What the Mets can learn from the 2013 A’s

Oakland A'sOK Mets fans – name five players on the Oakland A’s. While the A’s play in the AL West, they’re also 86-61 this year, so it shouldn’t be that much of a challenge for a baseball fan to know their top players. Let’s see, there’s dark horse MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, there’s down ballot Cy Young Award choice Bartolo Colon, there’s Home Run Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes and then the big names run out.

Of course there’s Metsense favorite Josh Reddick and they pulled off a trade in the offseason to get position player Chris Young. So, it’s not impossible to name five but it’s not exactly easy, either. So, how on earth does a team with so few stars have the second-best record in the American League?

Good health, especially among its starting rotation is a key. But there are two things that the Mets could adopt from the A’s that are leading to success in the Bay Area. Let’s start with the bullpen. Oakland has five relievers to have appeared in 40+ games this year and two of them are lefties. However, they are not strict LOOGYs by any stretch of the imagination, as both have faced more RHB than LHB.

Lefty Sean Doolittle leads the relievers with 63.1 IP. He’s faced 163 RHB and 85 LHB. Despite not having the platoon advantage in two-thirds of his appearances, he has a 3.41 ERA, has stranded 26 of 28 inherited runners and has a 1.122 WPA, the 13th-best mark for a lefty reliever in the majors this year.

By comparison, Scott Rice has faced 75 RHB and 138 LHB and despite Terry Collins doing his best to make everything advantageous for Rice at the expense of the rest of the bullpen, Rice recorded a 0.245 WPA, significantly worse than Doolittle’s mark.

Perhaps even more important is how the A’s handle their hitters. Manager Bob Melvin is running platoons all over the place and the results have been fantastic. While they may not have a star-studded lineup, they do not have any sinkholes, either. The A’s run traditional platoons at catcher and first base and more complicated ones in the middle infield and OF/DH.

Their catcher platoon gives them a 118 OPS+ compared to other catchers in the league and their first basemen are above league average, too, with a 103 mark. Their worst position is DH, where they have an 86 OPS+. While that’s not good, one only has to look at Oakland’s main division rivals and see that Texas gets a 79 OPS+ from first base and Los Angeles gets a 76 OPS+ from its third basemen to realize that Oakland’s heavy platooning has given them a low-cost advantage over their higher-spending rivals.

The 2014 Mets could conceivably platoon at three positions, depending on how the offseason plays out. A Lucas Duda/Josh Satin combo at first base makes a ton of sense. If they do not acquire a SS this winter, a Ruben Tejada/Omar Quintanilla duo could provide league average production, compared to the 68 OPS+ the Mets received this year while playing those same two guys in everyday roles at different points. And Matt den Dekker has probably earned himself a platoon role in the outfield, too, even if we don’t know who the righty-hitting half would be.

Somehow the idea has taken root here in the 21st Century that you cannot platoon at multiple positions when you carry 12 pitchers. Most teams carry a backup catcher, two backup infielders and two backup outfielders, which indicates you can platoon at five different spots, if needed. Everyone wants to be a full-time player but the simple fact is that some players are better suited for 600 PA in a season than others.

When your payroll does not allow you to carry a star at each position, you need to be creative, both in your roster construction and utilization. It’s up to Sandy Alderson to give Collins the complementary pieces to be used in a platoon, which means not opening the year without a backup shortstop on the roster. But it’s also up to the manager to recognize who needs to be platooned and to be able to deal with the hurt egos that may develop.

Too often, we look at what a player can’t do, rather than what he can. It’s possible den Dekker may never hit lefties enough to be a full-time player and he strikes out at an alarming rate. But he can play defense, hit the ball out of the park and steal bases. There’s an easy way to maximize his value. It may not be so cut-and-dried with other flawed players, but a creative manager finds ways to extract value from guys who may not be full-time starters.

The 2013 A’s have showed the world that sensible bullpen usage and platoons can lead to a winning record. You take the best players you have and use them in a way to maximize their talents, while not putting other players in worse situations. It’s hardly revolutionary. If anything, it’s a throwback to the way the game was played for most of the 20th Century.

