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Moneyball: The Art of Losing With Style in MLB

Moneyball is a baseball film starring Brad Pitt and Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, and it’s set to open sometime in 2011.

Hoffman will perform as former big league manager Art Howe, and Pitt — one of the most famous people in the universe — will be playing Billy Beane, the “mastermind” general manager of the Oakland A’s.

Can you imagine that? Beane has been so successful in Oakland that a movie is being made about his innovations and triumphs as the A’s leading man. Not only is the film being made, but Beane’s character was given to one of the most recognizable faces in the business — a sex symbol, nonetheless.

And who can blame Hollywood for wanting a piece of this action? Beane has achieved so much during his time in Oakland…wait a second…

Has a Beane-led A’s team ever won anything?

This is Beane’s 13th season as GM of the Athletics, and his club has won the World Series zero times during his reign. Wait, it gets better.

In the previous 12 seasons, the A’s have won zero American League championships.

During that time period, they’ve only appeared in the ALCS once (2006). Beane’s Athletics performed well in that series against the Detroit Tigers…if “well” means getting swept. The Tigers made quick work of the light-hitting boys from Oakland.

Simply put, these results don’t make any sense. They don’t make any sense because Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is likely the most popular baseball book in publishing history. It may not only be the most popular baseball book of all time, it is arguably the most popular book of all sports.

Lewis’ detailed work elevated Beane to a stratosphere never before occupied by a general manager. As far as media coverage and attention, GM’s are often secondary to the skippers that patrol the dugouts of their respective teams.

Thanks to Lewis and Moneyball, things are quite different in Oakland. Beane is the star. The managers (Howe, Ken Macha, and Bob Geren) are puppets manipulated by the front office’s many strings and hindrances. 

The question is: does Beane deserve the stature he has achieved?

Many consider him the best general manager in the game; is he worthy of that distinction?

Well, at the very least, I can’t argue with his ability to evaluate starting pitching. It started with the extremely impressive trio of RHP Tim Hudson (an all-star again this year), LHP Barry Zito (having a bit of a bounce-back season), and LHP Mark Mulder.

Then there was RHP Rich Harden, an incredible but oft-injured talent. RHP Justin Duchscherer has been an all-star, and Beane’s trade for RHP Dan Haren came at exactly the right time in his career.

Today the A’s have a slew of capable young arms, including sinkerballer Trevor Cahill, flame-throwing lefty Gio Gonzalez, workhorse Dallas Braden (of the Perfect Game fame), electric closer Andrew Bailey, and potential long-term ace LHP Brett Anderson.

But the 2010 Oakland Athletics are a mere .500 ballclub. This infusion of impressive arms isn’t leading them to playoff-type success. And why, you ask?

Because Billy Beane teams don’t hit. Not since the steroid star power of 1B Jason Giambi and then-SS Miguel Tejada have the A’s had a lineup for opposing pitchers to fear. Their leading regulars this season are OF Ryan Sweeney (.294 BA) and limited-pop 1B Daric Barton (.279).

Although for Beane, it’s not about batting average; it’s about OBP and OPS. Unfortunately, Oakland’s on-base experts are 25th in the bigs in runs scored. What good is a razor-sharp understanding of the strikezone if you can’t drive in runners in scoring position?

Not much good at all, of course.

While we’re on the topic of offense, I can’t ignore the fact that Beane traded OF Carlos Gonzalez (aka “Cargo”).

Cargo, now an immensely popular member of the Colorado Rockies, is currently leading the National League in batting average at .326. In addition to that impressive average, he has 29 HR, 90 RBI, 20 SB, 86 R, and a .955 OPS.

With those outstanding numbers in mind, Cargo is locked in a nip-and-tuck MVP battle with Reds’ 1B Joey Votto. Both candidates have the statistics to warrant an MVP award, but Cargo is the better all-around player.

If the Rockies find a way into the postseason, in my opinion, Cargo should take home the hardware.

