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Thursday, October 03, 2019

Rays Out-Moneyball Billy Beane and the Athletics in the AL Wild-Card Game

It’s fitting in some ways and a shame in others that the AL wild-card game was a matchup of the A’s and Rays, the baseball equivalent of the two Spider-Men pointing at each other meme. On one side: a plucky, small-market team running a low payroll, rolling out a roster of no-names, playing in a crappy stadium and stuck in a division with an insanely talented juggernaut that nonetheless perseveres to 96 wins and a playoff spot. On the other side: a plucky, small-market team running a low payroll, rolling out a roster of no-names, playing in a crappy stadium and stuck in a division with an insanely talented juggernaut that nonetheless perseveres to 97 wins and a playoff spot. And yet only one of Oakland or Tampa could survive.

That it’s the Rays moving on feels like a particular affront to the A’s, who pioneered the strategy of building a team with the pieces no one else wanted, dumpster diving to turn trash into pearls. They’re not the only ones running that particular game, but few franchises have perfected it quite like the Billy Beane Athletics, who’ve spent the last 16 years held up as the model of winning efficiently instead of extravagantly. This is their corner, and on Wednesday, they could only protest feebly as Tampa showed up and muscled them off it with little effort.

The Rays did so almost literally, given the presence of Yandy Diaz, who is built like an NFL defensive end and whose two homers—one leadoff to open the scoring, the other in the fourth to widen the gap, both opposite-field rockets—helped make this win happen. Diaz is the kind of piece they’ve unearthed seemingly annually over the last decade: another team’s trash becomes their treasure. Boasting biceps that wouldn’t be out of place in a 1980s action movie, the Cuban infielder was a Statcast darling as a member of the Indians for how routinely balls would leave his bat at the speed of sound. Yet Diaz pounded many of those missiles straight into the dirt, and his defense was a mess, and with a locked-in left side of the infield, Cleveland had no space for him.

Tampa did, because Tampa always does, because Tampa’s goal is to have a roster with six different options at every single position. Diaz came to Florida in a three-way deal (another Rays staple) in the offseason, earned a role as a regular corner infielder, and promptly whacked 14 homers in 79 games. An injury knocked him out for most of the second half, but there he was on Wednesday, hitting leadoff against southpaw Sean Manaea—the three plate appearances he’d collected since the end of July outweighed by the .976 OPS he posted this season against lefties. That proved to be the right call, because of course it was.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, what do we make of this line of analysis?

 

QLE Posted: October 03, 2019 at 12:29 AM | 0 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: al wild card, athletics, moneyball, rays

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