July 24, 2012
Walk-off Wins are the New Market Inefficiency
Before the season, a popular narrative in some circles held that Billy Beane had lost his touch. His A's hadn't finished with a winning record since 2006, and Moneyball had run its course. Once Brad Pitt plays you in a movie, there's nowhere to go but down.
Beane traded away young pitchers Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey. He signed aging veterans like Bartolo Colon, Johnny Gomes, and Manny Ramirez (since released). He picked up guys off other teams' junk piles: Brandon Moss, Brandon Hicks, and Brandon Inge. If your name was Brandon and nobody else wanted you, Beane would give you a shot.
He did Billy Beane things, looking for value where others didn't see it. And his moves were met with skepticism or worse. Perhaps the biggest splash came in February, when the A's inked Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million dollar contract. The marketing of his workout video led some to believe that he was a novelty act, a bust-in-the-making that savvy investors would avoid.
As we've noted previously, Beane surprised the baseball world by not avoiding Cespedes. This was the nail in Moneyball's proverbial coffin. Whatever magic Beane once wielded in Oakland had dissipated, replaced by a willingness to throw millions at a 26-year-old viral video star built like a fire hydrant.
Investing in Cespedes has proven to be a smart move so far, as has dealing Bailey to the Red Sox for outfielder Josh Reddick. Despite getting little production at catcher, second base, third base, or shortstop this year, the A's find themselves in the thick of a pennant race in late July. They are in third place in the American League West as of this writing, 5 ½ games back of front-running Texas.
Oakland remains a long shot to win the division, but given that the Rangers are coming off back-to-back World Series appearances and the Angels signed Albert Pujols this past winter, a long shot is better than no shot. If nothing else, the A's are making powerful people nervous by clinging to wild card hopes nearly 100 games into the season despite spending comparatively little money.