Beane Goes Back to Basics and the Worshippers Rejoice

In trading Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill for packages of prospects, Billy Beane returns to his roots in accumulating pitchers who rack up strikeouts and hitters who have power and get on base.

History has shown that it works…sometimes.

And it doesn’t work….sometimes.

So the lustful Beane demagoguery starts again as he is somehow shielded from blame for anything that’s gone wrong with the team he put together.

Moneyball is over and it’s been shown to be a farce in theory and practice, yet still survives the eager anticipation (it’s almost Christmas morning—an appropriate time of year) for such indulgences as Beane executes another housecleaning.

The up-and-down results of the prior flurries of deals he made can be glossed over; the reasons as to why he’s doing what he’s currently doing can be formulated and chanted like a mantra—there’s an inability to compete in a loaded division; the A’s have limited attendance due to an antiquated and uninviting stadium; they have to tear it down due the uncertainty of a planned new stadium in San Jose—all make some semblance of sense.

Or they’re convenient excuses for him to be absolved for whatever goes wrong while maintaining the credit for being, as J.P. Ricciardi said in Moneyball, “smarter than the average bear”.

Is he smarter than the average bear?

No.

He’s an average bear.

No more, no less.

The Gonzalez trade might have been made even if the A’s were a good team with realistic aspirations of contention. He has trouble throwing strikes and, as I said in an earlier post, is walking the fine line between being a star and turning into Oliver Perez; he’s about to get a big raise in arbitration; his mechanics are clunky; and his style isn’t conducive to consistency.

The trade of Cahill also yielded an impressive cast of young, cheap players; but what’s the point of even trying anymore when you have a consistent, innings-eating winner who’s signed to a reasonably long-term contract and he’s traded away just “because”?

Beane’s list of floating excuses is vast and overused.

Excuses.

For someone who was portrayed as the master of the bottom-line and cutting through the clutter and nonsense, excuses have become the hallmark of Billy Beane and his tenure as the A’s GM.

While he was on top of the world winning with a minimalist payroll, the annual loss in the playoffs was chalked up to the post-season being a “crapshoot”.

His drafts—said to be the dawn of a new era in which card-counting based on verifiable statistics was going to reinvent the game—were as pedestrian as everyone else’s regardless of the methods they were using to find players.

His treatment of his managers has been capricious and occasionally cruel.

And his reputation among the casual fans or curious onlookers who read the creative non-fiction of the book Moneyball and saw the dramatic license (and utter lies) in the movie has been rejuvenated to again give rise to the concept that he’s a transformative figure in baseball.

All he did was have the nerve to implement the statistical analysis that had been around for years yet hadn’t been utilized to the degree that Beane used them; he did it out of sheer necessity and it worked.

But once the rest of baseball caught up to him, he slithered like a snake into his new role: that of the shrugging and hapless everyman wearing a resigned grin; the poor individual who can’t hope to compete due to the untenable circumstances in every conceivable sense.

It’s a vicious circle.

The same things that are being said now were said when he traded Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Some of those trades worked well for the A’s and some didn’t; but to take this latest array of veteran disposal as a return to the days of yore and glory—when Beane had the Midas touch and his mere gaze caused mountains to crumble at his sheer will—is partaking in a fantasy that his worshippers refuse to let go even if reality casts its ugly shadow again and again.

You can find analysis of the prospects he received from the Nationals and Diamondbacks anywhere, but know the truth before buying into it because it’s been said before.

Repeatedly and inaccurately.

And will be so again.

I guarantee it.

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  1. #1 by Nathan Doyle on December 24, 2011 - 4:16 am

    I agree that Beane has been hit and miss, at best, when it comes to trading away established players for prospects. I’m not sure what you mean when contending that Moneyball theology is a farce. The theory is about looking for inefficiencies in the marketplace. Maybe Beane has been slow to realize those inefficiencies in recent years, but it seemed to work in the time frame of the book. The folly of the book was not in pointing out that those teams were successful due to the trio of pitchers that they had as well.

