R.I.P. Moneyball

An article by posted on October 13, 2011

I think it is time to talk about what Moneyball ACTUALLY means and to show some of those who claim to have read the book what the book is all about. Apparently, reading doesn’t always lead to UNDERSTANDING.

I have read the book, it was interesting to learn about the little known “behind the scenes” process of team building and how a front office operates. It is for THAT reason the book sold so well not because it was chock-full of useful information, formulas and strategy. It did have some information which would be useful for ANY team regardless of targeted payroll ceiling, and it did help to show how Statistical Analysis can help you find some hidden value where none is actually perceived.

The book discusses quite well the methodology used but mostly because it would be a pretty short book if it just said we used statistical analysis to find cheap players. I suspect this is the main reason why people confuse Sabers with Moneyball. The book expended a great deal of effort explaining what methodology they used to find “cheap” players which was the central goal of Moneyball.

Sabermetrics or advanced statistics were one of the predominant tools used to rank and identify who had the quality that was deemed UNDERVALUED but also used to identify what quality it was that was undervalued.

Sabermetrics are based largely on Bill James’ work and his work is mostly about how important On-Base Percentage is to winning (right or wrong that’s what conclusion he came to in its most simplistic form).

By using that strategy, your initial ranking of ALL players is going to FAVOR players with high a OBP and rank them accordingly. If you use OBP alone to identify what players are undervalued many low cost players will not show up on your list of top players simply because you ignored so many other aspects of the game.

Using the Moneyball method to exploit market inefficiencies in the early 2000’s, doesn’t guarantee that you will come up with all the top low-cost players today. Markets change every year.  It worked great for a little while back in the day, but that was then and this is now.

Now onto the topic at hand, the processes which will no doubt cause much vitriol in the comments?

MONEYBALL no matter what methodology used to arrive at the goal is about NOT SPENDING MONEY or Spending as little as possible. The REASON for implementing it is varied:

  • Not having the money to spend due to low fan attendance and revenues.
  • Cheap Ownership who are more interested in profit than wins and force the GM to shop at Kmart.
  • Blind stupidity that convinces you that minimizing your player options translates to more success. I call this the “penny wise, pound foolish” syndrome!

Sabermetrics was used in the Book as a comparative means to identify players who fit the qualities they were looking for. But it was not the decider in who to get. Sabermetrics does not INCORPORATE player salary in their metrics. Two Players judged by Sabers can be equal while one gets paid 8 Million per year while the other gets the league Minimum!

So while the Sabers may have identified the players and created the initial MASTER LIST of candidates it did not DECIDE which one the team was going to get because there are probably a lot of HIGHLY PAID players on that list as well.

Look at the 2011 Top OBP leaders:

  • Joey Votto
  • Prince Fielder
  • Lance Berkman
  • Matt Kemp
  • Ryan Braun
  • Matt Holliday
  • Carlos Beltran
  • Troy Tulowitzki

Do you see any hidden gems or $1 million dollar a year players?

So you used OBP to identify all the players that you deemed were GOOD, but then eliminated all the players who were being paid accordingly for their talents, in this case all of them.

You see MONEYBALL is about REMOVING high salary players from the candidate list…

Sabermetrics are not the central driver of the Philosophy in Moneyball. MONEY is!

The Red Sox who are most often used as an example of a Moneyball team use advanced stats, but they SKIP the most important step needed for Moneyball… The removal of any players or options that command a high salary!

The Red Sox never removed those higher priced options from their list of targeted players… Oakland DID!

This is why the Red Sox actually won a WS and have the third highest Payroll in baseball while Oakland has never won a championship since they implemented Moneyball.

The Red Sox never limited their options based on Money.

Yes they both used sabermetrics, in fact most teams do, but the Red Sox did not ignore quality players because of money! They did not discard a better option merely because he made more than a cheaper and more inferior player!

Oakland did!

Even if a player had a superior OBP or SLG,Oakland would ignore those sabermetrics and that better player in favor of the lesser player and $$$$$.

Red Sox did no such thing! THEY ARE NOT A MONEYBALL TEAM! You can say they are a Sabermetric team as many teams are these days in some respect or another.

SABERMETRICS DOES NOT EQUAL MONEYBALL!

