Tonight, the Yankees will open up a three game set against the Athletics in Oakland, and in honor of the match up, I'd like to examine the recent history the two teams have together. I figure most baseball fans are familiar with Moneyball at this point. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, Billy Beane, the general manager of the Athletics, is forced to use advanced statistics to find undervalued players and compete against teams with higher payrolls. Though Beane is constantly fighting the old school baseball scouts and other Sabermetric doubters, the clubs with big payrolls are also portrayed as antagonists. The Athletics always seem to find themselves chasing the Yankees, and ultimately losing in the playoffs. It's a nice and easy narrative of David versus Goliath, but the reality is much more complicated than that.
When Sandy Alderson started using Sabermetrics with the Athletics in the mid-90's, the Yankees and future GM Brian Cashman learned from their West Coast counterpart. The late-90's Yankees dynasty was not just built on a high payroll, but also the advanced data that Alderson and the Athletics had the guts to try years earlier. Not only did the Yankees steal their philosophy in the first few years, but they would eventually take their team. In December of 2001, Jason Giambi moved on from the Athletics and signed a 7-year $120 million contract with the Bombers. The Yankees would also end up with Johnny Damon, another integral player from the Athletics' 2001 team. Eric Chavez, Nick Swisher, and Kevin Youkilis, three players touted by Beane in Moneyball, all ended up in pinstripes at some point.
Despite Moneyball's narrative, over the last decade, it's looked much more like the Yankees have been chasing the Athletics. Taking their once undervalued players as soon as they became available.
That brings us to today. It was perhaps a less popular name that the Yankees took from the A's this time. After four seasons with the Athletics, the Yankees plucked away Oakland's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson. Though you can't directly attribute their success to his presence, Patterson was at the helm of the Athletics during the development and break out of pitchers Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, and the reemergence of Brandon McCarthy. Patterson could be considered one of the best in the business, and it was of course the Yankees who wanted him.
We've already begun to see some changes in the organization since the reassignment of Nardi Contreras. Most notably, playing time and innings limits have changed dramatically. Two of the Yankees top pitching prospects, Jose Campos and Rafael De Paula, have been limited in their innings, rather than games. In the case of Campos, who faced an elbow injury last season, the right-hander has topped out at 4.1 innings in his start, and he's averaging just 3.1 innings per game. In an interview with Josh Norris, Patterson had this to say,
When someone misses a full season, as he did last year, you’re always cognizant of the fact that you want to give him enough work that next year, but not too many (innings) to overload him. I’m not sure if anyone knows the exact number of innings to give someone after a year of being missed, but we pretty much have him on a three- to four-inning stint. And we’re hoping that if we get those 25 starts or so, to get him close to that 85- to 90-inning range.
As the Yankees have shown this season, pitching is extremely important. Starting from the minor leagues, the Yankees are looking to build their future rotation around Patterson's work, and if the Athletics are any indication of his ability, the farm system is in good hands. The A's have yet again lost a part of their team and philosophy to the mighty Yankees. If we still believe that the thrifty Athletics are David, and the lavish Yankees are Goliath, the last decade and a half of baseball has shown that Goliath will often aspire to be David.