Jeremy Giambi, Derek Jeter, and “The Flip.” A Tale of Two Trajetories And How Baseball Was Changed Forever.

The most beautiful thing about the game of baseball is this: nearly any outcome is possible.  Anything can happen on any given play.

See, baseball has a certain soul to it.  All sports do to some extent, but in baseball, it’s almost cosmic.  There is no clock, really.  Nobody blows a whistle.  Time is only called after a play is over, and usually only after a player requests it.  And the ball can wind up pretty much anywhere.

Which is exactly what happened with “The Flip.”

But “The Flip” wasn’t really an isolated moment in time.  It was an accumulation of the moments that led up to it.  It was also a result that changed the directions of two franchises thereafter and, perhaps, the game and business of baseball itself.  It was a pivotal moment in a 2001 Major League Baseball season that saw the beginnings of changes to how baseball decision makers analyzed players, the breaking of the single-season home run record, and a brief stoppage of play in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks that ultimately resulted in the first time that a Major League Baseball World Series game would be played on or after November 1st.

The Year Before Moneyball: The 2001 Oakland Athletics And What Might Have Been

The Oakland Athletics may not have known it, but they were about to transition into a team built on statistics led by a front office that was about to change the way talent was evaluated and decisions about which players to acquire and which ones to trade away were made.  General Manager Billy Beane prided himself on being able to determine what players he could get the most value out of both financially and statistically and, up until 2001, did so by developing players.  Although in a fairly large market in the San Francisco Bay Area and despite having experienced several eras of success in the 1970’s, 1980’s and early 1990’s, the Athletics had been relegated to “second team” status by the 2000’s.  Their cross-bridge National League rivals, the Giants, had a new and glorious ballpark in China Basin and a management team willing and able to spend on All Star players, including the likes of 2000 National League MVP Jeff Kent, and perennial MVP Barry Bonds who hit 73 homers that year and, with Kent, would help lead the Giants to their first World Series appearance since 1989 the following year.

The Athletics, on the other hand, had a small payroll and any All Stars they had were developed in-house.  The team had some growing pains in the late 1990’s as older stars faded and young players were developed and learned about life in the big leagues first-hand, but by 2001 Beane had assembled a talented young core that consisted of 2000 AL MVP Jason Giambi, All Star shortstop Miguel Tejada, an exceptional young third baseman in Eric Chavez, and a starting pitching rotation anchored by Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Cory Lidle, who, while not developed in-house, was the sort of low-cost arm that Beane coveted.  Jason Isringhausen, who had once been a top prospect as a starter for the New York Mets and who’s career appeared to be in jeopardy due to several arm injuries, had converted into a nearly-unhittable closer once he was acquired by the Athletics.  And with the Athletics on their way to a 102 win season, Beane used organizational depth to acquire Johnny Damon to lead off and play center field, and Jermaine Dye to play a corner outfield spot and provide an additional power bat in the Athletics’ already-good lineup.

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Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito anchored the staff of a 2001 Oakland Athletics team that won 102 games.  Photo retrieved from totalsports.com

Given the success of the Giants across the bay and the fact that Beane knew that time was running out to keep his core together, this was Oakland’s opportunity to swing the attention of the Bay Area baseball fans their way and, potentially, keep enough interest in the team to justify keeping his young core together.  His biggest obstacle: MVP-caliber first baseman Jason Giambi had established himself as one of the better hitters in the game and was in the final year in which the Athletics had control over his contract.  Free agency loomed.  A World Series could provide the sort of attention and fan interest that might allow Oakland to keep Giambi longer-term and turn him into a franchise cornerstone.

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Jason Giambi was the biggest star of the Oakland Athletics’ core of players during the 2000 and 2001 seasons, winning the American League MVP in 2000.  Photo Credit – Brad Mangin, manginphotography.net

Although the Athletics had started out the 2001 season poorly, watching the Seattle Mariners storm out to a blistering 52-14 record while they stumbled toward a 39-42 record at the midway point in their schedule, they proceeded to blitz through the back half of their schedule by going 63-18 ith help from their young ace pitchers, tremendous All Star core, and trade deadline acquisitions.  The Mariners stayed hot all year and won a staggering 116 games to take the American League West division, but Oakland’s 102 wins were good enough for the American League Wild Card and, eventually, an appearance in the American League Championship Series.

