Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Don't Call It a Comeback

We've been gone for a little while, but we are not shutting this power embargo down (clearly, embargo is not the right word, but doesn't it sound cool? I'm starting power embargo right here, you witnessed history). For all you little shysters out there that didn't think we had enough wit to lead us through an offseason, you can quiet yourselves now. I'm bringing the FJM back to this blog, with a little help from Bizzinger.

Against 'Moneyball'

Dems Fightin' Words!

Whatever happens in the National League and American League Championship series unfolding over the next week or so, one outcome has already been decided

Why yes, it has. I've been holding onto this little gem of a piece because I was too enthralled by the fun of Chip Carey orgasm to Mr. November.

the effective end of the theories of Moneyball as a viable way to build a playoff-caliber baseball team when you don't have the money.

Well, actually it is still completely viable. The big exception is that it was such a great theory that teams that actually have money began to value high OBP and OPS guys so much that these guys have decided to go to the big money teams. Teams like the Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, and even the Cardinals have adopted the Moneyball tactics to build winners. (Yes, I met an inside source with the Cards statistics/scouting department that confirmed that they do value stats, La Russa just gets in the way. If you don't believe me, Mr. Anonymous has his sweet business card).

That no doubt sounds like heresy to the millions who embraced Michael Lewis's 2003 book, but all you need to do is keep in mind one number this postseason: 528,620,438.

Hersey, no. More like, validation.

That's the amount of money in payroll spent this season by the teams still in it--the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Who did these teams spend their money on? Guys like Youkilis, Jeter (puke), Rodriguez, Utley, Figgins, Drew, Abreu, and Tiexiera are all in the Top 30 for OBP leaders. Guys like Youkilis, Tiexiera, Rodriguez, Howard, Morales, Bay, Drew, Utley, and Ibanez all are in the Top 30 in OPS. The only one of those teams that is not represented here in these Moneyball Stats are the Dodgers. Who won with great play from youth. Their big money players got suspended for a quarter of the season (Ramirez) or sucked (Juan Pierre).

The Lewis book was vintage Lewis--smooth, glib, smart, and unfailing in never letting anything get in the way of his argument.

Buzz, I love the way you write. I loved Friday Night Lights for its outward look on racial issues, its depiction of a small oil Americana town in peril, and the honest portrayal of Athlete-God-dom in high school sports. I thoroughly enjoy your writing. Even the piece I'm tearing up right now, but this snarky comment is exactly the way you write.

The protagonist of the book, Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, was hailed as a genius in a land of cave-dwelling front office men, managers, and scouts too stupid and stubborn to understand the statistical nuances of the game and what they truly reflected. The basic thesis of the book--the finding of inefficiencies in the marketplace through expert computer analysis--no doubt resonated.

Resonated so much that baseball statistics will never be the same. Geniuses like Bill James will no longer go unheralded. Michael Lewis let out the secret of the A's.

The sabermetricians, unloved and unwanted for so long, scorned by the baseball men brotherhood for their nerdy obsessions, fell to their knees like attendees at a revival: Finally someone understood them.

A better description would be: The sabermetricians, after years of beating a wall, broke through, and the baseball skull heads decided to change their way of thinking for the first time since 1928.

Looking largely at the narrow time frame of 2000 through 2002,

Strictly the time period the book was set in. Beane and his nerdy minions had proven themselves before and after this time frame.

Lewis attempted to explain the phenomenon of how the A's had done so well (they made the playoffs all three of those years) with such little dough.

How many other small market teams made the playoffs all three of those years? This is your job, look it up. Give me some facts. My job is an engineer. If I make blind statements without proof, I get yelled at. This is your job, be thorough.

The explanation was dazzling, although Lewis barely mentioned the three reasons the A's had been so successful--pitchers Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson.

Actually he did explain exactly how these guys fit in the Moneyball system. Trade or allow free agents to leave and reap the benefits from having 6 first round draft picks. Continue to spend less on these draft picks by incorporating new scouting ideas and signing less heralded athletes in the first round before any other team would take them.

The odds of three young pitchers coming together like that on one team was basically a matter of baseball luck,

Not luck. Creative approach to building a baseball team.

in the same vein at least of Beane saying success in the postseason was a matter of luck because of the limited number of games played (his teams during the 2000-02 period never got past the first round).

I have read Moneyball twice. I can not remember Lewis or Beane ever even implying this.

Lewis carefully and calculatedly stayed away from the pitching triumvirate. He concentrated on journeyman players like Chad Bradford and Scott Hatteburg as the key to the A's rise.

Mainly because these players were interesting and outliers in a baseball sense. The pitching triumvirate was 1 soft tossing lefty with a great curve and bad everything else, an injury prone lefty topping out at 89 mph, and an anti-electric righty that was 6-1 170. I'm pretty sure scouts were not knocking down these guys doors. And yet, Beane had the foresight to obtain each of them.

He showed his greatest infatuation for Jeremy Brown, a Beane first-round draft pick in 2002. He was a fat and slow catcher from Alabama, but Beane was dying for him because his meticulous analysis had discovered something everyone else had missed: his statistically anomalous ability to draw walks. Of all the examples in the book, this by far was the most riveting because so many scouts had simply dismissed Brown. It certified Beane as a miracle worker, and Lewis further confirmed it with a memorable scene at the end in which Brown hits a home run.

Who doesn't love a good fat guy? Buzz Bissinger! If it were the world according to Bissinger we would all be 6-2 200 lbs blond guys. Did I just accuse Bissinger of being a Nazi? I don't know, I'll just move on.

Beane had seven first-round draft picks that year, each of them extolled by Lewis for their buried-treasure status. Three of them are still playing in the majors, none with anything close to superstar careers and all of them long gone from the A's.

What Bissinger failed to mention that there were a total of 12 players from that opening round on other teams rosters. Beane selected 3 of them! Joe Blanton and Nick Swisher are hardly slouches. Both do have World Series rings.

Three others were busts.

This is not the NBA first round Buzz. Its a helluva lot harder to select baseball talent than any other sport. Calm down with the bust tag.

Poor Jeremy Brown never stopped being fat and slow and finished with a grand total of 10 major league at-bats before retirement.

Jermey Brown, almost undrafted. 10 major league at bats. If Beane does not roll the dice on him, he never gets drafted and becomes a grocery store bagger and goes on to win a Super Bowl MVP (that's what happens to all baggers right?). Instead, Beane finds a player that comes within an eyelash of the bigs. Far closer than Brian Bullington, the #1 overall pick of that draft came. And FAR less expensive.

I know the A's have been struggling recently, but I think that has to do with their system being discovered. There is no doubt in my mind that Billy Beane, or another Sabermetrician is thinking of a new way of evaluating and building the best baseball team. Improvements in fielding statistics have been made, and already you can see a shift to a defensive minded approach for winning teams to build franchises.


  1. Good stuff. But Juan Pierre is sweet with his 5th grade girl like arm

  2. Power Embargo... new favorite tag of the blog?