Understanding the Moneyball Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics year after year continue to have one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball. Yet for some reason, unlike other small market clubs, the A’s are competitive each year and usually make the playoffs, wild card or compete for it until the very end of the season. How is this possible, for a team 1/5 the payroll of the Yankees, to be this competitive? I explain how:

The A’s payroll for the last couple of yeras has been around $40 million and they have lost superstar players such as Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and others. Yet the A’s are still competitive.

First you must look at their General Manager who is by far the best GM in all of sports, let alone baseball. No GM has done more with less than him. How has he done this you ask? Through the draft, trades, and free agents who are inexpensive and unwanted on the open market.

Over the years Billy Beane has been able to stockpile his farm system through the draft. Many of these players have come through the farm system and starred in the big leagues for the A’s such as Jason Giambi, Hudson, Mulder, Zito, and now Rich Harden. The A’s don’t usually get a top 3 draft pick so how do they get such talented players through the draft every year. The answer lies in GM Billy Beane’s philosophy. All to often, when players are drafted scouts look at the dangerous word of POTENTIAL. Potential can make a player a superstar or an awful player. Just look at Basketball today to see this concept. Lebron James was drafted out of high school based on potential and so was Kwame Brown. Lebron is the next Michael Jordan while Brown will never make an All Star team in his career because he was overrated by scouts.

The A’s cannot afford like other teams to spend millions on their draft picks only to see them be a bust in the big leagues and minor leagues. The A’s must draft intelligently and have done so. Instead of looking at how fast a pitcher can pitch or his potential, size, or strength, the A’s look at the pitcher as a whole. Is he intelligent enough to manage a game? Does he win games? Can he strikeout batters? Does he have a checkered or past with run ins with the law? One of the reasons how the A’s were able to draft Tim Hudson was because other teams discounted him since he couldn’t throw a blazing fastball and didn’t have a ton of strikeouts. The A’s liked what they saw in him with his great location and change of speeds and drafted him.

The A’s also only draft college pitchers and not high school pitchers. High school pitchers are associated with potential and almost half of them never become big leaguers as they get destroyed in the minors. By drafting college pitchers, the A’s know what kind of player they are getting who has proven himself at the college level. In Beane’s first year as GM, he traded high school phenomenom Jeremy Bonderman because he didn’t think Bonderman would have a great baseball career. And even if he did, he would not be worth the financial gamble the A’s would be taking. Since then, Bonderman has had an average career for the Tigers, never posting an ERA lower than 4 and he hasn’t had that many wins.

In drafting hitters, the A’s also draft hitters who can draw walks. Patience is the key at the plate and they love hitters who can draw a walk and get on base to score runs for the team. They ignore a hitter’s power numbers and homers because they believe power can be acquired through working out and gaining muscle to hit the ball farther. They also look at the type of hitter a person is. If they make contact and don’t strikeout often then it shows they are good hitters. This fit the mold of AL MVP Jason Giambi who drew a ton of walks in college but never hit for power until he reached the big leagues.

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