Run Support

When the A's lost Miguel Tejada, Jose Guillen and Ramon Hernandez in the off-season, many experts proclaimed that the 2004 A's squad was headed for an offensive brown-out. Many laughed when General Manager Billy Beane proclaimed confidently that the A's were going to have a better offense in 2004 then they did in 2003.

Beane was counting on a resurgence from Jermaine Dye and Scott Hatteberg and contributions from newcomers Mark Kotsay and Damian Miller, who were both coming off of disappointing offensive seasons. So those experts could be forgiven if they thought the A's batting order was going to resemble the 2003 Los Angeles Dodgers in its anemic production. Yet as we enter the final month of the season, the 2004 A's squad has vastly out-performed the 2003 team.

Let's take a close look at the numbers:

1) The 2004 A's team has posted a .273 BA with a .345 OBP, a .439 SLG, and a .783 OPS. The 2003 team hit .254 with a .327 OBP, a .417 SLG, and a .743 OBP.

2) The 2004 team has averaged 5.08 runs per game, while the 2002 squad averaged 4.74 runs per game. In fact, this year's team is on pace to score 822 runs this season, a full 37 runs more than last year.

3) Despite featuring only one well-known slugger, the 2004 team has had a surprising amount of long ball power. Going into the final weekend of August, the A's have slugged 158 homeruns. They are on pace for 203 homeruns for the season. Last year, the Tejada, Hernandez, Guillen-led squad managed only 176. And this all despite the fact that slugger Eric Chavez missed nearly 40 games this season and was replaced by Mark McLemore, who hit no homeruns while Chavez was out.

4) The A's currently have three players with 20 or more homeruns – Chavez with 25, Dye and Durazo with 20 – and four more in double-digits (Eric Byrnes, Bobby Crosby, Scott Hatteberg, and Mark Kotsay). The A's have a chance to have six players with more than 20 homeruns and nine in double-digits. Last season, the A's had seven players in double-digits and only four of those players had more than 14.

So how has this happened? How has a team with only one marquee player out-homered the mighty Anaheim Angels by over 20 and hit ten points higher then the Hall of Fame line-up of the New York Yankees? There were a couple of developments that have allowed the A's to increase their offensive production: 1) the off-season acquisitions were, for the most part, unqualified successes, 2) Scott Hatteberg, Jermaine Dye, Eric Byrnes and Erubiel Durazo have far out-performed their 2003 seasons, and 3) a pair of rookie middle infielders have produced more offensively than anyone thought they would.

First, let's look at the successful off-season acquisitions. Beane acquired four new offensive players this off-season: Mark Kotsay, Damian Miller, Bobby Kielty and Eric Karros. Ironically, Kielty and Karros were acquired strictly for their bats, while Miller and Kotsay were picked up more for their outstanding leather then their work with the lumber. Kielty and Karros have, for the most part, been unmitigated disasters offensively (in fact Karros was let go halfway through the season), while Miller and Kotsay have been two of the A's best offensive players.

Both Miller and Kotsay had spent the majority of their careers in the National League and both were coming off of their worst offensive seasons, so it was hard to expect great offensive numbers from either of them. Kotsay had always been an above-average offensive centerfielder, but there were concerns about his back and questions if he would ever live up to the expectations that were created for him when he was named the College World Series MVP. Miller was never more then an average offensive catcher and he was something of a black hole in the line-up for the Cubs in 2003, as he hit a meager .233.

This season, however, Miller and Kotsay have been among the top offensive players at their respective positions. After a slow start, Kotsay has become a dominating force at the top of the A's line-up, posting a .303 BA with 12 homers and an OPS of .807 (better then Bernie Williams, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Garrett Anderson, to name a few). Miller has been one of the most consistent A's hitters, hitting no lower then .274 in any month this season. He has compiled a nearly .800 OPS while driving in a career-high 50 runs with over a month left in the season.

The second component to the A's offensive resurgence this season has been the improved performances of four returning players: Scott Hatteberg, Jermaine Dye, Eric Byrnes and Erubiel Durazo.

Scott Hatteberg was coming off a 2003 season that saw him hit only .253 with a .725 OPS and only 61 RBIs. Hampered by nagging injuries last season, Hatteberg struggled to hit with any form of consistency or power. This season, however, Hatteberg has been arguably the A's best offensive player. Hatteberg's line of .304 BA with 14 HR and 74 RBIs is impressive on its own. It is even more impressive when you realize that his .852 OPS is higher then Carlos Delgado, Mike Sweeney, Kevin Millar, and Jason Giambi, among others.

Jermaine Dye's 2003 season was something out of The Twilight Zone. The former All-Star couldn't even break .200, and he hit only 4 HR. It wasn't unreasonable to think that Dye would beat his 2003 numbers, however, it has been a very pleasant surprise that he has stayed healthy and relatively productive all season long. Despite some recent struggles, Dye has still hit 20 HR and knocked in 70 runs. He has struck out at an alarming rate, but he is still on pace to hit 26 HR and 90 RBIs, perfectly good numbers for a middle of the order hitter.

Eric Byrnes has managed to do something in 2004 that he was unable to do in what was somewhat of a breakthrough season in 2003 – stay consistent. Last season, Byrnes had one of the best first halves of any player in baseball in 2003, but one of the worst second halves of any player in modern history. This season, Byrnes has played at a consistently solid level, posting a .826 OPS and firmly grabbing the starting left field job for himself. Byrnes is on pace for a 23 HR, 82 RBI season.

"Holy Grail" Erubiel Durazo didn't have a bad season last year. He displayed the patience Billy Beane valued in him, walking 100 times. However, Beane had hoped to see 30 or more homers from Durazo and over 100 RBIs. Instead, he got 21 HR and 77 RBIs, rather pedestrian numbers for a man who was expected to be a major run producer. This season, Durazo's walks are down, but everything else is up. His batting average has gone from .259 to .323 and his OPS has risen from .804 to .930. Durazo is on pace to hit 26 HR and 96 RBIs, a pace which has allowed Manager Ken Macha to put Durazo in the middle of the line-up, instead of the second position, which is where he hit for much of last season.

The third component to the A's offensive improvement has been the production of youngsters Bobby Crosby and Marco Scutaro. While neither player has out-produced the players they replaced (Miguel Tejada and Mark Ellis), both have done enough offensively to make an important contribution to the A's offense. Crosby, a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, has seen his batting average fluctuate from an April low of .200 to a high of .279. He has struggled of late, but his power numbers (17 HR/ 27 2B) have added punch to the bottom of the line-up. His .764 OPS is significantly higher then the players who occupied the seventh and eighth spots in the line-up last season: Terrence Long (.678), Chris Singleton (.641), and comparable to Jose Guillen (.770 with the A's). Marco Scutaro's .690 OPS isn't a significant improvement over any of those players, however, his .317 BA and .807 OPS while batting in the 9th position in the line-up has given the A's surprising production out of a slot that was all but an automatic out last season. In addition, Scutaro has performed well with runners in scoring position (.306 BA) and has had a number of game-winning hits for the A's this season.

With the A's performing so poorly at the plate last season, Billy Beane knew that he had to make significant changes to try to improve the A's production. It took a major overhaul and the good fortune of some rebound seasons, but thus far the A's offense is looking as healthy as it has in a few years.

Interested in writing about the A's? Contact Melissa Lockard at athleticsinsider@yahoo.com if you would like to write for this site.

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