Join 3,377 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Welcome to Oakland
August 7, 2011 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Baseball's shifting strategies & the upcoming Moneyball - already a period piece? (previously)
posted by mannequito (97 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
On the one hand, the Moneyball myth is a crock, because the A's only had modest success -- and what success they did have came from the pitching triumvirate of Mulder, Hudson, and Zito, and not from the ground-breaking talent development strategies of Beane and Co.

On the other hand, the bean-counters of Moneyball have truly revolutionized the study of MLB statistics; you simply can't judge players with any legitimacy unless you're looking at OPS and similar stats.

So meh.
posted by lewedswiver at 1:30 PM on August 7, 2011


David Brown wrote something similar to Verducci in Baseball Prospectus this week.
posted by dw at 1:32 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"My shit doesn't work in the playoffs."
posted by box at 1:33 PM on August 7, 2011


On the one hand, the Moneyball myth is a crock, because the A's only had modest success

I don't know if I'd call 4 straight playoff appearances during the prime moneyball years "modest success". For any team outside Boston/NYY, those would be considered the golden years.

I think the fact that the decline of the A's in the last half-decade corresponded to the mainstreaming of sabermetrics speaks to the success of the moneyball philosophy, not its failure.
posted by auto-correct at 1:45 PM on August 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


On the one hand, the Moneyball myth is a crock, because the A's only had modest success

Between 1999 and 2006 the A's finished first or second in their division every year and went to the playoffs 5 times.

what success they did have came from the pitching triumvirate of Mulder, Hudson, and Zito

And Haren. And Harden. And Huston Street. And... you do realize they didn't sign a single pitcher listed in free agency, right? They were all either drafted or acquired via trade. (I bet the Cardinals would like Haren back.)

And you forgot Jason Giambi and Eric Chavez. And Scott Hatteberg. And Kurt "the Mariner killer" Suzuki....

In short, you're saying Moneyball is a complete crock because the wealth of talent the A's had between 1999 and 2006 was the product of sheer dumb luck and not a system. That doesn't wash. If anything, the A's underachieved (though not as badly as the Mariners, who during the same period went to the playoffs only twice -- with five future HoFers).

2006 was about when everyone in baseball finally realized what Theo Epstein was doing was repeatable, and the big and mid market teams started hiring statisticians and stopped listening to the conservative wisdom of naysayers like Joe Morgan. And ever since, Beane has failed to find the seam no one's been able to exploit. He tried loading up on defense in the wake of the 2009 Mariners doing the same and winning, but the A's crashed in 2010 just like the M's. Now he's settling on just drafting well and trading young players for more young players.
posted by dw at 1:48 PM on August 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's really kind of irritating how nobody agrees what "Moneyball" means anymore, because dumb commentators took the title of a business journalist's account of a team looking for market inefficiencies in ballplayer talent as if it were the name of a stone tablet engraved with "Thou Shalt Walk and Strike Out a Lot." Of course it's a period piece — it's a narrative account of some stuff that happened in the past.
posted by RogerB at 1:48 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Moneyball was based on the idea of buying low - identifying skills that are under appreciated in the market for baseball talent. On base percentage was one such element when Moneyball was written. But like any market, the market for baseball players evolves. Once everybody got the OBP religion, those guys became expensive, so you have to go find the next big thing before anybody else does. Of course, with most teams in baseball on the bandwagon now, those opportunities for skill arbitrage are harder to find, and the advantage doesn't last as long.
posted by COD at 1:55 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


And of course "it's about market inefficiencies, not OBP" is a cliché by now, and "X is the new inefficiency" is a running joke (for values of X including defense, youth/prospects, baserunning, strikeout pitching, veteran talent, et cetera). The reason these are so obvious-sounding now is that a whole new generation of front-office brains informed by more serious quantitative approaches has taken over half of baseball, from Beane proteges like Paul DePodesta to Alex Anthopoulos or Jack Zdurencik or Andrew Friedman. Baseball teams are being run with more brains now than ever before, not because Moneyball changed everyone's mind but because it was the harbinger of a trend that was already in motion when it was written.
posted by RogerB at 1:58 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Once everybody got the OBP religion, those guys became expensive, so you have to go find the next big thing before anybody else does. Of course, with most teams in baseball on the bandwagon now, those opportunities for skill arbitrage are harder to find, and the advantage doesn't last as long.

It's been interesting to watch the Blue Jays the last few years. The joke around Jays blogs these days is that "jerk players are the new market inefficiency". We've managed to grab top young players (Morrow, Rasmus, Lawrie) reasonably cheaply because they didn't "fit in" for whatever reason with their old team.

This is the real legacy of Moneyball: find talented players that other teams don't want.
posted by auto-correct at 2:00 PM on August 7, 2011


To RogerB's point - take a look at the sort of background that got you a junior front office role twenty years ago as opposed to today. If Moneyball has done anything it's professionalize the front office.

The only reason why this hasn't spread to the other pro sports is that salary caps de-emphasize the returns to finding undervalued talent. The flip side is those sports have much more savvy contract negotiating types, because that's where the value add is most obvious.
posted by JPD at 2:04 PM on August 7, 2011


The only reason why this hasn't spread to the other pro sports ...

