Andrew Wharton, Contributor
In a post to his blog for ESPN New York, Adam Rubin asks:
“Where are the Moneyball players with the Mets? Why have there not been more productive free agents signed to those $2 million to $4 million contracts? Or how about some low-cost acquisitions via other routes that provide placeholders until a prospect is ready to assume the role?”
Rubin mentions Chin-lung Hu, Brad Emaus, Blaine Boyer, Collin Cowgill, Shaun Marcum and Scott Atchison among the players who fit this model that have not panned out as expected.
It’s a legitimate question. My initial reaction was to blame Sandy Alderson for not bringing in adequate talent that followed the Moneyball formula: high on-base (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLG), and low strikeout rates. But upon further inspection, maybe it’s not entirely his fault. Maybe we were wrong to hold him to that expectation in the first place.
Before I’m labeled as a Sandy-apologist, hear me out: There are numbers to back my claim. Over the last eight years, the league has been constantly trending away from players that fit the Moneyball formula. OBP and SLG numbers are going down, while strikeouts are going up.
It appears the league briefly bought into the A’s path to success, but all of the numbers started trending away from the Moneyball style by 2006.
In 2002, the MLB average of OBP/SLG/K% was .331/.417/16.82%. In 2013, the MLB average is now .318/.402/19.97%. While the difference may not seem much, keep in mind these are averages over more than 180,000 plate appearances, so it’s actually a pretty significant change. The reason for the drop in production? I don’t want to turn this into a steroids debate, but I’m afraid that’s the first place to look.
So is it really Sandy’s fault? The market just isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago when the A’s played Moneyball. While it’s his job as the GM to be the one to blame for the utter lack of production on the field, I’m not so sure it’s fair to hold Alderson to 2002 standards when the game being played in 2013 is not the same.
In the end, if the Mets want to win, they’re going to have to spend money to fill in the holes around their much-improved farm system, Moneyball or no Moneyball.