103 runs have been scored against the A’s in their first 22 games.
The Athletics revealed last week that they had made a legally binding agreement to buy land in Nevada close to the Las Vegas strip. The A’s plan to start building a new stadium there sometime in the coming year, with a possible move from Oakland as early as 2025. After the 2024 season, The A’s lease at the Oakland Coliseum will expire. Officials with the A’s are obviously overjoyed, not only because they have at last secured a ballpark after decades of trying and failing, but also because the news detracts from the most recent creation of this group: the worst baseball club.
The A’s are on track for 29 victories as of Monday with a 4-18 record so far this year. The weakest team after the final round of expansion, the Detroit Tigers in 2003, won 43 games. These A’s have also already accumulated a run differential of minus-103, meaning they’ve been outscored on average by roughly five runs each game. The next closest team on that side of the ledger was the Colorado Rockies, who had a score of minus-54. Here are the five worst full-season run differentials since 1998 for those who are curious:
The A’s current pace won’t hold—really, it can’t hold—but even if it did, they would lose by a total of more than 750 runs. Granted, a bad April does not guarantee a team will experience legendary failure. Just last year, the Cincinnati Reds overcame a 3-18 start to finish 62-100, which was by no means outstanding but was better than never before.
Per CJ Hangen, ESPN researcher: Since 1901, the Athletics’ -100 run differential is the worst by any team in their first 21 games of a season. The previous worst was -85 run diff by the 1988 Orioles. The A’s are in the discussion for the worst team ever.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 23, 2023
However, the problem with these As is that they appear to have no upper bound. You have an ownership group that has more than one foot out the door, a front office that has decided to bottom out after years of being constrained by self-imposed financial restrictions, and a roster that isn’t performing well. Anyone attempting to take in what may be the final days of professional baseball in Oakland, California, should be aware of this perilous mix.
With that in mind, let’s discuss three additional issues with the A’s and what may turn out to be a historically bad season.
1. Returns on stars have fallen flat
According to FanGraphs estimates as of Sunday, Matt Chapman (No. 5), Sean Murphy (No. 6), Marcus Semien (No. 11), and Matt Olson (30) were the four former Athletics players who were ranked in the top 30 of Wins Above Replacement. The other three were moved either in March 2022 or during the offseason, while Semien left as a free agent (after a ridiculous extension offer). You would assume the A’s would have received a hefty sum in exchange for some of the top players in the league. That would be incorrect.
Esteury Ruiz raking!
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 13, 2023
In those three transactions, the A’s received 13 players back, with all but one of them being prospects. (Excuse me, Manny Pia.) Zach Logue and Cristian Pache, two of these players, have already left the organization, and Gunnar Hoglund, Kirby Snead, and Freddy Tarnok are currently sidelined due to injuries. There are still seven players left, and four of them have previously played in the major leagues this season. Let’s go through each of their current seasons:
- OF Esteury Ruiz: The A’s received harsh criticism from the industry for using Ruiz as the centerpiece of the Murphy comeback. He has undoubtedly been his finest self thus far. Although he doesn’t smash the ball hard or walk a much (he ranks in the 19th percentile or worse in both categories), he entered Sunday with a 117 OPS+. It is important to note that Ruiz’s defense, which was thought to be one of his strongest suit, has performed worse than anticipated. The verdict is still out on whether he can continue to hit well enough to merit the A’s deal because it’s still early.
- C Shea Langeliers: Langeliers is the biggest winner of the Murphy deal because of his raw strength and defense. Langeliers has long been viewed as a possible starting backstop. In his first 18 games of the season, he has hit for a 107 OPS+, while having a fair amount of swing-and-miss problems.
- LHP Kyle Muller: On whether Muller can start in the majors, analysts are divided. No, according to this year’s early returns. In 67 career big-league innings, Oakland’s Opening Day starter has a 76 ERA+ and a 1.70 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
- SS Kevin Smith: The majority of the time, Smith has been the A’s starting shortstop. In his first 41 plate appearances, he had a 9 OPS+ and 15 more strikeouts than walks (zero). In July, he’ll turn 27.
