Do You Still Believe In Moneyball?

An article by posted on August 13, 2012

Moneyball is a ultimately a strategy that was developed by a small market team’s general manager in order to compete large market teams. When Billy Beane sat down and started to think about creative ways to stay competitive with large market teams, he didn’t write the word moneyball on a dry erase board, and tell everyone in the room that this was his new idea. Moneyball was a name, that was given by an author, to describe to the success that Beane experienced in the early 2000s. I’m here to tell you that much like Santa Claus, moneyball doesn’t exist.

Before you call me crazy, sit and think about it. The strategies that Beane developed and ultimately used do exist, but moneyball doesn’t. If it did ever exist, it ended once large market teams also started to implement Beane’s strategies once they saw how successful Beane’s Oakland A’s were. The Red Sox started implementing the small market strategies made famous by Beane, and what did it lead to? They finally broke the curse of the Bambino. But that wasn’t moneyball, because moneyball doesn’t exist.

There are basically two schools of thought in baseball – the old school scout mentality, and the moneyball school of thought. The old school thinkers say “wow that guy has all the tools,” but moneyballers ask “can he play ball?” Old school thinkers look for potential, while moneyballers look for performance. The old school mentality has driven me crazy for years. Year after year I watch teams draft players based on the coveted five tools, and then pay them upwards of $1 million just for signing a contract. They don’t even know if this guy can play, and simply because the guy can hit a baseball a country mile during batting practice, they invest millions. It doesn’t make sense to pass up on a guy that has shown he can play the game at a high level, for a guy who is visually or physically more impressive. That’s a stupid strategy even if you have a lot of money to spend. I guess that means my beliefs would make me a moneyballer, that is, if moneyball existed.

Remove the word moneyball from your vocabulary. Instead, call it performance based evaluation of players. Rather than looking at what this guy might be able to do for your team, you look at what this player can do for your team. You do that through evaluation of statistics, but also based on what you see on the field. You can not evaluate a player on statistics alone. The two schools of thought really should work hand in hand, not against each other. If you combine the schools of thought, you really have a total of six tools that players should be evaluated on (not the traditional five) – running speed, arm strength, hitting ability, quickness, mental acuity (patience at the plate), and ability to get on base. I firmly believe that teams should always value proven players over guys who have an array of tools but can’t apply them in game situations. I guess that would make me a moneyballer, that is, if moneyball existed.

One team that I think has been doing this well the past few years is the San Francisco Giants. They tend to draft guys that they can get through the minor leagues as quickly as possible to start helping the big league club. You can’t do that by drafting guys based on talent alone, so there has to be skill there. If a guy has tons of talent, but has to spend six years in the minor leagues developing the skill, then what’s the point? Just draft the guys with skill, and save yourself time and money developing them in the minors. That’s why Beane focused his draft on more polished college players – there is less development needed, and they can help the team in a shorter period of time (in most cases). Then you don’t have to spend big money in free-agency to address your needs. I completely agree with Beane’s drafting strategy. I guess that would make me a moneyballer, that is, if moneyball existed.

Moneyball doesn’t exist. There isn’t some magic formula, or mathematical equations, that a team can use to evaluate players and uncover undervalued players. If that’s what you think, get it out of your head. Teams can’t expect to win without spending money, unless they have a well developed minor league factory that is spitting out skilled players like Ford spits out Mustangs. This is an area the Mets are lacking. Every team uses the same analyses now, so those days of Beane’s A’s are all but over. But the Mets have a distinct advantage over those early 2000′s Oakland A’s – they aren’t a small market team. Those small market team rules don’t apply.

The New York Mets should focus on what the San Francisco Giants have done the past few years. They have to find a way to get guys to the major leagues, as fast as possible, because the team is in a complete state of disarray right now. There are guys playing out of position in order to plug holes. The problem is there are more holes than plugs, and we all know what happens when there are more holes than plugs – the ship sinks. The fix is simple enough – start drafting more polished players that will be able to help the team now, rather than later. Either that, or they have to pony up some cash and address their needs.

The Mets can turn this around, but they have to get their hands dirty, and re-evaluate their organization from the ground up. They better do it fast, because this is starting to remind me of the Mets teams of the early 1990s…and I don’t know how many of us can go through that again.

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