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Bill James offers sabermetric advice to politicians

Jun 15, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT

Bill James

Two things guaranteed to piss off half you guys on a given day: talking about “Moneyball” and taking about politics.  But even though you don’t like those things that much, dawg, we put some Moneyball in your politics:

A political candidate being dramatically outspent by his opponent has few options. He can pin his hopes on a strong debate performance, dig up dirt on the opposition, or cut a particularly buzz-worthy television ad.

Or he can do what other industries, led by Major League Baseball, have done before: worship at the altar of Bill James.

James has some advice on how to deal with being outspent in a political race. As does Kevin Goldstein and Nate Silver.  It’s interesting stuff. Even if it’s gonna annoy a bunch of you.

  1. kopy - Jun 15, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    Yo dawg, I heard you like to argue, so we put Moneyball in your politics so you can debate while you debate!

    • cleverbob - Jun 15, 2012 at 7:33 PM

      That makes for some mass debating’.

      • Daniel Lawson - Jun 16, 2012 at 7:39 PM

        dang dawg that caused me to blow my lid!

  2. natstowngreg - Jun 15, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    The winning presidential candidate’s strategists are hailed as geniuses until the next election, when someone else’s strategists are hailed as guniuses. Sorta like baseball managers.

    • 18thstreet - Jun 15, 2012 at 1:17 PM

      I’ve been pretty close to some campaigns, and I totally agree with this. The two sides’ strategies are so close to each other that everything cancels out.

      What amazes me is that the campaigns keep hiring the same consultants whose advice is always that they need to raise more more so they can hire more consultants. We spent a ton of money on focus groups and polling in order to tell us EXACTLY what you’d expect the polling would tell you. Conventional wisdom is amazingly self-reinforcing.

      • stlouis1baseball - Jun 15, 2012 at 1:39 PM

        18th: While we may not agree on much (from a political affiliation standpoint)…you are dead on. Both sides act very similar to little kids.
        I don’t care how great an idea is…if one side (Rep. OR Dem.) didn’t come up with it first…
        It’s a bad idea.

      • 18thstreet - Jun 15, 2012 at 1:46 PM

        Thanks, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

        What amazes me is that these campaigns spend GOBS of money to create ads that are completely indistinguishable from one another (other than the truly terrible ones). Until the candidates start hiring Madison Avenue consultants instead of political ones, they’re doomed.

      • stlouis1baseball - Jun 15, 2012 at 2:03 PM

        I understand fully what you are referring to. They essentially run the same campaigns (including the television add’s). Repeating the same thing…every 2 – 4 years.

  3. sdelmonte - Jun 15, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    Of course, eventually the side with money learns to use the same tactics. Se under: Cashman, Brian.

  4. thefalcon123 - Jun 15, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    It’s interesting to think of how too many people drew the wrong conclusions from Eckersley and the late 1980’s A’s. The entire bullpen was fantastic on those teams. For example, the five primary guys out of the pen for the 1990 A’s boasted ERAs of 0.63, 2.97, 1.57, 2.70 and 2.04 They had many great options to bring in a tight game in the 8th inning, so it didn’t matter as much is that guy wasn’t Eckersley.

    Most other teams cannot boast bullpens that fantastic. If they can, great, use your closer for the 9th. But if you can’t, use your best reliever when it’s most important, don’t save them for a save situation.

    • thefalcon123 - Jun 15, 2012 at 1:59 PM

      …the danger of having multiple tabs open! I meant to post this in the comments section about closers, not the Bill James article.


  5. hermitfool - Jun 15, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    In baseball sometimes the guys with the most money win. In politics the guys with the most money sometimes win. It’s how you spend it, Stupid.

    • 18thstreet - Jun 15, 2012 at 4:35 PM

      It’s not that the guy with the most money usually wins in politics (though this is true). It’s that incumbents usually win (because voters are lazy), and incumbents raise more money (because the system is corrupt). And the system is corrupt because voters are lazy (“both sides do it!”).

