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Saturday, September 24, 2011

A's Moneyball followup

As an addendum to Friday's post, I found an exchange on SABR-L, from December 9, 1998. I don't know that I can quote the person I was debating, but my words should be fair game for quotation here. I had contended that "Small-market teams have won recently, and have a chance to win in the future." More specifically, I suggested that the A's would be competing for a World Series appearance by 2001.**

A skeptic in turn pointed out that the A's of 1998 had a terrible third baseman and bullpen, plus no starting pitching or right-handed power-hitting.

My response:
First, I said they'd be competitive for a playoff spot, not a sure Series winner. Second, the A's have one of baseball's top prospects at 3B in Eric Chavez. My prediction was based, in part, on the A's willingness to reward OBA in their minor leagues (this *will* pay off as it did for the Yankees in the past half-decade). RH power hitters are easy to come by for 1b/dh/lf. How much would Billy Ashley cost right now? How much was Bubba Trammell worth last year at this time? Hinch, Tejada, Grieve et al provide a great young nucleus. Pitching? You don't like Witasick (3/1 k/bb ratio in PCL with a sub 4 ERA in 1998)? I agree they need to develop some talent--but who predicted Glavine/Smoltz in 1990? Saberhagen/Gubicza/Jackson in 1983? A 2001 World Series rotation might include someone currently in college--or even high school. What if the A's offered Stairs and Rogers for Clemens? Bullpen holes are among the easiest to fill since there are plenty of hard throwers out there that find their control or develop new off-speed pitches every season.
The 2001 A's won 102 games and made the playoffs as the Wild Card (Seattle won 116 games!). Eric Chavez was the starting 3B and he hit and fielded like an MVP candidate. The rotation was led by Tim Hudson (2nd year pitcher from Auburn; a member of '97 draft class), Mark Mulder (2nd year pitcher obtained in trade, but drafted in '98 from Michigan State), and Barry Zito (2nd year pitcher drafted from UCSB in '99). Right-handed Jermaine Dye slugged almost .550 for Oakland after coming over in a mid-year trade for trinkets and beads (KC got Neifi Perez, but it was a three-way deal with the Colorado Rockies). RH Olmaedo Sáenz also had 30+ extra base hits in a limited role as a corner infielder. The A's bullpen featured a lot of no-name relievers in their late 20s and early 30s who limited walks, got strikeouts and performed perfectly well. Their closer was Jason Isringhausen who did a fine job and had been obtained by the A's in a trade for an older reliever -- Billy Taylor.

I'm not claiming any sort of clairvoyance here -- I think this set of predictions were all made conceivable by the work of Bill James and those who followed him.


** In fairness, I also mistakenly predicted a Pirates resurgence.

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