Instead, our manager bends over backwards to get lefty relievers in the game whenever possible and prefers to play his position players until they drop. It’s a CYA mentality that has won Collins praise from the mainstream media and, along with a lack of healthy star players, has led to three consecutive losing seasons.

I now officially have a rooting interest in the postseason. Perhaps the best way for a return to common sense in the game is for a team like the A’s to win it all. Perhaps if we see a team that platoons up and down the lineup and lets their lefty relievers face righties win a championship, the Mets might be inclined to do the same.

So, for the first time in my life, I’m going to root for the A’s.

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21 comments for “What the Mets can learn from the 2013 A’s

  1. Joe Vasile
    September 15, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I agree 100 percent, Brian. I’ve written articles several times this season saying that Terry Collins need to use more platoons (once in general and the other time just for Ike Davis/Josh Satin). If you want to delve even deeper into the A’s success using platoons, look at 2012′s first base platoon of Chris Carter and Brandon Moss.

    Then when you take into consideration that their bench players are all very versatile and can play multiple positions, which only helps create more platoon options. Then you take into account that they have a flyball-heavy pitching staff in an expansive ballpark and good defensive outfielders, and it becomes apparent that the A’s are a very well put together team from top to bottom.

    The Mets have the ‘Moneyball’ front office who can structure a team this way, but it means nothing unless they get a manager who can execute the plan on the field, and after three years, it doesn’t look like Collins can.

  2. September 15, 2013 at 9:20 am

    One thing that I should have pointed out in the article is that Bob Melvin was a finalist for the Mets’ managerial job but lost out to Terry Collins prior to the 2011 season.

  3. September 15, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Fantastic article, Brian. If you survey the Mets’ farm system as far as hitters go, it seems to littered with “4th or 5th outfielder” types and “platoon players.” That’s always seen as a bad thing (and with the relative lack of impact bats in the system it generally is), but we’ve all forgotten the value of good platoons. The Mets will really need to maximize them moving forward. You’re right about Collins, though. Can he handle that? I’m not so sure.

    Side note: I seriously cannot believe how long this team went without a true backup SS on the roster. Incredible.

  4. Metsense
    September 15, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Platoon baseball is the best way to utilize your players provided there is a need and this article does show there is a need.
    The article also points out that the manager needs to be innovative and creative. Teflon Terry is neither. The article also points out the proper way to utilize a bullpen and spread out the work. This is another weakness of TC. Finally the article points out that the A’s are a winning team and the Collins led Mets have not been in three years. Things are very stale in Metland and maybe a change in game approach and major league player evaluation would benefit the franchise.

  5. steevy
    September 15, 2013 at 11:18 am

    What it comes down to again is,fire Terry Collins!

  6. Jim OMalley
    September 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

    We will get to face the A’s during the regular season next year.

  7. Name
    September 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    You mention the bullpen, platooning, but I really think it mostly comes down to SP. Last year, they were tied for 3rd in ERA-, and this year they are (tied) for 3rd in ERA- again.
    If you look at the teams which made the postseason the last 2 years, their rank in ERA- for last year were: 1st,3rd,4th,5th, and 8th and for this year it looks like it is going to be: 1st,2nd,3rd,4th,5th.
    The Mets rank in the last 2 years? 9th and 10th.
    Clearly, SP determines winners these days, and having a strong 5 in my more opinion is much more important than any other subset of the team.

    • NormE
      September 16, 2013 at 12:53 am

      I would never argue against the idea of SP being the most important subset of a team. But, platooning properly helps the pitching by putting hitters in a spot where they can best contribute to scoring runs. I remember when Casey Stengel platooned Gene Woodling and Hank Bauer in the OF and Bobby Brown and Billy Johnson at 3B. Walter Alston platooned Don Zimmer (2B) and Sandy Amoros (LF) with Jim Gilliam (a switch-hitter) bouncing between the two positions. It’s not rocket science.

    • September 16, 2013 at 10:09 am

      And they’re tied with the Rangers and 1% better than the White Sox in ERA- and neither of those teams are going to the playoffs.

