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What “Moneyball” really means

Sep 21, 2011, 4:00 PM EDT

Moneyball

We’ve talked the “Moneyball” movie up to death. It’s a movie. It will bear some tangential resemblance to real events, but it’s there to entertain. Or not. It means very little to baseball other than for gossip purposes.

But we still talk about the concept of “Moneyball” all the time.  And the thing is, most of us talk about it pretty ignorantly. As if there’s still some debate out there about whether to approach the game from a stats perspective or a scouting perspective. That debate is long since over. And it actually was never really a debate inside the game.  It’s just about information and how to apply it, and no one inside the game seriously said “No! We don’t want this new information! Damn you and your infernal numbers!”  They all were into it, just at different times. And they may have chosen to apply the concepts in different ways. The “debate,” such as it was, was really a phenomenon within a certain segment of fandom and the media.

Ken Rosenthal has a fabulous article about all of that today. He talks to people all over the game who pretty much say the same thing: “what debate?”  Everyone talks about how stats vs. scouts is a false dichotomy. About how everyone was and is hungry for new information to help their teams win. To the extent there has been disagreement it has been in the details.

It’s a fabulous read that tells us just how divorced from reality the typical “Moneyball” debate as they’ve come to be had in comments sections and newspaper columns is a fantasy.

 

  1. coryeuc - Sep 21, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    When I think of “Moneyball” I think of Douglas Hubbard’s “How to Measure Anything.” The challenge hasn’t been so much about overcoming a lack of desire for new information. That would be silly. Rather, I think of it as being about overcoming hesitation regarding the relevance or or the possibility of garnering new information from new types of measurements. It isn’t “stats vs. scouts.” It is “stats vs. ‘look at what these shiny new stats can do.'”

  2. yankeesfanlen - Sep 21, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    The Yankees have the money and play ball
    Shields tries to close it out and takes the fall
    Yanks throw in no name pitchers who stand tall
    I just love the win, all and all

  3. Bill - Sep 21, 2011 at 4:55 PM

    It may not be an accurate characterization of the attitudesof scouts, but “Damn you and your numbers! I don’t want any more information!” is a spot-on description of the attitude of a goodly number of baseball fans and journalists, many of whom are linked to (and laughed at) on this blog.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 21, 2011 at 5:00 PM

      Information is great and the more the better, but nothing drives me crazier than when some stats geek calls someone an idiot when they try to cite more traditional stats or what they actually see on the field as a means of evaluating a player. This article points out that traditional methods of evaluating players are in no way dead, they’re just no longer the be-all end-all. However, neither is sabermetric analysis

      • Bill - Sep 21, 2011 at 5:13 PM

        Nothing like complaining about the incivility of discourse while calling people “stat geeks.” If you want respect, give it. Otherwise, don’t gripe about being treated dismissively.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 21, 2011 at 5:27 PM

        Maybe not the best choice of names but I’ll stand by it until you suggest something better

      • Ari Collins - Sep 21, 2011 at 6:12 PM

        Statisticians? Sabermatricians? Fans of understanding baseball?

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 22, 2011 at 3:57 PM

        Of course Ari would show up to discuss this one. One a so-called sabermetrician uses his analytical ability as grounds to insult others he’s a stats geek in my mind. It’s not exactly an insulting term anyway, just a more fitting one in my mind. I understand the value of sabermetric stats as well as most people but, as the article shows, there are still more ways to evaluate a player

    • aaronmoreno - Sep 21, 2011 at 5:40 PM

      It may certainly be true of some fans and journalists, but not of baseball organizations.

  4. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 21, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    Moneyball was about how Beane exploited a market inefficiency, but that part gets lost along the way. I love when I hear people cite any player with a high OBP as a Moneyball player, when that was just the inefficiency of the time. The thing people were not paying that much attention to. It shortly thereafter became defensive efficiency, and lo and behold we have had 2 consecutive “years of the pitcher.”

    So soon, HR and RBI will be so undervalued a small market team like the A’s will have no choice but to scour the earth for guys who can hit a ball 600 feet, while the big boys on the east coast are busy scouting sprinters in London.

    • aaronmoreno - Sep 21, 2011 at 5:45 PM

      For awhile Billy Beane was the smartest guy in the room, but he didn’t have a lot of resources. Now the rest of the room is pretty damn smart, and Beane is still broke. He doesn’t even have the fancy degrees that are swimming around in the game now. We spend a lot of time on a guy who didn’t exactly set the world on fire with fat DHs.

  5. natstowngreg - Sep 21, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    After taking over as the Nationals’ GM, Mike Rizzo got permission from ownership to beef up the front office. He hired more scouts and brought in very experienced baseball men (ex., Davey Johnson; Roy Clark, who helped build the Braves farm system). At the same time, he made the point that he wanted a balance between old-time scouting and player development, and new-time statistical analysis (and BTW, Davey Johnson was one of the first managers to rely on stats).

    That’s one thing to get from Rosenthal’s excellent article: It’s not all one or the other. Teams are trying to find better ways to assess potential human performance, which is difficult to measure. Stats are useful, but so is personal observation.

    Moneyball had its impact, but it’s been incorporated into how teams acquire talent. Times change, practices evolve. Someone comes up with something new, others copy or adpat it. Sorta describes the progress of society and technology, doesn’t it?

    The thing I found especially interesting was near the end, about looking for ways to reduce injuries and speed rehab. Considering how much talent is missing from the field at any given time due to injuries, and considering that medicine keeps advancing, I’d agree there’s a lot of room for improvement.

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