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Billy Beane Midseason Interview Part III

Last week, I posted Part I and Part II of the Athletics Nation-Billy Beane Midseason interview.

Now, it concludes with Billy's thoughts on the draft, some players in the minors that deserve our attention and whether or not Moneyball gave away trade secrets.


Blez: Can you believe that Huston Street has come out and been able to do what he's done this year?

Beane: I think we all felt that at some point he'd be there. But even his response to being a major leaguer, what six or seven months after pitching at Omaha even surprised us. But if you get to know the kid, you realize his makeup is just off the charts. He's just a bright kid, a bright talent and just a tremendous athlete in that role. We thought he'd get to this point at some point, but to get there so quickly and respond to all the pressures of being a major league rookie in such a short amount of time is surprising to myself and everybody surrounding him.

Blez: The A's did something rather unexpected, at least to those who read Moneyball. The team drafted very high school heavy this year. What was the MO behind that thinking? I read that you had a lot of depth at the higher levels of the system.

Beane: That would be true, but that isn't the reason we drafted the way we drafted. If all people took from the book that we only draft college players, then a lot of people out there who completely missed it. What we have to find is where the inefficiencies in the market are, what people are valued and what people are not valuing. That's because the market is always going to shift. What's happened over the last three or four years is that there is a significant push, especially in the higher rounds to draft a lot of college players. We felt like this was going to come at some point. For us, it's now about what is being undervalued. In this draft, who was available to us and where we drafted, this is what we felt.

Ironically, two days after the draft, they ran an article on Baseball Prospectus that said the greatest value in the draft was first round college position players. Now, this is a mercurial study that's going to change all the time. But right now, it's college position players, in this study, where you got the most value was choosing a college position player in the first round. Ironically, the next best value in the second round was high school pitchers. This is after the draft. Now, this is one study and there are a number of clubs that are always studying where the best value is and where is the best time to take a player. This is going to change. And we try to do those studies as well. And seeing the trend and where it was going the last couple of years, we needed to be prepared to say, listen this high schooler in the second round was once rated as one of the top 15 picks and now he's dropped down to pick number fifty-something. This is now a good value for us. I don't want to speak for Michael (Lewis) because he wrote the book, but that's really what the book was about. The same thing with on-base percentage because now the market is valuing it.

You know how we know the market is valuing it? Because $18 million a year to Jason Giambi. Eight or nine years ago, people weren't paying for it at the level that they are now. Now they are. The highest paid statistic in the game now is on-base percentage. We're not dunderheads here, if other teams are paying for it and we can't get it, we're going to go out and try and find out what other teams aren't paying for. One of the reasons we got Mark Kotsay is because of his defense. We had to start shifting and finding guys in other areas. We led the league in fielding percentage last year and we were second in the league in pitching. So, if you listen to the people that cover this team, there's this assumption that we're this slow-pitch softball team. At one point, we were probably close to it. Back in 1999, we had a lot of homers, we were a high on-base percentage team and we scored a lot of runs. But we didn't have a particularly great defense. The shift over time was because the market started valuing those things. We were the top team in the league, fielding percentage-wise, but you would've never believed that five or six years ago.

Blez: Do you think there's a chance that the market started overvaluing this stuff, in part, because of Moneyball?

Beane: That, you'd have to ask those people. There's some smart guys out there, in my opinion. I think they would've found this regardless of whether or not the book was written. Theo Epstein. Brian Cashman is very bright. He's got a lot of money, but he's also very smart. Obviously, in my opinion, Paul DePodesta. I'm very partial to the JP's (Ricciardi) and Paul DePodesta's of the world. But there are some smart guys out there. Theo's bright. The guys could do it on their own, they didn't need a book. The young guys coming into the game, well, there's just some impressive guys out there. In 10 years, I won't be able to even apply for this job. (Laughing) I'll be fly fishing somewhere.

Blez: What do you think of the quality of this year's A's draft?

Beane: We're very happy with it. But all 30 of us are usually after the draft. Time will tell. We were happy at the end of the day to be able to get what we got. Pennington, he's a leadoff guy. And we can use that type of player. A leadoff guy who runs well and a guy who has succeeded at the highest level. We were lucky he was there. Travis Buck, who kind of fits our profile, and we think he's a corner guy who will hit for power. The younger guys, we'll see. But they're all very talented guys in these points in their careers. I think when you look at a draft you almost have to ask that question in another year. Because you go back and look at last year's draft and we're very happy with it despite one of our first rounders blowing out his knee, Landon Powell. Going through that draft, you've got Danny Putnam, Kurt Suzuki, Huston Street and Richie Robnett is just starting to get going. I'm very, very excited about what's going on there. You're not always going to get a hit, and the draft is something you're never going to nail down.

Blez: Was there any name, maybe a surprise name that was taken deeper in the draft, that people should pay attention to?

Beane: Oh, Dallas Braden.

Blez: Actually, I'm talking about this year's draft.

Beane: It's still a bit too early to say. You also don't necessarily want to single certain guys out. There are guys that we think we got, but I think it's better left unmentioned and then if they do well, I'll claim I knew it all along. (Laughing)

Blez: (Laughing) Who is currently in the A's minor league system that A's fans should pay attention to that they may not be all that familiar with? You mentioned Dallas Braden.

Beane: Braden is a great one. That was one I was going to go back to. Dallas was someone we drafted in the 15th or so round and he's only 21-years-old and he's already at Double-A. He won again last night. He's a low-round pick who is just flying through the system. Windsor, the kid we took from Fullerton last year, is already at Double-A. And again, I'm eliminating guys that people already probably know about, you know the Herrera's of the world and Putnam. But the first one to come to mind is Braden. To be that young and already pitching at Double-A is a pretty rapid rise AND he's pitching well there.

