Monday, January 28, 2013
Oakland A's compare to '91 Braves
By David Schoenfield
I'm about to do something really stupid: Compare the 2012 Oakland A's to the 1991 Atlanta Braves.
That was the Braves team that went worst to first. It was the dawn of a dynasty that saw the Braves win 14 consecutive division titles (or 14 in 15 years if you want to include the strike-terminated 1994 season). The A's didn't go from last place to first, but they did surprise everyone by going from under .500 to win 94 games and the AL West title. A win total, coincidentally, that matches the '91 Braves.
Both teams also clinched right at the end of the season: The A's on the season's final day, the Braves in Game 161. The Braves outscored their opponents by 105 runs, the A's by 99. In terms of adjusted stats, the A's had an OPS+ of 97 and ERA+ of 114, the Braves had an OPS+ of 98 and ERA+ of 112. The Braves actually scored more runs, but they played in Fulton County Stadium, nicknamed The Launching Pad, which isn't exactly how the O.co ballpark is described.
Anyway, let's check out some of the individual player comparisons.
Josh Reddick versus David Justice
Two 25-year-old right fielders in their second seasons, although Justice had a better pedigree after winning Rookie of the Year honors. Both were tall (Reddick listed at 6-foot-2, Justice at 6-foot-3) with thin builds that generated a lot of power. Justice was a good outfielder early in his career and like Reddick had a very good throwing arm. Justice had the big edge in on-base percentage -- .377 to .305 -- as Reddick still has some work to do to match Justice's plate discipline.
Yoenis Cespedes versus Ron Gant
Two guys with about 2 percent body fat who had power and speed, both in their age-26 seasons. Gant was a former infielder playing out of position in center field (the Braves moved him to left in 1992) and Cespedes began the 2012 season in center before moving to left field. Gant had a 127 OPS+ and finished sixth in the MVP vote and Cespedes had a 137 OPS+ and finished 10th in the MVP vote.
Coco Crisp versus Otis Nixon
These two guys played the role of veteran speedy outfielder. Nixon swiped 72 bases that year while Crisp stole 39 in 43 attempts. Both even screwed up October for their clubs. Nixon was suspended late in the season after a positive drug test and missed the postseason; Crisp dropped a fly ball in the Division Series against the Tigers that may have cost the A's the series.
Brandon Moss versus Sid Bream
They aren't an exact match as Moss had a huge season at the plate (.596 slugging percentage in a part-time role) while Bream was a glove-first first baseman, but both were unheralded veteran acquisitions who provided a needed lift for the club, Moss for his power and Bream for his defense. Moss had 296 plate appearances and Bream 298.
Chris Carter versus Brian Hunter
Two rookie right-handed sluggers who played key roles as platoon players at first base. Carter was a little better than Hunter was. Hunter never really developed from there; it will be interesting to see what shape Carter's career takes.
Neither team had a regular shortstop, as the Braves platooned defensive whiz Rafael Belliard with the more offensive-minded Jeff Blauser, while the played gloveman Cliff Pennington but eventually traded for Stephen Drew, a better hitter.
Jarrod Parker versus John Smoltz
Two young, hard-throwing right-handers: Parker was 23, Smoltz 24, although Parker was a rookie and Smoltz was already in his third full season. Parker went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA while Smoltz went 14-13 with a 3.80 ERA. Thanks to park effects and workload, Smoltz beats out Parker in WAR, 5.1 to 3.8. Smoltz took a leap in 1992, improving his strikeout rate from 5.8 to 7.8 per nine innings. If Parker makes a similar leap, his potential to turn into a staff ace becomes more likely.
Brett Anderson versus Tom Glavine
Glavine was the Cy Young winner in 1991 while Anderson missed much of the season after returning from Tommy John surgery, and while they don't necessarily align in stuff -- Anderson is fastball/cutter/slider while Glavine was primarily fastball/changeup -- they do align in the context of throwing left-handed and being the young leader of the staff. Anderson was a year younger but like Glavine is a guy with superb command; in fact, he's averaged fewer walks per nine innings so far in his career than Glavine did in 1991.
Tom Milone versus Charlie Leibrandt
There were at different stages in their careers -- a rookie versus a 34-year-veteran -- but both were finesse left-handers who outpitched their stuff with smarts and location.
Ryan Cook versus Mark Wohlers
Wohlers wasn't quite yet a key member of the Braves' staff, throwing just 17 innings, but the upper 90s fastball certainly compares to Cook's heater.
Sean Doolittle versus Mike Stanton
Two lefty relievers, both in their first full seasons in the majors, both with excellent stuff. Stanton, however, was not a minor league first baseman.
You even have hard-throwing veteran journeyman closers in Grant Balfour and Juan Berenguer (who got hurt in August). The A's don't have anyone to match up with Terry Pendleton, the free agent third baseman who had a career year and won the MVP Award for the Braves.
Finally, average weighted ages from Baseball-Reference.com:
A's hitters: 27.7
Braves hitters: 28.1
A's pitchers: 27.7
Braves pitchers: 27.0
Am I saying the A's have just started a long-running dynasty? No, of course not. Their budget situation will always make that difficult in today's world. It's obviously unlikely that Parker and Anderson will turn into Smoltz and Glavine. More importantly, the Braves' farm system kept churning out young talent throughout the decade: Javy Lopez and Ryan Klesko in 1994, Chipper Jones in 1995, Andruw Jones, Jermaine Dye and Jason Schmidt in 1996, Kevin Millwood in 1997. They were able to trade for Fred McGriff and others. And they signed Greg Maddux as a free agent in 1993.
But I do like where the A's are at in 2013 and for the next couple of seasons. Last year was not a fluke.