Billy Beane As Doctor Doom

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It’s amazing how Billy Beane’s “genius” fluctuates based the Athletics’ record. While the A’s were consistently losing despite his best efforts at being a “genius” from 2007 through half of 2012, there weren’t many lusty articles, stories, poems or manuals written as to his management style. His followers were lying in wait for the opportunity to restart their version of the Crusades and they got it with the unlikely, almost inexplicable comeback from 13 games out of first place on June 30 to win the AL West.

With the combination of the early 2012 release of the movie version of Moneyball and the A’s comeback, he’d reacquired the title of “smarter than the average bear” or whatever other adjectives his supporters and those who benefit from the perception of “genius” want to use. Of course there was no connection between Moneyball and how the 2012 A’s were built, but that doesn’t matter when appealing to the casual baseball fan—some of whom decided, “Hey, I went to Harvard. Even though I never watched or played baseball, it’ll be a fun thing to do!!”—and actually managed to get jobs in the game as the new era of “experts” who came late to the revolution.

The 2013 A’s are under .500 after losing to the Mariners yesterday and without their 6-0 record against the historically dreadful Astros (Bo Porter does know the rules regarding wins and losses, right?) and 5-1 record against the staggering Angels, they’re 8-19 against the rest of baseball. Will the “genius” mysteriously return if and when the A’s start winning again?

Beane, a fan of English Premier League soccer/football, said in an NBC Sports piece with fellow stat-savvy writer Joe Posnanski that he’d like baseball to adopt a system similar to the one used in the Premier League in which the team with the best record gets the title. It’s a idiotic idea for baseball based on the fantasy of accruing that ever-elusive championship that he’s yet to achieve in spite of the best efforts of his biographers, mythmakers, and “check your brain at the door” worshippers, but why not? Truth was twisted at Billy’s and Michael Lewis’s combined mighty hands, maybe they can alter the fabric of what’s made baseball what it is today and eliminate the post-season entirely to suit the flesh and blood Billy and the fictional “Billy.”

When he uses the term “gauntlet of randomness” he sounds like Doctor Doom who, in Marvel Comics, is a power-hungry megalomaniac who speaks as if he’s narrating his own life because he is narrating his own life and referring to himself in the third person said, “Every utterance of Doom must be preserved for posterity.”

Maybe it’s because the public version of Beane is a fictional character whose exploits are neither realistic nor real. Those who took Moneyball and transformed it into the stat geek’s New Testament treat is as a basis upon which to live their baseball lives and consider any who protest to be infidels to the new order. Except it’s just a story.

The comic book character analogy is appropriate because Beane uses whatever the situation currently is to determine how he’ll present himself. The A’s were losing, so he became the everyman who was just trying to make his way in the world. They started winning again with a supernatural timing to coincide with the movie being released on DVD and he’s able to turn water into wine, stone into bread, and Brandon Moss into Jason Giambi. There seems to be the impression that Beane was sitting in his darkened office late at night in May of 2012 with his fingers tented and an evil laugh slowly building from his diaphragm on up and in a Dracula voice saying, “Mwaahahhaaa!!! De vorld iz ah-sleep. Ven dey leest expect it, I vill unleash de terrrifyink weh-pohn ov….Brrrrandon Mossss!!! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”

Except the longtime journeyman Moss was in the minor leagues for the first two months of the season while the A’s messed around with Kila Ka’aihue and Daric Barton at first base. If Moss was such a known contributor, why was Beane hiding him while the team was floundering? No answer is given because the answer doesn’t suit the narrative, so the question is ignored but for the results: Moss has played great as an Athletic, therefore Beane is a genius for “discovering” him.

The 2013 A’s are struggling because as a team they’re not hitting home runs with the frequency they did in 2012 in large part because Josh Reddick—32 last season, has one this season and is now hurt. The 2013 A’s are struggling because the starting pitching was very good last season and hasn’t been good this season. You want math? Here’s the math: 12th in home runs and 12th in ERA=one game under .500 in 2013; 6th in home runs and 2nd in ERA=a division title and the GM being called a “genius” in 2012.

