There was this book that came out a few years back about the Oakland Athletics. You probably haven't heard of it. They made it into a movie, but I can't figure out why they got Michael Bay to direct it, and why they replaced Billy Beane with a robot that changed into an airplane. But that's not the point. The point is this book was widely read, and a lot of people had a lot of opinions about it.
Along the way, some of the interpretations of the book became caricatures. One of the central themes of the book -- that high on-base percentages are a good thing -- became the only theme of the book to a lot of people, especially the critics. There are still newspaper columns today written about it, with a picture of the protagonist from Up in the upper-right corner, and a bunch of words complaining about statistics and on-base percentages and penicillin.
But there were caricatures on the other side, too. There were people who bought into the OBP thing so wholeheartedly that they'd complain any time a hitter swung at a first pitch, or at a 3-1 pitch. It seems funny now, but when the merits of OBP became widely appreciated (before the book in question), I remember having arguments with people about those sorts of things. I'm pretty sure I was on the wrong side of them, too.
Most of us know better now -- that hitting is a complicated affair, and that different approaches work for different players. But for a while, it seemed like a lot of the great unwashed Internet thought that the less swinging a team did, the better. This comes up because in 2012:
- The Oakland Athletics are terrible at hitting baseballs
- The Oakland Athletics swing at fewer pitches out of the strike zone than any other team in baseball
Josh Donaldson has a 2 OPS+.
The A's as a team are hitting .210/.288/.332, threatening to set all kinds of records for futility, and most of those were set in the Year of the Pitcher, 1968. Their team-wide strategy is to wait for Josh Reddick to do something, which probably isn't going to win a lot of games if they stick with it.
But there they are, leading the world in fewest swings out of the strike zone. And that's one of the reasons that the A's are fourth in the AL in walks. Even though they play a lot of games in a forgiving, pitcher-friendly ballpark that allows pitchers to challenge, the A's still work walks. They still stay within the strike zone. And they're still terrible so far.
You knew that it wasn't that simple -- just wait for the professional pitcher to throw four pitches out of the strike zone, and the wins will follow!! -- but in case you harbored any ideas that there was a direct correlation between runs scored and taking pitches out of the strike zone, here's a reminder there isn't. There's a correlation, maybe. But it certainly isn't direct.
The point of this article, though, was mostly to point out how terrible the A's have been hitting. Because, holy crap, look at the A's hitting. They're 32 runs worse than the second-worst team in the league. The A's are hitting .210/.288/.332, and Cole Hamels is hitting .227/.292/.273. Criminy. But it's also to remind you that just because a team can lay off the bad pitches, it doesn't mean they're automatically going to score a lot of runs. Just look at the A's.