Joe Morgan And The A’s

At the risk of digging up the carcass of a dead horse just to kick it again, I want to take a second and point out something Joe Morgan said about the A’s in his his most recent chat on ESPN.com. Yes, I know, highlighting things from a Joe Morgan chat isn’t exactly a new idea, but my aim is not to ridicule Morgan, so hopefully you’ll travel down this well worn path with me.

Morgan’s comment:

Otto (CA)

Hello Joe. What do the Oakland A’s need to do be competitive again? Maybe Billy Beane should quit writing books and start acquiring some athletes.
Joe Morgan (11:07 AM)

Become more athletic. Sometimes, when I look at the A’s players, I think they’re playing softball. They have some big guys who try to hit the ball out of the ballpark. They strike out a lot. They just are not in position to make things happen on the basepaths. They’ve never really been a team to run or steal bases, bunt guys over or hit and run. They’ve always tried to hit the big home run. Now they have one guy in Davis. Their philosophy was working for a while, but now that philosophy doesn’t work any more. You have to be more athletic, steal some bases in order to be a well rounded team. You don’t have to steal a lot of bases, but you have to have the threat there.

Among American League teams, the A’s rank last in home runs and fourth in stolen bases. They are eighth in the league in strikeouts, in a virtual tie with the Minnesota Twins, one of the most athletic teams in baseball.

Joe is wrong about the A’s, of course. For whatever reason, he still believes the A’s are built around players like Matt Stairs and Erubiel Durazo, but that hasn’t been the type of player Oakland has been putting on the field for several years now. The A’s are a very athletic team.

Rajai Davis, as Morgan notes, is exactly the kind of player he’s pushing for. But so are Matt Holliday, Ryan Sweeney, Orlando Cabrera, Adam Kennedy, Mark Ellis, and Kurt Suzuki. The A’s built their 2009 team as a club that they expected to be excellent defensively with enough offense to get by. The failure of Jason Giambi and Jack Cust to carry their part of the load doomed the offense, but there certainly wasn’t a lack of athleticism or base stealing in Oakland this year.

The A’s haven’t been the slow, methodical, base-clogging mashers for quite some time. Despite the public perception of that being the “philosophy” of Beane and statistical analysts everywhere, Morgan has actually missed the bigger picture that most numbers crunching teams have begun to play his style of baseball. As smart teams realized that defense was being undervalued, they began to shift towards quality athletes who could create runs in the field as well as at the plate.

The humorous thing about Morgan’s comments is that, by and large, we’re fans of the same kinds of players that he is. And so is Billy Beane. Can’t we all just get along?




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

64 Responses to “Joe Morgan And The A’s”

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  1. Llewdor says:

    He misunderstood Billy Beane’s philosophy from the start, and now his misconception is throwing out the biggest confirmation bias I have ever seen.

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  2. Steve says:

    What i always found amusing about Morgan’s anti-stat rants, is that “statheads” or whatever you’d want to call them would have loved….Joe Morgan.

    I don’t mind Joe Morgan as much as others seem to, but he seems to be threatened by the SABR movement instead of realizing that he himself is basically the SABR posterboy. He was Chase Utley before Chase Utley.

    Power, OBP, and defense on the left side of the spectrum? Dude was a monster.

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    • mjmetro says:

      as has been said many times before, joe morgan probably doesn’t know how good of a player he was

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      • Chip says:

        You clearly haven’t asked Joe how good he actually was.

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      • MU789 says:

        Remembering him from his days Cincinnati, he knew he was damn good and he made sure everybody else knew it too.

        They say great players don’t make good managers (though I don’t think it always holds up). Maybe great players don’t make good analysts.

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  3. Mark Sobba says:

    I wonder if a team like the Mariners (meant to be build on Defense and pitching) had made the playoffs if Morgan would have claimed it a victory for “old fashion” baseball and scouting over statheads.

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    • Joe R says:

      He obviously would, even though the “old school” was what killed that team to begin with. Sure the Mariners have a maddening mix of low-OBP players, but when your defense is good enough to make David Aardsma look elite, you’ll probably win some ballgames.

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      • scott says:

        do you honestly think he knows that the mariners are head and shoulders above the rest of the league in defense? i wouldn’t doubt if he believed that the yankees have the best defense in baseball.

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      • Joe R says:

        But they have ICHIRO!!!11!!11!!

        So yes, if you told Joe that the Mariners have a great defense, he would instantly credit Ichiro for his amazing winnessity and ignore Guitierrez, Langerhans, Wilson, Hannahan, Beltre, etc

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      • LeeTro says:

        He would probably say they are a below average defense, since they’ve committed the 5th-most errors and allowed the 6th-most unearned runs. Also, it’s interesting that the A’s are now in the bottom 10 teams in walk rate, partly due to the lack of fear of the lineup i’m sure.

