Moneyball

Moneyball Brad Pitt Oakland A’s Billy Beane Baseball Prospects Hits and Misses

Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, subject of the movie “Moneyball,” was wrong about many of today’s baseball stars.

Billy Beane By The Numbers

The film Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis’ bestselling book and co-written by Aaron Sorkin, opens in theaters Friday. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the cash-strapped Major League Baseball team the Oakland Athletics, who, with the help of his number-crunching assistant GM, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill)—a pseudonym for Paul DePodesta—allows the A’s to compete with large market teams like the Yankees by instituting a sabermetric (i.e. quantitative) approach to scouting players. In Lewis’ tome, Beane, who became the A’s GM in 1998 and still holds the position, was right about certain baseball prospects he championed (Kevin Youkilis) and very wrong about other future stars (Prince Fielder). See Beane’s biggest scouting hits and misses. By Marlow Stern.

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BARRY ZITO

Drafted in 1999 with the ninth pick in the first round by Beane and the Oakland A’s, Barry Zito was part of the A’s “big three” starting pitchers—along with Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder—that served as the team’s foundation. A left-handed pitcher with a killer curveball, Zito made his pitching debut in July 2000 and in 2002, won the American League Cy Young Award with a 23-5 record and 2.75 ERA. That year, he was paid just $500,000 since he was still within his first three years of being drafted, and wasn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2006 season, when he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants—the most expensive ever for a pitcher at the time. Despite making three All-Star game appearances with the A’s, he didn’t make another with the Giants. In five seasons with the Giants thus far, Zito hasn’t won more than 11 games and has had a losing record every season. But we’ll chalk up his poor post-Beane years to the curse of Alyssa Milano (see: Carl Pavano and Brad Penny).

VERDICT: Hit

Deanne Fitzmaurice / Corbis

MARK MULDER

In Beane’s first year as Oakland A’s GM, he drafted lefty pitcher Mark Mulder with the second overall pick in the MLB draft. He made his MLB debut in April 2000 and would eventually become part of the “big three” with Zito and Tim Hudson. Mulder soon became a star, leading the American League with 21 wins in 2001, and winning 19 games in 2002. However, after a pair of injury-plagued seasons, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2004 season for future All-Star pitcher Dan Haren and two other prospects. While Mulder was an All-Star with the A's in 2003 and 2004, he would suffer from shoulder problems with the Cardinals, and never returned to his A’s form. He became a free agent when the Cardinals bought out his contract in 2008, and announced his retirement in 2010. He’s currently a sportscaster on ESPN.

VERDICT: Hit


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TIM HUDSON

Beane was only assistant GM of the A’s when the team drafted right-handed pitcher Tim Hudson in the sixth round of the 1997 MLB draft. In his 1999 rookie season, he posted an 11-2 record and in the running for American League Rookie of the Year. In 2000, he won an AL high 20 games and was an All-Star in 2000 and 2004. Hudson was part of the A’s “big three” starting pitchers, and was known his two-seam fastball that clocked in at 93 mph, as well as a sharp cutter. He was traded by Beane in 2005 to the Atlanta Braves for Charles Thomas, Dan Meyer, and Juan Cruz—none of whom turned out to amount to anything in the majors. Hudson, on the other hand, would prove to be an excellent pitcher for the Braves. Last year, he posted a 17-9 record with a low 2.83 ERA.

VERDICT
: Hit

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SCOTT HATTEBERG

After seven seasons as a backup catcher for the Boston Red Sox (1995-2001), a then 32-year-old Hatteberg underwent elbow surgery. Afterwards, he was rendered unable to throw a baseball. Despite this, Beane signed him in 2002 to a one-year contract for $950,000 plus incentives, and moved him first base/designated hitter to replace their star Jason Giambi, who had just signed a massive contract with the New York Yankees. An entire chapter of Lewis’ book is devoted to Hatteberg, who was given the starting first base position ahead of star prospect Carlos Peña. Beane believed in Hatteberg’s high on base percentage and lack of strikeouts, and Hatteberg eventually emerged as a skilled first basemen. In 2004, he hit .284 with 15 home runs, 82 RBIs, and an impressive 72 walks. He was signed in 2006 to the Cincinnati Reds, where he continued to play well, and retired after the 2008 season.

VERDICT: Hit

Greg Fiume / CORBIS

ERIC CHAVEZ

When Beane was assistant GM of the A’s, the team drafted Eric Chavez with the tenth overall selection in the 1996 MLB draft. The third basemen made his debut in 1998, and in Lewis’ book Beane called Chavez “the most naturally gifted player in the game” and compared his numbers at 24 to Alex Rodriguez, but noted that Chavez was a better fielder. Chavez won 6 consecutive Gold Gloves from 2001-2006, and in 2001, his best season in the pros, he hit .288 and 32 home runs and 114 RBIs. His offensive production dropped off in 2006, and he suffered back problems through the latter part of his tenure with the A’s, who declined to resign him after the 2010 season. He’s currently a utility player for the New York Yankees, and while he never fully lived up to his potential—due mostly to injuries—his 13 years with the A’s made him the second longest tenured A’s player in history.

