The story of the AL West heading into the 2021 MLB season was never a secret – it was bound to become a more difficult task for the Astros and Athletics to carry on dominating the division. The early part of the campaign confirmed these expectations and provided a hard stretch for the 2021 Oakland Athletics. This opening week and a half would see the A’s lose their first six games and get on the wrong side of the scoreboard in seven of their inaugural eight meetings of the new year.
It got ugly before it got comfortable for Oakland, however, did the team get it going once bounced back from that unimpressive start! The 2021 Oakland Athletics won their following thirteen games, their best winning streak since the infamous 20-game victorious stretch in 2002. Next up, they lost three of five showdowns to settle at 16-10. That has been enough for them to hold the best record in the AL West, a division with four teams over the .500 threshold.
Furthermore, the A’s are tied (with Boston) for the second-best record in the American League, trailing merely the Kansas City Royals. The 2021 season is still young and the fruits of its product are inconclusive. Nevertheless, the 2021 Oakland Athletics’ hot streak is one of the most talked-about topics in all of Major League Baseball.
That status rarely, if at all, guarantees legitimacy. Yet, it does often deserve relevant analysis, whether it is a supportive theory or merely an argument to discredit the “inefficiency of assessment”. By virtue of its headline, Overtime Heroics’ dear readers have probably realized this article follows neither pattern, at least not yet. Rather, it puts the question on the table, begging not just for any type of opinionized answer but one based on objective facts, past phenomena, and, as our most frequent readers would be used to, data.
2021 Oakland Athletics Sustainability: Lineup Has Room To Prosper
Across their first 26 games this spring, the A’s have scored a total of 109 runs. This is the 12th-best in the MLB and the sixth-best within the American League. Furthermore, while that matters very little, the implications about the direction the unit could head towards are not only more important but also very positive.
Firstly, five of the nine starting members of Oakland’s lineup have on-base figures north of .300. While that by itself isn’t all that significant, all five average figures over the major-league average of .309. What’s more is that each of them has turned in numbers similar to their past seasons’ accomplishments, particularly those that came over a 162-game workload. This means that they could all continue performing at their current rates, retaining the upsides in the A’s offensive group.
Let’s be more specific, though. Mark Canha and Matt Olson, the 2021 Oakland Athletics’ two most productive hitters thus far, possess OBP values of .393 and .363, respectively. Olson’s on-base percentage had fared between .330 and .350 in each of the three seasons before the pandemic shortened 2020. Meanwhile, the same component in Canha’s display has remained in the .385 range in each of his past two campaigns. All in all, he has three consecutive years with OBP numbers over the MLB average threshold, with two of those coming in more than 400 at-bats registered.
The same tendency has applied to Jed Lowrie (.333 – .356 in 2017-2018), Mitch Moreland (.323 – .328 in 2017-2020), and catcher Sean Murphy (.314 – .355 in 2019-2020). The latter’s workload (63 games, 200 PA) throws his past average value in jeopardy. However, the trend here is clear – if there is any pushback from the range of these batters’ usual values, it cannot be, under any circumstances, in an extreme fashion. In fact, a greater number of them are more likely to post an improvement than a downturn.
On the other hand, there are four hitters with OBP values faring under .300. First off, Elvis Andrus‘s extreme low (.211) is completely ruled out as a possibility to maintain this outlook as his final number for the season. Even after turning 30, Andrus has averaged a .304 OBP, almost 30% higher. A downward trend from that figure is perhaps set to occur in 2021 but not insofar that it doesn’t fight back from .211.
Next up, Ramon Laureano, Stephen Piscotty, and Matt Chapman have all been reaching bases at a rate between .280 and .300. Their two-year rolling averages prior to 2020 were .339, .322, and .348, respectively. This represents a huge difference from their current figures, which stand south of .300. Out of the six combined seasons this piece of data presents, four have seen a player appear in more than 100 games. Therefore, the workload justifies the immense (or merely solid) stability. Moreover, not only that but the oldest of the three is just 30 years of age – that would be Piscotty. While the other two are expected to continue unveiling their potential, even he shouldn’t experience a noticeable downfall.
