Congratulations to all of you league champions out there! I hope that the RotoGraphs staff played no small part in helping you along the way to victory. For those of us who didn’t win any leagues this year (myself included), we’ll go get em next season. Much like the Chicago Cubs: there’s always next year!
Now — and with apologies to our regularly scheduled content — since I am a lucky enough position to speak on such a public forum, I’d like to dedicate this space to the Oakland Athletics.
Although the fantasy baseball season has run it’s course, baseball still goes on. Most importantly for myself, my beloved A’s season goes on: as the champions of the AL West. Few could conceive the A’s going .500 this season and even fewer believed that this squad could fight its way to 94 wins and a divisional crown. Even as recently as two weeks ago, the Rangers were thought to be a virtual lock to win the West. No team in the history of MLB had ever lost a five game lead with less than 10 games remaining.
I wouldn’t even call how these events unfolded a late season collapse — since September first the Rangers went 15-16. Over that same time frame the A’s compiled a 20-11 record; it isn’t hard to catch the team in front of you when you’re playing .645 baseball. This isn’t a post about bragging about a comeback or kicking dirt in the faces of the Rangers. In fact, in the back of my mind, I am still thinking of the Rangers. The talent on that team is scary good and the their farm system is loaded.
But sometimes, baseball just happens.
The actual point of this little (some what IPA fueled) essay is to highlight my admittedly subjective feelings about the Oakland A’s. For those of you that may or may not know (or care), I happen to live in Michigan. I have lived here all of my life, outside of a three month window when I was born in South Korea. I have never been to California, much less to the Coliseum. My passion for the A’s came into it’s own not because of the greatness of the early 2000 teams — though I do remember them fondly — but through the ground breaking book Moneyball by the immeasurably talented Michael Lewis.
If you’re reading FanGraphs and RotoGraphs, I suspect that you have a working knowledge of the idea of Moneyball: find under valued skills and under valued players to exploit market inefficiencies. No, it was never about raw on-base percentage. OBP was merely the framework of the overall context of finding players that other teams inaccurately evaluated.
As much as you may hear it, 2012 team is not Moneyball 2.0. Much of the talent was home grown, yes, but as much or more was acquired via trades or signings. The thought behind many of the trades was “here we go again; Billy Beane is blowing up the A’s for more prospects!” That would be true — if trading big league talent to acquire big league talent could be considered a fire sale.
No team wanted Coco Crisp as badly as the A’s. The Kansas City Royals declined his option in 2009. The A’s managed to ink him to a one year deal, then re-sign him to a two year contract after that. Crisp finished the season having played in just 120 games, but accruing 3.0 WAR.
The Arizona Diamondbacks traded away Stephen Drew for a relative pittance. With the A’s, he was league average with the bat for 172 PA’s. That may not sound like much, but prior to his arrival, the A’s shortstops combined for a total of 0.5 WAR from April to late August. In six weeks, Drew’s 0.2 WAR doesn’t blow you away, but it provided a massive boost to the A’s. It also allowed Cliff Pennington to take over second base from the struggling Jemile Weeks. It could be synergistic effects or merely small sample size, but after being moved primarily to the keystone, Pennington hit to the tune of a 104 wRC+. As a shortstop this year, he hit for a 59 wRC+.
The rotation, especially after the loss of Brandon McCarthy to a comebacker and Bartolo Colon to a failed drug test, is full of rookies and an injury plagued Brett Anderson. The bullpen is a failed first basemen, free agent signings, low cost pre-arb players and an eccentric Aussie.
I won’t wax poetic about every single contributor to this A’s team, I don’t have the time and you don’t have the desire to do that. Just know that this A’s team was built by a brilliant GM and his excellent scouts. Bob Melvin and his coaching staff should also receive a ton of credit as well, and I recommend that you read the excellent article by the much more educated and much more cerebral Matt Klaassen. It fully illustrates how the A’s utilized platoon splits to gain the advantage to it’s fullest extent.
In the coming hours, days and if I’m lucky, weeks, I’m sure you’ll hear all about how this Moneyball Part II, or some other nonsense. Narrartive’s gonna narrative. That aside, rather than an evolution of Moneyball, perhaps more accurately could be described as the Frankenstein of MLB rosters. It isn’t pretty or flashy, but it is big, green and sure is scary to see in October. Just ask the Rangers.