Why Moneyball is flawed

Frank Thomas hits his first home-run as an A against the New York Yankees on Opening Night in 2006. Thomas might just be the best investment in old and battered goods the A's have ever done. Photo used under Creative Commons from Ken Nakano.

Frank Thomas hits his first home-run as an A against the New York Yankees on Opening Night in 2006. Thomas might just be the best investment in old and battered goods the A's have ever done. Photo used under Creative Commons from Ken Nakano.

Peter Dennis, Columnist

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As some of all you ‘avid’ readers out there may know, I am a Dodgers fan. No, I won’t pull a Brian Stow on anyone, that was completely and utterly horrific, but I can get into an argument about the Giants/Dodgers rivalry like the best of them. (See my rant about how Clayton Kershaw is better than Tim Lincecum in my Viking Tries article.)

Yet I’m not here to talk about how much better my boys in blue are going to do better next year, nor how badly the Gigantes will regret signing Beltran.

No, I’m here to talk about how much Moneyball has failed the Oakland Athletics.

Now hold on there, you may say. This is the movie with Brad Pitt! This is Billy Beane! This is the only reason why the A’s we’re even slightly good early on in the millennium! Hey, I just got extra credit for Sports Lit for watching that movie!

Hmmm…you have a valid point. However, ultimately, Moneyball failed the A’s. Watching the MLB playoffs and a certain leftfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals (I’ll get into more about my hatred later), got me thinking about the A’s’ predicament.

Because while many of you may know that I’m a Dodger’s fan, I’m fairly sure next to none of you know I’m an A’s fan. It’s not something I generally like to promote. It’s like rooting for someone who is playing against Aaron Zelinger (’12) in Risk. They’ll never win, and if they make any headway, it’s both a miracle and a fluke. But I’ve rooted for the green and gold, and blue and white simultaneously throughout my life.

Besides the fact that the Moneyball era, coincidentally or not so much (at all), happened to be the exact same era as the steroid era, there are a couple other main ideas that I’d like to address to (hopefully) convince you.

 

1. It started the A’s off on this never-ending journey of trading away their young stars and prospects for old veterans attempting to milk their last few years in the league.

Let’s look at the A’s rosters for the past 5 years, which puts us right at the end of the Moneyball era (2006) and right on the cusp of when the A’s started to get terrible. Using www.baseball-almanac.com, which seems to have been made for this exact purpose, I’ve found the list of A’s players that played the most games at each position for each year. I’ll conform it a bit here and there for names that I’m actually familiar with by adding people to “other.” (Unfortunately, Baseball-Almanac didn’t have information about this current season. Probably because it hasn’t ended. But, I’ll add in information about the 2011 season as I remember it without the data.)

 

Daric Barton strikes out in a game against the Baltimore Orioles on June 8, 2011. This is the epitome of what the A's have come to after Moneyball. Photo used under Creative Commons from Keith Allison.

2006:

Catcher: Jason Kendall

First Base: Nick Swisher

Second Base: Mark Ellis

Third Base: Eric Chavez

Shortstop: Bobby Crosby

Leftfield: Nick Swisher

Centerfield: Mark Kotsay

Rightfield: Milton Bradley

Designated Hitter: Frank Thomas

Starting Pitcher: Joe Blanton

Starting Pitcher: Dan Haren

Starting Pitcher: Esteban Loaiza

Starting Pitcher: Kirk Saarloos

Starting Pitcher: Barry Zito

Relief Pitcher: Kiko Calero

Relief Pitcher: Justin Duchscherer

Relief Pitcher: Chad Gaudin

Closer: Huston Street

Other: Marco Scutaro, Bobby Kielty, Adam Melhuse

 

2007:

C: Jason Kendall

Dan Haren pitches against the Seattle Mariners on July 6, 2007. The A's went on to lose 7-1. Haren looked to be a future A's ace, but the A's traded him away like the rest of their promising players. Photo used under Creative Commons from DJ Anto D.

1B:Dan Johnson

2B:Mark Ellis

3B: Eric Chavez

SS: Bobby Crosby

LF: Shannon Stewart

CF: Nick Swisher

RF: Travis Buck

DH: Mike Piazza

SP: Joe Blanton

SP: Lenny DiNardo

SP: Chad Gaudin

SP: Dan Haren

RP: Kiko Calero

RP: Santiago Casilla

RP: Huston Street

CL: Alan Embree

Other: Adam Melhuse, Marco Scutaro, Mark Kotsay, Milton Bradley, Bobby Kielty, Jack Cust, Colby Lewis, Rich Harden, Jerry Blevins, Justin Duchscherer

 

2008:

C: Kurt Suzuki

1B: Daric Barton

2B: Mark Ellis

3B: Jack Hannahan

Kurt Suzuki (8) and Daric Barton (10) go for a fly-ball in a game against the Baltimore Orioles. Suzuki is the prototypical A, batting around .270 each year. And this is what we've come to as A's fans today. A team full of .270 hitters. Photo used under Creative Commons from Keith Allison.

