A's have evolved from classic 'Moneyball' roots
Club continues to thrive with an updated take on its storied blueprint
OAKLAND -- The Oakland Athletics are always going to be associated with "Moneyball," and in a way, why not?
There was the brilliant book by Michael Lewis, there was the movie, an artistic and commercial take in which Brad Pitt played general manager Billy Beane. Thus, an innovative empirically driven view of baseball transcended even the game itself to become a part of the larger culture. Good for Lewis, good for Pitt, good for Beane, good for the A's. Good for America, for that matter.
But on the field of play, if you look at the way the 2014 Oakland Athletics play baseball, this is not the classic "Moneyball" approach. Their approach to the game is an amalgamation of approaches. And it is working, again. The A's won the American League West the last two seasons, and they are leading the division this year.
Certainly, on-base percentage is still king with this group. The A's lead the Major Leagues in walks and rank second behind the Rockies in on-base percentage. You can practically become a folk hero on this club by taking and/or fouling off a lot of pitches.
Oakland is third in the AL in runs scored, which is not particularly shocking since this club was fourth in that category last year.
"They're a complete team," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, whose club played the A's in Boston over the weekend. "They're versatile. In many ways, offensively they're the same way as we are. I think we value the same things in hitters, and that's to get on base. They've done a good job of putting runs on the board."
A's manager Bob Melvin was in complete agreement on that point.
"I think both front offices [Red Sox and Athletics] value the same numbers and look at the same types of players," Melvin said. "We do target certain types of hitters that can work counts, maybe get a few more pitches per at-bat. You string that out to a whole game's worth and you make pitchers work. That's what we're all about."
That's classic "Moneyball." But the stolen base isn't. And that is a significant part of Oakland's current game.
"We'll run when we need to run, and we have guys that can do it," Melvin said. "If you look at our [stolen-base] percentage this year, we're pretty good there, too."
The A's are better than "pretty good." Their 21 steals in 23 attempts is good for a big league-best 91.3 percent success rate.
Sunday, in what turned out to be a 3-2, 10-inning victory for Oakland over Boston, third baseman Josh Donaldson stole his first base of the season in the sixth inning. He subsequently scored, tying the game. It was one base in a middle inning, but it was precisely the kind of thing that can make a major difference.
Plus, there is a premium placed on defense with this club. Again, this is not out of the classic "Moneyball" play book. This club can justify staying with a player who is slumping at the plate if he excels in other parts of the game.
"You know, defense is a big factor for us, too," Melvin said. "A guy like [right fielder] Josh Reddick, even when he's not swinging the bat well, can play because he runs the bases well and he plays good defense. There's value to all different variables, and we do value all of them."
What this combination of values and variables illustrates is an organization that is able to adapt its philosophy to its circumstances and its personnel.
"I think our front office is pretty good about making their adjustments, too, based on what they're seeing and what is important," Melvin said. "And you're constantly looking at it, trying to get better. As a front office, too, what are we valuing now? What do our numbers show us? Our analytics department looks at every different angle every year and tries to get better, just like a player would."
It is still "Moneyball," but it more accurately could be "Post-Moneyball" or "Moneyball-Plus." One way or the other, it is still working for the Oakland Athletics.