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Billy Beane and A’s Prove Pitching Beats Hitting

               

The motto for Athletics Nation, the fan club for the A’s, is “In Billy We Trust”, and with good reason.

Over the nine years that he has been in control of the A’s, Billy Beane has put together teams that win each and every year, with a budget that is miniscule compared to that of other powerhouse teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox. 

How has he done it?  The answer is that Beane focuses on pitching, not hitting.  Offense in baseball comes at a much steeper price than pitching — top hitters like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez earn much more money than the MLB’s best pitchers, such as Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay.  You can point to the A’s having big bats such as Miguel Tejada in the past, but they’ve always come cheap, because they’ve always been players that graduated through Oakland’s minor league system.  In terms of Billy Beane’s approach, he utilizes the MLB Draft more than any other General Manager in the league, and he likes to “grow” pitchers through the A’s farm system. 

After the 2004 season, Billy Beane caused many Oakland A’s fans to panic, when he traded two of Athletics’ “Big Three” starting pitchers.  Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder have not pitched as well in Atlanta and St. Louis as they did for Oakland, and they’ve both had DL stints.  Beane held on to Barry Zito however, and Zito has been healthy and solid for Oakland the last two seasons.  In the trade that sent Mulder to St. Louis, Billy Beane acquired several prospects, among them rising ace Danny Haren, who has become a fan favorite in Oakland.  Haren has been one of the more dependable starters for Oakland the last two seasons and has made a terrific replacement for Tim Hudson.  Rich Harden, though oft-injured, is another potential ace when healthy.  His fastball can reach 100mph and his stuff is very good.  That means the A’s, when Harden is not hurt, have Zito, Harden, and Haren in their rotation — in effect, a much cheaper, but just as effective “Big Three”. 

And the A’s have plenty of young pitchers that are coming up, or are already up on the MLB team.  Kirk Saarloos, Joe Blanton, Shane Komine, and Jason Windsor are the latest products of the best pitching farm in baseball.  All of them are potential middle-of-the-rotation starters, though Saarloos has proven himself to be a valuable reliever.  Moving to the bullpen, the A’s have one of the top young closers in baseball, and the 2005 AL Rookie of the Year in Huston Street.  While the road to finding a closer was long (Keith Foulke, Jason Isringhausen, and Billy Koch were just a few of the rejects), Street has developed into a rock at the end of the bullpen, and is another Billy Beane success.  Also in the bullpen is another A’s farm product — Justin Duchscherer, who, when healthy, is one of the best set-up men in baseball.  In short, Billy Beane is the best at finding, “growing”, and building great starting pitchers and relievers.

But what’s even more interesting about the A’s, is that they have a 4.5 game lead over the LA Angels of Anaheim, with an offense that’s much less dominant.  The Angels lineup features sluggers like Vladimir Guerrero and Orlando Cabrera, while the only A’s hitter that can be accurately described as a “big bat” is Frank Thomas.  Around Thomas are players that many of those who do not root for Oakland do not know much about.  The players that make up Oakland’s offense are guys like Mark Kotsay, Jay Payton, Eric Chavez, Jason Kendall, Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis.  All of them play solid defense and hit for about a .280 average, but none of them have 40HR and 120RBI potential.  Yet the A’s have been able to outplay the offensive powerhouses of the Yankees and Red Sox thanks to terrific pitching. 

That’s proof that pitching and defense come first in terms of the keys to winning in baseball, while big bats and speed are secondary, which is why Billy Beane, despite having a comparatively tiny budget, has been able to put together winning teams year after year. 

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