The exploits of one William Lamar “Billy” Beane need no introduction. His successes have been chronicled in everything from blogs (yes, even this one) to movies starring Brad Pitt.
In essence, he is to Major League Baseball what Bob Saget is to family-friendly television. Which is to say, despite being terribly miscast in his role, Beane finds a way to make it all work. After all, what are the odds that a hot-tempered major league burnout would find a way to eschew fickle emotion for analytical wherewithal?
Consider this year’s success in comparison to a comparable team like the San Diego Padres:
The A’s have the second-lowest payroll in baseball, trailing the San Diego Padres only by a couple hundreds of thousands. While the Padres’ payroll sunk the team to a .458 winning percentage, the A’s have flourished: They are 14 games over .500 for the first time since 2006. What’s more, the A’s have the eighth-hardest schedule in baseball, while the Padres have the eighth-easiest.
There may be no better illustration of the Beane’s steely dealings than this past offeason. Beane traded away three of the most prominent, fan-adored A’s. The knee-jerk reaction to these deals was to assume Beane was selling off the team in preparation to move to San Jose, or wherever. Au contraire: Beane was creating a contender.
The trades of Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, and Trevor Cahill yielded Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone, both of whom have WARs above 2.0, as well as All-Star Ryan Cook and Derrick Norris. Perhaps the biggest acquisition was that of Josh Reddick, who leads the team in home runs, RBIs, walks, and WAR.
No other GM could have done this. They would have all given to the pressures of public perception, or of the human element. For most general managers, like Brian Sabean, baseball is a game about people and inevitably emotion.
“Building your club is also about relationships and communication,” said Sabean, general manager of the San Francisco Giants. “We all know how to use statistics and all know how to use analysis to make an educated decision and look forward, but should it — or does it — rule the day? In my opinion, I don’t think so. I think most people would admit you need it, but there’s a feel that goes along with it.’’
But for Beane, baseball is game about players, not people. Focusing on the human aspect leads to the pratfalls of the Aaron Rowands, the Aubrey Huffs, and the Barry Zitos. Maintaining statistical objectivity has allowed Beane to accrue a winning percentage of .533, just three one-hundredths of a point lower than Sabean’s, who has enjoyed payrolls as much as two times the amount of Beane’s. In short, it has allowed Beane to be better than the rest.