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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Leitch: Billy Beane’s Ascendant A’s Are Playing a Brand-New Brand of Moneyball

But, but…Harold Reynolds said “the A’s aren’t going to win because they make too many errors.”

Except: The A’s didn’t actually end up trumping anybody. Moneyball the movie and the book are the rare inspirational sports stories that end with a big game … that the little guys lose. And, all told, after Moneyball came out, the A’s went through an eight-year stretch where they made the playoffs only once. This led to some mockery inside the baseball industry, particularly among those scouts so maligned by the book (a book Beane has had to repeatedly point out that he did not, in fact, write). “So much for the genius,” sneered one scout to ESPN in June of the A’s 2009 season, in which the team won only 75 games and finished last in the American League West. “He doesn’t look so smart anymore, does he?”

The strange thing was that Beane’s comeuppance was in fact a result of his success: As with any insurgent, once his tactics became known, they were co-opted by the powerful. Nowadays, every front office in baseball has a stat-head crunching some sort of numbers, many of them in the GM’s office. On-base percentage has gone from an underpriced asset to an overhyped one; even the guys in the broadcast booth are familiar with it now. The Yankees and the Red Sox (at least briefly) became the A’s with money—Beane’s worst nightmare. Which has all landed the A’s right back where they started: as a decrepit franchise with a cheap owner, low revenues, and the worst stadium situation in the game (with the threat of relocation ever hanging above them).

And that is why it’s so deeply satisfying to see, of all teams, those Oakland A’s dominating the baseball world again this year. Beane’s A’s are comfortably atop the American League West—the division they’ve won the past two seasons—and have the best record in Major League Baseball. They’re still in the same stadium, with the same uncertainty, with the same owner. They have the sixth-lowest opening-day payroll in the game. Everyone knows their old tricks. And yet here they are: on top of the baseball world again.

Repoz Posted: June 29, 2014 at 06:44 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: oakland, sabermetrics

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   1. JRVJ Posted: June 29, 2014 at 01:57 PM (#4738961)
I like Will Leitch's writing, but this article didn't strike me as particularly illustrative.

Of the 3 things the A's do well, according to the articles: - The first one (invest in a lot of little things and see what pans out), doesn't strike me as particularly new (arguably, that's what Oakland did in that faithful 2002 draft, and a lot of things DIDN'T work out).

Granted, the APPROACH to doing a number of little things may have changed versus the early 00s, so that could be a valid item;

- The second one (platooning) was somewhat done in the early Moneyball days (though perhaps I am mischaracterizing the role of some the early 2000s A's). So the point could be that the A's are doing MUCH MORE now than before, which is a fair enough point;

- The third one (have the market change on you), isn't really something you do, but something that happens around you, where it's better to be lucky than good.

Again, I like Leitch's writing (and podcast), so what am I missing here?
   2. Walt Davis Posted: June 29, 2014 at 05:47 PM (#4739161)
He should rewrite that book!
   3. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: June 29, 2014 at 06:01 PM (#4739197)
There's a party going on right here...

I think the next Moneyball has to focus on how the A's scout/teach pitching. They always seems to put together a great bullpen and find serviceable starting pitchers off the scrap heap.
   4. DA Baracus Posted: June 29, 2014 at 07:29 PM (#4739305)
I think the next Moneyball has to focus on how the A's scout/teach pitching. They always seems to put together a great bullpen and find serviceable starting pitchers off the scrap heap.


How much of that is the fielders?
   5. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: June 29, 2014 at 08:09 PM (#4739317)
How much of that is the fielders?

Don't know. The A's have a good defense but it's not other worldly. Lowrie is average at best and Crisp is pretty good up the middle. Donaldson is a great glove and Cespedes is very good. Reddick and Sogard are great but they're part timers. Anyway, they aren't exactly the 82 Cardinals with the leather.
   6. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: June 29, 2014 at 08:12 PM (#4739318)
In Moneyball 2 they will ignore the draft completely and have 10 versions of the Scott Hatteberg plot, plus Coco Crisp as David Justice. Which current A's were actually drafted and developed by the team? Just Doolittle and Gray?
   7. McCoy Posted: June 29, 2014 at 10:53 PM (#4739395)
In Moneyball 2 Eric Chavez buys the team and the A's go on to win the whole effin thing.
   8. jobu Posted: June 29, 2014 at 11:29 PM (#4739420)
In Moneyball 2 they will ignore the draft completely and have 10 versions of the Scott Hatteberg plot, plus Coco Crisp as David Justice. Which current A's were actually drafted and developed by the team? Just Doolittle and Gray?