VERDICT: Hit

Larry Goren / CORBIS

NICK SWISHER

Swisher was selected by Beane and the A’s with the sixteenth selection in the first round of the 2002 MLB draft with a pick they received as compensation for trading outfielder Johnny Damon to the Boston Red Sox. Beane was completely enamored with Swisher, who he loved for his switch-hitting, high on base percentage, and gift for drawing walks. “If Billy had the first pick in the entire draft he’d take Swisher with it,” wrote Lewis. In 2005, Swisher finished sixth in the voting for the AL Rookie of the Year, and the following season, he hit .254 with 35 home runs and 95 RBIs. In 2008, Beane was forced to trade Swisher to the Chicago White Sox as part of a rebuilding effort for a trio of prospects, and at season’s end, Swisher was traded to the Yankees. He won a World Series Championship with the Yanks in 2009, and in 2010, he experienced his best year ever as a pro hitting .288 with 29 home runs and 88 RBIs. Swisher was voted to his first All-Star game that year, and continues to be an integral part of the Yankees in right field.

VERDICT: Hit


Mike Janes / AP Photos

KEVIN YOUKILIS

The Boston Red Sox drafted Youkilis in the eight round (243rd overall) of the MLB draft, much to Beane’s dismay, who thought that he’d fall to the A’s later in the draft. Beane admired Youkilis tremendously, nicknaming him “The Greek God of Walks” in Lewis’ book, despite other scouts’ hang ups over his defensive ability and power at the plate. Youkilis has been a star ever since he made his major league debut in 2004, the year the Red Sox won their first World Series Championship since 1918. He’s a three-time All-Star, proved scouts who doubted his defense wrong, winning the Gold Glove in 2007 at first base. In his best season, 2008, he hit .312 with 29 home runs and 115 RBIs, and despite a disappointing 2011 season, continues to be a crucial part of the Red Sox squad.

VERDICT: Hit

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

PRINCE FIELDER

 Beane was not a Prince Fielder fan. In the 2002 draft chronicled in Lewis’ book, Fielder, the son of MLB star Cecil Fielder, was nowhere on the A’s radar. “Here’s an astonishing fact: Prince Fielder is too fat even for the Oakland A’s,” wrote Lewis. Instead, the A’s selected Nick Swisher with their first round selection and Fielder fell to the Milwaukee Brewers. Fielder has been a much bigger star than Swisher since making his MLB debut midway through the 2005 season. He’s a three-time All-Star (2007, 2009, 2011) and is one of the premier power hitters in baseball. In his best season, 2009, he hit .299 with 46 home runs and 141 RBIs. Prior to the 2008 season, he became a vegetarian, and no longer eats meat and fish. Eat that, Billy Beane.

VERDICT
: Miss

Michael Zagaris / Getty Images

JEREMY BROWN

The most talked-about prospect by Beane in Lewis’ book is catching prospect Jeremy Brown. Described as “fat-bodied” by others scouts in the book, Beane took a liking to the catcher who, as Paul DePodesta says in the book, is “the only player in the history of the SEC with three hundred hits and two hundred walks.” Beane loved Brown’s good eye at the plate and, despite the fact that he wasn’t ranked in the top 25 catching prospects, selected him with the 35th pick in the first round of the 2002 MLB draft. He made his major league debut in 2006, recording three hits in ten at-bats, but wouldn’t have any more swings in the majors. He spent the rest of his career in the minor leagues, and retired in 2008 once he realized he had no chance of cracking the Oakland A’s lineup.

VERDICT: Miss



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CARLOS PEÑA

After being drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1998 with the tenth overall pick, Beane’s A’s acquired Peña through a trade with the Rangers for Ryan Ludwick, Gerald Laird, and two other prospects. Ludwick would become a future All-Star with the St. Louis Cardinals. Since the A’s had Hatteberg at first base, and Beane wasn’t enamored with Peña’s high strikeout numbers, he turned around and traded Peña to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team deal that landed them pitcher Ted Lilly and two other prospects. Peña would eventually become a star once he landed on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2007, winning the Silver Slugger Award and AL Comeback Player of the Year Award that year, hitting .282 with 46 home runs and 121 RBIs (his best season ever). He would later be named an All-Star in 2009 with the Rays and is currently the starting first baseman for the Chicago Cubs.