Across the country in New York City, a bit of a different tale wound its way through the season.  The Yankees and Mets had crossed paths in the World Series just year prior in 2000 and looked like they might be headed toward a rematch as the Yankees won the American League East and the Mets captured the National League Wild Card.  But the city’s mood turned somber on September 11th when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were struck by hijacked airplanes in a terrorist attack that changed the complexion of politics and policy in the United States as well as the skyline of the nation’s largest city.  Moreover, Major League Baseball completely suspended play for six days, rescheduling games that had been postponed to be played after the originally scheduled conclusion of the Major League Baseball season and postponing the playoffs until all games on the schedule had been completed.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, it was the Mets, not the Yankees, who resumed home games first on September 21st.  A memorable late-inning home run by Mike Piazza brought Shea Stadium to its feet, a moment which appeared to have a therapeutic affect on an emotional crowd that, after 10 days of grieving, finally had something to cheer about.

But the Mets would falter in the National League Division Series, while the Yankees found themselves down 2-0 in the American League Division Series after dropping both Game 1 and Game 2 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees found themselves up 1-0 in the 7th inning at Oakland in Game 3, but with two outs and Jason Giambi’s lesser-known brother, Jeremy, on first base after a base hit to right field off Yankees starting pitcher Mike Mussina, Terrence Long came to the plate with a chance to tie the game or put the Athletics ahead.  What Long could not have known was that his double down the line was about to result in a change of trajectory that changed the momentum of a game, a series, and ultimately both franchises.

The 2001 New York Yankees and a Date with Destiny

The 2001 Yankees were coming off back-to-back World Championships and, while the Yankees were not afraid to spend money to get the best ballplayers they could get, still had not quite gained the reputation that they would become notorious for as the first decade of the 2000’s wore on that they were a team focused on buying the best players.  They had a tremendous young core that consisted of closer Mariano Rivera, catcher Jorge Posada, outfielder Bernie Williams, second baseman Alfonso Soriano, and pitcher Andy Pettite.  The team also had acquired some quality rotation pieces such as veteran staff anchors Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina who were capable aces and veteran gamers such as Scott Brosius, Chuck Knoblauch, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill.

And then there was the brightest star in all the core: Derek Jeter, the popular Yankee shortstop.  The man who, as fate would have it, could be considered either the protagonist or antagonist in this story, depending on your perspective  And perhaps he was both.  As history has played itself out, he has become a first ballot Hall of Famer and is often portrayed as one of the classiest and most team-oriented player of his era.

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Derek Jeter.  Hero.  Or Villain.  Or maybe a bit of both.  Image retrieved from networthcelebrities.com

While not as explosive as their American League West counterparts in Seattle and Oakland, the Yankees were coming off back-to-back championships and four titles in six years.  The team won won a respectable 95 games on their way to an American League East Division title.  Solid but steady production from their lineup and pitching staff allowed them to get back to the playoffs, but while the Yankees had a championship pedigree, the road back to the World Series was going to be a difficult one.

From the get-go, the Yankees’ ability to get past Oakland in the ALDS was in question.  Mark Mulder badly outdueled Roger Clemens in Game 1, with Clemens only able to go 4 innings, and the Athletics prevailed 5-3.  Things didn’t get much better in the Bronx the next night, as Tim Hudson outdueled Andy Pettite for a 2-0 victory.

While the Yankees found themselves up 1-0 entering the late innings of Game 3 in Oakland, Barry Zito gave up only a 5th inning home run to Jorge Posada and two hits total on the night, keeping the A’s within striking distance.  With Mike Mussina tiring and Jeremy Giambi singling to right with two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Terrence Long connected on a 2-2 offering and grounded a ball hard past first base down the line and into right field.  Giambi took off running.  Yankees right fielder Shane Spencer got to the ball and made a throw that missed the cut-off man…

Pause for a Moment

Let’s take a step back for a moment.

With two outs, Jeremy Giambi singles to right.  Oakland now has a chance to potentially tie the game on a ball in the gap or a well-placed ball with a runner going on contact.

Down on the Oakland bench, Eric Byrnes was waiting for an opportunity to get in the game.  Byrnes was adequate with a bat and was also a much faster runner than Jeremy Giambi.

Athletics manager Art Howe had a chance to make a decision to pinch-run Byrnes for Giambi.  Byrnes could score from first on a ball in the gap or down the line or a weird hop or carom in the outfield.  Giambi, much slower, was less likely to score from first base on any well-hit ball to the outfield, barring a misplay or an errant throw.

