Former Major Leaguer Rips Billy Beane, “Moneyball”

I’ve made it clear over the years what a joke I think Moneyball is, both the book and the philosophy.

The book, because it pretends like the Oakland A’s have come up with something unique and brilliant, when in fact a lot of what they do is also done by other organizations. Some parts of the book have proven to be fictional, confirmed by A’s GM Billy Beane himself. And the more extreme among the stathead movement have deified Beane as some sort of baseball god, with Moneyball the bible of their religion.

The philosophy, because it doesn’t work.

The latest example of that is in a column by Long Beach Press-Telegram columnist Doug Krikorian. He quotes at length former major leaguer Ed Crosby, the father of A’s shortstop Bobby Crosby.

You can click on the above link and read the article yourself. This part I found particularly noteworthy:

“The A’s take the bats out of their players’ hands from the time they’re in the minor leagues,” he says. “Bobby was taught always to take the first pitch. They take all the aggressiveness out of their players. Look how much better guys like Eric Burns and Nick Swisher and Marco Scutaro have become once they got out of Oakland. …

“I love the way Mike Scioscia has the Angels playing. They’re so aggressive both with their bats and with their baserunning. They’re always attacking. That’s not the case with the A’s.” …

It reminded me of a rookie Arizona League game I saw a few years ago between the Angels and A’s. It was clear that no A’s batter would be allowed to swing at the first pitch, so the Angels’ starter that day simply threw Strike One after Strike One after Strike One. The A’s were shut out that day.

Rookie games against A’s teams have seemed different in the last couple years. I’ve noticed they seem more aggressive than they used to be. They’re bunting, they’re stealing bases, they’re even swinging at the first pitch.

So maybe Moneyball has been tossed into some green-and-gold trash can in the Oakland front office.

And as of this writing, the Angels are 19½ games ahead of the A’s in the standings.

Which is the only stat that matters.

10 Comments

Where do you think the GM’s who use statistical methods learned how to do it? Most of them worked for Billy in the A’s organization.

As for Doug Krikorian’s article, Ed Crosby didn’t help his son’s career by venting to the press, just like Bobby Crosby has done as well. It is very shortsighted and stupid because it brands him as “not a team player” and teams are very leery of players who spout off to the media. He will have a hard time finding a decent job for 2010 and he certainly won’t get anything like the $5.3 Million the A’s are paying him this year. For more on this, check out my blog at http://contractyear.mlblogs.com

Most of them? After the 4 we all know, who are the rest?

contractyear wrote:

“Where do you think the GM’s who use statistical methods learned how to do it? Most of them worked for Billy in the A’s organization.”

You’re not seriously suggesting that Beane invented use of statistics, are you?!

That’s one of the biggest canards of “Moneyball.” It falsely claimed that Beane was the one who trailblazed the use of “statistical methods.”

Well, I have news for you. All organizations use stats, and they were doing it well before Beane.

For example, Mets manager Dave Johnson used computer stats in the 1980s. Here’s a 1985 article from the Los Angeles Times:

http://articles.latimes.com/1985-09-15/sports/sp-23256_1_johnson-met-managers

*****

Though a product of old-school, Oriole fundamentals, Johnson is well-versed on baseball’s modern theories.

Among the books neatly lined on a shelf in his office are “The Hidden Game of Baseball” and “Percentage Baseball,” which may account for his chatter about sine curves, parabolas, trends, probabilities, and favorable chances.

It is a bent that used to infuriate his Orioles manager, Earl Weaver, and caused his Baltimore teammates to playfully nickname him “Dum Dum.”

“He had ideas that nobody understood, and worded in a language of an MIT professor. It’s only now we realize that Davey was ahead of his time,” said Orioles’ scout Jim Russo, who signed Johnson to his first professional contract.

*****

When Gene Mauch managed the Angels in the 1980s, he often batted Brian Downing leadoff because he had a high OBP, not because Downing could steal bases.

Beane did nothing unique, other than let a writer publish a book about him that was filled with blarney.

You clearly did not understand what Moneyball was about, and I would not be surprised to learn you’ve never even read the book. It’s not about using statistics, or a certain statistic, or using computers or spreadsheets. And it’s not about a philosophy.
First of all, even though the main character is the GM of a baseball team and “ball” is in the title, Moneyball isn’t really about baseball. It’s a business model, baseball is just the backdrop. Author Michael Lewis has previously written about Wall Street (Liar’s Poker, which isn’t about the card game) and Silicon Valley to give you an idea of his subject matter. The point of the book is to provide an example of how a business can succeed by taking advantage of undervalued aspects of their industry despite not having the financial backing of the other businesses with which it competes.
Despite Mauch’s leading off with Downing, prior to Moneyball on-base percentage was not widely used by baseball teams to evaluate players. Now it is. You may have read somewhere that the Angels league-leading run total this season has been attributed by an organization-wide emphasis on plate discipline, after Scioscia noticed some disturbing trends with the younger players in the system.
However, contrary to popular opinion, the A’s are not obsessed with OBP, and have tried to find other things along the way to get by, with varying degrees of success. They have sought players who are skilled on defense (which used to be but is no longer undervalued), cheap injury-prone players (which backfired) and the aging veteran (mixed reviews at best).
But the insinuation that the A’s have not had any success under this model is simply ignorant. Here are some easy-to-understand facts:

Here is a list of the most wins by team from 2000-2008. The number in parentheses is the total payroll during those nine seasons divided by wins, or, what each team paid in player salaries per win:
Yankees – 862 ($1,705,091)
Red Sox – 825 ($1,268,507)
A’s – 815 ($565,185)
Cardinals – 814 ($926,304)
Braves – 806 ($1,015,666)
Angels – 803 ($958,848)
White Sox – 778 ($871,276)
Twins – 776 ($563,214)
Dodgers – 767 ($1,175,537)
Giants – 767 ($921,854)

So is Moneyball still a joke? Because something seems to have been working up there. The real joke is putting too much stock in the ramblings of a bitter ex-player who seems to think his bitter son is a better baseball player than he really is.

