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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Deadspin: The Forgotten Man Of Moneyball

Proto-Moneyballer Eric Walker writes up his story for Deadspin. Part two is here: http://deadspin.com/5375605/the-forgotten-man-of-moneyball-part-2

In 1994, Sandy promoted Billy Beane to assistant GM. At the same time, he asked me to prepare an overview of the general principles of analysis for Billy, so that Billy could get in one sitting an idea of the way the organization was looking at talent. In the end, I delivered a report titled “Winning Baseball,” with the subtitle: “An objective, numerical, analytic analysis of the principles and practices involved in the design of a winning baseball team.” The report was 66 pages long; I still grit my teeth whenever I remember that Michael Lewis described it as a “pamphlet.”

Some interesting stuff in here, particularly about Walker’s time with the Giants, which I don’t remember from Moneyball or the Numbers Game. Also: I’m beginning to suspect that if Michael Lewis had taken an interest in baseball in the early 90s, he would’ve written his book about Sandy Alderson instead.

heeseopchoiluckclub Posted: October 07, 2009 at 11:51 PM | 36 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: general

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   1. Alex_Lewis Posted: October 08, 2009 at 01:11 AM (#3344598)
Good article. His website is also pretty interesting. No idle man here.
   2. Tricky Dick Posted: October 08, 2009 at 01:47 AM (#3344623)
Yes, it was an interesting article. I particularly like this footnote on part 2 of his article. The footnote begins by noting that, contrary to popular belief, analytic principles have not been adopted by all baseball organizations, leading to this point:

That gravels me. I cannot think of another industry in which the uttermost basics of how the product works are a mystery to the people in that industry. There is nothing, to any with IQs much over their hat size, mysterious or controversial about analysis: it's just the way things work, and that's that. Yet a coach on the major-league level (coaching on a team last in all the majors in OPS) can to this hour be found publicly remarking, "You want to see a walk? Go watch a mailman." How is that possible? How can businesses with annual payrolls approaching a tenth of a billion dollars not have any least idea how their business works?
   3. Alex_Lewis Posted: October 08, 2009 at 01:53 AM (#3344633)
He's referring to Shawon Dunston, by the way.
   4. Kid Charlemagne Posted: October 08, 2009 at 02:00 AM (#3344644)
That's some quality angry-old-man right there. Interesting article nonetheless!
   5. Something Other Posted: October 08, 2009 at 02:32 AM (#3344661)
That gravels me. I cannot think of another industry in which the uttermost basics of how the product works are a mystery to the people in that industry. There is nothing, to any with IQs much over their hat size, mysterious or controversial about analysis: it's just the way things work, and that's that. Yet a coach on the major-league level (coaching on a team last in all the majors in OPS) can to this hour be found publicly remarking, "You want to see a walk? Go watch a mailman." How is that possible? How can businesses with annual payrolls approaching a tenth of a billion dollars not have any least idea how their business works?
In all fairness to ignorant baseball men, this is rampant in any industry or field. Does the author really think there aren't plenty of senators who don't know the basics of how bills get through committee? Or architects who know nothing about aesthetics? Or painters who aren't at all clear on the concept of complementary colors?

Incompetence is the norm. In every field.
   6. sunnyday2 Posted: October 08, 2009 at 03:11 AM (#3344674)
You don't see an analytic analysis every day.
   7. Repoz Posted: October 08, 2009 at 03:22 AM (#3344687)
Again...no mention of George Ignatin.
   8. Bhaakon Posted: October 08, 2009 at 03:32 AM (#3344695)
In all fairness to ignorant baseball men, this is rampant in any industry or field. Does the author really think there aren't plenty of senators who don't know the basics of how bills get through committee? Or architects who know nothing about aesthetics? Or painters who aren't at all clear on the concept of complementary colors?



Except Senators, for whom prior experience is not necessarily a prerequisite of their "hiring", none of those professions are nearly as exclusive as being a coach or executive for a major league baseball team. I wouldn't necessarily expect any random painter or architect to have a firm understanding of their field, no, but I would expect the top 500 painters and architects to, which is really what we're talking about when we're discussing MLB coaches and front executives.
   9. Rafael Bellylard: The Grinch of Orlando. Posted: October 08, 2009 at 03:38 AM (#3344698)
How about QB's (or former QB's) who don't understand the overtime rules?
   10. Something Other Posted: October 08, 2009 at 04:01 AM (#3344709)
Except Senators, for whom prior experience is not necessarily a prerequisite of their "hiring", none of those professions are nearly as exclusive as being a coach or executive for a major league baseball team. I wouldn't necessarily expect any random painter or architect to have a firm understanding of their field, no, but I would expect the top 500 painters and architects to, which is really what we're talking about when we're discussing MLB coaches and front executives.
Were it possible, I'd introduce you to some top architects. Peter Eisenman, one of America's handful of "star" architects, freely admits he knows nothing whatever about what makes a building stand up.
   11. Alex_Lewis Posted: October 08, 2009 at 04:09 AM (#3344713)
Were it possible, I'd introduce you to some top architects. Peter Eisenman, one of America's handful of "star" architects, freely admits he knows nothing whatever about what makes a building stand up.


