Alright, you may have to bear with me a little bit here, as I am not 100% sure how I want to present this except to say this is what I say about the A’s A LOT. Buster Olney wrote and “Insiders Only” piece on ESPN.com Saturday called,
It IS admirable and using both Olney’s statistics and my own, I intend to show you exactly why their drive to contend has not only been successful but beyond that, that most team’s in their situation would not or choose not to try to compete. Instead they tank and have a long stretch of terrible years – only to reemerge with a lot of high draft picks who are ready for the big leagues.
It reminded me a lot of a similar piece that I wrote for Today’s Knuckleball that talked about how the A’s had their own unique way of “rebuilding.” It went on to explore how they’ve been able to maintain a high level of competitiveness despite having one of the league’s lowest payrolls and having to be creative in creating platoons that will put up similar numbers to those exhibited by the big name free agents that they cannot afford.
There are those that would argue that the A’s are not a small market team. If you were not already aware the San Francisco Giants own probably 80% of territory in the Bay Area, so really they do cater to a much smaller market. Another way to refute this misinformation is to assert that just because the A’s have some of the richest owners in baseball does not mean that those owners give their baseball team much money to work with. In fact they built a new stadium for their soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes just a year or two ago. Yet, which team do you think needs a new stadium more? Clearly with owners who keep their front office to a small budget, they are designed and have to act like a small market team.
You can question some of their more recent trades including trading top prospect Addison Russell to the Chicago Cubs in 2014 and then the trade of now-reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson over last offseason, that’s fair enough. Those trades may haunt the club forever, maybe not in the reality of wins and losses but in theoretical baseball lore.
I, of course, take issue with the idea that people believe that recent transactions will haunt the club as far as wins and losses go. Donaldson would never have won the MVP as a member of the Athletics in 2015 and with the bullpen as terrible as it was in 2015, his presence may have won the team a couple more of those one-run games in dramatic walk-off style, however, it wouldn’t have changed their overall placing in the AL West.
The same could be said for Yoenis Cespedes and the collapse of 2014. The A’s were already in the midst of the collapse when they traded for Jon Lester. Yet with Brandon Moss‘ bad hip and no Cespedes, there was no one to protect Donaldson in the lineup. The assumption I’m sure was that Moss, who hit 21 home runs before the All-Star break would keep doing so. As far as Russell goes, Marcus Semien‘s errors didn’t completely cost the A’s to lose games and he’s got a bit more pop in his bat. After having worked with Ron Washington he’s improved from 12 errors in May of 2015 to just two in the month of September. I think the A’s will be fine there.
I’m a little off topic. However as Olney put it you can question things as much as you want,
“but what cannot be questioned is Oakland’s ability to renew or the Athletics’ push to get better.”
According to Olney, who did the research on the following stats, the A’s have put together an impressive group together this year. Take a look at these splits:
Chris Coghlan vs. right-handers: .831 OPS
Left fielder Khris Davis vs. right-handers (2015): .864 OPS
First baseman Yonder Alonso vs. right-handers (2015): .762 OPS
Right fielder Josh Reddick vs. right-handers (2015): .826 OPS
Catcher Stephen Vogt vs. right-handers (2015): .832 OPS
Infielder Jed Lowrie vs. left-handers (2015): .908 OPS
Third baseman Danny Valencia vs. left-handers (career): .862 OPS
Shortstop Marcus Semien vs. left-handers (2015): .879 OPS
Center fielder Billy Burns vs. left-handers (2015): .768 OPS
Catcher Josh Phegley vs. left-handers (2015): .768 OPS
These splits provide the makings for excellent platoons. Since Beane took over as GM in 1998 the A’s have done exceptionally well. In fact they’ve been to the postseason eight of the 16 seasons that have been played this century.
As Olney writes,
Last year, Oakland went 68-94, and incredibly, this was the first time since 1997 that the Athletics won fewer than 74 games. Oakland has consistently played with one of the lowest payrolls in the majors, and in the 17-year period from 1998 through 2014, the A’s were one of only three teams to win at least 74 games in every season; the other two were the Yankees and Cardinals. Along the way, Oakland made the playoffs in eight of those 17 seasons.
The Yankees and the Cardinals – two teams with very nice payrolls and yet the A’s have managed to compete at their level, regardless of whether they made it to the World Series or not. They’ve been competitive more often than teams with ten times their payroll.
The A’s could have done what a lot of teams are doing these days. Upon making so many trades, the smart thing to so may have been to follow the examples of other clubs by selling off their assets and for lack of a better word, intentionally tank. Then continue losing in order to get high draft picks and have many years of failure before their efforts finally coming to fruition. If this were in the A’s plans they would have already sold off Sonny Gray, Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt, but they have yet to do so. Billy Beane, now vice president of baseball operations and GM David Forst refuse to design their team for failure. They try to compete each and every year.
The Athletics have taken that same route each and every year since Beane took over as general manager of the ball club and have found more overall success than almost every other club. The best way to put it as Olney did,
“The A’s just don’t quit.”
And THAT is truly admirable.