Who Is Moneyball Working For? Analyzing the Tenure of Billy Beane, GM

Is there any greater indication that "you've made it" than being asked if it would be ok to cast Brad Pitt to play "you" in a movie?  In that light, Billy Beane is sort of a big deal right now.  But for those who follow the game, Billy Beane has been a big deal for quite some time.  His influence on the advancement of sabermetrics is arguably as great as anyone, including the guy who literally wrote the book, Bill James.  Without Beane, James' theories may have never been put to the test.  Without Beane, we'd still be wondering what WAR was good for (Edwin Starr pun intended).

But what happens when the league catches on?  How long could his saber-driven strategies survive with FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference just one click away from every GM and assistant GM in the country?
It's pretty clear that Beane was able to do some amazing things early on with a very tight budget.  As mentioned in a previous post, over the past 12 seasons, there have been eleven teams to breach 1,000 win mark and the A's were able to accomplish that feat the cheapest (by spending the least).  Their average payroll over that 12 year span was around $46 million per season.  The average win total over the past 12 seasons for the A's was 87, which is not too shabby.  Remarkably, the A's won an average of 95 wins over the first seven seasons and made the playoffs five times.

We know that Beane has demonstrated a keen ability to cherry pick under appreciated and undervalued players from the scrap heaps of Major League Baseball but the recent signing of Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes has left a lot of people scratching their heads, wondering if the wizard's curtain has been pulled away.  With Cespedes, Beane has bought a relatively unknown commodity in hopes that he can live up to some of his potential.  If Cespedes pans out, the A's will be able to flip him for a king's ransom in prospects.  But with this new brand of Moneyball, the stakes are a bit higher; Beane's not spending half of a million anymore, he's dipping heavy into the bank and there seems to be a growing consensus that it's possible Moneyball hasn't worked for quite some time. 

The A's have missed the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, while averaging 76 wins per season.  By all accounts, Beane is a brilliant baseball mind but what happens when the smartest guy in the room outsmarts himself?  Here's a recap of the past ten years.  I'll present you with some of the biggest moves made season by season and then give you my analysis.  Bear with me because I'm pulling data from a ton of sources that aren't always 100% complete or accurate.  I hope you'll chime in and tell me what you think. 

2002: "The Moneyball Season" (103-59)
Notable draft picks: Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Mark Teahen, J.R. Towles
Notable signings (10/01/2001 - 9/30/2002): Scott Hatteberg (1 year/$1m)
Notable trades (10/01/2001 - 9/30/2002):
1.) Mark Bellhorn for Adam Morrissey
2.) Eric Hinske and Justin Miller for Billy Koch
3.) Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates for David Justice
4.) Jason Hart, Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwick and Mario Ramos for Carlos Pena and Mike Venafro
5.) Luis Vizcaino for Justin Duchscherer
6.) Jeremy Giambi for John Mabry
7.) Carlos Pena, Franklyn German and Jeremy Bonderman for Ted Lilly, Jason Arnold, John-Ford Griffin
8.) Marshall McDougall for Ricardo Rincon

Quite possibly Beane's best draft crop.  Quite frankly, none of the moves made in this season were steals. 

2003 (96-66)
Notable draft picks: Andre Ethier
Notable signings (10/01/2002 - 09/30/2003) :
Notable trades (10/01/2002 - 09/30/2003):
1.) Billy Koch, Neal Cotts and Daylon Holt for Keith Foulke, Mark Johnson and Joe Valentin
2.) Corey Lidle for Mike Rouse and Christopher Mowday
3.) Aaron Harang, Joe Valentin and Jeff Bruksch for Jose Guillen

Andre Ethier headlines the draft class.  Appears as though Beane was relatively quiet in the offseason.  Getting Keith Foulke for cheap was great for Beane but the other two trades were not too great.  Jose Guillen didn't pan out in Oakland despite his phenomenal start in Cincinnati and Christopher Mowday never made it to AA.

