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Elephant Rumblings: A’s in May, unlucky or just not hitting?

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Minnesota Twins v Oakland Athletics Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

It’s the weekend, Athletics Nation!

We’re nearing the end of the month, with the A’s once again playing with even wins and losses over their last ten games, though starting the month with a nine game skid of losses dropped their winning percentage well below .500. The biggest contribution to a 7-13 May as of Friday afternoon is an absolute dearth of hitting across the lineup.

As a team through May 19th, the A’s have hit below the Mendoza line with a .198 average. With a .270 OBP and .323 slugging, the Athletics have sat at the bottom of the league, beneath even the Detroit Tigers who the A’s managed to take four out of five games from during the month. But why have the A’s bats struggled so much, and is this the result of a poor approach or just plain bad luck?

Looking at the months’ stats we can focus on each batter’s Batting Average on Balls In Play. This stat isolates the amount of a hitter’s batted balls in the field that actually land for hits rather than outs. When compared to career rates you can get an idea if a player has had a lucky streak getting more balls to grass than usual, or if their hits had found an absurd amount of fielders.

Some of the A’s hitters have fallen into that latter category lately, with Sean Murphy seeing a BABIP around .080 points below his player average, and Tony Kemp coming in a full .100 below his. Both are cases where their batted balls are finding fielders more than usual, and hopefully things will start balancing out more soon, they just have an unlucky streak going.

There are some other bats that are underperforming without the bad luck factor. Kevin Smith and Cristian Pache both have had struggles in May. While both batters have low BABIPs, their other underlying stats show that they haven’t even been connecting enough to have a meaningful BABIP effect. Both Smith and Pache have strikeout percentages over 25%, nearly at 30% in Pache’s case. It’s hard to be able to justify bad luck on balls in play if you can’t connect with a sub-.100 average. Both batters are also hard to judge as they don’t have the career numbers at the major league level to really be able to tell if this is a significant fall off, or if they’re playing closer to their means.

Other parts of the lineup have been playing at-or-above their usual rates, Chad Pinder looks to be outplaying his average with a .070 increase on his BABIP over the month. Same can be said for Elvis Andrus whose monthly numbers nearly line up to his career rates of .307 BABIP and .271 average. Jed Lowrie’s numbers seem like they’re trending alright, until you glance over and see that his slugging and average are identical, meaning Jed hasn’t managed anything in the realm of an extra-base hit. (Whoops I wrote this before the Friday game and Jed immediately proved me wrong with a first inning homer.)

Overall, there’s a good chance that the A’s can break out of what seems to be a partial slump, like during Tuesday’s game when they scored five runs. There are signs of life at the plate, for the most part, and there’s still three quarters of a season left to swing the other way.

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