As I mentioned this morning, the reflexive “I guess the Athletics’ ‘Moneyball’ approach sucks after all!” schadenfreude was pretty strong after last night’s game. In addition to the examples of Bill Plaschke and Tom Boswell I linked to, I was on six different radio shows today during my usual Wednesday radio marathon, and at least three of the hosts asked me if it wasn’t the case that “small ball trumped Moneyball.” And they weren’t really asking me. They were inviting me to confirm their assertions on the matter.
All of which is dumb for the reason I mentioned this morning: a book written in 2002 about exploiting inefficiencies in a market has no real bearing on how a baseball team performed in a single game 12 years later. And that’s still the case even if Billy Beane is involved in both of them. It’s the equivalent of watching De Niro in “Meet the Fockers” and then saying “see, I told you ‘Goodfellas was overrated!'” They’re entirely different things.
But it’s dumb for another reason: the Royals are not a team that eschews analytics. Sure, they’re not exactly the Tampa Bay Rays and, no, Ned Yost is not likely to give you a lecture on WPA, but the team does have an analytics department. Indeed, if this story is accurate, they set it up a couple of years ago.
Which means one could quite easily tell a story about how the Royals sucked for nearly 30 years but then, when they finally started to integrate analytics, they finally broke through. Of course, that sort of thing doesn’t jibe with the preconceptions of the Bill Plaschkes and Tom Boswells of the world, so don’t expect to hear that.
One of the weirdest things from last night’s Wild Card Game was the shot of the woman in the crowd holding the sign that said the man she was with was going to buy her a puppy if the Royals won:
Before we go any further, how does that even go?
Woman: “Will you get me a puppy?”
Man: “I will, my darling. But . . . only if 25 men we do not know personally prevail in a mostly random contest!”
Woman: “Really? Why do you have to be so weird about this? Either get me a puppy or don’t. And if you won’t, cool, whatever, I’ll get my own puppy.”
Man: “No! Let us make this a wager!”
Woman: “Um, OK.”
When I saw that I sort of hoped that the sign was an effort in subtle mockery of the guy, showing a national television audience that he’s really complicated and manipulative. Turns out it’s not quite like that. It was really a bribe. Yahoo tracked them down. The woman is Katie Castan, and here’s what she said:
“My boyfriend Joe made the bet with me in the middle of the summer – we were sitting on the couch and I think I was frustrated with the Royals (they were struggling around the end of June) and wanted to change the channel,” Castan said in an email to Yahoo Sports. “He basically said if we won the division or made it past the wild card game, and if I paid attention to the games when we watched and could name at least 10 players on the team by the end of the year, he’d get me a puppy. I think it was his way of keeping me watching the games … but I just really wanted that puppy!”
One hopes that her love of baseball outlasts the delivery of the puppy and that Boyfriend Joe, whatever his methods, did manage to convert someone who sounds like she was a casual fan into a serious baseball lover. But hey, a puppy is getting adopted from a shelter either way, so I guess it’s a win.
Kirk Gibson got the axe last week and now the Diamondbacks have announced their official list — thus far — of potential replacements:
I think Sandy Alomar has been on everyone’s list for a couple of years now, but never seems to make the short list. Phil Nevin was considered by the Astros and, as a Dbacks minor league manager, could make some amount of sense. Jim Tracy is proof positive that if you have friends in the game and are considered a nice guy, you’ll never be out of work long.
No one here seems inspiring. But maybe after a couple years of Kirk Gibson, they’re looking for someone a tad more mellow.
My favorite thing from after last night’s game was watching old dinosaur newspaper columnists dropping “Moneyball” zingers. They were great because they showed that (a) those guys never, ever read the book or at the very least didn’t understand it; and (b) they were so confident in the power of their zingers they didn’t think it necessary to explain how a book that provided a snapshot of the Oakland A’s from 12 years ago was even remotely relevant to 2014.
Never mind, boys, just go with it. You sure stuck it to that Billy Beane good! Or Brad Pitt. Or whoever. Doesn’t matter probably.
A more relevant observation about Beane comes from Ken Rosenthal: Beane rarely stands pat. And after last night’s loss — made all the more crushing by the fact that the A’s simply went for it this year, trading prospects and bats for arms specifically sought for the postseason — Rosenthal is hearing that Beane could do some radical things. Like trade Jeff Samardzija. Or even Josh Donaldson.
Late in the column he suggests that he could stand pat for a couple of months and see where the team is before unloading either or both of those guys. That may be more reasonable. Still, there’s no escaping the fact that Beane went all-in and eschewed the idea of stockpiling prospects and holding on to offense at all costs because he smelled a pennant, that didn’t work and now he has some long-term challenges facing him as a result.
Which ain’t exactly “Moneyball” as the dinosaurs think of it, but we’ll give them a decade or so to catch up to that.