Baseball Notes: A's for Participation
Recently the Red Sox had a series with the Oakland Athletics. The series was notable for the A's because they were blown out, and Khris Davis had 5 hits in three games, including a homer. This was a hot streak Davis carried into the next couple weeks as he had a three home run day against the Rangers and another dinger the following day to put him into a tie for second in the American League for homers with 12.
The Moneyball construction of a team was to use on base percentage to cobble a lineup of players other teams weren't willing to use a roster spot on. Other facets of the Moneyball A's were ignoring the defensive skills of their hitters as well as stolen bases and sacrifice bunting, and to build up homegrown closers so that they gain value before trading them away. The unspoken part of Moneyball was that they built up their rotation to be elite through the draft or by trading for minor leaguers.
Aside from a couple brights spots, many of whom didn't come to the A's in the steriotypical ways laid out in the Michael Lewis book, the A's are a roster of under-performing or injured players. The idea of Moneyball is not really that they adhere to the criteria they laid out for how they get players, but to get more wins by spending less, regardless of how they do it.
This A's team seems to have built their team in the mold of a team that succeed by fielding a roster that was the opposite in many ways of the Moneyball A's of the early 2000's. The Kansas City Royals made it to the World Series the last two year and won last year by fielding a team centered around speed and defense, a lights out bullpen, and a couple of power hitters who aren't stars. Billy Burns and Coco Crisp fit that mold of speedy defensive outfielders, and Josh Reddick is a great fielder who has power. The problem is that Reddick is hurt despite having one of the better batting averages on the team, and Burns isn't hitting like he did last year, and Crisp's hitting has been so light he has been a reserve whose playing time only made an uptick because of Reddick's injury.
The three hitters that have been notable for the A's this year are Danny Valencia, Khris Davis, and Marcus Semian. Valencia has been on a recent home run tear and his .348 avg has been impressive as he has gotten more playing time, Davis' power uptick has been around the same time as Valencia's and the A's have been winning more because of it, but they are still only barely ahead of the Astros who are at the bottom of the AL West. Semian is second on the team in homers with ten, but his avg is under .240 and he is known for being pretty terrible in the field as a shortstop.
Valencia, Crisp, Reddick, Semian and several others in their lineup were cast offs from other teams, but Davis was acquired in a trade where the A's gave the Brewers a promising prospect and Rich Hill is a veteran free agent pitcher anchoring their bullpen, unlike their homegrown pitching tendencies.
Pitching has not been a bright spot for the A's with only one starting pitcher with an ERA under 5.40 (Rich Hill is 6-3 with an ERA of 2.54) but the bullpen has been fairly reliable. The strong bullpen is anchored by former Royal Ryan Madson and resembles the mold of Kansas City, albeit less flashy, with many veterans and more than one player capable of being the closer thanks to Sean Doolittle and John Axford. The rotation is headed by ace Sonny Gray who is having a rough year so far, Rich Hill who has turned his career around, struggling former Royal prospect Sean Manea, and Jesse Hahn is looking to be a contributor for the A's as he fills in for other players' injuries.
When I lived in Phoenix I used to chose a lot of my spring training games based on location, and while I was law school the two closest parks were the Brewers and the A's. Both stadiums were a little older and the A's have since moved to Mesa because they had one of the last parks to not have outfield seating. That park was pretty fun to go to despite it's older age because it had the feel of an older style of park with large concrete arches behind home plate and a minor league stadium feel of a billboard plastered outfield wall just in front of a street where you could see passing cars during the game.
I have a few fond memories of seeing A's vs. Giants spring training games and sitting with A's fans who seem to have a good sense of how to handle rowdy Giants fans through humor. Giants fans in Arizona could be pretty obnoxious and even violent on a few occasions and the A's fans have a cool laid back nature to them and they have experience dealing with those fans from proximity.
In the last years of the park, one of my best friends from law school, Will, lived right next to the park and we would walk there from his place. Walking to a baseball park is one of the finest joys in my eyes because I feel so much pain to have to pay to park. It's not a pain of losing the money, I just like being able to have the freedom to leave the game early without feeling like I've broken the contract of paying to stay the whole game.
It wasn't always crowded at those games and I recall one game Will kept eyeing the foul balls going into the stands that no one seemed to rush over to. He saw one not too far from us, started running toward where it had stopped but turned back to our seats without getting to the ball. "I realized I was racing against little kids," he said.
For more team overviews check out: