OAKLAND, Calif. -- The casting of "Moneyball," particularly that of Brad Pitt in the role of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, is appropriate insofar as the actor possesses the disarming dash of the character he plays.
But any resemblance between Pitt's A's on the screen and Beane's A's on the field this season will be strictly coincidental. And unwelcome.
Though Michael Lewis' bestseller on which the movie is based has remained the same since published in 2003, the individual at its center has not.
Pitt's Beane, if accurate, will be a confident, intense young executive enthralled with an unconventional baseball philosophy positing, among other beliefs, that defense and physique and athleticism are overvalued while experience and comprehensive statistics are underappreciated. Rather than visualize the future, those A's relied on past performance.
Defense was optional. College players were coveted, high school stars a risk rarely worth taking. Regardless of pedigree and physical appearance, any batter who could work the count was glorified in Oakland.
Some observers in and out of baseball mocked the approach, concluding the A's were trying to reinvent the game with one-dimensional plodders better suited to beer-league softball. Exhibit A was their use of the 35th overall pick of the 2002 draft -- known throughout baseball as the "Moneyball" draft -- on Jeremy Brown, a productive college catcher whose round, low-slung body made him a target of ridicule.
One of Billy's flippant justifications, something he would remind scouts concerned about a player's shallow chest or flabby gut, was that the A's were "not selling jeans."
Eight years later, the A's still aren't selling jeans. Yet as they prepare for their first full-squad workout Sunday in Phoenix, plenty of players in camp are fit enough to model.
"Oh yeah, our guys look good in jeans," concedes Beane.
That's because Billy, who became something of a polarizing figure in the wake of the book, has adjusted and reshaped his philosophy. The alpha dog has expanded his dogma.
If the 2011 A's develop as he hopes, they'll spend the season playing solid defense, exhibiting well-toned bodies and running like jaguars. And, furthermore, they will contend for the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
"One of the things over the course of the last 10 years that's gotten easier is the ability to more accurately measure a player's defensive abilities," Beane says. "Not just with us, but other teams are getting better at measuring it. We think we're getting better, and it reflected in our team defense last year. So in that sense, I would say, it's changed."
It had to, partly because none of the seven players the A's took in the first 39 picks of 2002 draft is on the roster.
Brown retired three years ago. Outfielder Nick Swisher (16th overall) and right-hander Joe Blanton (24th) were traded in 2008. Shortstop John McCurdy (26th) and right-hander Steve Obenchain (37th) were released in 2007. Right-hander Ben Fritz (30th) was left exposed in the 2007 Rule 5 draft, and third baseman Mark Teahen (39th) -- one of the worst fielders in baseball -- was traded in 2004.
When all should be at their physical peak, they're as gone from Oakland as other "Moneyball" stars such as first baseman Scott Hatteburg and assistant GM Paul DePodesta.
Nowadays, the A's welcome high school talent, invite speed and value defense.
The 2010 A's, featuring speedsters Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp, along with defensive whiz Daric Barton, ranked third in the AL in steals and tied for fifth in fielding percentage.
Because Beane uses a broader scope to evaluate players, the A's are trying to build a multidimensional roster -- especially among the developing nucleus -- to better support a strong and deep pitching staff.
Young infielders Grant Green and Jemile Weeks, the No. 1 and No. 5 prospects, according to Baseball America, can sell jeans. No. 2 prospect Chris Carter and No. 3 prospect Michael Choice swing power bats. Aaron Shipman, No. 7 on the list, turned 19 two weeks ago and may be the team's center fielder of the future.
"The game is constantly changing, and what you want to do is maximize where you're choosing," Beane says. "For us, there have been some younger players -- high school players -- who have seemed like the better value. I don't know if it's necessarily a philosophical difference, but maybe it's just trying to take advantage of what was there."
The '02 draft threatened to follow Beane, haunting his career like that infamous MTV Video Music Awards show interruption haunts Kanye West, perhaps until he won it all.
But Billy has moved beyond the "Moneyball" draft, as well as the book and the movie, which is scheduled to reach theaters Sept. 23. If he can't outrun the image that was presented, he might as well outgrow it.