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Given the choice to run for the slower-moving Jeremy Giambi with outfielder Eric Byrnes in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS, Manager Art Howe made the fateful decision to leave Giambi in the game, the first piece in a sequence that may have changed the trajectory of his franchise and the game of baseball itself forever.  Photo Credit – Ben Margot, Associated Press

Howe ponders waiting to see if Giambi can get into scoring position before making the switch.  This is the decision that he ultimately makes.  Giambi stays in the game.  Long comes to the plate.

History is about to happen.

The Flip

A tiring Mussina crouches down and gets ready to deliver his pitch.  He’s not worried about Jeremy Giambi, not particularly a good base runner, standing near the first base bag.  His focus is on Terrence Long and a 2-2 count.  If he can get a strike past Long, he’s out of the inning and the Yankees go to the 8th with a 1-0 lead.

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With two strikes on Terrence Long, Mike Mussina appeared to have given up a game-tying RBI double in the 7th inning of Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.  Until he didn’t.  Photo credit – Rogash/Getty, retrieved from the New York Daily News.

He comes out of his crouch, winds and delivers.  His tired arm cuts loose a fastball just to the outside part of the plate.  It’s headed close to Posada’s target, but it looks a little fat and maybe catches too much of the zone.

Long puts his lefty swing on the pitch and connects.  It’s a sharp grounder headed down the first base line.  Tino Martinez dives toward the bag but it skips under his glove, fair, and heads for the right field corner.  The ball has rolled into foul territory, but it’s live for having been fair as it passed first base.  Shane Spencer runs toward the stands to retrieve the ba.

As Spencer picks up the ball, Giambi has past second and has rounded toward third, past the shortstop, nearing third base.  He gets the green light to go home.

Giambi starts his turn to touch third and head home as Spencer uncorks the ball from near the right field corner.  His throw misses Martinez, looking to cut the ball off and redirect it to Posada.  Giambi lumbers with a full head of steam toward the plate.  The throw is going wide of Posada.  The Athletics are about to tie the game and Terence Long is heading toward second with a double, representing the go-ahead run.  For a brief moment, a vision of sweeping the Yankees out of the playoffs and getting to the ALCS flashes through the collective consciousness of the crowd at the Oakland Coliseum.

Then there’s a different flash.  Wearing a gray jersey with the number 2 on the back.  Derek Jeter, normally a very fundamentally sound ballplayer, seems to have broken from the logic of his position.  He streaks from somewhere between shortstop and the pitchers’ mound, crosses the diamond between first base and home plate, runs into foul territory and cuts off the ball.

Then, with all his momentum going toward the first base box seats, Jeter somehow gains full control of the ball, takes a quick glance, and flips the ball on a back-hand to Posada right as the lumbering Giambi approaches home plate.

Oakland fans snap back to reality.  Suddenly a tie game is not a foregone conclusion.  The ball cuts defiantly through the air toward Posada’s outstretched glove.

Giambi bears down on the plate.

Does he slide?

Does he stand up?

Is that the ball coming toward Posada’s glove?

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Giambi comes to the plate at Jeter cuts the ball off and flips it to Posada.  Image retrieved from destinationoctober.wordpress.com/theflip

The ball finds the catcher’s mitt.  Wasting no time, Posada whirls around to his glove-hand side.  Giambi takes his final stride toward home plate, sprinting the whole way.  There will not be a slide.

Giambi’s foot comes down.

Posada’s glove sweeps back.

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Jeremy Giambi’s foot comes down on home plate.  Jorge Posada’s glove is near Giambi’s right leg.  But did he apply the tag a split second before Giambi’s foot landed?  Or did he miss by a whisker and catch nothing but air?  Photo credit: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, San Francisco Chronicle

Giambi clears the plate as the crowd begins to erupt.

The umpire points.  Posada shows the ball in the glove.  The umpire rears his arm back.  He puts his hand in a fist.

Out.

Giambi can’t believe it.  The Athletics players can’t believe it.  The Oakland Coliseum crowd can’t believe it.  Celebratory pandemonium is replaced by a loud collective groan as all the energy suddenly seems to get sucked out of the ballpark.

We go to the 8th inning.  Yankees 1, Athletics 0.

But was he out?

A matter of a fraction of a second, the distance of a few eyelashes are all that separate Jeremy Giambi from tying Game 3 and giving the Athletics a chance to continue the inning with the go-ahead run in scoring position.