VERDICT
: Miss

Tony Gutierrez / AP Photo

SCOTT KAZMIR

During the infamous 2002 MLB draft, Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s were desperately hoping that the New York Mets would select left-handed pitcher Scott Kazmir instead of Nick Swisher, so that Swisher could fall to the A’s. Beane got his wish, and the Mets selected Kazmir with the fifteenth overall pick, while the A’s chose Swisher with the sixteenth pick. Beane was critical of Kazmir because he was a high school prospect—which Beane never went for—and because his agent was the legendary Scott Boras, who commands high price tags for his highly-touted clients. The Mets would notoriously trade Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for pitcher Victor Zambrano and a prospect in 2004, and Kazmir would go on to become a two-time All-Star with the Rays (2006, 2008) and was the American League Strikeout Champion in 2007. He currently pitches for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

VERDICT: Miss

Morry Gash / AP Photo

ZACK GREINKE

Greinke was another high school prospect that wasn’t really on Beane’s radar during the 2002 MLB draft chronicled in Lewis’ book (again, Beane hated the idea of drafting high schoolers). He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals and initially struggled with the team due to his suffering from social anxiety disorder and depression. In 2005, he went a pitiful 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA. After several minor league rehab assignments, and taking time off from baseball, he returned with a renewed vigor in 2007 and looked like a different pitcher. He would later go on to become a stud starting pitcher, winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2009 and making the All-Star team with a 16-8 record and league low 2.16 ERA on an otherwise struggling Royals squad. He’s currently a starting pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. Perhaps marrying former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Emily Kuchar in 2008 boosted his self-esteem.

VERDICT: Miss

Hannah Foslien / Getty Images

JEREMY BONDERMAN

When A’s (soon to be ex) head of scouting Grady Fuson selected Jeremy Bonderman, a high school junior, with the second of their two first round picks in the 2001 MLB draft, “Billy, in a single motion, erupted from his chair, grabbed it, and hurled it right through the wall,” wrote Lewis. “When the chair hit the wall it didn’t bang and clang; it exploded.” In 2002, after demoting Fuson, Beane traded Bonderman to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team deal. Despite his dazzling ability, boasting a 94 mph fastball and an MLB-ready 6-2, 220 lb. frame, Bonderman became only a passable starting pitcher for the Tigers. In 2006—his best season—he went 14-8 with a 4.08 ERA. He was not resigned by the Tigers after a disappointing 2010 season and is currently an MLB free agent at 28 years old.

VERDICT: Hit

Nick Wass / AP Photo

JEREMY GUTHRIE

In Lewis’ book, its revealed that prior to the 2002 MLB draft, the A’s had a wish list of 20 prospects that they’d draft in a perfect world, and at the very top of their wish list for starting pitching was Jeremy Guthrie, the ace of Stanford University. However, Guthrie was represented by super agent Scott Boras, who demanded a package worth $20 million for the pitcher, and the A’s only had $9.5 million to spend. Guthrie eventually went to the Cleveland Indians in the first round, but spent most of his time in the minors before being waived and picked up by the Baltimore Orioles in 2007. Despite his talents, he’s had only one winning season with the Orioles and in his best year, 2008, he went 10-12 with a 3.63 ERA.

VERDICT: Miss

Eric Miller / CORBIS

JOE BLANTON

After Guthrie, the second starting pitching prospect on Beane’s 2002 MLB draft wish list was Joe Blanton, and Beane selected Blanton with the A’s first round pick (24th overall) in the 2002 MLB draft—a selection they received from the New York Yankees as compensation for their free agent signing of first baseman Jason Giambi. Blanton was fantastic in his 2005 rookie season, going 12-12 with a 3.53 ERA in a rebuilding year for the A’s. The next season, his ERA rose over a point to 4.82, and in 2008 he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for a trio of prospects that never panned out. He’d help the Phillies win the World Series that year as their third starter, but never really lived up to his first round potential.

VERDICT: Miss

Paul Connors / AP Photo

JEFF FRANCIS

The third “dream” starting pitching prospect on Beane’s 2002 MLB draft wish list was Jeff Francis. Beane fantasized about a “big three” starting pitching rotation of Guthrie/Blanton/Francis in A’s uniforms. The Canadian left-handed pitcher was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the first round with the 9th overall selection. During the Rockies’ 2007 World Series run, Francis had his best season, going 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA in hitter-friendly Coors Field. However, Francis would never build on that season, and the Rockies parted ways with him after the 2010 season. He currently pitches for the Kansas City Royals and so far this 2011 season has gone 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA. Ouch.

VERDICT
: Miss

Phelan M. Ebenhack

B.J. UPTON

Beane’s dislike of high school baseball prospects is well documented, and shortstop B.J. Upton was no exception. Beane labeled him a “bad high school” pick in Lewis’ tome after he was selected with the second overall draft pick in the 2002 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. After making his MLB debut in 2004 at the age of 19, Upton showed a great deal of promise both as a center fielder—is new position—and behind the plate. In 2007, he had his best season as a pro, hitting .300 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. However, he’d never have a season like that again and his batting average has dropped precipitously every year since. In 2011, he’s hit .237 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs to date. Upton is still only 26 and has some time to get his act together, but it’s not looking good.

VERDICT: Hit