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Billy Beane: The age of “baseball insiders” vs. “baseball outsiders” will soon be over

Jul 8, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

Billy Beane Billy Beane

Billy Beane has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today in which he talks about the changes technology is and will continue to bring to the game and what that will mean for the business of baseball. Note: to the extent you continue to go after stat-oriented analysis using the language of “Moneyball,” you’re woefully out of date.

Beane mentions 3-D tracking systems like Statcast, new metrics and new teaching techniques that will hone and refine player skills and capture the gains from such techniques in new and ever-more-precise metrics. If you’re tech-phobic, put your big boy pants on and wade in so you can at least know the sorts of things you should be upset about.

But Beane’s real point isn’t about any single technology or approach — it’s not like he’s gonna share the stuff his people are working on with the world; he did that a decade ago and still catches hell for it — but how technology will change the culture of baseball, who the people are who will be influential in its future and how they’ll get the information they’ll use:

Technology will create an equally drastic shift in front offices. Aspirants to the front office already are just one click away from decision makers, thanks to social media. It is not uncommon for a blogger’s analysis post to show up in a general manager’s Twitter feed—a level of proximity and access unheard of a decade ago. Many sports franchises are already hiring analysts based on their work in the public sphere; as social media become more targeted and efficient, the line between the “outsiders” and “insiders” will narrow . . . In sum, sport will no longer be the exclusive domain of “insiders,” and the business will be better for it.

Baseball’s insular culture is one its most frustrating traits, and it has been very nice to see it eroding here and there since the advent of the Internet Age and the expansion of the cultures and philosophies in and around the game in recent years. To be sure, there has been something of a backlash to that of late — for example, I would argue that the rise in “unwritten rules” incidents and hostility by some in the world of baseball towards outsiders and the Internet is a defensive reaction not unlike you often see when an old order is in its death throes — but all in all, baseball is moving in a new and exciting direction.

The stereotypical Old Baseball Men are being joined by young baseball men. Young technology men. Young marketing men. And, hopefully, an increasing number of young women fitting all of those descriptions as well. There’s no sense going through life with one hand tied behind your back, and the willingness of people like Beane here, or Jeff Luhnow’s down in Houston or Chris Antonetti in Cleveland and any number of other GMs to look in new places for ideas and people is one of baseball’s most promising developments.

  1. stex52 - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    Did he really catch it for spilling the beans (Har Har) in Moneyball?

    Because it seemed to me he was throwing smoke and mirrors at Lewis about half the time.

  2. Every 5th Day - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    Reblogged this on Every 5th Day Baseball and commented:
    Interesting points for sure.

  3. jwbiii - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
    Max Planck

    • 22yearsagotoday - Jul 8, 2014 at 7:26 PM

      Best comment ever!

  4. SocraticGadfly - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    Shorter Billy Beane: I’m the best freaking Moneyball GM there ever will be. Besides, he favorably mentioned Gladwell’s proven-wrong 10,000 hours idea.

    • bkbell3 - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:29 PM

      I’m sorry, has billy beane ever won anything?

      • RickyB - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:40 PM

        If by “anything” you include division titles, then yes. He has won something. If you go by the narrow analysis of whether or not he ever has won a World Series, then no. But I would assume by “anything” division titles are in the scope to which you refer.

      • bkbell3 - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:48 PM

        Rickyb, WOW, ok then, that must rank them right up there with the yankees, right? He’s just another guy with a theory that thinks he’s more important than talent or coaching is more important than talent etc. And phil jackson won all those chips because of the triangle instead of having some of the all time greats surrounded by great roll players on teams reloading every year. Got it.

      • billybawl - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:00 PM

        There may be valid criticisms of Billy Beane, but this is not one of them. If the A’s win a WS under his watch, does that suddenly change your evaluation of his past performance?

      • bkbell3 - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:07 PM

        No not really, even a broken watch is right twice a day. Eventually he might win one but after how long till you decide his so called system isn’t doing anything special. This year they look like they might have a shot and what does he do he starts to spend money and load up on players like the 2 pitchers he just got. Again how long do you wait for his system to overwhelm and out shine the rest of the league and start winning some chips?

      • 4cornersfan - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:23 PM

        “has billy beane ever won anything?” Yes. In the same sense that Bobby Valentine has won a NL pennant.

      • stex52 - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:38 PM

        About all I’m getting from this, bk, is you have no idea what Billy (or any other) GM does and that you have no understanding of what the whole “Moneyball” tool is all about. (Unfortunate term)

        Especially if you think he is doing something unusual. Every other team in MLB is using some variant of the system he is using.

