Billy Beane

Billy Beane: The age of “baseball insiders” vs. “baseball outsiders” will soon be over

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Billy Beane has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today in which he talks about the changes technology is and will continue to bring to the game and what that will mean for the business of baseball. Note: to the extent you continue to go after stat-oriented analysis using the language of “Moneyball,” you’re woefully out of date.

Beane mentions 3-D tracking systems like Statcast, new metrics and new teaching techniques that will hone and refine player skills and capture the gains from such techniques in new and ever-more-precise metrics. If you’re tech-phobic, put your big boy pants on and wade in so you can at least know the sorts of things you should be upset about.

But Beane’s real point isn’t about any single technology or approach — it’s not like he’s gonna share the stuff his people are working on with the world; he did that a decade ago and still catches hell for it — but how technology will change the culture of baseball, who the people are who will be influential in its future and how they’ll get the information they’ll use:

Technology will create an equally drastic shift in front offices. Aspirants to the front office already are just one click away from decision makers, thanks to social media. It is not uncommon for a blogger’s analysis post to show up in a general manager’s Twitter feed—a level of proximity and access unheard of a decade ago. Many sports franchises are already hiring analysts based on their work in the public sphere; as social media become more targeted and efficient, the line between the “outsiders” and “insiders” will narrow . . . In sum, sport will no longer be the exclusive domain of “insiders,” and the business will be better for it.

Baseball’s insular culture is one its most frustrating traits, and it has been very nice to see it eroding here and there since the advent of the Internet Age and the expansion of the cultures and philosophies in and around the game in recent years. To be sure, there has been something of a backlash to that of late — for example, I would argue that the rise in “unwritten rules” incidents and hostility by some in the world of baseball towards outsiders and the Internet is a defensive reaction not unlike you often see when an old order is in its death throes — but all in all, baseball is moving in a new and exciting direction.

The stereotypical Old Baseball Men are being joined by young baseball men. Young technology men. Young marketing men. And, hopefully, an increasing number of young women fitting all of those descriptions as well. There’s no sense going through life with one hand tied behind your back, and the willingness of people like Beane here, or Jeff Luhnow’s down in Houston or Chris Antonetti in Cleveland and any number of other GMs to look in new places for ideas and people is one of baseball’s most promising developments.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Associated Press
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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.