Baker’s columns on Moneyball
Here are some reader-submitted Baker snippets (thanks msb!)
“Rain Man rules Jays”, September 28, 2002. Kinda rags on Keith Law a little, also mentions the ill-advised purge of Blue Jays player development personell Ricciardi carried out.
It takes a journey deep inside a maze of SkyDome offices before one hears the telltale tapping sounds of the mysterious Blue Jays employee that curious colleagues have dubbed “Rain Man.”
The sole job of this first-year hire, nicknamed after the character in the Oscar-winning Dustin Hoffman movie, is to peck away at an ultra-fast computer laptop and conjure up statistics he can then spend the rest of the day arguing about with his boss. It helps when that boss is Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, a modern breed of baseball executive who shuns tradition in favour of business methods many of his peers consider off-the-wall.
That’s why the 43-year-old Ricciardi’s approach to the business of baseball doesn’t include any stopwatches, radar guns, or notepads stained with chewing tobacco. It’s instead about hiring Rain Man – a 29-year-old Harvard graduate whose only previous baseball experience came as a fan – to crunch a myriad of statistical percentages, probabilities, and cost factors into his computer and then giving him top-level input into the most serious player decisions the Jays have to make.
And anyone in the Jays’ organization who doesn’t play along with Ricciardi, Rain Man, and their statistical approach will quickly become as much a part of history as all that baseball tradition.
This is a little misleading. Ricciardi did many, many things that drove the sabermetric-oriented columnists batshit crazy.
“It’s time to turn the page on Moneyball theories,” 12/3/2004 argues that Moneyball’s full of crap
The biggest hole was the book downplaying the impact of Big Three starting pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito on the A’s success. Anyone who crunched the numbers from 2000 to 2003 would have seen a gradual decline in Oakland’s offensive production coinciding with a sharp rise in the Big Three’s fortunes.
In other words, a book could have just as easily been written about how the key to winning on a budget is to gather three potential Cy Young Award winners and use any remaining cash on assembling a mediocre offence. That’s not as sexy as the Moneyball premise, but arguably more accurate as Beane wrestles with what to do now that the Big Three are heading towards free-agent status.
Yeah, that was a disaster, wasn’t it? Essentially, this article argues that Moneyball was about offense, no closers, etc, and that pieces of it were disproven. I’d argue that Moneyball, for all its flaws, was about trying to be smarter than the competition and exploit market conditions to find ways to win, rather than the simplistic “OBP, no-name offense, draft college players who look horrible in jeans” it was boiled down to.
He returns to this in 2005 with “Chisox disprove the theory of ‘Moneyball'” 10/28/2005.
One additional passenger joined the Chicago White Sox on their private plane here and flew off into the sunset with manager Ozzie Guillen, slugger Jermaine Dye and the rest of baseball’s champions.
That would be the concept of Moneyball, a great read but lousy franchise blueprint that appears to have bid adieu to the baseball world after these 2005 playoffs. Sure, there will still be more teams rightfully employing statistical experts to assist front offices in player decisions, a trend that began well before author Michael Lewis penned his 2003 best seller.
But the idea that Billy Beane and his Oakland A’s had discovered the divine formula to success at the expense of traditionalists, scouts and supposed “dinosaurs” was laid to rest in a post-season that culminated Wednesday night with Chicago’s four-game dismantling of the Houston Astros to win the World Series.
Again, I’d argue that it’s not a magic formula, few people would argue that you can dispense with scouts (and those people are nuts) and so on. It’s a convenient straw man.
Then there’s the “Old is new in baseball again” 12/3/2005, which hails a counter-revolution:
Philadelphia’s entrusting of Gillick to secure a championship is being hotly debated by fans burning up online chat sites with their opinion. At a time when the role of statistics based analysis in baseball is being questioned like never before, it’s impossible to ignore Gillick’s stature as one of the sports grandest “old guard” members, the same way Epstein and DePodesta were hailed as the vanguard of the new-wave “Moneyball” movement.
I’m a little discouraged by these pieces.
It’s easy to make “statheads = online geeks” arguments. USSM gets tarred as being a bunch of statheads a lot, which always strikes me as laughable since Dave’s been as strong an advocate for “get as much data as possible, and understand that the value of any school varies” since before Moneyball became a controversy, and I’ve argued that there are no camps and the whole fight is an artificial construction of people with axes to grind (or agendas to pursue or books to sell) on one side or the other.
It’s easy to point a finger at statheads like they’re a homogenous group of AD&D players who’ve taken to rolling stats instead of dice, but that’s ridiculous, an easy crutch. It’s a bully’s approach, and I’m disappointed to see it appear in these pieces.