Anyone who has had the great fortune to pick up Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" knows about how Billy Beane and his merry men have revolutionized how we think about baseball. Through his obsession with statistics and a constant emphasis on finding "undervalued" players, Beane has engineered a low-budget team that (most seasons) is able to compete with the big-market clubs who can afford to waste money on inefficiency.
In Lewis' engrossing account of Beane's philosophy at work, a significant portion of the book is spent detailing how he and his team assessed prospects. While he can certainly be forgiven for getting excited about players who never panned out, he also poo-pooed some players who, seven years later, have turned out to be big-league stars.
It would be unfair to baseball traditionalists if no one called him on his errors.
Chapter Two of Moneyball, titled "How to Find a Ballplayer," opens with a description of the 2001 draft, in which the A's took Jeremy Bonderman with their first-round pick. That the team had wasted their first pick on a high school pitcher (half as likely as college pitchers to make it to the majors, they discovered) made Billy Beane hurl a chair at the wall so hard that it exploded on impact. It was because of Bonderman that Beane took control of the draft from the scouts.
While Bonderman has never blossomed into a true ace (due in part to injuries the last few years), a lot of that was, according to Beane's models, just bad luck. In 2006, Bonderman struck out nearly a batter an inning and had more than thrice as many punch-outs as walks. Those are among the best statistics to accurately portray a pitcher's skill in the Beane-sian model, and there is no question he would agree that he pitched much better than his 4.08 ERA would suggest.
Billy Beane truly hates high school players, and essentially thinks that anyone who would even consider wasting a precious draft pick on one is a moron. That so many teams wasted their top picks on players under the drinking age was, to him, "delightfully mad," Lewis wrote. "The worst teams in baseball, the teams that can least afford for their draft to go wrong, have walked into the casino, ignored the odds, and made straight for the craps table."
Among the idiotic decisions Beane belittled was the Royals' selection of Zack Greinke. After years of being one of the few bright spots on an otherwise uninspiring Royals team, Greinke has taken his game to the next level this season. He's on pace to go 15-9 with a 2.31 ERA, a whopping 247 strikeouts, and a more than 5 K/BB.
Right before the 2002 draft started, Denard Span's announcement that he wouldn't sign for less than $2.6 million shook up Beane's understanding of which players he would be able to acquire.
It started a chain reaction, and Beane suddenly became afraid that the Mets would scoop up the man he most desired, Nick Swisher, who the A's had figured would likely fall to them. When the Brewers ended up passing on Kazmir (see next slide), he fell to the Mets. The A's were overjoyed when the Mets signed up Kazmir, who they had no interest in, and left for them the superstar-in-the-making, Nick Swisher.
Discounting this disappointing season, Kazmir has turned into an exceptional pitcher and played an integral role in the Rays' surprise surge last season. From 2006-08, he averaged 12-8, 3.43 with 189 strikeouts.
The man the Brewers took over Kazmir caused some interesting discussions in the Oakland front office. The ironically named Athletics had plans for players whose excess weight scared off most other teams. In fact, the A's used one of their first-round picks on a man so fat that other teams' scouts laughed when they announced it. Yet Fielder was not one of Beane's targets. Why? As Lewis wrote, "Prince Fielder is too fat even for the Oakland A's."
In just his fourth year in the big leagues, Fielder has already amassed 150 home runs. He became the youngest player in major league history to hit 50 homers in one season. His 119 RBIs lead all of baseball. Oh yeah, and he's on pace for 109 walks.
In the middle of his breakout 2002 season, Beane determined that Carlos Peña had gone from undervalued to overrated, so he promptly traded him for Ted Lilly prospects, and $600,000.
Beane may not have liked Peña's all-or-nothing approach at the plate, but there is something significant that separates him from, say, Chris Davis—even if every swing he takes, he swings for the fences, he knows how to take a walk. Plate discipline and power are the most important things Beane looks for in a player, so what's not to love about the guy who's leading the American League in both homers and walks?