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Saturday, April 03, 2004

Sabermetrics' Question Mark

If Oakland is Moneyball's poster child, Toronto is its question mark. One of my first posts here was to question the alleged brilliance that Beane acquired as a result of that book; let's look at Toronto in the same light:

Ricciardi Toronto
Beane Oakland

What made the A's so dangerous in 2000 was they finally brought up all of their trio of Hudson, Mulder, and Zito. In the absence of an ungodly rich Steinbrenner in the division, the A's haven't really had to compete with bottomless pockets -- until at least this year. Arte is probably as close as you'll see to that outside the AL East. But first, he's got to prove himself to a mildly skeptical Southern California audience that the Dodgers are in the midst of a long-term decline, and that dominance is shifting to the Angels, before his business plan can let him spend like a Steinbrenner and get away with it on an ongoing basis. And while the Jays have a number of young power arms in their minor leagues now, only two of them -- Francisco Rosario and Dustin McGowan -- made Baseball America's 2004 top 100 prospect list.

Those arms will no doubt prove vital to the Jays' success, just as the A's cheap, young, and effective starting rotation has proven vital for the A's. For all that Billy Beane has been quoted about baseball players being fungible, you will notice that none of Zito, Mulder, or Hudson have been traded. Given their similarities in fiscal circumstance, Toronto will have to count on those young arms to carry them through the late 2000's, when Steinbrenner's wallet may have painted him into a corner with multimillion dollar contracts paid out to players who may no longer be effective, and likewise for John Henry with the Sox. The Jays' principle competition then might be the Orioles, who are in a precarious position -- the team is wagering heavily on its young arms in the minors, too, but also on expensive free agents like Miguel Tejada. At the same time, current owner Peter Angelos has put the team on the block. As if that weren't enough, there's talk the Expos might move in to Washington, diluting the O's market share. There's enough going right in the Jays that they could dominate by the end of the decade. But it's still too early to know whether their bets will pay off, and still too early to tell whether Sabermetrics (tm) brand baseball is really the product of superior scouting. Repeatability is the hallmark of science; Toronto will prove whether the A's methods are truly reproduceable, or just so much hype.


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