Archive for January 21st, 2007

Bill Madden misunderstands Moneyball


Oh, Bill Madden. He’s been on the baseball scene since well before I was born, yet still demonstrates a level of cluelessness in his coverage. For instance, in today’s column, he complains about the Mets not handing Willie Randolph a new contract, despite his success with the team.

This is absurd and yet, thanks in no small part to the “managers are immaterial” philosophy espoused in “Moneyball”, baseball owners have become increasingly hardline when it comes to paying the men they entrust with their multi-million dollar rosters. In that regard, you could make the case for managers being the most important components of the organization.

Billy Beane does not believe managers are immaterial. Anyone who has read the book knows that Madden’s statement is wholly inaccurate. If he did believe it, why did he pawn Arte Howe off on the Mets? (Answer: because Steve Phillips is the only GM dumb enough to take him.)

Rather, Beane’s take on managers is that they’re not of enough consequence for a small-market team to overpay for one. Why would Beane, working with a tight budget, pay Lou Piniella $3.5 million per season? That money would be better spent on players, who have a weightier impact on the outcome of games. For a team like the Mets, for whom money isn’t much of an object, it would be wise to open the checkbook for a guy who’s proven his worth with the team.

Madden has demonstrated his misunderstanding of Moneyball. I’m just hoping that he’s not right about the rest of the league.

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Evolution of a baseball fan


There was a time, many years ago, when I would enjoy sitting down with a big mug o’ coffee on a Sunday and read through the Sunday sports sections of various New York area papers. During my early college years, this would provide a week’s worth of discussion fodder. By reading what Mike Lupica and Bill Madden had to say about baseball, I could regurgitate their points and sound like I knew what I was talking about.

After a while, though, I started to sour on many newspaper columnists. It seemed like I was reading the same thing week after week. I still wanted to read about sports on Sunday mornings, but I didn’t want to read Lupica predicting doomsday for the Yankees after they lost three games in a week.

My father recommended the literature: Moneyball by Michael Lewis. So, at about 11:00 a.m. that Sunday (yes, 11:00 was early morning for me at the time–I was in college, after all), I began. At about 3:00 p.m., I was over halfway through. My eyes hurt, so I put it down for a bit, but that couldn’t last. By 5:00, I had it back in my hands, schlepping it with me to the dining hall (the library wasn’t too happy with the mac and cheese stain on page 192).

After completing Moneyball, I couldn’t bear to read sports columnists anymore; if I did, it was to amuse myself with their ignorance. What amused me more was the ignorance of the book in general. From the misconception that Billy Beane wrote the book to the complete misunderstanding of the messages contained therein, people could not come to grips with Moneyball. Most famously, Joe Morgan quipped: “I don’t need a computer to tell me how to play baseball,” (paraphased).

At about this time, I discovered blogs. While interning one summer, I discovered Aaron Gleeman and The Hardball Times. Much to my delight, they provided much more insightful and intellectual baseball analysis than their newspaper counterparts. My Sunday mornings were saved.

Since then, I have spent countless hours researching and writing about baseball. There are endless questions to be answered, and thousands of different ways to approach each one. The development of more advanced and accurate statistics have allowed us to better understand what makes a good player, and how that good player fits on a team. But that doesn’t mean that Baseball Prospectus can tell us everything–why would they play the games? Traditional scouting and observational evidence is still necessary, and a marriage of the statistical and observational provides the deepest understanding of the game.


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