    • #2 by admin on December 24, 2011 - 1:26 pm

      There’s a misconception that my railing against Moneyball is an old-school rant against the use of stats.
      Such an argument against the numbers is generally presented by those who haven’t the capacity to understand the new metrics nor the desire to even try.
      My problem isn’t with what Beane did to spur Moneyball as a phenomenon, but Michael Lewis’s presentation of how he did it; Beane’s willing participation in the myth; and the media’s continued refusal to admit the truth.
      Everyone’s using each other. Beane’s still got his reputation as a ruthless corporate titan; Lewis is the documenter of the “facts”; the media gets webhits, magazine sales and benefits from writing stories about Beane.
      But is it the work of a “genius” to implement?
      I guess in a way, it is. I see it as more of a decision borne out of opportunity and necessity. He had the numbers in front of him and he was confronted with dire financial circumstances of trying to compete with teams that had 2 1/2 times more funds available than he did; he found a way to beat them with undervalued and inexpensively available puzzle pieces.
      But in the intervening years, his “genius” has come apart because the rest of baseball caught onto what he was doing and began spending heavily on that which he was once able to acquire for a pittance.
      The Moneyball narrative took Beane’s strategy, souped it up and expanded it to make it appear as if he: A) invented it; B) would be able to adapt to any eventuality; C) could do no wrong.
      That’s where the fault lies.
      Card-counting in the draft; everyone who thought differently from Billy is an idiot; demeaning treatment of his managers; outright bullying—all were aspects of Beane’s Moneyball personality that were treated as if they were “facts” to be copied.
      It also helps that there was the neat story of a top-tier amateur who was expected to be a superstar and, for a myriad of reasons, failed; he channeled all of the energy and regret from a lack of success on the field to become a puppetmaster and “star” in a different arena.
      In reality, the book was a case of a writer who saw an opening for himself and twisted the truth to suit what he wanted to convey.
      It worked…briefly. And now that Beane’s trapped in the vacancy of a disinterested fan base, horrible park and declining reputation, he’s still clinging to the worship of the media and the perception of genius that never really existed to begin with.

  2. #3 by Nathan Doyle on December 25, 2011 - 4:56 am

    Again, I don’t disagree with Beane not being a genius. I disagree with the perception that Lewis’s book is all about emphasizing stats over “old-school baseball.” One reason Beane may have fallen down a bit in recent years is the fact that there is no longer as many inefficiencies in the marketplace. Other GM’s caught on. I like Lewis’s book and other than him leaving out any talk of Mulder, Zito and Hudson, he accurately shows how Beane found the kind of cheap, effective players he needed to fill out his ball club. Granted, leaving out talk of those three pitchers is a HUGE misstep by Lewis. I wonder, did Beane even draft those pitchers?

  3. #4 by Nathan Doyle on December 25, 2011 - 5:00 am

    If you implement something before anyone else does, it makes you a “genius.” Kind of. I know it sounds like I’m hedging, and problems with the book abound, but I think Lewis’s thesis is solid and his perception of the events are very well written. A back handed compliment if I’ve ever seen one, now that I think about it!

    • #5 by admin on December 25, 2011 - 1:58 pm

      We can disagree about the book’s premise, but if you were to come to a one sentence conclusion of the overriding theme, it would be “Billy Beane is smarter than everyone because he used numbers that no one else was using.”
      Did that make him “smarter”? Or more desperate? Competitive? Innovative? All of the above?
      Never once in my attempts to cut through the propaganda to the underlying truth have I said that Lewis’s book wasn’t brilliantly written, expertly packaged and salable to a wide-ranging audience—it was. But Lewis had an agenda and a willing participant in Beane to go along with that story; nothing was going to stop him from achieving his ends. If that meant slandering Art Howe; creating a clearly absurd concept of card-counting in the draft; decrying the “subjective” use of scouting eyes in finding players, so be it.
      Mulder and Zito were drafted with Beane as the GM, so by proxy he gets credit for them; but the book goes into great detail of how Beane had taken control of the draft to alter the strategies that weren’t working. This was in 2002. It was in 2001 when Beane famously flung and splintered the wooden chair against the wall when his scouting director selected Jeremy Bonderman.
      Mulder was selected in 1998 with the second pick in the draft six months after Beane took over as full-time GM; Zito was taken in 1999 with the 9th pick.
      Which is it? Was Beane in charge or not?
      Hudson was drafted in 1997 with Sandy Alderson as the GM.
      We can also debate what signifies a “genius”. I suppose implementation can be considered genius; I’ve always seen the act of creating something out of nothing as evidence of genius more than any outward, fleeting appellation stemming from success. Similar to the person who has the gift of photographic memory: does the ability to take a test and mentally thumb through the textbook until finding the correct answer to the questions make one a “genius”? It’s a gift, but not really creating anything; it might as well be an open book test.
      Then we get to the movie. It took the book and twisted it further to make Howe look like a misanthropic and selfish insubordinate and the Athletics team a caricature of, as several reviews suggested, the “island of misfit toys”. Were they? Was there the need to have Barbra Streisand in the background singing “There’s a Place For Us” to augment their status as foundlings and make the drama more pronounced? There were stars on that team with Miguel Tejada, Zito, Hudson, Mulder and Eric Chavez. It wasn’t about Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford.
      There were so many other dramatic licenses taken in both the book and the movie that it can be torn to shreds without much effort for those who are willing to look with a clear eye at what was done, said and suggested and realize that they were being sold a bill of goods to promote Billy Beane.
      Beane is a smart man, but he’s also an opportunist who used his backstory to go from relatively humble beginnings and a lack of education to own a portion of an MLB franchise. He deserves praise for that. But the truth is there for those who want to see it.

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