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In Billy We Trust: Billy Beane Visits Athletics Nation Part 3

The Billy Beane AN trilogy officially comes to a close.

I want to say thank you publicly to Billy Beane who was an outstanding interview, extremely candid with me and spent a lot more time than I was originally promised.

I hope you enjoyed this discussion half as much as I enjoyed talking with The Man.

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Blez: How would you rank the 2004 team? You were saying earlier that you thought the 2001 team was the best of the bunch. How does the 2004 group compare?

BB: I'm still trying to put my finger on that. I will say this and go back. The 2001 team is the best team we've had in Oakland since the '89 team. Talent-wise, (the 2004 team) is not nearly as dynamic as that club. It doesn't have the talent, but it's a little more resilient up to this point. Maybe that's a key ingredient. But we'll see. We've got to get there first. I'm still trying to see how it does. It's a very different team in how it plays the game. It's even surprised me, not in that it's had success, but in how it's played the game. It's just surprised me in a number of areas.

Blez: I've always felt that because the A's have such great pitching, particularly starting pitching, that if they could ever get over that five-game series hurdle, then they would win the World Series. I know that's a bold statement, but that's honestly how I've felt and why it's been so heartbreaking to lose in the first round.

BB: What would be nice is if you had any of those earlier series with all the pitchers there, even going in the five-game series. The five-game series is dangerous to the team that is the favorite. It's because your chances of winning or losing it are small. I think the best chance of winning the series in a five-game series, no matter who you are, is 55 percent. The longer the series, the more likely the better team is going to come out of it. So that first round is always scary. It's scary for the Yankees every year. They arguably have the best team coming out of the American League every year and they go into the first round and it happened to them with the Angels. Listen, the Angels were a buzzsaw that year and were unbelievable and quite frankly probably would've won in a longer series. Look at the five-game series for the Giants last year and Cruz drops the ball in right field and the team that was down and out goes on to win it all. It's just how much things can turn around in a five-game series and determine the fate of that team. A team is down and out and a gold-glover drops the ball down the right field line, and the team that was down and out goes on to win it all. That's a really remarkable turnaround based on one event.

Blez: How do you feel about the pen right now?

BB: Somedays good. And we've had our struggles. As we sit here now on August 14th, Bradford is out. When we got Octavio, even though he's had his struggles in a couple of his games, the other guys around him started pitching a lot better because there are some really set roles, and our pen as a whole was better just through his presence. We've never had Arthur (Rhodes) and Dotel out there at the same time. You put both of them out there at the same time, add Bradford, the way Mecir's been throwing and Rincon, it then goes from what was a weakness to something that has quite a few weapons. So I'm bullish on it with everyone being there. Since Octavio has been here, we haven't had that entire group together. But since Octavio has been there, the group that has been healthy has pitched significantly better.

Blez: They certainly have, especially since the All Star break. I was looking before I came here today at some stats and I noticed that Mulder, Hudson and Zito, well Hudson has just come back from his injury, they all have ERA's over 5 since the All Star break.

BB: Do they really? Oh, don't scare me like that.

Blez: That's probably an anomaly since it's such a small sample size and that's probably the least of our worries.

BB: But it's there.

Blez: And Harden's been the best pitcher by far, which the A's seem to get year in and year out, with Lilly, Lidle and now Rich.

BB: Mark has probably been the most consistent guy, but there were a couple of starts or wins where he's come in the clubhouse and said, "I was brutal today." If you look at his games, like the game against Kansas City on Friday night when he was throwing a shutout with two outs and then, the grand slam. He had a similar situation with Texas as you remember when they came in where we were winning with two outs, Brian Jordan singles to right field and Mench later hits a three-homer and he gets the "L" there. So Mark I'm not worried about. We've been really pleased with Huddy since he's come back. I was very concerned. Because despite his stature, he is a very powerful pitcher. He's very strong. When he hasn't pitched in a while, his stuff can be all over the place. Dynamic, but trying to find his zone. I've been really pleased. I thought he threw really well in Minnesota for the five and two-thirds. Detroit had a great approach against him even though I thought he threw very well so there isn't much of a concern there. With Barry, it's been a battle for him all season long. Mark is the last guy I'm worried about.

Blez: Are you concerned about injury problems with Huddy with that recurring oblique?

BB: That thing has popped up two different years. When it happened again, especially around that time of the season, it really raised everybody's eyebrows and Timmy's included. It's strange to have everything else be healthy and then the hip be such an issue. The reason it has injuries is because he is so powerful. He's so strong with his hip rotation and his drive. Rick Peterson measured it at the institute and he has the most powerful hip rotation in the league and because of that, that hip breaks down. We actually ordered a machine. It's probably going to be named the Hudson Machine now. It's a machine that specifically targets that area of the body. We realized that it's like Achilles, to be so good and so powerful and have one small area of the body break down. And with this most recent injury, we were really conservative. That's why we were slow to have him return. We were very concerned and that's why we went out and ordered a big contraption to have it taken care of it for the rest of his career. We'll cross our fingers.

Blez: Tough question, but does that affect your contract thinking at all?

BB: Not with pitchers. With pitchers you worry about arms and stuff like that, but this is something that is manageable. It's just stuff that training staff needs to be vigilant about. And with the most recent episode, we're really going to be on this thing because you don't really take it seriously because it's a muscle pull. But the fact that he's had it the last three years means we have to be proactive in doing a lot of maintenance to make sure it doesn't happen again. It's a wear item because he's such a powerful athlete.

