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What if Moneyball Happened in 2022?

Billy Beane in an interview in 2012; CC by License 2.0

In the winter of 2001, the Oakland Athletics lost three of their biggest stars in 1B Jason Giambi, OF Johnny Damon, and closer Jason Isringhausen. Giambi, coming off back-to-back dominant seasons that saw him win the AL MVP in 2000 and place second in 2001, signed a massive deal with the New York Yankees that paid him $120 million over 7 years. Damon was a similar story, inking a 4 year, $31 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. Isringhausen followed suit and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for $27 million over 4 years shortly after. This was a disaster for Oakland, and GM Billy Beane had to get creative to rebuild his roster.

The 2011 film “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, does a good job of telling the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s, but there are some key omissions in the movie. First off, Oakland had a trio of young starting pitchers to spearhead their rotation, including Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito. With ERA+ of 145, 125, and 158 respectively, the big three contributed enormously to the Athletics’ 103-win season in 2002 but were not mentioned in the film.

Another player missing from the film is SS Miguel Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP. Tejada and his partner on the left side of the infield, 3B Eric Chavez, provided Oakland with respective OPS+ of 128 and 127 while each slugging 34 home runs and playing elite defense. The duo combined for 10 WAR but were nowhere to be found in the script.

Omissions aside, Moneyball stresses the importance of analytics in building a successful baseball team. Beane used the simple On-Base Percentage statistic to find players to recreate the losses of Giambi and Damon for a fraction of the cost. In 2023, there are many more stats to use that did not exist two decades ago, and I will make use of these metrics, like fWAR, WRC+, and OPS+, to assemble a 2022 Moneyball dream team.


RULES:

1- The 2002 Oakland A’s payroll was $39.7 million. Adjusted for inflation, that is equal to roughly $67 million today. I will keep the total payroll of this team under that number.

2- All WAR numbers will be fWAR to keep everything consistent. Percentile stats will come from Baseball Savant.

3- OBP will be considered, but, due to the evolution of the game over the past two decades, it will not be the sole deciding factor as it was in 2002.

4- Player salaries will only account for 2022. For example, if a player making $1 million signed an extension that will pay them $10 million per year, but that pay raise does not kick in until 2023, then that player’s salary will be marked as $1 million. All salary data comes from Spotrac.com






Catcher- Alejandro Kirk, Toronto Blue Jays

2022 Salary- $714,000

One of 2022’s biggest breakout stars, Alejandro Kirk finished the year with an absurd .372 on-base percentage in 541 plate appearances. Two of the biggest factors in Kirk’s season at the plate were an 88th percentile walk percentage and a strikeout percentage in the 98th percentile, contributing to a 3.8 fWAR. Kirk, who started the All-Star Game and won the AL Silver Slugger behind the plate, will bring top-tier framing and defense and an elite eye at the plate to this roster.


First Base- Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks

2022 Salary- $2,600,000

With 36 home runs in 2022, Christian Walker brings a ton of power to this squad, but that is not his only talent. Walker is elite in the field, ranking in the top one percent of first basemen in Outs Above Average. With an fWAR of 4.1 in 2022, Walker has earned his spot on this team.


Second Base- Andres Gimenez, Cleveland Guardians

2022 Salary- $706,600

Gimenez, the key piece the Guardians acquired in return for SS Francisco Lindor, broke out in a huge way in 2022. With an OBP of .371 and a WRC+ of 140, Gimenez proved to be a great leadoff hitter for Cleveland. However, his value lies mostly in his defense and speed. He boasts 94th percentile speed and was in the top 2 percent of second basemen in terms of OAA. Overall, Gimenez’s vast skillset, which led to 6.1 fWAR, makes him a perfect fit for this team.


Third Base- Yandy Diaz, Tampa Bay Rays

2022 Salary- $2,800,000

The Tampa Bay Rays have a magic touch when it comes to finding undervalued players, and they struck gold with Diaz. Hitting leadoff for Tampa, Diaz finished 2022 with a WRC+ of 146 and an absurd OBP of .401, the only qualified infielder to eclipse .400. Yandy’s Baseball Savant page is littered with stats in the 95th percentile and higher, including average and max exit velocities, strikeout and walk percentages, and chase rate. Diaz is an elite hitter and makes the cut easily as my third baseman.


Shortstop- Tommy Edman, St. Louis Cardinals

2022 Salary- $722,900

Manning shortstop will be Cardinals’ utilityman Tommy Edman. Edman is a defensive wizard in both the infield and the outfield, posting an OAA in the 100th percentile in 2022. This elite defense, paired with a crafty, switch-hitting approach at the plate, landed Edman at a 5.7 fWAR for the year. He completes the infield and likely hits leadoff on this team.


Left Field- Daulton Varsho, Toronto Blue Jays

2022 Salary- $721,700

Daulton Varsho is one of the most unique players in baseball, with the ability and athleticism to play elite defense as both an outfielder and a catcher. Varsho ranked eighth among outfielders in fWAR in 2022 with 4.7, and that elite defense is a huge reason why. Varsho also realized some of his power potential in 2022, hitting 27 home runs for a Diamondbacks offense that needed it badly. Although his OBP and WRC+ are a little lower than most players on this team, Varsho’s defensive value makes him a quality addition to the outfield.


