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Sep 27, 2018

How the Oakland Athletics made the MLB Playoffs: A Statistical Breakdown

The A’s clinched a playoff berth in the most anti-climactic way possible in sports. Oakland found out they were headed to the playoffs when the Rays lost to Yankees on Monday, five minutes before their game started. Not only that, but they had to pop Champagne in the visitor’s clubhouse which is much less fun than celebrating on your home turf.

Now before I go any further I would like to take a minute to inject my own opinion on the Wild Card game that the A’s will most likely be playing in. Boiling the 162 game season down to a 9-inning duel is a slightly poetic, albeit cruel, way of determining who gets to advance. However, I don’t think a team should really be considered a playoff team until they win that game. But that is an argument for another day, and for the time being the A’s are technically in the 2018 postseason. With the A’s playing on the west coast, and in a small market at that, what they have accomplished this season has largely gone unnoticed in the national media. So I will attempt to right that wrong and shed some light onto the 2018 Oakland Athletics and their incredible journey this year. Not a top ten, but the key things that pulled that playoff lever.

No Money? No Problems.

Let’s begin where any good A’s article should begin, at their payroll. The A’s started the season with the lowest payroll of any MLB team at just over 62.5 million dollars. They are the first team in history to crack the playoffs when opening the season with the lowest payroll. Their Bay Area counterparts who are 13 games under .500 and are fourth in the West topped the Majors with a payroll over 220 million dollars. Of the other eight teams currently in playoff contention, the Brewers are the only other team with a payroll under 100 million dollars. So how did they do it? Their highest paid player this year is Khris Davis, who at age 30 is having his best season yet, leading the league with 46 dingers and only making $10.5 M. The Red Sox have 9 players at or above that figure, including Dustin Pedroia who has 13 plate appearances in 2018. There are a number of players on the A’s roster who have contributed greatly to their success making less than seven figures this year and frankly, I don’t know how they live day to day on that pittance. Their ace Sean Manea who was sporting a sub 1.10 WHIP before getting injured, first baseman Matt Olson who is closing in on thirty bombs, and their All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman who is in the running for AL MVP are all on minimum contracts. Simply put they know how to scout good talent, they know how to develop good talent, and they know how to trade for some diamonds in the rough. 16 years after the famed “Moneyball” season, penny-pinching is still alive and well in Oakland and they are doing it better than ever.

Pitching. Pitching. Pitching.

The A’s only have one 10-game winner this season, Sean Manea. Compare that to the Astros who have all five starters with double digits in the win column. Yet the Athletics still managed the 9th best team ERA in the bigs, with a rag-tag bunch consisting of Daniel Mengden, Trevor Cahill, Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson, Frankie Montas, and the newly acquired Mike Fiers who has a sub 3.00 ERA since joining the club. But the shining gem in the A’s staff is their closer Blake Treinen who has had himself a -dare I say it- Cy Young-worthy year. Now he won’t win the Cy Young award, and I probably don’t think he should, but he is at least worth a mention in the conversation. Blake is sporting a sparkling 0.80 ERA and is currently in the midst of a 15-inning scoreless streak. Over that time he has allowed only one hit and one walk while racking up five saves and three wins. Treinen is outperforming the likes of Kimbrel, Chapman, and Jansen, and is red-hot right when it matters. Oh, and just because I can’t get enough of the A’s payroll, he is getting paid about seven times less than the average of those three.

The Biggest Surprise of 2018?

So how many people saw this coming in April? Approximately no one. USA Today, Baseball America, and the projections site TeamRankings all had the A’s not only as a sub .500 club but to come in dead last in the AL West. Vegas had them right about 75 wins to start the season, a mark they surpassed in mid-August. Here we are, a week left in the season and Oakland is flirting with 100 wins and the fourth best record in baseball. The 2018 A’s are the gold-standard for Major League Baseball clubs. They find talent in players other organizations overlook, and have been able to maximize the productivity of every guy on their roster. The A’s will be playing the Yankees in a one-game playoff, and still, have the opportunity for that to be a home game. A lot has gone right for the A’s, and a lot still needs to go right if they want to take home their first World Series since 1989. But as their neighbors in San Francisco can attest, anything can happen in October, the first step is getting there. And defying all odds, the pesky 2018 A’s have taken that first step.

Dan Quinn