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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Boivin: ‘Moneyball’ philosophy put to test

Damn! Paola Boivin even sounds like she fell out of a lost Gustavo Serena flick.

It was an out-of-body moment.

Phone rings.

“We would like you to be in a movie.”

Ohhhh-kay.

“We’ll pay you.”

I’m listening.

“It’s starring Brad Pitt.”

Are you bleeping kidding me?

Earlier this summer, I was one of several media members invited to play the role of a sportswriter in “Moneyball,” a film based on the popular book by Michael Lewis that examined Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane’s analytical approach to baseball player development.

Repoz Posted: August 12, 2009 at 10:02 AM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: athletics, books, media, sabermetrics

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   1. Greg K Posted: August 12, 2009 at 10:50 AM (#3289930)
Damn
I thought this was going to be a much needed article about whether or not the "Moneyball" approach is a successful way to run a team.
   2. I Am Not a Number Posted: August 12, 2009 at 11:15 AM (#3289935)
I thought this was going to be a much needed article about whether or not the "Moneyball" approach is a successful way to run a team.

You mean the kind that totally misrepresents what the Moneyball approach is (because the writer either didn't read the book or didn't understand it)? Yeah, I love those.
   3. Shalimar Posted: August 12, 2009 at 12:37 PM (#3289980)
Low-payroll organizations such as Pittsburgh and Kansas City haven't figured it out, but Tampa Bay has by tearing up the team and building a new one that is both talented and cohesive.

Tampa had a team before the current one to tear up? When did that happen?
   4. Rally Posted: August 12, 2009 at 01:16 PM (#3290006)
You mean the kind that totally misrepresents what the Moneyball approach is (because the writer either didn't read the book or didn't understand it)? Yeah, I love those.


I would define the "moneyball offensive philosophy" as concentrating on getting as many walks and homers as possible. Nobody specifically wants a low batting average, but the importance of it is minimal in the M.O.P. High batting averages are not required, and high strikeout totals are tolerated, provided that the power and walks are there. Carlos Pena is the poster boy for the M.O.P. I'm sure most people are not going to accept my definition. I prefer it to some vague philosophy of finding inefficiencies, which isn't really useful to talk about because it can be translated into "whatever Billy Beane is trying at the moment".

I mean, pretty every GM is trying to find inefficiencies, trying to get the most wins for the buck. Except Cashman, who's just trying to get the most wins regardless of the bucks. If we narrow down the M.O.P. that was praised in the book, then we can actually discuss it. It's not a bad philosophy. It is currently being used quite successfully by the Tampa Bay Rays, though they add the stolen base to the mix.

The A's have not executed that philosophy for many years. Recently, they appear to be trying to ape (or monkey) the dominant team in their division, the Angels. No a lot of power in that lineup, lots of steals recently, Adam Kennedy and until recently Orlando Cabrera leading the way, and the A's have had their most successful offensive stretch during increased playing time and a hot streak by Rajai Davis.
   5. Sheer Tim Foli Posted: August 12, 2009 at 01:52 PM (#3290051)
Years ago I was at a corporate dig where the guest speaker was the Blue Jays hitting coach (name eludes me at the moment).

He gave a little speech and asked if we had questions. Knowing JPR's past I asked the gent if he and the Jays were following a Moneyball philosophy. (I think my actual question was: Moneyball - good or bad?). He said he was against it and then explained to the other folks that Moneyball meant not swinging at pitches and trying to get on by walking. He preferred his batters swung at pitches.

To this day I don't know if he was dumbing the process down because he felt his audience didn't really want the details or he actually felt Moneyball meant "not swinging".
   6. Astro Logical Sign Stealer Posted: August 12, 2009 at 03:27 PM (#3290190)
It's simple: Moneyball means being a nerd, possibly a fat one.
   7. heyyoo Posted: August 12, 2009 at 03:46 PM (#3290211)
You mean the kind that totally misrepresents what the Moneyball approach is (because the writer either didn't read the book or didn't understand it)? Yeah, I love those.

