Dave Cameron laid out the methodology behind the rankings last Friday. Remember that the grading scale for each category is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.
2012 Organizational Rankings
Oakland’s 2011 Ranking: #18
2012 Outlook: 38 (25th)
Oakland’s neither here nor there right now, but there might not be a better team to help us through the new methodology. After all, they dropped ten rungs, and in some ways it’s business as usual in the bay.
We know going into these rankings, for example, that the current team isn’t (and hasn’t been) very good. Last year, they allowed 24 more runs than they scored, and then they spent the offseason trading away three of their top five starters, their All-Star closer, and their fourth outfielder and best left-handed reliever. Some projections have them only allowing 50 more runs than they score this season — seems almost generous after all that — but no matter what, those moves don’t really put them in a position to win more games than they won last year, right?
Their squad this year, on strict projected “W”s, might rank higher than 25th, but making this a more intuitive exercise allows us to factor in the fact that the rest of that division is pretty good. Even if they are better than their ranking here, their likelihood of reaching the postseason is probably around 25th. Lo and behold, Las Vegas has only awarded five teams in baseball worse odds of making the World Series than the Athletics.
2013+ Outlook: 50 (15th)
Trading away cost-controlled assets in the prime of their careers does tend to make a team’s Minor League system more interesting, on the other hand. This perpetual optimism floated the the Athletics to 18th in the overall rankings last year, and it does keep them afloat off the bottom of this year’s rankings, even as they sink.
But at some point, you have to dock a team for their actual on-the-field results. Even when it comes to assessing their future talent.
The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006, and since the last wave of future talent was just traded away en masse this past offseason, it’s worth wondering what happened with it. Did the Athletics just randomly fail to amass as much talent at one time as they did in their past two cycles of success? Or was this last sell-off a sign that the team’s approach to collecting talent is flawed? Is this all still a question of resources, considering they spent the third-lowest figure ($3.1 million) to sign their draft picks last year? Answering those questions has major implications for how you rate the future talent for this current iteration.
One thing you might notice is that, while the last crew of young, successful, co-peaking Oakland Athletics boasted multiple position players among their number, this past group couldn’t claim the same. So much depends up on a Yoenis Cespedes standing beside a laughing Jemile Weeks while Michael Choice swings in the cage.
Financial Resources: 30 (30th)
The Athletics made $16.4 million in operating revenues last year, better than 12 teams. They’re a money-making machine.
The Athletics are worth $321 million, worst in baseball by Forbes’ valuations, and among only four teams in baseball worth less than $400 million. Their overall revenue was second-worst in baseball, and they were one of only six teams that brought in less than $175 million. They don’t have a new stadium or a television network. They can’t even get a new stadium until they somehow get the Giants to agree to allow the Athletics to move to San Jose.
It’s unclear if there’s really still fifty levels of crap in between the Athletics and the rest of the poor teams — after all, the Rays, Pirates and Royals are all worth less than $350 million and bring in less than $175 million in revenue ever year, just like the Athletics. But it is clear that they’re still at home at the bottom of the rankings in this category.
Baseball Operations: 54 (10th)
And here you see the change in methodology loud and clear. In the past, a top-ten front office would score you a better ranking than 28th, no matter how bad the rest of the columns looked. But this year, with the thought in mind that front offices look pretty fluid, and the availability of smart, analytical executives might be more plentiful than we first thought, this category isn’t receiving the same weight that it once did.
It makes sense intuitively, too. You can like what Seattle is doing in the front office, or think that the Cubs have accrued quite the braintrust, or believe in the new group in Houston — but how long will it take in each case? Will these current regimes even manage the rebuilding feat in front of them?
What does it mean to award a front office good marks separate from the results on the field? It means that you think you know what they stand for, and that you agree with the same tenets they believe in. In Oakland’s case, we might have more available information about their supposed likes and dislikes. They’ve long been a sabermetric darling, and there was some book about the whole thing. But they’ve always had their detractors, they haven’t managed to win it all in the Moneyball era, and now they are fresh off an five-year postseason drought. Their successes have been legendary, but seem further away in the rear-view mirror than ever.
Overall: 39 (28th)
For every positive about this team, there’s a negative. The current team has something like ten outfielders but no third basemen. There’s a bevy of starting pitcher prospects, but are any elite? There’s plenty of power in their corner outfield / first baseman types, but will any of them make enough contact? There might be light at the end of their stadium battle, but how far off is that light? And the front office that gets the sabermetric seal of approval, for the most part, is also the same front office that spent $10.5 million on two years of Brian Fuentes?
The future is unclear, but Oakland fans can hold on to one sure thought in unsteady seas: their general manager thinks unconventionally and is unafraid of making bold moves. It’s just these sorts of intangibles, things that don’t always show up immediately in box scores if you will, that can give Athletics fans hope.