The Future of the Oakland A’s: The Mustache Gang Meets the Bash Brothers – Revealing Billy Beane’s Master Plan
Saturday July 7th, 2012
Jonathan Hacohen: Baseball is a funny sport for many reasons. One particular reason is opinions. One minute a person can be a hero, the next a goat. A genius can turn into an idiot, seemingly overnight. In the world of Major League Baseball, we love building up our heroes. The next minute, we are cutting them down to the knees. An example of this the swing in popular opinion comes from out west. Famed baseball General Manager, the one and only Billy Beane. I have been thinking about Billy for some time. Ever since Moneyball the movie was due to be released, I couldn’t help but notice the reports that were coming out on the A’s GM. The man once hailed as a baseball genius, was now being mocked in many circles. Here he was, being immortalized on the silver screen by none other than Brad Pitt. Yet in real life, the 2011 MLB season was about to end and Beane’s team was near the bottom of its division, finishing a whopping 22 games out of first place. Had Billy Beane lost touch with the modern game? Did other teams catch up finally to his systems and tricks? Could a competitive team be impossible in the modern game on a shoestring budget? When Billy Beane should have been recognized in one of his finest professional moments, more questions than answers circled around. But in typical Billy Beane fashion, the A’s GM kept a low profile and stuck to his guns. He had a plan. This man always has a plan. He just wasn’t ready to share it yet with the baseball world.
If you read and/or watched Moneyball and followed recent Oakland A’s teams, you might think that you have the Billy Beane equation down. Great pitching and patching together a lineup/offense. But as the salaries climbed with the big pitchers, turnover and replenishing of the farm system became the norm. In recent years though, all those supposed great pitchers did not always pan out. Combine that with a line of prospects that were not panning out, and Oakland A’s fans started to cry out for relief. Attendance at the Coliseum has reached embarrassing levels in recent years. The stadium is considered aged and obsolete. The A’s have been trying to move to San Jose and without a new stadium, declared that they could no longer keep a viable team running past their designated salary structure. So seemingly until the new stadium would get approved, the star players would get moved out quicker and the A’s would become a glorified farm system for the rest of baseball. Remember the Montreal Expos? Good…so does Billy Beane.
The Expos in their competitive days, the peak coming in 1994, had a strong and balanced lineup and pitching staff. All of its young players came up at once and developed together into a dynamic superstar team. Moises Alou. Larry Walker. Ken Hill. Wil Cordero. Pedro Martinez. The team was stacked to say the least. If not for the cancellation of the playoffs that year, some people believe that Major League Baseball would still be in Montreal. Yes, that Expos team had a great pitching staff. But it also had an unbelievable young and powerful lineup. Somewhere in his mind, Billy Beane has kept a memory alive of that Montreal Expos team and the system that developed its players. Billy knows it because he is re-creating it right now in Oakland. Right under our noses and many of us are not even feeling it.
So why the reference to the Bash Brothers and Mustache Gang you ask? Simple- to reinvent the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane is drawing on the team’s history. I will explain. Let’s start with the Bash Brothers. Remember the Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire glory years? If you are an “old-school” A’s fan these days, the Bash Brother years is probably as far back as you go. Canseco and McGwire were getting most of the attention those days. Two of the biggest sluggers that ever arrived and made an immediately impact in professional baseball. In those late 80’s to early 90’s years, Canseco and McGwire were almost unstoppable. But the A’s did not win simply because of its two biggest hitters. The team had pitching- Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Bob Welch….the A’s had a well-balanced staff. But the hitting was also in place and was a big reason for the team’s success. In addition to Canseco and McGwire, you had Dave Parker, Terry Steinbach, Dave Henderson, Rickey Henderson, Walt Weiss, Carney Lansford…nearly an All-Star team fielded every day for the A’s. So while the image of the A’s teams for those years is the Bash Brothers, it was a deep and stacked lineup that was the biggest force for Oakland. The Bash Brothers years produced three World Series appearances (1988-1990) and one championship (1989). A big time offense and three World Series appearances? When did we last see that in Oakland? The 1970’s of course, for the team known as the Mustache Gang.