        Besides, when you say “theory” I think you mean “Hypothesis”. Theories are generally proven and accepted.

      • mybrunoblog - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:46 PM

        I’m the first guy to say we put way too much emphasis on whether or not a player, manager or GM has won a title. It’s the old NFL argument that idiots make “Trent Dilfer won a SB and Dan Marino didn’t so Dilfer was a more successful QB”. It’s ridiculous. That said, Billy Beane has been a GM for a long time and hasn’t even reached a WS. He has had plenty of talented teams. It makes you wonder……

      • RickyB - Jul 8, 2014 at 5:13 PM

        Well, bk, as a Yankee fan, I certainly don’t rank him up there with the Yankees. But I can appreciate what he has accomplished — winning a lot of games in the regular season with greater restrictions on payroll — and recognizing that there is more analysis to success in baseball than simply World Series titles.

      • sgcashmere - Jul 8, 2014 at 6:01 PM

        @RickyB

        I think you’ve done an alright job of making your point in this post, but believe you’re off base.

        In my honest opinion, these are the five best GM’s in the majors (no order):
        Billy Beane – OAK
        Theo Epstein – CHC
        Brian Sabean – SFG
        John Mozeliak – STL
        Andrew Friedman – TAM

        Three of them have championships. What do those three have in common? Top 1/3 payrolls in baseball each year they won titles.

        What makes Beane (and Friedman) great is that he has relatively consistent success, given that the team has to retool every 2-4 years. SF, NY, STL don’t have to deal with that; they can keep the status quo during the dark times, making their windows of contention significantly longer. Signing guys like Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright, Lincecum, Posey, Ortiz, Manny to $20 mil per year contracts is not in the cards, yet he builds solid rosters within the economic constraints given to him.

        THAT is what makes him unique.

      • sportsfan18 - Jul 8, 2014 at 6:02 PM

        Baseball, like all pro sports, is also a business.

        Billy Beane produces a lot of wins for much fewer dollars spent overall than other teams.

        Yes, winning is important. But he can and has ripped off many division titles for a lot less than others.

        There should be a happy medium somewhere with wins and money.

        Jeffrey Loria chooses money and yes he’s won 2 titles and they’ve been terrible all the other years.

        Is it better to have hope, real hope that your team might win it all as you KNOW they’ll be competitive or know your team sucks and you have no chance year after year until the stars line up?

        And when the stars do align, you KNOW Loria will rip the team apart and you’ll suck again.

        I’d rather be a fan of a team that is always competitive and has a chance vs. the team that is only good once a decade.

      • kindasporty - Jul 8, 2014 at 6:25 PM

        He changed the way baseball executives operate. Every GM in the league uses some form of advanced metrics thanks to Billy Beane. But no I guess he himself hasn’t won a world series. But the teams that are winning world series are using his tactics against him.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 8, 2014 at 6:27 PM

        Beane had the chance to, theoretically, win it all. He passed up the chance to run the Red Sox before they hired Theo instead.

        And, he admitted that he didn’t want the pressure of having to live up to his Moneyball reputation while having an actual payroll to spend.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 8, 2014 at 6:30 PM

        Also, Beane had his reputation built in part by riding on Sandy Alderson’s coattails. He didn’t invent Moneyball out of whole cloth.

      • tmc602014 - Jul 8, 2014 at 8:00 PM

        I’m sorry, bk, have you ever thought before typing? Since Billy Beane became a GM, eleven teams have won 16 WS. Every year 29 teams fail utterly, if your only measurement of success is a championship. 19 teams have failed, utterly, for Billy Beane’s entire tenure as a GM. Unlike you, we in the real world are able to recognize success as being incremental and transitory, and we take what we can. By your measure, the Texas Rangers, holders of the fourth worst record in baseball today, are equivalent to the Texas Rangers of 2010 and 2011, both of whom lost a World Series. You sound like the worst kind of fan, the carpetbagger. You haven’t chosen who to root for yet this year because you have to wait until the WS is over and the winner crowned, so you can say, “I was always a true believer!”

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 8, 2014 at 10:13 PM

        @Cashmere, I’ve not looked at 2011, but, last year? I’m pretty sure the Cards were NOT in the top 1/3. It was “only” a league title, not a WS, but, nonetheless.

      • sgcashmere - Jul 8, 2014 at 10:35 PM

        @Socratic

        You got me: they were 12th out of 30 in payroll in 13′ at 116.7 mil. 2011 they were 10th at 109 mil.