Cespedes (well, not drafted, but presumably international scouting is permissible).

I believe it's still true that the A's have not given an AB or an IP to a rookie yet this season.
   9. Jim (jimmuscomp) Posted: June 29, 2014 at 11:33 PM (#4739422)
As a fan of the Angels even I can't get worked up about the A's. I think they do so much right that I marvel at their results. I was sure Beane had lost it with the Gio trade and some others where he sold high on 23 year old arms! I thought for sure he was overdoing it. That he ran out of patience with his own young, cost-controlled starters to the point where he traded them for younger and cheaper versions of the same.

But it a worked out. And then some.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: June 30, 2014 at 12:41 AM (#4739456)
Cespedes (well, not drafted, but presumably international scouting is permissible).

I think not at that stage. Obviously scouting played into the decision but he never played in the minors so "development" never took place. A bigger role for scouting but more similar to signing Tanaka or an FA than to signing a 16-year-old DR kid.

But they presumably deserve a bit more development credit than the lack of draftees would suggest. Donaldson and Barton both certainly spent plenty of time in the A's system. But that looks to be about it.

That he ran out of patience with his own young, cost-controlled starters to the point where he traded them for younger and cheaper versions of the same.

Like you I thought trading Swisher -- who was already signed to a reasonable arb buyout -- was very risky. But I looked at the series of trades starting with Swisher. OK, it's just a couple I guess that's not a series. I don't remember the exact numbers but it was something like Swisher gave them 9 WAR in his three years, they turned him into 12 WAR from 2 players over 3+ years, they turned them into 14 WAR from 3 or 4 players ... which could go much higher since Norris was in that trade. I recall the WAR/roster spot was going down with each trade but total WAR was going up and depth was obviously improved. Including a couple of arb awards, I think it ended up being something like 35 WAR over 9-10 years for about $10 M total.

Then the guy goes and trades for Jim Johnson. Genius!

EDIT: I should add that the players he traded played fine afterwards. He won it not so much on WAR -- Swisher had 15 WAR in his next 6 years despite his horrible Sox time and Gio about 8 so far -- but they cost a lot more.
   11. Willie Mayspedester Posted: June 30, 2014 at 12:43 AM (#4739458)
Beane has been getting better as he goes as a manager. Good leaders surround themselves with the right people and Melvin is a great coach. The perception during Moneyball was the the manager should follow the GM's plan and get out of the way. That only gets you so far. Now Melvin is keeping his players happy and putting them in a position to succeed at specific roles.

Multiple breakouts like Donaldson, Moss and Doolittle don't hurt.

What I have found most interesting this year is that they sent Straily to AAA while picking up that guy for $1 (Mills) after 2 of their starting rotation went down. Obviously the team knows a lot about pitching and makes some tough decisions as they come up instead of sticking to a decision made months before.
   12. theboyqueen Posted: June 30, 2014 at 01:32 AM (#4739477)
Beane has been getting better as he goes as a manager. Good leaders surround themselves with the right people and Melvin is a great coach. The perception during Moneyball was the the manager should follow the GM's plan and get out of the way. That only gets you so far. Now Melvin is keeping his players happy and putting them in a position to succeed at specific roles.


I think this is absolutely key. Melvin is not an Art Howe/Ken Macha/Bob Geren type flunkie; he is a superb game AND personnel manager who seems completely trusted to do his job independently. The whole machine is working, finally.

What I have found most interesting this year is that they sent Straily to AAA while picking up that guy for $1 (Mills) after 2 of their starting rotation went down. Obviously the team knows a lot about pitching and makes some tough decisions as they come up instead of sticking to a decision made months before.


Agreed, and it's also interesting to watch them try and find a useful roles for guys like Jim Johnson and Jeff Francis, both of whom could easily have been written off as total failures in the "Plan A" scenario, but both of whom clearly helped with this Marlins sweep.
   13. PreservedFish Posted: June 30, 2014 at 02:15 AM (#4739480)
Beane has always had a quick trigger. Remember how fast he gave up on Carlos Pena?
   14. Biff, highly-regarded young guy Posted: June 30, 2014 at 09:14 AM (#4739518)
The key to success is apparently Red Sox castoffs. Although Lowrie and Reddick haven't been good this year.
   15. Willie Mayspedester Posted: June 30, 2014 at 02:10 PM (#4739911)
There's bound to be Red Sox castoffs on a team entirely made up of castoffs.

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