The 1972 Oakland A’s was known as the Mustache Gang. For those of you that are too young to remember, then A’s owner Charlie Finley offered his players $300 each to grow a mustache. The A’s became the Mustache Gang and went on to win three straight World Series titles (1972-1974). What was the secret…the mustaches? Of course not. Just like the Bash Brothers that followed them, the A’s of the 70’s were not built on just a couple of players or a gimmick. They had strong pitching (Jim Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers). But these teams were built on hitting- and lots of it. Reggie Jackson, Gene Tenace, Dave Duncan (yes, he was a catcher), Mike Epstein, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi and Matty Alou. Hitting, hitting and more hitting. So the A’s were able to build a winning system in 2 different era’s in recent times. So what has Billy Beane decided to do? Reinvent the team and bring back some old-school baseball to Oakland. But with a twist. Like only Billy Beane can do.
Moneyball is not dead people. Not to Billy Beane and those that subscribe to its principles. There is a mistaken belief that Moneyball is squarely based on finding hitters that take walks, growing young pitching and flipping them into multiple prospects, developing and trading closers at their peak…the list literally goes on and on. While some of those instances may be a part of “Moneyball”, they are not be the be-all and end-all of the Moneyball system. Moneyball, at its purest roots, is finding inefficiencies in the game and exploiting them. Putting the odds in your favor in deciding how to put together a Major League roster. Billy Beane and his trusted employees found some of those inefficiencies in the past, which became glorified in a best-selling book and Academy Award nominated picture. But what works for you yesterday may not work today. Many MLB teams started to invoke similar systems in place for their teams as done by the A’s, which resulted in the A’s system no longer being original and completely effective. In a nut-shell, if everyone is doing what you are doing, then you are no longer a leader but simply a member of the rat race. So Billy has come up with a new plan to stack his roster. It is called: get the best young hitters that you can.
The idea sounds simple enough. Heck, doesn’t everyone do that? All MLB teams want good young hitting…don’t they? Yes they do. But keep in mind that stocking many levels of the minor leagues and a 25-man MLB roster means that there are only so many resources (money) to go around. So the investment better be a smart one in the core players that you invest in. Choose poorly in your top 3-4 players and contracts and you can set back your team for a decade. Billy Beane learned this lesson the hard way when he took a risk and signed a pitcher by the name of Michael Ynoa. Some of you may be snickering right now, but there is a point to this example. Ynoa, the “21-year old” Dominican pitcher was signed by Beane in 2008 for a record $4.25 million. For a cash-strapped team, that is a huge investment. What did the A’s get back on their return? Only a few innings into his career, Ynoa needed Tommy John surgery. Since then, his picture has been on milk cartons across North American ballparks. At some point, it starts to feel that he almost isn’t real. Like a figment of our collective imaginations. Unfortunately for the A’s and Beane, Ynoa is real…and took a large chunk out of the team’s budget to set back the team a couple of years. Never again said Billy Beane. Never again.
I can’t promise you that Billy Beane monitors our Tommy John Surgery Tracker closely, but I am sure that he is well aware of what has been happening around baseball. Pitchers are dropping like flies at alarming rates. Rather than developing on the mound, many are going under the knife and losing at least a year of their careers. Don’t believe. Click on our tracker. At least 30 TJ surgeries that we have found since March of this year. Nearly two per week. Not good odds…and that is just one form of surgery. There are shoulder issues. Obliques. Blisters. You name it, pitchers seem to get it lately. In the age of babying pitchers in innings, pitch counts- the problem only seems to get worst. Remember Stephen Strasburg, the next Cy Young? Tommy John surgery claimed him almost instantly. Kyle Drabek. Danny Duffy. Brian Wilson. Joakim Soria. Scott Baker. The list goes on and on. If you are putting heavy resources into pitching, the odds lately are that you are taking on a risky proposition. Yes, you need quality pitching to win. But as the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and other teams can tell you this season, good luck in keep a pitching staff intact these days. One Ynoa was enough for Billy Beane. He was not ready to take on more. With pitching being at such a high premium these days, Billy Beane’s new-found inefficiency? Get as many good young hitters as you can. Take the baseball world by storm with offense. Develop your hitters like the Expos did once upon a time and have an incredible offense, just like the Bash Brothers and Mustache Gang teams did in yesteryears.
