February 26, 1998
Interview with Billy Beane
BP interviews the Oakland Athletics general manager
GH: Mr. Beane, you've been quoted in the media repeatedly about the importance of developing offensive players that get on base effectively. A lot of organizations, inside and outside of baseball, talk about implementing plans or philosophies in their system, but the A's seem to have really done a great job at developing hitters with a good batting eye. Operationally, how have you been able to align your organization towards that goal?
BB: There's a lot of important steps. First, we look for players with a good batting eye. We're preaching the gospel of on base percentage to 16 and 17 year old Dominican kids. Then, from the moment they first put on an A's uniform, we teach the importance of getting on base. We can show the players the results on paper - you score more runs if you have a high OBP. The numbers bear out that correlation between scoring runs and getting on base. And it's easier to find runs than it is to find pitchers. There's a reason that casinos and insurance companies make money - the oddsmakers and actuaries make the numbers work. We take the same approach to on-base percentage -- we can show the players the results in black and white.
The players need to know about this from a selfish standpoint, too. Would they rather face the 10th or 11th guy on a staff because they got the starter's pitch count up, or would they rather face just the starter and the closer? We preach on base percentage and slugging.
We have a minor league player of the week, of the month, of the year, etc. We've had guys in the organization just tear it up, hit .400 with a bunch of HRs and RBI, but if they don't draw enough walks, they don't win those awards. Our target is a minimum of 10 walks per 100 at bats, and we reinforce what we say about on base percentage - the players have feedback and know it's important to us.
GH: A few questions about some of the A's prospects. What about Ryan Christenson?
BB: Ryan Christenson's a pedal-to-the-metal type guy. He plays hard all the time, has great instincts, and he goes full out - almost like a Pete Reiser. We drafted him pretty late, in the 10th or 11th round, but one of my best scouts had him rated as a late 1st or early 2nd rounder, but he slipped down to us in the draft. He spent most of 1996 battling some injuries, but he basically came through the system in one year - he's a ballplayer. Plays like Rex Hudler, but will take a walk. Ryan will probably start the year in Edmonton.
GH: How about AJ Hinch?
BB: Everything good you've heard about him in college is true. Real good guy, confident guy, and a very good hitter. If he wouldn't have been made eligible for the expansion draft last year, he would have been up on the major league roster. His makeup is really off the board. He's a tremendous athlete, kind of like Craig Biggio - probably athletic enough to play second base. He's not going to ever have an Ivan Rodriguez cannon for an arm, but he's going to be a good hitter, and I think with a lot of pop later on down the road.
GH: Mr. Beane, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today, and much success to you and the A's in 1998 and the future.
It should be noted that Billy Beane called very late on a Friday afternoon before flying down to Southern California, and patiently waited on the phone while I pulled my dog in from running after someone. Way above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks again.