In 2002, the Oakland A’s shocked the world. Despite losing their top three superstars to free agency before the 2002 season (Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen), the A’s put together a 103 win campaign en route to the AL West Division Title. The legacy that the 2002 A’s ball club left on baseball was far more impactful than the everyday playoff birth or pennant chase. Billy Beane, the A’s GM, had set a premise for what every small market or mid level market organization needed to do in order to compete with the big dogs. By using mathematical and economic formulas that combined percentages with baseball statistics (sabermetrics), Beane was able to put together a winning team within Oakland’s small market budget that contended for the AL Pennant. And just like that, Moneyball was born.
Now, here we are, celebrating the ten-year anniversary of Beane’s creation. Since the Moneyball philosophy hit the baseball world, the Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays, and Houston Astros have all reached the World Series. The Minnesota Twins have won six division titles and the Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres have each won two division titles. Just a few months ago, Beane’s legacy attained even more public recognition, as the film Moneyball was a box office smash that received six Academy Award nominations, including best picture. Of course, on the ten-year anniversary and during the year that the Moneyball movie swept the nation, it is only fitting that the small market Oakland Athletics do it all over again. And, doing it again they are.
What a month it was in the Bay Area. In the month of July, the A’s have won 18 of their 22 games, including a 4 game sweep of the first place New York Yankees and a 3 game sweep of the large payroll Boston Red Sox. They have won all seven one-run games they have been apart of this month, which includes three walk-off wins in extra innings. The A’s currently have the lead in the AL Wildcard race, and only trail the division leading Rangers by 4.5 games. But, like in 2002, everybody around the country is asking the same question: “What is happening in Oakland?”.
Firstly, the Oakland A’s pitching staff has been dominant throughout the entire season, not just July. They rank 4th in the Majors in team ERA (3.44), 5th in team WHIP (1.24), 7th in batting average against (.243), and 10th in quality starts (57). Led by All-Star closer Ryan Cook, the A’s bullpen ranks 5th in the majors in relief wins and 3rd in relief runs allowed per game (3.69). Along with the strong bullpen, the A’s (when healthy) starting staff, consisting of Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy, Jarrod Parker, Travis Blackley, and Tommy Milone, is the only staff in the entire American League in which all 5 starting pitchers boast a sub 3.99 ERA (Colon has the highest with 3.78).
Secondly, the emergence and growth of rookie OF Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of the Oakland lineup has helped put runs on the board for the A’s. One of the storied headlines during the offseason was the signing of Cespedes. Not many knew much about the Cuban defect before the year started, but after Spring Training, it became obvious that Cespedes could not handle a Major League breaking ball. Noticing that pitchers were going after his weakness, Cespedes made it his mission to better himself at the plate against curveballs, changeups and sliders. He did just that. Since the All-Star break, Cespedes has developed a greater understanding at the plate. While still able to hit the fastball with consistent power, he has shown tremendous improvement in his ability to drive the breaking ball by keeping his bat through the zone for a longer period of time and taking the outside pitch to the right-center field gap. Pitching coaches around the league have had to adjust their scouting reports on Cespedes due in part to his new weapons of both plate discipline and power against breaking balls.
With two more months of competitive baseball left to play, if the Oakland staff and Yoenis Cespedes are able to continue their high rate and successful consistency, Billy Beane and his Moneyball ways will shock the world… again.