The A’s may have a similar second half hot streak as they did in 2012 (and 2002 and 2003 for that matter), but there’s no connection between that and any mystical foresight on the part of the GM. They had a lot of high draft picks, traded for other clubs’ high draft picks, found players who fit certain roles, and they got lucky. If they make a movie about that however, expect it to be more of the same Lewis Moneyball nonsense with the only thing salvaging it is to put Beane in a Doctor Doom costume and having the Fantastic Four put an end to its production before the world is engulfed by the terrifying wrath of the dramatization that people who know nothing about baseball or reality think is all too real.

Thingclobberintime

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Viewer Mail 3.11.2011

Books, Management, Players, Spring Training

Norm writes RE Moneyball and stat guys:

I have to support Paul here. The reason Billy Beane is his white whale or even bete noire is simple: the Moneyball sabermetric fans are taking over the sports business.

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While I realize the dorks admit their stats are imperfect and are contantly trying to revise them, until they do develop the perfect stats, they should advance their cause with some humility. They should stop with the Joe Posnanski/Bill James shtick of ‘you thought the answer was A. Actually, the answer is B! Haha, you cretin!”
What it comes down to is this: if you were a team owner, would you trust a good squad of scouts to blanket a league and rate players, or would you save the money on scouts and just use ‘advanced analytics’ as they are currently presented?

And would you give Billy Beane any deference? In a post steroid world, where he cannot field an offence of slow white guys taking walks in front of juicehead sluggers?

Norm’s comment is exemplified in the visceral reaction to the new book that supposedly “blows the lid” off Moneyball. Such was the case with this snide posting from Rob Neyer in his new home on SBNation.

Neyer’s “best” shot?

“Anyway, I think I ordered this book months ago. Should be a hoot.”

Then, getting to the comments, you see the same reactionary, internet tough guy stuff that is always a hallmark of the last guy you want at your back in a dark alley. It’s weak and pathetic.

How about a cogent argument against their hypothesis without the snark?

Here’s a suggestion: read the book and come up with a detailed response rather than a vicious, mouthy retort based on something you haven’t read.

If Joe (Statmagician) ever contributed anything to this site, it was pointing out my constant harping on the phrase “stat zombie” creating an atmosphere of tension in which my own statements were secondary to my balled fists.

Calling names does no one any good.

Regarding that book “exposing” Moneyball, I doubt it’s of any use. There is a way to tear into Moneyball as it stands and it has nothing to do with disproving what Michael Lewis crafted, but taking the book and using it to destroy it in a calm, cannibalistic, point-by-point fashion.

Turn the tables and use Lewis’s own weapon to destroy Moneyball.

The men who wrote that new book can’t do it.

But I can.

And will.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE me, Billy Beane and Moneyball:

I hope you know that nothing about my comment was meant to be taken seriously. Except for the bit about the white whale.

In what way hasn’t Billy Beane already failed? He’s still a GM, sure, but he’s never fielded a WS team and most of his time in office has been dominated by the Angels.

If I’m waiting for Beane to fail, I’ve been waiting too long.

I know you were kidding; people think I’m obsessed and I’m not; I’m trying to teach the same people who feel as if Moneyball allowed them to proclaim themselves as experts that there’s a true path to learning the game properly and it’s not through the eyes of a Michael Lewis, a man with an agenda and the writing skills to subtly twist the narrative in the direction he wanted it to go.

The other issue with Beane and the hardcore “stats above all else” advocates is that there’s always an excuse for the failure. Nothing is more idiotic than the “playoffs are a crapshoot” nonsense; it’s close, but not quite, on a level with the “card-counting in the draft”.

Only through me can you achieve a power great enough to learn the true nature of the Dark Side…

Joe (Dagodfather on Twitter) writes RE Zack Greinke:

I got good news for you. There IS a clause in a standard player’s contract that says that they are not allowed to participate in any activity where they can reasonably be injured that’s not associated with preparing for their game. The problem is can playing basketball be considered “preparing for their game”? I know that may sound strange but it’s a great cardio workout and helps with agility, leaping, and going side-to-side. It also helps keep up their natural competitive nature without doing anything illegal.

I’m aware of the contractual stipulation, Joe.

I doubt any team—barring a catastrophic injury—will give a player a hard time about playing basketball in the off-season.

A) there’s no way to stop them; B) they’re elite athletes who can handle an intense pickup basketball game; and C) it’s not a dangerous activity.

Greinke was unlucky. If I were paying him, I’d prefer he refrained from doing it, but it’s better than other trouble players tend to get into in the off-season.

