Kind of a strange thing has happened in Oakland, where Billy Beane hasn’t just spent time overseeing Brad Pitt’s visor-wearing ability, he’s put together a surprisingly decent team. An injury-riddled, unbalanced and mostly ignored team, but a decent team nonetheless. Everyone knows is this isn’t Moneyball anymore. No, it’s something different; a philosophy of building around young pitchers, throwing big money at a big name pitcher whose best days are behind him, and assembling a meager offensive lineup in an attempt to eke out 3-2 wins every night. It sounds so familiar, just like…
The Giants Way?
Granted, the comparison over-simplifies things a bit. Offensively, it’s near spot on, as this A’s squad is only slightly better with the bats than the 2008 Giants. The A’s are currently last in the majors in home runs (81 in 129 games) and 10th in the AL in OBP. Every day, Bob Geren writes a lineup card full of guys hitting .270. The only thing about Oakland’s offense that is above average is their speed, but it’s not like they’re the ’87 Cardinals.
Some would say that Beane’s boys have won games in spite of Beane himself, especially when you turn on a Rockies/Dodgers game where the best two players on the field, Carlos Gonzalez and Andre Ethier, were former property of the A’s. But this pitching staff he’s put together has quietly proven to be a deeper, more talented rotation than the much-heralded starters wearing orange and black.
Gio Gonzalez has become what Jonathan Sanchez should be. Videos of Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden starts should be required viewing for Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Sanchez to remind them that you don’t have to strike out 10 guys per outing to dominate (although Rob Neyer made a great point today with Damon Bruce about Cahill’s unsustainable .217 BABIP … his record may be more than a bit misleading). Vin Mazzaro has put up more than solid numbers for a fifth starter in the AL. Brett Anderson may be the most skilled of the bunch, but tweeting a picture of himself holding stacks of dollar bills next to a couple grenades in some Cleveland bar (and the fallout that followed) might be a glimpse as to why he’s had trouble cashing in on all that talent this season (no pun intended).
The depth Beane’s put together has led to the streak of quality starts (amazing, even if you rightly believe that “quality start” is a ridiculous measure of a pitcher’s performance) that ended on Friday with Anderson’s injury-marred 2-inning, 4 ER loss to the Rangers. Remember, there were hopes before the season that Ben Sheets and Justin Duchsherer would anchor the rotation — there isn’t a team in baseball that started this season with seven capable starters, regardless of how fragile a couple of those starters may be. And when you take into account a very capable bullpen, the A’s have the best pitching staff in existence other than San Diego.
Beane might seem to be following the Sabean blueprint when it comes to building a young pitching staff and handing them no offensive support, but Michael Lewis won’t be penning an in-depth book about Sabean anytime soon (unless Sabean decides to become a left tackle, anyway). Beane’s made some high-profile mistakes over the past few years, but he’s still far more effective than Sabean considering the checks each one can write. Beane doesn’t have the funds to waste on guys like Aaron Rowand or Edgar Renteria, and it’s not like he wants to field a terrible offensive team. It just happened that way. However, when/if Oakland’s offense ever catches up to their pitching — like the Giants’ offense has, although that might be as much of a statement as to how bad their starting pitching has been — the A’s might be in a better position to take advantage in the future.