Blez: This question relates directly to the Web site. We've come up with our own little phrase, "In Billy We Trust."

BB: (Laughing)

Blez: I will say that it's a very secure feeling knowing that you're out there working for the team that we all follow and we're all very passionate about. It's interesting because I think that most fans of the A's are in part fans of this team because you're there. We know that you're working for us in a way.

BB: That's very flattering. It sounds crazy, but it's something that means an awful lot to me. I went through this with Paul. When he made all those trades in L.A., I had to remind him that when we were first here, we would do some things and people would ask, "What are they doing?" And now think about it. We traded an all-star catcher and the response was, "Hey, I don't understand it but I know it's going to be all right." What it does is that it is great knowing that you have that support. Listen, we're all human beings. I don't care about getting criticized by people and it doesn't bother me. But when you have a core group of fans that really live and die with what you do and they trust what you're doing, it does give me a sense of confidence that I'm going to continue to do what's best for the franchise. Let's face it, it's one of the great things about being with the A's. There is a hardcore group that really understands and really gets it. You know, I go on the Dodgers Web site occasionally and some of the guys will jump on board and they'll protect Paul or something and I love that.

Blez: Well, you're welcome to visit Athletics Nation anytime.

BB: I do, I do.

Blez: Well, it's funny because we've got a group of people that are negative about everything when the team is struggling, but I'm of the mind that things are more positive than negative with this team. How can you not be positive about the success this team has accomplished in the past four seasons? And through following the team, you've become a personal hero of mine and I'm always trying to say, "Don't worry, Billy will take care of things."

BB: (Laughing) When me and Paul used to make decisions, we weren't very bureaucratic and we had a small core of decision makers. As it relates to this, we only care if a few guys get it because ultimately the results are going to get it. And when you see some of the pundits really examining things, they don't really know everything that goes into a decision. Each and every GM will tell you that. But the great thing about being in Oakland and I don't ever take it for granted, is that you have the credibility and people are going to allow you to take creative license because they trust where you're going. Does that mean that they're going to agree with everything? No, it wouldn't be any fun. But one of the great things is that people who follow this club now think as creatively as fans as we do as the front office. They understand why we're doing things whereas the general public won't even have a clue. It may be difficult to trade Ramon, but they'll say, "Look at the defensive rating of Kotsay. Look at the cost. We've saved this much money. We've brought in Damian Miller."

Blez: And got rid of T-Long.

BB: Right. They know how we work when we play the shell game. If you're following us and you're doing the blog, the mindset begins to work in the same way. We're always thinking about the aggregate, not the individual. Like Paul in LA. People see trades in a linear fashion. This guy for this guy and he's not better, therefore it's a bad trade. It's not always viewed that way.

Blez: Or the cries of disrupting "clubhouse chemistry" which was big thing when it came to dealing Lo Duca.

BB: When people comment on chemistry, it's usually people who've never been in a clubhouse. And I don't mean that in a negative sense. It's like me commenting on the drinking water in Mongolia. I've never drunk the water in Mongolia, therefore I don't know. It may be good, it may be bad, but I have no right to an opinion. Things like that, subjective things, things you can't measure are all subject to people's opinion. And the farther out you go, the more off it is. When it comes to chemistry, I've got a promise for you. If you win, you have good chemistry, if you lose, you've got bad chemistry. That's the bottom line. There's no one who can evaluate a guy who can say, "That's a chemistry guy."

Blez: You've got to measure tangibles.

BB: Yes, you <u>can </u&gtmeasure tangibles. Tangibles you can rely on. Intangibles are all over the map. Not to name names, but I've seen guys who people thought were the worst clubhouse guys come to our clubhouse and they were unbelievable. I've seen guys who people perceive as great team leaders who didn't say a word and yet the published perception through the media was, "This guy's a veteran, he must be great." Maybe he didn't say a word. One guy who the perception was not favorable about was David Justice. He was probably the best veteran we've ever had in our clubhouse. Unbelievable. He was worth every dime we paid him. But I was worried with him coming over to the small stage, a guy who had been in New York. He was unbelievable and everything you would want. I was concerned because of him coming to a small market club. There's been other guys that people thought were team leaders that were not at all. That was the perception. They had nothing to do with chemistry on the team. They hung out with no one on the team and weren't particularly close to anybody. But the perception was, this guy was awesome, they have to keep this guy he's the team leader. And you were kind of going, "No, he's not. If you were in here, you'd know it and you would know the difference."

Blez: There's one more thing I want to share with you really quickly. In writing the site, I come across a lot of stats and whatnot. I came across a very interesting one from 1989. It taught me something about baseball stats that I didn't know.

BB: I know what you're going to say, but go ahead.

Blez: The fact was that your average was higher than your OBP that year.

BB: Yep, and it was because of the sacrifice fly.

Blez: It took me a little while to figure it out, but I did some research and you were in some elite company as only 16 position players, position players not pitchers, in history had accomplished that feat.

BB: Sad but true, huh. Consider me a reformed man. Sandy always said, "Why did I ever sign you?"

Blez: Billy, thanks so much for your time.

BB: Tyler, I really enjoyed it. I love that you have that kind of passion and it's nice having bright people understand what you're doing.