Overall, the lineup’s best hitters are unlikely to slide down from their previous success while a significant part of the struggling assets promises to improve. That would mean that not only will the unit maintain its status as the 12th-most productive offense but also has statistical pretext to improve.
2021 Oakland Athletics Sustainability: Missed Chances Around the Rotation
Through about a sixth of the 2021 Oakland Athletics campaign, their rotation has been, on average, as good as it was throughout the whole 2020 season. The unit’s ERA remains at 4.49, though that represents growth from 12th-worst to 15th-worst.
As far as the top portion of the starting pitching staff goes, very little change is bound to occur between now and the late stages of the 2021 season. Chris Bassitt, for instance, averages 0.9 HR/9 (two of his last three seasons have observed this figure in the 0.8-0.9 range). Meanwhile, his control figures promise a more positive series of events – this current number is 3.6 whereas the BB/9 dropped from 3.4 in 2018 to 2.4 in 2020. The difference in the K/9 isn’t dramatic so a slight uptick should be anticipated with the expectations to slow his struggles in the walks department.
Furthermore, Sean Manaea is faring almost on par with his career averages. The Valparaiso native’s current stat line (HR/BB/K) is 0.9/2.2/8.8 whilst the comparison is with a career combination of 1.1/2.3/7.4. The situation around Cole Irvin isn’t very dramatic either – the third-year starting pitcher had just three starts before 2021. Therefore, there isn’t much of an identity to help track his potential – he’ll need a full season or two (or more) for that.
Meanwhile, Frankie Montas is the member of the staff with the clearest room for improvement over his current numbers. More particularly, his homerun-per-nine figure is 2.2 – during his busiest years, it stood south of 1.0. Finally, Jesus Luzardo is also likely to balance out his woes in the fields of power-hitting and control. However, these comparisons are made per his nine-start 2020 campaign. Since the 2021 Oakland Athletics expect him to make about three times more appearances this season, the 2020 figures are difficult to trust due to lack of credibility.
There are a few components that promise to put on slight recoveries if there are any such settings at all. However, that has to co-exist with the risk posed by the inexperienced Irvin and Luzardo. Therefore, with those two trends mixed up, the A’s rotation’s real abilities might not be much farther from their current position. This may not be all that pleasant – the unit has, thus far, been third within the AL West and 11th within the AL regarding starting pitching.
This could be seriously bad news accompanied by the subpar bullpen. As a result, the lineup could find itself carrying the team, which wouldn’t resemble any type of decent on-field product. In other words, lack of balance could waste talent on yet another team. The A’s front office might have missed a good opportunity to strengthen the rotation entering this ongoing campaign.
2021 Oakland Athletics Sustainability: Where This Leaves Them in the Postseason Race
Although the pitching staff offers the scary prospect of dragging down the club, there’s good news for the immediate future of the 2021 Oakland Athletics after all. As many would be wise enough to know, there are teams within that division that could find it much harder keeping up and maintaining their level than the A’s. That is because they are simply not built to do so over a full, 162-game season.
You have perhaps already guessed which franchises are the subjects of the previous paragraph. There is more than one example – the Seattle Mariners, the Texas Rangers are nowhere near their current places within five games out of first. In the meantime, the Astros have shown signs of bigger vulnerability than ever while the Angels are the most improved team, with prerequisites to make the highest jump.
With those three teams seeming close in quality, they could engage in a division race that would remain within reach until the dying moments. While the potential emergence of LA puts another contender head-to-head with the 2021 Oakland Athletics, the club is lucky enough to be close to Houston despite the insufficient campaign that could be ahead.
That is truly vital because the 2021 Oakland Athletics team isn’t anywhere near a flawless squad. Its identity might not be that of the first nine matchups it’s not the following seventeen that resemble it either.
Follow me on Twitter at @TeodorTsenov for more of my content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, and feel free to join our new Instagram – @overtimeheroics_MLB. We’ll see ya there!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images