Oakland A's: Modern Day David & Goliath & What This Means to YOU

2009 Oakland A's

The Oakland A's are the modern day biblical story of David & Goliath. We all know who Goliath is in Major League Baseball, those damn Yankees...check out the 2008 payrolls for the New York Yankees and the Oakland Athletics (David):

  • 2008 New York Yankees (#1) - $207 Million*
  • 2008 Oakland A's (#28) - $47 Million

(*The 2009 Yankee payroll doubled with a new stadium and signing guys like CC Sabathia for hundreds of millions.)

Out of 30 MLB teams! (according to sports.espn.go.com).

In this article, we're going to discuss how the A's have overcome such seemingly insurmountable odds at competing with the dynasty juggernaut, that is the Yankees, for the past decade with such a paltry payroll.

Furthermore, we'll show you HOW to use this information to:

  • Train yourself to be more marketable with scouts,
  • Know what to focus on in practice with your own team, and
  • Increase the chances of winning in your Fantasy Baseball League!

The following content uses information from the groundbreaking books Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis, and The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed, by J.C. Bradbury.

Keep in mind, Moneyball was written in 2003, and since spilling the beans, more low-budget MLB franchises have taken steps along the same line as the Oakland Athletics, and you'll notice it in teams like the Marlins, Indians, Rays, and Twins...these are highly efficient squads with very limited budgets to the contrary.

Moneyball happened to me after a self-imposed baseball burnout tailing my fourth year at Fresno State. This book opened my eyes as Michael Lewis details the inner workings of the Oakland A's front office, enter numbers guy Paul Depodesta and General Manager Billy Beane. The question was posed:

"How does one of the poorest teams in baseball win so many games?"

One word, Sabermetrics.

Oakland began a journey into uncharted territory riding the pioneer wave hiring MIT and Harvard Mathematicians with a passion for baseball. The system they came up with is a term called Sabermetrics, or SABR for short...and we call it the 80/20 of putting together a winning baseball team.

Let's start with the bigger picture...

Since Billy Beane began his rein as GM for the Oakland A's in 1998, they've turned traditional baseball recruiting on its head, using statistics (two in particular) to recruit, rather than body type.

Old school baseball scouts would go to games looking for the future prospective Major League body type, 6 foot plus, mesomorphs...unfortunately for lower budget franchises, premiums were being paid to draft these guys from the 5% of teams who could afford them.

Since Oakland was near the bottom of the salary barrel, the A's front office took their fishing pole to a different pond.

So, what stats play a big role in winning? Sure, great pitching may beat great hitting on a given day, but without runs, nobody wins. The best way to boost your chances of scoring runs can be acknowledged with two magical hitting statistics.

Scoring high in the following stats:

  1. On Base Percentage (OBP), and
  2. Slugging Percentage (SLG%).

And, adding them together you get OPS (OBP Plus SLG%). Let's explain the Oakland A's reasoning...

OBP is MOST important because it measures how well a player gets on base, the more a player gets on, the better chance to score, thereby putting you in a better position to win.

Calculated by:

Hits + Walks (BB) + Hits by pitch (HBP) Divided by: At-bats + BB + HBP + Sacrifice Flies = OBP

SLG% is how well a player is able to get extra base hits, such as doubles, triples, and homeruns. The more you fill your team with players who can get on and smack extra base hits, the more runs you'll score, resulting in more wins on the season.

Calculated by:

SLG% = (1X1B) + (2X2B) + (3X3B) + (4XHR) Divided by: At-Bats (AB) Then you add the two together, wallah, OPS! The Oakland A's use this number as a means to the 80/20 Principal of "winning at an unfair game."

What about pitching you ask? Because during the late nineties, early 2000's, the A's did have the BIG 3 pitching rotation in Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson.

Look for pitchers who do well at reversing the above formula,

  • Keep Walks to a minimum,
  • Keep the ball down in the strike zone, and
  • Locate the ball well.

A good statistic to hold pitchers to is:

Walks (BB) + Hits Divided by: Innings Pitched = +/- Pitcher

If they allow way more walks and hits per overall innings pitched, then chances are they won't be effective in holding leads.

Another thing, in regards to Closers...

The Oakland A's motto in obtaining a prize fighter Closing pitcher is: it's more efficient to create one, than it is to buy one. Since a Closer's value is in how many saves they have, take an above average pitcher, convert him into a Closer, accumulate saves, and sell him off for a handsome profit.

What about speed in base-running?

Base-running isn't as valuable as once believed...the A's front office found, for base-running to contribute positively to run total, the success rate had to be above 70%. In other words, a guy has to be at least 7 times successful out of 10 stolen base attempts to add to a team's run total.

How important is fielding?

Good fielders also have a positive effect on run stoppage, but again, you can overcome a limited amount of awful fielders and slow base-runners with higher total OPS.

The bottom line?

The Oakland A's use OBP + SLG% = OPS to calculate a winning baseball team, despite slow base-runners and average fielders, on a tight budget, and it shows: Wins/Losses:

  • 2008: 75/86 (.466)
  • 2007: 76/86 (.469)
  • 2006: 93/69 (.574)
  • 2005: 88/74 (.543)
  • 2004: 91/71 (.562)
  • 2003: 96/66 (.593)
  • 2002: 103/59 (.636)
  • 2001: 102/60 (.630)
  • 2000: 91/70 (.565)
  • 1999: 87/75 (.537)
  • 1998: 74/88 (.457)*
  • 1997: 65/97 (.401)

*First year of the Billy Beane GM era, and as of late, other teams are jumping on board to this Sabernomics theory, so competition is rising.

So, if you want to be more marketable to scouts, then increase your OBP + SLUG% = OPS, by using the information on this site, check out the Swing Smarter Hitting Baseball Plan, and subscribe to The Dugout: Hitting Baseballs From the Neck Up eZine today!

The Dugout: Hitting Baseballs from the Neck Up!

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