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October 2, 2014 5:33 am

Moonshot: Fastballs and the Collapsing A's

23

Robert Arthur

What does it mean that the league suddenly shifted its pitch selection just as the A's suddenly shifted into a full-scale meltdown?

The Oakland Athletics completed their second-half collapse in true Oakland fashion by failing somehow to advance in the postseason against the Royals. For a season in which Beane went all-in by trading future potential for current performance, in which the A’s began the year an unstoppable, historic juggernaut, the inglorious ending has to smart.

The A’s of this year embodied one of the most beloved playoff myths, that the second half of a team’s performance predicts how that team will do in the playoffs. I say “myth” because, at least in the aggregate, there is little or no evidence in support of this idea, and so it has been debunked on numerous occasions. And yet, there may not be a better example of that phenomenon in action than this team, which roared out to an incredible start to the season, on pace to challenge run-differential records, only to buckle in the second half, barely making the playoffs.

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September 25, 2014 6:00 am

Pitching Backward: Buxton or Beane?

33

Jeff Long

Would you rather have the best GM or the best prospect for the future of your franchise? And more importantly, how would you determine the answer?

There’s this captivating scene in the movie Moneyball: Over archival footage of Dan Duquette presenting a Red Sox jersey to Johnny Damon at a press-filled event in Fenway Park, a Brad Pitt voiceover explains how the A’s will chart a new direction in player valuation and roster construction. The scene is supposed to poke fun at the Red Sox, Jonah Hill having just delivered a soliloquy about Damon’s true value and how he’ll never be worth $7.5 million. But meanwhile in Boston, a team of analysts, economists, front office folks, and consultants had determined that Damon’s value on and off the field would far exceed his salary.

The dramatized scene lays down the “new way” vs. “old way” narrative playing out over the course of the film. What it really does, though, is underscore the fact that teams value players differently.

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July 24, 2014 6:00 am

Painting the Black: The Selling-the-Closer Myth

7

R.J. Anderson

It's not so easy to bamboozle teams looking for summer relief.

Among the lessons taught in Moneyball, the one that crops up every July is what Michael Lewis designated "Selling the Closer."

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At one position, the A's are still Moneyballing like it's 1999.

For the most part, pitch receiving operates on a level that’s easy to overlook. Over thousands of pitches, certain catchers establish an edge, and those edges add up in a way we can’t see without looking at a leaderboard. Every now and then, though, framing on a small scale comes to the fore, usually when it leads to a larger event. Brett Lawrie, let’s say, strikes out looking out a pitch that appears to be outside, hurls his batting helmet at the home plate umpire, and gets ejected from the game. Our first impulse, like Lawrie’s, is to blame the umpire who blew the call. After reviewing the video, though, we realize that the real culprit was Jose Molina, in the catcher’s box, with the catcher’s glove. The ump was a red herring, a patsy, or maybe an unwitting accomplice.

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December 18, 2013 6:40 am

More Moneyball

35

Andrew Koo

In addition to exploiting lefty-righty matchups, the A's also have a significant edge in the air.

The Oakland Athletics finished 2013 with baseball's fourth-lowest payroll, fourth-best offense, and best clubhouse chemistry. Debate has centered on whether the latter two are related. There’s nothing objectionable about “good guy” genes—it’s a solid organizational goal to have. But chemistry alone doesn’t put runs on the board, and if a team is missing the talent, they better find the runs elsewhere. The 2002 Athletics discovered them in walk deities and college arms; once those methods pervaded front offices, the A’s slipped back into losing. Was chemistry the only undervalued commodity of their recent resurgence?

As the baseball community obtains more knowledge, roster construction strategies evolve. Previously undervalued talents like walks and defense are now accepted constructs. The A’s are Hollywood-infamous for adopting them before their competitors while prices were low. After a 74-win 2011, they cheaply signed Brandon Inge and Jonny Gomes, who Brandon McCarthy claimed bolstered the clubhouse DNA to the tune of 20 wins. But Inge and Gomes were two of several players who also bolstered a less-visible statistic: fly ball-to-ground ball ratio.

