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Moneyball Comes Full Circle

7 January 2009

The A’s and Jason Giambi are reportedly close to a one-year deal. ESPN.com has the details:

The deal would pay Giambi, who started his major league career in Oakland, $4 million in 2009 with a $6.5 million base salary for the option year in 2010. The second year would also provide for a $1.25 million buyout.

This would, of course, be a total steal. Giambi turns 38 on Thursday, so he’s a fair bit older than the other big, lumbering dudes who walk a lot, hit homers, and can’t field a lick that are still out there (as well as the ones who’ve already signed). Still, Giambi hit .247/.373/.502 last year with 32 homers, played in 145 games (quieting some doubts about his susceptibility to injuries, sort of) and didn’t show a big platoon split. For a team that desperately lacked offense last year like the A’s, you can’t go wrong with a one-year, $4 million deal plus a reasonable option with a small buyout.

What’s more interesting to me isn’t so much what Giambi will bring to the team as what he represents. When Moneyball came out, those who failed to understand the point of the book ranted and raved about Billy Beane’s lust for guys who walk a lot. They questioned what would happen to the A’s when high-OBP guys stopped being undervalued.

Of course, OBP was never the point. Moneyball provided a snapshot in time of the baseball world and its inefficiencies. At the time that the book came out, OBP was plentiful and cheap (the Red Sox’ signing of David Ortiz, Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar for dryer lint and a couple of buttons being prime examples of this inefficiency back then). Since then, we’ve seen the trend shift numerous times. In the current climate, with analysis of defensive contributions becoming more common and more robust, teams are increasingly targeting well-rounded players who contribute both offensively and with the glove. They have, in turn, heavily discounted big, lumbering dudes who walk a lot, hit home runs, and can’t catch a ball if it dropped on their head during Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.

So the A’s (as well as the Rays, with their signing of renaissance man Pat Burrell) have returned to their old ways, plucking OBP fiends off the scrap heap at a deep discount, even if it means sacrificing defense. Either Jason Giambi or Jack Cust is going to carry a glove onto the field every day for the A’s. There may even be occasional days when both do so (yikes). And in a division that looks highly winnable with the Angels likely to regress and the Mariners and Rangers both question marks, that may very well work.

Then those who missed the point about the A’s strategy the first time can go back to doing the same in 2009. All we need is Jeremy Brown in a jeans commercial, and the circle will be complete.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. scoty32 permalink
    7 January 2009 1:54 am

    Great analysyis, I couldn’t agree more about the broader point of moneyball. I think that the Rays of last year are a great example of the increased emphasis on defense, and I find it very interesting that they went ahead and signed a defensive dud like Burrell anyway.

    http://scoty32.wordpress.com/

  2. Jonah permalink*
    7 January 2009 1:59 am

    They signed Burrell specifically to DH, and discounted accordingly knowing they were only paying him to hit. The Rays are very much like the A’s in many ways–they’ll take the best-valued assets out there, whatever they may be. Both teams had the luxury of having nearly every other position filled heading into this off-season, which meant they were able to get into that sweet spot of bidding on the many big dudes who walk, hit homers and can’t field, knowing that one of them would come at a discount.

    The A’s happened to bring back one of the best players in their recent history. The Rays brought in Squeegee in the Shower Dude.

  3. scoty32 permalink
    7 January 2009 2:52 pm

    Every position filled? Maybe if you count Matt Joyce and Gabe Gross in the outfield. I admit I had a brain fart about Burell DHing (mainly because I was thinking of Cliff Floyd there, but who knows with his age) but I’ll stick to my assertion that Abreu would have been a better fit for the Rays because he offers very similar batting numbers, more speed on the base paths, and far superior defense. Keep up the good work!

    http://www.scoty32.wordpress.com

    • Jonah permalink*
      7 January 2009 7:20 pm

      I definitely count Matt Joyce. He’s going to be a solid all-around contributor in 2009 (and beyond), making just the league minimum for the next two years. Whether they platoon with Zobrist or another signee like Kapler, RF should be at least league-average, if not better–at rock-bottom prices.

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