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Does A's Beane Still Have His Moneyball Genius?

G.M.'s struggles to mine hitting talent has led to team's downturn, but help may be on the way.

Billy Beane’s Q rating is sure to take a big leap with Moneyball opening nationwide on Friday. But with the A’s organization bordering on irrelevance 8 years after Michael Lewis’ bestseller hit bookshelves, it’s fair to wonder: Has the Oakland general manager lost his mojo?

As the A’s fifth straight non-winning season slogs to a close, Beane seems to be getting a free pass. He doesn’t have the resources to compete. How could anyone win in that atrocious ballpark? Injuries woes aren’t his fault.

Yes, small-market teams are at an enormous competitive disadvantage. But even in that climate, a little-engine-that-could team makes the playoffs just about every year – and Beane’s club hasn’t come close since its ALCS season of 2006.

Maybe Beane is a victim of his past success – which includes Oakland’s four straight postseason trips from 2000-03 despite a minuscule payroll. But the A’s have finished an average of eight games under .500 the last four years, and at 71-86 the team is on pace for its worst record since 1997, the year before Beane’s G.M. tenure began.

How does Beane factor into the team’s sharp downturn? The largely unspoken truth is he hasn’t been a very good evaluator of hitting talent, and the A’s inability to churn out capable homegrown batters over roughly the last decade has cost them dearly.

As a small-market team, Oakland almost certainly has to master the draft to be successful. Beane effectively hit a grand slam by picking starting pitchers Mark Mulder and Barry Zito and outfielder Nick Swisher in his first five years. And he continues to have one of the keenest eyes in the game for pitching prospects.

But it’s a very different story when it comes to hitters. From 2003-07, the A’s selected eight position players in the first or compensation round, and it’s telling that the best of that bunch has been Cliff Pennington.

The A’s haven’t had a position player make an All-Star team since Ramon Hernandez in 2003, the only organization to not have at least one in that span.

Moreover, Beane has traded away several hitters who emerged elsewhere – including All-Stars Carlos Pena, Nelson Cruz, Andre Ethier and Swisher, and 2010 N.L. batting champion Carlos Gonzalez.

Though Beane is credited as the mastermind of the Moneyball era playoff teams, the offensive mainstays of those clubs (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, and even Hernandez) were acquired when Sandy Alderson was making the final call, with Beane as his lieutenant.

Ever the intense competitor, Beane is intent on positioning his team for a rebound from its five-year dip. A large part of that has been redoubling the organization’s efforts to mine hitting talent, and the fruits of that process are beginning to show.

Second baseman Jemile Weeks, a 2008 first-rounder, is hitting .302 with 21 stolen bases after making his big league debut in June. Shortstop Grant Green (’09) and center fielder Michael Choice (’10) are first-round picks displaying plenty of potential in the minor leagues. And the A’s have been active on the international market, plunking down $2.2M in 2010 to sign highly-regarded Venezuelan third baseman Renato Nunez, now 17.

As Moneyball brings Oakland’s most recent heyday back into the spotlight, Beane’s popular perception as a genius – which gained plenty of steam with Lewis’ book -- seems sure to be fortified. But after the A’s recent slide, it seems Beane’s true genius would be in presiding over a renaissance.

DanC September 27, 2011 at 03:25 AM
This Billy Beane Moneyball hoopla is sickening. Can you be a part-time genius? When asked about his many losing seasons he blames the stadium. Sounds like a whiner to me.
Timothy Rath October 04, 2011 at 12:09 AM
DanC, I don't think you can be a part-time genius. Scott, I don't think genius is something you can lose like a fastball. I think that no GM is going to be right all the time that the strength of a team, be in the MLB or not, is in a committed ownership dedicated to keeping those diamonds that a good GM like Beane can find and if they're not coming through, let him go. Maybe instead of scrutinizing Beane's every transaction, A's fans should focus their energy towards Lew Wolff, who, you can be sure, is profiting from the success of 'Moneyball.' Where is that money going, anyway?

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