Oakland Athletics' Ultimate 'Moneyball' Team
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When Michael Lewis' best-selling book "Moneyball" hit the market in 2003, baseball was changed forever. Lewis chronicled the inner workings of the Oakland Athletics, the team that somehow managed to turn bands of rejects into playoff contenders.
Since joining the A's in 1998, general manager Billy Beane has sent the team to playoffs six times despite continually having one of the league's lowest payrolls.
A "Moneyball" player is someone with perceived flaws or a questionable background who joined the A's on a small contract, but contributed in a big way. Players' success is measured on the qualities Beane and his staff found important, like not chasing pitches, getting on base and generating runs.
All advanced statistics taken from FanGraphs.
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
Hernandez was a bit of a free swinger, but he performed better and cost less than Jason Kendall or Damian Miller.
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Venezualan ballplayers like Omar Vizquel, Bobby Abreu and Edgardo Alfonzo began seeping into the majors in the 1990s, but former GM Sandy Alderson was slow to hit the foreign market. Beane, on the other hand, eagerly dove into underscouted Latin America.
Hernandez joined the A's in 1999, and drove A.J. Hinch from the starting lineup a year later. While other executives looked for established defense-first backstops, Hernandez's bat was welcome in Oakland's lineup, and he ended up being a fine catcher for young aces Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.
His finest season came in 2003, when Hernandez turned his fondness for fastballs into a .273 batting average, .331 on-base-percentage and .458 slugging percentage and earned his lone All-Star Game selection.
First Baseman: Scott Hatteberg
Hatteberg's walk-off clinched the A's 20th consecutive win, an AL record.
Lewis devoted plenty of words to Hatteberg's revival, but here's a quick refresher: Hatty was a 32-year-old catcher who had played less than 100 games in three consecutive seasons when the A's scooped him up for $900,000.
Hatterberg lacked a traditional first baseman's power and needed hours of practice to get the hang of his new position, but Billy saw him as an on-base machine with tremendous best plate discipline.
In his four seasons with the A's, Hatteberg swung at just 11.88 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. Pitchers couldn't come over the plate either, because Hatteberg made contact 95.18 percent of the time when he swung at offerings inside the zone.
Chapter eight of "Moneyball" details assistant general manager Paul DePodesta calculating how many runs a lineup would score if one player was cloned nine times.
DePodesta found that nine Hattebergs would score around 940 to 950 runs every year, more than the New York Yankees' actual 897 runs. As Lewis says, "nine Scott Hattebergs are, by some measure, the best offense in baseball."
Second Baseman: Tony Phillips
That's Phillips on the right, helping former teammate Rickey Henderson celebrate his induction into the Hall of Fame.
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Phillips was a quality contributor for the A's—in the 1980s. So when Beane brought the coked-up 40-year-old middle infielder on board in 1999, there were plenty of doubters, the Los Angeles Times' Diane Pucin reported.
The doubters were proved wrong, as Phillips provided instant energy at the top of the lineup. For $700,000, Phillips scored 76 runs, popped 15 home runs and had a .362 OBP before breaking his leg in mid-August.
Phillips reunited with Jose Canseco on the North American League's Yuma Scorpions in 2011. Even at 52 years old, he still had enough fire to fight former Dodgers outfielder Mike Marshall during a game, presumably over some hard feelings from the 1988 World Series.
Shortstop: Miguel Tejada
The A's poached Tejada from the small, extremely poor town of Bani and watched him develop into an MVP.
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Like Ramon Hernandez, Tejada went from a Central American nobody to an American League All-Star in just a couple of seasons.
After coming out of the Dominican Republic with a reputation as a free-swinger, Tejada slowly developed somewhat of a hitter's eye in Oakland. He finally broke out in 2000 with 30 home runs, 115 RBI and a career-high 66 walks on a $290,000 salary.
His paycheck was up to $3.625 million when Tejada won the 2002 AL MVP, still a bargain for 108 runs scored, 34 home runs, 131 RBI, a 5.3 WAR and a .308/.354/.508 slash line.
Third Baseman: Josh Donaldson
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Donaldson's career is just beginning, but he already has the eye of a veteran, not to mention adaptability that would make Darwin swoon.
The All-Star snub came up through the minors as a catcher before switching over to third in 2012. Like Scott Hatteberg, Donaldson has made great strides defensively and now ranks sixth among major league third basemen in UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating over 150 games).
