The Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season was the most notable campaign in franchise history. The 2002 season was when “Moneyball” came to fruition in the big leagues because of A’s General Manager Billy Beane and his staff.
Many people are aware of “Moneyball” because of Michael Lewis’ bestselling book or the movie that followed. These two products that chronicled the A’s 2002 season changed baseball forever.
The 2001 and 2002 Oakland Athletics
In 2001, the Athletics were bested in five games by the Yankees in the American League Divisional Series. The A’s were one of the best teams in baseball during the year, posting a record of 102-60.
Expectations were high entering the 2002 season, but Billy Beane and his scouts encountered many offseason issues. Oakland lost Jason Giambi to the New York Yankees, Johnny Damon to the Boston Red Sox, and Jason Isringhausen to the St. Louis Cardinals.
These three athletes helped propel the team to the playoffs in 2001. Billy Beane found a way to fill the void of these stars by valuing statistics over the player’s name, and it paid off for the A’s.
Oakland proceeded to win 103 games and the American League West during the 2002 regular season. The A’s went on a 20-game winning streak from August 13th to September 4th.
The A’s were defeated in the American League Divisional Series for the second consecutive season in 2002, but their record was phenomenal considering the unknown talent that filled their roster.
Michael Lewis chronicled the A’s 2002 season through his book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. This book was later made into a movie in 2010. The book and movie showcased how Oakland was able to be so successful while having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.
“Moneyball” portrays how traditional baseball scouting tactics are outdated. Utilizing statistical analysis and sabermetrics are the best way to create a better roster by spending less money.
The standard statistics used to judge players since the origins of professional baseball were batting average, stolen bases, and runs batted in. However, Billy Beane and his staff discovered that these statistics are secondary to on-base and slugging percentages.
It was cheaper for the A’s to find players that performed well in these categories, and it paid off in the wins column once the team meshed. The “Moneyball” concept was heavily contested in the A’s organization and around the league because the conventional scouting method was being overthrown.
This was never Beane’s goal, and it has not occurred in the MLB today. Scouts are still prevalent, but the idea of enhanced statistical analysis has become a critical part of baseball.
What Has Changed in Baseball Since the Inception of Moneyball?
“Moneyball” changed the game in countless ways, from the scouting department to the actual on-field play. Prioritizing on-base and slugging percentages led to more technology that led to enhanced statistics.
These sabermetrics were not just made for hitters. “Moneyball” helped pitchers figure out how to attack batters, leading to a higher strikeout rate in baseball. This has created a game where the three true outcomes (home run, walk, or strikeout) occur approximately 35% of the time.
“Moneyball” has made coaches handle pitching differently. Starters do not throw as many innings because relievers often have a better statistical chance to get a batter out by the third time through the order.
Multiple analytics have caused managers to also shift their defenses depending on the batter. If you ever see a defender overwhelmingly move to the right or left side of the infield, you will often see a batter hit the ball directly into the shift. The shift is thanks to tools like dispersal maps for hitters.
“Moneyball” has not caused scouting to disappear. In fact, MLB teams are adding an average of three full-time scouts every season. However, talent evaluation has changed. Scouts utilize analytics to evaluate talent.
MLB teams have added more analytics staff to their front offices at a higher rate than pure scouts. Yet, scouting is still a big part of the game, but it now coincides with advanced analytics and sabermetrics thanks to “Moneyball.”
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