“The important thing is not to recreate the individual. The important thing is to recreate the aggregate.”
That’s a quotation from Billy Beane—the general manager of Oakland Athletics, the man who truly sparked a revolution in modern baseball scouting, and a guy good-looking enough in real life to be portrayed by Brad Pitt in the 2011 movie, Moneyball. The film told the story of the 2002 season for the A’s, who had to scramble to fill holes left by all-stars Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen, and Jason Giambi, all of whom were lost to teams with bigger budgets.
In the coming season, Boston College baseball head coach Mike Gambino will face a similar challenge—finding a way to work around the loss of slugger Chris Shaw, who will likely sign with the San Francisco Giants.
Of course, Gambino doesn’t have some of the mediocre tools Beane did. Instead of a relatively tiny budget, he has none, unless you count the 11.7 full scholarships he can give out. He can’t really use sabermetrics to get an advantage in recruiting, since high school stats are even more varied from differing degrees of opponent difficulty and tiny sample sizes than college numbers.
And yet, Gambino has a significant hole in his lineup by losing the power-hitting lefty Shaw, who in a season shortened by injury hit over .300 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs in 144 at-bats. Extrapolate those numbers to the 510 at-bats Giambi had for Oakland in 2001, and Shaw’s 39 home runs and 152 RBIs would look pretty similar to Giambi’s 38 homers and 120 RBIs. These aren’t numbers that Gambino can expect from any one player next season, but they may be totals he can piece together with a couple of different ones.
In adapting Moneyball to a movie, Hollywood failed to mention a few key parts of Oakland’s incredible 103-win season in ’02. Most significantly, the A’s had both the American League MVP and Cy Young winners in Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito, as well as Eric Chavez, who also put up a very impressive season. Without these stars, the few unorthodox changes Beane made—such as focusing on on-base percentage rather than batting average—would never have gotten the A’s anywhere near the postseason.
This isn’t to say that the loss of Shaw will ultimately help BC next season—it’s going to hurt, badly. In the 14 games the team played without Shaw, BC scored an average of 4.64 runs a game, down from 5.22 runs a game in the rest of the season. More than a couple of the games during that stretch could have thoroughly used Shaw’s clutch bat in the middle of the order, especially a 1-0 loss to No. 23 North Carolina.
Yet BC found other guys to step up. When run production slipped, the pitching staff buckled down, allowing just 3.79 runs during the stretch, compared to 5.08 in the rest of the season. This propelled the team to go 9-5 without Shaw, highlighted by a three-game sweep against Georgia Tech. Starting pitchers Mike King and Jesse Adams led the charge, consistently delivering solid performances during the second half of the season—both will return next spring for the Eagles.
Meanwhile, six BC batters not named Shaw hit above .270 in 2015, up from just one the year before. Five of those hitters will be returning next spring, including rising sophomore Jake Palomaki, whose on-base percentage of .447 was 36 points higher than Shaw’s, and rising senior Logan Hoggarth, who joined Shaw as the only BC player to hit .300 since 2012.
And then there’s rising junior Michael Strem, who looks to take over as the middle-of-the-order bat for BC next year. The center fielder Strem hit .296 with a slugging percentage of .437 behind Shaw in the lineup this season. These power numbers came not from a barrage of home runs (he hit two in 2015), but from 21 doubles.
Last but not least, there are the rising and incoming freshman classes, which will likely remain a question mark until the season is underway. Mitch Bigras, Scott Braren, and Anthony Maselli all showed some hitting promise in the few at-bats they had this season, while another ready-to-start player, like Palomaki or Donovan Casey, could arrive from the class of 2019. Combine all those, and you’re on your way to rebuilding Shaw’s aggregate.
Whatever does happen, the ramifications of Shaw being drafted on the first night of the draft extend beyond 2016’s team. As Gambino has said in the past, he is more focused on building a team that can compete annually versus a team that could one year make a College World Series run and then sink back down to mediocrity. Believe it or not, BC made the NCAA Tournament just six years ago under former head coach Mik Aoki, who had let a quick rebuilding in the two years prior. After making that brief run in ’09, BC made the ACC Tournament in Aoki’s last year in 2010, before sinking into four losing seasons with the remnants of his recruits.
There is no quick fix for an unproven baseball program like BC. It can take time to recruit and reshape an image. If high school kids begin seeing BC ballplayers consistently selected in the early rounds of the MLB Draft, they’re more likely to consider it as an option. The more exposure, the better the chance that the future aggregate of BC baseball can form something resembling the prowess of Shaw. After all, Shaw hasn’t been a typical BC hitter—he might be the best one we get to see play for a while.