2004 (91-71)
Notable draft picks: Huston Street and Kurt Suzuki
Notable signings (10/1/2003 - 09/30/2004): Arthur Rhodes (3 years/$9.2m), Eric Chavez (6 year/$66m extension)
Notable trades (10/1/2003 - 09/30/2004):
1.) Bret Price for Michael Barrett... Barrett flipped for Damian Miller
2.) Michael Neu and Bill Murphy for Mark Redman
3.) Mike Wood and Mark Teahen for Octavio Dotel

The key to this season was the ill timed extension of Eric Chavez.  Unfortunately, injuries curtailed Chavez' career and the A's ability to be competitive for the next few years.  Beane did get some major league talent for relatively cheap but ultimately the A's fell short of the postseason for the first time in four years.

2005 (88-74)
Notable draft picks: Travis Buck
Notable signings (10/1/2004 - 09/30/2005): Rich Harden (4 years/$9m extension), Bobby Crosby (5 years/$12.75 extension)
Notable trades (10/1/2005 - 09/30/2005):
1.) Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes for Jason Kendall
2.) Justin Lehr and Nelson Cruz for Keith Ginter
3.) Tim Hudson for Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer and Charles Thomas
4.) Mark Mulder for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton

A weak draft and  a couple of bad extensions would prove to be detrimental to the A's down the road.  Beane made two really bad deals (Nelson Cruz turned out to be a pretty good player and Tim Hudson was the guy that he should have kept, not Rich Harden) but he also made one really good deal (Mulder struggled to stay healthy while Haren would become an ace and Calero/Barton serviceable).

2006 (93-69)
Notable draft picks: Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey
Notable signings (10/1/2005 - 09/30/2006): Esteban Loiaza (3 years/$21.375m), Frank Thomas (1 year/$500k)
Notable trades (10/1/2005 - 09/30/2006):
1.) Dustin Majewski for Chad Gaudin
2.) Andre Ethier for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez
3.) Juan Cruz for Brad Halsey

Great draft.  Turned out to be a bad decision to give Loiaza a three-year deal but Thomas turned out to be a great bargain. and a reason why the A's made it to the ALCS.  Perhaps a bit antsy, Beane should have never parted ways with Andre Ethier.  He did make out ok with Chad Gaudin but that doesn't do anything to ease the pain of knowing that he could have kept Ethier on his side of town.

2007 (76-86)
Notable draft picks:
Notable signings (10/1/2006 - 09/30/2007): Alan Embree (2 years/$5.5m), Mike Piazza (1 year/$8.5m), Shannon Stewart (1 year/$1m)
Notable trades (10/1/2006 - 09/30/2007):
1.) Marcus McBeth and Ben Jukich for Chris Denorfia
2.) Cash for Jack Cust
3.) Milton Bradley for Andrew Brown
4.) Jason Kendall for Rob Bowen and Jerry Blevins

A terrible season for Beane as none of these moves would pan out.  I guess Denorfia could be considered a victory but these are all ugly moves on his part and there were virtually no draft picks worth mentioning from this class.

2008 (75-86)
Notable draft picks:
Notable signings (10/1/2007 - 09/30/2008): Emil Brown (1 year/$1.45m), Keith Foulke (1 year/$700k), Rajai Davis (waivers), Frank Thomas (1 year/$390k)
Notable trades (10/1/2007 - 09/30/2008):
1.) Marco Scutaro for Kristian Bell and Graham Godfrey
2.) Dan Haren and Connor Robertson for Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Greg Smith, Brett Anderson and Chris Carter
3.) Nick Swisher for Gio Gonzalez, Fautino De Los Santos and Ryan Sweeney
4.) Mark Kotsay for Joey Devine and Jamie Richmond
5.) Joe Blanton for Josh Outman, Adrian Cardenas and Matt Spencer

Frank Thomas part deux didn't work so well.  Claiming Rajai Davis might have been the best move among the ones listed - he didn't give up anything and Davis would become one of the premiere speedsters in the game.  Beane managed to do ok trading Swisher, Haren, Joe Blanton and Kotsay (getting back some premiere talent including Carlos Gonzalez, Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson but I can't get too warm and fuzzy about those moves because none of those guys would find a permanent home in Oakland).