How much of this is lack of actionable statistics? I don't follow much of anything these days but my sense was always that baseball always had the broadest array of statistics that allowed for the most nuanced and useful analysis. Is that still true?
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:14 PM on August 7, 2011


I was under the impression that, in retrospect, Moneyball was all about was getting guys with good plate discipline but little pop and shooting them full of drugs. It's no coincidence that the "prime moneyball years" were also the years that the A's clubhouse was an "open air drug market" according to Canseco. They had a ton of guys (more than the average team) of guys on steroids, no? Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong - this is truly a hypothesis.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 2:15 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Statheads have ripped the soul out of baseball. Discussing baseball with a stathead is about as much fun as discussing politics with a Tea Bagger.
posted by any major dude at 2:18 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's no coincidence that the "prime moneyball years" were also the years that the A's clubhouse was an "open air drug market" according to Canseco.

Canseco and McGwire were long gone from the A's by the time Beane arrived.
posted by dw at 2:19 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Canseco finished with the A's in '92. Beane took over as GM in '98.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:20 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the point about overvaluing young players is a good one. The Braves recently traded a couple of B- prospects and Jordan Schafer to the Astros for Michael Bourn. There were people complaining that they traded Schafer—whose ceiling, realistically, is what Michael Bourn is doing right now. If everything turns out right, and his wrist isn't injured too badly, and he doesn't use PEDs again. Where is the logic there? Two B-level prospects and a C-level MLB CF for an A-level MLB CF, and people are complaining?
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:21 PM on August 7, 2011


So the A's make the playoffs a few times and it's some super neato strategery and wow billy beane is really cool. The Yankees were amazing during that same span and the Braves made the playoffs 10+ years straight. Where are the movies about baseball geniuses Bobby Cox and Joe Torre?
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 2:21 PM on August 7, 2011


dw, Jason Giambi (an admitted juicer) carried the A's during Beane's glory years, when he left they faded from prominence.
posted by any major dude at 2:23 PM on August 7, 2011


Statheads have ripped the soul out of baseball. Discussing baseball with a stathead is about as much fun as discussing politics with a Tea Bagger.

An engaging but unoriginal attempt at pot-stirring: the "soul" move has a very low degree of difficulty, but bonus points for finishing with an inflammatory but meaningless political analogy. 6/10.
posted by RogerB at 2:23 PM on August 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


The wealthiest team in baseball doing well isn't much of a story, alas.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:24 PM on August 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


wemayfreeze: Turns out the easiest way to win sports championships is to spend a whole lot of money.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 2:25 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Beat me to it, wemayfreeze.

But this might be a good place to ask: why don't more teams have superstations?
posted by box at 2:26 PM on August 7, 2011


Jason Giambi (an admitted juicer) carried the A's during Beane's glory years, when he left they faded from prominence

Giambi left the A's in 2001. They went on to win the AL West title in 2002, 2003, and 2006. Their 20 game winning streak (longest ever in the AL) came in 2002.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:27 PM on August 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


We've managed to grab top young players (Morrow, Rasmus, Lawrie) reasonably cheaply because they didn't "fit in" for whatever reason with their old team.

In defense of the Morrow trade, he made himself persona non grata with the M's with his "I'm diabetic I should close no wait start no close no start" act, and he'd clearly plateaued developmentally. He needed a change of scenery. And he was dealt for one of the M's three all stars this year and a fringe infielder who might or might not get back to hitting in AA some time soon.

I'm starting to believe Anthopoulos is the best GM in baseball. The Rasmus trade was sheer brilliance. Getting a buyer for Vernon Wells' albatross of a deal was genius. And he turned Shaun Marcum into Brett Lawrie on top of that?

Now, if he can just figure out how to win in the ridiculous AL East....
posted by dw at 2:27 PM on August 7, 2011


Canseco and McGwire were long gone from the A's by the time Beane arrived.

I stand corrected. Thanks.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 2:31 PM on August 7, 2011


Oh, if only I knew or cared enough about baseball to write an update to "Tinker to Evers to Chance" (a.k.a. "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," a title I dislike) for the Moneyball era. I must leave that sacred task for one of you.
posted by JHarris at 2:32 PM on August 7, 2011


wemayfreeze, wasn't 2002 the year Miguel Tejada won the MVP? He was also suspended for steroid use. Maybe the book should be called JUICEBALL instead.
posted by any major dude at 2:33 PM on August 7, 2011


How much of this is lack of actionable statistics? I don't follow much of anything these days but my sense was always that baseball always had the broadest array of statistics that allowed for the most nuanced and useful analysis. Is that still true?

That's true as well. I guess the real point is that compared to 20 years ago more front offices are stocked with really smart people rather than non-idiots who played the game at a high level.
posted by JPD at 2:33 PM on August 7, 2011


Where are the movies about baseball geniuses Bobby Cox and Joe Torre?

You seem to mean John Schuerholz and Gene Michael/Bob Watson/Brian Cashman, or perhaps you're just unaware that a baseball team's general manager and its field manager are different people? At a minimum, Schuerholz is very widely acknowledged to be one of the smartest executives in baseball history, and neither Cashman nor Michael are out of the running for the "genius" title, at least not in everyone's book. I get the sense that the general-market buzz around Moneyball has really distorted non-fans' sense of what people actually think in the baseball world.
posted by RogerB at 2:34 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


wemayfreeze, wasn't 2002 the year Miguel Tejada won the MVP? He was also suspended for steroid use. Maybe the book should be called JUICEBALL instead.

He won in a league that was also filled with PED users, so on a relative basis its hard to follow your logic.

