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Moneyball 2.0: The Pitching Whisperer

The Oakland A's are winning again on a shoestring budget, but this time the credit goes to a soft-spoken coach named Curt Young.



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When the trading deadline came in July, fans and players sat waiting for Beane to pull the trigger and bring in some serious support. Texas scored a relief pitcher; the Angels, a Cy Young award winner. Teams that are out of the race often make available top talent, hoping to bring in budding prospects. The A's, loaded with minor leaguers from their winter haul, seemed uniquely positioned to benefit from a fire sale. But as the deadline ticked closer, they did nothing. No hitting to buck up the anemic offense, no new pitchers to spell an exhausted staff.

Even though the A's had moved up in the standings, they still flat-line in terms of ownership and support. The money that couldn't buy a free agent in February had not materialized to pay a veteran's salary in September. Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, and Travis Blackley are going to be the pitchers that carry the team through September in Texas, Detroit, and New York.

The staff also will have to gut it out without Brandon McCarthy, who was felled last week by a line drive hit off the bat of a Los Angeles Angel. This latest shot means that with the exception of Milone, literally no Athletic starter who began the season in the rotation will finish in it, a rare occurrence in the major leagues at any level — unheard of for a team with the inside track to the postseason. The loss of McCarthy also means the A's are going to try to win a playoff spot with four rookie starters. That would get a team laughed out of spring training.

Of course, the A's also must do without Bartolo Colon, who was suspended for the rest of the season after failing a drug test. In the spirit of 2012, Oakland brought up Brett Anderson, a pitcher who had not thrown a big league game since June of 2011. Anderson promptly took the ball and beat the Minnesota Twins. "Whenever a guy's coming back after being away so long," Young said, "you're hoping all good things happen."

Good things have happened this season in Oakland. The fact that the team has provided its fans with a full season of drama and joy means that whatever happens from this point on, the A's are playing with house money. It is still very much an unfair game. Look across the bay and see what a swanky stadium, a 50,000-watt radio station, corporate ticket holders, and a ginormous marketing budget can do. Look at New York or Boston, and see them ready to poach and then overpay the first A's player or coach who they fancy. Look at Wolff and co-owner John Fisher, still trying to move the A's out of Oakland for a location with more corporate money and what they imagine to be a more appealing demographic. And then look at the ragged Oakland Coliseum and see a team and a town that may only have this one September together.

Moneyball appealed because it showed that if the little guy was more agile he could find a way to win when the odds were stacked against him. It's ten years later and the rich guys are richer and the long odds are longer. But the A's have found a way to win an arms race and maybe a playoff with pitchers and parts that other teams have thrown away. It may not be a book and it may not be a movie, but it's turning out to be quite a story.

Update, 9/14: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Manny Ramirez is thirty years old. he is in fact forty.

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