1. The Bullpen
The 2014 Oakland Athletics have 13 blown saves in 35 opportunities, a 63% conversion rate that makes them 7th-worst in the majors. Of those 13 blown saves, Luke Gregerson has 6, Sean Doolittle has 3, and Dan Otero has 3. Jim Johnson? He only has 1. Despite the blown saves, the A’s have the 3rd-best bullpen by WAR, due in large part to a 2nd-best Walks per 9 innings of 2.45 and 5th-best runners Left On Base rate of 76.9%. The poster boy for this bullpen’s success may be Fernando Abad, who has inherited 16 runners this year and not allowed a single one to score. He is the only pitcher in baseball to have inherited more than 12 runners and not allowed any to score.
2. The Unlucky Ones
Oakland has three hitters in the top 25 players with the lowest Batting Average on Balls In Play: Josh Donaldson ranks 7th-lowest (.250), Alberto Callaspo is 10th (.253), and Jed Lowrie is 20th (.267). Yoenis Cespedes ranks 26th, at .271. Oakland’s patience/power approach championed by Chili Davis (which is inherently fly ball-centric) naturally depress BABIP, as fly balls are more often converted into outs than groundballs. To illustrate this point, the A’s have the fewest groundballs per fly ball in the majors, at .67. Regression to the mean in the form of batted balls falling for hits should be expected in the 2nd half of the season, however, as it is highly unusual to have so many hitters with depressed BABIP, especially line drive hitters like Jed Lowrie. For a baseline reference, league average BABIP is .299 so far this year.
3. Team BABIP
More Batting Average on Balls In Play: In addition to the four players mentioned above, the Oakland A’s as a team are tied for the 2nd-lowest BABIP in the majors, at .286. Only the Padres have a lower hitting BABIP. Conversely, while pitching, the A’s have the 2nd-lowest BABIP against, at .273, meaning Oakland pitchers have been benefiting from a lot of luck. Some of this overall team BABIP depression has to do with the fact that the Coliseum is a pitchers park, and more fly balls fall for outs as opposed to home runs. Most of it is luck, however.
4. No Bunting
The 2014 Oakland Athletics have the fewest successful sacrifice bunts in baseball this year, with 7. The next-closest team is the Astros, with 9. For comparison, the Texas Rangers have the most successful sacrifice bunts in the AL, with 28. Simply put, the A’s deserve a round of applause. While it might be a coincidence that the A’s have the best record in baseball with the fewest successful sac bunts while the Rangers have the worst record with the most sac bunts (in the AL), I’m going to say it’s not a coincidence. To put it another way, the Rangers have given away 7 more full innings worth of outs to opposing pitchers than the Athletics have due to bunts. Think about that – it’s almost a full game worth of free outs the Rangers have given to the opposing team in the hopes of advancing runners who may not score.
5. Plate Discipline
The A’s have the highest walk percentage in baseball at 9.6%, as well as the 2nd-lowest strikeout percentage at 17.9%. Oakland is 1st in the majors in strikeouts per walk, with 1.86, and it’s not even close – the next closest team is the Rays, with 2.02 SO/BB. For comparison, Seattle is last in this category, with 3.25 strikeouts for every one of their walks. Basically, the Oakland A’s are a meat grinder which opposing pitchers are fed into.
6. Master Thieving
Oakland has the 2nd-highest success rate for stolen bases at 82%. The A’s have 54 stolen bases and have only been caught stealing 12 times, with Craig Gentry being the driving force behind the success – he was 16/16 on the year before being caught for the first time (trying to steal third) on July 8th. Having Coco Crisp, who is 16 for 20 in stolen base attempts, doesn’t hurt either.
7. Hitting Soft Toss
Here’s a strange one I came across: the 2014 Oakland Athletics have faced the slowest average fastball velocity of any team in the majors, at 91 MPH. This is a full 3/10 of a MPH slower than the next closest team. That is a major drop off; Oakland is the sole outlier in baseball here. Let’s take a look at this graph, which shows the average fastball velocity every team has faced:
While it is hard to look too deeply into this, Oakland has definitely faced far more soft-tossers than all other teams in baseball. At this level, that discrepancy is going to impact performance, and it’s going to benefit the A’s.
8. Donaldson’s Fielding
Josh Donaldson has a fielding UZR of 13.0 so far this season. If you don’t know what UZR is, don’t worry – simply, it assigns positive points for difficult plays turned into outs and negative points for outs that should’ve been made and weren’t. The more difficult the play, the more points the play is worth. The next closest third baseman to Josh Donaldson by UZR, Nolan Arenado, has a 7.3 rating. Yes, it’s an incredibly small sample size so far this year, and yes, Donaldson is an absurdly good defensive third baseman. Allow me to illustrate:
I will use GIFs of Donaldson’s tarp catches until I am told to stop.
A’s Pace Watch:
The 2014 Oakland Athletics are 59-36 after 95 games, and are still underperforming their Pythagorean win-loss record, which would give them 63 wins based on their runs scored/runs allowed. This is not a small difference, especially in a division that features two of baseball’s other best teams. As stated before in previous entries, deviation from Pythagorean record is due mainly to over or underperformance in one-run games; blown saves and clutch hitting performance are the best metrics to look at when studying this deviation. A quick look tells us the A’s have struggled with blown saves, especially early in the season, while the same can be true for clutch hitting – though they showed great improvement in this latter category in June/early July. The 2014 Oakland Athletics are 14-12 in one-run games.
With the pace the A’s are currently on, they will win 101 games, while their projected Pythagorean win total puts them at 104 games.