How The Athletics Have Improved So Much In 2024

No need to beat around the bush on this one, the situation in Oakland is a disaster. The team was dreadful on the field last year and the situation off the field has never been more bleak. They have an unpopular owner who is determined to move the team to Las Vegas, a transition that has not gone nearly as smoothly as they would have hoped, and an angry fan base that has been boycotting games at an already empty, struggling stadium.

While the off-field problems persist, on the field the Oakland Athletics have made staggering improvements, playing good baseball through distractions and terrible circumstances. Here’s a deep dive into how this is happening and why the good play could be sustainable in what is likely their last season in Oakland

What’s Causing The Athletics’ Massive Improvement?

The Trades Are Starting To Pay Off

The A’s have been busy the last few off-seasons trading their established players to replenish the farm system and save money (of which the organization has very little). Finally, these deals are paying dividends for the big league club. The deals made during the 2022-23 off-season alone deserve a lot of credit for putting this team back on the upswing.

The trade that sent Sean Murphy to the Milwaukee Brewers brought them 25-year-old outfielder and AL stolen base champ Esteury Ruiz who has produced a lot when given opportunities. Additionally, they added young pitcher Kyle Muller who’s been fantastic out of the bullpen in 2024. The A’s also dealt star first-baseman Matt Olson to the Atlanta Braves for starting catcher Shea Langeliers who has become one of the better young backstops in baseball, placing top 10 in pop time and barreling the ball at the third highest rate in MLB (Shohei Ohtani and Salvador Perez being the top two). Lastly, a deal for AJ Puk gave the A’s former top-five pick in 26-year-old outfielder JJ Bleday who has been one of their most consistent offensive performers.

Those aren’t the only deals that have paid off though, the 2022 deadline deal that sent Frankie Montas to the New York Yankees provided multiple major league contributors by itself. The Yankees’ package included three starting pitchers who are now on the big league roster JP Sears, Ken Waldichuk, and Luis Medina. Sears has been the pillar of this rotation so far in 2024 and while Waldichuk and Medina are both injured now, they figure to play big roles in this pitching staff later in the year.

The lesson here is that even though the A’s were ridiculed for trading away popular players, for a small marker team like them, those deals are essential for rebuilding depth in the organization and ensuring the team returns to relevance sooner rather than later. While not every deal is going to be a success, the more veterans they trade and the more prospects they accumulate, the better chance they have at finding the next Murphy, Olson, or Montas.

They Find Hidden Gems on Waivers and in the Draft

Small market teams like the A’s simply cannot be successful if they try to compete with large market teams like the Yankees for players, this means they need other means of finding big league contributors. Enter scouting, arguably the most valuable part of this Oakland resurgence. They have been able to scour both professional and amateur ranks to find hidden gems other teams aren’t even aware of and turn them into legitimate big-league contributors.

The best hitter on the A’s has been 29-year-old DH Brent Rooker, posting a 133 wRC+ in 619 plate appearances since the start of 2023. After being drafted in the late first round by the Minnesota Twins in 2017 it was a tough road for Rooker, who the Twins gave up on after less than one full season in the majors. In April 2022 he was traded to the San Diego Padres, in August of the same year he was dealt to the Kansas City Royals, and then finally in November 2022 the Athletics claimed him off waivers from the Royals. After just two big league seasons, three different teams gave up on the former 35th overall pick to the point where he ended up on the waiver wire, the A’s snatched him for basically nothing and he immediately became an all-star.

As well, 28-year-old first baseman and 2023 rookie standout Ryan Noda will once again be a major contributor to this offense once he is recalled from Triple-A. He’s also had a long journey that brought him to Oakland, after being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 15th round in 2017 he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021 and then claimed off waivers by the A’s a year later. Like Rooker he then became one of Oakland’s best players, posting a 123 wRC+ over 495 plate appearances. While the waiver process has been integral, the A’s have found just as much value from late-round draft picks.

Most notably 31-year-old left fielder Seth Brown who has been a big part of the A’s offense in recent years, and while struggling out of the gate in 2024 he’s still an important piece. Since 2019 he’s played 439 games with a 102 wRC+ and a 3.8 WAR, not bad for a 19th-round pick. He was taken 578th overall and has managed a very solid MLB career, a very impressive feat for an overlooked player. Small market teams need to take advantage of the other franchise’s oversights to remain competitive at the big league level and few do this better than Oakland, this knack for finding undervalued players is one of the most important parts of this team’s success in 2024.

Mason Miller Is Really Good

It’s much easier to win games when you don’t have to worry about who’s pitching the ninth inning, and that’s exactly where the A’s are now with the remarkable season 25-year-old Mason Miller is putting together. Nobody in baseball throws a harder fastball than Miller, who averages 100.7 mph and tops out at nearly 103 mph. He carries a ridiculous league-leading strikeout rate of 53.7% and a whiff rate of 48.1%. Those are stupidly good numbers that just scratch the surface of how unhittable this guy is. His otherworldly fastball and wicked slider are a deadly combination that has effectively ended every A’s win after eight innings instead of nine, if he can keep this up he could not only be one of the best relievers in the game but also receive legitimate Cy Young consideration.

The Oakland Athletics are surprising everyone so far in 2024 and if this continues we could have a real-life “Major League” situation on our hands. They have much more talent than anyone gives them credit for and have assembled a roster that plays an entertaining and exciting style of baseball that is more than capable of winning games against good teams. They have played good teams well this season and are in a division filled with underachieving teams, it might take a miracle but it’s now just improbable for the A’s to do the impossible.

Main Image:  Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

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Ben Wiley

Great article. The A’s have semi-came down to earth in the past few days, though.

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