SABERMETRICS = A Limited Form of Statistical Analysis!

Statistical Analysis DOES NOT EQUAL SABERMETRICS! There are many ways to analyze stats and they don’t all subscribe to the theories put forth by Bill James and all those profiting in his footsteps.

Statistical Analysis is a means of calculating stats and placing importance on some stats over others but they do not show you the cheapest player nor compare price per performance in any way shape or form.

Now we COULD debate Sabermetrics in and of itself, but it really isn’t relevant to this conversation. Yes Sabers seem to be good at comparing players but Sabers themselves and the philosophy of Bill James is not required, important, or the be-all and end-all of Statistical Analysis!

Bill didn’t really INVENT statistical analysis we have ALWAYS looked at stats as a comparator. Bill James’ contribution was to create a few metrics that placed importance where he saw fit. I’m not going to debate if he’s right or wrong here, it is not the focus.

You do not need to read MONEYBALL nor any of Bill James books to create or use good metrics. Anyone can do it and if you work hard to ensure you are not biasing the data to show what you want, you will also come up with the right answers.

No single stat will ever give you the complete picture of any player. To say that OBP is a better metric than BA because it takes all PA into consideration doesn’t make it better. An even better metric can be achieved than the ones Bill James came up with.

How about a metric that takes into account moving the runner over or driving in a run regardless of an out being made? It would tell you a lot more about a player than either BA and OBP.

The thing that Moneyball SUCCESSFULLY showed was not that saving money is the way to go, but that DEEP STATISTICAL ANALYSIS is the key to making good decisions because you are making an EDUCATED Guess – an informed decision.

But MONEYBALL discards much of that information and the end result is as old as the game of baseball itself, how much they get paid!

Moneyball uses Sabermetrics to come up with answers, and then IGNORES the answers given based on COST!

Moneyball is not about Sabers or statistical analysis it is about NOT SPENDING MONEY!

The Braves have been used as an example of a team that did it the right way and they did it without the benefits of Moneyball. (They were pretty much done winning championships by the time Moneyball was invented!) They built a good team that was cheap because they developed it from scratch. Fine to do provided you have the patience to wait as long as it took them – decades of losing and a bit of good luck and timing and Greg Maddux. They finally built a team that carried them to five league championships and their one World Series title.

If they had spent some additional payroll to maintain their edge they might have won a few more WS and Titles.

The notion that spending less means winning more does not hold true. Building BETTER (regardless of methodology and COST) leads to better teams.

And by handcuffing and limiting your choices based on money means you make it that much harder to succeed. Because when you place limits on yourself that preclude you from many options,  you helped give the opposition who did not limit their choices an ADVANTAGE OVER YOU!

While Oakland might seem to have done well despite limiting themselves via implementing Moneyball, the bottom-line is Moneyball didn’t get the job done!

And while it might seem wise to a Moneyballer to point out how many playoffs Oakland went to while spending peanuts, you still have that little issue that the Yankees won more titles and World Series spending money.

1998 – 2011

Oakland A’s – AL League Championships 0, World Series Titles 0

NY Yankees – AL League Championships: 6, World Series Titles: 4

The great equalizer, Moneyball was not!

And what COULD/WOULD the story be if they had just spent a little to keep the cheap players they had worked so hard to find from walking away?

Or to compliment the team with players who would cost a little more, but would have increased profits due to WS ticket sales and victories?

How far might they have gone if they simply signed rather than ignored the best players they themselves calculated based on their UNDERVALUED Metrics?

When you LIMIT your choices based on self imposed financial limitations, you will not have the same success as those teams who use the same statistical analysis to pluck all the productive players that are out of YOUR price range!

Cheaper isn’t ALWAYS BETTER… You GET what you pay for!  Not in every circumstance but more often than not.

MONEYBALL is Penny Wise and POUND FOOLISH…

Especially now when all teams use advanced metrics everyday, but are willing to pay for the best available talent.

R.I.P. Moneyball

This Fan Shot was submitted by Mike (Metsie). Have something you want to say about the Mets? Share your opinions with over eleven-thousand Mets fans who read this site daily. Send your Fan Shot to GetMetsmerized@aol.com.

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