Noda thriving down the stretch -- fractured jaw or not

A's first baseman leads all rookies in walks, OBP as key cog in A's core of future talent

September 4th, 2023

OAKLAND -- One of the more dubious pieces of history set by the A’s in 2022 was the franchise record 12 different first basemen they used.

While the club might still have other areas of the roster to sort out going into 2024, is ensuring that first base will be a stabilized position for the foreseeable future.

What has been a breakout rookie campaign for Noda continued in Sunday’s 10-6 victory over the Angels at the Coliseum, which secured Oakland its third series sweep of the season. The first baseman got the A’s on the board in the sixth with a two-run homer and reached base three times, including on a 105.8 mph grounder in the seventh that went for an error and set the table for a six-run frame that broke the game open.

Following Sunday’s win, Noda is slashing .240/.384/.429 with 13 home runs, 19 doubles and 45 RBIs in 103 games. Leading all Major League rookies in walks (66) and on-base percentage (.384), he also continues to display that important trait that has been so valued by the A’s over the past two decades: getting on base.

“You see a lot of young hitters, including some of ours, having a tough time with walking and understanding the zone,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “Ryan has done that this year. It definitely feels good to be able to write his name consistently in the lineup at first base.”

The Rule 5 Draft is a crapshoot that rarely leads to identifying players who emerge as long-term pieces, though the A’s do have a recent example of a success story in current Brewers outfielder Mark Canha, whom they acquired through the 2015 Rule 5 Draft and developed into a key contributor over the following seven seasons. Noda, a Rule 5 pick by Oakland this past December, is shaping up to be their next big find.

“This offseason, when there was a possibility of being able to grab Noda and see if the Triple-A success would align here at the big league level, there were indicators that said yes, the biggest one being his ability to get on base,” Kotsay said. “He’s fulfilled that at this level, which is a difficult task.”

Enhancing the impressiveness of Noda’s season is the fact that he is currently playing through a fractured jaw, an injury he sustained on July 19. After missing 27 games, Noda returned once the jaw was healed enough to the point that team doctors deemed it was safe enough for him to play. Still unable to eat much solid food, Noda is playing wearing a special mouth guard for extra protection.

The compromised jaw certainly is not affecting his game. Upon returning from the IL on Aug. 21, Noda is now 13-for-42 (.310) with two homers, two doubles and six walks over 13 games.

“He picked up where he left off,” Kotsay said. “He’s getting on base by drawing his walks and getting his hits. It’s a good feeling for the organization to have identified a player like that.”

Noda’s plate vision is superb. Of the total of 275 Major League batters entering Sunday with at least 500 total swings, his 78.9 percent of swings on pitches in the zone ranked fifth highest in baseball. Earlier in the season, however, there were times in which Noda was perhaps overly patient at the plate.

Sunday was an example of his evolution in that aspect, as he pounced on a first-pitch fastball from Angels starter Tyler Anderson and launched it over the high wall in right-center a Statcast-projected 406 feet.

“Early on, I was getting used to seeing every [pitcher] up here,” Noda said. “Once I see how they throw, you just kind of make adjustments and grow with the game. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that, but there’s still a lot of growth to go.”

With promising youngsters such as Noda and August American League Rookie of the Month Award winner Zack Gelof -- whose leadoff single in the sixth preceding Noda’s homer broke up Anderson’s no-hit bid -- thriving in the big leagues, a brighter future for this rebuilding A’s club becomes a lot easier to envision.