And whether Derek Jeter was a true Yankee savior or the benefactor of a blown call is a matter of debate.

Ask any Yankee fan or die-hard Jeter fan and they”ll tell you, Jeter’s flip was amazing, and Posada clearly got the tag on Giambi’s pant leg with his foot still about an inch or so over home plate.

Ask any Athletics fan or person who believes that the Yankees benefitted from a blown call, whether an honest mistake by the umpire or some greater conspiracy to ensure that the Yankees would make it to the World Series, and they’ll tell you that Posada’s swipe caught nothing but air between Giambi’s legs as his final stride landed on the plate.

In the modern game, the play most likely would have been reviewed.  Major League Baseball and the television networks would have had multiple views of the play.  We would have seen Jeter catch the ball and flip it from just about any angle imaginable.  We would have been able to break down Posada’s swipe and Giambi’s final stride to touch the plate literally frame by frame to see if, in fact, Posada caught his pant leg.  In 1080p resolution or higher.

But there was no replay in 2001.  There was only a sequence.  Derek Jeter flashing across the diamond.  The ball getting flipped to Posada.  And Posada quickly turning and swiping behind him just as Giambi was arriving at home plate.

Bang bang.

Only the umpire knows for sure if he got a truly clear look at where Posada’s glove swiped, or if his view was obscured and he was making a guess based on what his eyes could see.  The television cameras are not definitive.  From some angles it looks as though Posada got the tag.  From other angles it looks like the tag was late.  From still others, it looks as though Posada came close to making the tag but only got air as Giambi passed by.  Constant review, slow motion, and multiple angles can help develop an argument.  But it seems impossible to convince a person who has formed an opinion of the play that their point of view is wrong.

Changes In Trajectory

“The Flip” may be an issue of dispute between the two fan bases and even baseball historians.  But the result of the call is not.

Given an opportunity to escape from the play unscathed, the Yankees turned to Mariano Rivera who shut the Athletics out for the final two innings.  Barry Zito took a hard-luck loss.  And the Yankees took the momentum and beat the Athletics in Oakland in Game 4 and again back at Yankee Stadium in Game 5.

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Already establishing himself as one of the premiere closers in the game, Mariano Rivera picked up a dominant 6 out save against the Athletics in Game 3.  If Jeremy Giambi had scored, Rivera might not have come into the game, giving the Athletics a higher probability of scoring again and picking up the win.  Image retrieved from brandonsteiner.com

An ALCS matchup between a team that won 116 games against a division rival that had managed to win 63 of its final 81 games to finish with 102 wins wouldn’t happen, and the Yankees rode the momentum of their win over the Athletics to handily beat a team that had won 21 more games than they had, 4 games to 1 to advance to one of the most dramatic World Series in history against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a 7 game set with tremendous performances on both sides that may have been one of the most socially important World Series of all time as the country rebounded from the 9/11 attacks.

What Might Have Been

Let’s go back to “The Flip” for a moment.  Let’s suppose for a moment that Jeter decides to cede the run, or trust the accuracy of Shane Spencer’s throwing arm, and stays home near second base in anticipation that a throw may be cut off and he may be in a position to make a play on Terrence Long to end the inning.

Or let’s suppose that the ball gets to the glove a fraction of a second later.

Or let’s suppose, even, that everything happens just as it did, except the umpire determines that Posada does not apply the tag, either on time or at all, and calls Giambi safe.

Any of these three scenarios results in the same outcome: Jeremy Giambi steps on home plate to tie the game, and the Athletics are in business with a tie score, a runner in scoring position, and a tired Mike Mussina, having just given up a run, either having to pitch to the next batter in a demoralized state, or a Yankee reliever rushing in to take over for him rather than Mariano Rivera coming into the game in the 8th inning with a fresh set of outs and no runners on base.

Sure.  The Yankees still could get the third out and find another way to win the game. Maybe it goes to extra innings.  Or maybe, in a tie game going into the eighth, Joe Torre manages his lineup differently and gets another run across.

But maybe the Athletics win.  Maybe Terrence Long comes home on an RBI single and Barry Zito’s 8 innings of two-hit ball go down in Oakland lore as being part of a sequence that propels Oakland into the next round to face the Mariners in a battle of two division foes, one with a blistering 116 wins, the other that played the second half of the season on a 126 win pace.  And just maybe the Athletics prevail and go on to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series, countering the 1-2 punch of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling with their 3-headed monster of Hudson, Mulder and Zito.

