Benjamin Morris of Five Thirty Eight posted an article yesterday in which he used a handful of statistical methods to estimate how much the Athletics, led by GM Billy Beane, have exceeded expectations. For those not familiar with Beane, he was the central figure in the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, authored by Michael Lewis and released in 2003. Beane didn’t let the Athletics’ status as a small-market team deter him from building a contender; instead, he looked for market inefficiencies. For example, at the time, teams were devaluing players with high on-base percentages because of low batting averages, so he was able to sign Scott Hatteberg, among others, and enjoyed great success as a result.
From the time Beane took over the A’s in 1998 through 2013, the club has gone 1,396-1,194 (.539). They have reached the playoffs seven times in those 16 seasons. The A’s enter tonight’s action at 63-38, poised to win the AL West for a third consecutive season.
So what did Morris find? Since the start of this millennium, the Athletics have won 180 more games than we would expect, given their payroll. Then, using various estimates pertaining to the price of a win, Morris suggests that the A’s have exceeded expectations by $1.38 billion. The next-best team, the Angels, comes in at $702 million. On the other end of the spectrum, the Royals have under-performed expectations by nearly $800 million. If statistical wizardry is your bag, then the column is certainly worth your time.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.