|The Big Z: according to many semi-reliable sources,|
the bobblehead makers got the proportions right...
The consensus in the ever-Iagoseque world of numbers is that Billy Beane has at last been exposed as a corporate shill, in direct opposition to his portrayal in Moneyball (and, yes, we still owe you our rev-up on the film, the flim-flam, and the many talking dead bodies that are still molesting the many myths that were serially propagated over the past decade).
The universal contempt for his recent deals, which sent starters Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez (snif!), plus reliever Andrew Bailey, off to far-flung destinations for a minivan full of farm-fresh produce, is an amusing reversal of the 1998 idolatry accorded then-Marlins' GM Dave Dombrowski for his acquisition of a rhythm section's worth of first-round draft picks.
The fine feathered folk who touted the "Swing Kids" strategy in 1998 lived through a number of years where the Marlins fell far short of the scenario predicted for them, were buoyed by the parallel success of the A's, whose longer-term run of fortuitous draft selections coalesced into a set of mythic performances in 2000-02 that ushered in a wonk-infused feeding frenzy.
|His other nickname: Lew "Blow Up My Stadium" Wolff|
The massive irony, of course, is that as Wolff and Beane tear down their team, their actions are no longer brilliant. And yet as Theo'n'Jed (Epstein and Hoyer, the two goombas from Boston who've begun to share a reinforced houseboat on the shores of Lake Michigan) make a series of similar steps (while not actually resulting in any dramatic payroll reduction, mind you...), they are the beneficiaries of what is mostly a "hands-off" policy.
We might humorously ascribe this to an inverted variant of Keri's discarded (shape-shifter, remember?) "theories," which we could rechristen as the "failure cycle," but we really ought to get down to something actually worth reading about. Let's just finish this long opening aside by noting that five years is clearly the operating limit for the cultural heroes of the numbers set. Epstein, a clever shape-shifter himself, bought himself time by taking a powder: by leaving Boston (four years after his last big success, and with two years out of the post-season), he was able to re-set the clock.
It's not a done deal, in fact, that they will actually be all that much worse than they were in 2011.
There, we've said it. And, of course, we have some of our always handy, usually idiosyncratic data with which to wrangle.
Teams in the .399- WPCT bracket, as the data from the past twenty years demonstrates, do not tend to be exemplars of the "fall apart" syndrome. They tend to be a good way toward the lower depths already, and merely slide further into a region below mediocrity. The overall average drop for these teams is 14 games, but this figure has tightened a bit in the most recent decade.
Using a formula that uses team ERA+ and OPS+ to solidly mimic Pythagorean Win Percentage, we see that in the last decade teams who've declined into sub-mediocrity have lost the most ground in their pitching staff.
But the eighteen teams in the most recent decade have clearly bifuracted into two distinct classes (as the more detailed breeakout will demonstrate). They've splintered into teams that genuinely, catastrophically collapse (we can put the 2011 Twins and Astros, the 2010 Mariners, 2008 Padres, and 2004 Royals and D-Backs into this category), as opposed to mediocre teams that were already skating closing to the thin ice separating them from pond scum status.
The A's had an ERA+ of 110 in 2011. While they've lost three front-line pitchers, one of them (Cahill) was slightly under the league average in ERA+ in 2011. The A's have quite a backlog of young starters, including several who were acquired in these most recent trades. There is no fait accompli that the A's pitchers will suffer a catastrophic reversal in 2012.
Let's answer that with a bit of indirection. What's clear from the data when we separate the two classes of .399- teams (the bad-by-free-fall from the bad-by-steady-state) is that the 2011 A's have a performance profile more like the free-fall teams, but we have to remember than there is a totally unrepresented class of teams that need to be mentioned here; namely, the teams that didn't collapse at all, but remained at least mediocre (winning 75 or more games in the following year). The A's still have a backlog of pitching that can cushion their fall; if they are able to stay at or near league average, they are going to be able to win enough games at home to escape catastrophe.
The best Beane can do when asked to remove payroll is to reposition the team to have the best possible chance to tailor the talent distribution around the characteristics of his home park. He's done that.
Both of these would get the A's down to a projected win total that'd drop below a .400 WPCT; the current likeliest projection, however, looks more like a more modest downturn, one that won't push the A's down into the type of oblivion that teams such as the Royals and Pirates have reached. (We've also included the current projections for the Cubs and those current sabermetric darlings, the Tampa Bay Rays, entering that fateful fifth year of being the daring Davids in the ever shape-shifting maudit Moneyball formulation still swirling in the snark-infested waters of the post-neo zeitgeist.
Consequently we're inclined to think that a mild drop-off in 2012 will be followed by a return of solid pitching in '13. Add in some incremental offensive improvement and the 2014 A's (wherever they might be playing) have a decent shot to be "the new Rays."
Be sure to forget that you read it here first.