Thursday, September 22, 2011

Looking back on Moneyball

With Moneyball being released this week many are offering their takes on the subject and hot button topic that was once Michael Lewis's book Moneyball. Scouts vs Stats. On base percentage vs batting average. Billy Beane vs the World. But what strikes me is that here we are eight years later and the whole Moneyball concept still seems widely misunderstood.

Moneyball isn't about loading a lineup with on base percentage. It isn't about abandoning defense. It isn't about figurehead managers, and it isn't about finding misplaced toys. More than anything else Moneyball is about one thing: exploiting market inefficiencies.

At the time of the book on base percentage was a huge market inefficiency and the fact that the A's found it first enabled them to field a team that was able to compete with the big boys. That is how big of a market inefficiency on base percentage was.

The truth is that since Moneyball, other teams have become much more open to trying new things. To expect the A's to strike Moneyball gold again would be naive. The true legacy of Moneyball will be carried on by small market teams as a whole, with the torch being passed from one or two successful teams to the next one or two teams. But as the baseball as a whole grows wiser this torch becomes fainter.

Baseball America's Casey Tefertiller published his take on Moneyball and the A's p.m. (post Moneyball) which you can read here. While I agree with most of the article, especially Tefertiller's take on how Moneyball has benefitted other teams more than the A's I still feel like he is failing to grasp Moneyball in all aspects of the organization. I'm speaking specifically on the draft.

Throughout a majority of the article Tefertiller is clearly someone who gets the Moneyball concept. He realizes that Moneyball is about exploiting inefficiencies and not necessarily about the specific strategies the A's implemented, that is until he touched on the A's draft strategy.

Tefertiller talks about how the A's draft strategy was a failure and how even the A's themselves abandoned the rules of 2003 and went in the face of their former philosophy when they drafted high school pitcher Trevor Cahill in the first round of the 2006 draft.

At last check though do the A's still not steal bases? Do they still put players like Jeremy Giambi in the outfield? Are they still on base dependent? No they are none of these things, because the strategy of Moneyball is inefficiencies and trying to find a better way to conduct business. They have evolved in other aspects of operations. Their draft strategy was a failure, but that doesn't make the Moneyball concept a failure.

In fact if you believe like I do that Moneyball is about exploiting inefficiencies then there is another team that has found the way to do so in the draft. That team is the Kansas City Royals. Of course the Royals weren't the first team to take advantage of the inefficiency and it seems at this point that the inefficiency has reached on base percentage levels and becoming less of a potential advantage for the teams looking to exploit it.

Obviously the inefficiency I am talking about is the slotting system. I know that by suggesting that using scouts and putting the Dollar sign on the Muscle is an example of a Moneyball concept I am risking the flipping of the Earth's axis, but here me out.

Moneyball and Sabermetrics are not the same thing. Now most of the time the two go hand in hand. But as I have stated numerous times, Moneyball is about exploitation of inefficiencies. While Sabermetrics is purely the creation of advanced statistics to learn more about the game. It is clear that Sabermetrics are often the best and easiest ways to find a market inefficiency and thus they go hand in hand with Moneyball, but Moneyball as a concept should not be limited to statistical analysis.

Without exploiting the slotting system, there is no way the Royals would have the top farm system. Without taking advantage of this opportunity to nab superior talent in later rounds of the draft, the Royals' and their fans wouldn't be counting the days until April 6, 2012 and they wouldn't spend their afternoons daydreaming about October 2013.

So while it may sound ludicrous, the Royals may be the holders of the Moneyball torch. Whether they know it or not, or whether their administration would be happy about it or not, the Kansas City Royals by exploiting a market inefficiency are now in position to be the next small market team to take swings with the big boys. Wasn't that Michael Lewis's whole point?


  1. Pretty good analysis. The only thing I would point out and have mentioned before, is that while they may be leading the moneyball intent from a scouting or strategic point of view, the management of the tactics on the field continue to be stupid old school stuff. Running helps, regardless of success level, bunting helps, etc. I read a comment that said the Royals were a self fulfilling prophecy, they don't believe they can have a big inning so they play small ball so therefore they don't have big innings. The kids seem to be pretty good so maybe they will be good enough to overcome this stuff when the games actually means something.

  2. I wouldn't disagree with any of that.