Hot hands are the name of the game early in the 2020 MLB season. There’s no long-haul in the 60-game campaign, reducing the patience teams can have with slumping performers and increasing the importance of whoever is on fire right now, helping the team win 2.7 games each day.
For the first-place Oakland A’s, those hot hands have come from the outfield so far, now 15% of the way through the season.
The offense as a whole has been slow to wake up, ranking 27th in the majors in wRC+ (76), runs per game (3.33), and batting average with runners in scoring position (.179). Fortunately the pitching has stepped up to carry them on many days, en route to their 5-4 record and a tie atop the AL West, but when the lineup has chipped in it’s often been the same three players — Ramon Laureano, Robbie Grossman, and Mark Canha.
- Canha: .292/.438/.500, 171 wRC+, 15.6% BB, 21.9% Ks
- Laureano: .290/.368/.548, 154 wRC+, 10.5% BB, 26.3% Ks
- Grossman: .304/.385/.391, 131 wRC+, 7.7% BB, 11.5% Ks
Two of those names could be reasonably expected, as Canha and Laureano were two of the team’s best hitters last year. But Grossman is a good example of a role player from whom you might expect merely average production — and one who has the ability to provide bonus value if he goes on a heater in a small sample size. Click here for a closer look at Grossman, including his increased exit velocity and higher-contact approach so far in 2020.
Regardless of why or how long it might last, these three hitters have consistently powered whatever attack the lineup brings in a given game. They’ve combined to drive in 16 of the team’s 30 runs, and they have over half of the extra-base hits (9 of 17). The trio has notched half of Oakland’s 10 hits with runners in scoring position in just 11 at-bats, plus all three of the A’s sac flies — the rest of the club is 5-for-45 in RISP situations.
What have those numbers looked like when translated into actual effect on games? On Opening Day, Laureano homered for the team’s first run of the year, in a game that went to extra innings, and the next day Grossman drove in their only run in a loss. When the A’s beat up on Shohei Ohtani, it was Canha and Grossman who landed the key hits to drive in three runs and chase the Angels star. In the finale of that opening series, Laureano and Canha each drove in a run in a 3-0 win.
They starred in the most recent pair of 3-2 wins over the Mariners as well. On Saturday, Canha set the table for an early run that helped get the game to extras, and in the 10th Grossman came off the bench to deliver the go-ahead RBI. On Sunday, Laureano’s three-run homer provided all the A’s scoring with one swing of the bat.
How long can these three keep up their hot hitting, and are there any useful takeaways from these small samples?
For Canha, he’s showing early signs that his 2019 breakout could be real and sustainable. One of the main changes in his profile last year was a massive uptick in walk rate, from around 4% in ‘17, to 8% in ‘18, and finally a whopping 13.5% in ‘19 that ranked top-20 in the majors. At 15.6% so far (5 BB in 32 PAs), that on-base ability might be something we can continue to count on. Add in a few extra-base hits already, and his .375 xwOBA is nearly identical to what he posted last summer — he might not just be hot, but rather really be this good.
Laureano’s hitting is also no surprise and there’s no reason to expect it to stop either, but his profile has been further elevated by nearly doubling his 2019 walk rate so far, up to 10.5% (and with it a strong .368 OBP). This has every chance to be real, because high walk rates have been a norm for him throughout his career, including in Triple-A and even in his 2018 debut stint in MLB.
Grossman has been making harder contact than ever before, so the question isn’t whether hits keep falling but rather whether he really continues smashing the ball this well — if he does, then the hits will inevitably follow.
It’s only been nine games, and as always this list of offensive stars will evolve over time. These gaudy wRC+ marks will settle down at least slightly, and some of the other big names will catch up. But for now the hot hands are three members of the outfield rotation, and each offers a reason to believe they can mostly keep it up. Now they just need a couple more of their extremely talented teammates to join them, and this lineup can start really rolling.