Moneyball: Getting A’s For Effort

The Oakland Athletics have come out of nowhere and are proving to be a playoff contender.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

Congratulations Billy Beane, you’ve done it again; you’ve taken a team of unknowns, applied Sabermetrics to it and built a legitimate contender out of the Oakland Athletics.  But will it work out better this time around for the A’s GM than it did at the end of Moneyball?

The A’s have emerged as a legitimate contender in the American League after five seasons playing sub-par baseball in the Bay Area.  After finishing 74-88 last season, Oakland seemed destined to once again flirt with mediocrity this year after an uneventful winter.  Everyone knew it, everyone except the A’s!

The season began much the way everyone had anticipated, with just five wins in the first 14 games.  It might have been a result of jet lag after kicking off the season in Japan; it might have been due to inexperience; or it might have been because manager Bob Melvin had yet to coach the team for a full calendar year; but whatever the reason the A’s were in trouble and needed something to spark the team.

Cue rookie centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

We’re not entirely sure where this dude came from or how to pronounce his last name, all we know is that after an average start and a horrible month of May – where he only hit .227 – Cespedes exploded and quickly put the Athletics in the spotlight.  Seemingly overnight, the 26-year-old was the hottest hitter in baseball, batting .343 in June and .344 in July, which helped the A’s finish the months with a combined 34-18 record.  Cespedes leads the team in batting average (.298) and is second in home runs (16), RBIs (62) and doubles (19) but he is just one of many surprises.

Rightfielder Josh Reddick has proved to add plenty of power to the A’s lineup – which isn’t always easy given that Oakland plays in a pitcher-friendly park.  Reddick was drafted in 2009 by Boston but after failing to make an impression, he was traded to Oakland as part of a deal that sent two-time All Star closer Andrew Bailey and utility outfielder Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox. 

But Reddick has embraced his opportunity in Oakland and is finally leaving an impression.

At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Reddick isn’t the prototypical power-hitter but his numbers say otherwise.  Reddick leads the team in several categories including hits (119), home runs (26) and RBIs (65).  Not too shabby for a third-year player who had just 375 major league at-bats coming into 2012.

The A’s have relied on a number of key veteran contributors as well.  Brandon Inge spent 11 years covering the third baseline for Detroit but after decreasing numbers, Detroit thought it was time for a change.  So far, it has worked out for the 35-year-old, who – despite batting a dreadful .197 – has hit 11 home runs and knocked in 50.  But his glove has proven to be more important than as his bat.  Not since Eric Chavez has Oakland had a guy with this kind of defensive prowess at third base.

But if we’re talking about defense on this team, the conversation ends with left fielder Coco Crisp.

Having spent three years with the A’s, Crisp – a former World Series champion – is oddly-enough the grizzled veteran of the ballclub, and since much of his time was previously spent in centerfield, it made the change to left easier.  He has the ability to track the ball with ease and while he doesn’t have the strongest arm in the league, Crisp is a smart player.  If his bat comes around, he might be worth the $7 million the team is paying him – because let’s face it, 48 runs and 37 RBIs aren’t exactly getting it done.

A team can have a great offense and a solid defense, but without starting pitching, it’s useless.  Pitching wins championships – sure, it sounds cliché, but it’s true.  And the A’s have plenty of quality pitching.

We’re not sure if the Athletics rotation is just pitching above its head but the numbers don’t lie, as the A’s are fourth in baseball in pitching, holding a 3.46 ERA.  Leading the way for Oakland was 39-year-old Bartolo Colon, who had 10 wins and a 3.43 ERA, before he was slapped with a 50-game suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs.  Thankfully, it happened a week after the Athletics got back shutdown pitcher Brandon McCarthy.  McCarthy has allowed just 23 walks this season in 101 innings, which is perhaps a big reason as to why his ERA is 3.12 and his WHIP is 1.24.

Rookies Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone have also pitched well this season, but much like the rest of the rotation, they have been unable to tally wins.  Opponents are hitting just .245 off of Parker, while Milone is tied for the team-lead in wins with 10 and has just a 1.19 WHIP.

Oakland even switched their closer this past week – again.  The Athletics started the year with Grant Balfour but he was ineffective, so Melvin tried Brian Fuentes for awhile.  But that didn’t work.  Then the team turned to rookie Ryan Cook – who even made the All Star team – but he began to struggle last week.  Out of options and patience, the team decided to go back to Balfour.

With all the unknown names up-and-down the lineup, it comes as a complete shock that the A’s lead the Wild Card race and sit just five and a half games back of the Texas Rangers. 

The fans still believe it’s too good to be true.

Attendance is often a problem for Oakland and this year is no different.  During the team’s last homestand, it drew just over 17,000 per game.  The A’s have taken notice and have tried several different ways to draw in the locals, including cheap seats on Groupon – hey, whatever it takes, right?

It’s time we notice the A’s and begin to take the team seriously, because we might just see them playing in mid-October.  No matter how the season ends, if baseball wants to stay in Oakland, this season could help become a determining factor – but that’s a conversation for another day.

Ed is the lead hockey writer and a sports contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller, and subscribe on Facebook @ CraveOnlineSports.

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