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      • Joe R says:

        I remember once everyone’s favorite angry old man Bill Conlin tried to take a swipe at stats by talking about range factor, and how statheads value over “a freaking out”.

        RF/G: (Putouts + assists) / games
        Fielding %: (Putouts + assists) / (Putouts + assists + errors)

        Hmmm, both seem out based to me. One stinks, one stinks, but stinks less.

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  4. Joe R says:

    The lack of business understanding is amazing from the anti-SABR movement.

    Take an industry with 30 companies. One company realizes that through this new method of production, they can create a good product for way less money. Other 29 companies don’t know what they’re doing that’s so different. One day, a writer chronicles said company’s success, even though skeptical critics said before and continue to say that the success of that company is irrelevant because Yanks, Inc always puts out a better product in the end (at 3-4x the costs, though). Other businesses, now more educated, say “Hey, I can find my own value, too”. Soon all 30 businesses are to some extent doing it this way, eliminating business #1′s edge.

    Billy Beane tried to buy low on defense and Rajai Davis / Jack Hannahan types, unfortunately for him, the league was pretty much with him on this value wave, so it didn’t work out too well this time around. This is not a “failure” of Moneyball. This is GMs around MLB being way more competant than years past.

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    • big baby says:

      if Beane was really smart, he’d win a championship by making a whole lot of dumb moves, thus causing all other teams to emulate him by being dumb, and then he could gain a temporary advantage by being smart again.

      that’s the ticket!

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      • Joe R says:

        BRILLIANT!

        But seriously, GM’s in baseball used to be just like managers and TV analysts, another place for ex-jocks to stick around as they get old. Now it’s guys like Theo Epstein, Mike Hill, and ex-jocks that actually aren’t confused and dumbfounded by economics textbooks like Kenny Williams.

        Also, I think it’s important for students of sabermetrics to emphasize to others that this is just another wave of undervalued progression. The idea that sabermetricians only like Carlos Pena types is untrue. Sure, we love Carlos Pena, but if someone said I could have Franklin Gutiérrez on my team for cheap, I’d jump all over it. The ONLY things Moneyball actually said explicitly was that BA and Stolen base ability are almost always overrated (which is true), OBP is underrated vs. BA (very true, ask a Bostonian other than me how they feel about JD Drew), and that SB% is more important than SB. Other than that, it’s all dependent on the market. Why is this so hard to grasp? Better yet, how many people who think Moneyball sucks actually, ya know, read it?

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      • scott says:

        expand on the kenny williams thing….and just a few notes;

        -traded an at-the-time highly regarded jeremy reed for a damn good starter in freddy garcia

        -almost universally refuses to sign starting pitchers to contracts longer than three years, mark buehrle notwithstanding.

        -has overseen what seems to be a great influx of young talent in the past year; via the draft, fast tracks like beckham & daniel hudson. as well as the return for the vazquez deal; tyler flowers & santos rodriguez.

        -basically stole carlos quentin from the d-backs

        -turned then top prospect chris young into javier vazquez, who was only worth about $60 million during his time with the white sox.

        these are all pretty clear-cut wins, the vazquez-to-the-braves trade basically the only one that we won’t know the outcome of for while.

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      • scott says:

        i’m an idiot. probably should learn how to read.

        oops :(

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      • Joe R says:

        It’s okay, Williams gets a lot of hate, sometimes people forget he’s done some good things.

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      • Kenny says:

        What are his worst moves? Im not asking to flame him but because I forget.
        -giving up a lot for swisher, dumping him so early
        -what else?

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      • Joe R says:

        - Swisher deal was terrible, I remember my Yankee fan friends were absolutely thrilled to get him, and I was absolutely miserable that they did. One low-OBP fiasco in 2008 -> swing him for Betemit (???), Nunez (some hope as a late inning guy), and Marquis (very marginal prospect, maybe a #5 starter)? Swisher, of course, lays down a 130 OPS+ immediately.

        - Trading away Nick Masset for 2 months of Ken Griffey Jr. was a bit dicey as well. He’d be their youngest main reliever at 27, cheap, and has currently thrown 68 1/3 innings of 2.7 K/BB, 1.054 WHIP ball.

        - Letting Thome walk was fine in principle, but at least get something useful out of him (Contreras was a win, though).

        - Rios, get back to me in late 2010 for how I feel (pulling a Joe Morgan)

        Williams has his token flaws (tends to overlook outfield defense), overall though he’s more than competant at his job. It’s not like other good GMs don’t make bad moves (like Mike Hill trading Willingham for essential nothingness).

