Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Joe Morgan Will Never Get 'Moneyball'

Fantastic work cutting down the latest Joe Morgan chat by Ken Tremendous of the supremely hilarious FIRE JOE MORGAN blog. Over the years I've found Joe's grating arrogance to be more a source of amusement than a firing offense, but he made several head-shakingly stupid comments in his latest chat. With apologies to KT, I'd like to pile on where I think he ladled out insufficient abuse:

Joe Morgan: The guy that wrote Moneyball can't teach me about the game. That is what I meant. If you haven't been on the field, why should I read your book? How can that person teach me about the game? I learn plenty about the game everyday. Every Sunday night I learn something. The game changes almost every day. But I'm still not going to read Moneyball or books written by people who haven't been on the field or really experienced what goes on in the game of baseball.

And later on...

I want to clarify the misunderstand [sic] about what I learn. Every Sunday I learn something new. But I'm going to stand by the fact that somebody who didn't play the game can't teach me about the game. I learned from the best, the legends who played the game. I played alongside so many great players. I'm just not going to read a book in hopes of learning how to play baseball. But this is an everchanging game and I do learn something almost every day. I'm just a former baseball player who is now an analyst. My thoughts are about the game and not medical technologies and such. Just because somebody writes a book doesn't mean they know the game.

These statements are so stupendously, forehead-slappingly moronic, it's hard to believe this guy is ever taken seriously. Let's parse, shall we?

But I'm going to stand by the fact that somebody who didn't play the game can't teach me about the game.

Bollocks. This whole premise is sheer bollocks. That's like Bill Clinton saying that political scientists who study polls, demographics, and voter trends can teach him nothing about predicting election results because they never ran for office. Geez, Joe, was it the sailors or the scientists who first realized that the earth was round?

I'm just not going to read a book in hopes of learning how to play baseball.

WTF? See, that's part of the problem, Joe. Moneyball is not an instructional pamphlet. If you want to learn how to play baseball, then I suggest you consult the Tom Emanski videos endorsed by Fred McGriff and his gigantic cap. If you want to learn about how Billy Beane outfoxes richer clubs through the creative application of basic economic concepts...never mind.

Just because somebody writes a book doesn't mean they know the game.

And, sadly, just because somebody is an Emmy-winning baseball analyst and Hall of Fame player doesn't mean they know the game, either.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

John Schuerholz Still Doesn't Get "Moneyball"

This point-counterpoint comes courtesy of Braves GM John Schuerholz's new book, Built to Win. Perhaps I'll post a full review once I've finished reading it but, for now, it's Chapter 2 ("Gentlemen, Start Your Moneyball Arguments") that has me all fired up. With apologies to FIRE JOE MORGAN:

Moneyball contends that the low-budget A's, forced to play little checkbook baseball, were able to win their division in 2003 and contend during recent seasons by primarily cobbling together an economy roster of inexpensive kids and scrap heap vets on the basis of some trendy statistical analysis.

Gentlemen, start your strawman arguments! This "trendy statistical analysis" you speak of. Please, tell me more about your understanding of it.

This "revolutionary" formula virtually discards not only the trained eye of seasoned scouts, bunting and base stealing, but brands as meaningless the value of an effective closer.

No, no, NO. Nobody's discarding anything; the point of Moneyball was to reassess the traditional assumptions that have driven player evaluation and acquisition. So in rebuttal:

1) Seasoned scouts are fine but the Moneyball approach concedes that they are prone to subjective judgments and human biases. By combining a scout's observations with objective statistical measurements, you get a clearer picture of a player's true potential. Statistics are a tool best used in tandem with scouting and these tools should complement one another. This doesn't have to be a zero sum game.

2) Bunting and base stealing are fine in certain situations. You just have to understand the risks and rewards since you have a finite supply of outs to use each game -- 27 is all you get. Wasting them with sacrifices and poor baserunning is probably not the optimal way for your offense to operate.

3) Closers are "meaningless?" Says who? Not the A's, as evidenced by their employment of Jason Isringhausen, Keith Foulke, Octavio Dotel, and Huston Street. Next.

The basic Moneyball theory is, substantially, on-base percentage for position players and groundball outs for pitchers -- a pure statistical way to put a team together.

Well, sure, if you actually want to win. Bill James studied these issues years ago, and his regression analysis determined that on-base percentage was the highest correlate for scoring runs. Which should be the focal point of the offense. And groundballs are a laudable goal since they're tough to hit over the fence and even better for inducing double plays. But true Moneyballers will tell you to stock up on power pitchers since strikeouts remove nearly all the vagaries of balls in play. But whatever.

