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by Michael Sansolo

Trying something new and seemingly counter to historical success isn’t always an easy or sure path, but certainly there is something to be learned by any such efforts. That is why this year we should pay attention to the Oakland Athletics baseball team and a surprisingly innovative strategy to compete successfully against far better funded competition.

The A’s success this year - they are almost a lock to make the baseball playoffs - should interest everyone, fans and non-fans alike. I’ll try as best as possible to explain this situation in layman terms for any non-baseball fans among our readers. Simply put, this is a great example of recognizing internal weaknesses and finding a creative method to minimize their importance, while emphasizing our assets.

First, some history: the A’s have been something of a marvel for a few decades now. A remarkably low-budget operation up against incredibly wealthy competitors, the A’s have constantly found new and creative ways to build success. A few years back the franchise’s innovative use of new metrics led to the team - and especially general manager Billy Beane - achieving cult status thanks to the best selling book “Moneyball” and the subsequent movie of the same name, starring Brad Pitt.

The A’s strategy quickly became de rigueur in baseball and many of Beane’s disciples went on to great success with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, although both those teams were blessed with far larger budgets. It’s worth noting that the strategy alone doesn’t lead to success. MorningNewsBeat’s favorite team, the New York Mets, have repeatedly hired former members of the A’s management staff and the result has been what Mets’ fans usually expect: losses, injuries and incredible disappointment. (Not that we’re bitter or anything…)

The A’s are now back at it. In baseball, there is no more important position than the pitcher, whose job it is to keep the opposing team from scoring runs and thereby winning. For much of baseball history, pitchers threw hundreds of innings each year, a formula that has changed in recent years with specialists now focusing on only specific situations late in games. Starting pitchers are still expected to stay in the game for six or seven innings in order to face 20-30 batters.

The A’s, however, thanks to injuries and budget constraints, mostly lack pitchers capable of successfully handling long stretches of the game - a problem increasingly common throughout baseball. So the team found a new solution; necessity, once again, was the mother of innovation. Oakland now uses pitchers for short stints throughout each game. So the starting pitcher might only face two or three batters before giving way to line of relief pitchers.

Currently, Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals has pitched the most innings of anyone in baseball this year totaling 206. The A’s have only one pitcher within 50 innings of that total and most of their massive roster of pitchers has thrown less than half as many. Yet, as of this Saturday Oakland has won 90 games in the season and Washington only 75. Consider also that Oakland’s payroll for players is $80 million, or less than half of Washington’s. (More striking, Oakland is having a far better season than their wealthier Bay-area cousins, the San Francisco Giants, whose payroll tops $200 million.)

Keep in mind that, more than most sports, baseball is slavishly devoted to tradition. Statistics are still compared over a century and while the game constantly changes, much of it is played today in fairly much the same fashion as in 1918. So such a radical shift in strategy, as the A’s are deploying, is fairly stunning.

But there’s the lesson for all of us. Sometimes we need to change because conditions are shifting. Sometimes this is due to necessity to account for our weaknesses and strengths. And sometimes it is simply a recognition that we cannot win playing by rules that seem to work against us.

It seems like there might be something there that should matter to all of us these days.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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