Center Field- Adolis Garcia, Texas Rangers

2022 Salary- $714,000

Garcia, similar to Varsho, did not have the most spectacular on-base numbers, but he also established himself as an elite power-speed-defense weapon for the Rangers in 2022. Garcia’s Baseball Savant page tells that story well, crediting him with 92nd percentile average exit velocity, 86th percentile hard-hit percentage, 65th percentile sprint speed (83rd in 2021), 67th percentile OAA, and 98th percentile arm strength. Garcia is nearly a five-tool player and will slot in nicely in center field.


Right Field- Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros

2022 Salary- $764,200

Since taking over in Houston’s outfield for the departed George Springer, Kyle Tucker has been one of the most underrated stars in baseball. Tucker accumulated a 4.8 fWAR in 2022, placing him seventh among outfielders. He also boasts a Savant page that would make any hitter envious. Tucker’s plate discipline sets him apart from the pack, as he was in the 78th percentile in whiff percentage and the 67th percentile in chase rate. With a .330 OBP, 30 home runs, and 25 stolen bases in 2022, along with an 89th percentile OAA, Tucker is one of the most well-rounded players in baseball.


Designated Hitter- Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros

2022 Salary- $764,600

Alvarez, one of the best pure hitters in baseball, showed out for Houston in 2022. He accumulated a monstrous 6.7 fWAR from the DH position, leading all primary DHs and besting second place by 2.5 fWAR. Yordan’s Savant page shows he ranks in the 94th percentile or better in nearly every major hitting metric, which should not surprise anyone who watched him hit in the 2022 postseason. Alvarez signed a 6-year extension for $115,000,000 in June 2022, but he was an easy selection at his 2022 salary.





Bench-

Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles

2022 Salary- $716,500

Steven Kwan, Cleveland Guardians

2022 Salary- $700,000

Taylor Ward, Los Angeles Angels

2022 Salary- $720,000

Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers

2022 Salary- $730,000


Total Hitter Payroll- $13,374,500


Pitching was not a problem at all for the 2002 A’s, so there was not as big of an emphasis on pitching analytics in the movie. That being said, to truly create a “Moneyball” team, I have to include a full pitching staff. The two metrics I use most frequently to evaluate a pitching season are ERA+ and SIERA. ERA+ is just like OPS+ for hitters. It simply takes a pitcher's ERA and turns it into a number that is easier to understand by adjusting for the run environment and era in which a pitcher played. For example, Pedro Martinez’s prime seasons were in the middle of the steroid era, which was an absurdly high run environment. Despite the surge in offense in the late 1990s-early 2000s, Pedro was able to put together 2 of the greatest pitching seasons of all time, leading to a 291 ERA+. If you compare Martinez’s best seasons to the best years of Christy Mathewson, who pitched in the “dead-ball era,” the surface stats may look very similar. However, Mathewson’s ERA+ from those prime years is much lower than Martinez’s. SIERA is also very simple. It is just ERA, but only takes into account what the pitcher can control by himself.


Starting Rotation:

Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox

2022 Salary: $750,000

ERA+: 180

SIERA: 3.48


Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays

2022 Salary: $730,000

ERA+: 168

SIERA: 3.85


Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks

2022 Salary: $745,600

ERA+: 158

SIERA: 3.32


Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves

2022 Salary: $720,000

ERA+: 130

SIERA: 3.48


Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays

2022 Salary: $711,400

ERA+: 142

SIERA: 2.82


Bullpen:

Evan Phillips, Los Angeles Dodgers

2022 Salary: $720,000

ERA+: 360

SIERA: 2.34


John Schreiber, Boston Red Sox

2022 Salary: $700,000

ERA+: 192

SIERA: 2.71


Erik Swanson, Seattle Mariners

2022 Salary: $711,600

ERA+: 224

SIERA: 2.15


Pete Fairbanks, Tampa Bay Rays

2022 Salary: $714,400

ERA+: 327

SIERA: 1.09


Trevor Stephan, Cleveland Guardians

2022 Salary: $703,400

ERA+: 141

SIERA: 2.55


Caleb Thielbar, Minnesota Twins

2022 Salary: $1,300,000

ERA+: 112

SIERA: 2.59


Alex Vesia, Los Angeles Dodgers

2022 Salary: $720,000

ERA+: 191

SIERA: 2.68


Joe Mantiply, Arizona Diamondbacks

2022 Salary: $717,000

ERA+: 142

SIERA: 2.40


Total Pitching Payroll- $9,943,400

Total Payroll- $23,317,900

Patrick Corbin’s 2022 Salary- $23,416,666


All of these players provided All-Star caliber performances to their teams for a fraction of the salaries elite players usually command. While most of these guys will repeat their incredible performances from last season, it will be interesting to see which players just showed a flash in the pan and which players are truly among the game’s best. Some players on this team will soon reap the benefits of their stardom by inking valuable long-term extensions. Others may choose to wait it out in hopes of cashing in on a big free-agent payday. Regardless, the decisions made by the members of this Moneyball Dream Team will shape the future of the league.


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