2009 (75-87)
Notable draft picks: Jemile Weeks
Notable signings (10/1/2008 - 09/30/2009): Mark Ellis (2 years/$11.5 million)
Notable trades (10/1/2008 - 09/30/2009):
1.) Greg Smith, Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez for Matt Holliday
2.) Matt Holliday for Brett Wallace, Shane Peterson and Clayton Mortensen

Trading Smith, Street and Car-Go for Matt Holliday has to rank among the worst trades of all-time, especially considering Holliday was shipped to St. Louis for Brett Wallace and a couple of second tier prospects later that season.  Beane gutted the farm to get Holliday and then gave him up for Brett Wallace who would later be shipped away.

2010 (81-81)
Notable signings (10/1/2009 - 09/30/2010): Justin Duchscherer (1 year/$1.75M), Coco Crisp (1 year/$5m), Joey Devine (1 year/$557k), Kurt Suzuki (4 year/$16.25m), Brett Anderson (4 years/$12.5m),
Notable trades (10/1/2009 - 09/30/2010):
1.) Brett Wallace for Michael Taylor
2.) Kevin Kouzmanoff and Eric Sogard for Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham

The best thing about this list of transactions is that Beane didn't go long-term with Duchscherer, something that could have been argued for after a great season.  He made out well with Crisp (which is why Crisp will be coming back to the Oakland for a couple more seasons) but I'm sure that he would love to have a mulligan to apply to the deals awarded to Kurt Suzuki and Brett Anderson.  Anderson is solid but can't stay healthy.  Meanwhile, Suzuki has regressed, hitting below .250 in each of the past two seasons... not what he expected.

2011 (74-88)
Notable signings (10/1/2010 - present): Josh Willingham (1 year/$6m, let go after 2011), Dallas Braden (1 year/$3.35m), Coco Crisp (2 year/$14m), Bartolo Colon (1 year/$6m), Jonny Gomes (1 year/$1m), Brian Fuentes (2 years/$10.5m), Grant Balfour (2 years/$8.1m), Yoenis Cespedes (4 years/$36 million)
Notable trades (10/1/2010 - present):
1.) Brad Ziegler for Brandon Allen and Jordan Norberto
2.) AnDrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney for Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara
3.) Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow for Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook
4.) Gio Gonzalez and Rob Gilliam for Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, Rommy Milone and AJ Cole
5.) Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman for Seth Smith

Where to start.  The mother of all fire sales coupled with a few typical Billy Beane moves (Gomes, Colon, Fuentes and Balfour just seem like his type of players) sprinkled with the signing of a highly coveted Latin folk-hero.  Cespedes will likely define this offseason but it's hard to ignore the fact that Beane gave up two incredibly talented young pitchers (Cahill and Gonzalez) for prospects at a time when everyone else is saying that you can't give up young pitchers.  Truthfully, I think that he received a decent haul - Parker and Peacock are great prospects and Allen, Reddick and Smith will all compete for time immediately but it's just a bizarre mixture of "trying to compete" and "giving up."  If you're going to hold a fire sale, why throw $22 million at Crisp, Balfour, Colon and Fuentes?  As for Cespedes, I get it.  If Cespedes can be the guy that a lot of people once thought he could be, Beane can flip him for a mega-haul.  But this deal is extremely risky as Yoenis is an unproven commodity.


