Baseball is a conservative sport. The game has been played and studied the same way for over a century with little disturbance.

Yet as all baseball fans know — and now the general public with the release of the critically acclaimed movie “Moneyball” starring Brad Pitt — the format for building a winning ball club has drastically changed over the last decade.

After falling to the New York Yankees in the American League Divisional Series in 2001, Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane sought a cheap yet effective mechanism to replace stars Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen, who departed for greener pastures and a higher payday through free agency.

Beane understood, however, that replacing core statistics such as home runs, runs batted in, and batting average supplied by the aforementioned players would be nearly impossible given the shortage of funds provided by Oakland ownership.

Desperate to seek a way to put a competitive team on the field, Beane knew that conventional methods would not work, and with the advice of his protégé Paul DePodesta (or “Peter Blair”, as played by Jonah Hill in the movie), Beane adopted mathematical principles emphasizing underestimated statistics such as on-base percentage, pioneered by innovator Bill James in the 1970s.

In doing so, Beane, a relatively young baseball mind at 40 years old, clashed with the established hierarchy in his scouting department, who had for years searched for skills, potential, and “tools” and who despised progressive statistical methods for evaluating players. Ironically, Beane was one of those “toolsy” types of players the scouts loved in the 1980s, but through his struggles, Beane recognized that there was more to baseball than just physical prowess.

To summarize, Beane replaced his stars with relative no-names, but was able to win even more games in 2002. The Boston Red Sox sought to make Beane their General Manager after that season, but he declined and stayed in Oakland. The Red Sox, however, following similar principles but with more money, won the 2004 World Series, breaking the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino.”

Ever since, teams have caught on to the Athletics’ and Red Sox’s method and most teams utilize advanced statistical evaluating systems in constructing their teams. Once again, it appears, the rich teams have re-established supremacy in the MLB.

But with small market clubs like the Tampa Bay Rays continuing to succeed, it looks like some organizations have continued to find loopholes in the system.

Like the Athletics, the Rays lost several significant members from last year’s team, but as of today, they find themselves within a game of the mighty Red Sox for the American League’s final playoff spot.

Among major losses, Tampa Bay had to replace the likes of superstar outfielder Carl Crawford, first baseman Carlos Pena and essentially their whole bullpen with a limited payroll. Although the Rays adopted a similar style to the old Athletics, most of their replacements came internally.

After being called up in late July, rookie sensation Desmond Jennings has provided a stabilizing and electric force in the outfield, hitting 10 homeruns and stealing 19 bases in just two months of play. Rookie starter Jeremy Hellickson has supplied an AL-rookie best 2.90 earned run average, while recent call-up Matt Moore appears to be an ace in the making.

In fact, the entire Rays starting rotation – David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Hellickson and Moore – make less money combined than Red Sox Opening Day rotation members Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka individually.

Similarly, the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team who went from being the worst team in the National League West a year ago to division titlists this year, have either relied on young players they acquired via trade, such as starting pitchers Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, or home-grown products such as hitters Justin Upton, Chris Young, Miguel Montero and Paul Goldschmidt.

In short, these teams have invested a significant portion of their resources in scouting and developing their own players, who are their team’s property for six seasons after breaking into the majors — the first three years at only hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to the tens of millions established players make.

As more and more organizations invest in amateur talent and developing those players, they can succeed at the big league level at a fraction of the cost of relying on acquiring players from outside the organization.

For small market clubs to succeed, they have to take calculated risks with prospects whose future performances are unknown. When done correctly, a team with a low payroll can develop into a consistent winner by constantly retooling their pro team with youngsters chomping at the bit to prove themselves. It is the only way for poor teams to have a fighting chance.

Preston Barclay is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. Turning Two in the 202 appears every Tuesday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*