What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
There’s a lot of people in the sports media who will make prediction and will only shout from the rooftops when they are right. I’m one of the few that will tell you about the ones I totally blew, and back in February, I wrote a piece about the Oakland A’s that I need to eat.
If you hadn’t noticed, I kept writing off the A’s as dead as recently as July. Well, they just won 94 games, good enough for the second-best record in the American League and the American League West crown.
But before all that, I called out Nico at Athletics Nation on an article he wrote in which he claims the A’s weren’t as bad as people thought they were. I did one of my patented Dubsism break-downs essentially ridiculing that possibility, and this morning I’ve come to know what it feels like to have 1,500 words jammed in my ass.
I’m not the only one who didn’t come to praise the A’s, but came to bury them. I’m not the only one; Baseball Prospectus picked the Oakland A’s to finish 73-89. But will you see a mea culpa from them? Probably not.
Honestly, It has been a wild ride for the A’s, and to really understand it, let’s look back at things I’ve said about them throughout this season. Let’s start with my basic initial assumption of the A’s:
Let’s take the Brad Pitt-fueled legend of Billy Beane. I know the A’s went to the playoffs in four straight years from 2003 to 2006, but their pinnacle of achievement was losing to the Tigers in the 2006 American League Championship Series. Since then, the A’s have not made the playoffs again, in fact they’ve never finished above .500 since then. That doesn’t look to change this season.
Ok, so I was wrong…way wrong. But I wasn’t wrong before July 1st, when this team was 38-42, 13 games back and seemed to be headed for their usual summer fade to oblivion.
All the signs were there. After all, here’s what I originally said about the A’s coming into the season.
Upside: America’s favorite breakfast cereal, Coco Crisp, will still man the Oakland outfield after signing a $14 million, two-year contract with a club option for 2014 after hitting .264 with eight home runs, 54 RBI and 49 stolen bases last season. Then there the Cuban grab-bag known as Yoenis Cespedes. This kid could be the real deal.
Downside: The A’s are without many of their pitchers who brought success to the team in recent years. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Josh Outman are out of the starting rotation, while Craig Breslow and Andrew Bailey are no longer in the bullpen. The one proven offensive power bat in the lineup has also departed; Josh Willingham hit 29 home runs and 98 RBI in 2011, but is now part of the Minnesota Twins.
At the end of April, it was a minor miracle this team managed to win eleven games while being last in the league in average, slugging percentage, and hitting with runners in scoring position. We’ve already discussed where they were at the end of June.
But then July happened.
While baseball fans were all paying attention to the Chipper Jones farewell tour and debating the plan to shutdown Stephen Strasburg, the A’s quietly went 19-5; fueling a turnaround that led to the following incredible splits.
Somewhere along the way, Oakland triumphed with a roster of mid-level draft picks, a Cuban defector (who had a 136 OPS+ in case you were wondering), and ironically a shitload of failed Red Sox, like Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and George Kottaras.
Somehow once again, the A’s cobbled together a miracle in the pitching staff with a cadre of nobodies – who ever heard of Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Travis Blackley, and Dan Straily before this year – who pitched well enough to carry a hit who largely can’t hit, except for Cespedes. The bullpen showed up when it mattered, getting big contributions out of left-overs like Grant Balfour, and potential “could-bes” like Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, plus a whole cast of yet more anonymous A’s hurlers.
There’s a ton of reasons why most of you woke up this morning to see the A’s had completed this amazing run that you hadn’t been aware of until now. There’s the aforementioned distractions, there’s the fact that ESPN doesn’t realize baseball exists west of the original 13 Colonies, and there’s the fact the A’s, for better or worse, are the “little brother” of Bay Area baseball.
The A’s rank 12th out of 14 American League teams in term off attendance. But the people who do show up are what you would expect from Oakland fans. If you show up at the Oakland A’s ballpark in San Francisco Giants gear, you may be eaten by Cujo. Here’s a team who had a major motion picture released about them in 2011, and the best “guy throwing out the first pitch” they can get is Terry Kiser; otherwise known as the dead guy from Weekend at Bernie’s.
But there are other factors that get lost in this prototypical “underdog” story that led to this turnaround.
1) Bob Melvin
Here’s what I originally said about the A’s skipper.