That's an engineering problem.

Vincent Bugliosi calls this "the myth of competence." Just because a person is "qualified" does not mean that they are informed, intelligent or skillful.
   12. Something Other Posted: October 08, 2009 at 05:25 AM (#3344742)
That's an engineering problem.
Believing there's no relation between skin and structure is like claiming color is irrelevant to painting.

Vincent Bugliosi calls this "the myth of competence." Just because a person is "qualified" does not mean that they are informed, intelligent or skillful.
Now that I can agree to.
   13. valuearbitrageur Posted: October 08, 2009 at 05:28 AM (#3344744)
In all fairness to ignorant baseball men, this is rampant in any industry or field. Does the author really think there aren't plenty of senators who don't know the basics of how bills get through committee? Or architects who know nothing about aesthetics? Or painters who aren't at all clear on the concept of complementary colors?

Incompetence is the norm. In every field.


In business, results tend to thin the field of incompetence. In the Senate, corruption tends to lead to long stays. In the second case, corruption is a competence.
   14. Alex_Lewis Posted: October 08, 2009 at 06:04 AM (#3344754)
Believing there's no relation between skin and structure is like claiming color is irrelevant to painting.


I was kidding.
   15. Swedish Chef Posted: October 08, 2009 at 06:18 AM (#3344757)
Funny thing is that there seems to be no correlation at all between having retrograde views and losing in baseball.
   16. Mr Dashwood Posted: October 08, 2009 at 12:06 PM (#3344791)
Funny thing is that there seems to be no correlation at all between having retrograde views and losing in baseball.

You've got that the wrong way round, Chef. There's no consistent correlation between having progressive views and winning in baseball.
   17. Mr Dashwood Posted: October 08, 2009 at 12:30 PM (#3344802)
heeseopchoiluckclub has undersold this article. I think it's a must-read for saber fans, especially the historically minded:

Bill James and some others, who were in high school when Cook was conceiving the many sorts of formulae they would later get famous publicizing in their own works, have had harsh things to say about Cook and his work. James, for example, wrote in 1981, "Cook knew everything about statistics and nothing at all about baseball — and for that reason, all of his answers are wrong, all of his methods useless." That is breathtakingly wrong, and arrogant.
   18. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 08, 2009 at 01:11 PM (#3344814)
I cannot think of another industry in which the uttermost basics of how the product works are a mystery to the people in that industry.


Try working in software development for a while.

-- MWE
   19. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 08, 2009 at 01:16 PM (#3344816)
And by the way, I'd like to know the context of the unnamed coach's statement, because he's absolutely correct in one sense - yes, a walk is preferable to an out, but any hitting coach worth his salt wants his hitters to go the plate with the idea of hitting the ball, not drawing a walk.

-- MWE
   20. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: October 08, 2009 at 01:57 PM (#3344856)
And by the way, I'd like to know the context of the unnamed coach's statement

It was Giants infield coach Shawon Dunston who said it. I'd be very scared if my players were taking hitting instruction from Shawon Dunston.

EDIT: And I believe he said it regarding Sandoval.
   21. SoSH U at work Posted: October 08, 2009 at 02:06 PM (#3344860)
It was Giants infield coach Shawon Dunston who said it. I'd be very scared if my players were taking hitting instruction from Shawon Dunston.


Of course, the guys probably shouldn't be taking hitting instruction from the infield coach. If Shawon Dunston or others like him have specific responsibilities on a baseball team, it shouldn't be terribly important how much they don't know about other areas not under their purview.
   22. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: October 08, 2009 at 02:22 PM (#3344872)
I cannot think of another industry in which the uttermost basics of how the product works are a mystery to the people in that industry.

Try working in software development for a while.

Reminds me of a joke, although I think Mike was refering to geeky code-jockeys having no clue what a user would actually use their software for ...

How many Software Engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
None. It's a hardware problem.
   23. 185/456(GGC) Posted: October 08, 2009 at 02:25 PM (#3344876)
Funny thing is that there seems to be no correlation at all between having retrograde views and losing in baseball.


The one eyed man isn't always king in the Land of The Blind.
   24. Tricky Dick Posted: October 08, 2009 at 04:52 PM (#3345024)
Walker's quote was based on his view that baseball analytics is not as pervasive in the industry as one would expect from the progress and popularity of the field. He specifically gives the example of organizations with poor team OBPs. I hate to say that I think he is right. There are still GMs and organizations which make team construction decisions based primarily on things like chemistry, RBIs, and batting averages.
   25. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 08, 2009 at 05:07 PM (#3345055)
It was Giants infield coach Shawon Dunston who said it.


That still doesn't tell me the context. If he said it in the context of people dissing Sandoval because "he doesn't walk enough", then I think it was an absolutely appropriate comment.

