Saturday, January 16, 2010

Slap Hitter: Moneyball Lives!

By Kibby Kleiman
Sat, Jan 16, 2010 at 8:05 AM

Kevin Kouzmanoff newest Oakland Athletic is proof that Moneyball is alive and well in Green and Gold. If you were to design the definitive mediocre major league starter, you couldn't do better for a start than drawing up the .255 hitting third basemen from the San Diego Padres. Couple that with the re-signing of known quantity Jack Cust, journeyman outfielder Coco Crisp, and you have the big leagues most middle-of-the-road, undistinguished, not young or old infield and outfield heading into 2010. Genius!

Because, of course the point of Moneyball, the Michael Lewis book-turned-adjective is that teams like Oakland (insolvent) need to master the marketplace by buying where they ain't. Over the '00's the A's were the first to exploit undervalued sluggers who walked a lot. By the end of the decade, rich teams saw the worth of that strategy and purchased the deluxe versions of same. Leaving the A's um, last place.

A second trend, also economically inspired (fun!) was that teams figured out that they could get roughly the same results in the standings for a lot cheaper by discarding middling quality talent, for rookie wannabes. Or put another way, by saving cash on guys like Kevin Kouzmanoff, and plugging in a "replacement value" third baseman, and then doing this all over the diamond, it frees team's budgets up to buy say, one superstar and then hope that a handful of dwarves surrounding Mr. Big on the field might turn out to be something.

All and nothing.

So what you see is one big ticket guy and dozens of sophomores and freshmen, which means that the A's can't really compete for either. So they don't.

Instead, general manager Billy Beane has exploited a huge gap in the market...the middle class. The same story has been told the last few springs, 30-year old veterans, serviceable but not stellar starters cast aside and forced to sign minor-league or no contract at all. Pricier than the kids, not talented enough to build an ad campaign around, it is Koooouz, and Cust and Crisp who can now be had for pennies on the pound.

Just last week, we were here moaning about how it would be more fun to lose with rookies than get beat with the run of the mill free agents Billy seemed to covet. But what if it's possible that the A's are not being build to lose at all? While rivals stack the lineups with 22 and 23-year old hopefuls with glittering track records in double A baseball, the Athletics just traded for a guy who plays 90% of the time, with medium power and medium average. Could it be that a team of mediums beats Superman and 8 Clark Kents?
It would be foolish to say that it will, but it does give Oakland baseball something it hasn't had and won't again until it's rookies are ready.

A chance.

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