Every team had a PED issue during the time period. Whether they got found out or not was more an issue of luck/and or stupidity.
posted by JPD at 2:37 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter covering sports is kind of like NPR covering sports.
posted by cl at 2:38 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think Gene Michael was the first to focus on placing higher value on players with high OBP numbers as well as placing a premium on pitching. Before Michael pitching was nice to have but everyday players were thought of as more valuable. Now, due to the Yankees success and other teams emulating them a top pitcher is considered more valuable than a top position player.
posted by any major dude at 2:38 PM on August 7, 2011


any major dude, I appreciate your efforts here to tie the A's success to drugs, but unless you can point to pharmaceuticals that endow you with patience at the plate or a killer 12-6 curve I think you're going to keep coming up short.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:39 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter covering sports is kind of like NPR covering sports.

And what pray tell does that mean?
posted by JPD at 2:41 PM on August 7, 2011


How much of this is lack of actionable statistics?

As much as anything, it's lack of actionable personal statistics, though there's been a significant inroad into basketball because the number of players on the court is low, so each one can have a major effect on the overall team performance. In the NFL, the last decade or so has been a brilliant demonstration of the futility of paying for personal statistics in a team game.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 2:41 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


wemayfreeze, wasn't 2002 the year Miguel Tejada won the MVP? He was also suspended for steroid use. Maybe the book should be called JUICEBALL instead.

The Boston Red Sox won two World Series with two confessed PED users -- Ortiz and Ramirez. The Yankees started a believed PED user in Roger Clemens in four World Series (not to mention having A-Rod in the latter half of the decade).

Meanwhile, Rafael Palmeiro, the only player with 3000 hits ever to have failed a drug test, never sniffed the playoffs during the 2000s.

In short: If the A's made the playoffs on the back of Giambi and Tejada, it wasn't like they were playing dirty while everyone else was clean. The rate of PED use in baseball during the pre-testing era appears to be pretty level across all teams.
posted by dw at 2:44 PM on August 7, 2011


I would think the presence of a salary cap would make finding undervalued talent more, not less, important, as it would remove the ability for big market teams to simply brute force their way into contention through the size of their payrolls.
posted by eagles123 at 2:51 PM on August 7, 2011


everyone has more or less the same amount of money to spend though. You can't just sign away all the top talent every year the way big market teams in MLB do. Its not a hard cap tho, so big market teams do have some advantage. Not only that, but there is a minimum payroll as well so you can't go all Pirates/Royals on your fans.

The reason why small market teams had to give the sabremetrics stuff a shot was because things like batting average and ERA were already well understood, and properly valued, arguably overvalued, so they had to find the metrics that were undervalued (OBP, et al). If everyone had an even playing field then the metrics that everyone knows about don't end up being bid up by those teams with bigger pocketbooks.
posted by JPD at 2:59 PM on August 7, 2011


Metafilter covering sports is kind of like NPR covering sports.

Actually, this is one of the best-informed MeFi sports threads I've ever read. This almost reads like a discussion from a Sports Nation baseball blog, albeit with a few extra ignorant comments thrown in.

As a die-hard A's fan and an obsessive stathead, I find myself saddened from a timing perspective that the film is coming out during a nadir for the A's - the team is just not very exciting right now. But at the same time, Moneyball the book wasn't really a book about Billy Beane's genius nor was it about the A's being some sort of smarty-pants team that outfoxed everyone else - it was a book about the business of baseball, about trying to win with less resources, and about how these practices have changed the game. It's no fault of Billy Beane or Michael Lewis that idiots like Joe Morgan have spent the past 8 years systematically destroying the entire point of the book.
posted by ORthey at 3:02 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Discussing baseball with a stathead is about as much fun as discussing politics with a Tea Bagger.

Except that Tea Baggers have a nonsensical, zany view of politics, whereas statheads tend to be deeply informed, very knowledgeable, and sure, sometimes holier-than-thou.

If there's one myth about modern baseball I'd love to dispel - and man, are there a lot - it's that statheads don't truly and deeply love the game. This fallacy is not only the opposite of true, it's kind of offensive.
posted by ORthey at 3:08 PM on August 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


JPD - maybe it's just my local affiliate, but sports reporting on public radio strikes me as half-assed. Knowledeable people talking about a topic that does not interest them, and sometimes making some pretty obvious mistakes. Mefi has its share of that, is all.
posted by cl at 3:09 PM on August 7, 2011


That was my point, hence the success of a team like New England in football that seems to have been built off of a combination of hard working overachievers and good coaching. It must have taken some form of skill to identify the Tom Bradys and Wes Welkers of the world. I guess the difference in football is finding value in a player's draft position, and not necessarily their salary. At least until the present, when they seem to have added "talented veterans that nobody else wants to work with because of their difficult personalities" to the formula.
posted by eagles123 at 3:10 PM on August 7, 2011


eagles123 - The Pats do it by being ruthless about managing their cap. That's really their secret. They are incredible at cap management. Its not that they've figured out metrics that let them identify traits that haven't been bid up by other franchises.

its the difference between buying GOOG because its cheap relative to AAPL vs buying some bombed out company for less than the value of the cash on the balance sheet. The Pats can do the former, the A's have to do the later.

(Also coaching comes into this - but I have to admit to not having read much about the value of coaching both in a sport and across sports)
posted by JPD at 3:25 PM on August 7, 2011


sonic meat machine: "There were people complaining that they traded Schafer—whose ceiling, realistically, is what Michael Bourn is doing right now."

????

