Secret to the A's success? An underrated offense
Unlike a lot of playoff-bound A's teams in the past, the 2013 team has thrived at putting runs on the board.
Just like the 2012 team, the 2013 Oakland Athletics have clinched the AL West title, and they did so by fending off the generally favored Rangers. There, though, the broad similarities end. Yes, many of the principals are still the same, but Bob Melvin's current model won by largely different means than did his upstart 2012 club. Primarily, they won with an improved offense.
This season, the A's rank third in the AL in runs scored and second in runs allowed. Of course, once you take into account the pronounced run-suppressing nature of O.co Coliseum, the performance of the offense becomes perhaps more impressive than the performance of the pitching staff and defense. Also consider that last season, the A's ranked just eighth in the then-14-team AL in runs scored. How things have changed.
In fact, among the now seven Oakland teams that have made the playoffs under GM Billy Beane, only the 2000 team fronted by the hard-hitting likes of Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez ranked as high as third in the league in runs scored. In other words, the success of the 2013 Oakland offense is fairly out of character, at least insofar as recent A's history is concerned.
With thumpers like Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss in the lineup; with strong production from the catching corps and with a power spike from Coco Crisp, it's no wonder the A's have been putting runs on the board this season. In reality, though, the offense may be even better than you think.
That's because O.co Coliseum may be working against the A's offense beyond the usual tendencies of the park. This season, O.co is suppressing home runs from left-handed batters by a whopping 29 percent versus a neutral environment. It so happens that the A's have gotten 51.5 percent of their plate appearances from batters on the left side of the plate, be they switch-hitters or straight left-handed hitters. So that's exacting a price.
As well, O.co cuts down on home runs from right-handers, too, albeit to a lesser extent (seven percent versus, as mentioned, 29 percent for lefties). Well, the Oakland offense this season is, by a comfy margin, the most fly-ball-inclined in the entire American League, with a fly-ball percentage of 41.6. It's good to hit fly balls, but a park like O.co can turn them into outs by the bushel.
Outside of the unfriendly confines, though, the A's lineup thrives. In fact, this season they lead the AL in road OPS and rank second to the Red Sox in runs scored on the road.
Looking ahead to the postseason, it's fair to wonder how the Oakland rotation behind unlikely ace Bartolo Colon will fare outside of pitcher-friendly O.co. But don't be surprised if one of baseball's best road offenses picks up the slack. These A's, for a change, can rake.