Season in Review: Oakland Athletics

A continuation of the series of retrospectives looking back at the regular season and how teams fared. They will be presented, from first to last, in order of their run differential as given by the BaseRuns formula and adjusted for strength of schedule, which I feel is the best measurement of a team’s actual talent level.

Number Twenty: Oakland Athletics

As the Tigers dominated at the plate and failed on the mound and in the field, the Athletics excelled on the mound and in the field and failed miserably at the plate. Oakland projected to score only 650 runs, 30 fewer than any other American League team. However, they were also one of just seven teams to project out to less than 700 runs allowed and came in fourth overall at 683. All in all, while it wasn’t impressive overall, it was a good showing given the expectations coming into 2008 and the moves made by GM Billy Beane to re-shape the team for the future.

The trading of Nick Swisher and Dan Haren had most expecting the Athletics to dwell in the cellar. Those who saw Oakland’s pitching and defense as being enough to overcome a dismal offense were rare, but that’s just what they did, hanging around through the trading deadline. That they were still within shouting distance come that time makes Beane’s commitment to his rebuild all the more noteworthy. Faced with the pressure of unexpected quasi-contention, Beane didn’t back off and took the opportunity to trade the finally healthy Rich Harden at a good price to the Cubs. A week later, Beane would trade Joe Blanton to Philadelphia for some more minor league talent.

Some would be tempted to connect the dots between those trade and Oakland’s subsequent falling off the map performance wise, but the seeds for that collapse were already sewn when the team was constructed. That’s why Beane was correct in not deviating from his planned course of action. Furthermore, though the A’s went just 2-19 over a span from July 12 to August 8, the main culprit was the offense not the now depleted pitching. The aforementioned offense was abysmal, scoring just 3.4 runs per game in July and a shocking 2.7 runs per game in August. It was that, not the loss of Harden and Blanton, that killed them.

Billy Beane has done a commendable job building up Oakland’s farm system over the past 12 months but he also needs a large portion of that farm system to produce because right now the hitting talent at the major league level is contemplating filing for endangered species protection. Beane did get off to a good start by locking up Mark Ellis to a deal that is so favorable to Oakland the MLBPA must be throwing a hissy fit. Next on the winter check list will be his annual bargain free agent hitter signing (Jason Giambi?) and the possible trading of Huston Street to a team wanting to avoid the price tags of Brian Fuentes and Francisco Rodriguez.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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