OAKLAND – We're still early in the MLB season, but through 27 games, the A's have been striking out at a noticeably lower rate than last year.
As a team, the A's have struck out in just 18 percent of their plate appearances this season, the second-best mark in the majors. Last year, Oakland ranked 18th in the league, striking out at a rate of 22.1 percent.
A's manager Bob Melvin admits it's probably too early in the season to really focus on those numbers, but he does credit hitting coach Darren Bush for the improvement.
"It's just probably Bushy preparing them like he does and knowing the league a little bit more," Melvin said. "The emphasis on trying to put the ball in play and staying within your zones – probably all those things add up."
As noted by Athletics Nation's Alex Hall, three players have keyed the team's improved contact rate: Marcus Semien, Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman.
Semien has lowered his strikeout percentage from 18.6 percent last year to 11.2 percent this season. Pinder has gone from 26.4 percent to 15.2 percent. Chapman has taken the biggest step of all, dropping from 23.7 percent all the way down to 10.2 percent this year.
Not surprisingly, all three players are having career years at the plate.
Pinder leads the team with a .320 batting average and ranks third with an .848 OPS. Semien is slashing .311/.379/.505 and looks like an All-Star at shortstop.
And then there's Chapman. The A's third baseman looks like a legitimate MVP candidate, hitting .311/.407/.633 with eight home runs and 18 RBI, while only striking out 11 times all season. Chapman is also on pace to shatter his previous career high in walks.
To this point, the decrease in strikeouts has not led to an increase in run production, but it is certainly putting more pressure on opposing defenses. Over the course of the season, it should also help the A's improve their situational hitting, such as driving in a runner from third with less than two outs.
Oakland is still hitting for plenty of power, which means it will likely succumb to its share of strikeouts. But the improved contact rate this season is certainly a noticeable and welcome development.