        Cards Payrolls
        11′ – $109.0 million
        13′ – $116.7 million

        A’s Payrolls
        11′ – $67.0 million
        13′ – $61.9 million

        Difference
        11′ – $42 million
        13′ – $54.8 million

  5. APBA Guy - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:54 PM

    Big data and data science are hot fields in technology right now, and for good reason: size does matter, and huge data pools can yield outcome changing insights if you can manage the data and efficiently extract meaning from data sets in excess of 50 TB. You see little start-ups in SF with 11 people, 3 of whom are called data scientists, wrestling with how to give their car rental company an edge, or their online market better inbound performance.

    So Beane is probably right about this, though I think a lot of the initial work will be done outside the FO’s and by private companies, like STATS did 20 years ago.

  6. schmedley69 - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    In a sign that Ruben Amaro is getting with the times, he just added Moneyball to his Netflix queue, right behind Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.

  7. gatorprof - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    Despite their best efforts, the stat heads can never find an appropriate model to capture the “human element” inherent in all who play sports. This will always be the wild card when trying to optimize a roster using stats.

    Why do certain “average” players thrive in a big market environment, while other “top talents” fall apart? I would love to see some sort of stat metric to predict that sort of outcome. I am sure that teams like the Yankees and Red Sox would line up to purchase it.

    At the end of the day, good talent plus elite drive/heart = all time great. For whatever reason, the stats are good at the measurable traits (former), but haven’t a clue at the latter.

    Roll back the clock about two decades when Jeter, ARod, Normal and Tejada all started in MLB. Wake me up when the advanced stats folks can predict how their respective careers fared.

    • stex52 - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:28 PM

      No one said it is going to be easy. Are you sure you want to bet that they won’t find a way to quantify it? They will improve all the time.

      Although I think a more fruitful direction for them will be to analyze the kinetics of each player’s motion to where they can get a better idea of who will get injuries and who won’t.

      • gatorprof - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:09 PM

        stex52,

        Pretty sure that human behavior is a wee bit too complex to reduce to a system of equations or probabilities.

        Re:”Although I think a more fruitful direction for them will be to analyze the kinetics of each player’s motion to where they can get a better idea of who will get injuries and who won’t.”

        Does this mean that the stats folks won’t go near a young Pedro or Lincecum?

      • stex52 - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:39 PM

        It means they won’t sign them to multi-year contracts.

        I understand the atomic bomb is very complex, too. That is why scientists never built one.

    • pauleee - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:30 PM

      You forgot grit.

    • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:46 PM

      Um, and how many players were can’t miss prospects drafted first round “Hint, Billy Beane was one of them” and flamed out for various reasons. The non stat people have more failures than there are successes at predicting future success. For every Jeter there are 20 Ben McDonalds, Tim Salmons, Ruben Rivera (Who was actually ranked much higher than Jeter as a prospect in the same organization at the same time). Remember Ben Grieve? Kerry Wood? Steve Chilcott? Brien Taylor? Jeff King? Kris Benson? Todd Van Poppel? The list goes on and on and on. In the end, it’s a game of guessing and luck who makes it and who doesn’t. All saber-metrics are really attempting to do is improve the odds by providing additional information to help people make a better, more informed decision.

      • whatacrocker - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:18 PM

        I agree with everything here except your inclusion of Tim Salmon. First of all, he was not a first round pick. Second, he may not have won MVPs or been to All-Star games, but he was a VERY productive player for a long time. If a team can regularly get that kind of production out of a third round draft pick (as he was), then they are doing very well, indeed.

      • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:33 PM

        That’s fair enough. He’s probably more of a bubble guy. He was projected and talked about as a can’t miss superstar, and ended up as an average player. Not quite what he was hyped up to be, but not terrible either.

      • whatacrocker - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:48 PM

        Not to keep quibbling, but Tim Salmon played 11 full seasons, during which he compiled 40 bWAR. That’s 3.6 WAR/season, which is well above average (2.0 WAR).

    • sgcashmere - Jul 8, 2014 at 6:14 PM

      I would argue that Beane has in fact found some sort of metric in regard to this. Literally every member of that team except Cespedes (and now Samardzija) in considered a ‘glue guy’. Like, name one guy on the A’s that has a rep as a clubhouse cancer.

      This is a recent trend. I noticed it when he signed Jonny Gomes and they somehow won the AL West title that year (out of nowhere, btw) .Then the Red Sox went out and signed the same guy, then won a title.

      Which is basically what intelligent big market teams do: watch what players the small guys are succeeding with, then pay more than the old team can afford to acquire them.

    • tmc602014 - Jul 8, 2014 at 8:03 PM

      Recommend you watch Minority Report so you can see what happens when human behavior becomes predictable.

