At the risk of digging up the carcass of a dead horse just to kick it again, I want to take a second and point out something Joe Morgan said about the A’s in his his most recent chat on ESPN.com. Yes, I know, highlighting things from a Joe Morgan chat isn’t exactly a new idea, but my aim is not to ridicule Morgan, so hopefully you’ll travel down this well worn path with me.
Hello Joe. What do the Oakland A’s need to do be competitive again? Maybe Billy Beane should quit writing books and start acquiring some athletes.
Joe Morgan (11:07 AM)
Become more athletic. Sometimes, when I look at the A’s players, I think they’re playing softball. They have some big guys who try to hit the ball out of the ballpark. They strike out a lot. They just are not in position to make things happen on the basepaths. They’ve never really been a team to run or steal bases, bunt guys over or hit and run. They’ve always tried to hit the big home run. Now they have one guy in Davis. Their philosophy was working for a while, but now that philosophy doesn’t work any more. You have to be more athletic, steal some bases in order to be a well rounded team. You don’t have to steal a lot of bases, but you have to have the threat there.
Among American League teams, the A’s rank last in home runs and fourth in stolen bases. They are eighth in the league in strikeouts, in a virtual tie with the Minnesota Twins, one of the most athletic teams in baseball.
Joe is wrong about the A’s, of course. For whatever reason, he still believes the A’s are built around players like Matt Stairs and Erubiel Durazo, but that hasn’t been the type of player Oakland has been putting on the field for several years now. The A’s are a very athletic team.
Rajai Davis, as Morgan notes, is exactly the kind of player he’s pushing for. But so are Matt Holliday, Ryan Sweeney, Orlando Cabrera, Adam Kennedy, Mark Ellis, and Kurt Suzuki. The A’s built their 2009 team as a club that they expected to be excellent defensively with enough offense to get by. The failure of Jason Giambi and Jack Cust to carry their part of the load doomed the offense, but there certainly wasn’t a lack of athleticism or base stealing in Oakland this year.
The A’s haven’t been the slow, methodical, base-clogging mashers for quite some time. Despite the public perception of that being the “philosophy” of Beane and statistical analysts everywhere, Morgan has actually missed the bigger picture that most numbers crunching teams have begun to play his style of baseball. As smart teams realized that defense was being undervalued, they began to shift towards quality athletes who could create runs in the field as well as at the plate.
The humorous thing about Morgan’s comments is that, by and large, we’re fans of the same kinds of players that he is. And so is Billy Beane. Can’t we all just get along?
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.