- 26th in runs/game (3.09)
- Tied for lowest walk rate (5.7%)
- 2nd-highest strikeout rate (27.9%)
- T-24th in homers (11), 22nd in isolated slugging (.147)
During their good times, the A’s were leading the league in BABIP thanks partly to a ton of liners and hard-hit contact. However, regression came swift and fierce in that department, as they ranked 29th in BABIP during this span (.258) while seeing their line-drive rate plummet to 28th (17.6%).
This skid has encompassed almost the entire lineup. The only hitters with wRC+ above 100 in this span are Jonathan Lucroy (165), Jed Lowrie (141), and Chad Pinder (120). Here’s more on Lucroy heating up. Lowrie has been a consistent force all year and still leads the American League with 32 RBI. In addition that trio, Khris Davis and Mark Canha at least provided a couple dingers each over these last two weeks.
The weakest hitters during this slump have been the Matts. The whole trio is struggling: Olson (37 wRC+), Joyce (26), and Chapman (negative-2). Chapman has had it the worst, as he’s 3-for-38 over his last 11 games. Khrush (25) has also scuffled but at least provided a walk-off homer along the way, and Stephen Piscotty (29) has been quiet but has the excuse of being distracted by personal tragedy.
On the bright side, Oakland’s downturn has come against some tough pitching. They faced the following starters:
- Dallas Keuchel
- Lance McCullers
- Gerrit Cole
- Felix Hernandez
- James Paxton
- Wade LeBlanc
- Andrew Cashner
- Kevin Gausman
- Alex Cobb
- Dallas Keuchel again
- Lance McCullers again
- Gerrit Cole again
Half of those games came against three excellent Houston starters. There is no shame in being shut down by any of them, even five times in six tries. They also faced their arch-nemesis in Felix, plus breakout ace Paxton who threw a no-hitter his next time out after his game against Oakland. Cobb is a star who signed a $57 million contract last offseason, and Gausman is a former top-top prospect who is a perpetual breakout candidate. The only real weak links were Cashner (who almost netted a qualifying offer last winter) and LeBlanc, and neither of them made it out of the 5th inning in their starts.
Of course, the immediate future isn’t going to get any easier. In New York they’ll face their own former ace Sonny Gray and then two hot youngsters (Domingo German, Luis Severino); in Boston they’ll run into former Cy Young Rick Porcello and last year’s runner-up Chris Sale (plus Eduardo Rodriguez, no slouch himself). After that they’ll finally get some better odds, as Toronto’s rotation is off to a shaky start. On the bright side of all this, they’ll get to play in three of the hitter-friendliest stadiums in the sport: Yankee Stadium, Fenway, and the Rogers Centre. Bring on the dingers!
Full 2018 stats
Overall for the season, the A’s still rank in the middle of the pack offensively. The recent downturn has dropped their wRC+ down to exactly 100, which ties them for 11th in baseball. They’re 16th in runs/game (4.38), just a few hundredths below league-average (4.45). Their power is only average now, and they’re second-to-last in stealing bases (7-for-14). A quick look down the lineup (wRC+ in parentheses):
- Jed Lowrie (166): Hasn’t missed a beat, just effing dominating.
- Mark Canha (127): Finally slowing down, but still good enough to start.
- Chad Pinder (121): Not playing every day, but producing when he’s in there.
- Jonathan Lucroy (108): He spent the first month at the bottom of this list.
- Khris Davis (103): Leads the team with 9 dingers.
- Matt Chapman (100): Strikeout rate has creeped up to 27%.
- Matt Joyce (91): Still 6th in MLB in walk rate (17.8%), but not hitting (.191 average).
- Matt Olson (90): Mired in sophomore slump.
- Marcus Semien (90): At least he’s 9-for-24 (.375) with runners in scoring position.
- Stephen Piscotty (84): On bereavement leave until Tuesday.
There’s no help on the bench other than Pinder, with backup catcher Bruce Maxwell (46) and backup outfielder Jake Smolinski (2) still doing nothing at the plate. On the bright side, a new hope has arrived in the form of top prospect Dustin Fowler, who is making his first start Friday in CF.
For what it’s worth, anyone can slump, even the best lineups. Right before they swept us this week, the defending champion Astros lost 5-of-7 games and scored 19 total runs in that span. (And that was in Minute Maid and Chase, two absurd hitter’s parks.) Cut it down to just their series against the Yankees, and they scored seven runs in four games, including two straight shutouts. One of those shutouts was a bullpen game because the starter got hurt in the 1st inning.
Granted, those same Yankees happen to be exactly the opponent Oakland is seeing next, but that’s beside the point. We know there are good hitters in the A’s lineup, and we know that even the best hitters are humans who go through rough patches. If the bad times turn from a couple weeks into a couple months then we’ll have a different conversation, but for now let’s acknowledge that they slumped without freaking out too hard over a small sample. This too shall pass. (Probably.)