Baseball

Whether Billy Beane likes it or not, he’s going to be the face of baseball’s–and perhaps sports’s–analytic movement. That’s what happens when you get a book and movie written about you and you’re the only sports executive to claim that. Though one day there’s going to be a TV movie about Bill Belichik and if they do the whole story, that’s going to be popcorn-worthy.

Beane didn’t even start “the movement” in Oakland, which you already knew if you read Moneyball. Sandy Alderson as Beane’s boss did that. But no one’s really going to care when it’s all said and done, just like no one really cares that technically David Forst is the A’s GM right now with Beane being the vice president. Beane is pretty much the face of the franchise, and that has a huge part to do with the flash mob he has to keep assembling on the field. Do you think more fans know who Beane or Matt Chapman is?

The A’s once again are chasing a wildcard spot, miles behind the Astros but at the moment the best of the rest. It would be their second “playoff appearance” in a row, if you consider the coin-flip game such a thing. For the record books, it does. And this would be Beane’s fourth iteration of a good-to-great A’s team. Fifth if you consider the 2001 and 2002 teams vastly different, though that’s a bit of a stretch considering the rotation of Zito, Hudson, and Mulder were still around (and what Hawk Harrelson would point out immediately). People forget the A’s made the playoffs the year after the movie took place as well, and lost to the Red Sox in five games, again.

The A’s would win 88 and 91 games the next two years but fail to make the playoffs, but finally broke through the Divisional Series glass ceiling the next year behind Eric Chavez, Nick Swisher, Milton Bradley, Big Hurt, Dan Haren, and Barry Zito. But that team couldn’t stick together long as Zito fled across the bay (to comedic results) and others moved along.

Beane constructed another team out of those ashes, mostly via trade, and the A’s made three consecutive playoff trips from 2012-2014, except they kept running into Justin Verlander, which is a problem. Those were the Josh Reddick, Sonny Gray, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson era A’s. When Verlander wasn’t in the way, the Royals’ feet were. And they once again had to be broken up due to salaries and age as all of those players have moved on.

Which leaves us with this group, and it’s easy to see that these A’s eras have all been a bit different. The first one just bashed the shit out of the ball, though the great starting pitching was another factor. The second one mirrored the first, but leaned more on the pen. The strength of the teams in the first part of the decade was that they caught everything along with a lot of homers. And this one currently also catches just about everything, hits a lot of homers, but leans heaviest on their bullpen, with no starter having a name that wouldn’t make you furrow your brow.

Ah, but will any of this matter if the A’s never bring home a World Series? It’s been the white whale for the White Elephants Of The East Bay, and the cudgel that anyone not wanting to listen to the numbers uses to dismiss Oakland. It doesn’t matter the limited resources the A’s have always had, playing in a literal shit-heap of a park. They’re the face of how the game changed, and hence will always be a villain to some.

It’s hard to think of any front office that gets three or four iterations of a team to the playoffs. Brian Cashman arguably is on his third with the Yankees (late 90’s, 2009, and now), but the difference in resources is obvious. The Red Sox have used three different front offices for their four titles. Brian Sabean had two, with the teams that were good with Bonds in the mid 2000s and then their #EvenYear run.

But none of those is four. Sure, some of that is just lack of gumption from multiple A’s owners to do anything with Beane, and the fear that no one else would take the job if he were dismissed. And he had his chance to move along, and he didn’t want it. Still, over 20 years now, you can’t really argue with the work, and with a couple bounces here or there (perhaps Jeremy Giambi learning to slide or Justin Verlander catching the flu), the A’s just might have gotten that World Series.

Beane will probably deserve a Hall of Fame induction when he’s through, considering how the game pivoted around him. And yet, without even so much as an AL pennant, you’ll find strong argument against him. You’d have to say it’s unlikely he gets there. He’ll have to settle for changing how the game is viewed, or at least having a major hand in that. He’d probably tell you that’s fine, because that’s a much more exclusive club than Cooperstown.

Everything Else

He won’t play tonight, which will deprive both Roberto Luongo and the United Center faithful another night together. Which we both know they love so much. And it could have possibly been Bob’s last appearance in Chicago. Yes, he’s signed for four more seasons after this one. Yes, before going down with a serious injury Luongo was once again excellent, and doesn’t appear to be in need of the big blue curtain. But still, Luongo will turn 39 in April, and you can’t help but ask just how much longer he wants to play. Especially if the Panthers continue to be in the “making up the numbers” category.

And it’ll still sound strange to some, but Luongo will go down as one of the greatest goalies of all-time. And it’s the longevity of his career that’s truly astounding.

Because of how the position has changed as time has gone one, it’s nearly impossible to judge goalies across eras. Luongo is has the 9th best career save-percentage of all-time, but everyone around him is a contemporary. Except for the career leader, which is Dominik Hasek. And Hasek is really the only one who played to Luongo’s age and beyond and maintained an above-average SV%. Hasek had a .925 in 43 games for Ottawa the first year out of the lockout before getting hurt in the Olympics at the age of 41. At 37 Hasek had a .915 for the ’02 champion Red Wings, still above the league average of .908.

And that’s about all there is compare Luongo to. The other one is Henrik Lundqvist. Career-wise, you can’t split them. Luongo’s career SV% is .9192. Hank’s is .9196. Luongo is three years older, but has maintained a higher level the past three years. The worry in New York is that Hank is already on the donkey end of his battle with Father Time, and he’s only 35. Hank hasn’t had the same workload as Luongo either.

You run out of comparisons after that. The only other one you can think of is Martin Brodeur. Brodeur fell off the truck and had it back over his head at the age of 38. His SV% went from .916 to .903 and never got above .908 again, four points below the league average then. You can debate Martin Brodeur all day, but his SV%s never got above .920, something Bobby Lu has done eight times. In reality, there’s just no way to argue that Brodeur was better than Luongo. Roberto just never got to play behind a Lamoriello-inspired Devils defense. Or really, Scott Niedermayer.

Sure, Tim Thomas bested Luongo in 2011 when he was 36, but he never came close to that again and wasn’t even a starter in the league until 32. He just doesn’t have the longevity. Maybe a higher peak, but the mountain isn’t as big.

Luongo is clearly a first-ballot of Hall of Famer, and yet he’ll never live down that 2011 Final when he couldn’t stop a shot in Boston. But it wasn’t Luongo who froze on the first line in the spotlight, and he didn’t cause Ryan Kesler’s hips to fall off.

What will also argue against Luongo is that he hasn’t been on a team to win a playoff round since that 2011 Final. No position is judged harsher on playoff success/failure than a goalie, because goalies can win Cups, or at least a series or two, by themselves. Luongo has a .934 in the Panthers’ last appearance in the playoffs, but they still lost to the Islanders in six games. He never managed above a .915 in a playoff run before that.

And obviously, the meltdowns have been so spectacular. It wasn’t just that he lost. It was the seven goals in ’09 to the Hawks. It was the touchdown surrendered in every home game to the same Hawks in ’10. The capitulation in three games in Boston. No one’s going to forget that.

It sucks that the Panthers appear to be a basketcase organization and won’t get Luongo one more chance to at least set a record straight. He’s not going to get that Cup, but goalies who perform like this around the age of 40 just don’t come around much. And maybe Luongo’s injury shows you why.

Game #31 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

On this site, we’ve given Pat Foley a hard time a lot. Some of it is just splash-back from our vitriol directed at his broadcast partner, but we haven’t hesitated to point out Foley’s mistakes or sometimes archaic view of the game.

And it’s kind of killed me every time I’ve done so.