Dating back to Connie Mack‘s earliest ballclubs, the Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland/Las Vegas Athletics have been a franchise of extremes. The A’s have almost always been either a great team or a terrible team and rarely in between. In 122 seasons, they have just two .500 records to go along with nine championships, 15 pennants… and 34 last-place finishes including last year’s 60-102 outfit.
What will the coming year have in store for the A’s? If history is any indicator, they’ll either be among the very best or very worst in MLB. As a guidepost, let’s compare them to the 1973 A’s, who finished 94-68 and won their second of three consecutive World Series championships.
1973 Ray Fosse vs. 2023 Shea Langeliers
Fosse was one of baseball’s best up-and-coming catchers in the early 1970’s, but after Pete Rose collided with him in the 1971 All-Star Game, he was never the same player. He slashed .256/.291/.354 in 1973, his first year in Oakland and last as a starting player.
Langeliers was acquired from Atlanta in the Matt Olson trade. A year later, the A’s cleared his path to playing time by sending away Sean Murphy (also to Atlanta). He’s one of the team’s best young players— faint praise, indeed— but he posted just a .261 on-base percentage in his 40-game debut last year.
Advantage: 1973 Ray Fosse
1973 Gene Tenace vs. 2023 Jesús Aguilar
Tenace was primarily a catcher over the course of his career, and a damn good one at that. Some exceptionally good-looking writers have even argued that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Fresh off winning the 1972 World Series MVP, the A’s moved him primarily to first base to get his bat into the lineup more regularly. He rewarded them with 24 home runs and 101 walks while playing 134 games at first and 33 behind the plate in 1973.
Aguilar signed with Oakland on January 27, which was surprising on two counts. First of all, it was strange that the club would sign anyone at all to a $3 million contract. Secondly, Aguilar wasn’t guaranteed to get a major-league contract from any team whatsoever this winter. The Marlins released him at the end of August 2022, then the Orioles picked him off the scrap heap for the final month of the season. He may match Tenace’s power (though he probably won’t), but his on-base percentage will be nearly 100 points lower.
Advantage: 1973 Gene Tenace
1973 Dick Green vs. 2023 Tony Kemp
An even matchup! Green played 12 seasons in MLB, all with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, but 1973 was his second-to-last. He hit a soft .262 with just 12 extra-base hits in 315 plate appearances. Nevertheless, he displayed strong defense and accumulated 1.7 bWAR.
Kemp became a full-time player in 2022 for the first time in his career at age 30. He split his time about 60/40 between second base and left field and hit .235/.307/.334. Over 558 plate appearances, he managed just 1.1 bWAR. Second base isn’t a strong position for either club, but Green has the bWAR lead thanks to his glove work despite much less playing time.
Advantage: 1973 Dick Green
1973 Sal Bando vs. 2023 Jace Peterson or Kevin Smith
1973 was one of the best seasons of Bando’s excellent career. He played all 162 games and led the American League in doubles (32) and total bases (295). He also finished fourth in MVP award voting.
Peterson was Oakland’s biggest offseason splurge. He signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract on December 13 after setting a career-best in home runs last year with… uh, eight. He will play lots of third base, but can also fill in at several other positions around the diamond. Kevin Smith, who was their biggest get in the Matt Chapman trade (believe it or not), will also vie for playing time. He has a .164 career batting average in 187 plate appearances.
Advantage: 1973 Sal Bando
1973 Bert Campaneris vs. 2023 Nick Allen
The Athletics have employed many great hitters over the years from Eddie Collins to Rickey Henderson, but Campaneris owns the franchise record for most career hits (1,882). He amassed 150 of them in 1973— the great majority of which were singles— and stole 34 bases. He also made his third of six All-Star Game appearances.
Allen played commendable defense in his rookie year, earning nine Outs Above Average at shortstop and second base. However, his .207/.256/.291 slash line wouldn’t be good enough even if he had Ozzie Smith‘s glove.
Advantage: 1973 Bert Campaneris
1973 Joe Rudi vs. 2023 Seth Brown
1973 was actually a down year for Rudi. He would finish as the AL MVP runner-up in both 1972 and 1974, but a thumb injury limited him to only 120 games played and a 109 OPS+ in 1973. He made up for the lost time by going 9-27 in the World Series.