My main thrust in the posting was that there’s an overreaction to a chance injury. Because it was Greinke and not a nondescript middle reliever, the club shrugged it off because they can’t do anything else.

One such overreaction came on MLB Trade Rumors in this posting.

First it’s straight reporting as to what the Rangers would’ve had to surrender to get Greinke; then there’s this:

“Now that Greinke has a cracked rib, the Rangers are probably glad they held onto their players.”

Where’s the connection?

I could see if he blew out his elbow pitching or had a recurrence of his off-field depression issues from early in his career; but because he cracked a rib playing hoops the Rangers are more pleased they didn’t gut their system to get Greinke?

They rejected a deal based on the price; the player was injured in an off-field incident that might not have happened had the trade been to the Rangers and not the Brewers. It’s a Terminator-style alternate reality, but maybe Greinke would’ve had a Rangers-related activity on the day he played basketball; perhaps he’d have been house-hunting in Texas; or whatever.

It’s a stupid assumption that the Rangers are “relieved” because of an accident.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Zack Greinke:

Put that way, I guess the teams don’t have much of a say in what their players do in the offseason. I recall (Ken Griffey Jr.) getting hurt “playing with his kids”… they certainly can’t ban that.

It’s all in context and depends on the player, his salary and value to the team. Greinke gets the vanilla reaction from the GM; if it was Wil Nieves, he gets released.

Joe (Statmagician) writes RE Moneyball:

Have you seen the movie ‘Pi?’ Moneyball is your “Pi,” Paul.

Pi, Darren Aronofsky’s first full-length film made on a shoestring budget in black and white—great movie.

You neglect to mention that the protagonist happened to be right in his attempts at exposing the truth.

Just like me with Moneyball.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon.


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Under The Radar, Available And Cheap

Hot Stove
  • I think they might be useful:

For all the “name” free agents available, there are many players who are picked up off the scrapheap as an afterthought only to serve a great purpose to a club in one way or the other. It might be on the field; it might be in the clubhouse; or it could be as trade bait late in the season.

Let’s take a look at some free agents I see as useful.

Josh Banks, RHP

No his numbers aren’t impressive and he throws an absurd eight different pitches, but if he’s told—not asked, told—to cut down on that vast array of mediocrity and limited to the stuff that works, then he can be effective.

The more pitches a pitcher thinks he can throw, the less stuff he has. I know this because when I used to pitch (don’t ask), I had a similar arsenal; the only ones that were of any use were my curve and changeup, but you couldn’t tell me that then—I used to be difficult if you can believe that.

Certain pitchers have been able to throw that number of pitches. John Smoltz couldn’t wait to break out his knuckleball; but Smoltz was one of the most egotistical pitchers you could ever encounter; he had reason to be, Josh Banks doesn’t. And you can bet at crunch time, Smoltz wasn’t throwing a knuckleball.

As a cheap pickup for bullpen help, why not have a look at Banks?

Jorge Cantu, INF

Cantu’s one of those “oh him” players who has drastic peaks and valleys in his career, but always resurfaces someplace to rejuvenate his career. He was dumped by the Rays and Reds and ended up with the Marlins as a minor league free agent and pounded out a load of extra base hits.

Cantu was atrocious for the Rangers after a mid-season trade, but if he’s given a chance to play, he’ll pop 50 extra base hits. He’s not a great fielder, but he can play first, second or third adequately enough; he won’t cost a lot of money either, so if he’s not hitting, there won’t be a reluctance to bench him because of money.

Tim Byrdak, LHP

Byrdak is a veteran lefty who has been effective as a specialist for years. While many teams are looking at the annual floating lefty like Joe Beimel, Byrdak might be cheaper and would be at least as good.

Justin Miller, RHP

When he’s healthy, Miller gets people out with his slider. His strikeout numbers with the Dodgers in 2010 were very good (30 in 24 innings) and while his control is historically mediocre, he threw strikes last season.

Willie Harris, OF

Perhaps I’m having flashbacks (post-traumatic stress?) to the way Harris always seemed to torment the Mets with a big hit or sparkling defensive play in the outfield, but he has three attributes that should make Harris attractive to a contending team: he can run, he can catch the ball in the outfield and he walks.