He ranks sixth in the AL in WAR, sixth in doubles, eighth in OBP, 10th in runs created per 27 outs. Donaldson is also 16th in walks (56) and pitches per plate appearance (4.10).
Left Fielder: Shannon Stewart
"Moneyball" features David Justice as a power-sapped veteran who can still get on base. Five years later, Stewart duplicated the role.
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There was nothing flashy about Stewart's season with Oakland. He hit 12 home runs, low for a left fielder, and stole 11 bases, below average for a leadoff man.
But what did he do? He got on base. Stewart led the A's with a .290 batting average, accompanied by a .345 on-base percentage.
The following season, Stewart played just 52 games for the Toronto Blue Jays before retiring. In typical Moneyball fashion, the A's managed to squeeze one more productive year out of a waning veteran.
Center Fielder: Rajai Davis
With Davis' speed in the lineup, Beane finally let the boys run.
It's not that Billy Beane hates stolen bases, it's that he hates when players are caught stealing. As a result, the A's "fast" runners were usually plodsters like Jason Kendall.
When Rajai Davis came over on waivers in 2008, steroid use had been prosecuted and power numbers were down throughout the majors. Seeing an opportunity, Beane gave the A's the green light on the basepaths, B/R's Marc Rubin said.
Davis responded with his best season to date in 2009, hitting .305/.360/.423 with 41 steals while earning $410,000. Despite only receiving 390 at bats, Davis cracked 27 doubles and finished with a 3.2 WAR.
The speedster was was traded in winter 2010 after a disappointing .320 OBP, but he laid the groundwork for Coco Crisp, Cliff Pennington, Jemile Weeks and other fleet-footed Athletics.
Right Fielder: Jack Cust
Jack Cust doing what he did best: swinging for the fences.
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Cust had cups of coffee with four teams before coming to Oakland on a minor league contract in 2007. Something about the Bay Area awakened the ghost of Babe Ruth inside Cust, and he hit 26 home runs in 390 at bats with a .912 OPS, ninth in the AL.
A popular joke around the Coliseum was that Cust's plate appearances only had three outcomes: homer, strikeout or walk. In 2008, he led the AL in free passes while hitting 33 bombs, but also set a league record with 197 K's.
After leaving the A's following the 2010 season, Cust played half a season for the Seattle Mariners until he was released. He has been signed to five minor league deals since, never making it back to The Show. Somehow, Beane capitalized on Cust's talent in a way no one else could.
Designated Hitter: Frank Thomas
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With apologies to Erubiel Durazo, Jonny Gomes and John Jaha, Thomas is clearly the A's best DH of the last 15 years.
At the age of 38, Thomas could have retired as a member of the Chicago White Sox in 2006, but joined Oakland on a $500,000 contract. All "The Big Hurt" did in 466 at bats was score 126 times, smash 39 home runs, drive in 114 runs, post a .926 OPS and inspire a bunch of creepy masks.
Starting Pitcher: Bartolo Colon
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Before signing with the A's, Colon was best known for being the possibly undeserving 2005 Cy Young winner. Now the 40-year-old, 265-pound righty is competing for the award again on a $3 million contract.
After signing for one year and $2 million in 2012, Colon delivered a 3.96 K/BB, which would have been fourth in AL had he not been suspended for using PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs, not Pizza, Enchiladas and Donuts).
Like Greg Maddux before him, Colon has thrived without a devastating fastball thanks to his pinpoint control. His signature moment came in April last season, when Colon threw 38 consecutive strikes to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Closer: Keith Foulke
Foulke Hero: Keith was untouchable with the A's.
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One of Beane's greatest talents is picking pitchers up off the scrap heap, developing them into All-Star closers and dumping them for another low-profile talent.
After the 2001 season, Beane traded for Billy Koch instead of re-signing Jason Isringhausen. Koch had one good season for the A's, and was promptly dealt to the Chicago White Sox for Keith Foulke, minor league prospects and $3.6 million to cover the closers' salary differences.
In "Moneyball," Beane trades every pitcher in the system with a blazing fastball under the premise that other teams overvalue heat. The White Sox took the bait on Koch, who threw 10 mph faster than Foulke with far worse control.
Koch immediately imploded upon reaching Chicago, losing the closer's job in early July and finishing with a 5.77 ERA. All Foulke did was collect a 2.08 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 43 saves and 18.0 Runs Above Replacement, winning the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award.