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Monday, October 08, 2012

Marchman: The 2012 Oakland A’s are the exact opposite of a Moneyball team

We’re not selling paralogous genes here!

Thus the 2012 Oakland A’s, a team that’s immensely charming even though it can be accurately described as “a faceless group, full of random white guys reminiscent of the computer-generated prospects in baseball video games.” Even the much-touted fact that more than 100 of their starts were taken by rookies doesn’t get at their sheer anonymity, and the obscurity of their origins. The 2012 Oakland squad includes former top prospects picked up in the 2007 Haren deal, dead-end free agents, and any number of players who came off the waiver wire or as filler in large deals. Consider one of the team’s best relievers, Sean Doolittle. In 2007, the A’s took Doolittle with the 41st pick in the draft. Four years later, after a series of injuries had derailed his prospects as a hitter, Oakland tried him out on the mound. After just 17 career minor-league pitching appearances, Doolittle was called up to the bigs, where he averaged more than 11 strikeouts per 9 innings this season.

As the example of Sean Doolittle shows, these A’s aren’t—as the turn of the century A’s or the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays were—a team that succeeded because a lot of well-regarded young players bloomed at once. Rather, this is a collection of players who hard-core fans barely knew existed but played like the best team in the league for three months for no discernible reason. If the exemplar of Lewis’ A’s was Barry Zito, a top draft pick who’d been groomed since childhood to star in the majors, this year’s archetypal Athletic is Brandon Moss, a sluggish 29-year-old first baseman on his fourth team who hit 21 home runs in 296 at-bats this year, six more than he’d hit in his previous 678.

Even the team’s one true star, glamorous Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, is an aberration. While he turned out to be a crusher of 450-foot home runs and a surprisingly heady baserunner, the decision to sign a 26-year-old outfielder of unknown baseball skill to the biggest contract on a team widely considered to be a candidate for a 90-loss season represented little more than a roll of the dice (and perhaps a concession to central baseball’s insistence that teams spend revenue-sharing money on players rather than just pocketing it).

This team is, in essence, a refutation of Moneyball’s central thesis: the idea that the world makes sense and that someone who’s smart or at least attentive can figure it out. The 2012 A’s are not performing as anyone could have predicted, and they validate nothing other than the idea that Billy Beane and his staff, while highly imperfect and as occasionally prone to overthinking as anyone else, are pretty damn good at running a ballclub on the cheap, which should have been evident all along. They will inspire no TED talks and probably no Brad Pitt vehicles. Win or lose, this is a team that makes no sense, and that’s why they’re fun as hell.

 

Repoz Posted: October 08, 2012 at 07:14 PM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: oakland, sabermetrics

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   1. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: October 08, 2012 at 07:20 PM (#4259653)
This team is, in essence, a refutation of Moneyball’s central thesis

Yes, of course it is...
   2. silhouetted by the sea Posted: October 08, 2012 at 08:03 PM (#4259724)
As I interpret this, he is saying that Moneyball's central thesis is that smart people understand baseball and can use that understanding. He then says that the A's refute that theory because none of the sportswriters making predictions saw them as being good this year. I guess he never considered the possibility that the people making predictions are not very smart.
   3. Danny Posted: October 08, 2012 at 08:30 PM (#4259747)
Removed from a narrative that suggests that the obscure and unloved likes of Chad Bradford—and by proxy, Beane’s shrewd evaluations—were responsible for the old A’s success, it amounts to this: You should value things that are worth more than they cost. As morals go, this is one of Lewis’ better ones.

Yeah, the 2012 A's are really the antithesis of both that narrative and moral. And did he really link approvingly to Paul Lebowitz to make that argument?