Blez: What do you attribute it to?

Beane: If we were that smart, we would've taken him a lot higher. I always love the Rich Harden, who was what, our 16th or 17th rounder that year? And people say, great job, if that was your 17th, what do the first 16th look like? There's a significant amount to luck. It's an imperfect system. That's why the job is so difficult with scouts. When a guy like Hudson comes out in the sixth round or Harden comes out in the 17th round or Piazza comes out of the 50th round or wherever he came from, it shows you the risk that's in there and that no one has really nailed it down. There's a lot of luck and miscalculation involved.

Blez: How do you feel about the Kendall deal at this point?

Beane: Well, first of all, you talk about a leader and Jason has just been unbelievable even though he's struggled early on. Now, if you look at his performance recently, and I think I actually saw this in something you wrote, if you look at the last 30-40 games, he's hitting .307 which is closer to his career average. Jason is going to be better judged over his tenure here as opposed to short-term results. The league adjustment for him has been exactly that, an adjustment. But you're talking about a guy who is a .306 lifetime hitter and you're going to see that over the course of time. Nobody cares more than he does. He's been great. I love having the guy around.

Blez: Does he have an undisclosed injury with his arm because it seems like teams have been running wild on him? I know it's not all him...although he is two-for-two in throwing basestealers out over the last little while.

Beane: You're right that it isn't all his fault, but in fairness to him, it's something he's been working on. Catchers can get in a bit of a funk mechanically. I know he's been working on it. But just know that in some cases, it isn't always the catcher's fault. Jason has thrown better in his career and it might be just a little bit of a blip on the screen. I don't think he would tell you that he was going to be Ivan Rodriguez in his prime, but no one is. I think it's a mechanical thing and I think you see on pitch outs, when he even has plenty of time, he's going through the thought process and as a catcher you can't do that.

Blez: You just have to react.

Beane: Yeah, and I love him on this team. He brings a lot of intangible things that are very hard to define. But if you're around that team and around that guy, this guy just loves to play and loves to win. He takes every loss to heart. And it's just been an absolutely pleasure to have him around. He's a guy who if fans really knew how much he cares, they'd really attach themselves to him.

Blez: Do you think he's part of the reason some of the younger guys were able to kind of turn things around?

Beane: I'm sure he's a part of it because Jason is a very self-confident guy. He's not a physically big guy, but he's very self-confident. He's got a presence. He's the type of guy when you're around him, you feel like he is in control. Not only that, but if they don't perform well, then he's going to take responsibility for that and that's one of the things you want in a catcher. Jason cares as much about that as he does about getting hits. He's not one of the guys who just takes his at-bats behind the plate. He really cares. That's really important to him as a catcher.

Blez: You talked about Lew Wolff earlier. Have things changed much from Steve Schott to Lew Wolff?

Beane: Well, not anything day-to-day. I have a lot of communications with Lew. And he's really involved in a great way. Steve, in many cases, wasn't around as much and our communication wasn't on a daily basis. Lew, I'll talk to him or have communication with him two times a day. He's just such a fan and that's the great thing as an A's fan. He's just a fan. He's a very intelligent and passionate guy who is dedicated to solving the stadium issue. I get emails from this guy at 5:30 in the morning. He was in France and he had to go there for like seven days during a really rough patch. I'm getting emails from him all hours of the night, in a good way, though. He's a very refreshing individual to be around. He has seats behind the dugout and he wants to go out there and sit and meet people and say hello to them. He's a lot of fun to have around and is just such a positive individual. It's no criticism of anyone else, it's just that he's really unique. He's made me really smart because we're going through this really difficult time in his chart year. You want to talk about breeding loyalty? You want to go through walls to make sure that this guy realizes some success. It's been a pleasure to have him around.

Blez: Has your overall budget increased since Lew took over? Or will it be basically more of the same?

Beane: There's the right time to do things and Lew is all for making good baseball decisions. I would probably say, let's do it at the right time. When the right baseball decision comes along and it fits short-term and long-term, then I have no doubt (the budget will increase) as he said it to me. But there's a right time to do some things. I won't necessarily go out tomorrow and take on some bloated contract so everyone can say, "Hey, they're spending money." That's not the right thing to do or the right way to run the business.

Blez: But using the money, in this instance, to resign someone like Kotsay?

Beane: Possibly, there's a number of things. But you don't want to go out there just to tell people you're spending money. You have to be making good baseball decisions. The good thing is to blend the two.

Blez: Billy, I have a Kotsay jersey. Just tell me you'll resign him.

Beane: (Laughing) There's nothing to extrapolate anything out of this and assuming I'm talking about Mark. I'm not really talking about Mark. There's times that yes, maybe we should've done something, but there was a decision based on economics. That doesn't mean that, me as a general manager, is going to agree with everyone else. To go back and talk about the people writing things on the team, if we did everything they said, we'd be in big trouble right now. So we sometimes have to make decisions that separate emotion from a good decision. But we have to make a lot of decisions based on economics. That's why Lew is spending a lot of his time on a new venue. It's that big elephant back there, for lack of a better term. I know everyone is tired of it, but it's something we need. Lew is doing everything he can to make it happen.

Blez: Has your perspective changed at all now being part of the ownership group?

Beane: Not at all. I feel every bit as competitive. I didn't wake up one day and things change, other than perhaps changing my business card, which I still haven't done. I've always taken the approach to this franchise as if that was a part of my job any way. I always thought, what's best for the franchise long-term? I've always taken that approach any way, so it really didn't change much.

Blez: I think that's pretty much all I have for you today. Thanks so much for taking so much time out to talk with AN and myself.

Beane: No problem, Tyler. It's always a pleasure.