You probably read a different book.

Apply what you want to what you want but the book isnt as smart as you think.

Baseball was heading in this direction regardless.

You made some nice little passive aggresive digs in your post. Way to go.
What’s it like to always be right?

The Beane worshippers have become so predictable. Inevitably they always begin with the lame accusation that I haven’t read the book, because in their mind the book is so obviously the literal truth of God that it’s impossible for anyone to read it and not immediately hear angels singing from the heavens.

Well, I did read it years ago when it came out. I have it on my shelf. Here’s proof … Bottom of page 52, the last paragraph begins:

“Inside baseball, among the older men, that was the general consensus: Billy Beane’s failure was not physical but mental.”

I read the book on a cross-country flight, and by the time I arrived at the airport I was sorely tempted to throw it in the first trash bin I saw walking off the plane. People inside the game know it’s bunk.

The book’s core is about the 2002 draft. If that draft was so magical as claimed, the A’s wouldn’t be in last place and dropping like a boat anchor to the bottom of the sea. Seven years have passed. If “Moneyball” was so amazing, if Beane was so brilliant, the 2002 and subsequent drafts should have manifested themselves in the majors with a winning ballclub. The exact opposite has happened.

Which brings us to the next apologist claim, that if only Beane had the same money as the Yankees or Red Sox or Angels or (… go on to name all 29 other teams in baseball) his genius would be obvious. Well, money is no excuse. Tampa Bay went to the World Series in 2008 with the lowest payroll in the league — because they built their organization the right way. They’ve done right over the years what the A’s did wrong over the same period of time, and with as little money as the A’s.

Beane’s worshippers are running out of ammo. A once-proud organization is in the toilet, just as I predicted it would be years ago when “Moneyball” was published. And that’s the one truth that they can deny but those of us based in the real world know for a fact.

By the way, if anyone wants to read the TRUE story of baseball and statistical research, I strongly recommend “The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics,” by Alan Schwarz. (ISBN 0-312-32222-4.) His book was published in 2004, a year after “Moneyball.” I suspect Schwarz wrote it to set the record straight, to expose the blarney in “Moneyball.”

Regarding the A’s, you find out that Beane inherited statistical tools used by his predecessor Sandy Alderson, and those came from a former aerospace engineer turned NPR free-lance correspondent named Eric Walker he hired in 1982 to develop baseball metrics.

To quote from Page 217:

*****

Every baseball fan has heard of the “On-Base Revolution”; dozens of newspaper articles have reported it, while Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” introduced the world at large to A’s GM Billy Beane, the movement’s modern leader. But its genesis has drowned in a brew of hype and misunderstanding. Beane carries the torch today, yes. And Bill James played his role. But from the inside, within baseball’s conservative front offices, it was an NPR radio guy whose belief in on-base percentage taught a very old dog some very new tricks.

*****

So as I’ve said over and over, “Moneyball” is bunk. The only thing Beane did was destroy Alderson’s well-oiled player development machine by conducting a mad scientist experiment.

The A’s had the third most wins in baseball from 2000-2008. Calling that impressive is not deifying Billy Beane. Suggesting they accomplished that despite Billy Beane is sort of foolish. Saying that payroll is not a factor is beyond foolish. But it’s not surprising, because you obviously look for reasons to take digs at Beane. I mean, that’s the entire point of this blog post.

Here’s some more “ammo”: The A’s set a team record for most injured players last season, after almost setting the record the year before. And they did not handle it well at all. Instead of filling holes with dudes off the scrap heap, they unwisely brought up players who were not yet ready, or were not good, and that’s had a ripple effect throughout the organization. That was Beane’s fault, and they’re still wiping themselves off because of it.

You want to give Billy Beane credit for the A’s success early in the decade when the truth of the matter is that the credit should go to his successor, Sandy Alderson. He resigned in September 1998, which is when Beane took over.

As “Moneyball” documents — or at least claims — Beane made no significant overhaul until 2002. It would take years for any GM’s imprint to be seen on the parent club, unless it was a massive overhaul like Bill Stoneman did when he took over the Angels in late 1999. Stoneman replaced the manager, most of the coaching staff, the scouting director, many scouts, the farm director, and several managers/coaches in the farm system. Did Beane do that? No.

The “Moneyball” imprint would be seen in the latter half of this decade, which coincides with the decline and fall of the parent club.

How can you base an argument using points from a book that you say is, at least in part, fictional?

I’m also a bit confused by your attribution of success. Let me get this straight. It was Sandy Alderson’s ideas and work, and not Billy Beane, and I should be giving all the credit to Alderson? I was under the impression that no one deserved credit, because the philosophy “doesn’t work.”

While there are definitely people who give way too much credit to Beane and blindly defend him, you seem to be an example of a person who does the opposite.

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