      The strength of the A’s SP has been their health. They’ve only had seven different pitchers start a game for them all season. It’s not that their top 5 is great — it’s that they don’t have to pick up guys from the scrap heap to make 25 starts for them.

      The Mets have used 12 different SP. If they only used Harvey, Niese, Gee, Hefner, Wheeler, Mejia and Torres as SP this year, they would be far better than what Oakland has used. The five other SP for the Mets this year have allowed 72 ER in 112 IP for a 5.79 ERA

      Since I have B-R up, I’m going to use ERA+ to look at the starters. Here’s how the five OAK SP who have made at least 25 starts rate:

      136, 104, 97, 90 and 88

      Meanwhile, Harvey has a 157, Wheeler has a 111, Gee and Torres both have a 103 and Niese has a 92.

      Health is the wildcard and maybe next year is the one where the Mets don’t have 10 pitchers go on the DL. But since there’s little they can do in that regard, they should focus where they can make a difference.

  8. Chris F
    September 15, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    I’m in full agreement that a manager must optimize every players strengths to increase the odds of winning. I also agree we don’t have the manager to do that. I’m less in love with the idea of the A’s an analog for the Mets. Ok, sure we have Mr Moneyball in charge but there’s a couple other things going on. First the A’s are a minuscule market and so don’t get any national coverage…and they are American League…and theor games mostly start after I’ve seen the Mets go a slid 13 innings and lose. They have have a media invisibility that a NY team can never have. We can’t mask this as somehow covering up a bunch of nobody’s there. I would also have added Grant Balfour and Coco Crisp to the list. I don’t think I could name 5 Mariners, 5 Dbacks, or 5 brewers, however.

    The Mets play in the largest media market in the world. I don’t believe you can trot out a bunch of nobody’s and expect them to win. I’m all in favor of doing what we need to, including signing appropriate FAs that may cost money. We might also ask, what could the Mets learn from the 2013 Dodgers?

    I believe Name raises a huge point. This game turns on pitching.

    • za
      September 15, 2013 at 10:34 pm

      “I don’t believe you can trot out a bunch of nobody’s and expect them to win.”

      So you’re putting your fingers in your ears and saying “LALALALA” to the whole point of this article, I take it. Mets fans don’t care about big names; they care about winning games. If we can have a winning team, we’ll be happy, and the market size has nothing to do with proper roster construction.

      • Chris F
        September 16, 2013 at 8:52 am

        Not quite. What I’m saying is that the A’s really aren’t nobodies just because we can’t name the team front to back. They’re a small market, media poor, AL west team. The chance of knowing a lot of them is slim, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. We already are trotting a bunch of nobodies out there, and no one goes to games and no one cares. This years Mets and A’s have nothing to do with each other, regardless if we know their names. Winning will attract customers. I just don’t believe platooning Duda and Satin at 1B and Lagares/denDekker in center along with better pen management will ever add more than a few extra wins this year. Certainly not like going to 90+ wins. You don’t think big names draw with Mets fans? I’m not advocating for a 200M$ club, but making believe this is Tampa Bay or Oakland is a serious mistake.

        • September 16, 2013 at 9:33 am

          The A’s average 4.62 runs per game, the fourth-best mark in the AL. The Mets average 3.87 rpg, the 11th-best mark in the NL. Here’s how they stack up by OPS+ by position from best to worst (excluding DH, which is the poorest mark for Oakland)

          OAK – 140, 121, 118, 101, 99, 93, 92, 91
          NYM – 123, 104, 99, 96, 91, 82, 74, 67

          Three of the four bottom producing spots for the Mets are ones that can be addressed with platoons while the 82 is at catcher where the Mets hope to see improvement in 2014, too. I think you would be surprised how much better the outlook would be if we get all of those bottom numbers into the 90s

          • Metsense
            September 16, 2013 at 11:02 am

            Wright has a 155 OPS+, doesn’t he? That levels the playing field more, provided that the 123+(Duda) plays over Davis who has a 89+. So the Mets need to replace Byrd’s 137+ through free agency, get a SS that is better than Tejada, and roll the dice withTdA who should at least improve to 100+. That leaves Young at 91+ and Lagares at 89+. Not that daunting, is it? The problem is, at this point, especially without Harvey, the Mets don’t have a top 5 rotation YET, but with expected progression from their minors, they should by 2015.

