Monday, September 10, 2012

Whiff rate might sink Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics have truly been one of the most remarkable stories of this 2012 season. They were never expected to compete for a playoff spot. After they traded away two-fifths of their starting rotation and some of the remaining rotation members came up lame, there was no way of predicting that at this stage of the season, the A's have the wild card race in their own destiny and are still within hailing distance of the Rangers for the division lead. The young rotation and solid bullpen have led them, no doubt. But a resurgent offense has also been a big part of the equation. But can that offense keep them in the races through the final weeks? The concern here is that the team's strikeout and swing and miss rate will eventually sink them.

The Oakland A's lead the American League in offensive strikeouts. And while the offense has ticked up in the second half, that strikeout rate has remained remarkably consistent throughout the season. In the first half, the A's struck out 21.2 percent of the time. So far in the second half, the A's have struck out 23 percent of the time to give them a 22.1 percent strikeout rate for the season. In the last seven days, the A's have struck out 23 percent. In the last fourteen days, the team has struck out 23 percent of the time. In the last 28 days, the team has struck out 22.1 percent of the time.That is remarkably consistent and should not deviate the rest of the season.

All the strikeouts lead to less balls in play. Less balls in play mean less hits that can fall in. The A's are second from the bottom in team batting average and second from the bottom in team on-base percentage. Only the Mariners are worse in both categories.

The team's walk rate has not been as consistent as its strikeout rate. Surprisingly, the A's are tied for third in the American League with 465 team walks. But that rate has gone down in the second half. In the first half of the season, the team walked 9.2 percent of their plate appearances. That rate is down to 8.2 percent in the second half. So even though the A's have improved their team batting average in the second half from .225 to .254, the on-base percentage has remained fairly static. Despite a 29 percentage point rise in batting average, the on-base percentage has only risen 18 percentage points in the second half.

The slugging percentage, of course, has gone through the roof for the A's as they have had several sluggers get hot. But it is those streaking sluggers that bring on most of this concern about the Athletics' offense. Let's look at some of the key players that have been fueling the A's surge:

  • Chris Carter has had a fabulous run and has slugged .571 for the A's with most of that damage occurring in the second half. Carter strikes out 29.8 percent of the time. A correction could come at any time.
  • Brandon Moss has really hit some bombs and is slugging .549. But he strikes out 31.9 percent of the time and unlike Carter, does not walk much. His .319 on-base percentage is a correction waiting to happen too.
  • Jonny Gomes has really come on for the A's and has hit several key homers in recent weeks. But Gomes is a known entity and has always been streaky due mostly to his strikeout rate. His strikeout rate with the A's is  30.7 percent and 27 percent for his career.
  • George Kottaras has slugged .578 since coming over from the Brewers, but he strikes out 27 percent of the time.

Add to that mix the fact that Josh Reddick strikes out 23 percent of the time and Yoenis Cespedes strikes out 20 percent of the time. To be fair, Cespedes' rate is much less than anyone expected.

When all is said and done, the A's remain a hit or miss offense. Good pitching has been a constant for the A's but their winning ways in the last two months are just as much due to a collective surge by the players listed above. Their strikeout rates are all large and just as fast as they all got hot together and started hitting bombs all over the field, they could get cold as strikeout after strikeout piles up.

Hey, this isn't saying that the A's can't continue this amazing run of theirs and continue to write a pretty amazing story. Just call this a little dark cloud around the silver lining and one that could ultimately trip up the A's in the end.

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