“Moneyball” apparently explains Donald Trump

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One of my least favorite things in political writing is when people try to shoehorn political narratives into quickie pop culture narratives. Stuff like “Donald Trump is like Voldemort and Hillary is like Hermione!” Or “How ‘Game of Thrones’ explains the 2016 election!” I get that such analogies can be fun. I certainly get that the people who write them do so in part because it may draw readers in (who among us has not written clickbait?) but as substantive political analysis, it’s reductive and silly for the most part.

Now baseball is getting its crack at the 2016 election. It does so in this Washington Post Op-Ed from Sonny Bunch which argues that the Trump campaign was playing “Moneyball” in defeating Clinton:

Of all the pieces of pop culture floating around, the one that might best help those searching for an explanation for Donald Trump’s victory is a 13-year-old book about baseball strategy: Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” . . . If there’s anything that the political market is full of, it’s inefficiencies. And the Trump team, to its credit, understood just that.

I don’t have a substantive criticism of anything Bunch argues there. There is certainly a surface appeal. His analysis of how everyone misread “Moneyball” at first is also a topic I’ll never tire of revisiting.

I think, however, that like anything else along these lines, it’s reductive. There will be reams of scholarship written about the 2016 election in the coming years and, I suspect, it will result in lessons and insights that go beyond an 800-word analogy to a popular baseball/business book. All but the most basic phenomena occur due to a complex interaction of multiple factors, plus chance, plus mistakes, plus opportunism, making for a complex stew which defies such easy explanations. And that’s before you bring Russian hackers and the vagaries of public opinion polling into it.

Mostly, though, I think this sort of analysis falls prey to the same sort of flaw from which analysis in any arena — baseball included — often suffers: the inability to appreciate that more than one thing can be true.

A strong team can choke but the inferior team can also play better. A player can be overrated but he can also still be good. Financial inequality between teams can help the richer team but the richer team can also have smarter executives. The decision to steal second base can be stupid yet nonetheless successful. A political campaign can do dumb things but still win or could do smart things and still lose. There are a lot of factors in play in everything this side of coin tosses.

So, sure, the “Moneyball” analogy is fun. But I think it’s less enlightening than the author here — or the author of any other quickie “here’s what happened!” piece —  wants it to seem.

Besides, if your go-to baseball book for 2016 isn’t “Veeck as in Wreck” I don’t even know what you’re talking about in the first place.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.