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.”