It's hard to imagine a sane person complaining about this trade, and lo and behold, I have heard no person--sane or otherwise--complaining about getting rid of Jordan fucking Schafer and minuscule OBP. No Braves fan or analyst has been high on Schafer for quite some time now. In fact, Jonah Keri over at Grantland rated the Braves as the absolute trade deadline winners for the trade. Seriously, follow people who care about the Braves and you'll find nothing but hatred for Schafer. We couldn't wait to get him out of town.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 3:26 PM on August 7, 2011


"Actually, this is one of the best-informed MeFi sports threads I've ever read. This almost reads like a discussion from a Sports Nation baseball blog, albeit with a few extra ignorant comments thrown in."

You must not read Halo Heaven. Every so often, I get to thinking that at least the Sports Nation folks aren't racists and are capable of above-Youtube comments, then we play the Angels.
posted by klangklangston at 3:40 PM on August 7, 2011


I mostly meant McCovey Chronicles and Athletics Nation, actually. I try to avoid Halos Heaven because it makes my blood boil.
posted by ORthey at 3:41 PM on August 7, 2011


It's hard to imagine a sane person complaining about this trade, and lo and behold, I have heard no person--sane or otherwise--complaining about getting rid of Jordan fucking Schafer and minuscule OBP. No Braves fan or analyst has been high on Schafer for quite some time now. In fact, Jonah Keri over at Grantland rated the Braves as the absolute trade deadline winners for the trade. Seriously, follow people who care about the Braves and you'll find nothing but hatred for Schafer. We couldn't wait to get him out of town.

There are definitely members of this group on Talking Chop.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:42 PM on August 7, 2011


Uh, I might be wrong on this, but wasn't Bobby Cox the GM for the Braves until 1990? Wasn't he also the guy that drafted Chipper Jones?
posted by playertobenamedlater at 3:45 PM on August 7, 2011


The Pats do it by being ruthless about managing their cap. That's really their secret. They are incredible at cap management.

Well, that and draft pick magic, though that has lately been reduced. During their peak, they only used a Round 1 pick if they had somebody they wanted who would make a difference. If not, they traded it away to get future picks or multiple 2nd/3rd round picks; even now they typically have twice as many draft picks they can make than the bad teams that rely on lots of veteran free agent signings. How much of this period was luck and how much was shrewd maneuvering is open to debate, but clearly they were doing something different than the rest of the league.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 3:49 PM on August 7, 2011


If there's one myth about modern baseball I'd love to dispel - and man, are there a lot - it's that statheads don't truly and deeply love the game. This fallacy is not only the opposite of true, it's kind of offensive.

They love the game like Hinckley loved Jodie Foster
posted by any major dude at 4:04 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


JPD -

My point was basically what Dr. Enormous said. During their heyday they excelled at managing their draft picks well and finding players that other teams undervalued in the draft. In other words, they'd find players who dropped to the 3rd/4th/5th/6th rounds in the draft who, when plugged into their offensive and defense schemes, performed just as well or better than players that other teams were drafting in the first round.

Part of that involved shrewd talent evaluation in terms of finding people to fit into their system, part of that involved skill at developing players to fit that system, and part of that involved developing a system that relied more on skilled coaching, execution, teamwork, and pre-game preparation than the contributions of one or two super-talented but highly paid players.

It is much easier to keep a tight payroll when the model your organization uses is able to deliver superior results with less expensive parts.
posted by eagles123 at 4:12 PM on August 7, 2011


They love the game like Hinckley loved Jodie Foster

I can see this is not a discussion worth having.
posted by ORthey at 4:19 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I should add that the eagles (check my name) tried (try) to follow a similar model, although they did it with less success and arguably broke away from it earlier than the Patriots (if the Patriots can truly be said to have departed from that model).
posted by eagles123 at 4:25 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter covering sports is kind of like NPR covering sports.

Well, I haven't heard anyone mention the middle east every other post... and no sneaky slipping in of a pledge drive beg-fest.... Garrison Keillor still thinks Harmon Killebrew is active on the Twins roster.

So, I think we're doing just fine.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 5:00 PM on August 7, 2011


The Eagles do follow a very similar model and I don't think they have really broken away from it to get super heavy into free agents until this year, which was a unique year. They have a ton of picks next year and will probably be much more conservative. Despite all the pickups the Eagles are still millions under the cap.

Now the Steelers, that's a team that can fucking draft.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:00 PM on August 7, 2011


I was thinking of 2004 when the eagles got T.O and Jevone Kearse as a break from their past philosophy (especially given they historically had not valued wide receivers very highly).

Now I am going to go and try to (re) forget it ...... ugh....
posted by eagles123 at 5:18 PM on August 7, 2011


They had valued them highly, they spent several high draft picks and failed...then a superstar came along. They were never afraid to pay big money for big money value, Jon Runyan was their first huge signing and it worked out pretty well.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:20 PM on August 7, 2011


RogerB: Yeah I know but my point was they had good teams without getting all fancy with stats and money because they had good managers. The A's and Beane are always talked about as if they won the world series 10 times in a row when really they were garbage compared to two teams that relied on actually opening their pocket books once in a while.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 5:24 PM on August 7, 2011


The only reason why this hasn't spread to the other pro sports ...

There's huge potential for it in the NBA, I think. Most teams heavily overrate scoring and underrate scoring efficiency, rebounding, not-turning-over, assists, etc. etc. They also overrate athleticism and underrate other talents and psychology. (Who talks about Kevin Love as the best forward in the game?)

