Over the weekend I finally got the chance to watch Hollywood's version of baseball in the 2000s. I read the book years ago and loved how Lewis crafted the tale of the have and have nots. For me what I most remember about the book was the internal conflict between entrenched Scouts and the up and coming computer geeks. A lot of the book also talked about drafting and putting a team together. The movie takes a somewhat cursury look at these issues and really just makes a movie about Billy Beane. I often chuckled about the concept of a Moneyball movie not quite seeing how it could possilby appeal to the general public and still be accessible to us baseball geeks. I think the movie did a wonderful job with both.
My only gripe is that the A's of the early 2000s were a whole lot more than just old man Justice, Giambi's playboy younger brother, and a catcher thrown to the wolves at first base. At the start of the movie it shows the 2001 playoffs and the A's getting beaten by the mighty Yankees. In baseball history 2001 was a goofy kind of year. The A's won 102 games that year and finished second in their division to the Mariners who won 116 game! (A's handed Seattle 9 of their 46 losses by the way) and thus the A's were the Wild Card and had to play to the home town Yankees who had won only 95 games that year. It should be noted that the A's won their division in 2000 and hosted the Yankees losing to them again with a Game 5 loss. All in all the A's went to the playoffs 5 times and finished first or second in the division 8 times in the 2000s Part of that success, which was glossed over in the movie, could be attributed to a very good scouting success with signing of three pitchers which are probably comparable to the Braves three headed monster of Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux of the 90s and the current Phillies rotation of Halladay, Lee, and Hamel. These barely mentioned pitchers were Mulder, Hudson, and Zito. The movie which mostly concentrated on the 2002 A's had a year in which Hudson went 15-9, Zito 23-5, and Mulder 19-7. In Beane's defense his three replacement players had OBP for that season of 0.374 for Hatteberg, 0.376 for Justice, and 0.390 for Giambi. While the tenets of moneyball worked I also think traditional scouting, which shouldn't be shown the door just yet, was really what drove those A's teams in that four year span. Scout found young arms at a controlled cost was the key.
From the opening scene of the movie, the writer's seemed to stipulate that the payroll difference was the key to the movie. I wondered how this looks historical or at least since the Rox existed. Graph below shows the payroll spans in MLB (cheapest to most expensive team salaries, data from USA Today) from 1993 - 2011 (in 2011 $ data obtained here). The red dot is the median salary over that same time period.
|Payroll Spans During Rox Existence (1993 - 2011)|
What about playoff team salary spans and medians? The Yankees existence in the playoffs every year (except 2008) kind of throw this graph out. Of course the A's shouldn't whine too much as it only got worse the next few years. Interestingly enough the median playoff salary is around $100 million.
|Payroll Spans for Playoff Teams Since 2000|
While doing this research, I happened upon an interesting homework assignment here. Here is one of the answers showing payrolls versus proportion of games won. Not much correlation!
And finally in my own analysis which team is moneyball? If we consider the rise of Oakland as the moneyball era (2000 - 2011) then which team walked the walk? Total salaries paid by each team during that era is below. The average cost of a win was around $1,061,119 for the 12 years. Divide total salary by the average cost for a win and viola you have the number of theoretical wins a team should have won. Compare this to their actual wins and what do you get? Yup the usual suspects. Marlins, A's, Rays, Twins, and Pirates. Who overspent? Dodgers, Cubs, Mets, Red Sox, and Yankees. How about our Rox? 94 excess wins...not too bad.
And finally compare this article to the list above? Heavy analytics versus old school? Eight of the thirteen teams with positive wins are considered a 3 Branch Organization. I would throw out the Yanks and Red Sox has they have the cash, unlike these other teams, to make all kinds of wacky decisions! Won't go into the O'Dowd bashing again but Rox need to be using all available resources and I think they have overspent in the past believing they could cheat their mid-market team and spend their way to the playoffs.