Baseball Prospectus has an excellent notebook today on how the Oakland Athletics have truly transformed their team from defensive mediocrity into one of the finest in baseball.
The A's have ranked eighth in defensive efficiency in all of baseball during Billy Beane's tenure as general manager. But if you break it down further, the A's were actually 21st from 98 through 2000. It's only from 2001 through 2005 that the team has really excelled from a defensive standpoint. The team ranks second in baseball during that time span.
BP credits a lot of this defensive upswing to the presence of Mark Ellis and breaks down how the A's will likely be saving $8.7 million over the length of Ellis' contract compared to his real value (if the option is picked up in 2008).
The funny thing is that everyone seemed to think that defense was inconsequential to the A's, probably due to Moneyball. People even charged that Beane's movement towards defense was only lip service, both on Internet sites and elsewhere.
But what people fail to realize repeatedly is that the goal is to always be ahead of the market. Thus, the A's pursued defensive improvement and young and cheap starting pitching, figuring that the combined value of these commodities could add up to a quick winner. By the way, it's also the reason the A's moved towards drafting high school pitchers. College players were suddenly the hot commodity, so perhaps you get better quality in looking elsewhere.
Any way, Paul Swydan, the author of the notebook concludes on a rather impressive note about Ellis:
He still has room for improvement? Wow.