Oh, she clearly RTFB, but I wonder if you really RTFA.

She has nothing but praise for Beane and his innovative ways to maximize market efficiency and all that, but what she is saying is all the wealthy teams are using those same advanced analysis methods AND have more money to spend, stripping away Beane's advantage. Looks pretty spot on to me.

The fact that this is old hat to you doesn't mean it's not a good article, or not accurate in it's portrayal of the current state of affairs. I'd suggest you read it again without a pre conceived notion of what the article is about or where the writer is coming from. Because your pre conceived notions are wrong.
   8. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: August 12, 2009 at 03:55 PM (#3290217)
I mean, pretty every GM is trying to find inefficiencies, trying to get the most wins for the buck.
Well, as you note, there are some exceptions. But as a general principle, sure. But the issue is whether they're systematically trying to do this, or are just doing it on an ad hoc basis, evaluating individual players who happen to be on the market at a given time.
   9. something clever Posted: August 12, 2009 at 06:05 PM (#3290429)
I think the central tenant of Moneyball is better described as an emphasis of Quantitative Analysis over Qualitative Evaluation. The emphasis on OBP is just an extension of that. It also covers the draft philosophy as well as the more recent emphasis the A's have put on players who score well on defensive metrics.

If it was just about walks nobody would have cared.

As an aside- the reason the Angels are good is because they are superior Qualitative Evaluators. That's how you beat your projections year after year in spite of plenty of injuries and ill fortune.

This is also why the As will have a hard time rising out of mediocrity. QA is generally cheap and comparitively easy so everyone does it. The only way to break out is to be rigourus about how you manage your success cycle and to catch some good breaks in player development.
   10. RJ in TO Posted: August 12, 2009 at 06:13 PM (#3290445)
Years ago I was at a corporate dig where the guest speaker was the Blue Jays hitting coach (name eludes me at the moment).

He gave a little speech and asked if we had questions. Knowing JPR's past I asked the gent if he and the Jays were following a Moneyball philosophy. (I think my actual question was: Moneyball - good or bad?). He said he was against it and then explained to the other folks that Moneyball meant not swinging at pitches and trying to get on by walking. He preferred his batters swung at pitches.


Then we can safely eliminate Gary Denbo as a possibility. That guy's entire hitting philosophy was "Don't swing at anything! Maybe they'll walk you!" which was about as stupid a philosophy as a hitting coach can have in the majors.
   11. Sheer Tim Foli Posted: August 12, 2009 at 07:13 PM (#3290567)
No it was a few years before Denbo. I think it was Mickey Brantley.
   12. RJ in TO Posted: August 12, 2009 at 07:16 PM (#3290576)
No it was a few years before Denbo. I think it was Mickey Brantley.


It sounds like him. Brantley was a big believer in the "Get up there and take a rip at it" school of hitting.

Personally, I prefer the Cito/Tenace method of "Look for a specific pitch and then take a big rip at it" technique. It seems to have worked wonders for guys like Hill and Lind.
   13. Rally Posted: August 12, 2009 at 07:22 PM (#3290589)
This is also why the As will have a hard time rising out of mediocrity. QA is generally cheap and comparitively easy so everyone does it.


The Mariners bear some watching. They're a bit lucky this year by pythag, but never expected to contend this year anyway.

They got Russ Branyan on the cheap. For the last several years my projections have shown him as about a .230/.330/.480 guy, yet while players who are sabermetrically less valuable (say Sean Casey) get contracts, Branyan has had to settle for minor league deals. Seattle is the first team to say "the projections say he's good, let's try him in a starting job".

They've had no trouble getting all the cheap, unappreciated good fielders - Endy, Gutierrez, Langerhans, Jack Hannahan - the kind of guys Tango has said on his blog he'd try to go after if he were running a team. Well, he's not running it but does work for them.

