The A’s Declining Offense

Take a turn around Twitter or any major baseball news source and you’ll hear a familiar echo about the former best team in baseball; the offense hasn’t been the same since the deadline.  When the A’s traded away Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester, the impact to the lineup was noticeable.  They wagered they could get the same level of production out of some combination of Jonny Gomes, Stephen Vogt, and Sam Fuld.  In the first half of the season, the A’s were a top-six team in wOBA, OBP,and wRC+ all while being second to last in BABIP.  It’s safe to say they were rolling. Now they aren’t.  Since the deadline, the A’s have become a bottom-third team in all the aforementioned stats.  It’s easy to look at these stats and say that Cespedes was clearly the catalyst of something in the offense.

While much has been written about the rumors of Oakland emphasizing clubhouse chemistry the last couple years, Cespedes has never really been written as one of the chief leaders in that category.  We typically hear names like Coco Crisp, Scott Sizemore, the aforementioned Jonny Gomes, and Sean Doolittle mentioned there.  Cespedes by all accounts was just a crazy athletic guy who didn’t really cause any trouble, but wasn’t exactly a team leader.  Yet the fact remains: the A’s have refused to hit since the deadline. Sure, 17 games isn’t a gigantic sample size, but it’s pretty reasonable when evaluating team performance.  Baseball Prospectus just three years ago theorized that a reasonable prediction could be made of a team’s overall season after fifteen games,  so we’ve got something substantial to work with.  Is there another pattern, though?  Let’s take a look at the team’s month by month performance.

A’s wOBA wRC+ OFF WAR
April 0.339 119 25.2 7.3
May 0.330 113 15.6 5.8
June 0.314 102 2.6 4.1
July 0.312 100 0.2 3.4
August 0.288 84 -11.1 1.5

We see a steady decline here in the A’s performance, not a sudden jump.  The A’s started off really hot, leading the league in most offensive categories in April.  A notable decline can even be seen in May, as the A’s began their meteoric rise to the top, though they held steady in the top three in most categories.  In June, the team dipped even further, down to a mark that was only slightly above average.  They looked to be leveling off there to a rather league-average team in July, which wasn’t encouraging, but maybe suggested a possible rise back up to looking like a playoff team. In August, though, the wheels have come off.  The A’s have dipped below league average in most categories, and their win totals have suffered as well.  Can we blame all of this on Cespedes?  Let’s take a look at some wOBA numbers for chief contributors to the Oakland offense:

It’s a bit cluttered, but the dark blue line in the middle labeled wOBA is the team as a whole; see the steady decline as we’ve noted.  In April, we see all of these guys hovering between a .300 wOBA and somewhere above .420.  Nearly all of them are now either .300 or far below it; the one exception being Josh Donaldson, who has picked it up again since a dismal June.  Even Cespedes, having been traded to the Red Sox, is having an unremarkable August since performing poorly in July.  Let’s take a look at a wRC+ graph, with some of the members removed for clarity:

Here we see six players who routinely batted in the top five in the batting order having horrible Augusts.  Stephen Vogt and Brandon Moss, two lefty platoon bats being pressed into full-time duty in the outfield lately, lead this group with a 91 wRC+, which is below the average line.  John Jaso, Coco Crisp, and Derek Norris have been downright horrible, with wRC+’s in the barely digestible territory. So yes, the A’s have been bad since Cespedes has left the team.  It’s clearly not just the loss of his bat; the vast majority of the team, outside of Josh Donaldson and the surprisingly resurgent Eric Sogard and Josh Reddick, have been really, really bad.

So if the whole team is flailing, perhaps Cespedes was more of a sparkplug than we previously had attributed?  More importantly, did Billy Beane fail to see a trend here?  The A’s were trending downwards in hitting as demonstrated, so why the need for pitching?  Well, the A’s were unfortunately not exactly trending very well in pitching either.  They were third in pitcher WAR through April, but then plummeted to 19th in May, and further dipped to 21st in June before rising a bit to 17th in July. The A’s were a decidedly middle of the road team when it came to pitcher WAR, and FIP seems to agree, ranking them about the same spot everywhere.

So why make the trade?  If anything, this trade has only served to confuse fans.  What do we make of a team with three above-average catchers who all tank right after a trade for a top-flight starting pitcher?  While all the fans are clamoring for Jimmy Rollins to come and help the middle infield, we’ve got Eric Sogard being one of the few bright spots in the offense, and nobody seems to care. All we know is that the A’s are in trouble.  Whether it’s because Cespedes was the glue or because the A’s are peaking at the wrong time, they’re all of a sudden facing down the dire straits of a one-game coin flip at the end of the season, despite being the most aggressive pursuer at the trade deadline. The A’s can cling to a few bastions of hope; maybe their BABIP dropping all the way to .260 in August shows that they’re just a bit unlucky.  It’s either that or face the fact that sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men fail, and pray that Jason Hammel doesn’t have to start the Wild Card game.



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A's fan and QA guy. I write here and there at https://medium.com/@Zebedee18 about the intersection between Baseball and Christianity.

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Jim Price
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Jim Price

Sorry I’m not convinced this isn’t simple regression to the mean. Tigers offense is also struggling, why not say the same about Austin Jackson? Oakland will hit better soon enough….

tz
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tz

One thing to note about the A’s offense is that they have been an extreme fly ball hitting team in the first half of the year. This makes them prone to trouble against fly-ball pitchers, such as those on the Angels and Royals.

This may be a hidden factor in trading Cespedes. Replacing an extreme fly ball hitter like him with groundball types like Fuld or Gentry might be a bit of extra help against fly-ball pitchers down the stretch. Though the bigger issue is indeed the A’s turning around their offensive performance overall.

Josh Byrnes
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Josh Byrnes

“Sure, 17 games isn’t a gigantic sample size, but it’s pretty reasonable when evaluating team performance.”

Hmmm. So would you say that we can start drawing reasonable conclusions on team performance 17 games into the season?

Tim
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Tim

Coco has a bum neck donaldson had a tweaked back in his bad stretch Moss is turning it around a little recently gentry out punto out blanks out the team has been pressing with a bunch of hurt guys and the pitching stopped running stupid run prevention out, although they have also had hard contact right at people, still good plate discipline, they need to get healthy and all the parts back.

A Deicke
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A Deicke

A few weeks ago, the A’s had a 20 hit performance, which was remarkable in itself. However, more remarkable, was that they did not draw a single walk. With the trades to revamp what appeared to be an effective starting rotation and Cepedes, the A’s team as a whole may had their confidence undercut and have been pressing since then. They appear to be less selective at the plate and the top pitchers, with the exception of Lester, have not impressed, especially Hammels who has depressed.