Friday, May 25, 2012

Epic Futility

The 2012 Oakland A's are chasing history.

In an homage to the past, let's call them the "Swingin' (and Missin') A's".  As I write this, the A's are sitting on a team batting average of .210. If they can keep (not) pounding out the hits at this rate, they'll break one of baseball's oldest records: the lowest team batting average for a season. The reigning "champs" of the Modern Era (since 1900) are the 1910 Chicago White Sox.

The "No-Go Sox" of 1910 are often portrayed as having posted a .212 team batting average. Not so. The entry for the '10 Sox proves the team hit only .211 (and even that required some "rounding up", because those Sox hit only .210859 as a team).

More than a quarter of the way through the season, the A's pattern seems set: these guys would have trouble hitting water if they fell out of a boat. Only one regular has credible numbers: outfielder Josh Reddick is hitting .275. His 11 home runs and 24 RBI's top the team and project to full season of .275/39/86. Imagine this bunch without him.

Several regulars are below the Mendoza Line. Second baseman Jemile Weeks is parked at .199, which is embarrassing--but at least he's not the worst hitter in his family. Big brother Ricky, the Brewers' All-Star second baseman, is hitting .155 and leads the free world in strikeouts. Note to Jemile: don't call him for help.

You could argue--heck, I am arguing--that the A's are even more pathetic than those long-ago White Sox. Let's not forget: 1910 was in baseball's "dead-ball era". Reddick's 11 home runs are 4 more than the whole 1910 Sox team hit for the season.  And: 1910 was a long, long time before the designated-hitter rule. That's right, the A's are building their paltry numbers without having to send their pitchers up to hit.

The 1910 White Sox pitching staff hit .196. Factor them out, and the team's batting average rises to .212. Sure, A's pitchers will get a few at-bats in interleague games. Not many so far: the pitchers went 0-5 at AT&T Park, the only series in which the A's have played without a DH this year.

Who knows how this happened? You have to feel for A's "hitting" coach Chili Davis, whose 19-year major league career stats (2380 hits, 350 home runs) must seem to this bunch as if they were written in an ancient, dead language.

The crazy thing is that, for all their offensive anemia, the A's are within 2 games of a wild card playoff spot at the moment. But that crummy batting average is actually a good thing: even if they fall out of the playoff chase, their pursuit of history will keep us watching them, right down to the final out of the season.

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