I just finished reading Michael Lewis’ Moneyball for the second time. I did this to remind myself why I should have been in Toronto this past week for Dustin Parkes’ Getting Booked: The Getting Blanked Book Club.
As it was, I was unable to make it to Toronto and was stuck wasting away here in Windsor waiting impatiently for spring to come.
My point in bringing this up is that I wanted to see if Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane still practices what he preached all those years ago.
The A’s still run on a tight budget although not quite as tight as during the “Moneyball Era.” The latest ownership group headed by real estate developer Lewis Wolff appears to be significantly more willing to spend money on the team than the last ownership group headed by Steve Schott.
But has this changed Beane’s philosophies on team building? Does he still look for the cheap player that no one else in baseball sees value in?
Certainly the rest of baseball has caught on to what the A’s were doing in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and many teams have tried (some more successfully than others) to ape it; on the other hand, many teams seem completely oblivious to modern statistics and ways of running baseball teams and remain entrenched in the past. Many of those teams lose on the regular *COUGH* Cubs *COUGH* despite having a significant amount of money to spend.
But then again, the A’s haven’t exactly been tearing it up in recent years either; not that I fault Beane for that entirely, after all every team has a cycle, why should Beane’s system be immune from that?
But something in this past offseason involving the A’s caught my interest. They seemed very keen on attracting free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre to come play for them.
Is it just me, or does Beltre strike you as exactly the type of player Beane and his disciples have striven to stay far, far away from?
I’ve made the case in the past that Beltre has had two extraordinary years and a bunch of good years. Taking away those two extraordinary years (2004 with the Dodgers and last season with the Red Sox), where Beltre had a slash line of .328/.377/.591, Beltre’s line is a much more pedestrian .264/.318/.435.
Beane’s main premise is to value guys who walk (and therefore get on base) a lot. He has also sought young controllable players or players who come cheaply later in their careers when their peripheral skills are all but ignored by other teams. Beltre is none of these.
A .318 on-base percentage outside of his two good years is not a desirable stat for those who like players who get on base a lot. Beltre’s walk-rate is routinely well below average and will likely not reach higher than 6.5% (the league average is around 9%, something Beltre has not done since 2000).
Beltre was also commanding top-dollar and many years for his services, something the A’s seemed very willing to give him. For a soon-to-be 32-year-old this struck me as odd.
Was Beane really behind the decision to go after Beltre? Was ownership looking for a big name to try and draw people to that poor excuse for a baseball stadium in Oakland? Or is it that Beane is losing his edge and patience after a few sub-standard years?
One or both of the first two seems most likely.
The reason I say Beane has not changed philosophies is that he’s still getting players otherwise undervalued by non-adapting franchises. Just within the past year Beane has acquired players like Conor Jackson and Josh Willingham, two slow-footed defensively inept players who can take a walk and get on base with the best of them.
Both players walk at a rate well above the league average and are fully capable of hitting for power; the essence of the Beanian player. Meanwhile they will be paid just $9.2-million combined, or roughly half of what Alfonso Soriano will make for each of the next four seasons with the Cubs.
Willingham has a career walk-rate of 11.6% and Jackson comes in at 10.5%.
Then there’s David DeJesus who was acquired earlier this winter from, who else, but the Kansas City Royals.
DeJesus is a familiar acquisition by Beane who has twice in the past taken outfielders away from the Royals. All three times he’s given up practically nothing in return. The first two times are, of course, the acquisitions of Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon.
Given the calibre of player that DeJesus is both offensively and defensively, it will probably surprise you that he’ll be making only $6-million this season. With the new, apparently looser, purse strings now in Oakland, this is a totally reasonable amount of money to spend on an outfielder that perfectly fits the mould of a Billy Beane type of player.
The acquisitions of Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour give the A’s the best bullpen in baseball on paper along with Andrew Bailey, Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler, Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow, and Jerry Blevins; another staple of a Billy Beane team.
The pursuit of Beltre is a confusing one for this team and I think ownership heavily player their hand in it. Methinks Billy Beane breathed a massive sigh of relief when Beltre inked a 5yr/$80-million deal with the Rangers even though they are, in my opinion, the A’s chief rival in the 2011 season.
Is anyone else super-psyched for Brad Pitt to play Beane in the upcoming Moneyball movie? I know I am.