If the Mariners turn into contenders with their approach, then it's not that everybody does it and the A's can't afford to compete. It's more like the A's ran out of good ideas.
   14. Sheer Tim Foli Posted: August 12, 2009 at 07:23 PM (#3290591)
Brantley was a big believer in the "Get up there and take a rip at it" school of hitting.

That would jibe with my memory. When I googled his name to make sure I had it right I noticed a comment made in the press statement announcing Denbo's hiring. He was "more open to using video" than Brantley. Sounds like Brantley was really old school.

I've always liked Gene Tenace. Probably more nostalgia than anything else but I seem to selectively remember only good things about him.

On a tangent - my favourite Jays coach of all-time was the pitching coach Al Widmar in the 90s. I remember he was one of the oldest coaches in the league and had a bad limp. He was perfect to send out when your guy in the pen needed more time to warm up. Took him forever to get on and off the field.
   15. Rally Posted: August 12, 2009 at 07:27 PM (#3290599)
Here's a guess: If the current management had been in Seattle earlier last year, Mark Ellis would have found some serious competition for his services.
   16. something clever Posted: August 13, 2009 at 12:08 AM (#3290986)
Mark Ellis never made it to the Free Agent market.
   17. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: August 13, 2009 at 12:53 AM (#3291075)
You mean the kind that totally misrepresents what the Moneyball approach is (because the writer either didn't read the book or didn't understand it)? Yeah, I love those.


First off, I think post #4 by AROM is really good. I mean, I read the book and I don't really know what the Moneyball approach is, other than looking for guys who get on base and putting greater emphasis on statistical analysis. Everyone is looking for undervalued players. The book is pretty typical of a lot of what Lewis writes; a profile of a person that is played up for laughs. How much insight we should derive about Beane's actual methods is debatable.

(That is not a knock on Lewis. I really enjoy his writing. I just take it all with a grain of salt. Pretty much everyone he profiles -- Beane included -- comes off looking completely insane at times.)

Well, as you note, there are some exceptions. But as a general principle, sure. But the issue is whether they're systematically trying to do this, or are just doing it on an ad hoc basis, evaluating individual players who happen to be on the market at a given time.


David, As a theoretical concept, I agree with you. But I wonder, is there an actual functional difference -- in terms of the actual moves made and our ability to evaluate them -- between the systematic approach and the ad hoc approach of looking at who is available at the time?
   18. ValueArb Posted: August 13, 2009 at 03:08 AM (#3291199)
It's more like the Mariners having an extra $25m to spend meant they could do more than Oakland could with the same approach.
   19. Rally Posted: August 13, 2009 at 03:32 AM (#3291209)
Yup. Oakland couldn't get their hands on guys like Hannahan or Langerhans. And they couldn't afford Russ Branyan's salary, so they had to settle for Jason Giambi.
   20. Petunia inquires about ponies Posted: August 13, 2009 at 03:59 AM (#3291222)
Okay, for the sake of argument setting aside:

I'm sure most people are not going to accept my definition. I prefer it to some vague philosophy of finding inefficiencies, which isn't really useful to talk about

(which I wouldn't agree with, but that argument's been done to death),
I don't agree with:

I would define the "moneyball offensive philosophy" as concentrating on getting as many walks and homers as possible. Nobody specifically wants a low batting average, but the importance of it is minimal in the M.O.P. High batting averages are not required, and high strikeout totals are tolerated, provided that the power and walks are there.

that either. The quantitative revelation, if there is one, of the "Moneyball offensive philosophy" was that success as a batter equals not making outs. I don't believe it was a preference for walks over hits - at that point in time choosing walks over hits was an epiphenomenon of the "inefficiency" aspect of the strategy that you choose to ignore. Most GM's failed to recognize that from the perspective of "not making outs" a walk is as good as a hit - thus that was where the value was found. At that time.

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