In fairness, Moneyball made for a good read, even though I feel the basic premise is terribly flawed.

In fairness to Schuerholz, at least he's read the book, unlike some of its less enlightened critics. But to reiterate: no, no, NO. Moneyball was not just about stats. The book explains a system for identifying and exploiting inefficiencies in the player marketplace. The premise is that it's possible to use statistics to identify undervalued or underappreciated commodities languishing in the minor leagues or on major league benches -- replacement players that are freely available and far cheaper than "established" major leaguers. The idea is to outflank your deep pocketed rivals by getting 75%+ of the production of a high-priced free agent at 25% (or less) of the cost. If anything, Moneyball is about the efficient employment of resources even more than statistical analysis.

And the application of economics, where Moneyball is concerned, is about more than money. To fully appreciate the lessons of Moneyball, the savvy reader needs to have a basic understanding of the principles of economics. For example, baseball GMs need to understand and appreciate concepts such as supply and demand, opportunity cost, and the idea of replacement level talent in order to succeed in a dynamic marketplace. Understanding and applying these concepts can mean the difference between being on the right or wrong side of a Brian Giles for Ricardo Rincon or Bobby Abreu for Kevin Stocker trade.

In a sense, Schuerholz is an unwitting proponent of Moneyball principles. The Braves have never overpaid for a closer, either in a trade or via free agency, throughout Schuerholz's tenure. And this is much to John's credit. Schuerholz intuitively understands that it's insane to pay relief pitchers tons of money because of some magical "closer" designation, where value is bound up in managerial usage patterns rather than some intrinsic skill set on the part of the pitcher. While the Mets overpay for Billy Wagner, Schuerholz acquires decent relievers at bargain basement prices, and any one of them could mature into the closer role. It makes little sense to overpay for a role when cheaper talent is there for the grooming. And when a guy gets too expensive, the Braves let him go and start the process anew. The formula has worked for 15 years, with such luminaries as Alejandro Pena, Mike Stanton, Greg McMichael, Mark Wohlers, Kerry Ligtenberg, John Rocker, and Kyle Farnsworth ably handling the job. Though Schuerholz might not acknowledge it, this is as much a Moneyball concept as anything, and it's surprising that more teams haven't tried to emulate this pattern.

It's infuriating that Schuerholz is so dismissive of a philosophy that, properly understood and deployed, might have made the Braves even better. Schuerholz is quick to crow about his successes, citing the good value he got from Julio Franco and Jaret Wright despite their questionable pedigrees. OK, fine. But he doesn't satisfactorily address the misses. Yes, he touches on the failed chance they took on Raul Mondesi, but the Schuerholz era is littered with bad decisions and contracts, failures that any Moneyballer could have anticipated, including: Rico Brogna, Albie Lopez, Vinny Castilla, Walt Weiss, Mike Hampton, Danny Kolb, B.J. Surhoff, Jose Hernandez, Rey Sanchez, etc.

It all comes back to the concept of opportunity cost. Doling out money and roster spots to mediocrities like those guys takes away resources that could be used on better players. We see that the Braves have won fourteen consecutive division crowns, but what we don't see (and can never know) is how much better they might have been (115 regular season wins? A couple more World Series titles?) with improved strategies, processes, player acquisitions, etc. And the whole point of Moneyball is that you don't have to break the bank to get better players. It just requires taking a chance on unproven talent, trusting your system, and having the courage to see it through rather than taking the safe, uncreative solution of wasting money on "proven" mediocrities.

Under John Schuerholz's stewardship, we'll never know how much better the Braves could be by integrating Moneyball concepts into their team building approach. That Schuerholz seems so hostile to the new thinking, rather than seeking to use it to reassess and complement his own methods, is the real flaw here.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sometimes the Headlines Just Write Themselves

ATF rids Univ. of ninja threat
Published , April 12, 2006, 06:00:01 AM EDT

ATF agents are always on alert for anything suspicious — including ninjas.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm agents, on campus Tuesday for Project Safe Neighborhoods training, detained a “suspicious individual” near the Georgia Center, University Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said.

Jeremiah Ransom, a sophomore from Macon, was leaving a Wesley Foundation pirate vs. ninja event when he was detained.

After being held in investigative detention, he was found to have violated no criminal laws and was not arrested.

