As a hitter who embraces strikeouts as much as his home runs and pull-hitting approach, Brandon Moss might not seem a likely connoisseur of new statistical analyses in baseball.
But actually, the A’s slugger said, “I look at a lot.”
So if one were to tell Moss that one analytics website shows the A’s offense leading the majors in something called “weighted runs created plus”?
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Moss said. “We have guys that make the most out of at-bats, even when we’re struggling. We know we can be a top-two, -three or -four offensive club in the majors. We were that last year; we should be that this year.”
As the A’s began a three-game series Monday night against the Texas Rangers and ace Yu Darvish, they held the American League’s best record at 13-5, thanks partly to an offense that can perhaps be best described as doggedly consistent.
The A’s ranked second in the A.L. in walks and on-base percentage, third in slugging percentage and home runs and fourth in runs, and had struck out in 17.8 percent of their plate appearances – the third-lowest rate in the league.
As for that mouthful of a stat Moss addressed? On the website FanGraphs, it’s used to measure a player’s offensive value by synthesizing all his stats into a number of runs he created for his team, compared to a league average. The metric said as of Monday, the A’s offense was worth 19 runs above the league average – a fancy way of saying they’re doing something right.
“We’re performing the way we would expect to,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s a small sample where we’re at right now, but I wouldn’t say it’s too far from what we potentially thought we’d be at this point.”
One hallmark of recent A’s teams has been grinding out at-bats – they ranked fourth in the majors in 2013 in pitches per plate appearance (3.94) and are on a similar pace this season (3.93). The results of those at-bats have included an aspect of timeliness.
The A’s led the A.L. entering Monday in on-base-plus-slugging percentage with men on base (.812), while more than half of their home runs came with runners on. Six came in the ninth inning or later – a big reason they had already won four games in which they trailed after seven innings, equaling their total last season.
“We haven’t been dominant,” Moss said. “But what we have been doing is when we get guys on and get a rally going, we tend to capitalize.”
Their top hitter in those clutch situations? Alberto Callaspo, who was tied for the league lead in hitting with runners on (.478) and tied for second in average with men in scoring position (.500). Contributions from players like Callaspo, a switch hitter who has shifted between first base and designated hitter, have helped the A’s weather slower starts from Josh Reddick and, to a lesser extent, Yoenis Cespedes.
The A’s also have benefited from an early lineup tweak, with Melvin flipping Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson to second and third, respectively, after the first week. Donaldson was hitting .115 in the second spot but began Monday batting .345 in the No. 3 spot with all four of his homers and 12 of his 13 RBIs.
Lowrie, meanwhile, had a higher average batting third (.316) than second (.268) but had drawn more walks in the second spot and scored 10 of his 14 runs there.
That’s how the top of the lineup looked much of last season, and Lowrie affirmed Monday that “I’m probably more of a two-hole hitter anyway. … When I’m worried about getting on base, that’s when I’m at my best.”
A pitching staff that began Monday with an A.L.-leading 2.48 ERA also has helped the A’s overcome shaky defense. They made 20 errors through 18 games and held defensive drills before batting practice Monday.
While the offense has helped mitigate those problems, Moss and Melvin said there’s potential for more.
“We’ve seen it for two years. We can be an offense where we go a week straight scoring eight runs a game,” Moss said. “We’re not there yet. But I think the fact that we’re winning games and a lot of our offensive producers are just kind of grinding out at-bats right now shows what kind of offense we are.”