It’s an “Insider” (which is just a fancy word for getting ESPN the magazine – which I don’t read really ever) article from ESPN.com. If you don’t get the magazine and therefore are cut off from “Insider” articles which they usually hardly even are – like this one is a lot of common sense if you look back at the way Billy Beane has worked over the years.
In 17 years under Beane the A’s have never finished with fewer than 74 wins. Since 2000, despite advancing to the ALCS only once in 2006, they have still been legitimate contenders, making the post season 8 out of 15 seasons!
This article basically expresses what I am often trying to say but have trouble doing with clarity because of my obvious allegiance to the team.
Anyway, I thought more people should be able to read it and so I am posting a copy of it below – it shows why Oakland fans should continue to use the motto “In Billy We Trust!”
To be doubly clear – I obviously did not write this I just liked it and wanted to share it! Thanks! 🙂
In Billy we trust; A’s will contend
By Dan Szymborski | ESPN Insider
“When it comes to GM Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, asking what’s next is always the big question. Some general managers tend to ride things out with the core of their rosters, making major changes only when the need arises. This is not Beane’s modus operandi. The “Moneyball” protagonist is an inveterate tinkerer, with the roster almost always featuring some big changes, whether the A’s are in the cellar or the penthouse. This winter has already been an action-packed one for Oakland, with the trade of the team’s best player, Josh Donaldson, and the signing of ex-Royals designated hitter Billy Butler.
The obvious first place to look as the dust clears is what the recent trade means for Oakland in 2015? Well, the A’s didn’t just acquire prospects, they also acquired an established major league player in an effort to not damage the team too much in the short-term. While Oakland’s 88 wins and a quick exit from the playoffs looks disappointing after the team beat up on the American League for the first half of the season, it’s also a disappointment that at least 20 nonplayoff teams would have gladly chosen.
The replacement of Donaldson with Brett Lawrie is a significant downgrade, no doubt about it. Over the 2014 season, Baseball-Reference estimates that Donaldson was worth 5.7 more wins than Lawrie, while FanGraphs estimates the difference at 4.7. There’s obviously an error bar in any measurement of this type, but Donaldson appears in the neighborhood of five wins better than Lawrie as things stand now. Five fewer wins would have knocked the A’s out of the 2014 playoffs by the last week of the season, leaving the Mariners to play the Royals.
But the “sorta” good news is that going forward, the difference between Donaldson and Lawrie is likely smaller than that. Call it regression toward the mean or the “Madden Curse,” but if you take any group of players at the top of their games in their primes, they will almost always collectively play worse in subsequent seasons. Being at the top means that when surprises inevitably occur, there are more nasty ones than pleasant ones. The ZiPS projection system projected Donaldson at .259/.336/.437 with 22 homers and 4.9 WAR in Oakland in 2015 (that number goes up slightly in Toronto, as the park is a better fit for his skills). Lawrie’s 2015 Oakland projection of .254/.314/.395, with 12 homers and 2.2 WAR is no doubt worse, but that’s a considerably smaller gap than 2014. ZiPS is projecting only 108 games from Lawrie in 2015, given his injury history, but there’s at least some upside from that projection, thepotential for the A’s to get 40 percent more performance than projected for Lawrie.
The trade does cost the A’s a few games, but that’s not the only challenge they face. He doesn’t get as much media attention as Donaldson (and for good reason), but Oakland’s starting shortstop, Jed Lowrie, is a free agent, leaving a gaping organizational hole at short. Addison Russell, who likely would have been his replacement, is in the Cubs’ organization now, leaving the cupboard pretty empty for in-house solutions. Even assuming Franklin Barreto, the key prospect acquired by the A’s in the Donaldson trade and an advanced hitter for his age, successfully stays at shortstop, he is about as likely to get a date at shortstop in Oakland in April as I am with Kate Upton. A similar problem exists at second base, which was also a fairly weak spot in an otherwise solid A’s team last season.
Assuming shortstop is manned by some combination of Nick Punto and Andy Parrino and Eric Sogard returns to second base, the A’s infield projects fairly weakly for 2015. Adding in Ike Davis, the entire A’s infield projects to only a 3.5 WAR in 2015, less than what Donaldson single-handedly contributed. If the season started today, the outfield would almost certainly be Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick, another 5.7 projected WAR. When the rest of the gang is added in, ZiPS projects 17.6 WAR from the offense, 10 wins off from last season.
Ten missing wins is, of course, a pretty big deal, but the A’s last season also underperformedwhat you would expect, winning 11 games fewer than you would expect from their 729/572 runs scored/runs allowed differential (the baseball version of the Pythagorean theorem). So even though it seems they’ll lose quite a bit of talent, history also suggests that it’s unusual for teams to repeatedly underperform their Pythagorean record, giving Oakland fighting odds of clawing some of those wins back in 2015. ZiPS projects 20 additional WAR from the pitching staff (even without including A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker for the moment), putting the A’s somewhere in the mid-80s in wins in 2015, based on their current roster.
As is always the case with the A’s, the offseason story does not end in the first week of December. The A’s need to shore up those infield holes as best they can, and even if they’re not successful, it won’t be from lack of trying. That’s why you see Moss talked about as a potential trade candidate; he isn’t a young player or particularly valuable defensively in the outfield, and the A’s still retain Craig Gentry and Stephen Vogt, meaning they do have the ability to trade Moss (or Reddick) to fill a more pressing hole.
To really get the most bang for the buck — in a trade, of course, as the A’s ownership doesn’t seem to like spending actual bucks — the most interesting trade bait could be Jeff Samardzija. Losing the “Shark” in order to compete may sound counterintuitive, but hang on for a minute. ZiPS projects Samardzija for a 3.42 ERA in 197 1/3 innings for the A’s in 2015, or 3.7 WAR, the second-best projection for anybody on the team’s roster (behind Sonny Gray, 3.9 WAR). But Samardzija could be just as valuable for what he could bring back via trade, and the team might be able to get away with losing him because of two wild cards I haven’t discussed, Griffin and Parker.
All of the projections and calculations above completely ignore both these pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery. Both are expected back during the season, and if just one of them returns to form, they, combined with a fill-in early on — the A’s are great at finding useful fifth-starter types and just acquired two more — it would minimize the lost production from Samardzija. And if Samardzija can bring back a good infielder from a team that has less depth in the rotation than the A’s, Oakland could very easily get ahead of the game.
Getting Oakland back to the playoffs will require some gambles on the part of Billy Beane, but Beane is one GM who is always ready to shoot craps. A lot of premature eulogies have been written for the A’s over the past 15 years, and don’t be surprised if some you see being penned right now look a little silly next October.”