Moneyball: The Art of Losing With Style in MLB

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Moneyball: The Art of Losing With Style in MLB

Moneyball is a baseball film starring Brad Pitt and Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, and it's set to open sometime in 2011.

Hoffman will perform as former big league manager Art Howe, and Pitt -- one of the most famous people in the universe -- will be playing Billy Beane, the "mastermind" general manager of the Oakland A's.

Can you imagine that? Beane has been so successful in Oakland that a movie is being made about his innovations and triumphs as the A's leading man. Not only is the film being made, but Beane's character was given to one of the most recognizable faces in the business -- a sex symbol, nonetheless.

And who can blame Hollywood for wanting a piece of this action? Beane has achieved so much during his time in Oakland...wait a second...

Has a Beane-led A's team ever won anything?

This is Beane's 13th season as GM of the Athletics, and his club has won the World Series zero times during his reign. Wait, it gets better.

In the previous 12 seasons, the A's have won zero American League championships.

During that time period, they've only appeared in the ALCS once (2006). Beane's Athletics performed well in that series against the Detroit Tigers...if "well" means getting swept. The Tigers made quick work of the light-hitting boys from Oakland.

Is Billy Beane the most overrated executive in MLB?

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Simply put, these results don't make any sense. They don't make any sense because Michael Lewis' Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is likely the most popular baseball book in publishing history. It may not only be the most popular baseball book of all time, it is arguably the most popular book of all sports.

Lewis' detailed work elevated Beane to a stratosphere never before occupied by a general manager. As far as media coverage and attention, GM's are often secondary to the skippers that patrol the dugouts of their respective teams.

Thanks to Lewis and Moneyball, things are quite different in Oakland. Beane is the star. The managers (Howe, Ken Macha, and Bob Geren) are puppets manipulated by the front office's many strings and hindrances. 

The question is: does Beane deserve the stature he has achieved?

Many consider him the best general manager in the game; is he worthy of that distinction?

Well, at the very least, I can't argue with his ability to evaluate starting pitching. It started with the extremely impressive trio of RHP Tim Hudson (an all-star again this year), LHP Barry Zito (having a bit of a bounce-back season), and LHP Mark Mulder.

Then there was RHP Rich Harden, an incredible but oft-injured talent. RHP Justin Duchscherer has been an all-star, and Beane's trade for RHP Dan Haren came at exactly the right time in his career.

Today the A's have a slew of capable young arms, including sinkerballer Trevor Cahill, flame-throwing lefty Gio Gonzalez, workhorse Dallas Braden (of the Perfect Game fame), electric closer Andrew Bailey, and potential long-term ace LHP Brett Anderson.

But the 2010 Oakland Athletics are a mere .500 ballclub. This infusion of impressive arms isn't leading them to playoff-type success. And why, you ask?

Because Billy Beane teams don't hit. Not since the steroid star power of 1B Jason Giambi and then-SS Miguel Tejada have the A's had a lineup for opposing pitchers to fear. Their leading regulars this season are OF Ryan Sweeney (.294 BA) and limited-pop 1B Daric Barton (.279).

Although for Beane, it's not about batting average; it's about OBP and OPS. Unfortunately, Oakland's on-base experts are 25th in the bigs in runs scored. What good is a razor-sharp understanding of the strikezone if you can't drive in runners in scoring position?

Not much good at all, of course.

While we're on the topic of offense, I can't ignore the fact that Beane traded OF Carlos Gonzalez (aka "Cargo").

Cargo, now an immensely popular member of the Colorado Rockies, is currently leading the National League in batting average at .326. In addition to that impressive average, he has 29 HR, 90 RBI, 20 SB, 86 R, and a .955 OPS.

With those outstanding numbers in mind, Cargo is locked in a nip-and-tuck MVP battle with Reds' 1B Joey Votto. Both candidates have the statistics to warrant an MVP award, but Cargo is the better all-around player.

If the Rockies find a way into the postseason, in my opinion, Cargo should take home the hardware.

Can you imagine that? Beane, the "mastermind" at the helm of an offensively-starved franchise, traded an all-world talent when he was just 23 years old. Even worse, he traded Cargo for a one-year rental in LF Matt Holliday, who was shipped to the St. Louis Cardinals as soon as the wheels fell off the A's 2009 season. 

Go figure.

And yet, in the end, I know Billy Beane is a talented executive. I completely understand the financial deficiencies of the Oakland A's franchise. I know that Beane has drafted and developed some excellent major league ballplayers.

But...the best general manager in professional baseball? Really?

Hollywood, a full-length movie, and Brad Pitt? Really?

I'm sorry folks, but I'm not buyin' it...

Unless Billy Beane is sellin' it. I'd probably rip him off in a deal.

 

(John Frascella is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land," the first and only book centered on Boston 's popular GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble online. Follow John on Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.)

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