Should The Mets Retire The Moneyball Project?

The Mets currently have a front office in place that has earned them the nickname the “Moneyball Mets.” Mets G.M. Sandy Alderson was once Billy Beane’s mentor, and the Mets have also added a couple of other front office executives that once worked with Beane. As the Brady Bunch theme song goes – everyone sing along – that’s the way we became the Moneyball Mets.

Does that mean the Mets are on pace to have the success the A’s had ten years ago that was chronicled in the book and movie Moneyball? Not likely.

For those of you who haven’t read the book (or watched the movie), Moneyball is based on a form of analysis called sabermetrics. Simply stated, moneyball theorizes that in order to win games, a team has to score more runs than their opponent by getting on base more frequently. It goes further to analyze which players actually help you score more runs using a series of mathematical equations to develop advanced statistics called sabermetrics. This is obviously a very rudimentary explanation of moneyball, but it inevitably goes against everything the traditional scouts have been saying for over 100 years. Scouts search far and wide for the coveted five tool players which are as rare as unicorns and leprechauns. The search takes them around the globe with one goal in mind: to build the best teams they can by seeking out the best talent.

Sabermetrics allowed Beane to take advantage of players often ignored by other teams in order to build his historic 2002 team. They were ignored since teams didn’t understand their true value. This misunderstanding was due to not using sabermetrics to evaluate players. At least that is what we are led to believe. We will return to this later.

The movie alludes to the idea that Beane was looking for a way to analyze talent that was different from the traditional scouts. This was supposedly due to the fact that he was once considered a “can’t miss” five tool player. He was selected in the first round of the 1980 MLB draft (by the Mets coincidentally), but never lived up to expectations. The Mets had three first round picks that year, and held the number one pick. They used that number one pick on Daryl Strawberry after Beane signed on to play football and baseball with Stanford, even though scouts thought Beane was as close to a “sure thing” as you can get from a prospect. No teams wanted to risk a first round pick on a kid that was going to be John Elway’s heir at Stanford. The only team who could afford to take that risk was the New York Mets since they had two other first round picks.

To this day, scouts say Beane was the most gifted athlete in the 1980 draft class. But if Beane learned anything from his playing career, it’s that there is no such thing as a “sure thing.” This has him at odds with scouts who wanted to try and put the best overall players on the field, the way big market teams do.

Back to Beane’s 2002 Oakland Athletics team which was the basis of the book and movie Moneyball. First, let me say that the movie was entertaining. Unfortunately, it paints a picture of Beane building the entire 2002 A’s from a bunch of players that no other team wanted. It reminded me of the scene in the movie Major League when they are trying to build a team bad enough that will help the Indians move out of Cleveland. Nobody was previously playing in the California Penal League, and the team was actually stacked before Beane added the final few pieces of the puzzle using sabermetrics.

The movie fails to mention the fact that the pitching staff consisted of Barry Zito (2002 Cy Young Winner), Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson who were affectionately known as the “Big 3.” Let’s put it this way, if Beane didn’t win the division with those three guys he should’ve lost his job. By the way, the closer was Billy Koch, and it gets even better. The A’s had Miguel Tejada (2002 AL MVP), Eric Chavez, Jermaine Dye, Ray Durham, and David Justice all in their lineup. So was the success of the A’s due to sabermetrics being used to add a few players that nobody even remembers from the team, or the fact that everything came together for the A’s due to great player development? And if you thought the 2002 pitching staff was scary, the 2003 & 2004 A’s added a young Rich Harden to the mix. How did the Athletics manage to never win a World Series with those guys on their pitching staff?

Now let’s get back to the Mets. I think everyone will agree the Mets don’t have the talent the A’s had in the early 2000s. Not only that, but the A’s are a small market team, so they had to come up with creative ways to compete with big market teams. Look at it this way – when a person with a lower income goes to buy a car, they look for different attributes in that car than a person with a higher income would. The person with lower income goes to buy a Honda. It will get you back and forth to work, it’s reliable and good on gas, but you aren’t winning any races. The person with higher income goes to buy a Corvette, and the license plate reads “eat my dust.”

The Mets are a large market team. They shouldn’t be shopping for Hondas. Their license plate should read “eat my dust.” It doesn’t make sense for them to use the strategies of the small market teams. Their strategy should be to use their revenue stream to crush their opponents. The Mets can certainly learn a thing or two about player development from the Athletics of the early 2000s, but I’m still not sold on the fact that sabermetrics had anything to do with the success of those teams after looking at the players on that roster.

Can the Mets build a winning team using sabermetrics and moneyball? I know one thing for certain – no small market teams have won the World Series using sabermetrics alone in the past ten years. So if the Mets want to start winning again, they better start taking the money out of Moneyball, and start spending it.