Dec 5, 2011; Dallas, TX, USA; Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane on the MLB network set during the MLB winter meetings at Hilton Anatole. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

A's Platoon System New Moneyball

Two years ago the movie Moneyball came out depicting the A’s 20 game win streak in 2002. The central idea behind Moneyball was that GM Billy Beane and his staff were adding players that cohesively as a team would generate wins to their roster at a very low cost. Players were being undervalued in different ways, including the most famous way on base percentage. Basically this boiled down to the old saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. This system worked for a few years before other teams began catching up and using their own analytics to replicate the A’s success. The last two seasons however have highlighted a different approach by Beane and his staff that has potentially become more successful than Moneyball yet includes some of the same aspects. This now is the well-known A’s platoon system.

One thing many A’s fans can tell you is that there are two different lineups the team can roll out depending on which way the pitcher throws. The right-handed hitting lineup that faces left-handed pitching consists of: Nate Freiman, Alberto Callaspo, Derek Norris and Chris Young. The left-handed hitting lineup that faces right-handed pitching consists of: Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, Stephen Vogt and Eric Sogard. The players that are in the lineup everyday are: Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Josh Donaldson, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Céspedes. Obviously some of that has shifted as the year has gone on especially with injuries and the sudden emergence of Daric Barton.

What doe the platoon system have to do with Moneyball and success? The answer lies simply within the idea of a platoon system. Splits are a player’s offensive numbers against right-handed pitching and left-handed pitching. Most players who are considered super stars and are perennial All-Stars generally have similar splits. Dramatic splits lead to a player with low averages and numbers overall and therefore less production over the course of a season. However if you take away the negative split you’re left with a positive one. Combine two positives and you get…another positive. Manager Bob Melvin has done a great job putting players in positions to succeed, but a lot of the credit for that should fall on Beane.

The A’s success this season can be found in the splits. Someone like Nate Freiman has hit .306 against left-handing pitching. Brandon Moss has hit .270 with 23 home runs against right-handed pitching. Players that have severe splits usually get looked over because rarely do teams have roster spots open for a player that can only play sparingly. However, if you build a team around the platoon idea then the amount of success a team can have is unimaginable and the word that A’s fans have been accustomed to, cheap. This is seen in the A’s depth this season and even in the health of their position players.

This season and last have began to show a new idea amongst the A’s upper management. The new undervalued player is the one with the severe splits. They are cheap and readily available around every turn. The player is happy because he produces and stays healthy, the fans and management team are happy because the team wins. This postseason will be a test to see just how well the platoon system can really work and if it takes out the streakiness of the Moneyball teams of the past. GM Billy Beane again his found a way to win on the cheap. e deserves a lot of credit. The way this season has gone so far the A’s have all the platoons in place to make a deep October run.

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  • Eric Reining

    I’m sorry, but this is totally bogus. Platoons have been around forever; that’s why teams carry 4th and 5th outfielders and utility infielders: Players who aren’t good enough to start every day but also carry enough value in other aspects (whether it be defense, hitting vs. LHP or RHP, base running, et. all).

    Platoons are effective, and yeah, it’s surprising more managers don’t implement them more frequently. But it’s a disservice to players like Josh Donaldson (who has been MVP-like), Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker and an amazing bullpen to say platoons are the reason the A’s have done so well this year.

    It’s also a flat-out fallacy to pretend like Billy Beane is first person in the world to realize platoons have value.

    • totoum

      Sure platoons have been around forever, but managers only tend to use 1 or 2 of them, not 4 or 5 and definitely not in spots as high as the cleanup spot.
      The A’s only really have 4 everyday players: Donaldson,Cespedes,Coco and Lowrie, or the rest are part time players.

  • Berdj Rassam

    Both of you make solid points – ultimately it comes down to performance on the field by the players, not the GM or manager (obviously they deserve credit for putting those pieces on the field). Still, look at the performance of the A’s – you have 4 players banging out over 20 home runs, 8 guys who are on base on average every game that they play in and 5 guys who on average score a run or get an RBI in every game they play in. That’s why they win – because the players produce.