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After mashing two homers in the Athletics’ Game 1 victory, Terrence Long appeared to be a hero again in Game 3 with his double down the right field line, until Derek Jeter’s flip and Jorge Posada’s tag took away his apparent game-tying RBI.  Photo retrieved from allposters.com

Maybe the Oakland Athletics win and look to turn the tables on the headline-grabbing Giants on the other side of the Bay Bridge by building an East Bay dynasty that draws comparisons to the 1970’s Athletics championship squads, or the late 1980’s teams that went to multiple World Series and won it all in 1989.  Or maybe they lose to the Diamondbacks and the core decides they have unfinished business.  In either case, it seems likely that a combination of success and fan interest would have inspired Beane to sign Jason Giambi to a long-term contract.  While the Athletics would win the American League West in 2002, the formula for winning had changed and Giambi was gone.

If Jason Giambi had stayed in Oakland, would the Angels have won the 2002 World Series?  Or would the Athletics have steamrolled them and faced the Giants in a rematch of the 1989 Bay Bridge Series with regional bragging rights on the line?  Would Giambi, potentially with two World Titles under his belt, have drawn comparisons to Reggie Jackson in the early- to mid-1970’s in terms of his impact on Oakland’s October successes?

Or maybe it doesn’t matter and Giambi bolts for New York in free agency even with an Athletics series win.

But we’ll never know.

The Real Aftermath and the Real Trajectory

The Yankees got to the World Series.  Even in a seven game defeat, Derek Jeter solidified his reputation as a clutch performer and one of the most popular players in the game, including hitting a walk-off home run in an extra innings game after the clock had struck midnight and Major League Baseball marched into November for the first time.  “Mr. November,” the headlines read.  And after a 7 game World Series loss in a final game where only a faltering Mariano Rivera came between the Yankees and a three-peat, the team naturally was inclined to believe that it was a player away.  Tino Martinez was aging out.

The New York Yankees wanted Jason Giambi.

The Oakland Athletics, devoid of the October (and November) heroics that could have potentially put their franchise squarely on the baseball map once again, found that they could not afford to keep Jason Giambi.  It would be impossible for Billy Beane to convince the penny-pinching owner, Stephen Schott, to even try to match the Yankees’ contract offer.

7 years.

$120 million.

The trajectories of the franchises went in completely opposite directions.

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One of the most immediate consequences of the momentum change caused by “The Flip” was the  Oakland Athletics losing Jason Giambi in free agency to the New York Yankees, solidifying the Yankees as a team willing to spend freely in free agency and forcing the Athletics to change their front office approach to trying to win ballgames.  Photo Credit – Kathy Willens, Associated Press

The Yankees, already with a reputation for being able to acquire and pay top talent to get them to the World Series, started to spend more and more extravagantly.  Giambi was just the first big contract the franchise took on.  More would follow.  Alex Rodriguez, who had signed a 10 year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers prior to the 2001 season, came to the Yankees via a trade just before the 2004 season, with the Yankees assuming a large portion of his contract.  Eventually the contract would be re-worked and renewed, with A-Rod ppting out of his original contract and getting a 10 year, $270 million deal prior to the 2008 season.  The team acquired Randy Johnson prior to the 2005 season, taking on a large portion of his contract.  The team consistently paid stars like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite whatever it took to keep them in the fold.  The team traded Jeff Weaver for the final two years of Kevin Brown‘s 7 year, $100 million contract in an effort to round out their pitching staff in an attempt to make another deep playoff run in 2004.

Although the Yankees did not win another World Series until 2009, they frequently had the largest payroll in baseball and tended to either sign star players for big money or trade prospects for established stars even if it meant taking on significant amounts of payroll.  The 2001 Yankees had a payroll of over $110 million and it only rose from there. By comparison, the 2001 Athletics came within a flip play from potentially sweeping that already-high cost Yankees franchise with a payroll of just under $40 million.

Meanwhile, eliminated early and unable to hold onto Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon or Jason Isringhausen, the Oakland Athletics looked to find another way.  Beane looked for unconventional ways to maximize his team’s ability to score runs, minimize runs allowed, and use statistical analysis to find players who would give them the best opportunity to do this.  Although Beane was criticized for acquisitions of players like Scott Hatteberg and aging sluggers like David Justice and, later, Frank Thomas, his theories regarding producing and saving runs actually brought the Athletics another division title in 2002, including a 20 game winning streak, and two more playoff appearances thereafter.  Further, Beane’s analytic approach, assisted by his assistant General Manager Paul DePodesta, led to a dramatic change in how many of baseball’s front offices analyzed players.