Brown plays all three outfield positions as well as first base. He blasted 25 home runs last year, but his career on-base-percentage is under .300. It is certainly possible that he has a better season than Rudi did 50 years ago, but don’t bet on it.
Advantage: 1973 Joe Rudi
1973 Bill North vs. 2023 Esteury Ruiz
The A’s traded for North from the Cubs in November 1972 and he earned the starting center field job early in the 1973 season. The switch-hitter responded to the opportunity with a .376 on-base percentage and 53 stolen bases.
Ruiz was traded from San Diego to Milwaukee on August 1, then from Milwaukee to Oakland in December. He’ll turn 24 this month, and in a way, his upside resembles North’s. He stole 85 bases across Double-A and Triple-A in 2022 while hitting .332/.447/.526. Most scouts seem to doubt whether his power spike will sustain itself in a full season of MLB action though, and he only has 36 plate appearances in the bigs so far.
Advantage: 1973 Billy North
1973 Reggie Jackson vs. 2023 Ramón Laureano
Reggie won the 1973 AL MVP award. He led the league in home runs (32), RBI (117), slugging percentage (.531), OPS+ (161), and runs scored (99). He also won the 1973 World Series MVP by hitting .310/.355/.586. Not a bad year, all in all.
Laureano had a .287 on-base percentage last year. He will not lead the league in anything in 2023, nor will he win any awards.
Advantage: 1973 Reggie Jackson
1973 Deron Johnson vs. 2023 ???
The A’s traded for Johnson from the Phillies on May 2, 1973, for a player who would never reach the Majors. He became their primary DH in the first season the AL adopted the DH rule, achieving a .330 on-base percentage with 19 home runs after the trade.
Who will be the main DH for Oakland in 2023? Does it really matter? Johnson was a pretty good hitter, but not a great one. This year’s A’s might not have anyone at all who can even match his production at any position.
Advantage: 1973 Deron Johnson
1973 Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, and Blue Moon Odom vs.
2023 Paul Blackburn, James Karprielian, Shintaro Fujinami, Drew Rucinski, and Ken Waldichuk
Holtzman, Blue, and Hunter all won at least 20 games in 1973. Hunter finished third in the Cy Young voting that year and Blue received down-ballot consideration as well. The vaunted Oakland lineup powered their dynasty, but the front three of the rotation certainly held their own.
Blackburn is the nominal ace of the 2023 A’s. He started 21 games last year with a 4.28 ERA and 1.4 bWAR. Kaprielian started 26 games but struck out only 98 batters in 134 innings. Rucinski and Fujinami signed this offseason from Korea and Japan, respectively, though the bidding wars don’t appear to have been very competitive. Waldichuk threw 34.2 innings after he was added at the 2022 trade deadline in the Frankie Montas deal.
Advantage: 1973 Rotation
1973 Rollie Fingers, Darold Knowles, Horacio Pina, and Paul Lindblad vs.
2023 Trevor May, Zach Jackson, A.J. Puk, Dany Jiménez, and Domingo Acevedo
Times certainly have changed. The 1973 A’s used only 12 pitchers all season. It was a typically strong season for Hall of Famer Fingers, who posted a 1.92 ERA. Pina featured a 129 ERA+ and Knowles’ was 116. The three main relievers combined for 313.2 innings.
The 2023 A’s bullpen actually isn’t that bad! May signed a one-year $7 million contract even though 2022 was an injury-riddled season. Jackson, Puk, Jiménez, and Acevedo all pitched well last year. However, the group lacks the star power of peak Fingers, who was arguably the best reliever in baseball at the time.
Advantage: 1973 Bullpen
It seems that the 1973 A’s were better than the current iteration in literally every way. Even after this exercise, it isn’t clear who their best player will be in 2023. Maybe Seth Brown or a youngster like Shea Langeliers? Perhaps an okay-ish starter like Blackburn? It’s something of a catch-22 because if anyone plays too well, they will likely get traded.
The 2023 Athletics resemble their predecessors of 50 years ago in name only. The franchise has enjoyed several great seasons like 1973, but just as many truly awful campaigns. Their 60-102 record in 2022 was their worst since the 108-loss 1979 team. Perhaps the 1979 team is a better comparison for this year’s A’s.
The post Which Team Is Better: 1973 A’s or 2023 A’s? appeared first on Off The Bench.
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