The biggest complaint about the book Moneyball is how it didn’t delve into the foundation of the A’s real success: their starting pitching trio of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder.
Yes, finding undervalued assets like Chad Bradford, Scott Hatteberg, and a veteran like David Justice were essential to rounding out the roster. Yes stars like Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejeda, and Johnny Damon were huge parts of their success. The constant from 1999-2003 were the starting trio of Zito, Hudson, and Mulder.
If you sort American League starting pitchers with at least 75 decisions from that time period in order of ERA+, Zito is #2 (142), Hudson #3 (137), and Mulder #7 (118).
How many teams in the history of baseball had 3 starting pitchers who were in the top 10 of their league? The fact the A’s didn’t win more is probably due to their reliance on undervalued assets. This could have been a dynasty if they were able to hold on to Giambi, Isringhausen, and Damon. Imagine if they were able to buy other expensive parts for the bullpen, backend of the rotation, and bench.
Even if they had those players, could you expect them to compete with just a middle-of-the-road rotation? Say, like what the Cardinals and Rangers are displaying in this year’s World Series? I think they would be another version of the Texas Rangers or the Ken Griffey Jr. Seattle Mariners; teams that were fun and scored a lot, but didn’t win because they couldn’t get anyone out.
Yes, the American League was watered-down due to the explosion of payroll creating the Yankees and everyone else. But without those three pitchers there is not a book or movie about Moneyball because no one would care what Billy Beane is doing with a .500 club in the Bay area.
It’s not one player that was the best, its the trio of starters that were.