All This Time Later, People Still Don’t Get “Moneyball.”

Paul DePodesta, the Mets’ new vice president of player development and amateur scouting, probably would, too.

“We’re still going to be wrong, probably often,” DePodesta said Tuesday on a media conference call.

DePodesta, you see, understands baseball’s deepest truth. No one, no matter how intelligent, can figure this game out.

Not Giants executive Tony Siegle, who said, “We’ve shown Moneyball is a bunch of garbage,” after the Giants won the World Series.

Not all the statistically-minded critics of Giants general manager Brian Sabean, some of whom have yet to acknowledge that he did a pretty fair job.

Again, who are these people? Are there people who have been critical of Sabean for, say, the big money deals he gave to Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand? Sure. Shouldn’t there be? But I’ll bet that the overwhelming majority of those critics would be happy to give Sabean credit for Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. I’ll bet they’d give him credit for picking up Cody Ross as well, even if they’d be quick to acknowledge that they got plenty lucky with him in the postseason. Because really, that’s basically the Moneyball theory isn’t it? They built around a corps of very good, cheap, homegrown starters, added a cheap and effective closer, rigged up an offense of cast offs, and then got a little bit lucky when they needed it. Frankly, I can imagine Billy Beane putting together basically the same exact team the Giants fielded, minus the Zitos and Rowands and Renterias.

The debate over “Moneyball” is tired. The concept, seven years after the release of the book, remains misunderstood. And the zealots on both sides are baseball’s version of political extremists, blinded by their respective beliefs.

I’m going to point this out now and come back to it later, because Rosenthal basically refutes it himself. But suffice it to say, these people don’t truly exist either because, at it’s heart, Moneyball is totally non-controversial. To the extent that there are “zealots” arguing over it, they’re either dealing with tangential aspects of the book or using it as a stand in for other arguments.

“I’ve seen a couple of people refer to it as, ‘Moneyball with money,’” DePodesta said. “That’s the Red Sox. In many respects, that’s the Yankees.”

DePodesta then rattled off the names of three leading American investors who try to exploit inefficiencies in their own markets — Warren Buffett, Jeremy Grantham and Bill Miller.

“Moneyball, I think, has taken on a lot of connotations that weren’t really intended or don’t really make sense,” DePodesta said. “In my mind, Moneyball really has absolutely nothing to do with on-base percentage. For that matter, it really doesn’t have anything even to do with statistics.

This is both the key point and the thing people most often miss. At the end of the day, Moneyball is, as the name would suggest, a theory about business. The wunderkinds [fixed, thanks] in Oakland were concerned with seeking out the qualities the baseball market was undervaluing to build a good team on a budget. This is part of the reason it caught on around the league, because the notion of doing this is pretty self-evident to businessman owners, if not to “rival executives” and former player analysts and scouts who, probably rightly, took the idea as a contention that they were idiots who didn’t know how to put together a baseball team. And that, in essence, is why the book is “controversial,” because people like Dayton Moore and Joe Morgan took it as an insult to them and made it controversial. The rest of this is just using “Moneyball” as a stand in for the argument between new stats and old stats.

I cut out a lot of the middle of the column, but you should go read it because it’s pretty interesting and informative if you haven’t heard all of this before. And I do think Rosenthal has shown a genuine interest in learning more about these arguments and trying to cut through them. But if he really wants to do that, I suggest he be a bit more thorough in making sure he actuall understands what people are arguing, rather than just caricaturing them.

Maybe he can even talk to an actual saberist or blogger, the same way he would a “rival executive.”

15 thoughts on “All This Time Later, People Still Don’t Get “Moneyball.”

  1. Ant

    Not to be a wet blanket, but the expression is wunderkinds…

  2. Brian

    And all this time later… many fools still don't understand what a lot of the criticism over moneyball was really all about…

    It was about the utter condescension and smugness on the part of Beane and some other stat heads…. You know Billy Beane once said…. "There is no difference what soever between a regular season game and a postseason baseball game"

    In related news, Beane was a top prospect but flamed out as a player and never actually played in a postseason game

    • Damian

      Being condescending and smug is one thing; being wrong is another. I'm not sure you're accusing Beane of just the first two or all three.

