(Beane, shown with the late Johnny Ramone. Presumably, Vincent Gallo was in line for nachos)
The bloom is off Billy Beane somewhat, these days, and not just because Rog sometimes disses him in the comments. The team’s he’d assembled, half-disassembled, quasi-reassembled, and so on did stay at a certain level of quality over nearly a decade, but injuries and attrition have led to a fall-off over the last few seasons. The intellectual underpinnings of the philosophy Beane describes in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball have, at this point, convinced everyone but Joe Morgan (who, for his part, is still convinced Billy Beane wrote the book); it’s why we have OPS in our fantasy baseball leagues now. Yesterday in Slate, Tom Scocca wrote a nice piece examining whether or not the robust success of Beane’s organizational philosophy might’ve been somewhat more robust because of all those supplements Adam Piatt had access to:
(Beane says): “Power is something that can be acquired. … Good hitters develop power. Power hitters don’t become good hitters.” Oakland, with its limited funds, wouldn’t spend payroll to buy power hitters. Instead, it invested in cheaper, patient hitters. And those hitters, it seems, bought the power themselves.
Did Beane have steroids deliberately or explicitly in mind? He was talking about his hopes of drafting someone who could be the next Jason Giambi. And Jason Giambi, the 2000 American League MVP, was juiced. So was his younger brother and Oakland teammate, Jeremy. So, according to Mitchell, was the A’s other MVP, Miguel Tejada, who asked for and received steroids and testosterone from teammate Adam Piatt. And Oakland’s veteran pickup David Justice (“an extraordinary ability to get on base was more likely to stay with a player to the end of his career than, say, an extraordinary ability to hit home runs”). The Oakland locker room, the report says, was an open-air drug market…
Where were the steroids in Moneyball? They were out of sight, where the baseball world wanted them to be. This is not a reflection on Lewis’ reporting, even. The book advanced people’s understanding of baseball, on the terms in which people were willing to think about baseball at the time. It accurately named and explained the batting approach that defines this era: power hitting channeled through strict strike-zone discipline. This is the engine not only of Oakland’s budget offense, but of the bankroll-busting offenses of the Yankees and Red Sox”each of which has included a Giambi brother on its roster.
Of Jason Giambi, whose $120 million move from the A’s to the Yankees is a key part of Moneyball, Lewis wrote: “In all of baseball for the past few years there has been only one batter more useful to an offense: Barry Bonds.” The plucky Athletics, in other words, were playing exactly the same game as everyone else.
And true playas stay playing: Oakland dealt Dan Haren (above) to the Diamondbacks yesterday for a sprawling package of prospects that included the players ranked by Baseball America as the Arizona organization‘s best power hitter (Double-A OF Carlos Gonzalez, also the organization’s top-ranked prospect), best control pitcher (Class-A LHP Brett Anderson, number three), as well as the players ranked seventh and eighth (OF Aaron Cunningham and 1B Chris Carter, both in A-Ball). The two more Big League-ready prospects aren’t much to write home about: pitchers Greg Smith and Dana Eveland, who is described in that San Francisco Chronicle piece linked above as a “David Wells type.” Which presumably means he’s gout-prone.
Anyway, it will be interesting to watch these future stars develop in an Oakland organization that is now verifiably 100% drug free. Or, considering that they would not and could not verify such a thing, it will instead be interesting to watch these young prospects all develop tremendous opposite field power, then start getting injured a lot.