Looking back on it, there’s no doubt that the Oakland Athletics are happy to have Jon Lester, who was acquired from Boston before the trade deadline last Thursday.
But wow, there’s no way they wanted to give up Yoenis Cespedes.
“No, I don’t think they did, but these are the A’s; they don’t quite think like most teams think,” Sports Illustrated MLB reporter Ben Reiter said on Ferrall on the Bench. “I think Billy Beane saw a pitching staff that had performed very well but was maybe running on fumes a little bit. He’s not afraid of the bold move. He saw a chance to make one to add a No. 1 starter to what was already – as many have said – the best rotation in the league. He knew it was going to take a big piece, and that piece happened to be trading away your cleanup hitter in the midst of a playoff push.”
“Now, that was very unusual,” Reiter continued, “but one of the reasons he felt comfortable doing that was because he had over the past couple years embraced platoons – lefty-righty platoons – in a way most teams had not. He saw a chance to, if not exceed Cespedes’ production, to at least match it with the combination of Jonny Gomes and Stephen Vogt.”
How is that possible? It’s simple. Gomes’ OPS against lefties is better than Cespedes’ OPS against lefties, and Vogt’s OPS against righties is better than Cespedes’ OPS against righties.
“So maybe two guys could do the work of one, and then you got a No.1 starter, Jon Lester, on top of it,” Reiter said. “That’s the theory.”
That theory is what makes Billy Beane Billy Beane. In fact, Oakland ranks in the top five in the majors in lefty plate appearances versus righties and righty plate appearances versus lefties.
“It really is,” Reiter said. “They’ve kind of been doing this (platoon system) for a while. They’ve had the highest-scoring offense in the league utilizing this strategy, and you look at the time of the season that they made this big move. Yes, for the next three-and-a-half weeks they might not have as much flexibility having to platoon all these guys. But come Sept. 1, rosters are going to expand to 40 men, and they’re going to have all sorts of other options to throw out against teams in righty-lefty matchup situations.”
That all sounds great, in theory. In actuality, however, the A’s (69-44) have scored more than three runs in a game just once since the deadline. Vogt believes the lineup is pressing, with players feeling they have to do more with Cespedes out of the lineup.
“There’s a psychological hurdle as well here that it seems the A’s are still trying to overcome,” Reiter said.
Well, they’ll have to overcome it if they hope to win the Wold Series, which is something the A’s haven’t done since 1989. Beane once famously said that his formula doesn’t guarantee postseason success, that the playoffs are just a crapshoot.
After trading Cespedes for Lester, it’s clear that Beane doesn’t necessarily still think that.
“I think that they have a shot (to win the World Series), and I think that (adding Lester) had a lot to do with October,” Reiter said. “One way that maximizes your chances is to throw out a pitching staff filled with high-end starters in these short-series games. That’s what Billy’s trying to do. I think they thought they needed some of these horses, and he (has) at least two of them now in Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija. So make no mistake: this is certainly a move made with an eye toward breaking that long World Series drought that the A’s have maintained despite all their success.”