June 15, 2003

The Boys of Moneyball

Like many of you, I recently read Michael Lewis’ new book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The book is an inside look at the Oakland Athletics’ front office and one particularly interesting aspect of the book is the “draft room” section. Lewis takes the reader into the A’s “war room” as they prepare for the 2002 June amateur draft, in which they have a record seven first-round picks.

The book focuses on the unique ways the A’s do things in their organization and their approach to the draft is a perfect example. With their seven first-rounders, the A’s drafted at least one player who was not thought of as 10th round pick, let alone a first-round pick. They passed on great athletes with an abundance of “tools” to take guys that don’t quite look as good in their uniform. As Oakland General Manager Billy Beane says many times throughout Moneyball, “We’re not selling jeans here.” Oakland used all of their first 23 selections on college or junior college players – signing all 23 of them.

The all college-approach Oakland took in the 2002 draft was extreme, even for the A’s. They used three of their first 23 picks in the 2001 draft on high school players, including their second of three first-round picks (Jeremy Bonderman). In 2000, Oakland again chose high school players with four of their first 23 selections. Even in the recently-completed 2003 draft, the A’s took high school players with two of their top 23 picks.

While it is certainly too early to pass judgment on the success of Oakland’s 2002 draft, it is never too early to check in on its progress...

Nick Swisher | First Round (16th overall) | OF/1B | Ohio State

With their first of seven first-round picks, the A’s selected Nick Swisher, a switch-hitting junior outfielder from Ohio State University, whom Baseball America ranked as the 34th best player in the draft. In 169 games at Ohio State, over three seasons, Swisher hit .323/.452/.613 with 35 homers, 42 doubles and five triples. He walked 131 times, while totaling 116 strikeouts.

According to Moneyball, the selection of Swisher had been a plan of Oakland’s for some time. In particular, Billy Beane was so infatuated with Swisher that he avoided scouting him in person, so he wouldn’t “show his hand” to other teams. Michael Lewis writes in Moneyball that Billy Beane “wanted to fly across the country to watch a few of Swisher’s games, but his scouting department told him that if he did, word would quickly spread to the rest of Major League Baseball that Billy Beane was onto Nick Swisher...’Operation Shutdown,’ the scouts called their project to keep Billy as far away from Swisher as they could.”

Swisher, whom Lewis says Beane spoke of “in the needy tone of a man who has been restrained for too long from seeing his beloved,” signed for a $1,780,000 bonus – $370,000 less than the player chosen one spot ahead of him and $220,000 less than the player selected one spot after him.

Swisher made his pro debut at Single-A Vancouver of the Northwest (short-season) League in 2002. In 13 games he hit .250/.433/.450 with two homers, three doubles and a 13/11 BB/K ratio, before he was promoted to Single-A Visalia of the California League. Swisher struggled at Visalia, hitting just .240 in 183 at bats. He did show some nice power, stroking four homers, 13 doubles and two triples – good for an isolated slugging percentage of .150. While Swisher walked quite a bit (26 times in 49 games), he also struck out a ton (48 times, or 26.2% of his ABs).

Swisher started the 2003 season at Single-A Modesto, where he hit .296/.418/.550 with 10 homers, 14 doubles and a 41/49 BB/K ratio in 51 games. Swisher was recently promoted to Double-A Midland of the Texas League. At the time of his promotion, he ranked third in the California League in on-base percentage (.418), fourth in slugging percentage (.550), fifth in homers (10) and fifth in runs batted in (43). So far in Double-A, Swisher is batting .222/.300/.370 in just seven games.

Joe Blanton | First Round (24th overall) | RHP | Kentucky

The A’s second first-round pick came to them by way of the New York Yankees – one of two picks Oakland received from New York as compensation for Jason Giambi. With it, they chose Baseball America’s 18th ranked player, Joe Blanton, a 6’3” right-handed pitcher from the University of Kentucky.

In his three seasons at Kentucky, Blanton spit time between the rotation and the bullpen, putting up overall numbers that were not particularly impressive. His career ERA was 5.11, including 4.58 in 100 innings during his junior year. While Blanton’s ERA was less than impressive, the A’s likely looked past that and saw his excellent strikeout rate. In his final season at UK, Blanton struck out 133 batters in 100 innings (12.0/9 IP). He also cut his walks from 5.7 per nine innings as a sophomore all the way to 3.3/9 IP.

