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A’s Draft Bourne’s Roller Because He Fits the Bill

07/15/2009 10:11 AM

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15 July 2009

A’s Draft Bourne’s Roller Because He Fits the Bill
By Jim Chandley, CCBL PR Intern

BOURNE, Mass.—Bourne’s Kyle Roller (East Carolina) was selected in the 47th round of this year’s MLB amateur draft by the Oakland Athletics. Roller may have gone undrafted had the A’s not taken him late in the evening, but it wouldn’t be the first time the A’s made such a selection, and it won’t be the last.

     In his 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Michael Lewis tells the story of how Oakland General Manager Billy Beane revolutionized the way his franchise drafted and developed talent. Lewis’ book is an excellent read and a must for any intellectual baseball fan. But it also explains why the A’s take players like Roller.

     Lewis’ book traces the evolution of statistical analysis in baseball from the legendary baseball outsider Bill James through hobbyists like Eddie Epstein (the father of Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein) to its eventual practical application by the A’s. Perhaps the most important moment in the evolution of this school of thought comes from Oakland General Manager Sandy Alderson. Alderson adopted the theory in the late 90’s that outs were bad. It sounds too obvious, but until Alderson’s tenure, it wasn’t that simple.

     Alderson’s philosophy was that the sacrifice bunt, the hit and run, the stolen base, and other ‘small ball’ concepts, were bad for the game. The idea he offered to the contrary was simple; anything is possible before the third out, and nothing is possible after it. Using this as the baseline of his baseball dogma, Alderson sought to eliminate actions that traded outs for runs or moving runners along.

     The many beliefs that came from this one belief paved the way for new strategies and new players to join the arena. If making an out is bad, getting on base is good. So for Alderson and his intellectual descendants, on-base percentage replaced batting average as the key statistic by which one identifies a good hitter. (Later, the jump would be made from OBP to OPS or on-base plus slugging). Pitcher’s arms were also looked at differently. Instead of moving runners along to score a single run, the idea was to attrite pitchers’ arms by making them throw more pitches to more batters.

     For Billy Beane, there was one key tool that a hitter needed to succeed in this ‘new’ game of baseball; command of the strike zone. Over a century of baseball had been played with the assumption that a young man with power could be taught to hit, he could learn plate discipline. For Beane, it was the opposite. A young player who knew the strike zone (made evident by his walks and pitches seen per plate appearance) could bulk up in a major league weight room and hit for power over time. This led to the A’s front office salivating over players like the young Kevin Youkilis (Bourne 2000) in 2001.

     Of course, in some situations the physical tools associated with great players before Beane’s system coincided with this new skill of dominating the strike zone. In Lewis’ time covering the front office, Nick Swisher (Wareham 2000) became the example. Some players were ‘moneyball’ guys that had the five tools that scouts covet.

     Bourne’s Kyle Roller is the same type of player. Roller looks like a linebacker and thinks like a baseball player. Although pitches seen per plate appearance is not a stat officially kept by the Cape League, most Braves officials estimate that Roller sees between four and five pitches per plate appearance. Roller’s OBP leaves him just outside the league leaders, he reaches base in one of every 2.5 plate appearances. He is yet to ground into a double play this season. His slugging percentage is a league best .607. Translated into English, this means that Roller averages .6 bases per plate appearance.

     But perhaps the best piece of evidence for Roller as a ‘Moneyball guy’ is his approach at the plate. “My first at bat I’m just trying to see as many pitches as possible,” says Roller of his approach. “A walk is just as good as a hit. If I get at least one walk a game, that’s good for me. On-base [percentage] is a big thing to me, walks help on-base.”

     Roller is the prototype described in Lewis’ book. He has good plate discipline, sees a lot of pitches and walks a lot. But, as Beane describes Swisher in the book, he also has ‘light tower power,’ so Roller is doing more than just ‘attriting’ pitchers arms, he is battering their confidence.

Jim Chandley can be reached at [email protected]


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Interns: Chris Blake, James Chandley, Ashley Crosby, Phil Garceau, Michael Campbell, Katy Ann Fitzpatrick