Jeremiah Ransom unwittingly serves as a metaphor for the true nature of the relationship between the ATF and American citizens.


Ransom was wearing black sweatpants and an athletic T-shirt with one red bandanna covering the bottom half of his face and another covering the top of his head, Williamson said.

“Seeing someone with something across the face, from a federal standpoint — that’s not right,” McLemore said, explaining why agents believed something to be amiss.

Normally, this is where I would add snarky, outraged commentary. Is it even necessary in this case?

(h/t to

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!

I know, I know: this is a shameless and borderline outrageous act of self-promotion and attention-whoring, but today -- April 12, 2006 -- marks my 33rd birthday and I'm in the mood to celebrate. And, seriously, what better way to celebrate your birthday than by attending Passover seder at Dick and Harry's (yes, those are my actual plans tonight)? Who needs cake? Pass the karpas and the Manischewitz, man. We're partying HARD.

Eh. Anyway, check out the always enlightening Wikipedia for more information about this stellar day. It's how I discovered that the famed American poet Ogden Nash actually composed verse about today's date. The poem is titled, oddly enough, "Lines in Praise of a Date Made Praiseworthy Solely By Something Very Nice That Happened to It:"

Lines in Praise of a Date Made Praiseworthy Solely by Something Very Nice That Happened to It

As through the calendar I delve
I pause to rejoice in April twelve.

Yea, be I in sickness or be I in health
My favorite date is April twealth.

It comes upon us, as a rule,
Eleven days after April fool,

And eighteen days ahead of May Day
When spring is generally in its heyday.

Down in New Mexico the chapparal
Is doing nicely by the twelfth of Apparal,

And Bay State towns such as Lowell and Pepperell
Begin to bloom on the twelfth of Epperell.

But regardless of the matter of weather,
There isn't any question whether.

No, not till the trumpet is blown by Gabriel
Shall we have such a day as the twelfth of Abriel.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Post-Mortem on the 2005-2006 UConn Huskies

Sorry for the lack of updates lately, my lovelies. Time management has never been a strength and I'm still adjusting to my new reality. Anyway...

This should be my last UConn post for awhile. Several people gingerly offered consolation after UConn lost to George Mason in the regional final, and they even remarked on how well I handled it. Of course I was upset but, honestly, much relieved when it was all over. This team labored under intense pressure and scrutiny all season. They were anointed preseason co-favorites (along with Duke) and thus faced an uphill climb just to meet expectations every game.

And the pressure was only intensified by the transitory nature of the roster; with four seniors (Denham Brown, Hilton Armstrong, Rashad Anderson, and Ed Nelson) graduating and three more players (Marcus Williams, Rudy Gay, and Josh Boone) all but certain to leap to the NBA, the season would be judged by two agonizingly polar extremes: national championship or bust. Few teams can thrive under that kind of microscope and the Huskies seemed to sense it as the season progressed.

But what disappointed me was not the loss itself -- it's how they were ironically done in by the strengths they'd relied upon all season (defense, rebounding, and blocks). Here, check out the regular season numbers (30 games) vs. NCAA tournament games (4 games):

--Opponent FG%: regular season 37.3%; tournament 46.1%
--Rebound Margin: regular season +10.5; tournament +2.0
--Blocked Shots: regular season 9.3 per game; tournament 4.5 per game

Now, I realize that four tournament games represent a tiny sample size against (by definition) strong competition, but the numbers do tell a story. UConn's defense failed to execute in the tourney like it did during the regular season. George Mason shot 5 of 6 in overtime -- season over.

I'm disappointed that kids like Denham Brown and Hilton Armstrong ended their careers on such a low note. They won a national championship as sophomores and I hope people remember that as their legacy instead of the stunned #1 seed. They gave us four great years and I'll remember them fondly.

OK, now on to the look ahead. I like the composition of the 2006-2007 roster. They'll look more like a "traditional" UConn team -- a little smaller than recent teams but with better guard play and perimeter shooting. Jeff Adrien, Craig Austrie, and Marcus Johnson return and should be even better after a year of seasoning (although Johnson barely played in the season's second half). A.J. Price should finally take the court after two tumultuous years battling health and legal problems. The recruits look nasty: UConn's 2006 class is consistently ranked among the nation's best by most outlets. The Huskies will be very young but extremely athletic; the talented youngsters could contribute right away and the team might surprise some people.

Already I can't wait for next season!