We know this: the A’s offense is capable of breaking out for 60 runs on a 10 game road trip or 16 runs on a Friday night, and the A’s offense is capable of going limp to the tune of 15 runs over 8 dreary days and nights, struggling to put just one needed run on the board for several frustrating innings.
Offenses are inherently a bit streaky and unpredictable, but what we can say about the A’s is that they have a lineup probably best described as “good but not quite great” (“great” might look like “a bit more consistently great”) and is rather dependent on the long ball.
The HRs will come, in bunches sometimes, but how can Oakland kick up its run production overall? Here are some hints to some players and coaches...
- A Little Hit-And-Run Can Go A Long Way
The hit-and-run is not terribly popular with the sabermetric crowd, but it has a place — especially on a team that struggles most to “get ‘em over” because it lacks enough high average hitters in between walks and HRs.
The A’s have a terrible stolen base percentage (11 for 23) that suggests their running game is currently doing a lot more harm than good. Most of these caught stealings have come either on unsuccessful straight steals (not surprising when you consider that only Dustin Fowler qualifies as a true ‘base stealer’ in the lineup) or on runners thrown out on “strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out” DPs.
Where the A’s need to put more runners in motion is with very strategic hit-and-run opportunities in which the count, and the batter, inform the decision to give the hitter a hole to shoot for in an effort to move the runner from 1B to 3B.
You’re not going to put on the hit-and-run with guys who have a ton of ‘swing-and-miss’ in their game, e.g., Matts Joyce, Olson, Chapman, Khris Davis, but the A’s do have some hitters who have contact skills to shorten their swing and punch the ball to vacated spots on the infield. (It can also force hitters like Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha, and Chad Pinder to shorten their swing and focus on contact, which helps them to avoid letting their swing get too long or getting too pull conscious.)
This includes Marcus Semien, who despite tending to swing through bad sliders away can, when he gears his swing accordingly, hit behind runners with a high contact rate — especially in counts where he is unlikely to see a “chase pitch”. Jonathan Lucroy and Dustin Fowler are two others who can help provide some “1B to 3B” contact at the bottom of the order.
The A’s need to recognize their weakness in naturally hitting for a high average and moving runners along when they don’t leave the yard, pick out some 1-0 or 2-1 counts with those batters, create holes on the diamond and exploit them. The hit-and-run isn’t for everyone or every situation, but it has a place and the A’s offense needs more of it. It’s certainly a more effective use of the running game than the way they’ve been doing it.
- Beat The Shift
Folks, Matt Joyce is batting .196 no matter how you slice it. I get that it’s not easy for extreme pull hitters to hit the other way. That’s precisely why shifts exist: to match the spray charts and skill sets of the hitter.
However, I also know that when the margin for error is great and all you really have to do is to put the ball in play to an entire side of the diamond, slapping ground balls the other way is absolutely a skill a hitter like Joyce can master in batting practice and utilize in the game.
There are only two ways to beat the shift. One is to effect a rule change that prevents the defense from doing it. Until that happens (and it may well never happen), the only other one is to punish the shift by hitting it where they ain’t.
I will absolutely guarantee you that if motivated, Joyce, Olson, or any other hitter shifted on could, in batting practice, slap pitch after pitch to the left side of the infield and could soon after, in games, do it with enough proficiency to punish teams that refused to place two infielders on the left side of the diamond.
It’s another way the A’s can bring their team batting average up, mix in more singles, and rely less on the long ball. It will also prevent guys like Olson from suffering the indignity of lining out to short right field, as he did Friday night, on a ball that was a hit 100% of the time for 100 years.
- Launch Anglescotty
I’m not the biggest fan of the ‘launch angle revolution’ but as we saw with Yonder Alonso, for the right player it can do wonders. If there was ever a player who needed to follow in Alonso’s footsteps and retool his swing to maximize launch angle, it’s Stephen Piscotty.
Today’s game offered one example, in which Piscotty ripped a line drive to LF caught by Alex Gordon. Give that contact a slightly different launch angle and it’s a ‘swung on, gone’ blast into the LF bleachers.
As is, Piscotty hits far too many ground balls and the ones he hits in the air tend to be hard more than far. Yet he has the tools to hit more balls in the air, and to hit more of the balls he does hit in the air all the way to the wall and beyond.
A launch angle adjustment could turn Piscotty from the #8 hitter he is to a legitimate #6 hitter in the order. He will still struggle to recognize sliders from RHPs and he will never beat out a ton of infield hits, but Piscotty could be a far more potent hitter than he is with a degree from LAU (Launch Angle University).
So there’s 3 ways the A’s could take the players they have and maybe dial the offense up a notch. Your thoughts?
Which adjustment do you see as most necessary for the A’s to see their offense improve?
This poll is closed
Strategic hit-and-run to move runners around
Beating the shift by slapping balls the other way
Piscotty joining the launch angle revolution
Get different players