Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Oakland Coliseum (93/93)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Daric Barton inherits Dan Johnson's playing time
Kurt Suzuki inherits Jason Kendall's playing time
Emil Brown replaces Shannon Stewart
Travis Buck inherits Mark Kotsay's playing time
Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney (DL) replace Nick Swisher
Mike Sweeney and Frank Thomas replace Mike Piazza
Rajai Davis is filling in for Mike Sweeney (DL) and Frank Thomas (DL)
Donnie Murphy and Jack Hannahan inherit Marco Scutaro's playing time
Gregorio Petit is filling in for Donnie Murphy (DL)
Dana Eveland replaces Dan Haren
Greg Smith replaces Joe Kennedy and Dallas Braden (minors)
Rich Harden replaces Lenny DiNardo (minors) in the rotation
Justin Duchscherer replaces Chad Gaudin in the rotation
Chad Gaudin replaces Colby Lewis and Ruddy Lugo in the bullpen
Huston Street reclaims half of his save opportunities from Alan Embree
Embree replaces those save opportunities with innings reclaimed from Ron Flores
Keith Foulke replaces Jay Marshall
Brad Zielger is filling in for Santiago Casilla (DL)
1B - Daric Barton (L)
2B - Mark Ellis (R)
SS - Bobby Crosby (R)
3B - Eric Chavez (L)
C - Kurt Suzuki (R)
RF - Travis Buck (L)
CF - Carlos Gonzalez (L)
LF - Emil Brown (R)
DH - Jack Cust (L)
L - Jack Hannahan (3B/IF)
R - Rajai Davis (OF)
R - Gregorio Petit (IF)
S - Rob Bowen (C)
R - Rich Harden
L - Dana Eveland
R - Justin Duchscherer
R - Joe Blanton
L - Greg Smith
R - Huston Street
R - Kiko Calero
L - Alan Embree
R - Keith Foulke
R - Andrew Brown
R - Chad Gaudin
R - Brad Ziegler
15-day DL: R - Frank Thomas (DH), R - Mike Sweeney (1B), L - Ryan Sweeney (OF), R - Donnie Murphy (IF), R - Santiago Casilla, R - Joey Devine
R - Mark Ellis (2B)
R - Bobby Crosby (SS)
L - Jack Cust (DH)
L - Eric Chavez (3B)
R - Emil Brown (LF)
L - Travis Buck (RF)
L - Daric Barton (1B)
L - Carlos Gonzalez (CF)
R - Kurt Suzuki (C)
A lot has been made this spring about the surprising starts of several teams. In the AL Central, Detroit and Cleveland have been surprisingly bad. Down in Florida, the Rays and Marlins have been surprisingly good (even if Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA saw the Rays coming). Still, I haven't heard all that much about the surprising performance of the A's, a team that entered the season in year one of a rebuilding phase only to shoot out of the gate looking like a contender.
The A's have the fifth-best record in the American League and are 3 1/2 games behind the Rays in the Wild Card race. More impressively, they have the best Pythagorean record in the league (and third-best in baseball behind the Cubs and Phillies). Look at that lineup above. Heck, look at the roster. That team has the best run differential in the American League.
What gives? Two things. First, the A's offense has been roughly league average, which is better than they really had a right to expect. The A's have scored just 0.01 runs per game less than the league average of 4.50 R/G despite playing their home games in the most extreme pitchers' park in the league. They've done this by being consistent at home (4.42 R/G) and on the road (4.59 R/G) and by doing what the Yankees were failing to do earlier in the year: get on base.
I know, big surprise coming from the original Moneyball team, but given the fact that the bulk of the A's lineup is composed of first- and second-year players and Emil Brown, I say it's impressive. Besides, the A's are far from the best on-base team in the league. They're nine points behind the Yankees in OBP and in eighth-place out of 14 teams, but that has put their overall run production eighth out of 14 as well, which, as I say, is good enough for league average for a team that plays in a pitchers' park. Of course, they'd be doing better without Brown (.289 OBP, but a team-best 37 RBIs thanks to all of the players ahead of him who actually do get on base), and home-grown catcher Kurt Suzuki (.316 OBP and a dismal .303 slugging) isn't helping much either.
The offense the Yankees will face over the next three nights is somewhat less than average, however, as two of the A's best on-base men (Frank Thomas, .417, who was a gift from the Blue Jays, and Ryan Sweeney, .353, part of the return for Nick Swisher) are on the disabled list. That's one reason that the A's are working to keep Jack Hannahan (.351), who did a fine job of filling in for the injured Eric Chavez over the first two months of the season, in the lineup now that Chavez (.353 in just eight games) has returned. Though both Chavez and Hannahan are lefty hitters, but Hannahan has been getting the hot corner starts against southpaws and, with Thomas on the shelf, has filled in at DH against righties, pushing Jack Cust back into the left field (and Brown to the bench). Hannahan can be used at first-base as well (though the one thing rookie gatekeeper Daric Barton has done well thus far has been get on base, with a .342 mark against a .231 average thanks to a walk total that trails only Cust on the team).
Still, an average offense does not explain the best run differential in baseball. No, that comes from the pitching staff, or, more specifically, the combination of the pitching staff and the ballpark. The A's have allowed runs at the second-lowest rate in baseball thus far this year, just a hair better than the similarly constructed Blue Jays. Still, the 4.44 runs per game the A's have allowed on the road is barely above league average and barely below what their offense gives them in the average road contest. Rather the crux of the A's success thus far has been the dominant performance of their pitchers in their home ballpark.
The A's have allowed just 3.25 R/G in Oakland and opposing hitters are batting just .222/.294/.323 at McAfee Coliseum this year. On the road, the A's are a .500 team (13-14 record, +4 run differential). At home, they're the best team in baseball (.583 winning percentage, .649 Pythagorean winning percentage). Because the A's have played 57 percent of their games at home thus far this year (and host the Yankees for three more starting tonight), that has been enough to place them among the best teams in the game as we get into the middle of June.
When the schedule evens out, the A's record likely will as well. Despite their Pythagorean success, they're really little more than a .500 team, if they can even sustain that. Their best starting pitchers are the injury prone Rich Harden (apparently healthy at the moment after an early-season DL stint) and converted reliever Justin Duchscherer, who missed most of last year to injury and spent most of April on the DL. In his start on Wednesday, Duchscherer will push his innings total to it's highest point since 2005. The other three A's starters have been merely average despite their lop-sided success at home (the most lop-sided of all being Greg Smith, who has a 2.84 ERA at home, but a 4.66 mark on the road).
Tonight, the Yankees face lefty Dana Eveland, who came over with Smith from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade. Eveland's ERA is 1.46 runs lower in Oakland than away from it this year (3.13 vs. 4.59), in large part due to hit luck (just 6.99 H/9 at home vs. 9.09 on the road--all that extra foul territory, you know). Still, two starts ago Eveland gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings to the underwhelming Toronto offense, and in his last start he lasted just 4 1/3 innings in part due to his walking seven in that short span. Both of those starts came at home. Of course, being able to get to Eveland won't mean much if Chien-Ming Wang can't pull out of his funk (8.75 ERA in his last four starts with a 5.32 BB/9).
Late night west coast games this week. We're leaving the light on for ya.