Billy Beane Goes Rotisserie on the AL
Any resemblance to Matt Holliday is purely coincidental


Dave Fleming has a provocative article up, comparing the 1-2-3 best players in baseball:

Rank Player WAR, 2009-14 $24 or 30M thru age:
#1 M. Cabrera 38 42 (!)
#3 R. Cano 35 40


Is 'cause o' the title, that you know who goes into slot #2.   Fleming, one of my fave authors, even goes on to discuss the question of whether Ben Zobrist belongs in the Hall of the Fame discussion, based on this idea:


Rank Player WAR, 2009-14 $24 or 30M thru age:
#1 M. Cabrera 38 42 (!)
#2 B. Zobrist 35.4 Age 34, making $7.5, will be QO'ed
#3 R. Cano 34.6 40


Wow.  So we got an NFL TV sitdown with Richard Sherman, Derelle Revis, and Ben Zobrist.  Or, you got LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Nick Collison.  The wonders of modern math, babe.  Would that we were major league GM's, having to take Scott Boras seriously as he lays out this math with a straight face :- )

If we take three breaths and think for a moment, we will sit up with a start, a light sweat on our brows.  There is a massive problem of scale here.  Fleming argues that the basic reason that Zobrist will miss the HOF discussion, is that his AVG-HR-RBI lines aren't flashy.  Let's, Do, the Time, Warp, Agaaaaaaaiiiiinnnnn ... it was 1983 when we put "PAID" to that one.

Laying aside Fleming's application, which is whether the writers take WAR seriously ... Our question is why Zobrist doesn't get a $200M salary.  No matter how little you think of the game's GM's, you can't believe that their consensus is to value batting average over WAR.

Something else is going on here.


With Dr. D's typical meekness and modesty, he has explained many times what that thing is.  It's Chone Figgins.

And it's a hole in the WAR paradigm.  Take a player who is getting 5 WAR a year by defense, by baserunning, by beating out infield grounders, and picking up pop cans by the side of the road ... and that guy ain't going to continue to get 5 WAR.

If you knew for a fact that Chone Figgins, er, Ben Zobrist, was going to continue to scrabble up his stamp-collection's worth of bases at his very max potential, sure.  In a given season, a Zobrist can be close to as valuable as a 120-RBI man.  Problem is, there's too much pressure on his 5x ways of scrounging bases.  If two of those "hidden bases" pipelines clog up, you got nuttin' left.

Again, a cause for Mariners fans to shrug off the dogma and rejoice in Nelson Cruz' 40 homers.  You have Dr. D's blessing, if not Fangraphs'.  Others are busy finding bases others don't appreciate.  You, the discerning SSI reader, will watch every one of Nelson Cruz' home runs in ecstasy.  The opponents' chests will collapse.  The blood will be licked and savored.  


It's fine to say, "OK, when you have 2 players with the same WAR, we'll put a thumb on the scale for sheer hitting talent."  This ain't a thumb on the scale!  This is Miguel Cabrera signed to make $30M per year on an 8-year deal that hasn't STARTED yet.

Let's allow our sense of proportion to digest the miles of difference between Miguel Cabrera and Ben Zobrist.   This is "cognitive dissonance" territory.  Therefore it is SSI territory.  :- )


Fleming also has this very interesting 'put:


This has been a quietly astonishing offseason for Oakland: they’ve traded away a player than ranked fourthamong AL batters in fWAR, and then acquired a player who ranked seventh by the same metric. To give that some perspective, the NL equivalent would have the Marlins trading away Giancarlo Stanton, and then acquiring Anthony Rizzo.

Even if these were the only moves Oakland made, it’s be a fascinating offseason.

But Oakland’s essentially redrafted their team. They traded away their best power hitter for a guy who had a decent half-season at Double-A. They traded their best (or second-best) starting pitcher to Chicago. They traded away both halves of their enormously valuable catching platoon. And…first actually…they signed Billy Butler.


Agree:  if the A's simply traded Donaldson for Zobrist, that would be Bizarro World.  But that was simply Beane's starting point.

Dr. D suspects that he knows what Beane's underlying theme is.  I think you perceive it in trades like this:

  • OUT:  Mark Mulder as a short-timer
  • IN:  Danny Haren (!)
  • IN:  Daric Barton
  • IN:  Kiko Calero

And this one:

  • OUT:  Nick Swisher as a short-timer
  • IN:  Gio Gonzalez
  • IN:  Ryan Sweeney

And this one:

  • OUT:  Dan Haren (and Connor Robertson) as a short-timer
  • IN:  Brett Anderson
  • IN:  Chris Carter
  • IN:  Carlos Gonzalez (!)
  • IN:  Three other players

We could go on - the deals that brought in Jermaine Dye, Josh Reddick, Jason Isringhausen, and so forth.