Starting out well are Ruiz and Langeliers. nonetheless, generally? Not fantastic when you consider that you are giving up some of the best athletes in the league.
Ryan Cusick, Joey Estes, and Royber Salinas are the other three players the A’s received, and they are all pitchers. Estes and Salinas are both off to good starts and might reach the majors and help make the deals look more balanced before the year is over. Cusick, on the other hand, has battled with his command as a professional (he’s handed out 12 free passes in 13 Double-A innings this year).
2. Interesting trade deadline awaits
It should go without saying that clubs this bad rarely have many strong players. Other clubs are waiting up to inquire about the condition of injured outfielders Seth Brown and Ramón Laureano, so the A’s are sure to face queries on their star players between now and the trade deadline. The Ruizes and Langelierses of the roster, or the young players performing well enough to consider traveling to Vegas, are likely to remain with the A’s, but the most intriguing decisions will be made regarding players in the proverbial phantom zone: those who are on the older side but lack real track records.
Three players in particular are affected by this: reliever Zach Jackson, first baseman Ryan Noda, and outfielder Brent Rooker. Although Noda, at 27 years old, is the youngest of the three, their cumulative service experience is less than three years. They have done everything they can to raise awareness of themselves right away.
Rook on repeat
0:25 ❍─────── 4:14
↻ ⊲ Ⅱ ⊳ ↺
Volume: ▁▂▃▄▅▆▇ 100% pic.twitter.com/Ic8TS8foWk
— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) April 15, 2023
Through his first 14 games, 28-year-old Rooker has hit four home runs and has an OPS+ of 201. Despite the pitifully short sample size, all of his ball-tracking measures are in the right place. Could he end up being this year’s Joey Meneses? Just don’t look at what Meneses has accomplished in 2023, okay?
For his part, Noda has been a two-true-outcomes hitter, if such a thing even exists: in more than half of his at-bats, he has either walked or struck out. You can understand why the Los Angeles Dodgers felt confident enough to subject him to the Rule 5 Draft last winter. He has the potential to strike himself out of the major leagues due to his great patience and swing-and-miss.
Jackson, on the other hand, has a two-pitch arsenal that consists of a bullet slider and a fastball that is rising. In 65 big-league outings, he has consistently missed bats and the strike zone.
None of the three will produce significant profits. Even while they continue to produce, teams are right to remain skeptical of them. However, those looking to buy in the lower price range for the playoffs should keep a watch on each.
We should mention that the A’s encountered a comparable predicament last summer. Christian Bethancourt, a catcher who was then in his 30th season and not yet eligible for arbitration, with a 99 OPS+ in his first 56 games. Early in July, the A’s traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays for two minor league players. You can anticipate some movement if Bethancourt can be used as a model.
3. Soderstrom, Gelof could be en route
Enough with the leavings. Arrivals, what about them? The A’s could use Estes and Salinas before the season is out, as we noted in the first subheading. In particular, catcher/first baseman Tyler Sodersrom and infielder Zack Gelof are two of the team’s other promising young players. (Not to mention right-hander Mason Miller, who made his MLB debut against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday and used his strong stuff to strike out five batters in four and a half innings of work.)
The 26th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Soderstrom, splits his time between first base and catcher for defensive purposes. Since his amateur days, scouts have predicted that they would remove him from the box to make room for his possibly above-average bat. Soderstrom, who is hitting.286/.343/.603 in his first 15 Triple-A games, will put the A’s resolve to the test in that regard. Even though the Pacific Coast League is known for being an offensively friendly league, he will eventually make it to the main leagues.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 19, 2023
The season didn’t begin for Gelof, the 60th overall pick in 2021, because of a shoulder ailment. Since his comeback, he has played in seven games and has a.766 OPS with three extra-base hits and three thefts. Gelof has played a variety of positions in the past, including third base and the outfield, but the A’s appear to have decided to use him at the keystone. Theoretically, he might develop into an above-average hitter. Since last year, he has a history of frequent strikeouts in practice in the upper levels.
It would make sense for both to join the major league roster before the season is out. Will they be able to prevent the A’s from suffering the humiliation of ranking among the worst teams in recent memory? We’ll see, then.