The names in the Oakland A’s lineup and system reads of the “who’s-who” of prospect hitters. Chris Carter, Michael Taylor, Derek Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Jemile Weeks. Michael Choice and Grant Green are more names to keep an eye on. Has the name Michael Choice come across your desk before? Check him out as this kid is a future stud. Plus Grant Desme was another very strong hitting prospect, before he retired from baseball to join the priesthood. Some of these players were drafted and some were picked up along the way. But all of them are being developed in the A’s system and will be ready to explode together at the same time. You are talking almost a complete lineup of top hitters. Carter, Norris and Choice are all primed to become top MLB hitters. Josh Reddick is already blossoming into a star. Cespedes? Nobody knows for certain what to expect from him. But given the odds of Ynoa to Cespedes, Billy Beane would take Cespedes any day of the week. Hitters are more dependable, durable and last longer. While the rest of baseball tries to figure out how to stockpile arms, Billy Beane is creating his offensive machine. Sure he has young arms as well. But at the end of the day, those arms will turn into lottery tickets for even more young and controllable talent. Then when all of the A’s hitters have blossomed together, hopefully the team will have enough pitching to carry it through.
The moral of the story? Billy Beane is where he is for a reason. Championship teams don’t usually develop overnight. They take a great deal of planning and time. Just ask the Cubs, Rangers, Mariners…etc…World Series titles don’t grow on trees. While Billy Beane did not win a World Series title for Oakland during his tenure as GM, he did bring winning ball clubs to the party. Considering what he accomplished on such low payrolls, the man the deserves all the credit in the world. He is smart and innovative. He is not afraid to take risks and deviate from the norm. Will he ultimately win the big one in Oakland? Maybe that is his white elephant, which ironically is the team’s logo and mascot. But championship or not, Billy Beane is a winner in my books. His teams have done great things before and are poised to accomplish more in the near future. Don’t believe? Check the standings. A victory today would bring this team to .500. Almost halfway through the year and the team is not 10+ games under .500 as most people expected. A patchwork pitching staff and a ton of hitting. And this is just the beginning, as more of the young hitters continue to graduate to the big league club.
Moneyball is not dead. It is alive and well. The new equation goes like this: Pitchers are risky. Pitchers are expensive. Investing heavy dollars into pitching is a very risky proposition. Develop and trade your arms before they devalue (for a variety of reasons: ineffectiveness, injury, age) and get back a maximum return. Put your resources into obtaining and developing the best young hitters you can. Moneyball meets the Bash Brothers meets the Mustache Gang. Welcome to the modern Billy Beane: 2012 edition.
For more reading on the brilliance of Billy Beane, please check out his Trade History with the current roster of players.
State Of The Union: The Oakland A’s 2013 Roster Tree Part 1: The Hitters
State Of The Union: The Oakland A’s 2013 Roster Tree Part 2: The Pitchers
Jonathan Hacohen is the Founder & Lead Baseball Columnist for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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Posted on July 7, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged AL West, athletics, baseball, bash brothers, billy beane, chris carter, dave duncan, derek norris, gene tenace, jose canseco, josh reddick, mark mcgwire, michael choice, michael taylor, mike epstein, mlb, mustache gang, oakland a's, reggie jackson, sal bando. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.