This is our page that shows team performance according to BaseRuns. It’s a useful page to visit from time to time, just to check in, and earlier today I used those numbers to write about the Orioles, who have been up to something crazy. But that’s not all! When doing research for one post, one can sometimes find a nugget for another post. BaseRuns doesn’t fully understand what the Orioles have been doing. In a similar but opposite way, it’s also confused by the A’s.
The A’s do not stand out in the way the Orioles do. The Orioles, again, are already six wins clear of their BaseRuns record. The A’s are short of theirs by just a win and a half. That’s not good, but it’s also not anything worth talking about. By actual wins against BaseRuns wins, the Marlins have had it worse. The Rays and Braves have also had it worse. That’s not where the A’s have been way off.
If you’re on that page, though, stay on it for a second. Look at the run-differential columns. There we go. There’s where the A’s don’t make great sense.
To quickly summarize, BaseRuns attempts to estimate runs scored based on underlying performance. It’s a run estimator — and therefore an indirect wins estimator — that eliminates the matter of timing. BaseRuns doesn’t see a difference between going walk-walk-homer and homer-walk-walk. On the linked page, you can see BaseRuns’ estimated team run differentials. The A’s are in the middle, at 0. Same runs scored as runs allowed. They’re sandwiched between the Orioles and the Twins. The same page also includes actual record, and actual run differential. To this point, the A’s have been outscored by 39. Only the Padres and Giants have been worse.
In other words, there’s a 39-run negative difference between the A’s actual run differential and the run differential you’d estimate based on their overall numbers. Considering the A’s have played just 33 games, that should strike you as crazy. Indeed, here’s the full MLB landscape:
The A’s have had nearly a 40-run difference. No other team has reached even a 20-run difference. The A’s are the only reason the y-axis isn’t the same size on both sides of zero. If you’re an A’s fan, you’ve probably gotten a certain feeling about your team. That feeling might be unfairly negative. Or, very fairly negative? I suppose it could go either way.
Breaking things down, offensively, the A’s are short of their BaseRuns estimate by 0.41 runs per game. That’s the worst mark in baseball. On the other side of the action, the A’s are off of their BaseRuns estimate by 0.78 runs per game. That’s also the worst mark in baseball. The A’s have arguably scored too few runs while allowing too many. That’s really the only way you could end up where they are. This couldn’t be the fault of just the hitters or the pitchers alone.
The bulk of the explanation should be entirely obvious. What would cause a team to under-perform? The answer tends to be bad timing. At the plate, the A’s rank 22nd in baseball in wOBA, but they rank 29th in percentage of baserunners scored, ahead of only the woeful Royals. So, they’re 22nd in wOBA. With the bases empty, they rank 12th. With the bases *not* empty, they rank 28th. That’s weird and bad.
When it comes to pitching and defending, the A’s rank 8th in baseball in wOBA allowed. With the bases empty, they rank 3rd. With the bases *not* empty, they rank 24th. That’s more weird, and more bad. The numbers just don’t go together with one another.
Let’s say you don’t necessarily love BaseRuns. Let’s say you’d prefer something simpler. We can do that. The A’s have a .309 offensive wOBA, and they’ve averaged 3.82 runs per game. Since 2002, the various teams to finish with .309 wOBAs have averaged 4.05 runs per game. There’s something.
And, on the other side, the A’s have allowed a .307 wOBA, and they’ve given up 5.00 runs per game. Since 2002, the various teams to finish with .307 wOBAs against have allowed an average of 4.00 runs per game. There’s the real meat. There’s the biggest difference. The A’s have given up hits and walks like the Red Sox and Rays, but they’ve given up runs like the Tigers. Ultimately, it’s runs that stick in the memory, far more than something abstract like “deserved runs,” but the A’s have been better than the impression they’ve formed.
There are a few ways to take this. On the optimistic side, there’s no way this could possibly keep up. BaseRuns is a more reliable measure than actual small-sample performance, and BaseRuns believes the A’s have been just fine. They’ll shake it all off as their numbers come into alignment. There’s no good reason why the team would just decide to suck when there are runners on. That’s not a sticky player or lineup trait, so to speak.
If one’s more pessimistic, it’s been five weeks of missed opportunities. Missed opportunities to both score runs and prevent them. Missed opportunities, therefore, to do better in the standings, with potential contenders like Seattle and Texas fighting to stay around .500. It’s not like the A’s can undo what they’ve done. That -39 number won’t just regress to zero from here on out. That’s not how it works.
There’s one final angle, that’s only somewhat related — it’s that, well, it doesn’t really matter anymore, since what’s truly significant is how a team projects. We project the A’s as something like a .500 ballclub, and there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a .500 ballclub. They’ve played a lot like a .500 ballclub, and the numbers think they’ll continue to play like a .500 ballclub. Way to go, A’s. You’re kind of like the Pirates.
Still, this is a team with underrated upside. Especially now that Yonder Alonso is suddenly dangerous. The A’s have the makings of an actual lineup, and it’s a deep and talented pitching staff when enough of its members are healthy. If you like the look of the A’s, it matters more what they’ve done until now. The biggest missed opportunity might’ve been the opportunity to bank a few more wins. Every last one of them matters, and the A’s have only their own timing to blame.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.