The Mavericks under Cuban and the Spurs in the Popovich era have been doing it right but a lot of teams are horrible at it.

I recommend the Wages of Wins Journal.
posted by callmejay at 5:43 PM on August 7, 2011


furiousxgeorge:

Yeah, I forgot about Freddy Mitchell.

Still, I seem to remember statements from the front office basically outlining a philosophy that a team is built from the lines outward - hence their concentration of offensive tackles and defense ends in free agency. I thought they said that they viewed linemen (with DE's and DT's as the most important), quarterbacks, and corner-backs as the most important positions in terms of spending for skilled players, while they thought that linebackers and wide receivers were basically interchangeable parts that they could mix in and out due to their system.

At least, that was the rationale they gave when they let several high profile wide receivers pass in free agency at a time when their receiving core consisted of players who either couldn't catch, couldn't get open, or would fall down in a stiff breeze.

I think it was the 2003 NFC championship game and the sight of Ricky Manning Jr. power-bombing Todd Pinskston at the line of scrimmage that convinced them to value the reciever position more highly.

Or they could have been b.s. ing.
posted by eagles123 at 5:54 PM on August 7, 2011


Oh, I remember all the angst about free agent wide receivers that they passed on, but in retrospect I can't think of one guy they could have signed that would have really made a difference.

Reid is an enigma in a lot of ways, but I just can't believe that jolly, pass happy dude really doesn't value his receivers.

Don't get me started on the linebacker thing though.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:56 PM on August 7, 2011


On the other hand, Moneyball movie? I remember liking the book, but never thought "this would be awesome as a film". Then again, I have never figured out why I would want to see a movie about a guy who started Facebook.
posted by bongo_x at 5:57 PM on August 7, 2011


I imagine they'll do the same number on Moneyball that they did on The Blind Side.
posted by box at 6:02 PM on August 7, 2011


I seem to remember Peerless Price being a big free agent that everyone wanted. There were a couple guys in the draft who the eagles passed on who might have helped.

I'm not sure how much difference they would have made either, but their recievers were so bad at the time, the team was so close in the NFC championship games, and their need was so obvious, that their failure to truly upgrade the position was baffling.

I mean Na Brown? Torrence Smalls? Todd Pinkston? James Thrash? It wasn't just a matter of a bunch of number 2's without a number one, it was a bunch of 3 or 4's without a number 2.

Personally, I think it came down to Reid's pride as a coach and his faith in his system.
posted by eagles123 at 6:14 PM on August 7, 2011


Hey now, Na Brown had the best (training camp) hands in the NFL!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:16 PM on August 7, 2011


The Eagles are going to be the team to beat in the NFC this year.
posted by Bonzai at 6:53 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


How this turned into an NFL thread is sort of amusing.

eagles123 - I'm not doing a good job of explaining my point

The difference between a capped and uncapped league is that in a capped league you aren't at a money disadvantage, so you don't need to figure out statistical traits that are undervalued by the market. You just need to figure out what the traits that work are. If baseball were capped you would have never needed to look beyond BA, Slugging Percentage, ERA and Strikeouts. Those are still the best metrics - but even Steinbrenner knew that.

That's the difference. To be a good nfl manager you still have to figure out how to draft, and what personnel work in your system. The difference is you don't have to figure out how to do it with less cash than your peers. The Pats don't have to worry about their ability to sign their first round draft pick - they just have to draft the right guy.

Wages of Wins is a fun book, but it doesn't seem to actually work. Basketball and football just can't be statistically analyzed the way baseball can. At least not without years more data to perform more sophisticated analysis that looks at conditional probabilities.
posted by JPD at 7:42 PM on August 7, 2011


You do have to do a lot of thinking about the relative value of each position and each player. What is more valuable as a percentage of your cap, a pro bowl offensive lineman or a pro bowl linebacker?

An injury prone star or a durable above average starter?

With so many roster spots, it becomes amazingly complex.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:48 PM on August 7, 2011


If baseball were capped you would have never needed to look beyond BA, Slugging Percentage, ERA and Strikeouts. Those are still the best metrics - but even Steinbrenner knew that.

I may be putting way too fine a point on it, but I disagree with this. BA & ERA really aren't the best metrics -- among other things, they are both hugely dependent on luck. BABIP and whatnot.

This raises the question of whether the lack of a cap has actually had a positive effect on the understanding of baseball within MLB. I wonder if the disparity does force some level of experimentation for small-market teams.

Did I just discover why George Will loves baseball?
posted by graphnerd at 7:59 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If baseball were capped you would have never needed to look beyond BA, Slugging Percentage, ERA and Strikeouts.

What? No. Batting average and slugging percentage completely ignore the ability to take a walk; or, more pointedly, the ability to not get out.

As someone on rec.sport.baseball (I think it was Gary Huckabay) used to say: "Outs are valuable. You only get 27 of them a game."
posted by asterix at 8:07 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Batting average, like most traditional stats, is interesting and worthwhile to look at - but it's not a very useful metric at least not as a predictive stat nor really as an evaluative stat. You can hit .300 and not be a valuable player. Good hitter, sure - but if your OBP is .320, then you are a below-average ballplayer offensively.
posted by ORthey at 8:12 PM on August 7, 2011


What I can't figure out is why I enjoy reading about baseball more than watching it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:19 PM on August 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


What is more valuable as a percentage of your cap

yes - but everybody is presented with the same math. Whether you are good or bad at that math is a different story, but you don't have to figure out a way that no one else has in order to just be competitive. I'm not denying there is skill to putting a roster together, just that everyone is operating from an equal position.