      Given how stupidly most campaigns spend money (they spend it on raising more money, on focus groups and polling that doesn’t really reveal anything, on TV ads that no one watches), I reject the idea that campaigns win because they spend and raise more money.

      But it’s true that the campaign that raises and spends the most usually wins.

  6. mkd - Jun 15, 2012 at 2:48 PM

    Keep it positive? That is the probably the most commonly offered piece of advice from non-politicos to people running campaigns and guess what? It’s total crap. Unless you’re ahead by 10 points and have a significant cash advantage you absolutely cannot afford to buy into the power of positive thinking. If you’re running an underfunded campaign and you choose to only talk about your opponent in the nicest terms you are choosing certain death. Because unless your opponent is a complete moron, he/she is NEVER going to do the thing where they blast you and come off looking like dicks to the point where voters start changing their minds. That is just a complete fantasy scenario. Bill James might get the nice positive election he always wanted but your underfunded campaign is going to go nowhere in the polls.

    The only good advice to underfunded campaigns I’ve ever heard came from Nate Silver. Don’t invest in yard signs. They suck.

    • thefalcon123 - Jun 15, 2012 at 3:52 PM

      What do you know? Really dude. The largest popular election defeat in modern history came when Lyndon Johnson smashed Barry Goldwater. Johnson was endlessly positive and hardly ever accused Goldwater of murdering children in future nuclear wars.

      • 18thstreet - Jun 15, 2012 at 4:43 PM

        This ad was only run once. Whatever reasons to which one may attribute Johnson’s victory, this ad could not have been it.

      • thefalcon123 - Jun 15, 2012 at 4:52 PM

        …I really wasn’t looking to make a point, just looking for an excuse to put up that ad because it’s fucking insane.

        The reasons for Johnson’s overwhelming victory had more to do with his overwhelming legislative record in the time after Kennedy’s assassination coupled with Barry Goldwater’s overall Golderwaterness (what the hell kind of campaign slogan is “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right” anyway? That sounds like something Sideshow Bob would say).

  7. Cran Boy - Jun 15, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    If Obama’s worried about being outspent, wouldn’t the Moneyball approach be to dump Biden, who scores well on traditional scouting measures, in favor of a underappreciated guy with good plate discipline and power? Obama-Dunn. Hope, Change, and Three True Outcomes.

  8. mybrunoblog - Jun 15, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    In 2004 and 2007 Bill James and his Red Sox guidance was pure genius. A hero. Groundbreaking. A phenomenon.
    Flash forward to 2012. Now some consider him overrated, outdated.
    Over in Oakland Billy Beane and his Moneyball ways are looking at losing 90 games and wondering where it all went wrong.
    Stay out of politics Bill James. Besides, there is a a 50/50 chance his guy will win. Makes it tough to fail.

    • thefalcon123 - Jun 15, 2012 at 3:55 PM

      “Over in Oakland Billy Beane and his Moneyball ways are looking at losing 90 games and wondering where it all went wrong.”

      No one, and I mean no one is wondering where it all went wrong. It all went wrong when everyone discovered Beane was right, starting getting their hands on the high OBP guys they ignored, causing those players to no longer be undervalued and therefore, no longer a bargain for Beane to get his hands on.

      • mybrunoblog - Jun 15, 2012 at 4:16 PM

        So if a team can’t get players with a high on base pctg they are doomed to losing 90 games?
        Gee, I thought Moneyball was a lot more complicated than just getting players with a high obp and wait for those 95 win seasons….

      • thefalcon123 - Jun 15, 2012 at 4:24 PM

        Holy jesus…really dude?

        Moneyball was about finding players undervalued in baseball. The result of it was that it worked, other teams realized the value of those types of players *and they are no longer undervalued*. Seriously, this isn’t complicated. The type of player Beane got for cheap in 2002 would now costs a lot of money. Hence, the A’s don’t win much.

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