            • Chris F
              September 16, 2013 at 11:18 am

              After innings limits life on everyone, it will be ’16 before we have:
              Harvey, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Niese, and Gee as a full season rotation. I see that as the first year we have a remote chance of being competitive in September, provided we can get more position players into the fold and that our youngin’s develop to be decent players.

              • September 16, 2013 at 11:41 am

                There’s no innings limit in 2014 on Wheeler, Niese and Gee. Wheeler has 163.2 IP already this year, with at least one more start to go. Since the Mets have said they’re comfortable with a 30 IP increase, that puts him at 200 IP next year.

                Syndergaard finished with 117.2 IP this year so his 2014 should be in the 150 range which puts him at 180 in 2015, which is 30 starts and a full season in my book.

                The only wild card is Wheeler, who we don’t know if he will pitch at all in 2014 and how the Mets will handle him.

                But at the very least there’s four guys at 30 or more starts in 2015 along with Harvey, Mejia, Hefner, Montero, JDG and others ready to contribute.

          • Chris F
            September 16, 2013 at 11:08 am

            I think it is a mistake to imagine that a single number somehow covers the comparison, but let me try another path, Team WAR. Oakland is ranked 6th, and the Mets are 28th. The teams 2 above and below for each are: 1. Dodgers-RedSox / Royals-Dbacks and 2. Twins-Brewers / Astros-Marlins. Ill let people decide for themselves which group belongs to the Mets and which belongs to the A’s!

            I agree things improve when the bottom lifts. I disagree that the A’s are a rag tag bunch of nobody’s.

            • September 16, 2013 at 11:34 am

              No one is suggesting that the Mets are as good as the A’s in 2013 so it’s zero surprise that the A’s have a much better team WAR than the Mets do.

              The three reasons for the A’s success:

              1. Health of their SP
              2. The elimination of offensive sinkholes due to platooning
              3. An effective bullpen that doesn’t employ a lefty pitcher who faces primarily lefty batters

              We can’t do anything about health but the Mets, in my opinion, could cut a sizable part of the difference between the two clubs if they adopted #2 and #3 above.

              • steevy
                September 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm

                Yes,and 2 and 3 require the firing of Terry Collins!

              • Chris F
                September 16, 2013 at 1:02 pm

                I’ll leave it at a complete disagreement on this. The A’s are far better than the Mets; I dont believe employing 2 and 3 with Melvin as manager would even come close to making the Mets even a .500 club. They simply are not that talented or well coached.

                That said, I completely agree with your premises about improvement however. I think TC and Company are total losses as a coaching staff. We need to be less injured as a team (I have for a long time questioned the strength and conditioning coaching). Given the talent we have, employing better platoons would be a positive step. Everyone here could manage the bull pen better than TC.

                We need to keep in mind that those last two are the real domain of the field manager. If Sandy were inclined to criticize TC, these would be easy grounds for dismissal. But all we hear is that TC is coming back, so the GM approves of the on field decisions, and is blaming the talent (lack thereof) for the current situation. Consequently nothing will change because TCs actions are endorsed by the FO.

                Like I said, the full staff wont be on line til ’16. I realize elements of it will before then. I can envision that with enough new talent and talent realized from what we have in house that ’15 could bring us to .500,depending on the state of affairs of the Braves, Nats, and Phillies.

  9. Sean Flattery
    September 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I think the A’s are great example of baseball as a team game, which can be argued against justifiably. If you watch them play a 3 game series, you’ll see they get contributions from all 25 men on the active squad. The pitching has been great, and the bullpen is deep. That Dan Otero has been lights out since they recalled him. That team is hard to figure out, but they deserve what ever praise they get…That being said, I do not see them getting into the ALCS,haha

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