Then there’s Bob Melvin. This guy defines “Jekyll or Hyde” as a manager. Here’s a guy who won 93 games with Seattle, and lost 95 with the same team the next season. Then he won 90 games with the Diamondbacks, and got fired less than two seasons later. He’s got a .481 winning percentage as a manager. The Mets hired Terry Collins as manager over Bob Melvin. Let that sink in for a moment…Terry Fucking Collins.
There’s nothing wrong with a “Jekyll and Hyde” sort of guy so long as you know how to ride the oscillations. All that means is after A’s fans are done enjoying this ride up the standings, what happens next?
2) The Pitching and the Defense
Go back and look at what I said at the beginning of the season. There’s not too many staff that let a 20-game winner and possible Cy Young winner like Gio Gonzalez walk and get better.
3) There Has To Be Something To This “MoneyBall” Thing
So, I have to admit…when they use Brad Pitt to play you in the movie, you’ve done something right. This may the biggest chunk of crow I have to eat in all of this, because the payroll numbers in baseball tell an interesting story when balanced against team wins.
The average playoff team in 2012 won 93.4 games, had a total payroll of $106,234,601, and spent $1,141,609 in payroll per game they won.
In contrast, the average non-playoff team won 74.75 games, had a total payroll of $93,915,559, and spent $1.264, 946 in payroll per game they won.
According to that, logic would dictate the difference between a winner and a loser is $123,337 in payroll per game; which means to go from 74 wins to 93 requires spending an additional $2,300,236 per season.
But that logic is flawed, and the A’s are the best example of it. Be warned, there’s some heavy math coming here…
Start with the number of team wins. If all teams play every one of their 162 scheduled games, the average number of team wins will be 81, because every game will have one winner and one loser. Therefore, team wins divided by payroll won’t be the best indicator of who gets the most bang for their payroll dollar.
The second indicator is in terms of total average payroll. That of the average playoff team in 2012 was $106,234,601, whereas the average non-playoff team had a total payroll of $93,915,559. This suggests the difference between a winner and a loser is approximately $13 million dollars.
What that doesn’t account for is ineffective spending. The two best ways to illustrate that are to look at the payroll of each play-off team and their median salaries. First, look at the top ten teams in terms of total payroll (based on figures from the beginning of the season; playoff team noted in bold type):
Note that only five of them are playoff teams, and that three of the top five missed the post-season altogether.
Now compare that against the total payrolls of the ten playoff teams.
Not only do the A’s have the lowest payroll of any playoff team, but note the almost $30 million gap between the Braves and the Cardinals. The payrolls of three of the worst teams in baseball fit in that gap.
Now for the piéce d’resistance, let’s look at teh median payrolls of team. You must understand the difference between average and median. Average is the sum of all salaries divided by the total number of salaries being paid, where the median is the dividing point at which half the salaries being paid are under the median number and the other half are over the median number. By looking at the median payroll, one can eliminate the skew caused by a few inordinately large contracts.
The Twins are a perfect example of this. While they are “big payroll” team with a total in excess of $94 million, their average salary is over $3.4 million dollars. However, that number is skewed by the big contracts of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, as the Twins’ median payroll number is only $750,000. When you break that down to median payroll per win, every time the Twins won a game, half the players on the field made less than $11,538 for that game; half made more than that.
When you stop to consider the Twins’ were dreadful, and that their median payroll is amongst the lowest in the league, you would not expect to find playoff teams spending at near or less than Minnesota. But you would be wrong. Here’s the bottom ten; playoff teams again noted in bold, and don’t forget teh major league minimum salary is $480,000 per year.
There’s some fun in the numbers when you break down all of baseball in terms of median payroll per win. Again, I will use the Twins as a baseline and note how many playoff teams spent less per win than they did. But also look at the total number of wins (playoff teams in bold):
I can’t tell which fact I like more; that 4 playoff teams have a median payroll per win number under $10,000 (which includes the team with the best regular-season record), or the fact that the team with the largest number and the smallest number are not only in the same division, but the small-money team ran down the big money team and beat them head-to-head when it mattered.
A’s fans, I hope you can enjoy what your team has just accomplished. You’ve done everything to get that “team of destiny” tag, and here’s hoping your team can pull it off. The bottom line here is that those of us who had the A’s on the DOA list all have a big shit-burger to eat, and it’s time for all of us to admit we were wrong. Here’s my admission…how long will I be waiting for the others?