Three teams in Major League Baseball finished with a record of 75-87. By virtue of a last-place finish in the American League West with a head-to-head record of 3-4 against the fellow 75-win Baltimore Orioles, today we visit the Oakland Athletics.
On the whole, the A’s weren’t horrendous. Don’t get me wrong, they were bad, but exactly how bad can be misleading. They were boom or bust all around, unfortunately there was far more bust than boom.
Offensively, the A’s hit for a solid amount of power, but failed to do the small things like hit singles and, you know, hit the ball and not strikeout. The A’s did well not leaving runners on base, but hitting home runs will prevent that. But it’s also a good way to kill a rally. If the A’s had strung together a couple of doubles with a single or two peppered throughout a short rally, they would have been more efficient in scoring and likely would have ended up with more than 4.56 runs per game.
Oakland’s pitching staff was problematic, to say the least. They didn’t have problems throwing strikes and didn’t walk many batter, but that was part of the problem. Hitters knew strikes were coming, so they were swinging and not missing. This led to 9.1 hits per nine innings and 5.1 runs per game. Even for a staff that does well keeping the ball in the yard, enough balls put in play will still lead to runs scoring.
The worst of it came in the field. The third youngest team in the AL committed the most errors in MLB in 2017 with 121. Usually, a team can compensate for poor fielding with strikeouts, but with the pitching staff’s inability to strike anybody out put too much pressure on the the Oakland defense and it crumbled. However, the A’s did turn the fourth most double plays in the AL, which the pitchers must have loved.
Despite everything, the A’s had one bright spot. Rookie first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson had a tremendous season at the plate with 24 home runs, 45 RBIs, a .259 average and slugged .651. Not bad for just 59 games.
Oakland’s top prospects middle infielder Franklin Barreto and pitcher A.J. Puk could be ready to make an impact for the A’s next season. Barreto spent 25 games with the big club in 2017 in June and July, then with September roster expansions. He hit just .197, but five of his 14 hits were for extra bases. Puk spent the 2017 season split between Advanced-A and Double-A. Scouts say Puk has the power arm and complementary pitches it takes to buck the Athletics’ woes and get hitters to swing and miss while still throwing strikes at the top level.
I said before that the A’s were boom or bust across the board in 2017. A young team still, Oakland has to expect to grow into itself. If the young talent can develop to its potential, the AL West could be wild again.
Photo by Brigham Berthold