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WAR And Piece

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Cleveland Indians
Every event just looks nicer with a little bunting.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s game was stunning, coming on the heels of how the A’s dominated over the weekend, sweeping the Cleveland Indians and winning a rain delay game of Connect Four. Friday night’s game would be as if Starling Marte picked up one of the Connect Four pieces, had a good move in mind, and then dropped the piece into his yogurt, then Jed Lowrie accidentally dropped a piece into the wrong slot, Elvis Andrus tried to make a move to block his opponent but kicked the piece under the couch, and finally Seth Brown made a great move that might have saved the game if he hadn’t also knocked over the board in his exuberance.

Ah well, they can’t all be zingers. I am pretty sure that everything in life can be related in some way to Connect Four, and I am just as certain that I am living on the diagonal.

If Starling Marte is a “5 WAR player” replacing a “1 WAR player” can we assume that his addition has made the team “4 wins better over the course of a full season,” meaning just positioned to win about 1.5 more games in 2021? Mathematically you might say yes, but here is where I really challenge the notion that wins occur in some independent vacuum.

If I were to say that Martin has brought a certain synergy to the line up, I would sound more like I was talking L. Ron Hubbard than Glenn Hubbard Synergy is one of those corporate-speak terms that generally means, “We have nothing to say so we found some cool sounding words to justify our expense sheets at this conference.”

It’s hard to say exactly how much better Marte makes the A’s, because obviously if a player batted .397/.435/.552, with 112 stolen bases, for a season he would be incredibly useful and would probably rewrite the upper boundaries of WAR.

But Marte’s A’s have been much more dynamic than just Starling himself. The entire team is leading the league in offense since the trading deadline, and some of the changes are palpable. The lineup has more length and depth, multiple players are running effectively, Oakland is sustaining more “keep the line moving” crooked numbers — It’s almost like watching a group of “Starling Marte and his mini Martes”. (Question: Upon retiring from baseball, will Starling open a chain of gas station convenience stores called “Mini Martes”?)

Now in reality, has Marte changed the other hitters who were always there? Has he made anybody else faster, a better base stealer, a more accomplished off-field hitter, or better in the clutch? Or is he just someone who comes to bat every 9 turns? Clearly the latter (seriously, I’ve been counting), And yet in some way it truly feels like the A’s, with Marte, are more than just the sum of the parts that are Marte and the rest of the players.

So much so that the 2021 A’s, who were plodding along on their way to about 88 wins and looked every bit the part, now look like a team fully capable of winning their customary 97. And no, Starling Marte is not a 9 WAR player over the course of 9 weeks.

Synergy, baby. Are you buying? One way or the other this is a different A’s club we are seeing in August, more than can be explained by just the players acquired. Maybe it is a team game after all, Just as with a bicycle the missing link is worth more than the value of “one link”. It’s the difference between the bicycle not running at all and running at full tilt, and it feels like for the first time the A’s are finally aligned.