Whatever happened to the famed Moneyball draft class of 2002?
There was a time when on-base percentage was simply an afterthought. You know, when concepts like VORP and BABIP were just funny-sounding acronyms. It was back when Bill James was indiscernible from every other portly bearded man and sabermetrics sounded like some kind of advanced exercise class. It feels like this era was decades ago, especially when you see the number of stat-head general managers that are currently running franchises. But that is the impact
Fast forward eight years, and Brad Pitt is set to star as Oakland GM Billy Beane in a film adaptation of Michael Lewis's best-selling book. A once anonymous general manager of the Athletics who was romanticized as the book's protagonist, Beane was perceived as a baseball deity of sorts following its release. After all, he was the man who managed to put together championship contending teams year after year with a shoe-string payroll and a high-value on highly undervalued statistics. Much of the book focused on his now infamous 2002 draft class, which was hyped to eventually develop into a statistician's dream. But eight years later, how have things really worked out for Beane and that cache of first-round picks? And how has it worked out for some of the guys he infamously panned?
Blanton, taken just eight picks after Swisher, was arguably the second most productive player from Beane's 2002 haul. Considered by Oakland to be one of the draft's best starting pitchers, Beane and company were incredulous when he slipped to the 24th pick, instantly snatching him up. Like Swisher, Blanton didn't have a terribly long tenure in Oakland. After three full seasons, the right-hander was dealt to Philadelphia before the 2008 trade deadline for a trio of prospects, including Josh Outman. But with a 73-62 career record and 4.33 ERA, Blanton hasn't quite been the top of the rotation stud that the Athletics originally envisioned.
"This is unfair," said Erik Kubota, Oakland's then-scouting director about the prospect of drafting Swisher, Blanton and McCurdy, a University of Maryland shortstop. Deemed the second best hitter on Beane's wish list, McCurdy was glowingly described as "an ugly-looking fielder with the highest slugging percentage in the country" and taken with Oakland's 26th pick. Despite Kubota's statements, the pick turned out to be very fair. McCurdy played just 100 of his 494 minor league games above A-ball, and never played higher than Double-A. He finished his five-year minor league career in 2006 just 33 homers and a .259/.308/.374 batting line.
Ben Fritz was the third best right-handed pitcher in the draft, according the laptop of former assistant GM Paul DePodesta. It's very possible that DePodesta's computer may have had a virus. Despite a strong start to his career (3.18 ERA in his first minor league season of 2002), Fritz never cracked the major league level. He making it as high as Triple-A in 2005 before hitting the independent circuit, where he last played professionally in 2010.
Out of all of the Moneyball draftees, perhaps no one received as much attention as Brown, Oakland's 35th overall pick. In fact, there was an entire chapter in the book named after him ("The Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special"). Brown was a controversial figure, seen by most teams as someone who shouldn't even be drafted. However, Beane saw him as a productive force at the plate. After all, he was a catcher who could hit and, more importantly, draw walks. Brown is also known as the guy in
Obenchain never developed into a household name after Oakland selected him with the team's second-to-last first round pick. Listed at 6'5", 220, the right-hander had a promising start in the minors, notching a 2.91 ERA at A-ball in '02 before injuries hampered his career. Obenchain made it as high as Double-A before joining the independent leagues in 2007, where he spent one year playing for both the Gary RailCats and the Evansville Otters and then retiring.
There were rumblings around the Oakland front office that Mark Teahen, a local product who played just down the road at St. Mary's College, could develop into the next Jason Giambi. He didn't flash much power in college, but the Athletics loved his approach at the plate and thought that he could develop a home run stroke. Oakland took Teahen with their 39th pick, but he would never suit up for the Athletics, having been traded to the Royals as part of a three team deal in 2004 that sent Octavio Dotel to Oakland and Carlos Beltran to Houston. Now with the Blue Jays, his third stop in the majors, Teahen has developed into a modestly productive outfielder, sporting a career average of .264, including a .290, 18 home run season in 2006. However, Teahen never developed the power that the Oakland front office hoped that he would. His seven-year total of 67 is 361 fewer than Giambi.