-- MWE
   26. Andy H. Posted: October 08, 2009 at 05:34 PM (#3345089)
Except Senators, for whom prior experience is not necessarily a prerequisite of their "hiring", none of those professions are nearly as exclusive as being a coach or executive for a major league baseball team. I wouldn't necessarily expect any random painter or architect to have a firm understanding of their field, no, but I would expect the top 500 painters and architects to, which is really what we're talking about when we're discussing MLB coaches and front executives.


I would agree with this if we were talking about players. I am pretty confident that the players in MLB are the best available at what the do. But among coaches and executives, I'm no so sure. In fact, coaches and even some executives seem to be chosen almost at random from former players.
   27. Steve Phillips' Hot Cougar (DrStankus) Posted: October 08, 2009 at 05:42 PM (#3345099)
That still doesn't tell me the context. If he said it in the context of people dissing Sandoval because "he doesn't walk enough", then I think it was an absolutely appropriate comment./quote]

Sandoval led the team in walks this year.
   28. bunyon Posted: October 08, 2009 at 05:53 PM (#3345109)
I would agree with this if we were talking about players. I am pretty confident that the players in MLB are the best available at what the do. But among coaches and executives, I'm no so sure. In fact, coaches and even some executives seem to be chosen almost at random from former players.

Except that that doesn't stand up: if the coaches and executives aren't the best available, why should we assume that they have selected the best players?
   29. Guapo Posted: October 08, 2009 at 05:54 PM (#3345110)
Sarah Palin.
   30. DL from MN Posted: October 08, 2009 at 06:05 PM (#3345130)
if Michael Lewis had taken an interest in baseball in the early 90s, he would’ve written his book about Sandy Alderson instead


Didn't Roger Angell write that book already?
   31. Don Malcolm Posted: October 08, 2009 at 06:09 PM (#3345136)
Poor Eric. He could have been Bill James. Maybe he should have been Bill James. The Sinister First Baseman appeared the same year as the first Ballantine edition of The Baseball Abstract. Eric's consulting days preceded Craig Wright's. His writing was always a bit too cloistral, however, and lacked/lacks the muscularity of Bill's prose. So he's been a shadow presence for all these years, ultimately reduced to being called a pamphleteer by Michael Lewis.

He's right about Earnshaw Cook's cranky creativity, but it's also clear that such a path to understanding was too off-the-wall to have any chance at success. Popularization was the only way to have any chance to penetrate the field in any kind of systematic manner (which, of course, still hasn't happened). That doesn't exonerate Bill for some overly harsh and inaccurate assessments, but Cook was extremely abrasive, sort of the Curtis LeMay of proto-sabermetrics.

You can see the cloistral nature of Eric's enterprise by noting his penchant for literary quotes. One from Samuel Johnson is displayed prominently on the front page of his WINNING BASEBALL tract: "A thousand stories that the ignorant tell, and believe, die away when the computist takes them in his grip."

Now, I have nothing against a professorial bent, but it is inherently self-limiting. Bill would rarely use direct quotation; he'd work the individual or saying or story into whatever he was writing by way of analogy or through parallelism. The ideas were better served by such an approach. It also helped, probably, that most of Bill's literary references were from American authors--this seems to click better with most of the audience and with people in the front office, who seem to be trying to keep alive a pronounced type of "all-Americanism" in spite of all the cultural signals swirling around them.

What's possibly the most provocative thing in what Eric writes here (EDIT: actually in Part 2), in terms of the A's/Moneyball/Beane thang, is the following:

What success their new tack will have remains to be seen (their present fortunes are a transition state); but "moneyball" as practiced today by the A's seems no longer to have at its core the same analytic principles that then-GM Sandy Alderson and I worked with a quarter-century ago, and that I presented to Billy Beane in that now semi-famous paper.


Now <u>there</u> is a point that can truly be debated at a high level of heat, with twisted facts and arms akimbo.
   32. The Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter Posted: October 08, 2009 at 06:14 PM (#3345148)
It also helped, probably, that most of Bill's literary references were from American authors...


Does that make Jim Carothers the forgotten man of something or other?
   33. DL from MN Posted: October 08, 2009 at 06:31 PM (#3345162)
Good point about the tone. Bill James didn't have access and wrote for the common guy because he wanted to sell books. Eric Walker had the access and seemed to want to appear smarter than everyone else while espousing great truths. If he had written to his audience (rather than to please his own sensibilities) it probably would have helped him a great deal.
   34. 185/456(GGC) Posted: October 08, 2009 at 06:33 PM (#3345164)
Don, I assume that by cloistral, you mean Walker writes like a monk. I do prefer James's style. I had the Sinister First Baseman at one point, but gave it away to another Primate.
   35. tonywagner Posted: October 08, 2009 at 06:45 PM (#3345181)
From the article, Walker's first foray into this was to get a press pass and get close to the team executives -- the book was almost an afterthought, and was indeed written/presented in a fairly conservative manner. By contrast, James went after the fans, through his writing and books exclusively.

Out of curiosity, how did James break into team consulting? It was arbitration hearings in the early 80's, correct? What team or agents first sought him out?
   36. Famous Original Joe C Posted: October 08, 2009 at 07:01 PM (#3345194)
I was hoping this would be about Steve Obenchain or John McCurdy.

Oh well.

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