How Good Was the "Moneyball Draft"?

Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees celebrates his eighth inning pinch hit double against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Swisher was selected #16 overall in the famed "Moneyball Draft" (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As the movie version of Moneyball hits theaters, we reflect on the draft that was central to the book's story.

The 2002 draft would not be any more noteworthy than others, if not for one thing. This was the draft featured in the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, written by Michael Lewis and published in 2003. With the movie-version of the story in theaters today, it's as good a time as any to look back and see if Billy Beane's sh*t worked any better on draft day than it did in the playoffs.

The short answer: Beane and company nailed about as many first-round draft picks as they won World Series games in 2002. The names most prominently featured in Moneyball just didn't do much in their major league careers, or even get to the point of having major-league careers.

The lone major success was the A's first pick, an outfielder out of Ohio State named Nick Swisher. As the book notes, Swisher was the point where Beane, assistant general manager Paul DePodesta, and the scouting department agreed. He had the tools the scouts loved, as well as the abilities to draw walks and hit for power that Beane looked for in his market-exploiting tactics. They were so sure about Swisher, in fact, that they were afraid he wouldn't get to them at #16. But he did, and he ended up playing three full and successful seasons with Oakland before moving on. A career OPS+ of 116 and 1,056 games later, it's safe to say Swisher was a big first-round success.

Joe Blanton was the team's second pick in the 2002 draft, at #24 overall. Blanton may not seem like much of a first rounder sans context, but a look at other players picked there over the years says a lot about this selection. Going by wins above replacement, Blanton is the fifth-most successful of the #24 picks in the history of the draft, trailing Alex Fernandez (selected in 1988, a 10-year career with a 115 ERA+), Rondell White, Chad Billingsley, selected the very next year, and Rich Dauer, a shortstop with the Orioles who was a quality defender, and had a few average seasons with the bat. Blanton's basically average career fits in nicely with that group.

After Blanton, things get ugly. John McCurdy was a shortstop drafted out of Maryland, taken at #26. McCurdy topped out at Double-A, and finished his career in high-A as a 25-year-old back in 2006. Next up was Ben Fritz, who faired little better than McCurdy. Fritz made it to triple-A, but has since washed out of the majors, and spent the last two full seasons pitching in the independent Atlantic League. 

Then there is Jeremy Brown. Brown was a central figure in Moneyball, his full name appearing on 23 pages within its covers. Brown dominated at the University of Alabama, and was considered the epitome of Beane's preference for undervalued, bad-body guys who could turn into professional studs. In this instance, though, the scouts had it pegged: Brown hit .307/.451/.516 as a first-year pro, but after that didn't hit again until he was 25 and 26, too old for the levels he was playing at. His professional career ended with 11 plate appearances in the bigs.

Steve Obenchain came next at #37 overall, and his career also ended before he reached the majors.

The last pick of the first round (including supplementary picks) was Mark Teahen.

Teahen was supposed to be something of the Kevin Youkilis that Beane never acquired. Michael Lewis quoted A's exec Erik Kubota saying, "I hate to say it, but if you want to talk about another Jason Giambi, this guy could be it."

He probably wishes had hadn't said it. Or that Lewis hadn't been in the room to hear him say it.

In college, Teahen had tons of walks and lots of potential power, but would he produce in the majors? The answer is "sort of." He is finishing up his seventh season in the majors right now (success!), but has hit all of .264/.324/.409, with nothing but temporary flashes of the patience and power he was selected out of St. Mary's College for. Teahen has been a regular in the majors -- with Kansas City, not Oakland -- in five seasons, and has certainly done well enough for a 37th pick. The A's traded Teahen to the Royals in a deal for reliever Octavio Dotel ... who didn't help them much.

Of course, not all draft picks pan out, and it wasn't just the Athletics who didn't get what they wanted out of the 2002 draft. They were just the only team with a bestseller featuring an entire chapter on the draft. The Pirates took Bryan Bullington first overall, and, other than being a bust, is best-known for a temporary comeback eight years later in which he beat the Yankees. Pitcher Adam Loewen went fourth to the Orioles, and if not for a conversion to the outfield, he'd be gone from the pros, too. Clint EvertsScott MooreDrew MeyerRuss Adams, Roger Ring, Bobby Brownlie, and Derick Grigsby are just a few more of the 2002 first rounders that have done nothing or even less than that professionally. 

Drafts are similar to a lottery, in that you're investing in probability. Sometimes, you end up with nothing. In the A's case, the 2002 draft produced a whole lot of wasted lottery tickets, as did the 2003 draft. This isn't to say Beane was wrong for the team's philosophy at the time, as they were and are in a tough position financially and competitively, and need to take the kinds of risk with the market that they did in order to thrive. Sometimes, the process is what counts, even if results are more tangible -- good thing, too, as there were little in the way of results in this draft.

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