  8. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:33 PM

    Herein lies the fault with most who argue the eye test vs stat heads. People who use saber-metrics and advanced statistics are not attempting to replace the human element in judging talent, only to supplement and add to those efforts. Of course there are things you can only learn about a player by watching them play and speaking with them, but there is also valuable information to be gained by looking at advanced statistics. It’s a joint effort, not a replacement. No one is asking a computer to write lineups or to decide who to sign or release.

    • infieldhit - Jul 8, 2014 at 5:21 PM

      Yeah, if you have a system that’s, say, 50% reliable, and you could improve to 80%, do you disregard it because it’s not 100%?

      Why do people go to extremes and insist that it be all or nothing, instead of just better than what we’ve had before?

  9. savior72 - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:34 PM

    Ok, let’s see if this makes it to Mozeliaks inbox: trade Holliday now and leave Tavares in the outfield.

  10. bfunk1978 - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    But what do MLB insiders Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal think of this?

    • infieldhit - Jul 8, 2014 at 5:30 PM

      They’re probably cool with it, until Twitter becomes self-aware and keeps getting breaking news before they can.

      • bfunk1978 - Jul 9, 2014 at 9:06 AM

        Hasn’t that already happened more than a handful of times?

  11. Jen Rainwater - Jul 8, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    Reblogged this on Bullpen, Baseball & Sock Talk and commented:
    Haven’t read this fully yet but it appears to be something I should not forget to read and remeber!!

    • infieldhit - Jul 8, 2014 at 5:23 PM

      I guess that’s one way to promote your product.

      • apeville - Jul 8, 2014 at 7:53 PM

        Yes, there has to be a more subtle way to do that.

        http://bermseyeview.com

      • Jen Rainwater - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:19 PM

        Sorry I wanted to read it later … got a problem with that? U a gnats fan or something?

      • Jen Rainwater - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:25 PM

        And seriously, I was on my phone! Geez … get lives ppl.

      • infieldhit - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:48 PM

        i know rite?

  12. grumpyoleman - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    Just to be clear, once the whole league is on board with the new metrics, someone will still finish in last place right?

    • stex52 - Jul 8, 2014 at 5:11 PM

      Of course. But playing without using all the tools at your disposal will pretty much assure you of last place.

    • clydeserra - Jul 8, 2014 at 5:45 PM

      no, the red sox use advanced stats too

  13. randomjoeblow - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:16 PM

    Basically: we exploited certain things for a while, but now everyone can do it..

  14. 4cornersfan - Jul 8, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    right on, Billy! In the future we can just sign the players, measure their abilities, and punch the stats into computers. We won’t even have to actually play the games. What a great idea! Wait…

    • stex52 - Jul 8, 2014 at 5:13 PM

      Do you really think he is saying anything remotely close to that? Don’t be scared of numbers and analysis. They are just one of many tools.

    • tmc602014 - Jul 8, 2014 at 8:11 PM

      There was a Star Trek TOS episode with a war fought that way. Casualties report to the disintegration chamber after each “attack”.

  15. tmc602014 - Jul 8, 2014 at 8:16 PM

    One more thing: I’ve seen photos of Beane with the little curl of hair hanging in front of the forehead, but the WSJ depiction looks hideous.

  16. shyts7 - Jul 9, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    Beane has been fantastic at getting the best out of what talent he has for the long run. But, as his “moneyball” technique has shown, it may work over 162 games, but, doesn’t in the playoffs where talent trumps. Lets not forget the stats and ways of looking at the game that has worked for the last 100+ years. Just combine the new way of thinking with some of the old ways. Beane has introduced some great ways of looking at the game but those ways are not the be all end all. I’m actually pulling for the A’s to at least make the ALCS and maybe the World Series depending on who they play in the ALCS.

  17. snarkk - Jul 9, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Beane has gotten a little religion apparently, as a motive for this recent trade to get Samardzija. He’s given up really good prospects to get two starters to get him to the division title, and more to the point, over the hump to the WSeries. He’s seen the recent past WS participants have something in common — dominating pitching. Giants, Cards, Detroit. And, that Detroit has gotten past the A’s the past two playoff seasons due to pitching. Moneyball and OBP maybe can get you division wins, but it’s Verlander or Cain or Lincecum or Wainwright — pitching that wins in the playoffs…

    • stex52 - Jul 9, 2014 at 4:22 PM

      That’s one of the problems with the movie “Moneyball.” It completely ignored that the fact that Oakland had a tremendous pitching staff. Mulder, Hudson, Zito (pre-SF contract) and Cory Lidle were the top four. Staff ERA+ was over 120.

      Beane knows all about pitching. It just doesn’t fit into the convenient narrative most of the time.

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