Can you imagine that? Beane, the “mastermind” at the helm of an offensively-starved franchise, traded an all-world talent when he was just 23 years old. Even worse, he traded Cargo for a one-year rental in LF Matt Holliday, who was shipped to the St. Louis Cardinals as soon as the wheels fell off the A’s 2009 season. 

Go figure.

And yet, in the end, I know Billy Beane is a talented executive. I completely understand the financial deficiencies of the Oakland A’s franchise. I know that Beane has drafted and developed some excellent major league ballplayers.

But…the best general manager in professional baseball? Really?

Hollywood, a full-length movie, and Brad Pitt? Really?

I’m sorry folks, but I’m not buyin’ it…

Unless Billy Beane is sellin’ it. I’d probably rip him off in a deal.


(John Frascella is the author of “Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land,” the first and only book centered on Boston ‘s popular GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble online. Follow John on Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.)

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Los Angeles Angels Need To Hire Darin Erstad As A Coach

Intense. Driven. Competitor. Tough. Gritty. Clutch. Leader. Intelligent. World Champion.

These are all words that immediately come to mind when Angels fans think of Darin Erstad, but seem far removed from the vocabulary one would use to describe the current Angels club.

This young Angels team seems long on talent and short on competitive will.

Are the 2010 Angels less talented than the 2002 roster that won it all, or did Erstad and company simply want it more?

Angels fans have been hearing about the “upside” of their young talent for years. As many of these prospects have now made it to the majors and are rapidly approaching the age of 28, many have stopped thinking about upside and are now simply asking the question, “What is up?”

When is Howie Kendrick, 27, going to turn from a very average second baseman into the batting champion he was touted as being?

Will Kevin Jepsen, 26, ever mature into a dominant reliever, or is he the West Coast washout equivalent of Joba Chamberlain?

When is Erick Aybar, 26, going to develop into the leadoff hitter that everyone thought he would be?

Will Jeff Mathis, 27, ever be able to play well for longer than two weeks at a time?

When will this team start doing the little things championship teams need to do to win?

I don’t think there is anyone in the Angels lineup this season that would allow themselves to be hit by pitches 27 times like the 5-foot, 7-inch David Eckstein did in 2002. In fact, their entire team has been hit a grand total of 35 times.

The 2010-version of the Halos clearly lack focus and the hunger to win. So why not bring back the most focused, competitive and intense Angel of all time to help motivate them?

Erstad brought the football mentality he acquired while playing as a kicker for the University of Nebraska to the diamond every day. Even when he wasn’t hitting well, his very presence was invaluable to the Angels.

Erstad wasn’t interested in chatting it up with his opponent when they were standing on first base. He was too busy thinking up ways to destroy them.

How many times do the current Angels coaches have to watch Bobby Abreu stand on second base giggling with the shortstop—only to get picked off?

There is a fine line between being loose and just not caring, and the Angels have crossed it. Their coaching staff should be calling them out on it—veterans or not.

Today, Erstad is filling in as an assistant baseball coach for his alma mater, but it’s hard to believe he would turn down a chance to return to the majors—especially with the team where he had his finest years.

Although he never officially retired as a player from baseball, Erstad decided this winter he would rather spend time with his family than be relegated to a bench player role in the National League. He told the Orange Country Register he would have a tough time justifying being away from his family for eight days in a row for the sake of three at-bats per week.

Angels fans would not expect any less of a statement from a man of Erstad’s character. However, a man as competitive as Erstad can only stay static for so long before he needs another competitive challenge.

Challenging would be a great word to describe the job Erstad would have in front of him if he were offered a chance to help his old team as a coach.

Tweakers who have blown up their apartments cooking meth under their sink think the Angels have bad chemistry.

The Angels can have all the closed-door meetings they want for the rest of the summer, but clearly whatever is being said is falling on deaf ears. Manager Mike Scioscia’s riff might be wearing thin and new motivational voices may need to be heard.

