The Oakland Athletics are pretty good at baseball. That's apparent to anyone who has been paying even the tiniest bit of attention to the MLB in 2014. It's also not altogether surprising given the strong squad the A's fielded last season.What might be a bit surprising to some is how excellent they have been offensively. The following shows their numbers and league ranks in a couple of major metrics.
*Statistics are prior to yesterday's game vs. the Detroit Tigers.
This team can really hit, and they've done so despite a .280 BABIP, meaning there isn't an obvious reason to believe they'll regress significantly. The A's are also scoring buckets of runs without a true superstar driving their production. Josh Donaldson produces like a superstar, but he probably isn't appreciated like one just yet. Brandon Moss is another guy who is very productive but might not get the credit he's due. In likelihood that credit is coming, but right now it's possible to see why a fan could be a bit puzzled by Oakland's offensive surge.
One of the things that the A's have traditionally done well is use platoons to their advantage, and this season is no exception. They shelter their players from same handed pitchers and tend to field lineups that put their players in the best position to succeed. A great example of that is this year with their catchers. With the tandem of John Jaso and Derek Norris A's catchers are absolutely destroying opposing pitching. This is what their production from the catcher spot looks like in 2014:
To put that in perspective, a wRC+ of 154 would rank 14th in the league at the moment, if the A's catchers were one player. Instead, you have two players who are perfectly utilized. Here's the breakdown of their playing time.
|% of 2014 PA vs. RHP
|2014 wRC+ vs. RHP
|Career wRC+ vs. RHP
|% of 2014 PA vs. LHP
|2014 wRC+ vs. LHP
|Career wRC+ vs. LHP
It's been well established that Jaso cannot hit southpaws, so the Athletics have completely sheltered him from them. Norris is a bit more complicated as they have found ways to get him into the lineup against RHP because he has been so hot this season. Both players can and have played in the same lineup against RHP with Jaso at DH and Norris at catcher. Even still, Norris has seen a high percentage of lefties considering their rarity compared to right handers.
All of the 2014 numbers here are based on small sample sizes and while Jaso has a relatively proven track record, Norris is in new territory and it remains to be seen how much of his breakout is sustainable. However, even ignoring this season and looking exclusively at the career platoon splits for the Jaso/Norris combo, it is clear that the potential is there for a very strong offensive performance.
If Norris falls to earth, the monstrous performance of this duo may taper off to an extent. If it does, the Athletics have still put themselves in a position to get a lot of run production from their catchers by utilizing two players whose skills complement each other beautifully.
Turns out the A's are using previously unheralded (although to be fair at one point Derek Norris was a Baseball America top 100 prospect) players in an intelligent way.
What else is new?
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.