The Mets had no use for pitcher Jeff Tam two years ago, but in
the eyes of the Athletics, he cut the perfect profile. Under
general manager Billy Beane the A's favor a statistical
evaluation of talent. Beane and his staff noted that Tam had a
better than two-to-one ratio of ground balls to fly balls and
low rates of home runs and walks per nine innings. Score another
one for the Beane counters. Tam, signed as a minor league free
agent, has become a valuable part of the Oakland bullpen,
appearing in a team-high 70 games last year with a 3.01 ERA for
the blue-light price of $350,000.
The A's are the Antiques Roadshow of baseball, a low-budget
production that recognizes the treasures in other people's junk.
Their minor league free-agent steals have included Tam, Geronimo
Berroa, Buddy Groom, Gil Heredia, Matt Stairs and Billy Taylor,
while the cache from trades includes Jason Isringhausen, Cory
Lidle, Terrence Long and Jim Mecir. Oakland won the second-most
games in baseball last year (102) with the second-lowest payroll
Beane's philosophy is simple: Give him pitchers who throw
strikes and keep the ball in the park and hitters who draw walks
to ring up high on-base percentages. "We're not as quick to
judge initial failure," Beane says. "The strengths that we're
looking for have to play out over time. If you watch someone for
20 at bats and put a label on him, you're making a big mistake."
Oakland drew the most walks in the AL and issued the fewest last
year, piling up differentials of 200 walks and 239 runs. The
Athletics came within one infamous step of the ALCS--Jeremy
Giambi's nonslide in the pivotal third game of a Division Series
loss to the Yankees. Giambi's big brother, Jason, the ultimate
Beane player, then took his league-best .477 on-base percentage
and clubhouse presence to the Yankees, while outfielder and
leadoff hitter Johnny Damon sprinted to Boston. The two free
agents scored 25% of Oakland's runs.
So Beane whipped out his trusty on-base slide rule and traded
for Rangers first base prospect Carlos Pena and (by way of the
Mets) Yankees DH David Justice. "I'm very aware of the
philosophy here as far as patience at the plate," says Pena, who
had a solid .361 OBP in a 22-game trial with Texas last year
while living and learning under the roof of Alex Rodriguez, who
took him in as a boarder. "That's the way I've always hit. It's
a perfect fit."
Justice will be 36 on April 14 and is coming off an awful year
in which he hit .241 (.333 OBP) and continued to spend so much
time in the trainers' room that he should have been charged
rent. He hasn't played in 150 games in a season since he was 27,
and he's missed an average of 45 games a year since 1994.
The A's still have Jermaine Dye, who drove in 59 runs in 61
games after Beane picked Kansas City's pocket again in a
midseason trade, and third baseman Eric Chavez, who busted loose
with a huge second half (.340, 21 homers, 68 RBIs after the
All-Star break). Whether the A's get a third crack at taking out
the Yankees in October may come down to how well they replace
Giambi and Damon, even if Chavez claims that Giambi's leadership
role has been exaggerated.
"Jason wasn't too vocal," Chavez says. "[Manager] Art [Howe]
would go to Jason and say, 'Maybe you should have a team
meeting.' And Jason would go, 'Aw, Skip, do I have to?' He was
very quiet. People are making too much out of that.
"What we'll miss is that Jason was so good at getting on base.
Even if he didn't get a hit, he'd get his two or three walks.
One thing Jason did was carry the team. Me, Miggy [Miguel
Tejada], David Justice, Jermaine.... One of us has to emerge as
that consistent go-to guy." --T.V.
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO Billy Koch, the newest hard-slingin' A, assures plenty of happy endings for baseball's best batch of starters.
COLOR PHOTO: TOM HAUCK/GETTY IMAGES PENA
Last year Miguel Tejada (31) and Eric Chavez (32) became the
first shortstop-third base combo in major league history to each
hit 30 home runs in the same season.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Athletics
"Nasty, nasty, nasty starting pitching. Mark Mulder has a great
lefthanded body and the perfect delivery. His fastball is one of
the best I've seen, and he has command of three pitches. He's
still learning, too, which should scare the league. Barry Zito
has always been a scrappy, rough-around-the-edges guy, but what
he lacks in velocity he makes up for with guile and instinct. If
Tim Hudson is healthy, he might be the best pitcher in baseball
not named Pedro. Nothing Hudson throws is straight. He has a
heavy ball, and he's a competitor in the David Cone mold....
Everyone is talking about how great Billy Koch will be, but
Jason Isringhausen had much more upside. Koch just throws hard
and straight, and if you can hit a good fastball, you'll get
him. Jim Mecir has the best sinker on that staff.... Terrence
Long is a brutal centerfielder. He has a tough time judging
balls in front of him, and he doesn't go back and forth well.
His arm is strong, though. He should be in a corner.... David
Justice is a second bad outfielder, which is a problem. His bat
looked very slow in the playoffs, but they seem to think he's
still got the pop. I'm doubtful.... Carlos Pena reminds me of
Keith Hernandez during his heyday with the Mets, except he has a
bit more pop. Pena is sweet around the bag, and he might hit 25
homers, drive in 90 runs.... Ramon Hernandez is a highly
underrated catcher. He took some heat because he wasn't throwing
guys out in the playoffs, but that's not his fault. Oakland's
pitchers don't hold runners well."
projected roster with 2001 statistics
PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
2B Frank Menechino R 243 .242 12 60 2
SS Miguel Tejada R 69 .267 31 113 11
LF David Justice L 136 .241 18 51 1
RF Jermaine Dye R 56 .282 26 106 9
3B Eric Chavez L-R 38 .288 32 114 8
CF Terrence Long L 130 .283 12 85 9
1B Carlos Pena (R)L 90 .258 3 12 0
DH Jeremy Giambi L 182 .283 12 57 0
C Ramon Hernandez R 164 .254 15 60 1
IF Randy Velarde R 280 .278 9 32 6
IF Olmedo Saenz R 301 .220 9 32 0
PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
RH Tim Hudson 8 18 9 6.7 1.22 3.37
LH Barry Zito 12 17 8 6.1 1.23 3.49
LH Mark Mulder 5 21 8 6.7 1.16 3.45
RH Cory Lidle 62 13 6 6.5 1.15 3.59
RH Erik Hiljus 101 5 0 5.2 1.38 3.41
PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
RH Billy Koch 36 2 5 36 1.47 4.80
RH Jim Mecir 149 2 8 3 1.27 3.43
RH Jeff Tam 165 2 4 3 1.30 3.01
New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched PVR: Player Value
Ranking (explanation on page 154)
seventh season with Oakland
second in AL West
IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings