Bronx Pinstripes is a Yankees blog- so why am I choosing to write about Billy Beane in the middle of May when the Yankees aren’t even playing the Athletics? How does this relate at all to the Yankees?
A thorn in our side
Overall, I’ve had it pretty easy as a Yankee fan. I was born in 1992, and the Yankees haven’t have had a losing season in my 26 years of life. They’ve gone to seven world series and won five of them, most recently in 2009 against Philadelphia. However, one constantly annoying topic that drags over us Yankee fans is hearing about how we buy championships. With this comes hearing about how great small market baseball is, and more specifically, how awesome the small market GMs are.
There is nothing more nauseating than hearing about how great Billy Beane is and how much he’s accomplished. I’m sick of hearing about Moneyball. I watch 150 baseball games a year. I’ve watched over 20 baseball movies in my life and read about 100 baseball books. I’ve never even considered reading Moneyball, and I won’t see the movie either.
When I hear people talk about Beane, it’s all buzzwords, and no tangible accomplishments. “He revolutionized the game!” “He came up with Moneyball!” That’s cute, but Beane has had had final say on baseball personnel decisions for 22 years and has never come close to winning the World Series. He’s never even been to one! I’m going to repeat that again. Billy Beane has never appeared in a World Series. In his 18 years as GM (1998-2015) Beane won one (1) playoff series- the 2006 ALDS against the Twins. Not exactly banner worthy. Beane was promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations after the 2015 season. Since then, he has one playoff appearance-last year’s Wild Card game beat down in the boogie down.
One thing Beane has done a good job of is getting to the playoffs. He’s made the playoffs eight times as a GM, which is a nice accomplishment in itself. However, Beane’s teams weren’t built for post season dominance. Beane has justified his lack of post season success in interviews. He claims that the post season is a total crapshoot that’s based on luck, and he hasn’t gotten his break yet. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and is an example of executives taking analytics too far.
Winning in the post season requires strong starting pitching, clutch hitting, and a lock down bullpen that can get strikeouts in high leverage situations. Beane’s teams have always been built well for the regular season. However, the game tightens up in the playoffs. If your team isn’t built to adjust to short series with a bunch of off days, you are going to get bounced. Which is what happens to Beane every time he makes the playoffs.
A common rallying cry among Beane supporters is that he assembled an amazing rotation. In the early 2000s, he did put together a lethal pitching rotation featuring Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. Those guys even had some individual post season success. The problem was Beane couldn’t convince them to stay. Those guys came up together in the system and were all close. They also had the benefit of pitching in the best pitcher’s park in the majors! None of them even considered staying with Beane.
Hudson and Mulder bolted after 2004, and Zito was gone after the 2006 season. Obviously the Athletics couldn’t offer super lucrative contracts. But all I hear is that Beane develops an awesome culture for his franchise. It can’t be that awesome if none of his pitching stars even considered sticking around. They could’ve taken one year deals to try and win one in Oakland. Instead they raced out of town as soon as they were eligible for free agency. Part of being a GM is being persuasive, and Beane couldn’t convince any of his home grown starters to stick around for even an extra year into free agency. This underscores his lack of communication skills.
But the Athletics always have a low payroll!
They do. You know why? Because Billy Beane can’t convince his owner to spend any money. As I mentioned earlier, part of being a GM is being able to convince other executives, owners, and players to do what you want them to do. This is another area where Beane has failed. The Athletics are owned by John Fisher, who is worth over 2.5 billion dollars. Beane simply has been unable to convince Fisher to invest in payroll. (He also couldn’t convince Kyler Murray to play Baseball despite using a top ten pick on him) The low payroll excuse is also way overblown. The Athletics payroll is around $96 million this year, and the Royals won the World Series with a payroll around $113 million in 2015. Someone should write a book about Royals GM Dayton Moore- a small market GM that actually accomplished something!
Step Up to the Plate
If you are one of those fans that constantly uses the built-in payroll excuse to justify Beane’s lack of success, consider this. Why hasn’t Beane gone and taken a job with a bigger market team to see what he can accomplish with more resources on a big stage. Over his tenure in Oakland, pretty much all of the big market teams other than the Yankees have had GM openings, and they probably all would’ve hired Beane in a second. But he never took a chance and left. Is he scared of actual World Series pressure? If the guy is really such a genius, go to a team with actual resources and expectations and prove it. I actually think it would be exciting to see Beane go to a big market and try win a championship with a $150 million plus payroll. Unfortunately we will probably never see it because he’s scared of the pressure, or he’s simply comfortable in Oakland. Beane has spent his entire GM tenure hiding in the JV league, even when Varsity teams have called.
Wrapping it up
While Beane has had some moderate success, he should never be mentioned in the same breath as the top executives in the sport. Top executives get their teams to the World Series and win at least one ring. The only way Billy Beane is getting to a World Series is if he buys a ticket. People will continue to make small market related excuses for Beane. If he really wants to step up, I’m sure there will be a big market GM opening coming up at some point soon.