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The A’s have struggled defensively

By MARK SIMON

The Athletics started 0-6 but have been the hottest team in baseball since then, winning 25 of their next 36 games. They are tied for third in the AL with 47 home runs and have a standout bullpen that includes two pitchers with at least five saves (Lou Trivino and Jake Diekman). And they’ve been good so far in one-run games (10-4).

They’ve done this without much help from their defense. The Athletics have the best record in the AL West but rank tied for 28th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (-18). Only the Angels (-30) rank worse.

Oakland has gotten positive defensive value from only two positions – catcher left field. That’s odd considering that the Athletics have a three-time Fielding Bible Award winner at first base in Matt Olson, and a two-time Fielding Bible Award winner at third base in Matt Chapman.

They also have a shortstop who has had two seasons of at least 10 Runs Saved in Elvis Andrus, a center fielder who finished fifth in the Fielding Bible Award voting last season, Ramón Laureano, and a well-regarded catcher in Sean Murphy.

Olson has cost the Athletics three runs at first base and Andrus cost four at shortstop. Chapman and Laureano currently rate as MLB average (0 Runs Saved).

As you might expect from these numbers, the Athletics have had a hard time converting ground balls and bunts into outs. Their infield ranks last in MLB in that stat at 69.5%. They ranked 28th last season (71%), one in which Chapman missed considerable time due to injury.

What the Athletics are doing goes against how most teams win. As we detailed in Stat of the Week last season: Of the 16 seasons with the fewest Defensive Runs Saved from 2013 to 2019, only the 2013 Tigers and 2019 Mets had a winning record (and for much of the season, the Mets didn’t). Of the 42 lowest Runs Saved totals, there were nine teams with winning records.

So it’s on the Athletics to either fix their defensive issues or to keep defying the odds. Over the weekend, it looked like the latter was starting to happen, as the team improve by six runs. It wouldn’t be surprising to see even more of a statistical correction to their performance given the track records of those involved.

MLB Division Leaders – Defensive Runs Saved

Division Team DRS MLB Rank
NL East Mets 14 6th
NL West Giants 13 8th
NL Central Cardinals 10 T-11th
AL East Red Sox 10 T-11th
AL Central White Sox 10 T-11th
AL West Athletics -18 T-28th