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How bad is A’s season-opening slump at the plate?

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19 runs in 8 games. Fluke or problem?

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros
Mark is hitting well but he Canhat do it alone
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have played eight games so far in the 2021 season, and they’ve scored a total of 19 runs. Their 2.38 per-game average is the worst in the majors. Once they put up five, and once four, but otherwise every game has fallen between one and three runs. That’s not going to be enough.

However, eight games doesn’t tell you much in baseball. It’s certainly enough to get your attention, especially at the beginning of the year, and we’d even be talking about it if it came in the middle of the summer after three good months. But its a small enough sample that it’s worth looking under the hood before deciding how much to panic, and that’s doubly true when it’s a group of hitters who are supposed to be good and have track records to prove it.

Let’s begin with Statcast. Oakland ranks 15th in MLB in average exit velocity, at 88.7 mph. The Yankees are 13th, and the Dodgers are 16th. Sounds fine. When the A’s hit the ball, they aren’t just making weak contact. And they’re hitting the ball plenty, with a 26.1% strikeout rate that places middle of the pack at 14th-highest. Add up everything and their xwOBA is .310, which isn’t great (tied for 20th) but is far from being the worst (Orioles at .256).

MLB Ranks (out of 30 teams)
  • 15th in Exit Velocity
  • 20th in xwOBA
  • 17th in Strikeout rate (or 14th-highest)

As for power in the form of homers, Oakland only has three so far, but they also had two more go just barely foul and they’ve hit the top corner of the jagged edge a couple times. Maybe those are excuses, but it’s not like they haven’t hit the ball 400 feet a bunch of times, regardless of what the box score says.

Of course, things can be more complicated than just judging every isolated plate appearances. As Nico wrote earlier today, there are also situational factors, and things hitters can do to make themselves more complete so that their production is more reliable and even stronger.

But another thing that can make your lineup look worse than it’s actually playing is for one of your coldest hitters to be in the middle of the order, as was the case with Matt Chapman for all but one game so far. Or when your hottest hitters keep getting knocked out with injuries, as Ramon Laureano did for a few days and Chad Pinder did for probably a few weeks. Those are the kinds of oddities that can skew an eight-game sample, and they’re especially common in the first week of April when everyone is still getting settled in.

Another thing that’ll get you is 10-for-60 with runners in scoring position. That’s not a reliable stat for future analysis, though for what it’s worth they also ranked 29th in this department last year. On the other hand, they were fifth-best in 2018, led by the RISP success of Laureano, Jed Lowrie, and Stephen Piscotty, all of whom are still here and are currently among the wRC+ leaders on the 2021 team. The A’s aren’t incapable of being clutch, and I assure you every single fan base thinks their own team is bad at this.

So what’s the bottom line? Here are the healthy hitters with positive results so far, ranking above league average.

  • Mark Canha, 130 wRC+
  • Stephen Piscotty, 120 wRC+
  • Ramon Laureano, 115 wRC+
  • Jed Lowrie, 106 wRC+

That’s almost half the lineup! That group is getting actual real-life hits. And Piscotty basically homered off Clayton Kershaw too, just barely foul, close enough that he was allowed to round the bases before being called back, which isn’t counted in his numbers but definitely happened.

And who else is swinging well regardless of what the results say? League average for xwOBA is .328 right now.

  • Jed Lowrie, .431 xwOBA
  • Stephen Piscotty, .423 xwOBA
  • Mark Canha, .387 xwOBA
  • Ramon Laureano, .382 xwOBA

Same group! It’s safe to say that there are four hot hitters right now. These are still small-sample numbers in terms of looking forward for the next six months, so the point isn’t that Piscotty is definitely having a breakout yet after two straight off-years, just that he definitely did hit well in those first eight games when the A’s weren’t scoring.

Two more names to consider: Seth Brown blasted the ball in his first game of the year, including an almost-homer against Trevor Bauer that went barely foul. And Matt Olson is making loud contact but just striking out too much, not helped by having to sit out a couple games to a bruised knee.

Who else does that leave? Catcher Sean Murphy doesn’t have a hit yet, but let’s give him a minute to get over his collapsed lung and wrist contusion, after placing fourth for Rookie of the Year last summer. DH Mitch Moreland just had a walk-off hit for the team’s only win, so that’s a positive sign. Chapman is still in the doldrums coming off his own hip surgery, but he did homer off Bauer. If you’re betting against that trio because of eight games, then good luck. And then there’s shortstop Elvis Andrus, who’s been quiet so far but is really here almost entirely for defense.

That’s the lineup right now. Four hot bats; two more who are drilling the ball when they make contact; two more sluggers coming back slowly from injuries; a veteran DH who just won an extra-inning game; and a glove-first shortstop who wasn’t supposed to hit anyway.

Doesn’t change the fact that they only scored 19 runs in eight games and will need to improve on that immediately if they want to win again. But it doesn’t look nearly as bad upon closer inspection.

Poll

How many runs will the A’s score in their next 8 games?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    32+ (four per game)
    (117 votes)
  • 32%
    24+ (three per game)
    (78 votes)
  • 8%
    19 (same as last eight games)
    (20 votes)
  • 10%
    fewer than 19 (yikes)
    (24 votes)
239 votes total Vote Now