I'm not saying its intrinsically easier to manage a football team, the skill set is just different. Its about relative value. Baseball is about absolute value. "Moneyball" never needed to exist in the NFL.

(and I'm actually barely a baseball fan, and a huge football and basketball fan)

What? No. Batting average and slugging percentage completely ignore the ability to take a walk; or, more pointedly, the ability to not get out.

yes of course but there is a strong relationship between OPS and Batting Average and Slugging Percentage. The reason why figuring out that walks were important wasn't because taking walks is more important than hitting a double, its because the market systemically overvalues hitting a double and undervalues a walk.

You can hit .300 and not be a valuable player. Good hitter, sure - but if your OBP is .320,

Sure - but the likelihood of a guy hitting .300 and having a .320 OBP is extremely small.Plus if you look at BA + Slugging % you've already almost figured out OPS - but are undervaluing walks - which was the whole point. (not to mention a guy batting 300 with a .320 obp would have an amazingly low walk rate - its sort of looking in the tails of the distribution to make a point)

You are misinterpreting what I meant by "never needing to look beyond BA, Slugging, ERA and Strikeouts" - I didn't say they were the best metrics, rather if you didn't need to figure out what was undervalued by the market you could construct a damn fine team just using those metrics.
posted by JPD at 8:26 PM on August 7, 2011


Good article in Grantland about how my Milwaukee Brewers are going against the latest trend in player valuations, and doing alright with it. This one is more about how defense was supposed to be the next big thing, but sometimes having guys who can just plain hit will turn into wins.
posted by Metro Gnome at 8:28 PM on August 7, 2011


JPD: The reason why figuring out that walks were important wasn't because taking walks is more important than hitting a double, its because the market systemically overvalues hitting a double and undervalues a walk.

Hopefully not beating a dead horse here, but the real reason why talking walks is a valuable skill is that a walk is (nearly) as valuable as a single. And that remains true with or without a salary cap. It is a fundamental truth about baseball.

I do understand and (mostly) agree with your point that the benefits of focusing on OBP vs. BA are marginal, since BA does tell you a decent amount about a player. Regardless of how well the market reflects it, batting average is extremely limited as a metric.
posted by graphnerd at 8:36 PM on August 7, 2011


if you didn't need to figure out what was undervalued by the market you could construct a damn fine team just using those metrics.

I see what you mean now, and sorry for the misinterpretation. Stats like BA and ERA and such are always meaningful at their extremes - say, a .350 hitter is a damn fine hitter in all cases and a .200 hitter is not good - and if you're the Yankees, say, you certainly can away with paying less attention to peripherals.
posted by ORthey at 8:42 PM on August 7, 2011


yes - but everybody is presented with the same math. Whether you are good or bad at that math is a different story, but you don't have to figure out a way that no one else has in order to just be competitive. I'm not denying there is skill to putting a roster together, just that everyone is operating from an equal position.

I don't see how it's all that different. Under a cap you have an even greater advantage if you can pay little for the best value because it allows you to use the savings to upgrade elsewhere.

The pressures on small market teams to be efficient in an uncapped league apply to every team in a capped one.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:52 PM on August 7, 2011


I think that anytime there is a situation when one needs to choose a group out of a limited population of individuals to perform a task, especially a competitive task like winning a championship in a team sport, it would be an advantage to develop the best method possible to evaluate individuals in that population in terms of their aptitude for completing that task. If it is possible to develop a better method for evaluating aptitude than one's competitors, I would think that would be an advantage since it would allow one to make better choices. If that method involved looking at attributes that others did not, it would still help. That would especially be true if the principal method for building your organization were through your choice of individuals from that group.

In other words, football teams can't pursue the strategy of the Yankees, Red Sox, or other high payroll teams in major leauge baseball where they get a major portion of their players through free agency. It simply isn't (wasn't) possible because of the cap. The Yankees can simply outbid their rivals in order to find talented players for their roster because they make the most money out of any team in the league. They can also keep the home grown players they want because it is impossible for other teams to outbid them in order to lure those players away. Football teams can't do that. Some have tried, like the Redskins, but they always fail because, in order to stay below the cap, they need to hollow out the rest of their rosters in order to make room for the high priced free agents. As a result, teams build primarily through the draft, and must make careful decisions regarding which home grown players they keep and which they let leave, as well as which players they will bring in to fill holes in free agency. Talent evaluation is an extremely important part of this process. If a team were able to find a better way of evaluating talent than other teams by looking at player attributes that others ignore, it almost certainly would use that advantage since it would allow that team to make better choices.

Now, football does not lend itself to statistical analysis in the same way that baseball does. Aside from statistics like number of catches, yards gained, or completion percentage, scouts generally measure players in terms of raw athleticism. That means stats like 40 times, leaping ability, and the number of times players are able to bench press a certain weight. Still, it would certainly benefit a team to develop the best method they possibly could to evaluate players, and if they could get an advantage by looking at an area other teams could not, they certainly would, and they certainly would benefit from it.

(sorry for the talk of football in a baseball thread. I am both a baseball and a football fan.)
posted by eagles123 at 9:01 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course, football analysts are really trying to catch up on the advanced stats front. In some ways football isn't a bad choice to try and analyze this way because of the stop/start motion of it. You can do a lot of analysis based on down and distance and such.

