Aaron Leibowitz | The Fan
Winning, A’s style
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 01:09
In the 10 years since Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball,” plenty of teams have tried to emulate the tactics of general manager Billy Beane and his Oakland Athletics. The basic idea is to identify the game’s “market inefficiencies” and, once you figure out what they are, exploit them to get a leg up.
Recently, smart management has helped low-payroll teams like Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Cleveland compete for playoff spots. And yet the A’s are still unique. On Sunday, they clinched their second straight American League West title, and as of Monday evening their 93 wins were second most in MLB.
The A’s have achieved back-to-back division crowns without signing any big-name free agents, and this past offseason they let Brandon Inge, Brandon McCarthy and Stephen Drew walk. But that’s not the surprising part, especially given their small-market status and Opening Day payroll of around $69 million, 26th out of 30 teams.
What’s truly remarkable is that the A’s have won without much help from their farm system. This distinguishes them from the Pirates (27th in payroll), who feature homegrown stars like Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, and the Rays (28th), who have nurtured Evan Longoria and David Price since their first professional moments.
The A’s have won with savvy transactions. As always, there’s been luck involved — who could have guessed Bartolo Colon would share the AL lead in ERA (2.64)? But Beane deserves most of the credit.
Someone should make a movie about him.
Beane has basically assembled a group of no-names and turned it into one of the best clubs in baseball. The A’s have won with Coco Crisp, who re-signed with the team last January, hitting a career-high 22 home runs and making $7 million, third most on the team. They’ve won with the 40-year-old Colon as their ace. They’ve won by signing Brandon Moss to a minor league contract and trading for Jed Lowrie and snatching Nate Freiman off waivers.
They’ve won with Josh Donaldson, drafted 48th overall by the Cubs in 2007, as their best hitter, posting an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) around .900. And they’ve won with just one first-round, homegrown draft pick — starting pitcher Sonny Gray.
You know how, going into a fantasy draft, you have your one or two sleeper picks in mind? Beane has a whole team of them.
It’s not necessarily that Beane is paying closer attention to the waiver wire and the trade market and the free agent market than his counterparts are — although it’s certainly possible. It’s that he’s paying better attention.
He will find a 40-year-old has-been who can out-duel your 23-year-old stud. His 35-year-old closer will outperform your 27-year-old flamethrower. His healthy infielders, making a combined $5.5 million, will out-hit and out-field your injured infielders making around $83 million. (Yes, it’s the Yankees.)
The Rays have received a lot of credit in recent years, and deservedly so, for executing a sort of “new Moneyball” approach to perfection. And the Pirates are this year’s Cinderella, having made the playoffs for the first time since the year I was born, 1992. Those teams are not only young, but they are also built from the ground up. They embody all that is possible with a potent farm system.
The A’s are a different kind of awesome. They are not homegrown. They don’t have any superstars. They didn’t send a single offensive player to the All-Star game this year. But they make all the right moves.
I’m an NL guy, but I will be rooting for Oakland in October. If the A’s win it all, the baseball world will have no choice but to take notice.
Aaron Leibowitz is a senior who is majoring in American studies. He can be reached at Aaron.Leibowitz@tufts.edu.