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The Long Shadow of Michael Lewis
2004-10-02 20:53
by Will Carroll
Notes:
Scott Long is now blogging at NSFWsports.com.
Will Carroll can still be found at Baseball Prospectus.

Oakland choked.

With Beane and Ricciardi home for October, only the Red Sox are left as standard-bearers for the "Moneyball" ethos. Only Theo's boys will challenge the scouting scoundrels that populate baseball. Right?

Wrong.

I wrote just after reading Moneyball that bringing a sabermetric focus to an organization required desperation or domination; either a team had no other chance at success (Oakland, Toronto) or were dominated by someone enough to enforce a philosophy (Oakland, Boston).

Again, wrong.

"Moneyball" has been sneaking in the backdoor. Unlike the touted signing of Bill James in Boston - admittedly the marquis free agent - teams have been hiring analysts, consultants and their own versions of Bill James for a while with an acceleration over the last twelve months. Ron Shandler, Mat Olkin, Mitchell "MGL" Lichtmann, and even yours truly have gone on the payroll of teams that might just surprise you.

What's better is, some of them are winning.

St. Louis showed in June that they would draft using "Moneyball" principles, yet their team seems constructed more like a fantasy league "studs and scrubs" strategy. Could that work? Sure looks like it. Maybe a LIMA staff or a four-man rotation is next.

The Yankees, led by Gene Michael, emphasized OBP years ago, playing "Moneyball" with more money. It's the team Billy Beane would put together if he had a real payroll. Gary Sheffield over Vladimir Guerrero? It may have been Steinbrenner's choice, but just look at the OBP and relative cost.

Can we call the Dodgers a "Moneyball" team? There's as much credit for Dan Evans and Logan White as there is for Paul "The Laptop Kid" DePodesta in the lineup. Still, let's give Paul the credit for the brass balls trade that Bill Plaschke said doomed the team. That trade - which admittedly didn't work out due to injury - gives this team a DePodesta stamp and firmly locks them in the "Moneyball" camp.

So yes, the A's are out, doomed by a bullpen that gave no relief all season and a rotation that wore out trying to hide that pen. It's 4-4 this season and after two years of bad luck in the coinflip that is the playoffs, statistics say that the "Moneyball" side is due to win one.

I'll bet Michael Lewis is wearing a Red Sox cap come Tuesday. It's hardly his only choice.

***

And yes, I know that "Moneyball", performance analysis, and sabermetrics are not synonyms. I do however think that "Moneyball" remains the Gladwellian tipping point for the movement. I prefer "arbitrage baseball," but I'll stick with the term that most know ... and is the shortest to type.

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