Take a look at the box score from the Oakland A’s 10-6 win over against the Texas Rangers Friday night in Arlington, Texas. What stands out?
Maybe it was the A’s three-homer night? Matt Olson’s grand slam that gave the A’s a 4-0 lead with no outs in the first inning off Rangers opener Luis Garcia. Sean Murphy’s scorching solo blast in the second inning that traveled 464 feet — the longest home run hit by an Athletic this year by about 10 feet. Or that Robbie Grossman, the team’s most consistent hitter, hit his fifth homer of the year in the sixth inning.
That’s all fine and good, but another statistic should’ve caught your eye. Friday, the A’s struck out six times in a nine-inning game.
That’s not a particularly low strikeout count, but it’s in keeping with a lowering trend. Friday, the A’s struck out just once against the Houston Astros.
The last time the A’s struck out just once came in a game against the Astros last April against Wade Miley. But a six-strikeout game to follow a one-strikeout game signifies a contact-friendlier offense zigging away from the alarmingly whiff-happy trajectory this A’s team was on for more than half this season.
We’ll call it the Tommy La Stella effect. Since the A’s traded for the left-handed second baseman on Aug. 28, the offense looks to embracing a little more small-ball and contact and, as a result, the strikeouts are starting to dry up.
Granted, it’s a small sample size. But over the last 10 games the A’s have averaged seven strikeouts a game. Over their previous 32, they’d averaged approximately 10 strikeouts per game. Their strikeout rate prior to La Stella’s arrival sat at 26.2%, fifth highest in baseball. Since then, it’s ticked down to 25.1% — in the 335 at bats over the course of those 11 games, the A’s had a 20.9% strikeout rate, which is among the lowest in the league in that span.
La Stella isn’t the cause of the drop, per se, but he can be the face of it. He came to Oakland with the fewest strikeouts among all qualified players in the sport this year.
A lower strikeout rate doesn’t directly correlate with a more efficient at bats, but there seems to be a shift. By putting the ball in play more often, the A’s are creating more opportunities, finding gaps, taking what the defense is giving and manufacturing a couple key runs with the innate ability to clear crowded bases with their up-and-down power.
After Olson’s first-inning grand slam, those extra runs the A’s strung together would become key as the Rangers mounted a quasi-comeback.
Take, for example, the second inning Friday after Murphy’s towering home run. La Stella followed that up with a single, moved to second on a balk, and Marcus Semien singled, too. Olson sliced an RBI single past first baseman Ronald Guzman’s glove. Mark Canha kept it going with a sac fly for the A’s seventh, key run.
They’d add another run on La Stella’s slap single in the third inning, cashing in Vimael Machin’s single following Murphy’s second hit. La Stella would strike again in the ninth, blooping a sac fly with the bases loaded to tack on the A’s 10th run.
For a team that had the worst average with runners in scoring position (.212) by mid-season, an influx of move-the-line run creation has been a welcome sight.
Mike Fiers looked cleared to become the A’s fourth straight starting pitcher to go at least seven innings. He’d been solid in his first six, allowing one run on five hits.
Elvis Andrus greeted him in the seventh with a solo blast. Then Rougned Odor and Guzman drew back-to-back walks and Fiers was done. JB Wendelken couldn’t hold them, allowing a walk to load the bases and a run on a double play ball.
Odor hit T.J. McFarland with a two-run home run in the eighth inning. That’s the first time this season McFarland’s allowed more than one run in an outing. He’d given up three total before Friday.
©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)