The A's have the best record in baseball and they've done it with a player selection process that is far more sophisticated than the overhyped “Moneyball.”
In 2002, A's general manager Billy Beane was following a pattern set by Sandy Alderson in the 1980s, when he picked up on the then-revolutionary theories of Bill James, promulgated in a series of books. And the players who put the team in the playoffs were Miguel Tejada, with his bat and glove, and the Big Three starters: Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito — all of whom had been found by scouts using conventional assessments.
Now, Beane's job is much tougher because most, if not all, teams in Major League Baseball have incorporated the theories first advanced by James, so the A's no longer have an advantage in that area. But they've compensated by seeking players who have specific skill sets they need.
Sometimes, those players have come from the farm system but had to change positions. Josh Donaldson was a catcher switched to third base, where he has become a superb defender and a clutch hitter who is leading in the fan vote to be the AL starter in the All-Star Game. Sean Doolittle was a first baseman who has been switched to pitching and is now the closer.
Other times, it's been the ability to see something other teams had missed. Brandon Moss was about to quit baseball when the A's acquired him and basically told him to forget about strikeouts and just hit home runs. He hit 21 home runs in 84 games in 2012, 30 in a full season last year and has another 17 this year.
They also are carrying three catchers, which is one more than most teams. They not only platoon them, one, Stephen Vogt, has even played the outfield — and made a couple of excellent catches.
The players buy into this and are not worried if they don't start every game, for which manager Bob Melvin deserves credit. Players know the even-tempered Melvin doesn't play favorites, only those he thinks can help win a game. And the clubhouse is an often riotous one, with players playing pranks on each other, dressing weirdly, wearing beards that make them look like mountain men, reveling at pushing a shaving-cream pie into the face of a player who has gotten the game-winning hit, preferably during a postgame TV interview.
All of this is backed by a superior pitching staff, with pitching coach Curt Young routinely turning average pitchers into winners. When he gets one with superior talent, like Sonny Gray, they become All-Stars.
They've done all this while playing in an outmoded park. Oakland businessmen have offered to pay to pay for a new park around Jack London Square, but A's owner Lew Wolff has dismissed the offer, probably because he's still dreaming of getting permission to move to San Jose, which will never happen. Oakland mayor Jean Quan has proposed a Coliseum City in the vicinity of the current park, and that will go as far as her other plans.
The fans ignore all this and give their team robust support. They think they're watching the best team in baseball. So do I.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.