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In response to losing Jason Giambi and recognizing that Oakland did not have the capacity to compete with other organizations on the basis of payroll, Billy Beane sought out front office personell who emphasized statistical analysis to find players who could maximize the team’s chances of winning while keeping payroll to a minimum.  The approach, called “Moneyball,” soon led to changes in how many franchises approached their business practices and player scouting.  Image retrieved from baseballessential.com

Now not only was a ballplayer’s basic skill set and things like his batting average, home run and RBI totals factored into determining who should be signed, but closer looks were taken at stats such as on base percentage, Fielding-Independent pitching, On Base-Plus-Slugging Percentage, Wins Above Replacement, and a variety of other statistics derived from more complex mathematical formulas that could not necessarily be determined by simply looking at a box score.  “Moneyball” came en vogue and different General Managers began to use varying approaches to it, with varying degrees of success.

In Boston, Theo Epstein used his analysis to help the Red Sox turn into a World Champion for the first time in 86 years and overturn the “Curse of the Bambino” when they stunned the Yankees in the ALCS and then beat the Cardinals handily in the World Series.  Epstein and Jed Hoyer worked together to bring the Sox a second title in 2007 and a large part of the 2013 Red Sox team building philosophy that resulted in a third title in 10 years came from the work that Epstein and Hoyer did with the organization.  Not to be outdone, Epstein and Hoyer then worked their magic on Chicago’s North Side, using their brand of analysis to rebuild the Cubs and have them break the “Billy Goat Curse” by getting them to their first World Series since 1945 and to win their first Championship since 1908.

Paul DePodesta parlayed his statistical analysis abilities and work with Beane into a head GM position with the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the start of the 2004 season.  While DePodesta had less success than Beane and Epstein, he continued to influence front office decisions with the San Diego Padres and, later, attempted to expand his expertise into professional football by using his analysis skill set with the Cleveland Browns, although to this point DePodesta has not maintained any long-term success with any of the franchises he has worked with.

In Tampa Bay, Andrew Friedman utilized his own analytic strategies to turn the Tampa Bay Rays from annual celler dwellers to annual title contenders.  Although the Rays fell short of a World Title, Friedman built Tampa’s first playoff teams and was rewarded with a trip to the 2008 World Series.  Friedman didn’t get the Rays back to the World Series, but frequently kept the team competitive.  His acunem and analysis eventually got the attention of Los Angeles Dodgers managing partner Stan Kasten who brought Friedman to L.A. to be President of Baseball Operations where he brought on another data-driven mind to be his General Manager in Farhan Zaidi.  Friedman took an already-rebuilding Dodger farm system and utilized the international market and free agent signings to create significant depth in the Dodgers’ Major League roster as well as their farm system.  The result was a return to the National League Championship Series in 2016 under manager Dave Roberts and a team fighting for the best record in baseball at the All Star Break in 2017.  While Friedman continues to use analytics and values the development of organizational depth and a healthy farm system, he also seems to appreciate the added value of being able to sign players to significant contracts in the large media market that Los Angeles provides.

Yes.  “The Flip” not only will show up on highlight reels for years to come, it fundamentally changed the game of baseball and the culture surrounding the game.

Before “The Flip,” baseball valued players much differently.  Physical skill sets and base-level stat lines tended to cause players to be valued by teams, while advanced metrics were not given much weight in determining whether or not a player should be signed or what a player’s true value might be.

Interestingly, Beane himself was the type of player during his career that “Moneyball” would have dictated as being a bad signing.  In the based-on-a-true-story-but-somewhat-fictional “Moneyball,” a 2011 movie based on a 2003 book by Michael Lewis titled Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Beane’s character asks the fictional Peter Brand, based on a few people involved with the Athletics organization but mostly inspired by assistant General Manager Paul DePodesta, whether or not he would have drafted him out of high school.  Brand’s response: he would have selected Beane, but not until the 9th round (Beane was the first overall pick in the draft that year by the New York Mets.)  The idea that a ballplayer should be evaluated based not solely on physical potential but on the value exhibited in his peripheral statistics and analytics was mostly foreign.  Because of “The Flip” and Beane’s need to change his approach to free agency and player acquisition in light of the team losing not only Giambi but also Johnny Damon and closer Jason Isringhausen to free agency and not having the money to make competitive offers or replacing them with similar-calibur players, the discovery that analytics could help Beane find replacements throughout the roster to make up for the lost runs would go on to revolutionize the game.  And even with the loss of the three coveted players, the Athletics managed to win the 2002 American League West Division Championship and at one point win 20 games in a row.