A college junior, Blanton signed for $1,400,000 – $800,000 less than the player chosen one slot ahead of him and $25,000 more than the player chosen directly behind him.

Blanton made his pro debut at Single-A Vancouver and appeared in four games, two as a starter and two in relief. He pitched a total of 14 innings, posting a 15/2 K/BB ratio and a 3.14 ERA. The A’s promoted him to Single-A Modesto of the California League, where he struggled, pitching six innings with a 6/6 K/BB ratio and a 7.50 ERA.

Blanton is currently pitching at Single-A Kane County of the Midwest League. He has been in the starting rotation all season, making 14 starts and pitching a total of 84 innings with a 3.00 ERA. Blanton has a phenomenal 82/14 K/BB ratio and has given up just four homers. Blanton is second in the league in strikeouts (82) and fourth in innings pitched (84).

John McCurdy | First Round (26th overall) | SS | Maryland

With the only one of the seven first-round picks that was actually their own pick, the A’s selected John McCurdy, a shortstop from the University of Maryland that Baseball America had ranked 45th overall. McCurdy had an incredible junior season at Maryland, hitting .443/.496/.828 with 19 homers, 20 doubles and 77 RBIs in only 54 games, on his way to being named Second Team All-American. In addition to the huge power numbers – some of the best ever for a college shortstop – McCurdy also showed good speed (20/23 on SBs) and decent control of the strike zone (18/31 BB/K ratio). That said, his amazing junior year was definitely a huge step up from his performance the year prior. As a sophomore, McCurdy hit “only” .300 with six homers and 17 doubles in 52 games, good for a .495 slugging percentage.

A junior, McCurdy signed for $1,375,000 – the same amount as the player chosen one spot ahead of him and $25,000 less than the player chosen right after him.

McCurdy debuted at Vancouver last year and hit just .242/.282/.332 in 56 games. He hit for very little power (three homers and nine doubles in 223 ABs) and had horrible control of the strike zone. He struck out 57 times in 223 at bats (25.6%) and walked only 12 times. Unlike Swisher and Blanton, McCurdy was not promoted to a higher level and played the whole season in Vancouver.

McCurdy is currently playing shortstop at Kane County. He is continuing to struggle and is hitting just .236/.289/.277 through his first 62 games. He has one homer and seven doubles in 242 at bats, along with a 13/47 BB/K ratio. McCurdy is 8/11 on steal attempts and has committed 16 errors at shortstop.

Ben Fritz | First Round (30th overall) | RHP | Fresno State

With the first of two picks they received from the St. Louis Cardinals for Jason Isringhausen, the A’s selected Ben Fritz, a 6’4” right-hander from Fresno State University – Baseball America’s 53rd ranked player. During his junior season at Fresno State, Fritz spent time at pitcher, catcher and first base, and was named the Western Athletic Conference’s Pitcher of the Year. He was also named Second Team All-American as a “utility player.” As a pitcher, Fritz started 16 games for Fresno State in 2002, going 9-5 with a 3.25 ERA and totaling 98 strikeouts in 119 innings (7.8/9). As a hitter, Fritz hit .283/.361/.487 with 10 homers and 17 doubles in 230 at bats.

A junior, Fritz signed for $1,200,000 – $5,000 less than the player chosen ahead of him and the same amount as the selection after him.

The A’s liked Fritz more as a pitcher than a hitter and he began his first pro season starting games for Vancouver. He made nine starts, totaling 40 innings with a 2.95 ERA and a 33/14 K/BB ratio, before he was promoted to Visalia. At Visalia, he made three more starts, with a 16/6 K/BB ratio and a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings. Combined at both stops, he pitched 57 innings with a 49/20 K/BB ratio, while holding opponents to a .212 batting average.

Fritz is currently in Modesto’s starting rotation. He has started 14 games, totaling 74 innings with a 4.99 ERA. He has a 76/32 K/BB ratio and has allowed just three homers. Fritz is second in the California League in strikeouts (76) and sixth in innings pitched (74).

Jeremy Brown | First Round (35th overall) | C | Alabama

With their second Jason Giambi compensation pick, the A’s selected University of Alabama catcher Jeremy Brown. Brown, who was not among Baseball America’s top 250 players heading into the draft, was one of the main characters in Moneyball. After four seasons at Alabama, Brown left as the school’s all-time leader in games played (251), runs scored (244), runs batted in (231) and walks (207). Brown hit .363/.465/.574 as a junior and .320/.493/.566 as a senior, walking 69 times in 66 games.

