The Oakland Athletics Are at the Forefront of Change

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The Oakland Athletics Are at the Forefront of Change
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Since Moneyball , the Oakland Athletics have been under a microscope.

Every move reviewed, every signing analyzed, and every high school player drafted since 2002 has assessed by everyone under the sun.

Oakland took advantage of knowledge that few, if any, paid any attention to.

For anyone unfamiliar with Moneyball , the Athletics, a small market club in the American League West, continued to win, continued to compete, despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

Their strategy, “looking for, in essence, new baseball knowledge."

I for one, had no idea about SABR, OPS, DERA, and how about some VORP, until I read the book (click here for more detail).

It turned out, the Athletics were not the only ones using this new-found information.

Soon enough, statistics, were all over baseball. A new regime, you might say, had joined the boys club; Billy Beane, J.P. Ricciardi, Paul DePodesta, and one who seemingly put all the pieces together; Theo Epstein.

Oakland’s advantage had now became public knowledge, and the golden ticket was now available to all.

From 2000 until 2003, Oakland compiled a 392–255 record, a .605 winning percentage.  Since the boom in statistical analysis, the team has come back down to earth, playing sub .500 since 2007 (226-259; .466)

Bad results set aside, there is another interesting movement happening.  A focus on pitching and defense.

Much of their current pitching staff is full of young, promising pitchers who have not yet reached their potential, but have one to three years of MLB experience under their belt.

Since 2006, the Athletics development staff have drafted or acquired in  trade, nearly 10 pitchers (starter or reliever) that has contributed one way or another, (major or minor leagues).

Year Acq. Drafted Throws HT WT Last First
             
2008 Trade L 5′11 205 Gonzalez Gio
2007 Trade L 6′6 180 Blevins Jerry
2007 Trade L 6′4 235 Anderson Brett
2007 Trade L 6′1 235 Eveland Dana
2006 2 R 6′4 220 Cahill Trevor
2006 4 R 6′4 200 Lee Chad
2006 6 R 6′3 245 Bailey Andrew
2005 3 R 6′2 210 Mazzaro Vincent
2004 1 R 6′0 190 Street Huston

 

 

  • From ‘04 to ‘06 (‘06, their last winning season), all were obtained through the draft, while through the years of ‘07 and ‘08 were acquired via trade.
  • All pitchers drafted in the first group were right-handed, while all pitchers traded for in the second group are left-handed.

 

The second group of LHP is easy enough to dissect.

The team had an abundance of talent but they were no longer in the playoff or wild-card race. They needed to stockpile for the future, which left Jason Kendall, Dan Haren, and Nick Swisher expendable.

In return, a former 2004 first round draft pick out of the Chicago White Sox organization (Gonzalez), a former 2006 second round pick from the Arizona Diamondbacks (Anderson), a Milwaukee Brewers 16th rounder from 2002 (Eveland), and finally courtesy of the Chicago Cubs, a 17th round draft pick in 2004 (Blevins).

*Please note, Dallas Braden who was drafted in the 24th round of the 2004 draft, was not included in this study.  His transition would fit in statistically with the players acquired through trade;  fastball hovering around 88 mph, slider, 77 mph, cutter, 82 mph, curveball and change-up, 73 and 74 mph respectively.

Emphasis is no longer on home runs and the power game, which is evident by the average total of runs scored per game declining in four consecutive seasons .

With reduced scoring, teams are now making a conscious effort to focus on defense and pitching, as you can see from some of the most recent transactions this off-season and last;

  • Marco Scutaro, SS/2B to Boston, career fielding percentage, .981
  • Adrian Beltre, 3B to Boston, career fielding percentage, .957
  • Franklin Gutierrez, OF to Seattle (‘09), career fielding percentage, .986
  • Chone Figgins, IF to Seattle, career fielding percentage, .969
  • Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B to Oakland, set NL season record for fielding percentage (‘09), .990

 

Quite possibly I am digging too much, except you can make out a trend in each players arsenal (data courtesy of FanGraphs ),

Last First FB SL CT CB C/U
             
Gonzales Gio 91.1 NA NA 78.4 83.6
Blevins Jerry 91 78 85.5 72.7 83.6
Anderson Brett 92.6 83.7 NA 77.6 83.9
Eveland Dana 89.9 82.5 87.6 78.4 82.8
Cahill Trevor 89.8 83.5 NA 79.1 80.4
Lee Chad NA NA NA NA NA
Bailey Andrew 94 88.7 89.3 77.9 85.5
Mazzaro Vincent 93.1 85.1 NA 80.6 85
Street Huston 91 84.8 85.5 82 NA

 

Oakland has revamped its pitching strategy to evolve with the current changes in the game (Zero information was available on Lee, as he did not advance out of the minors, but he did total 60 k’s in 84 plus innings of work.)

The second group of pitchers developed through the A’s system on average, threw considerably harder than the group acquired through trade.  When I say throw harder, I am focusing more on the off-speed pitches than fastballs.  However, Cahill and Mazzaro, both homegrown talent, average two-mph on everyone else.

A movement that blossomed with this franchise has yet again shifted the focus on what is important.

Pitchers who do not throw as hard will give up more hits, more ground balls, more balls in play, leaving the defense to pick up the slack.

It makes sense.

To move forward one must adapt. When out of the norm becomes commonplace, shake things up one more time.

“Listen,” says Beane, 47, now entering his 13th season as the A’s GM, and his 21st in the franchise’s management. “When we started putting our clubs together in Oakland, we built them on three-run homers and walks. That’s no longer a skill that we can afford. My first choice to build an offensive club would be a bunch of guys who hit homers and get on base. That’s my first choice. As people start to pay for that skill, then we have to keep going down the list.”

This article can also be found on The GM's Perspective.

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