Wednesday, October 04, 2006

This is not 'Modified Moneyball'

Sigh... it's been a few years since Moneyball came out, and still national writers miss the point of the book. Hence, this column I see on ESPN.com... "Modified Moneyball Pays Off for A's"

Now, the author has no bad intentions with this column, and it gives praise to Beane, who, more than perhaps any GM, deserves it. But I'm sick of the misconception that Moneyball is about signing guys with a high OBP... it's about finding inefficiencies and going for guys that are undervalued. Which is what consistently Beane does better than anyone else. Let's take a look at some of the passages in the article.

But no matter how this postseason series with the Twins plays out, 2006 has marked not only a continuation of Beane's winning strategy, but a maturation of the thought process that accompanies it. It turns out that "veteran" and "Oakland" are not necessarily mutually exclusive terms.

According to my reading of this paragraph, the writer assumes that Beane's though processes "matured" as he realized something about how veterans are valuable. This is not a maturation of Beane's thought process.

For one thing, Beane has never been opposed to bringing in "veterans" and I'm not really sure where the writer is getting that. Beane always seems to be the guy that brings in low-cost free agents, and he's usually one of the most active traders in the trade market. Sure, he lets a lot of guys go and trades off some talent, but that has a lot more to do with money than about Beane not valuing "veterans." Where would the As be if they had resigned Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder? Well, they'd have no money and be completely handcuffed.

Two, the fact that Beane has largely changed what type of team this is does not mean that his thought process has "matured," only that he's recognized what the market is undervaluing. It's not that Beane suddenly discovered the value of veterans, it's that he picked up some guys that weren't valued enough on the open market. More on that later.

In Frank Thomas, Esteban Loaiza and Milton Bradley, Beane last offseason added some well-considered risk to his formula, which normally skews younger, cheaper and more inside-the-numbers productive.

There's always been risk to "his formula," it's just that he takes calculated risks with guys that are undervalued. A lot of teams didn't want Frank Thomas because he was perceived as being injury-prone and bad in the clubhouse. Beane knew he was still a great hitter and signed him.

Bradley was perceived as being a clubhouse cancer and a bad guy, which made him a little undervalued. So Beane traded for him, and he's been great in RF offensively and defensively. To be honest, I didn't really like the Loaiza deal when it was made, and I still think he may have been a little overpaid, but that seems to be working out so far.

By the way, not to toot my own horn, but here's a comment I made when the A's signed Frank Thomas:

For more proof that Billy Beane is the best GM in the MLB, look at his signing of Frank Thomas. Frank was the 2nd best hitter of the 90s, and even though he's declined, he's still a good hitter. He has above average power, and he has a great eye. If he's healthy, which is a big risk, he's a very good DH, a route that I wish the Twins would have pursued.

But moving on with the article...

Macha is a veteran manager guiding what, for the A's, is an unusually veteran team. That much marks a small modification to the "Moneyball" approach. The fact that Beane isn't afraid to take credit for it doesn't mean he's wrong.


First off, I guess I'd disagree that the A's are an "unusually veteran team," but that's basically just arguing semantics. However, I still fail to see what modification was made to the Moneyball approach... the A's are continuing to look for undervalued players in the market.

The biggest example of this is the draft. When the book came out, the A's had the philosophy of drafting mainly college players, as they felt that those players carried less risk and were undervalued. Well, everyone else started to figure that out too and took more college players. So what did Beane do? Started taking lots of high school players. This may seem like another "modification" to the Moneyball approach, but it's a gross misunderstanding of it. Beane sees that high school players are becoming undervalued, so he drafts more of them. This doesn't mean he feels his thinking about college players was wrong, just that he gets more value out of high school players at this time.

The last sentence, I don't really get. "Beane isn't afraid to take credit for it?" What does this mean? Just because a book comes out about Beane and the A's does not mean that Beane is taking all the credit for what they're doing... that is bordering on Joe Morgan territory saying something like that.