When the A’s draft room discussed Brown, there wasn’t a whole lot of positive things said by their scouts. One Oakland scout said, “This kid wears a large pair of underwear.” Another scout chimed in that “it’s a soft body...a fleshy kind of body.” To which Beane, of course, responded: “We’re not selling jeans here.”

As a college senior that had not been getting much attention from scouts, Jeremy Brown expected to be drafted in the late rounds. The A’s called him prior to the draft and informed him that they were interested in taking him in the first-round. According to Moneyball, Brown thought it was one of his friends playing a prank on him and he told A’s scout Billy Owens that he would need to call him back. “He thought it was a crank call...he said he wanted to make sure it was me, and that I was serious,” Owens said.

A senior, Brown signed for $350,000 after agreeing to a pre-draft deal with the A’s. The player drafted one spot ahead of him signed for $1,000,000 and the player one spot behind him signed for $1,050,000.

Brown began his pro career at Vancouver, where he hit .286/.487/.321 in 10 games, before the A’s promoted him to Visalia. At Visalia, Brown played in 55 games, hitting .310/.444/.545 with 10 homers, 14 doubles and a 44/49 BB/K ratio.

Brown is currently catching at Double-A Midland of the Texas League, the only one of the A’s seven first-rounders to begin this season above Single-A. Through his first 60 games, Brown is hitting .281/.402/.390. He continues to control the strike zone (40/32 BB/K ratio) and get on base (.402 OBP – fourth in the Texas League), but the power he showed in 2002 has not been there thus far. Brown had an isolated slugging percentage of .235 at Visalia last year and an ISO of just .109 so far this season. Brown has four homers, nine doubles, a triple and three stolen bases (amazing, I know) in 210 at bats.

Steve Obenchain | First Round (37th overall) | RHP | Evansville

With their second Jason Isringhausen compensation pick, the A’s selected University of Evansville right-hander Steve Obenchain, Baseball America’s 170th ranked player. During his final season at Evansville, Obenchain appeared in 25 games (five starts) and totaled 78 innings pitched, with a sparkling 1.38 ERA and 89/23 K/BB ratio. He also had a 2.55 ERA and 61/11 K/BB ratio in 67 innings pitched during his sophomore season.

A junior, Obenchain signed for $750,000 – $300,000 less than the player chosen one spot before him and $125,000 less than the player chosen one spot behind him.

Obenchain began his pro career at Vancouver, pitching 41 innings with a 2.85 ERA and 29/10 K/BB ratio, before moving on to Visalia. There, he pitched another 24 innings with a 3.00 ERA and 10/3 K/BB ratio. Combined at the two stops, Obenchain totaled 65 innings pitched with a 2.91 ERA and 39/13 K/BB ratio, holding opposing batters to a .237 batting average.

Obenchain is currently in Modesto’s starting rotation. He made just four starts before being sidelined with a concussion when he was hit by a ball in the outfield prior to a game. He missed a little over a month and just recently returned to action. Through his first eight starts, he has a 4.54 ERA and a 17/18 K/BB ratio in 40 innings pitched.

Mark Teahen | First Round (39th overall) | 3B | St. Mary’s

With their second Johnny Damon compensation pick, the A’s selected St. Mary’s College third baseman Mark Teahen, whom Baseball America had ranked #134 overall. During his junior year at St. Mary’s, Teahen hit .412/.493/.624 with six homers, 15 doubles, four triples and 30 walks in 49 games. He was a First Team All-West Coast Conference Selection.

According to Moneyball, in the Oakland draft room prior to the draft, A’s Director of Scouting Erik Kubota says, “I hate to say it but if you want to talk about another Jason Giambi, this guy could be it.” Kubota’s statement is met with silence from A’s scouts, but the A’s nevertheless take Teahen in round one.

A junior, Teahen signed for $725,000 – $150,000 less than the player chosen one spot ahead of him and $525,000 more than the player taken one pick after him (Mark Schramek, taken by the Cincinnati Reds, who signed for just $200,000 – tied for the lowest of any player taken in the first three rounds of the draft).

