'Moneyball' the Diamondback's Way

<i>Is Shea's the sweetest swing</i>

The Oakland A's win, they do it consistently, and they do it without spending Yankee dollars. How? According to Michael Lewis, author of <i>Moneyball</i>, they do it by bucking traditional baseball indicators and use the 'letter stats' of OBS, SLG, and OPS. Associate Editor Chad Jones takes a look at what the 2005 Diamondbacks might look like if they subscibed to the <i>Moneyball</i> theory.

I know it's been a while since we've been together, so let me start by saying I hope your holiday season was a prosperous as the Diamondbacks was. I know that might sound weird coming on the heels of them losing the Unit to the Evil Empire for Javier Vasquez and a couple of other players most people have never heard of, but lets not forget that before coming to the American League, Vasquez was a front line N.L. starter. Throw in Russ Ortiz and his penchant for winning along with Brandon Webb's probable move to the third spot in the rotation and you'll see that Arizona now has a staff that will eat up innings and keep their team in at least three out of every five games. Besides, through the course of an entire season, an individual pitcher is only as effective as the offense behind him. That's why the Yankees' newest mercenary, despite all of his great individual numbers, was a less than stellar16-14 last season.

Of course if Arizona's offense is as bad this year, as it was last year, a 16-14 record will probably put whoever earned that mark in the Cy Young mix just like it did for the Unit. Simply put Arizona's offense was as successful as let's say Napoleon at Waterloo, or for those of you who like to live in the present, The BCS's ability to chose a real National Champion.

Arizona finished dead last in runs, on-base percentage (OBS) and (on-base + slugging percentage) (OPS) last season. To be fair, they were able to scrape themselves from the bottom of the barrel and finish 28th in slugging percentage (SLG). You might notice that there is no mention of home runs or even batting average when discussing the repulsive offensive (Literally and figuratively) Arizona put out last year, and that's because when it comes down to it, OBS and SLG are the only two offensive stats that have any correlation to winning. At least that's Michael Lewis' claims in his book "Moneyball." In case you haven't read it, "Moneyball" tries to explain how the Oakland A's are able to compete against the Yankees and other big market clubs despite a payroll roughly the same as what it takes ‘The Boss' to keep three-fifths of his new pitching staff in pin stripes.

A's general manager Billy Beane and his band of merry men have changed the way the game is scouted and even played by taking what Bill James wrote in his early "Baseball Abstracts" and turning it into a new way of valuing players. By using stats such as OBS and SLG to determine a player's true worth, they've been able to expose the more prominent, big money stats like home runs and stolen bases for the frauds they are.

The thing is, it has worked. Oakland has averaged 96 wins per year since 2001 despite consistently having one of the five lowest payrolls in the league.

Sure, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson have helped, but they've also been able to get the most bang for their buck finishing in the top 15 in runs scored every year since 2001.

What does all this stuff mean to Arizona? Well, if the front office believes what they see from their player's performance instead of what they think their performance should be, it could mean a .39 increase in OBS, a .85 jump in SLG. A .91 raise in OPS and most importantly, approximately 240 more runs or nearly 1.5 more runs per game despite losing Roberto Alomar, Danny Bautista and Richie Sexson.

How is it done? Well you just build a starting lineup using players from Arizona's AA, AAA and major league club who have the best OBS, SLG and OPS percentages for their position. The first thing that must be done to do this is build a scale that measures minor league performance to major league performance in those categories. Using players like catcher Chris Snyder who spent significant time in both the majors and the minors last season I was able to deduct that a player's OBS in the minor league would be .60 points lower in the majors. This is not scientific, but it came out closer than you think giving the fact that some players were much higher than the curve while others were well below it. There is also something to be said that the .60 would be much lower if the players were in the majors for an entire season as opposed to being thrown into the show in August.

All players in this lineup must have had at least 150 AB's in their respective class.

So with that being said, here is my projected starting lineup and their backup for next year. I also included their primary stats from last season. Minor league player (M) stats will be shown with the .60 major league deduction.  I know Shawn Green is supposed to play right field, and I know Shea Hillenbrand might be on his way out of town, and I listed three catchers because we know one of them is going to LA.

Starters are chosen by OBS.

Position Name On Base % Slugging % OPS (On Base % + Slugging %)
1B Shawn Green .352 .459 .811
1B Shea Hillenbrand .345 .464 .828
2B Craig Counsell .330 .315 .645
2B Scott Hairston .293 .442 .735
3B Troy Glaus .355 .575 .930
1B/3B Chad Tracy .343 .407 .750
SS Royce Clayton .338 .397 .735
SS Alex Cintron .301 .363 .664
C Chris Snyder (Double-A El Paso) .359 .490 .849
C Dioner Navarro (Double-A Trenton) .328 .411 .739
C Robby Hammock .287 .405 .692
LF Luis Gonzalez .373 .493 .866
CF Josh Kroeger .316 .527 .843
RF Carlos Quentin .383 .473 .856
OF Luis Terrero .319 .358 .677

Assuming that each member of the starting lineup plays a majority of the season injury free, this team would improve it's OBS from an ML worst .310 to .349 which would have ranked fifth in baseball last year. Their SLG would rise from .393 which ranked 28th in the league and only .6 points higher than last place Milwaukee to .445 or ninth in the league. Their league worst .703 OPS would raise to .794 which would have placed them seventh in all of baseball.

These numbers as a whole were very favorable to last year's Cleveland Indians (.351 OBS - .444 SLG - .795 OPS) who finished fifth in baseball with 858 runs.

But what can you tell from one year? Maybe nothing. That's why I also tested the numbers against the 2003 MLB statistics where the new D-backs were nearly identical to the Colorado Rockies (.344 OBS - .445 SLG - .789 OPS) who finished that year sixth in the majors with 853 runs. The fact the this Arizona lineup would have a .5 increase in OBS over Colorado which of course plays their games in the rarified air of Coors field could easily account for five runs which would of put them right at 858 for the season. Spooky eh?

Take these numbers for what they are worth, but going off the idea that Arizona's offense can't possibly be any worse than they were last year, plus the fact that they are playing in a weakened NL West; there is a good chance this revamped offense combined with a new pitching staff could give Diamondback fans something they haven't had in a couple years… A winner.

(Stats for this article were found at mlb.com and baseballamerica.com)

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