Billy Beane Newsbeat
Friday, September 05, 2014
Somehow, I get the feeling this article was basically finished at least a couple of weeks ago…
Twelve years after the Moneyball season of 2002, any move GM Billy Beane makes is viewed through a kaleidoscopic haze of fiction and fact. His life can sometimes feel as if it’s based on a true story. Perhaps that’s why Beane, the object of so many conspiratorial whisperings, has largely retreated from public view. He turns down most interview requests and often escapes, in season, to his home on Oregon’s Deschutes River, where he seeks Walden-like solitude, a hermit with a fly rod… I really don’t want to gyrate through every pitch over 162 games when those individual games may have nothing to do with what happens in the end [Beane said]. I don’t want to make decisions based on micro-events; that goes against what we try to do here. I try to remove myself and hopefully make rational decisions. We don’t take the small sample size. Do you think Warren Buffett sits around and watches Berkshire Hathaway stock every day?”...
Beane’s fear of the Angels is justified—“They have the best player who has ever walked on the planet” is how he describes Mike Trout. Still, it’s hard to escape the notion that [Jon] Lester was acquired for more than a late-September push to either hold off or overtake a division rival. After all, the regular season hasn’t been the problem. Over the past three seasons, the A’s have the best record in baseball.
The postseason, though, that’s a far different story… “Every time I make a move here, given our marketplace, it’s seen as risky and bold,” he says. “And depending on how you view bold, it could be seen as foolish. When I signed Ben Sheets for $10 million in 2010, everybody said, ‘Oh, they’re all-in.’
“Here’s the way it works: Just assume that every move we make in the front office means we’re all-in. We can’t afford a five-year plan, so every move means we’re trying to win every game we possibly can. All-in—I never liked that term. For one thing, I don’t have that many chips to throw into the middle of the table.”
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Pitchers, by and large, are working lower. The called strike zone has followed them... Hitters are… swinging at more pitches in the lower third… Contact rates on pitches up have declined. Contact rates on pitches down have very slightly improved… here’s what this has led to: in 2008, hitters slugged 30 points better against high strikes than they did against low strikes. The next season, they slugged 51 points better. Fast-forward now to 2014, and you’ll observe that now hitters are slugging 10 points worse against those same high strikes…
Yet, pitchers continue to work down. It’s how they’ve long been instructed, and it’s where offspeed pitches are usually supposed to go… From a recent Business Week Astros profile:
advanced data yielded a useful insight: Major league hitters had become so adept at hitting low pitches that they were vulnerable to high ones. [Billy] Beane had discovered a particularly clever countermove. “Beane stayed ahead of the curve,” says [Astros pitching coach Brent] Strom, “by finding hitters with a steep upward swing path to counter the sinking action of pitchers trying to induce ground balls.”
Billy Beane put together a baseball team constructed to fight those low pitches… The Astros had Collin McHugh start to throw more elevated four-seam fastballs… McHugh is having an outstanding season out of nowhere…
So this is how we proceed in the league’s hunt for equilibrium. For years, pitchers worked to throw down more and more often… The league has started to respond… [and] now the league will eventually respond to the response, re-establishing the upper parts of the zone. McHugh is one example… And then, in time, there [will] just be a response to the response to the response. Look closely enough and there’s no such thing as equilibrium at all.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Billy Beane should have never written this article.
Now that we have a sense of Beane’s performance and how much it would cost to replicate it, let’s turn back to the Boston Red Sox and their failure to sign him (or even to offer him anywhere near his worth)....
But some of that money was spent and some of those wins came before the Red Sox attempted to hire Beane. To be conservative, let’s just look at the period since Henry made Beane his offer: In the last 12 years, the Red Sox spent $1.714 billion on payroll, while the A’s spent $736 million. We can then break down what it could have looked like if Beane had worked for the Red Sox like so:
Let’s say it would have cost Boston the same $736 million that it cost Oakland to get the A’s performance with Beane.
