Wednesday marks the 17-year anniversary of the A's signing free agent first baseman Scott Hatteberg to a one-year contract worth just under $1 million. Actually, Hatteberg wasn't a first baseman at all before coming to Oakland. He was a catcher.
The year before the A's signed him, Hatteberg had to have surgery on his throwing elbow and his arm was never the same. Even though he had never played first base, Billy Beane and company loved his high on-base percentage and other advanced metrics enough to give it a shot.
Hatteberg, who was 32 years old at the time, had spent the previous seven seasons with the Red Sox, slashing .267/.357/.414.
Hatteberg lived up to Beane's expectations at the plate in 2002, boasting a .280/.374/.433 slash line with a career-high 15 home runs and 61 RBI. Of course, he happened to hit one of the most iconic homers in A's history, a walk-off blast against Kansas City to give Oakland its 20th consecutive win, setting an American League record at the time.
The A's kept Hatteberg around for three more years, paying him a total of just $7.05 million over the four seasons. Hatteberg notched a total of 49 home runs and 263 RBI, slashing .269/.355/.396.
Hatteberg will forever be linked with the A's "Moneyball" strategy, and not just because he was portrayed in the movie. His high on-base percentage and low salary, along with other advanced analytics, were exactly what Beane targeted when building his team. He proved he could succeed by targeting different attributes than other clubs.
The Hatteberg deal also showed positions can be fluid. Hatteberg had been a catcher for his entire career and had to learn how to play first base due to injury. While the process was a struggle at times, he carried enough value in his bat to make up for any defensive lapses.
2019 free agent comparison
The A's certainly hope their signing of Chris Herrmann proves anywhere near as successful as the Hatteberg deal. Herrmann is not the hitter Hatteberg was but he impressed Oakland with some of his advanced metrics, particularly his framing and pop times as a catcher.
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Herrmann's deal is for $1 million and seems to fit into the "Moneyball" approach. In two of his last three seasons, he recorded an on-base percentage above .320 and an OPS above .740. A left-handed hitter, Herrmann could get the chance to platoon with Josh Phegley behind the plate.