However, if your QB rating system is putting Matt Ryan in the top tier...I dunno.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:08 PM on August 7, 2011


Another $$$$ factor in baseball is the Latin American draft. The Yankee$ and the Red $ox are at advantages here since the players can just sort of be signed.

I was thinking of Cano and Rivera for the Yankees.....

The Yankees did try and get rid of Cano though -- which I never knew.....

From his wikipage:

After graduating high school, Canó was signed by the Yankees in 2001 as an amateur free agent and began playing in their minor league system. He was viewed as a top prospect during his time in the minor leagues.[4][5] He was one of five prospects offered to the Texas Rangers to complete the Yankees' acquisition of Alex Rodriguez in 2004.[6] The Rangers selected Joaquín Árias instead.[7] Canó was nearly traded two other times by the Yankees in its attempts to obtain Carlos Beltrán from the Kansas City Royals, which was never realized, and Randy Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Even though the later deal was made, Canó was not part of it because he was rejected by the Diamondbacks.[8] As a child he was often given the nickname the "beastly geek" for his prowess in the school and the field
posted by skepticallypleased at 9:24 PM on August 7, 2011


Sure - but the likelihood of a guy hitting .300 and having a .320 OBP is extremely small.

Clearly you don't follow the Seattle Mariners.

the real reason why talking walks is a valuable skill is that a walk is (nearly) as valuable as a single.

That and forcing a pitcher to throw at least 4 pitches. Taking pitches wears down the opposition's starter a lot sooner than swinging at the first pitch every time up.

Patient hitters typically get better pitches to hit as well.

Good article in Grantland about how my Milwaukee Brewers are going against the latest trend in player valuations, and doing alright with it.

One of the things the article doesn't mention is that the Brewers got to where they are by having Jack Zduriencik as their scouting director telling Doug Melvin who to draft. And that farm system was loaded to the gills when Jack Z left for Seattle. Melvin promptly started trading every last prospect to build a team that could make a run.

The Brewers are winning because they have a great rotation and total bashers in the middle of the lineup. They managed to buy a big-market team using a deep pool of prospect capital.

Which, by the way, is how the Twins kept doing so well during the 2000s. The Twins were the most anti-Moneyball team out there -- but they could be because they had one of the best scouting services in baseball.
posted by dw at 9:37 PM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I can't figure out is why I enjoy reading about baseball more than watching it.

Really watching baseball is all about learning to see the small and subtle stuff, which many TV broadcasts don't make easy. Try listening to the radio broadcast while watching on mute — at least if you're interested in any teams that have a good radio play-by-play announcer — and/or keeping a scorecard. A lot of baseball TV broadcasts are produced in ADHD-vision to try to lure "casual fans," with frequent cuts away from the field between pitches and late cuts back to it, and announcers who lose track of the action for ten minutes at a time. A good radio crew not only calls all the pitches and plays informatively (they'll help a lot with pitch recognition, for instance) but also acts as an expert set of eyes overseeing the game between pitches; if you pay attention to what they look at, things like pitch sequences and fielders' positioning and good and bad baserunning and situational strategy, you'll start noticing a lot of things you didn't see before.
posted by RogerB at 10:56 PM on August 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Perfect encapsulation, RogerB. Good radio announcers give life to the game. Most TV broadcasts suck it out.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:11 AM on August 8, 2011


I miss Harry the K :(
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:41 AM on August 8, 2011


No one can suck the life out of a baseball game like Joe Buck.
posted by Danila at 1:45 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What? No. Batting average and slugging percentage completely ignore the ability to take a walk; or, more pointedly, the ability to not get out.

Yup, this. When the Red Sox won the Championship in 2004, the no. 2 spot was filled by a guy by the name of Mark Bellhorn. He had the most strikeouts of anyone in the bigs, a miserable batting average, and he was always getting on base. The most amazing plate discipline, and some sort of telepathic voodoo that would make any pitcher he faced throw his filthiest stuff instead of high heat down the middle. Seriously, just throw strikes at the guy, he couldn't hit them... but no, sliders and split-fingers that invariably went wild. The bat was parked on his shoulder and didn't so much as twitch, and he was on base with a walk. Again.

Of course, once he was on base, he had Manny Ramierez and David Ortiz in the clean-up spots.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:19 AM on August 8, 2011


Hopefully not beating a dead horse here, but the real reason why talking walks is a valuable skill is that a walk is (nearly) as valuable as a single. And that remains true with or without a salary cap. It is a fundamental truth about baseball.



a walk and a single taken in isolation are almost the same thing yes, obviously. But the guy who can put balls into play that tend to be base hits is more valuable than a guy who takes walks - in a vacuum. If two guys have identical OPB, but one guy gets there with a higher walk rate, and the other guy gets there with a higher a BA, the guy with the higher BA is probably going to have a higher slugging percentage, because a non-zero percentage of those balls put into play for hits are going to end up being extra-base hits.

What the big sabermetrics revolution was all about was figuring out that the league systematically overpays for the guy with high batting average relative to the guy with the high walk rate even if they end up with the same OPS (OBP + Slugging % - so not the guys in the first example)
posted by JPD at 5:55 AM on August 8, 2011


Saying stat-heads don't love baseball is like saying mechanics don't love cars.
posted by eoden at 7:32 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The nerdery, it is strong here.
posted by mecran01 at 7:46 AM on August 8, 2011


That is a really good trailer for Moneyball.
posted by smackfu at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2011


My impression is that, much as it takes money to make money, a GM, even a shark like Beane, needs to have something to offer in order to make trades he can capitalize on. The fact is, this current A's team is really just not very good and they don't have the kind of guys that other teams are likely to overvalue, with the possible exception of Andrew Bailey, because he's putting up great numbers and closers are the most overhyped players around and saves the most overhyped stat.

