Written by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
Edited by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)
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During the fall of 2011, one of my favorite sports movies of all-time hit the theatres. The movie was titled Moneyball and it summarized the baseball method of sabermetrics that Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, embraced for the 2002 season after losing some of his biggest names to heavier contracts elsewhere during the previous off-season. While the strategy of employing players that thrive on getting on base led Oakland to a record setting 20-game win streak, the Athletics did not capture a World Series title that season and Beane is still searching for one to this day. Moneyball sounds great in theory and baseball experts enjoy discounting the method, but with a record of 69-44 and arguably the most promising pitching rotation in all of baseball, the simplicity of scoring runs may finally bring Beane the world championship that he has so desperately desired.
With the best record in baseball and currently leading the league in runs scored, you would expect to see high batting averages and costly contracts filling up the stat sheet, but you won’t find that in Oakland. After Beane went all-in on this season and sent Yoenis Cespedes (who was only batting .256) to Boston for John Lester and Johnny Gomes, the highest remaining batting average for an everyday player on the team is owned by Brandon Moss, who is hitting a mediocre .251. On top of that, the A’s rank 15th in the league with a .252 batting average and started the season 25th in the league in player salaries. While I highly recommend that you read the book or watch the movie so you aren’t scratching your head at this confusing logic, the basics of it all is that solid pitching and getting on base is everything, no matter what.
The main reason that Oakland is leading the league in runs scored is because they are 6th in the majors with a .328 on-base percentage, 8th in the league with a .401 slugging percentage, and they have been walked 117 more times this season than their opponents. If you get on base, there is always a better chance that you can score, simple as that. Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Derek Norris and Coco Crisp may not wow you with their batting average, but they all possess more than 70 hits on the season and a plus .330 OBP. They may not do it the popular way, but whatever it is, Oakland is doing it the right way.
The one thing that bothered me about the movie was that it really didn’t show how important and how good the pitching rotation was back in 2002. It may have not received the love that it deserved, but Beane knows what it takes to make his adopted method work. After dealing for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs about a month ago and getting Lester just last week, the rotation of Lester, Samardzija, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Hammel have a combined ERA of 3.13 (3rd in MLB), 68 quality starts (6th in MLB) and the opposition is only batting .232 against them (2nd in MLB). If it weren’t for the Tigers adding David Price and becoming the best pitching rotation in baseball, Oakland would absolutely claim that honor. Regardless, the importance of scoring runs is keeping the lead, and while the A’s offense has done it’s part, this phenomenal pitching staff is the true reason why Oakland is standing on top of baseball’s proverbial mountain.
It may not make sense to the average baseball fan, but whatever is going on up in Oakland is absolutely real. Billy Beane and the A’s may not win the World Series this year, but with the way this team has performed all season long and the importance of pitching during the post-season, the method behind this moneyball madness may finally cash in on baseball’s biggest prize in 2014.