In particular, Erstad would be an excellent candidate to replace Dino Ebel as the third base coach. Maybe Erstad, a former Gold Glove first baseman and great base runner in his own right, might be able to clue the young guys in on why it’s not a good idea to try to steal third with two outs or bunt with two strikes—looking at you, Erick Aybar.

One thing is certain. Erstad would be welcomed home with open arms by appreciative fans who remember how he sacrificed his body diving for balls and legging out singles on seemingly every play.

That mentality is contagious, and hopefully these Angels can catch it before they are permanently immune.

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BLOCKBUSTER: Texas Rangers Acquire Cliff Lee; Angels Done

It was nice while it lasted, Angels fans.

With the stunning acquisition of Cliff Lee by the Texas Rangers from AL West rival Seattle, it is time for the Angels to cut their losses and let the fire sale begin.

Not only should this be the nail in the coffin for the Angels, but maybe for the rest of baseball as well. Texas just assured themselves not only a trip to the playoffs, but a real chance to take it all.

Angels fans, don’t feel bad.

Three years in a row was a good run, but now the Angels have a chance to heal, re-tool and try to come up with a plan for next season.

The following players need to be sold to the highest bidder in the next three weeks: Brian Fuentes, Fernando Rodney, Scott Kazmir, Mike Napoli, Brandon Wood (if someone would be willing to give us a fungo bat for him), Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, and Torii Hunter.

Get on it Tony Reagins, and make sure to get a third base prospect that can actually play this time.

Those eight players account for roughly $60.1 million in payroll. None of them have a future in helping the Angels win a championship due to age, performance or injury.

The Angels should trade them all. Get at least one draft pick in each deal and completely reload the organization with talent for another decade.

The Angels should then turn around and sign $60 million in young free agents with which they can build new chemistry around their nucleus.

Congratulations to Texas on that amazing acquisition.

Angels fans can take comfort in the idea that Nolan Ryan may finally get his ring.

An entire nation, with the exception of one certain city, can take even further comfort in knowing that he didn’t go to the New York Yankees—as was reported eminent by Buster Olney of ESPN earlier in the day.


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Game Goes On After Fan Falls From Upper Deck at Texas Rangers Game

Terror gripped Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas when a fan fell 30 feet from the upper deck while trying to catch a Nelson Cruz foul ball Tuesday night.

Eyewitness accounts of the fall, which was not caught on video, say the middle-aged Texas fan fell from the Club Concourse section. As he fell, he tried to grip the railing of the Suite Section one level down before finally landing on the field level section below.

Graphic evidence of how horrific the site was for fans, players, umpires and announcers can be seen without ever seeing the fan fall.

Click here to see a video showing the reaction of the umpire and some of the players on MLB.com

Listen to the chilling audio account here. Four different calls—all equally disturbing.

Much of the broadcast video has already been removed from YouTube and other web sources (including the original link from this story) as MLB has been using their Copyright leverage to keep this situation as under wraps as possible.

Home plate umpire Chris Guccione reacted in such a visceral way to seeing the fan fall—more violently than I’ve ever seen an official react to anything before—that it is hard to see how he could refocus and call a game after that.

Two Cleveland Indians players, left fielder Trevor Crowe and shortstop Jason Donald, immediately dropped to the ground and appeared to be praying for the fallen fan.

Vladimir Guerrero and Cruz looked on with stunned disbelief in their eyes.

Fans were crying and even the announcers of both teams had trouble describing the spectacle while their voices began to tremble.

The game was stopped for 16 minutes while emergency workers were able to take the fan out on a stretcher.

After the game resumed, the stadium resembled a mausoleum. You could hear a pin drop.

Even with the hometown Rangers pounding the Indians 12-1, the stunned Rangers faithful could not bring themselves to cheer.

Which raises the question, should this game have continued at all under these circumstances?

Remember, little kids are in the crowd—witnessing a tragedy that even grown men seemed to be having trouble digesting.

It seems like if games can be postponed due to rain, they can certainly be postponed do to traumatic events such as these. The ensuing silence from the Rangers fans seemed to indicate they would have been okay with that.

