By now, we've all heard the story of Billy Beane. The Wunderkind using a laptop and statistics instead of scouts. The Sabremetrics Guru. A movie based on the book Moneyball being made starring Brad Pitt.
Only thing is, the posterboy's team flopped this year.
But next year. That's a whole different story.
Let's chew on a few facts here. After going 19-29 in April and May, the Oakland A's improved almost every month to finish the year 17-10 in September, the best in the American League West.
How bout this: Despite the fact that of the 6 starters the A's used prominently this season, none of them were over 25. Yet, the A's had the 4th best ERA in the AL (4.29) and closed the season in Sept/Oct with a team wide 3.70 ERA. They have two pitchers (Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, ranked 7th and 11th in Baseball America's 2009 Top 100 prospects) who are 21 years old and have double digit victories. They have a rookie 25-year old closer who had a 1.84 ERA and a 0.876 WHIP. They have two other pitchers (Dallas Braden, Josh Outman, aged 25 and 24) who had ERA's of 3.89 and 3.48 respectively, in 34 games started.
Add to that, the A's get Joey Devine back next year. Devine, you recall, had a 0.59 ERA in 45-2/3 innings in 2008. Devine joins a bullpen that was American-League best in 2009, with a 3.54 ERA.
The potential the A's have with their staff is limitless—possibly better than Mulder, Hudson, Zito & Foulke in the early 2000s.
Where the A's lagged this year, was in hitting, and especially in slugging. The A's were decidedly middle of the pack with a .262 team BA, and were downright bad with a .397 slugging percentage. However there is hope. And with Beane, it comes in the form of young talent acquired by judicious drafting and from trades for A's veterans.
Daric Barton, still only 23 years old, seemed to arrive in the fall. In his last 21 games the first baseman slugged .500. Ryan Sweeney—acquired in the Nick Swisher trade—in the last month of the season, batted .364 with 7 doubles. 22-year-old outfielder and 2007 first round draft pick, Sean Doolittle while dinged up this year in AAA, showed power potential in 2008 with 22 home runs in AA. 22-year-old Brett Wallace (acquired in the Matt Holliday trade) slugged .505 in 44 games in AAA ball. OF Matt Carson, a greybeard at 27, had 25 HRs and 29 doubles at AAA. 25-year old Aaron Cunningham—number 55 on Baseball America's 2009 Top 100 Prospects, batted .302 in AAA this year and seems ready to contend for a job in spring training.
Possibly the most talented of the many A's prospects is Chris Carter. 22-year-old Chris Carter hit 39 HRs in 2008 and between AA and AAA this year, hit 28 HRs. He also batted .337 in the Texas league and won the MVP before being prompted to AAA at the end of the year. Billy Beane went on record saying that he would like Carter to start in AAA, but have him come up to the big club some time during the season.
Again, even with all this young talent, the A's just went 75-87 this year. However, there is a big difference between going 75-87 with aging expensive veterans, disgruntled and mouthing off to the press, and going 75-87 with young talented kids, taking their lumps and improving throughout the season. The A's on a self-imposed "five-year rebuilding plan" —beginning with the trade of Dan Haren in 2007—are content right now to lose, if it means learning lessons and winning down the road. Which, it seems, is exactly what is occurring.
Now this isn't to say that the A's are on a rocket ship to the World Series in 2009; however, with the embarrassment of young talented pitchers and a horde of young talented position players beating at the door, don't be surprised if the Oakland A's next year pull a Texas Ranger's and contend for a playoff spot.