Teahen started his pro career at Vancouver and hit .404 in 13 games, before he was promoted to Modesto. At Modesto, Teahen appeared in 59 games, hitting just .239/.307/.299 with one homer and nine doubles in 234 at bats.

Teahen is currently Modesto’s starting third baseman. Through his first 53 games he is hitting .279/.382/.350 with one homer and nine doubles in 197 at bats. He has 31 walks and 51 strikeouts.

(Jason Giambi hit .291/.436/.470 with 12 homers, 16 doubles and a 74/47 BB/K ratio in 89 games at Modesto in 1993. He was 22 years old, the same age Teahen will be in September)

Steve Stanley | Second Round (67th overall) | OF | Notre Dame

After seven first-round picks, the A’s used their lone second-rounder on Notre Dame centerfielder Steve Stanley, who was not among Baseball America’s top 250 players. In his four seasons at Notre Dame, Stanley played in 256 games for the Irish. He hit .383 in 1,003 at bats, including .400 as a junior and .439 his senior year. He also drew 126 walks, struck out just 65 times and stole 116 bases. Stanley was a First Team All-American his senior year.

Stanley signed for $200,000 – $395,000 less than the player chosen directly ahead of him and $367,000 less than the player chosen directly after him. There is a scene in Moneyball where Oakland scout Rich Sparks has just had a conversation with Stanley, in which he told the diminutive outfielder that the A’s plan to take him in the second-round of the draft, as long as he is willing to come to a pre-arranged agreement on his signing bonus. Billy Beane asks Sparks if everything is set to go with Stanley and Sparks says, “I thought he was going to jump through the phone when I told him...I think he’d play for free.”

Unlike most of the A’s 2002 draft picks, Stanley began his pro career at Modesto. He hit .286/.382/.347 in 63 games, hitting one homer and 11 doubles in 262 at bats, along with a 39/46 BB/K ratio.

Stanley is currently playing at Double-A Midland, along with Jeremy Brown and the recently-promoted Nick Swisher. Through his first 64 games, Stanley is hitting .297/.375/.329 with just six extra-base hits (four doubles and two triples) in 249 at bats. He does have a very good 31/36 BB/K ratio. Stanley is considered to be an excellent defensive centerfielder and is tenth in the league in on-base percentage (.375).

Bill Murphy | Third Round (98th overall) | LHP | Cal State Northridge

With their third-round pick, the A’s selected Bill Murphy, a 6’5” junior lefty from Cal State Northridge – Baseball America’s 66th ranked player in the draft. In his junior season at CSN, Murphy went 9-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 102 innings pitched and posted a 127/60 K/BB ratio.

Murphy spent 2002 in Vancouver’s starting rotation, appearing in 13 games (nine starts) with a 4.57 ERA in 41 innings. He struck out 46 batters (10.1/9 IP), but also walked 35.

This year, Murphy is pitching at Kane County, where he is currently 6-4 with a 2.12 ERA in 13 starts. He has 81 strikeouts in 85 innings pitched (8.6/9 IP), along with 30 walks and four homers allowed. Murphy is ninth in the Midwest League in ERA (2.12), first in strikeouts (81) and second in innings pitched (85).

John Baker | Fourth Round (128th overall) | C | California

John Baker, the A’s fourth-rounder last year, played all of 2002 at Vancouver. He hit just .235 with a .304 slugging percentage in 39 games, but posted a .389 on-base percentage, courtesy of 22 walks and seven hit by pitches.

Baker is currently the starting catcher at Kane County. Through 65 games he is hitting .298/.385/.433 with four homers, 17 doubles and two triples in 245 at bats. He has 32 walks and 62 strikeouts.

Mark Kiger | Fifth Round (158th overall) | SS | Florida

The A’s drafted University of Florida shortstop Mark Kiger in the fifth-round, after he had an outstanding three year career, including an incredible final season. In his last year in Gainesville, Kiger hit .403/.522/.609 with 11 homers, 12 doubles and four triples in 258 at bats. He posted an awesome 60/24 BB/K ratio in 65 games and even stole 11 bases.

Kiger made his pro debut at Vancouver last season and hit .244/.346/.362 in 66 games, smacking five homers and 12 doubles in 246 at bats, to go along with a 40/58 BB/K ratio.

