Moneyball forever revolutionized how I think about what a front office executive in baseball is trying to do. I'm always looking and trying to reassess the market and essentially try to view things through Billy Beane's eyes. Am I successful? Probably not because I don't think that Beane is ever all that obvious in what he's doing. He takes a more subtle approach.
But Nico's discussion of Chad Gaudin the other day got me to thinking about how this current A's team is structured. The A's basically have two great pitchers if they remain healthy all year long in Rich Harden and Danny Haren. That's good because they're incredible talents, young and ridiculously cheap compared to the open market on starting pitchers (good lord, they paid WHAT for Gil Meche?). After those two pitchers, the best pitchers on the A's roster are not in the rotation. They're in the bullpen. Gaudin is one of those pitchers that has unbelievable stuff. Duchscherer doesn't have the overpowering stuff, but he can drop one of the best hooks and paint with one the best cutters around. Calero may have one of the best sliders in baseball. And the A's have a bunch of young guys banging on the door to join this group. They don't exactly have tons of starters on the verge otherwise we wouldn't be dealing with Fifth Startergate on a daily basis.
I think, whether it was by accident or intentionally is up for debate (although I happen to believe that little that Billy Beane does is by accident), the A's have built this team to have an extremely strong bullpen and they want to win a lot of games by either being tied or up going into the sixth inning. The A's should win the majority of those games based on the strength and depth of the bullpen. I mean Joe Blanton and Esteban Loaiza won 27 games combined last year with ERAs hovering near five. And since the A's aren't a wealthy team, they can't afford to have five great starting pitchers AND a fantastic bullpen. You kind of have to pick and choose. The A's were able to get a couple of great starters and several average to below average ones. Couple them with the strong bullpen and hopefully squeeze from the bottom of the offense tube and that could be a recipe for winning. The major hurdle in the way being the fact that the Angels have a really strong rotation and three top flight relievers in Shields, Rodriguez and Speier. So you're dealing with a team that has what you have, albeit probably not the depth in the bullpen, and a stronger rotation. And if you expand that to the entire AL, you could say the Tigers are in that position as well.
Any way, I do think that Billy Beane believes that the undervalued asset right now is the reliever. He would probably never admit that or say it aloud, but it's clear from looking at the roster and the decisions that have been made (such as not having either Gaudin or Duke, who has openly lobbied to be back in the rotation, even auditioning for that fifth starter role) that the bullpen is a key place where Beane and company think they can get a competitive advantage. We'll have to see whether that was a correct choice or not.