The days of Scott Hatteberg, David Justice and the Moneyballin’ Oakland A’s are in the rearview mirror. A once underwhelming franchise has turned a corner, and the rest of Major League Baseball has taken notice. David Forst and Billy Beane, while still keeping their profile as a low-payroll front office, slingshotted the Swingin’ A’s into American League contenders. No, it isn’t by embracing the Bill James way of management, but by recognizing a new type of mathematics that has taken the baseball world by storm. Analytics, it sounds like a mundane word used to describe a college degree or a way for businesses to keep tabs on how their corporation is functioning. Ten years ago, if you brought analytics into any aspect of the game, you were ostracized, told you were staring failure right in the face. Beane and Forst have embraced it, as has the other twenty-nine teams in the league.
The Oakland Athletics dealt with mediocrity for the better part of a century with losing seasons in 23 of their 50 years since moving to the West Coast. There were bright spots, don’t get me wrong. With 9 playoff appearances since the turn of the century, they were close, but never quite got over the top. Even in positive years, when the Oakland faithful watched the 2002 team, put together by Peter Brand, an economics major, and GM Billy Beane, win a hundred and three games, en route to an ALDS exit courtesy of the Minnesota Twins, there was backlash. It seemed that even in years of success, the media, and the league, wrote off the organization. So what changed? What grabbed the attention of the league, and its viewers? A 97 win season doesn’t hurt, but it had been done before. The one difference; this team had heart, and a whole lot of it.
An underdog, if you will, cast in the shadows of another west coast turnaround, the Houston Astros. A team with a few pieces, but, “not quite there yet,” Sporting News stated in their Spring Training recap of all thirty teams. To put it fairly, they were right, and we saw the strengths and weaknesses throughout the hundred and sixty two game season. With the likes of Matt Chapman, Khris Davis, and Matt Olson, the A’s had a hefty balance of power and put-the-bat-on-the-ball type hitters in the lineup. The “Swingin’ A’s” lived up to their name, swatting 227 home runs, and slowly but surely becoming a household name. The downfall in the Oakland Athletics was the starting rotation, it was, “below average” to put it lightly. They had traded their young ace Sonny Gray to the Yankees at the trade deadline the year prior, but felt they had the staff to compete. A no-hitter of the soon to be World Series champion Boston Red Sox by southpaw Sean Manaea gave a glimmer of hope to open the 2018 campaign. But, with the exception of a resurged Edwin Jackson, and a few quality “bullpen days”, the real weakness of this team showed.
With the offseason halfway over, David Forst and the Athletics front office have been hard at work trying to fix the one big glaring hole on the team. Agreeing to a deals with RHP Mike Fiers and RP Joakim Soria, they surely aren’t done yet, and I’m intrigued as to how this newly transformed powerhouse of the West, is built up. The Oakland A’s are the glimmer of hope for the Bay Area, factoring out the dominant Golden State Warriors. The city is losing it’s beloved Raiders, and are set to usher in a new era of Athletics baseball, and I for one, can’t wait to see what the 2019 A’s bring us.
Featured Photo: USA Today