Kiger is playing at Modesto right now. He has been moved to second base full-time and is hitting .277/.384/.430 through 63 games. He has five homers, 19 doubles and two triples in 249 at bats and has posted a 41/43 BB/K ratio.

Brian Stavisky | Sixth Round (188th overall) | OF | Notre Dame

After drafting Notre Dame centerfielder Steve Stanley in the second-round, the A’s snatched up his college teammate and fellow Irish outfielder, Brian Stavisky, in round six. While nowhere near the defensive outfielder that Stanley is, Stavisky has a lot more offensive potential. Stavisky put up monster numbers during his three seasons at Notre Dame. He had slugging percentages of .569 and .657 during his first two seasons and hit .394/.451/.658 in his final season.

Stavisky began his pro career at Vancouver last season and hit .294/.407/.441 in 32 games, hitting one homer and 10 doubles. This year, Stavisky is playing at Kane County, where he is batting .284 with a .380 on-base percentage in 42 games, but has just seven extra-base hits and zero homers in 141 at bats – good for just a .340 slugging percentage. Stavisky has played some left field at Kane County, but has primarily been a designated hitter.

Brant Colamarino | Seventh Round (218th overall) | 1B | Pittsburgh

In the draft room, just as the A’s take University of Pittsburgh first baseman Brant Colamarino with the 218th overall selection in the draft, Oakland Assistant General Manager Paul DePodesta says that “no one else in baseball will agree, but Colamarino might be the best hitter in the country.” Like many of the other players the A’s selected in the 2002 draft, Colamarino is not the best physical specimen. In what is one of the most memorable lines in the entire book, Lewis writes: “When Brant Colamarino removes his shirt for the first time in an A’s minor league locker room he inspires his coaches to inform [Beane] that ‘Colamarino has titties.’”

Colamarino played at Vancouver last season, hitting .259 in 67 games. He walked 27 times, OBP’d at .348 and showed a little power, smacking six homers, six doubles and two triples in 228 at bats – good for a .382 slugging percentage.

Colamarino is currently at Kane County, where he is the everyday first baseman. In 65 games he is hitting just .233/.326/.381 with seven homers and 14 doubles in 236 at bats. He has 28 walks, but has struck out 54 times.

Jared Burton | Eighth Round (248th overall) | RHP | Western Carolina

The A’s selected Jared Burton, 6’5” right-handed pitcher from Western Carolina University in the eighth round. Burton was 7-6 with a 3.76 ERA during his final season at WCU. He struck out 105 and walked 31 in 103 innings.

Burton played at Vancouver last season and posted a 3.58 ERA in 37 2/3 innings of work while splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. He had a 38/14 K/BB ratio and didn’t give up a single homer.

He is at Kane County this year, pitching mainly out of the bullpen. Burton has appeared in 15 games (two starts), pitching a total of 31 2/3 innings with a 2.27 ERA and a 33/7 K/BB ratio.

Shane Komine | Ninth Round (278th overall) | RHP | Nebraska

The A’s drafted Shane “Hawaiian Punch Out” Komine in the ninth-round, after the Honolulu native had an outstanding four-year career at the University of Nebraska. Komine went 41-8 during his collegiate career, including 10-0 during his senior year. He had ERAs of 3.58, 2.25, 3.37 and 2.34 and was a Second Team All-American as a senior. Komine racked up huge strikeout totals, punching out 510 batters in his 429 career innings (10.7/9 IP), including 115 Ks in 96 innings (10.8/9 IP) his senior year.

Komine pitched at Visalia last year, posting a 5.96 ERA in 25 2/3 innings, while struggling with his control. He struck out 22 batters, but walked 20.

This year, Komine began the season at Kane County, where he was absolutely un-hittable. Komine made eight starts and pitched a total of 54 innings, striking out 50 (8.3/9 IP) while walking just nine. He had a 1.82 ERA and gave up only 45 hits, including just one homer, on his way to a 6-0 record.

The A’s promoted him to Double-A Midland, where he is currently 3-1 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts. He has a 31/8 K/BB ratio in 40 innings pitched and has given up just 32 hits.

For my thoughts on Moneyball the book (instead of the players), click on the following:

Moneyball (May 20, 2003)

Today's picks:

Florida (Willis) -130 over New York (Glavine)

Total to date: + $1,570

W/L record: 134-128 (4-1 Saturday for +330, and I seem to have turned the corner on my losing...)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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