I am just wondering how umpires and players are supposed to settle in and forget what they just saw and play good baseball. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill adversity that all athletes are expected to face and overcome.

They had to have been thinking that they just witnessed a man die.

These are the times when you have to acknowledge that this is all just entertainment and look at the big picture. Did MLB really think the fans that remained were going to be entertained after that?

From the sound of the crowd, they were far from it. If the scoreboard was any indication, it seems as though the players lost their focus as well.

As of Wednesday morning, there is no word as to the condition of the fan that fell, other than he was able to move all of his extremities. MLB and the Texas Rangers are continuing to be highly cautious on how they release information regarding this story.

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L.A. Angels’ Jered Weaver Could Get All-Star Revenge In The Form Of A Cy Young.

Fun fact: Who has the best winning percentage of any pitcher in baseball over the past five seasons?

Here’s a hint. It’s not C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Josh Beckett or any of the other pitchers the East Coast writing establishment loves to go on endlessly about.

It’s Jered Weaver at .663.

Weaver has clearly taken his game to another level in the absence of former Angels ace John Lackey, and has managed to single-handedly carry his team through a horrific stretch in the process.

The one constant for the Angels in 2010 has been quality starts by Weaver—a stat that he leads all of MLB in with 14, along with fellow West Coast All-Star snub Felix Hernandez.

At a time when the rest of the Angels rotation and bullpen were ranked at the bottom of the league in every category, Weaver kept them afloat.

At a time when his team had the worst batting average in baseball and gave him one of the lowest run support totals in the league, Weaver managed to keep his team in games and win most of them.

Weaver should not only be in the conversation for the Cy Young, but the MVP as well.

Weaver also:

  • Leads both leagues in strikeouts with 124.
  • Leads all starters in K’s per nine innings with 10.27.
  • Is second to only Cliff Lee in walk to strikeout ratio at 4.77.
  • Has the third best WHIP in the league at 1.06.
  • Has the sixth best ERA in the league at 2.82.

The opposition is hitting .217 against him. Only Jon Lester and Colby Lewis (yet another snubbed West Coast pitcher) were better.

It is hard to be any more consistent than giving up two or less runs in 12 of your 17 starts, as the 27-year-old has done this season.

If it weren’t for Weaver, the Angels might very well be in the Seattle Mariners’ shoes right now—sellers at the trade deadline, instead of just 3.5 games out of the AL West.

Weaver doesn’t have a 100-mph, blow-you-away fastball. In fact, at times it is hard to see how he gets anyone out with a fastball that barely hits 90 mph.

The Simi Valley High School product simply knows how to pitch.

The game hasn’t seen a pitcher this crafty since Greg Maddux. Weaver is living proof that changing speeds and having control in the zone are just as important as having good “stuff.”

His ability to ring up batters through deception probably doesn’t get him noticed as much as hurlers with electric pitches like Sabathia. However, it’s his results that are electric and undeniable to anyone with an ounce of objectivity.

While most East Coast fans and writers are nestled in their beds or writing on deadline, Weaver will continue to take to the mound for his 10:05 EST starts and do his thing.

Hopefully, the outrage over Weaver’s failure to make the All-Star squad will help these misguided souls to discover this new invention called TiVo.

A whole world of baseball exists on the West Coast of your continent, East Coast homers. A world that extends beyond the former Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.

If the East Coast writers manage to discover this world in time, and Weaver continues to demonstrate the consistency he has shown throughout his entire career—maybe, just maybe—Weaver can have his vindication at the end of the year in the form of a Cy Young Award.

Until then, the Angels, the team that had 100 wins last season.

The team that is the current three-time defending champions of the West.

The team that is hosting the Midsummer Classic, will have to settle for its hometown fans cheering for one player (Torii Hunter), as he takes to the field All-Star Weekend.

Enjoy your game, East Coast.

The West Coast fans are glad we could provide you with a neutral site on which to play it.

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