But anyway, the point is, this is not "Modified Moneyball." It's "Moneyball" at its finest.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is astounding to me that the A’s ranked 25th in MLB in Batting Average, yet ranked 10th in OBP. They were 28th in total bases, even behind the Royals. Just goes to show you that the A’s get guys who are patient at the plate, as they drew the 2nd most walks in baseball and were in the bottom half in strikeouts.

GF said...

Couldn't agree more. The book was about market inefficiencies. OBP just happen to be the stat that was correlative to winning and undervalued by the market. If guys who hit .300 with 45 HRs and 130 RBIs were undervalued, Billy might "modify" his approach and sign some.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree the point of the book was that the A's needed a different approach than traditional scouting to build their team because that method was already in use by most other teams and so drove up the price on what the system deemed the best players. I'll also agree that by looking for market inefficiencies--talent that was overlooked by traditional scouting--the A's were able to field competitive teams with low payroll in defiance of baseball "common sense".

However, there was another point made in the book, and that is that cold, statistical analysis is a better way to evaluate players in general than the "gut" feeling of coaches. I think its disingenuous to simply say Billy Beane was "merely" looking for market inefficiencies, and that any system which did that would be just as good. Why else include the chapter on Bill James--an almost heroic portrait in my opinion--of the description of Art Howe as a clueless relic if you weren't subtlely arguing this?

That doesn't mean Beane can never tweak his formula, and in fact I believe at the heart of it Beane is still true to the core message of "Moneyball": Statistical analysis will help you find the advantages--the "market inefficiencies"--to win. But he has tweaked the application; arguing otherwise is overgeneralizing the message of the book.

Zach Landres-Schnur said...

nicely said. and with that moneyball system, it appears the A's are going back to oakland with a 2-0 lead. (sigh).

Mini Me said...

I would argue that this is a modified version of moneyball. Originally Beane noticed that teams weren't that concerned with OBP and Beane felt that the OBP statistic really correlated to winning. So Beane, realizing nobody else paid for OBP decided to focus on that and got high OBP players for cheap. After a few years of this mid-market team winning, other teams caught on. Thus, Beane had to MODIFY his moneyball strategy. Beane could no longer get high OBP players for cheap salaries because other teams were following Beane's model and were willing to pay more for high OBP players. Thus Beane had to look at other areas of the game that he felt correlated with winning that were being underpaid for by other teams in the league. Certainly Beane still has many high OBP guys that he has picked up or drafted in the past, but take a look at defensive statistics of the Oakland A's. Beane noticed that teams don't pay much for this, and this season Oakland has the third highest fielding percentage in the Major Leagues...that is what I call Modified Beaneball

2006 Regular Season Defensive Stats

twins15 said...

Anon,

Why include a chapter about Bill James and make subtle digs at Art Howe? Because Michael Lewis wanted to write an entertaining book.

And from reading it, he absolutely seems to favor statistical analysis... but I'm not sure it was so much him tweaking his analysis as much as other people changing their thoughts. Going after a different style of players I don't believe represents a change in his philsophy as much as a change in everyone else's philosophy, IMO.

Mini Me,

You're exactly right as far as what he's doing. But again, I'm not sure he modified his strategy... he just found what it being undervalued. If defensive players all of a sudden were in great demand and high OBP guys were in low demand, I think Beane would start going for OBP guys again... not because he'd modified the strategy, he would just see what other people were overvaluing. Same strategy, just everyone else changing what they're going for.

Anyway, it would appear we're arguing semantics... I would argue that changing the types of players Beane is going for is not modifying his strategy, it's the very essence of the strategy. I can see why you might feel the strategy is changed, but I just disagree.

And yeah, sometimes I wish the strategy would be less effective. Like maybe over the weekend. :(

twins15 said...

And I seem to be saying "strategy" way too much... maybe "philosophy" is a better word.

Mini Me said...

Twins15,

Yes it appears we are arguing semantics, as I believe the idea of Moneyball is to find what is being undervalued and exploit that area of the market. Throughout time the area of the the market that is undervalued changes. As this changes Beane targets the new, cheap asset. So yes, we are in agreement.

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