If you look at the list of trades Beane has made over the years, a lot of them involve selling high on guys who had their best years with the A's and had noticeable fall-offs in later years -- Matt Stairs, Ben Grieve, Cory Lidle, Billy Koch -- or selling high on stars, particularly pitchers, who they could no longer afford -- Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Dan Haren, Nick Swisher. The only way this strategy could be fruitful is through a combination of luck and good scouting, which to some extent is to say, more luck.

Ultimately I think that Moneyball is basically just good small-market team management, which the Rays more recently did better than the A's.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:28 AM on August 8, 2011


What the big sabermetrics revolution was all about was figuring out that the league systematically overpays for the guy with high batting average relative to the guy with the high walk rate

I think you were just giving an example, but just in case, it's about a lot more than just that, though. It's, among many other things, about realizing that OBP is much more valuable than AVG but also SLG (which is why OPS is falling out of favor and weighted stats like wOBA make more sense), about realizing that RBI are a very misleading way of evaluating a player's skill (Theo Epstein does not even look at a player's RBI totals when considering a trade or a draft), about understanding that pitcher wins and losses are nonsense, that ERA is flawed, that "fielding percentage" tells you nothing about a player's defensive abilities, and all that.
posted by ORthey at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2011


Yeah, when I hear someone tout a player's BA, I realize two things:

1. This person does not know BA is a shitty indicator of offensive success; and
2. I am going to get pissed trying to explain this.

What drives me nuts the most about anti-stats fans (Joe Morgan, I'm looking at you) is they forget one thing above all else: there is no other way to determine success in this sport. You can't tell me Ted Williams is a better hitter than Billy Ripken without using numbers. Sure, heart and guts and can-do spirit: these things are nice and fun and stuff, but if you draft a guy because he's got "heart" but his OPS is hovering near .400, then you're a goddamn idiot. The numbers matter.
posted by eoden at 10:32 AM on August 8, 2011


and this is what drives me nuts about people who love talking about sabremetrics but don't understand that sabremetrics build on older statistical components, not that they have completely eliminated them. Well maybe Wins, maybe RBI have been eradicated.

BA in and of itself is flawed, however its is a very meaningful input into other statistics that are of much greater predictive value.

When you make a comment like "BA is a shitty indicator of offensive success" you tell me you don't understand the relationship between BA and OPS. If you regress OPS on BA there is a statistically significant relationship - there is some value in it. Especially in the middle of the distribution. I mean you example sort of proves a point - Ted Williams .344 BA, Billy Ripken .247 hitter. the difference in slugging and walk rate between those two guys would have to be so far out in the tails that its basically statistically impossible, so from Batting Average alone you can arrive at the conclusion that Ted Williams was a better player. Now is it going to tell you the magnitude of his superiority over Tony Gwynn? No. But that doesn't mean its a "shitty indicator"

See this Jonah Kerr article on advanced pitching stats. Is ERA flawed? Yes. Are advanced pitching stats superior? Yes. But look at the relative spreads between ERA's and FIP's - that tells you there is something explanatory about ERA. Its not useless, its just that there are better ideas out there that you can layer onto it to make it even better.
posted by JPD at 11:12 AM on August 8, 2011


Especially in the middle of the distribution. - should say tails

traditional stats are very useful in the tails of distributions, not the middle. A guy who hits .350 is almost certainly a high OPS player, and a guy whose ERA is under 3, is probably going to look pretty damn impressive on any advanced stats. Where the advanced stats add a ton of value is looking at the guy in the 66th percentile of traditional stats and comparing him to his peers
posted by JPD at 11:29 AM on August 8, 2011


When I said it's a shitty indicator, I don't mean it has no value. I'm saying that it's not what casual fans think it is. It is not a good shorthand for determining offensive value. And you know it isn't. That's why it's shitty as an indicator. It doesn't describe enough and what it leaves out shows how lacking it is, and, unfortuantely, it is used by thousands as the end-all-be-all. For christ's sake, how do we determine "Batting Champ"? OPS? OBP? No, BA. The establishment (and the millions of casual fans) see the final determiner of batting prowess to be BA.

I'm not overlooking what value it does bring, or misunderstanding theses statistical components, and I'm not an idiot because I criticize the casual use of BA.
posted by eoden at 11:38 AM on August 8, 2011


eoden, that's exactly right. BA is not useless, it's not valueless, and it can tell you a lot - it's just a poor and misleading way to judge a player's overall worth. For instance, someone sees Shawon Dunston's .269 career batting average and thinks, ok, that's a decent lifetime BA for a shortstop. But then you take a look at his career OBP of .296, and it makes you realize that really, Dunston was a poor hitter. A .296 OBP is horrendous, and it's below even replacement level. He took baseball's most valuable commodity, the out, and made one more than 7 of every 10 trips to the plate. His value was largely tied to his fielding, most especially to his throwing arm.
posted by ORthey at 6:33 PM on August 8, 2011


« Older On the trail of George Orwell’s outcasts....  |  Tetris in the round.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments