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Great Moments in Misleading Book Proposals

Mar 10, 2011, 9:30 AM EDT


Via Repoz over at Baseball Think Factory comes word of a new book that purports to take all the wind out of the sails of sabermetrics and “Moneyball”:

“The Beauty of Short Hops” demonstrates that the Moneyball approach is doubly doomed. First, it fails on its own terms: it cannot make baseball a predictable game wholly understandable in numerical terms. Indeed, the teams which use this approach have not fared well. Second, the Moneyball approach blocks out what is most compelling about the sport – its relentless capacity to surprise.

I suppose this would be really something if, in fact, “Moneyball” purported to make baseball “a predictable game wholly understandable in numerical terms” or if it argued that one could or would even want to block out the game’s “relentless capacity to surprise.”  But thankfully “Moneyball” does neither of those things. If it did, it would be an uninteresting book that shed little light on baseball.

But hey, if such a misleading pitch got the guy a book deal, more power to him.

  1. loungefly74 - Mar 10, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    hmmm…agree, i read moneyball as well and did not get the message this new book proclaims. one thing i did get was it can/will be made into a interesting movie!

    • florida76 - Mar 10, 2011 at 12:21 PM

      The Moneyball concept and book may be interesting, but the movie will bomb at the box office. Doesn’t matter if Brad Pitt is in it or not, the movie has a fatal flaw-no payoff for the viewers. There has to be a ending which will justify the plot, it’s storytelling 101. “Rudy” didn’t end with the lead character simply getting permission to tryout for the Notre Dame practice squad. “Hoosiers” didn’t end with a single playoff win. Even people watching this movie with zero baseball knowledge will be left wanting. A far superior topic for a movie would have been the 2008 Rays, for example.

      Yes, the 2002 A’s had a fine year, beating the Mariners, Angels, and Rangers to win the AL West. But Seattle, California, and Texas weren’t New York and Boston. Unfortunately, that Oakland team met another quick demise in the playoffs, and that year, it was Minnesota beating them in the first round.

      Ultimately, the achievement of Moneyball was the different method of analyzing the game, but those Billy Beane A’s did not win when it mattered most.

      • loungefly74 - Mar 10, 2011 at 12:58 PM

        “A far superior topic for a movie would have been the 2008 Rays, for example” …this being said by “florida76″…haha! that cracks me up! can somebody say HOMER!? anyway…
        well, i know its fiction, but the movie “Major League” ended with them winning the last regular season game! that made a lot of money…AND it had charlie “winning with tiger blood” sheen!
        okay, you have a point. the movie could easily bomb but it may have a chance if a great director is attached to the project. and have pitt doesn’t hurt either. they could make it like a “jerry macguire” movie. but yeah, who knows..there are a lot of factors involved. i myself, have a vested interest in watching because i read the book.

      • ta192 - Mar 10, 2011 at 4:48 PM

        Brad Pitt…losing…
        Charlie Sheen…winning…

      • florida76 - Mar 12, 2011 at 12:53 PM

        loungefly 74,

        Regarding your example of the movie “Major League”, that was a slapstick comedy(filled with fictional characters), and that is completely different than the type of film MoneyBall will be.

        MoneyBall will having some amusing moments, but it’s based on real events, and that’s the difference. Had the 2002 A’s won their division over big market teams, that would have been qualified for a interesting movie, even with the annual quick playoff defeat. I’m not a Rays fan, but their achievement winning that division, and AL pennant was vastly superior to what the 2002 A’s achieved.

      • loungefly74 - Mar 14, 2011 at 8:14 AM

        @florida76- my reference to “Major League” was CLEARLY a humorous example.
        I guess you are more of a “destination” guy versus a “journey” guy. Basically, it not about where you go but how you got there. it’s all about the ride.
        about the Rays…the problem with them…nobody cares or remembers. Yeah, I said it. sorry, i know it’s harsh but not even the residence of Tampa go to their games. the rest of the nation, largely, don’t care about the Rays. Hey, they are a great team! just nobody cares…
        winning a division is winning a division. it does not cheapen the moment because the yankees were not in the division.
        my point again, with the right script and director, ya never know. the movie could clearly suck. i know at some point though, because i read the book, i will watch it, be it at the movies or at home.

  2. heynerdlinger - Mar 10, 2011 at 9:57 AM

    I still maintain that Michael Lewis missed the most significant “market inefficiency” in the game of baseball. Yes, the OBP and OPS stats got all the ink, but more significant to the success of those A’s teams was the fact that they had three of the top starters in the game (plus some outstanding hitters) who were still subject to the reserve clause.

    Yes, the A’s were different in that they analyzed the game with data, but they also drafted well and got impressive results from their rotation at well-below the market rate for their services. It’s surprising that Lewis ignores that factor in his book. While Moneyball was written before the 2004 trades that sent Hudson and Mulder away, the A’s have won as many as 90 games only once since those guys left. They haven’t had a winning season in five year. In fact, they’ve averaged only slightly more than 81 wins per season since those trades.

    • tomemos - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:12 AM

      Among teams with similar payroll levels, how many of them have averaged winning seasons over seven years? Beane has been far from perfect but he’s kept the team in contention against stiff odds (and with some very bad luck, like Eric Chavez’s injuries).

      • heynerdlinger - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:29 AM

        No doubt about that, but my point still stands. Lewis wrote the book because of the A’s success with those low payrolls, and he attributes it to the number-crunching stat-geeks in the front office. Yes, Hatteberg was a good investment, but the performance of those three pitchers was probably more important in the long run. Lewis hardly touches the fact that they were being paid the minimum.

        And yes, they’ve had some bad luck with injuries. They had great luck with the way Hudson, Mulder, and Zito developed, too. I’m not criticizing the data-driven approach to player personnel, but if you want to replicate what the A’s did with those low payrolls, you had better make sure you have some outstanding pre-free agency players on your team.

    • okobojicat - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:25 AM

      You must of read a different Moneyball book than I did. Because Lewis did talk about that. In particular, that at the time, High School pitchers were severely overvalued and cost more money and took longer to get the Major League Level. They get hurt more often, they are more likely to not pan out because they hit a wall in the minors, or they simply require a greater signing bonus to keep them away from college. Also, if their service time gets eaten up a lot quicker because they do spend so much time in the minor leagues while college pitchers spend less time in the minors.

      ZIto played at UCSB and then USC. Hudson played juco ball and then two years at Auburn University. Mark Mulder played for Michigan State. Now, that book was published 8 years ago, so the pendulum has swung a bit back. High School pitchers probably aren’t so severely overvalued anymore, but they probably still are.

      The book WAS NOT about on base percentage. It wasn’t. It was identifying what skills other teams were undervaluing. At the time it was OBP. Now it is something else (some say defense, some say players approaching the aging curve).

      • heynerdlinger - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:34 AM

        Lewis barely mentions the fact that those guys were not being paid commensurate with their performance because of the reserve clause.

        Did the A’s draft well? Yes. Did they focus on low-risk players in the draft? Yes. But they also saved millions of dollars at the Major League level by having those three pitchers playing without financial leverage.

      • Ari Collins - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:52 AM

        Granted, it HAS been a good while since I read it, but I remember a lot of talk about how they had to draft well because pre-FA players were a big part of a low-payroll team. In addition to finding FAs with undervalued skills.

        As okobojicat says above, the Big Three were also college pitchers, which the book talks about as undervalued compared to high school pitchers. I don’t believe that Hudson or Mulder were drafted by Beane, but Zito was (I think). Regardless, they are the type of pitcher that Moneyball made an argument were undervalued in the draft, so it seems to me that you can’t accurately say that the Moneyball As wouldn’t have been successful if not for an UNRELATED strength.

  3. tomemos - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    Michael Lewis hates surprise so much that he devoted a frigging chapter to Scott Hatteberg’s pinch-hit walk-off homer to extend the A’s win streak.

    As for the Moneyball teams not doing well: when are the Boston Red Sox finally going to break the Curse of the Bambino and win a World Series??

    • okobojicat - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:33 AM

      I would argue the Red Sox aren’t really playing Moneyball. Moneyball implies limited financial resources and always trying to save money. The Red Sox don’t do that. I think it’d be better if we called it Weaver-ball after Earl Weaver. On offense, they heavily emphasize OBP and no bad outs. The Red Sox have a lot of speed threats, but hey have a pretty good SB%. Their pitchers (outside of DiceK) are pretty efficient and walk few batters. They have bench players who are extremely versatile so that they can mix and match defensively at the end of games to put the best team on the field. I think they should platoon more, but their stars are so good it wouldn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. Though I think you’ll see an interesting platoon between Jacoby, Cameron and Drew this year.

      • Ari Collins - Mar 10, 2011 at 11:00 AM

        Neyer has called the Theo Epstein Red Sox “Moneyball with money,” which rings true to me. They do a lot of acquisition of cheap undervalued talent as well, they just use that advantage to put a similar amount of talent together as the Yankees without having to spend as much.

        If you want to differentiate between them and the low-payroll teams, feel free. But, to me, Moneyball is about using statistical analysis to find undervalued players, and the Red Sox definitely do that.

      • Paul White - Mar 10, 2011 at 11:09 AM

        They may not be playing Moneyball now, under your definition, but they were certainly playing a version of it in 2004 when they won the World Series. That lineup include:

        David Ortiz – Twins cast, signed off waivers for just over $1 million
        Mark Bellhorn – Acquired from the Rockies for virtually nothing, paid just $490K
        Kevin Millar – Signed as free agent who was planning to go to Japan, paid just $2 million
        Bill Mueller – Signed as free agent for just $2.1 million
        Jason Varitek – Acquired as a minor leaguer, paid just $6.9 million in his final arbitration year
        Trot Nixon – Developed internally, paid $4.5 million in his last arbitration year
        Kevin Youkilis – Developed internally, paid the rookie minimum
        Derek Lowe – Acquired as a minor leaguer, paid just $4.5 million in his final arbitration year
        Bronson Arroyo – Claims off waivers from Pittsburgh, paid the league minimum

        They supplemented that with some pretty expensive free agent signings and trades for veterans, but a large portion of that team was put together by cheaply acquiring a lot of undervalued talent. Which certainly seems like a Moneyball philosophy to me.

    • sportsdrenched - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:59 AM

      In the Red Sox you have the merging of financial resources and stats guys. It’s a good marriage.

      • cur68 - Mar 10, 2011 at 11:12 AM

        I like your take. Its essentially mine as well; money and brains. Surprisingly, the rarest combo in a sports franchise.

      • loungefly74 - Mar 10, 2011 at 11:18 AM

        “In the Red Sox you have the merging of financial resources and stats guys. It’s a good marriage.”

        BINGO! you nailed it. the A’s would have been better contenders if they paid the guys they liked a lot instead of “starting over” with minor leaguers. The Boston GM was smart to realize, “okay, this guy can produce, we are going to keep him and build off of him and the other guys we like!”

        In the last chapter of the book, which was really great BTW, it talked about how Boston wanted Billy to run the team. he said no. who got the job? another guy into sabermetrics…BUT he, as you pointed out, had a lot more $$$ to play around with. with that, the bosox won 2 titles.

      • florida76 - Mar 10, 2011 at 12:36 PM

        How many world series titles did the Red Sox win before the massive gap in revenues began in the mid 1990s? Were these the good old days of 1975 and 1986?

        Let’s be real Sox fans. While your team used some of the MoneyBall concepts, the core of the team were the expensive, elite players. Please don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by suggesting otherwise. What the Patriots have done is more impressive, since they compete in a more level playing field economically.

      • thinman61 - Mar 10, 2011 at 2:22 PM

        Theo wasn’t the GM, nor were John Henry &c the team owners in ’75 or ’86.

      • Ari Collins - Mar 10, 2011 at 5:23 PM

        Yeah, umm… the ’90s Sox with a higher payroll still sucked because they spent their money inefficiently. That’s, like, the opposite of moneyball. If you think it’s all about payroll, see the Angels, Mets, Cubs, or Mariners.

        The core of the team was, as Paul pointed out above, mostly cheap undervalued guys. That gave them the free money to afford some elite-level talent as well. “Moneyball with money,” or, as cur put it above: “money and brains.”

  4. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Mar 10, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    The real case against moneyball is that moneyball is what the Mets played with Madoff.

    • cur68 - Mar 10, 2011 at 10:17 PM

      The poor suffering Mets. T’wasn’t Moneyball; t’was Russian Roulette. They spent what they didn’t have and trusted a crook with what they did have. They played with that team like they were vacationing Vegas noobs and because they were so smart (Bernie told them they were and he’d know, right?) they thought they could take the house. Greed & Vanity. The gods of monkeys and men agree; sins.

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