    • Well…there isn't any difference between a regular season game and a postseason game.

  3. Brian

    Don't get me wrong, Beane is absolutely on of the better GM's in the game.

    But he has made some dumb comments and shown a bit of a lack of accountability at times over the years…. he's good, he's not great

  4. Brian

    I just came up with 3 obvious ones in 10 seconds

    • Which make the games approximately no different than an April game in the Northeast with the A-lineup playing, the ace pitching, and the entire bullpen available.

  5. Ant

    The biggest flaw with an analysis of the book is commentors taking everything waaaaay to literally.

    That is what is happening with his post season comment as well. While the complexion may be a bit different, the game itself is exactly the same.

    Is there better pitching? Did the SF pitching improve on October 1st from September 30th? Any other team? Any difference in the actually game itself is an illusion, just like 'clutchness'.

    You could even say some managers change strategy, which would be accurate in a sense, but the game is still the same.

  6. Taylor_C

    Moneyball is my favorite book of all time. Only book I've read 8+ times (and I'm only 18, so….)

    • Jason@IIATMS

      Want an amazing basebal book? Go read Lords of the Realm by John Helyar. About the history of the game, about the owners.

      Get it on Amazon for less than $5 and you will thank me.

  7. beasleyrockah

    You are a perfect example of someone taking Beane's comments out of context. For the record, I have seen Rivera record many 3+ out saves during the regular season over the years. The way you approach a regular season game in terms of game management is always different and depends on numerous factors, same as it does in the playoffs. For example, a manager won't manage Game 1 of the ALDS like he will Game 7 of the ALCS. But on the flipside, a manager isn't managing on Opening Day the same way he is at the end of September in a tight pennant race. You are acting as though every postseason game is managed as if it is an elimination game, which is completely incorrect.

  8. beasleyrockah

    Beane was basically saying the bases are still 90 feet a part and you get 3 strikes, just like in the regular season. You think Beane believes you don't adapt your managing decisions based upon the situation at hand? The quote was reacting to people who thought his teams were only set up to succeed in the regular season, as if you needed some different skill sets to win the playoffs. To take one quote, take it way out of context, and use that as the reason to bash an entire philosophy is idiotic. Beane can definitely be seen as arrogant, so what? Does that make his points less valid? Kanye West is arrogant, it doesn't make his music less relevant.

  9. Taylor C

    Will definitely do that. Thanks!

  10. Max

    "And all this time later… many fools still don't understand what a lot of the criticism over moneyball was really all about…

    It was about the utter condescension and smugness on the part of Beane and some other stat heads…. "
    -Brian

    Brian: you are complaining that Beane was condescending and smug. read that last sentence over once or twice. grow a dick.

    Beane ushered in a whole new dimension of logic to evaluating baseball; and youre complaining that hes cocky. what are the guys on your 'side' like? are they cocky? no. never. tim mccarver has a very open mind, and does not believe he knows all the answers.

    im like: yea, tim mccarver and joe morgan are aggressively wrong on many aspects of the game. they are condescending and smug. but that is not nearly as bad as being aggressively wrong.

    this reminds me of clintons impeachment. the righties with ken star looked for years to find anything at all wrong with clinton. they couldnt find shit; the dude wasnt corrupt at all, he was a great leader, the US enjoyed a relatively excellent 8 years there. as a result of this lack of faults, ken star digs until he discovers the affair. the situation blew up. here is my point: clinton cheating on his wife is a complete afterthought, and is this fact is really quite irrelevant when it comes to evaluating the overall worth of a US president.

    similarly, beane being smug and condescending is totally irrelevant when evaluating his professional worth.
    so brian, what are you trying to say? do you think he should have been friendlier? if all the criticism was about the joe morgans getting their feelings hurt as you claim, then you and your people need to grow the fuck up. you are seriously on here complaining about beane not being nice. thank you for that point, i feel terrible for you guys–having to deal with all that confidence and intelligence. it must be really hard.

Comments are closed.