ATLANTA - Although the Oakland Athletics are in an offensive funk that has resulted in six losses in the past seven games, the weekend series against the Atlanta Braves shows how many miles apart these two offenses can be.
The Athletics are hitting .250/.325/.397 with a team .320 wOBA, 106 wRC+ and 22.1 fWAR.
The Braves are hitting .245/.309/.370 with a team .302 wOBA, 91 wRC+ and 14.9 fWAR.
It's more than just one lineup being better than the other. You could make a similar comparison between the Athletics and most teams in Major League Baseball this season, because Oakland ranks among the best offenses in the game.
It's also how the two offenses approach hitting.
"They value working an at-bat, whether you get on or not," Athletics outfielder Brandon Moss said of his team's approach. "They value good at-bats, guys who can grind them out, guys with power."
Working an at-bat has much to do with contact ability and plate discipline. If a batter can't barrel the ball consistently, it does him no good to work a count in his favor. At the same time, if a batter works from poor counts more often than not, it does him no good to have contact skills.
The Athletics, top to bottom, are capable of doing both. They rank second in baseball at avoiding swinging at pitches outside the strike zone (27.5 O-Swing%), so they spit on poor pitches better than almost every team in the game. At the same time, their contact percentage in the strike zone ranks fourth in MLB (89%). Along with that, the Athletics rank second in avoiding swinging strikes (7.8%).
Moss, who was drafted and developed by the Boston Red Sox, said Oakland's hitting philosophy is similar to Boston's. He said they stress working at-bats, putting yourself in good counts and grinding it out for a positive result. If a batter is capable of working counts and making solid contact, things like power and runs take care of themselves. For both organizations, it's the framework for a successful offense.
It's been a different story for the Braves. Their 11.5% swinging strike rate is worst in baseball this season. Dating back to 2003, it ranks third to the 2003 Cincinnati Reds (12.1%) and 2013 Houston Astros (11.7%). The Reds lost 93 games that year, and the Astros lost 111. Perhaps as concerning, the 2013 Braves rank sixth over that span at 11.1%, meaning it's getting worse.
Going along with that, the Braves have been chasers this season. They have the fifth-worst outside-swing percentage at 32.8%, which helps drive up the swinging strike rate. But another factor for the high whiff rate has been an utter lack of contact ability. The Braves rank 29th in MLB in zone contact percentage at 83.8%. If you rank that over the same span back to 2003, it's 11th worst. The 2004 and 2013 Braves rank fourth and fifth, respectively, among worst zone contact rates over that period.
Atlanta was able to get away with some of that lack of contact last season by walking at an 8.8% clip, but that number has dropped to 7.9% this year. Meanwhile, the Athletics are walking at a 9.5% rate, which is best in MLB.
The Braves aren't showing the framework for a successful offense. They aren't working counts or drawing walks as favorably as the past few years, and their contact skills are getting worse. If they want to improve these numbers and develop a more consistent offense, learning something from the opposing dugout this weekend is a place to start. It's easier said than done, but changes to the offensive framework must be made for the Braves to contend in the future. Trying Oakland's hitting philosophy doesn't sound like a bad idea.