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      • Or says:

        Williams also traded McCarthy for Danks.
        As a Rangers fan, that one stings. And the Dallas media will never let JD forget that one.

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  5. Nick says:

    I love reading this stuff, but it’s not like Joe’s analysis of teams he doesn’t hate is any more accurate/edifying.

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  6. Dave B. Wagner says:

    Ah, the question was Joe-Baiting at its finest.

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  7. JD says:

    How many A’s games has Joe Morgan actually seen this year (since he doesn’t use stats, apparently, it’s safe to assume all his opinions are based on watching players)? 1, 2 at most? How many A’s highlights?

    I for one am shocked he knows who Rajai Davis is, since there’s at least a 75% chance he’s never seen him play.

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  8. Gabriel says:

    Obviously, we aren’t much interested in his opinion on this question. At this point, any of us at Fangraphs probably knows that we will disagree with Morgan on this (and consider him uninformed). On the other hand, when he talks about the mechanics of different aspects of the game itself, he can be very interesting. So, I’d say that let’s just try to get his opinions on the things where he is interesting and not ask him or worry about his view on the things where he isn’t (in the same way that we ourselves should not dedicate ourselves to opining on things we don’t know about).

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    • joser says:

      Yes, he can add a lot when he talks about the player’s experience of playing the game, from a viewpoint no higher then the basepaths themselves. But when it comes to evaluating players or teams, it’s a bit like asking a fish to design a submarine.

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  9. lincolndude says:

    Best line of the chat:

    Even when you’re talking about splits, it’s an average. It won’t tell you what is going to happen that day.

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  10. Adam W says:

    I think that claiming “we’re fans of the same kinds of players that [Joe Morgan] is” would be historical revisionism. While “stathead-types” have always had a thing for undervalued or underappreciated players, the idea of measuring a player’s defensive contribution in terms of “runs above average” has only gained traction within the past couple of years.

    Put another way, you used to hear a lot more praise for guys like Adam Dunn or Pat Burrell, and a guy like Ryan Sweeney or Michael Bourne would never have gotten his due in 2004.

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  11. Daniel B says:

    As has been said, Morgan was an outstandingly valuable player. Not only was he statistically a stud, but his background story and mentality lead him to be one of the greatest “moneyball” players of all time years before it was relevant.

    So I respect the man. He isn’t an idiot. I just don’t like hearing him speak.

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    • DL says:

      I don’t see how the two are related. I respect his ability on the field a great deal, and have not seen anyone in this thread (or on this site, for that matter) disparage that.

      What comes out of his insane mind is worthy of ridicule, just like Michael Jordan’s front office decisions.

      Hell, it’s hard to think of a better day for Fire Joe Morgan to come back for one day than tomorrow.

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  12. hank says:

    I’m not sure what this story is about. It seems like it might be strawmanning Morgan’s argument.

    You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think that, for several years after Moneyball, the A’s still lusted after high-OBP guys, many of whom were slow and chubby.

    So now, fielding a bunch of scrap-iron rascals that lead you to a 4th place, 70-odd-win season (coupled with a dead-last finish in attendance) makes Joe Morgan categorically wrong just because Cliff Pennington stole two bases during a September ballgame? C’mon.

    The A’s have made an adjustment as an organization, it’s evident in the way they’ve drafted the last two summers. Unfortunately for them, it took a really long time. Probably too long (if you like winning and putting butts in seats).

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    • Ron says:

      Huh? If he says that the As don’t steal bases and strike out too much when, in fact, the As steal lots of bases and don’t strike out much then, yes, that makes him “categorically wrong.” I’m not sure how their winning % helps your argument–Morgan is saying that if they did those things they would be successful and yet they do those things but aren’t successful. So that kind of makes you both more wrong.

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      • hank says:

        The composition of the current A’s team shouldn’t be confused with “the vision” of the competitive team they want. Let’s be practical. This is a lost season. When you lose key guys to trades, injuries, and general suckage–and hit as abyssmally as they do–you have to run around the bases in different ways. They are doing this with their scrap-iron/fill-in types and default/accidental offensive star Rajai Davis. Areas of offense don’t work independently of each other. This is the blowback of a philosophy that collapsed.

        The way the A’s have changed, demonstrated by their drafts the last two summers, is an admission that Joe Morgan is right. They’re starting to get athletes. Joe just doesn’t know it yet.

        I understand Morgan got the facts mixed up about the current A’s season. But I’m not going to pretend I don’t know what he’s trying to say about the A’s historically.

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      • Ron says:

        Maybe you don’t understand the “philosophy” if you think it has collapsed. The philosophy has always been to go after players that the market has undervalued. At the “Moneyball” was written, high OBP guys were being undervalued–now they’re being overvalued and good defense/athleticism is undervalued. Joe Morgan, of course, has no concept of this. If he’s right about anything it’s a complete accident.