If his underlying point is that they overperformed mediocre projections, sure. But they fit the Moneyball narrative better than the 2002 squad did.
   4. escabeche Posted: October 08, 2012 at 08:44 PM (#4259761)
This team is, in essence, a refutation of Moneyball’s central thesis: the idea that the world makes sense and that someone who’s smart or at least attentive can figure it out


He read a different book than I did. The book I read said that baseball is fundamentally unpredictable, and that while careful attention to statistics can increase your chance of success in the long run, which tends pretty strongly to increase the FREQUENCY of success in the long run, there are no guarantees.
   5. BDC Posted: October 08, 2012 at 08:44 PM (#4259763)
Did they win? Did they have a high payroll? The rest is just details.
   6. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: October 08, 2012 at 09:04 PM (#4259811)
When the A's win, Beane is a genius. When they lose, baseball is an unpredictable game and they were unlucky in playing and unfair game.

Anyway, one more game and the story is over. Even so, this should buy Beane at least another half-decade of no accountability when things inevitably go south.
   7. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: October 08, 2012 at 09:36 PM (#4259871)
this should buy Beane at least another half-decade of no accountability when things inevitably go south.

You really think he'd be under any pressure over the next five years if this team had lost 90 games? I don't.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: October 08, 2012 at 10:07 PM (#4259955)
It does sound like he read a different book, but that's because the excerpt is incomprehensible without the beginning of the article. Basically he takes the naysayer interpretation of why those A's teams were so good (they succeeded not because of quirky players or smart analysis but because they were full of great young stars, stars who weren't going to catch the eye of the author) and then redefines Moneyball in that way. So when he says that today's team is anti-Moneyball, he really means that they're anti-his-interpretation-of-Moneyball, which is to say that they are arguably a Moneyball team if you use the traditional interpretation.

The other point is that he thinks that Beane, who previously thought that he had cracked the code of player acquisition, has seen the error of his ways and has now embraced uncertainty and randomness, which is why he stockpiles prospects.
   9. McCoy Posted: October 08, 2012 at 10:17 PM (#4259975)
So now that the A's are down 0-2 in the playoffs the Beane-bashers are back. Go figure.
   10. Tim Marchman Posted: October 08, 2012 at 10:23 PM (#4259981)
I don't know, man, I compared him to Johan Cruyff and Delta 5. That's the opposite of bashing in our house.
   11. Dale Sams Posted: October 08, 2012 at 10:41 PM (#4260003)
a faceless group, full of random white guys


When I think of the A's, the first three guys I think of are Reddick, Crisp and Cespedes.
   12. SoSH U at work Posted: October 09, 2012 at 01:59 AM (#4260167)
And did he really link approvingly to Paul Lebowitz to make that argument?


Yeah, that's the most disturbing aspect to this whole piece. An unironic link to the Stats Zombie guy.

So now that the A's are down 0-2 in the playoffs the Beane-bashers are back. Go figure.


Who is this referring to?
   13. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: October 09, 2012 at 03:04 AM (#4260172)
Wait, so picking up a bunch of players off the scrap-heap and combining them with a bunch of good young pitchers is NOT "Moneyball"?
Huh.

Don't know if anybody else noticed this, but their offense turned out to be surprisingly "Moneyball Classic": comfortably above-average homers and walks, despite no players really outstanding in either area besides Reddick. Pretty darn good base-stealing numbers, too - five guys who can GO, and a few others who are more element-of-surprise.

When the A's win, Beane is a genius. When they lose, baseball is an unpredictable game and they were unlucky in playing and unfair game.

This is unnecessarily mean-spirited. The playoffs ARE a crapshoot. And whatever happens in the playoffs, this team came out of NOWHERE to finish with a division title, and the second-best record in the AL. They're darn good, although probably not THIS good; I've been saying that all season (though Amazing GF disagrees vehemently.) However, they (and Beane) have been plenty lucky - lighting-in-a-bottle lucky. And I'd always rather be lucky than good.
   14. Dr. Vaux Posted: October 09, 2012 at 03:34 AM (#4260175)
Yes, and the Beane A's have never actually been lucky before, unless you count the luck involved when a prospect pans out instead of flopping. But their fair share of prospects have flopped, too, especially in the past few years.

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