Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Boston Athletics: Part Three

Moneyballin’ (’01- ’05)
Today we take a look at the guys that helped define what I'm referring to as the "Moneyball" era, due either to their direct impact on the phenomenon that Michael Lewis brought attention to, or just their prominence due to dominant play during that time.

Designated Hitter: Johnny Damon

Damon with the Indians, 2012
I cheated.  So what.  It’s not my fault there’s a glut of great outfielders that have passed through both Oakland and Boston and I wanted to squeeze a fifth one onto the roster (unfortunately for Jose Canseco, he cheated too, and not in the classy way like me… I won’t go ratting out my fellow bloggers when they start consuming excessive amounts of caffeine to power through their articles).  I’m going to go ahead and justify this designated hitter role for Damon by citing his poorer defense compared to this team’s other center fielder, Dave Henderson.  

Damon spent just one season in Oakland, 2001, after coming over in a three team deal that also involved Tampa Bay.  Despite setting up Michael Lewis’s Moneyball’s story well of Damon being a high impact player leaving town for big money… He wasn’t that good with the Athletics.  Sure, his defense was solid that year, as he put up a dWAR of 0.8 from a demanding center field position, but his offense wasn’t anything to write home about.  He hit .256/.324/.363, scoring 108 runs thanks in large part to a lineup consisting of Jason Giambi, Eric Chavez, and Miguel Tejada (all of which drove in more than 110 runs that year).  Damon managed a WAR of 2.4, which per Baseball-Reference’s definition grades out to a slightly above average everyday player (his play in the ALDS may have heightened the mystique, however, as he raked over the 5 game series to the tune of .409/.435/.591).  So maybe losing Damon to the Red Sox that offseason wasn’t as doom and gloom as Michael Lewis and now Hollywood have made it out to be.

Damon was a much better player with Kansas City from ’95 to ’00 than he was in Oakland (hitting .292/.351/.438 and compiling 17.3 WAR), and was again much better once he signed with Boston.  Over the life of his 4 year contract, Damon hit .295/.362/.441, scored 461 times, knocked in 299, and stole 98 bags.  He managed 16.4 WAR, averaging over 4 wins a season.  Of course, Damon will be best known for helping to break “the curse” as one of the idiots in 2004.  He was, for the most part, very quiet in the first 6 games of the series against New York, but came up big with the bases loaded in the 2nd inning of game 7 with a grand slam.  The homerun largely put the game out of reach early, as the Yankees were then facing a 6 to 0 deficit.  

Although Damon hasn’t officially retired, as he told ESPN as recently as May of 2014, his days of playing are most likely over.  If he never plays again, he will retire 231 hits shy of the 3,000 mark, two World Series rings, 408 stolen bases, and a career WAR of 56.0 over 2,490 games.  

Relief Pitcher: Chad Bradford

Bradford with the Orioles, 2007
Bradford was the pitching poster child for Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball; a pitcher perfectly capable of getting outs, but with the weirdest wrist action, submarine style, and low velocity that made him undesirable to other teams.  Oakland picked him up for the ’01 season by trading future ear-biter-offer Miguel Olivo over to the White Sox, and Bradford became a key piece of the bullpen.  His extreme groundball rates (63.7% of balls put in play against him were on the ground from ’02 to ’09) made him post some solid ERAs throughout his career, finishing at a 3.26 mark.  He spent a lone season in Boston, ’05, where he put up a 3.86 ERA over 23.1IP.  Boston actually traded for Bradford despite the fact that he had undergone lower back surgery in the offseason, and did not become available for play until after the All-Star break.  The trade marked the first time Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane ever swapped players with the Red Sox, but as we’ll see tomorrow, it was just the first of many.  Bradford gets an additional nod for his excellent postseason play; over 23.1IP he posted a miniscule ERA of 0.39, which included trips to the ALDS once with the ChiSox, thrice with Oakland, once with Boston, once with the Mets (and an NLCS), and an AL Pennant winning season with Tampa Bay.  For a guy that couldn’t throw “normal”, he sure was effective.

Middle Infield: Nomar Garciapara

Garciapara teaching kids what a baseball is, 2008
Nomar is easily one of the most eccentric and recognizable players from my childhood.  Growing up near Seattle, kids in Little League would do their best impersanations of a Ken Griffey Jr. batting stance, or hope they’d get jersey number 11 or 3 (to think I was one of those kids, and was excited to get A-Rod’s number now… yuck).  But despite the geographical distance from Shelton, WA, and Boston, MA, imitation of Nomar’s odd behaviorism in the batter’s box is one of my clearest memories; kids adjusting their batting gloves incessantly, followed up by a series of toe taps never got old.  It speaks volumes about Nomar that in an era with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez at the height of their powers, the Boston shortstop was able to stand out.

After earning the Red Sox starting shortstop job from John Valentin in late 1996, Nomar established himself as the best shortstop in the game, a reign that lasted over the course of his Boston career.  From ’97 (the year he took home the ROY) until his last full season with Boston, Nomar compiled a triple slash line of .325/.372/.557, belting 270 doubles, 44 triples, and 169 homeruns.  He was worth 41 WAR over that stretch on the back of his offensive numbers, but dWAR was also a big fan of his work, checking in at 9.2 for those years.  To put things in perspective, the “Captain” over in New York put together a line of .319/.393/.467 with 60 less doubles, 10 less triples, and 52 less long balls.  Jeter’s WAR over those 7 years totaled 37.4, with a negative dWAR of -1.9.  Oh and Nomar played in 136 less games due to his ’01 season being almost completely wiped out due to a wrist injury.  Those seven years marked five All-Star Team selections, the aforementioned ROY award, a Silver Slugger, two batting titles, and five top ten finishes in the MVP voting.  

So had it not been for injuries derailing an extremely promising start to his career, Garciapara would probably be in the Hall of Fame.  Of course, there ain’t no room in the Hall for coulda’ beens.
After injury plagued and less than stellar offensive production with the Cubs and Dodgers from ’04 to ’08, Nomar made his Oakland A’s debut at the age of 35 in 2009.  He played in 65 games, mostly as DH and a first basemen, hitting .281/.314/.388 to go along with 3 homers and 16 runs driven in.  At the end of the year he’d sign a one day contract with Boston to retire a Red Sock. 
Over 1,434 games, Nomar hit .313/.361/.521, and a career postseason line of .321/.386/.589.  If rate stats alone could get you into the Hall, he’d have as good a chance as any.

Check back tomorrow for the fourth and final part of this Boston/Oakland dream team roster construction, when we'll take a look at a group of players still going strong.

Photo Credit: Kieth Allison (Damon, Bradford) and Wally Gobetz (Garciaparra)

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