A’s Beane: Analytics have turned baseball into a chess match

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Billy Beane is an early-to-bed guy. He was asleep at 11:10 on Friday night, which of course meant the Oakland Athletics exec missed the last few innings of the marathon, the longest World Series game ever, 18 innings, 7 hours and 20 minutes — or 12:30 a.m. PDT, more than an hour after Beane dozed off.

But the man is wide awake when it counts. He knew the Dodgers won that game 3-2, on Max Muncy’s home run. OK, there are videos, the Internet, newspapers. But he also knows why games are running so long, if not quite as long as that one. And how to build a winning team.

“No doubt analytics really contributed to the length,” said Beane. “It’s turned baseball into a chess match. Offenses are built to see a lot of pitches. They don’t swing at the first pitch. They’re built to wear out pitching staffs.”

And, one might surmise, wear out fans. Hey, it was 3:30 a.m. in Boston when that game ended Friday night/Saturday morning with the only Dodgers win in the Series.

Beane, the executive of baseball operations; general manager David Forst; and manager Bob Melvin were brought together at the Coliseum on Monday to discuss both their recently announced contract extensions and the great season of 2018, when Oakland won 97 games.

If that was 11 games and one World Series championship fewer than the Red Sox, well, as Beane affirmed, “Boston had a great team.”

A team that not only was dominant from opening day but also made it successfully through the postseason, which Oakland over the years, with its roster including Miguel Tejada, Barry Zito, Jason Giambi and other stars, couldn’t do against the Yankees.

That’s when Beane, properly downhearted, referred to the playoffs as a crapshoot, which in a sense they are because teams built for 162 games can be eliminated in five games. And even though the Red Sox were a deserving winner this year, Beane has not altered his opinion.

In the 2001 best-of-five American League Division Series, Oakland won the first two games. In New York. But in Game 3, the Yankees won 1-0, when New York shortstop Derek Jeter, who shouldn’t have been there, went to right field to relay a throw to home plate that cut down Jeremy Giambi.

The train couldn’t be stopped. The Yankees won the next in Oakland and the last in New York. The A’s were out.

Just as this year, in the American League division and championship series, defending champions Houston, New York and Cleveland were out.

“The Dodgers,” said Beane, “could make a quantitative augment they were the best team in the National League. In the American League, there really were four good teams. Cleveland gets booted out by Houston, which is a really good team. The Yankees get beat by Boston. And we won 97 games.”

Enough to get into the wild card against the Yankees — and lose the one game.

“But Boston was the best team,” Beane restated. “I was glad Mookie Betts hit a home run the last game. This guy’s as great a player there is. He was 0-for 13.”

Beane reminded that Barry Bonds hit .292 in the regular season with Pittsburgh in 1991 and .148, 4 for 27, in the playoffs that year, which, naturally the Pirates lost. The crapshoot.

“But it was a fun World Series," said Beane, taking the broad view. “Baseball has been turned into a science, but it’s still an art, too.”

What the A’s turned it into the past season was a joyful blend of hitting and pitching. And defense. Four A's, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien, were Gold Glove finalists. Some of the names were different two years ago, when the balls the A’s didn’t bobble they threw away.

“These guys, especially Marcus, put in a lot of work,” said Melvin. “It feels pretty good based on where the defense was previous to that. We completely turned the page.”

The A’s knew they were good when they finished two series against Houston, the Yankees and the Blue Jays at .500.

“And we won the season series from the Red Sox,” said Melvin, “That certainly makes us think that going forward we can be there. We have confidence.”

And a GM who doesn’t like to stay up late.

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