Best Athletic of the Moneyball Era

CHRIS PUMMER: Now that the Moneyball movie is moving to second-run theaters, and some of the better players for the A’s of a decade ago slowly fading into retirement, it might not be premature to consider who defined that era of baseball for Oakland.

By defining the era, we mean who was the best. And my opinion is that the best A’s player of the last 15 years is Jason Giambi.

Giambi was an elite hitter in his league for five seasons in Oakland. For his entire A’s career he hit .300/.406/.525, and for those five greatest seasons from 1997-2001 Giambi belted a staggering .315/.426/.567. Even as a no-field first baseman, those numbers made him an MVP one year, a runner-up another, and a credible contender another. All in a pitcher’s park.

The other very good players of that era for the A’s: Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez; and of course pitchers Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder.

Obviously that pitching did a great deal to help the A’s of the late 90s and early 00s win. But none of those individual pitchers was as consistently great as Giambi was in the middle of Oakland’s lineup.

Tejada was the rare shortstop that could hit, but his glove wasn’t excellent, and neither was his bat.

Chavez may have had a case that his superb glove at third base combined with his terrific bat made him a better overall player. And maybe he still does with a career line in Oakland of .267/.343/.478 to go with five Gold Gloves. It’s still hard to overlook the last four miserable years Chavez spent with the A’s. Or the two that preceded those when he won Gold Gloves, perhaps a bit on reputation, while not hitting nearly as well as he did earlier in his career.

Giambi’s numbers are still just so staggering. A hitter as dominant as he was is rare, and that’s why he’s my pick for best player of the Moneyball era.

MIKE SILVA: The biggest complaint about the book Moneyball is how it didn’t delve into the foundation of the A’s real success: their starting pitching trio of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder.

Yes, finding undervalued assets like Chad Bradford, Scott Hatteberg, and a veteran like David Justice were essential to rounding out the roster. Yes stars like Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejeda, and Johnny Damon were huge parts of their success. The constant from 1999-2003 were the starting trio of Zito, Hudson, and Mulder.

If you sort American League starting pitchers with at least 75 decisions from that time period in order of ERA+, Zito is #2 (142), Hudson #3 (137), and Mulder #7 (118).

How many teams in the history of baseball had 3 starting pitchers who were in the top 10 of their league? The fact the A’s didn’t win more is probably due to their reliance on undervalued assets. This could have been a dynasty if they were able to hold on to Giambi, Isringhausen, and Damon. Imagine if they were able to buy other expensive parts for the bullpen, backend of the rotation, and bench.

Even if they had those players, could you expect them to compete with just a middle-of-the-road rotation? Say, like what the Cardinals and Rangers are displaying in this year’s World Series? I think they would be another version of the Texas Rangers or the Ken Griffey Jr. Seattle Mariners; teams that were fun and scored a lot, but didn’t win because they couldn’t get anyone out.

Yes, the American League was watered-down due to the explosion of payroll creating the Yankees and everyone else. But without those three pitchers there is not a book or movie about Moneyball because no one would care what Billy Beane is doing with a .500 club in the Bay area.

It’s not one player that was the best, its the trio of starters that were.

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