However, Beane’s variant of “Moneyball” has drawn some criticism because it has not led the Oakland Athletics to another World Series, let alone another Championship.  The idea that some spending of money in addition to the utilization of statistical analysis is necessary to increase a team’s chances of success has been demonstrated most effectively by Theo Epstein, who can directly claim three World Series titles in total with the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.  In the case of the Red Sox, the necessary core was in place and Epstein’s moves were mostly to acquire complimentary players.  In the case of the Cubs, Epstein virtually started from scratch, utlizing the draft and trading veteran players for prospects to get the necessary pieces.  The Los Angeles Dodgers are currently also trying this approach with Andrew Friedman and Beane protege Farhan Zaidi making organizational decisions in their front office, with signs indicating that Friedman’s approach combined with a more flexible payroll than he had in Tampa Bay might eventually lead to successes similar to that of Epstein in Boston and Chicago.

“Moneyball” not only became a concept, it became a cultural phenomenon.  Statistical analysis is used more broadly not only in baseball but in many other sports to help franchises evaluate players and attempt to gain a statistical edge.  And sports talk hosts and people utilizing the internet to discuss the sport and play in Fantasy Sports Leagues throw advanced metric terms around and utilize them in determining which players they believe to be the best.  Where at some point in the past a fan base may have valued a player with 40 or more home runs in the middle of the lineup for his potential to break a game open, now a fan base may look at deeper statistics and prefer more players who maybe do not hit as many home runs but get on base more frequently, or who hit for higher average and hit a larger number of doubles, or who’s statistics offensively and defensively combine for a high “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) number.

While some people still prefer more traditional metrics and what could be called “the eyeball test,” such as making an observation that though a player’s metrics are not as good as some others they seem to rise to the occasion and perform in late innings or clutch situations better than others (an observation that is often confirmed by metrics, ironically,) analytics are more heavily used to determine player value and performance.  Ironically, as front offices increase their reliance on these statistics and fans increase their discussion of the value of these statistics, players seem to be adapting their games.  As computerized analysis becomes more detailed to the point of examining the distance that balls are hit, the exit angle that balls take off the bat, the degree of break of a pitcher’s curveball and the effective velocity of a ball out of a pitchers arm and off a hitter’s bat, both hitters and pitchers are adjusting their approaches to appeal to the “ideal” metrics.  The result is a continued evolution of the game from every perspective.

It can be argued that many of these advances in metrics and statistics and analysis would have eventually advanced even if the Jeremy Giambi had been safe, or even if the Athletics had somehow won the 2001 World Series.  But it seems that the likelihood was that eventually some team somewhere would have started to employ these metrics and the minds that helped to advance them.  “The Flip” only served as the vehicle that changed the course of two teams in such a manner that one of those teams was forced to change the way they approached the game.  The rest, as they say, is history.

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4 Comments

    1. Thanks strosfan. I am planning to examine a few case studies (more Beane, DePodesta, Epstein, Friedman, Lunnow) as sort of a way of kind of seeing how those guys have each contributed to the move to more advanced analytics and what they’ve done to shape the culture of their clubs as well as the impact that has had on fan bases. Each of them have a little bit of a different emphasis area.

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  1. I feel like the the flip may have been a catalyst for the advanced analytics movement, but the basic thought process behind it/moneyball – find out ways to gain a competitive advantage over other teams – was there, but moneyball took on a different form (more depth in the statistics examined, less big money spent on raw power) . Also, the A’s had offered Giambi 6 years, $90 mill hoping he would give a bit of a hometown discount; the Yankees offered him 1 more year for $30 mill. I remember being annoyed (and still am) that Giambi gave the excuse that his dad always wanted to see him in pinstripes as his reason for leaving the A’s.

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    1. True Dinur, the thought process was there. “The Flip” just sort of knocked over the dominoes to get things going.

      And while the A’s offer was pretty good, one would think if they at least made the World Series that the desire to open up the purse strings and match the Yankees offer would probably have been there.

      But of course, because of Derek Jeter and the judgment of the home plate umpire, we’ll never know for certain.

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