SS: Bobby Crosby

LF: Jack Cust

CF: Rajai Davis

RF: Ryan Sweeney

DH: Frank Thomas

SP: Joe Blanton

SP: Justin Duchscherer

SP: Dana Eveland

RP: Jerry Blevins

RP: Santiago Casilla

RP: Joey Devine

RP: Keith Foulke

RP: Brad Ziegler

RP: Chad Gaudin

RP: Chad Embree

CL: Huston Street

Other: Mike Sweeney, Eric Chavez, Rich Harden, Gio Gonzalez

 

2009:

C: Kurt Suzuki

Jason Giambi in an A's uniform. Again. Go figure. Photo used under Creative Commons from bryce_edwards.

1B: Jason Giambi

2B: Mark Ellis

3B: Adam Kennedy

SS: Orlando Cabrera

LF: Matt Holliday

CF: Rajai Davis

RF: Ryan Sweeney

DH: Eric Munson

SP: Brett Anderson

SP: Dallas Braden

SP: Trevor Cahill

SP: Gio Gonzalez

RP: Craig Breslow

RP: Jerry Blevins

RP: Michael Wuertz

RP: Brad Ziegler

CL: Andrew Bailey

Other: Nomar Garciaparra, Scott Hairston, Daric Barton

 

2010:

C: Kurt Suzuki

1B: Daric Barton

2B: Mark Ellis

Ryan Sweeney in an at bat versus the Kansas City Royals. Sweeney is one of the lone bright spots in the A's batting line-up, along with second baseman Jemile Weeks. Photo used under Creative Commons from John H. Kim.

3B: Kevin Kouzmanoff

SS: Cliff Pennington

LF: Rajai Davis

CF: Rajai Davis

RF: Ryan Sweeney

DH: (not given)

SP: Ben Sheets

SP: Brett Anderson

SP: Dallas Braden

SP: Trevor Cahill

SP: Gio Gonzalez

RP: Tyson Ross

RP: Craig Breslow

RP: Jerry Blevins

RP: Michael Wuertz

RP: Brad Ziegler

CL: Andrew Bailey

Other: Akinori Iwamura, Eric Chavez, Travis Buck, Adam Rosales, Chris Carter, Conor Jackson, Landon Powell, Boof Bonser, Justin Duchscherer

 

So that’s that. Let’s go through general trends shall we?

That would mean we should probably start with 2006, the last time the A’s made the playoffs. And the last time the A’s actually had a satisfactory team. First off, let’s just put it out there that none (NONE) of the players listed are still playing for the A’s. Second, let’s look at why they may have won. It couldn’t have been that they paired a little bit of offense with a stellar bullpen, could it have been? No way….

Look at their offense. Swisher is now playing (and contributing might I add) for the Yankees, so we know he’s done well. Ellis and Chavez, while offensive liabilities (well Chavez was actually a 5-tool player, but since he was injured, I still group him here. Because as we all know, stats can never lie. Right), were Gold Glovers for some unreal number of consecutive years. So that’s fine. Kendall wasn’t a complete stiff. Thomas, as we’ll see later, was basically the only old-timer that paid off for the A’s. At age 39, he hit 39 jimmyjacks, which is actually impressive. Wow, that sounds weird coming out of my mouth (or out of the Logitech keyboard I’m writing this on I guess). An A that is impressive. That may be the first and only time I ever say that. Whatever.

Now look at their pitching. Zito was still good then, and Haren and Blanton were becoming the stars we now know them as. The A’s have always had a stellar pitching staff. Since 2006, the A’s have never been lower than 6th in team ERA for the AL (2006: 4th, 2007: 6th, 2008: 5th, 2009:3rd, 2010: 1st, 2011: 3rd). So the A’s have no shortage of star pitchers coming through the ranks. However, what ends up happening is that they trade away their up-and-comers in return for more prospects to fill the farm system. They then need to scramble and sign former stars who still want a taste of the glory, who simply can’t get the job done.

People that would fall under the this category?

  • Jason Kendall
  • Mike Piazza
  • Milton Bradley
  • Jack Cust (TWICE)
  • Keith Foulke
  • Mike Sweeney
  • Nomar Garciaparra
  • Scott Hairson
  • Kevin Kouzmanoff
  • Ben Sheets
  • Coco Crisp
  • Hideki Matsui
  • Matt Holliday. (Here’s where I’ll rant about Holliday. Coming from the Rockies in 2009, I was actually stoked. STOKED. This was the guy that had a bloody chin for diving in headfirst into home in the playoffs! This guy was the real deal, the guy that would finally bring the offense that we needed to pair with our stellar pitching. But, fate did not want it to be like that. Holliday was terrible as an A, or at least nothing that he was all chalked up to be. Simply horrible. So the A’s decided to cut their losses and trade him to the Cardinals. Remember, this is the Athletics we’re talking about. The A’s never do that. This is the team that sticks with people like Bobby Crosby way too long. The A’s never cut their losses. So that should put it into perspective for you. Again the A’s cut their losses and decided to trade Holliday to the Cards for (guess what?) more prospects. And what does Holliday do? Rake the ball! Where was this when he was playing in the AL? Where was this .360 type of hitting when you were supposed to be our savior?? Bottom line, I have forever been soured on Matt Holliday. Forever and ever.)

So, back to the main point. Either the A’s can sign old veterans, or…

2.Stick with prospects that have “proven” themselves in the farm system who just can’t do diddly in the bigs, or trade away prospects before they can help us out.

But don’t you worry! I’ll get into #2 next week, and rest assured, I’ll have another long list of players that will take up most of the screen again!

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