If you and I are playing roto, I want to make as many trades as possible.  7-for-7 deals are great by me.  I'm just that confident that, in the long run, my dice will land right side up.  That's all.  It sez here, this is the point that mystified analysts whiff on.  Billy just loves to exchange players, as many as possible, in the same sense that the 3 Card Monte hustler wants you to buy as many games as possible.

Not many GM's who are willing to turn real life into fantasy baseball, though.  That part of it is wacky and wunnerful.  29 other places, the ballplayers resent the lack of loyalty.  Quote in the press today, Josh Riddick (who panned the Cespedes deal) gushing over Beane's moves.


Dr D




What I love about him most is that he doesn't really give a rip about who he's got (or what they've done) but only about how to improve his team in the short to medium term.
In Zobrist he acquired one of the most valuable commodoties in the game, in the sense that every team would love to have him and every team can afford him.  Zobrist will address every contending team's lineup hole come June.  And each and every team can trade with confidence for him because they know they'll get the 2nd year of him or get the QO draft player back in return, which makes up for the nice player they sent to get Zobrist in the first place.
Basically the A's have given up a young SS and a young OBP OF (Robertson and Powell).  Robertson hit well in the Cal League, but who doesn't?  The A's just got Seimens who can play SS, anyway.  Powell has zero pop, none,  Jaso?  Everybody trades him.
In return they ended up with Zobrist and Tyler Clippard (via the 2nd swap).  I have no doubt that BB can get better than he gave (in terms of young talent) if/when he trades Zobrist and Clippard.   Clippard, btw, has large street value, too.
And in getting Zobrist and Clippard he can look-see as '15 starts, getting a sense of the A's chances and the value of keeping those guys the entire year.
He's the Titanic Thompson of MLB.


"In Zobrist he acquired one of the most valuable commodities in the game..."
An astute analysis. Perhaps Beane got Zobrist as much for what he could get FOR him as what he could get OUT OF him.


The Rays are known for identifying and hoarding young talent. They apparently were very impressed with Boog and Robertson's performances in the Arizona Fall League. Both were quite impressive. To me, Boog looks like he could one day become Ty Kelly. Daniel Robertson? A nice little shortstop. But I'd trust the Ray scouting staff here. Hmmm...what does that say about Nick Franklin?
I wish Z would have been a little more aggressive in going after Zobrist. But they have a plan over there, and they're sticking to it. Beane? He really improvises doesn't he?
Again, you go to a Mariner game to watch Felix. You go to an A game to watch Beane.

benihana's picture

The A's have been consistent winners and are consistently in the bottom tier in terms of attendance. 24th last year in a season in which they were running away with the league prior to their collapse. They've only outdrawn the M's once in the past .. I can't count that far back .. years.
A's current payroll? $80 million. Outspending 3 teams.
I can understand how people look at Billy Beane and see a creative innovator. I see an incredible waste of a franchise.
The stadium they play in? The 'fan' experience? All those championships with the names above.. bah.
- Ben.


Is Beane really a coward? If he wins, he's a genius. If he doesn't, he has a bevy of excuses why. It's a no lose proposition.

Taro's picture

Once you get the reputation around the league as being a shark, owners are less willing to deal with you unless they think they are getting a steal. The fact that Beane keeps winning despite this is pretty impressive.

benihana's picture

But still, while Beane does more with less than any other GM in the game - you have to wonder why he continually settles for the LESS portion of that statement.
If Beane is a coward you have to admit it is the perfect place for it. If he wins he's idolized around the league, if he loses, well that is to be expected - 3rd lowest payroll after all and the fanbase is distracted by their neighbor to the South...
I think the A's are a black-eye on the league, and embarrassment of a franchise. Only reason I think it is tolerated is that nobody in their hometown cares as long as San Francisco keeps winning Championships.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Beane is a coward, but I do question why he doesn't demand more payroll or leave for a better opportunity.
- Ben.


More power to him. Nice job, good salary, great job security. why move to a cold city like Boston, or Chicago, or anywhere willing to pour millions into his budget and give him free reign to make it work. He could keep his Lester's and Sharks. But, what's the challenge in that, I suppose. I mean, were he a Cougar coach, he'd have moved on to better digs and gigs as soon as he could. He's the Mark Few of the AL West. Some day, maybe he'll win a ring. Some season, everything will work out and he'll stand on top of the heap.
Just seems most guys in professional sports aren't wired that way.

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