At the hypothetical $25 million-per-year salary I suggested earlier, Beane would have cost the Red Sox another $300 million. (It’s possible that Beane would have wanted more, but it’s even more possible that they could have gotten him for less.)
The difference in performance between the A’s and the Red Sox over that period (where the Sox were as successful as at any point in the franchise’s history, and the A’s were supposedly stagnating after Beane’s early success) has been about 50 games for Boston. Since we don’t know exactly how good Beane would be at procuring additional wins above his Oakland performance, let’s assume that the Red Sox would have had to pay the typical amount teams have paid for wins in the period to make up the difference. According to the year-by-year price of wins from my calculations above, those 50 wins (taking when they happened into account) would have a market value of about $370 million (though this might have been lower with Beane in charge).
If we combine these — the price of the A’s performance ($736 million) plus Super-Expensive-Billy-Beane’s salary ($300 million) plus the additional 50 Red Sox wins at high market estimates ($370 million) – merely duplicating their previous level of success still would have saved the Red Sox more than $300 million relative to what they actually spent, and that’s with reasonably conservative assumptions. That’s money they could have pocketed, or spent making themselves even better.
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Having advanced performance data at even the most junior levels will make it less likely that players get filtered out based on 60-yard-dash times or radar-gun readings, and more likely that they advance on the merits of practiced skills. The ability to “paint the corners” of the strike zone, to swing only at pitches within that zone, and to manage the subtle footwork required of a difficult fielding play is accessible to any player willing to commit to the “10,000 Hour Rule” (the average amount of practice Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers,” says is needed to excel in selected fields). A whole new class of players whose skill sets previously were not fully appreciated will be able to reach the highest levels thanks to a more nuanced understanding of their abilities.
The current modus operandi of building rosters to maximize the sum of individual talent also will be challenged; data compiled using new technologies will enable management to assemble players in new ways, emphasizing their ability to complement one another. Whereas current metrics describe players’ performance in isolation, front offices will increasingly rely on statistics that measure a player’s value in the context of the rest of the team, picking up externalities such as how a player’s defensive abilities may compensate for the deficiencies of those playing around him.
In a new twist to the “old school vs. new school” debate in sports, technology-based roster-building and algorithm-driven decision-making thus will be the strongest propagators of the traditional virtues of teamwork and chemistry. (I should note here that these opinions are my own—and not those of my club, the Oakland Athletics, or Major League Baseball.)
Technology will create an equally drastic shift in front offices. Aspirants to the front office already are just one click away from decision makers, thanks to social media. It is not uncommon for a blogger’s analysis post to show up in a general manager’s Twitter feed—a level of proximity and access unheard of a decade ago. Many sports franchises are already hiring analysts based on their work in the public sphere; as social media become more targeted and efficient, the line between the “outsiders” and “insiders” will narrow.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Billy Beane should have never written this Deadspin article.
The random effects model for free agent signings estimates that a single standard deviation of player-investing ability corresponds to a 40-percent difference in a team’s return on free agent investments. I calculate that the average team spent $47 million on players working under contracts they signed as free agents or extensions signed after landing free agent contracts in 2013. Forty percent of $47 million is just under $19 million in surplus value, so at $7 million per win, an additional standard deviation of free agent-investing ability at the GM level leads to the equivalent of 2.7 extra wins per team per year to the average team. (Of course, a new GM cannot completely overhaul his or her roster immediately. These numbers can be interpreted as either the annual added value a GM would provide once he or she has been in place long enough to fully shape the roster, or as the total non-discounted long-term value added from player transactions per year on the job.)...
My best estimate for the value of a single standard deviation of player-investing ability at the GM level is $53 million a year. The market says the maximum value of the head of baseball operations department is less than $4 million a year. Unless I’m way, way off, there’s a massive inefficiency in the market for elite general managers waiting to be taken advantage of.
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