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September 12, 2012 5:00 am

Punk Hits: What Billy Beane is Doing Again

19

Ian Miller

OAK is A-OK!

Everyone loves an underdog, and we’ve had some great stories this year. The Pirates were great while they lasted, and the Orioles... well, we project Baltimore to go 9-13 the rest of the way and miss the Wild Card entirely. But it was fun, wasn’t it?

And then there’s the Athletics. The lowly A’s, the least-valuable of the 30 MLB franchises at “only” $321 million. They of the skinflint ownership, endless stadium struggles, and ridiculously low ticket revenues. None of this is news, of course. We all saw that movie based on the book that Brad Pitt wrote about the guy from Parks & Recreation. That crafty Billy Beane always finds a way to do more with less! It’s the feelgood story of the year.

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Oakland's success this year is all the more surprising considering they have departed from the small-market blueprint perfected by Tampa Bay.

The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays, two AL Wild Card contenders who looked like long shots at the All-Star break, are one game into a strangely scheduled Thursday-Saturday series. The two teams have a few things in common, in addition to both being AL Wild Card contenders who’ll be playing tonight in Tampa Bay. In fact, they might have more in common than any other two teams in baseball. This article isn’t actually about the ways in which they’re the same. It’s about one way in which they’re different. But I’m going to start with the similar stuff just to make the different thing more meaningful, which is pretty manipulative of me.

The first thing the A’s and Rays have in common is success in the second half. The A’s were the hot team in July, when they went 19-5. They’ve cooled off lately, but they’re 24-14 in the second half, and their playoff odds have risen by roughly 25 percentage points over that period. The Rays are the hot team in August. They’re 16-5 this month and 25-14 in the second half, which has raised their playoff odds by roughly 50 percentage points.

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March 30, 2012 3:00 am

Pebble Hunting: Moneyball: The Prequel

22

Sam Miller

Decades before Billy Beane and Ricardo Rincon, there was Steve Boros and "computer baseball."

I spend a lot of time going through archives, and any time spent in archives inevitably leads to more time in archives, because an awful lot of things found in archives seem ironic or significant in retrospect. Like this:

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A short sabermetric take on last year's best picture, according to the Academy.

Thomas Langmann, producer of the movie The Artist, was heard speaking the following words before Academy Awards night.

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How can we reconcile Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes signing with the team's latest rebuilding efforts and its surplus of Stepford outfielders?



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February 14, 2012 3:00 am

Painting the Black: Examining the Beane Stock

12

R.J. Anderson

Does the recently-extended Billy Beane's reputation deserved to be tarnished after five seasons without playoff baseball in Oakland?

Baseball lends itself to retrospection. Its rules tend to remain constant, and the limited number of ways in which one can throw or hit a baseball leaves room for today’s players to resemble yesterday’s players in one respect or another. Even baseball contracts beget retrospectives. When a player signs a new deal, we look to his past for hints about his future. The same goes for general managers, and you can bet that Athletics fans are feeling hopeful in the wake of Billy Beane’s reported upcoming pact with Oakland, which is set to run through the 2019 season.

Beane remains one of the league’s most recognizable executives—thanks in no small part to Moneyballs silver screen adaptation—despite the A’s last postseason berth coming in 2006. All of Oakland’s losing since has given Beane’s critics—those who question whether he’s more interested in soccer than baseball—a louder voice. Those who support Beane point to the A’s socioeconomic status while crediting his resourcefulness in avoiding the 100-loss mark; meanwhile, the Beane critics finger his regime’s inability to draft and develop players and insinuate that his inefficiency act no longer works. Consider the quotes John Perrotto gathered in his latest column if you believe those statements to be exaggerations.

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February 9, 2012 3:00 am

On the Beat: The Best of the Rest of the Free Agent Market

8

John Perrotto

Soliciting scouts' takes on the four remaining free agents who made significant contributions to their teams last season.

Spring training is barely more than a week away, and the free agent market has all but been picked over.

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