At the end of the day, some things jump out at me:

1.) Beane is at his worst when the stakes are highest... the more money that is on the table, the less effective his deals appear to be and his timing with big extensions have not been particularly good.
2.) Beane over-thinks himself at times, dealing himself into less profitable situations... instead of letting the prospects he received via trade develop, he attempts to flip those prospects into something greater and seems to consistently end up with less.  He would have been better served holding onto guys like Car-Go, Ethier and Nelson Cruz and I'm not sure he won't say the same thing about Cahill, Bailey, Gonzalez, Wallace and Moscoso.
3.) The team that Beane inherited had as much to do with the success of the A's in the early 00's as "Moneyball."  Look at the moves he made early on... besides Hatteberg, none of the moves he made appear to be of utmost importance (and the team did fall short of a championship).  There might have been a few key moves made along the way but he gave up a lot.  You have to remember that Hudson, Mulder and Zito were pretty good... not sure how much Beane had to do with those guys.

I think that a lot of teams like the Rays and Marlins have benefited from Beane's example but trying to stay one step ahead may have ultimately cost the A's the opportunity to field a pretty solid baseball team and lack of success in recent drafts may prove to be a hindrance to success.  Moneyball has obviously worked out well for the ownership group - the franchise, which was purchased for $180 million in 2005 is worth around $307 million today (according to Forbes) and operates profitably to the tune of about $23.2 million per season but the A's haven't played in a World Series under the tenure of Beane and it doesn't appear likely that will happen within the next few years (without pitching, it's hard to envision them competing in the increasingly competitive AL West).  Moneyball might be working for the owners and the A's might have shown an ability to operate under a tight budget and steal wins for cheap but if the ultimate goal is to win a championship, I'm not sure whether I'd give Beane a passing grade for building towards that goal.  If I was a fan of the A's, I'm not so sure I'd be drinking the Billy Beane Kool-Aid.


  1. Do not give Beene any credit for TB of FLA. After listening to Chuck LaMar (who drafted the TB players) he is no SABR guy, he is an old school "eye" guy. You hit the nail on the head with "Moneyball has obviously worked out well for the ownership group" because of the attention of the book and movie the A's have stayed relevant as they have fallen down the standings. SABR analysis is great for analyzing past performance and maybe giving a tiny bit of insight to future projections but when it comes down to it. One can easily see what makes players successful and who can project as a big league player (DISCLAIMER: always exceptions to EVERY rule). what moneyball failed to address was the dominant pitching the A's already possessed and a little player named Tejada. Looking back having dominant pitching and guys who field well and scrap out runs has always been a recipe for success in baseball not a revelation a charlatan who works for cheapskates rationalize getting cheap players back for good players they can not sign.

  2. Also Andre Ethier is a great example of how using OBP as a main judgement of talent was a failure. he hit over 300 his final 2 years with oakland with power but he K'd a lot and didn't BB much.

  3. Thanks for inspiring this post, Michael... always appreciate your comments. A lot more analysis could have went into this but I think that I touched on the key points of what I felt was a solid conclusion. I don't think that I misprepresented the feelings of the fan base or the baseball fraternity of writers/observers with my conclusions but there are certainly more examples of things that he did right and wrong.

    Chuck Lamar is probably the most under-appreciated man in baseball. There are few people that can spot talent like Lamar. He helped the Rays and Phillies build WS teams. To be candid, he was a bad GM in Tampa... he saddled Tampa with some very bad moves. His talent has always been spotting talent. He made some great draft picks while he was there- Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, BJ Upton and Carl Crawford, to name a few but Evan Longoria is the cornerstone of the franchise and he didn't come until after Lamar was gone (to be fair, Longoria was a third overall pick - not really a sleeper). Crawford is the one guy that I would specifically point out... Upton was a #2 overall pick (can't really mess up there) but Crawford was the 52nd pick.

  4. This is obviously one of the topics that i get passionate over because so many people are 1 or the other, and as usual the truth is in the middle. I think you represent everything accurately and i agree with most of your conclusions. I just think Beene got labeled a genius and people like Lamar and Gillick and other front office people not in NY or BOS get overlooked and they have track records that prove it


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