Sorry! The “Royals showed those ‘Moneyball’ nerds!” narrative doesn’t hold water


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.