IN THEORY, THE A'S OWE '81 TO THE OUTFIELD - Sports Illustrated Vault |
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How well does the A's outfield field? With Rickey Henderson, Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas in the lineup last year, Oakland had the best record in the American League, 64-45, and its pitching staff had the second-best earned run average, 3.30. But according to a statistical analysis prepared for the A's, a starting outfield with average defensive skills would have given Oakland a 49-60 record, 11th in the league, and the pitchers a 4.71 ERA, last.

These conclusions are based on data collected during 1981's "second season," when an observer recorded all fly balls hit by the A's and their opponents that traveled at least 160 feet in the air without clearing the fence. While the A's were hitting, 52.7% of these balls fell for hits; only 44.8% of such balls hit by Oakland's opposition dropped safely.

Dick Cramer, a research scientist for a pharmaceutical company and co-founder of STATS (Sports Team Analysis and Tracking Systems), reasons that if the A's had an average defense, opponents would have had the same 52.7% of their fly balls fall for hits. Cramer assumes that the 49 games form a representative sample and that defensive positioning and skill are the main factors in catching the ball. By using the A's percentage of hits and extra-base hits as the norm, he figures that Oakland's opponents would have had 65 additional hits against an average outfield. Cramer says the 65 hits the A's outfield "stole" from the opposition represented 70 runs in just 49 games. Over the course of the 109-game season, according to Cramer's computations, the A's would have surrendered 559 runs with an average outfield, rather than the 403 runs allowed by its stingy trio. Thus the increase in ERA. Cramer also says that each additional 10 runs represents roughly one win. Therefore, the A's would have lost 15 more games with an average outfield.