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      • Ron says:

        To clarify, there’s no reason you can’t win with the type of players Joe Morgan erroneously thinks that the As have. It’s just that it’s to expensive to field that kind of team at the moment.

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    • B says:

      “Probably too long (if you like winning and putting butts in seats).”

      Not sure what attendance has to do with anything here. Even when the A’s win their attendance isn’t very good. They haven’t finished better than 6th in the American league in attendance since 1992, despite 8 straight winning seasons between ’99 and ’06.

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    • Pat says:

      The point is that Joe Morgan is generously paid by ESPN to know about baseball, and that include today’s teams. He still thinks the team is Jeremy Giambi, Eric Chavez, Hatteberg, with Rajai Davis as the only addition. He hasn’t been paying any attention apparently to the past few years as the have drafted and kept guys like Ryan Sweeney, Kurt Suzuki, traded guys like Swisher and acquired players like Jason Kendall, Orlando Cabrera, and Scott Hairston. He hasn’t looked at an A’s lineup since 2003, it seems. And if we’re going to talk about results, people forget that the A’s made it to the ALCS as recently as 2006, with players like Milton Bradley.

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      • Joe R says:

        Billy Beane should be absolutely applauded for his 2006 work. Only 5 players on that team exceeded 3 WAR (Thomas, Chavez, Swisher, Haren, Blanton), but was still able to win 93 games and make the ALCS. Overall the lineup (batting + fielding) was +18.3 WAR, and their pitching was also +18.3.

        Come to think of it, that’s more like a 75-80 win team in terms of talent, and 85 in RS/RA.

        Anyway, like I said before, I don’t really want Joe Morgan fired, ESPN has plenty of terrible hacks, at least Morgan can jock-talk. Besides, soon the NBA will start and my boy Jeff Van Gundy will be back on.

        /waits for someone to hate on JVG.

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  13. Richie Abernathy says:

    God, I miss firejoemorgan.com…

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  14. Joe R says:

    I did just think of something…

    last week’s JoeChat, outside of the consistency’s, was very understandable and actually somewhat informative. This week’s JoeChat was about as insane as it gets. Today, FJM has a one day takeover of deadspin.

    Ya know, if you think it’s some poor 21 year old ESPN intern stuck chatting for his Joeness.

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  15. Aaron Ingram says:

    For the record Billy Beane didnt write the book.

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  16. Joe R says:

    My day feels so much more consistent thanks to the FJM reunion.

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  17. John says:

    I’m a sucker for any post about Joe Morgan. Gold, Jerry, Gold.

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  18. Matt B. says:

    I guess my thoughts are we should give him a break. He is on TV and gets paid to make the broadcast interesting. I think he is talking (or spouting) about the part of the game the mainstream fans know about and want to hear about – athleticism, defence, speed etc.

    Sad to say, but the stats nerds (all of us here) are simply the minority. Plus, he’s like our crazy old grandpa, do any of us really take to heart what he is saying?? Of course not! He is clearly an analog player in a digital world.

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    • Joe R says:

      This was from his weekly online chat, though.
      There’s a difference between saying something on the spot and being wrong (we’ve all done it), and having the ability to access information immediately and instead choosing to just lay into something baselessly.

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  19. BillyBeaneismyHero says:

    Ah, classic Joe baiting. I miss Ken Tremendous, Junior, and Dak. Please come back!

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  20. Izzle says:

    FJM had a reunion the other day at deadspin. They made fun of old people like Murray Chass. Good times were had by all:

    http://deadspin.com/tag/fjm/

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  21. Joe R says:

    Hey guys, get ready for your weekly dose of consistency, it’s JoeChat Tuesday!

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    • Joe R says:

      Mike (CT)

      Do you think a speedy player should lead off the batting order or a player that gets on base a lot but isn’t that fast? Thanks.

      Joe Morgan (11:23 AM)

      I would rather have a speedy player. I’ll give you a great example. Wade Boggs hit lead off most of his career, had 200 hits a lot, high batting average, high OBP, but couldn’t run. His OBP was higher than Rickey Henderson’s but who would you rather have leading off? That should answer your question. A guy that can run sets the table, sets the tone, puts pressure on the other team right away. A guy who gets on base and can’t run isn’t as valuable as one who can.

      ___________________________________________________________________
      I feel so good now.

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  22. Joe R says:

    Apparently there’s a new trend for JoeChat Tuesday: feeding Rob Neyer the dumb things Morgan says in his chat and having Neyer unknowingly bash his own coworker.

    Sneaky, evil, but weirdly brilliant.

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