I’d think the Phillies might have interest in Harris as a defensive replacement for Raul Ibanez. And to torture the Mets.

Micah Owings, RHP

I have a problem letting go of things that I see as salvageable.

Owings is one such thing.

Maybe it’s that he’s hypnotizing me with his ability to hit, but maybe it’s what he’s shown on the mound. To me, Owings is still a pitcher who might fulfill his potential as a pitcher and if he doesn’t, he can still be an extra bat.

Given the way certain players have been “foundlings”—R.A. Dickey, Colby Lewis—from whom teams have gotten surprising and cheap production, there’s nothing to lose from looking at a player based on availability and a roll of the dice to see what they come up with; they might even unpolish a gem.

  • Subterfuge?

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is implying that his text messages with Andy Pettitte give him the sense that the lefty is leaning toward retirement—ESPN Story.

Is this accurate? Or it is two players commiserating to make more money for the group and stick it to the team?

The Yankees need Pettitte. He knows it and they know it. Pettitte was unhappy with the way the team played hardball in the contract negotiations last year and he might be using this as a lever to extract more money in a new deal.

Amid all the accolades doled on the “Core Four” of Yankees championship players for being classy, it’s been something of a rocky road as they age. Derek Jeter‘s free agency sullied both him and the team; Mariano Rivera flirted with the Red Sox (the Red Sox!!!); Jorge Posada has been basically told, “you’re going to DH and like it”; and Pettitte is vacillating on pitching again.

I don’t see Pettitte retiring. Players know when they’re done and Mike Mussina exemplified this when he hung it up after a 20-win season knowing the team wanted him back. Pettitte’s not going to know what to do with himself if he doesn’t play; and he can still pitch.

It’s not unheard of for players to join together in such schemes to plant nuggets into the public consciousness to craft a “wag the dog” style scenario against their bosses.

Like Jeter, Pettitte is no angel; he’s not above using circumstances to his advantage. Whether or not he’s doing that now is unknown, but don’t think he’s above it, because he’s not.

  • Viewer Mail 12.29.2010:

Matt writes RE the Yankees:

It suddenly occurs to me that Carl Pavano is a perfect fit for the Yankees right now. They desperately need that reliable, veteran strike-thrower in their rotation and the 2 year strong money contract Pavano will require fits nicely into their window of contention with their current group. How ironic.

God that would be funny, but I think they’d sign Jose Canseco as a pitcher before they went to Pavano.

Mike Fierman writes RE Brandon Webb:

I understand the rangers felt like they had to do something and I get it that Webb is someone with such a well of talent that you go ahead and take a chance on him. What I don’t get, especially for a team with a 50 mill+ payroll is how you can allocate a guaranteed 3 million to this guy. if that deal was such a no-brainer then how come richer teams like the Yankees give him a MLB contract?

That’s what I was wondering. I had Webb pegged for the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies. From the reports that have been circulating, his injury is ominous for a return to form. And Webb wasn’t a good pitcher, he was a great pitcher.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jorge Posada:

You really think the Yankees have treated Posada shabbily? He got paid handsomely with his last contract. Now he’s an aging catcher with diminished skills. I love him but I don’t want to see him behind the plate for every game anymore.

I think they’ve disrespected him. Money is beside the point. Was it necessary to blame Posada for the struggles of A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain?

He was good enough to catch Roger Clemens, Pettitte, David Wells and Mike Mussina, but A.J. Burnett has the audacity to complain about Posada? And don’t get me started about Chamberlain—I’d have let Posada beat him until he fell into line.

The issues between pitchers and the catcher should never have gotten into the papers; in fact, they should’ve been handled by the manager who was a former catcher for those same pitchers on the championship teams, Joe Girardi.

His skills are diminishing and obviously at his age, he can’t catch 120 games anymore, but that has little to do with calling a game. Posada’s not innocent here—he’s hard-headed to a fault—but they’re not treating him right.

Matt Minor writes via Email RE Ichiro:

paul, i was reading through joe posnanski’s archives and came across this. I think you’ll love it.

http://joeposnanski.blogspot.com/2010/09/nolan-and-ichiro.html

Thanks for the link.

Ah, Ichiro.

Here’s what I don’t get: I was attacked for saying Ichiro wasn’t as great a hitter as some suggest; for saying that he has the bat control to hit for more power if he chooses to and that his relentless pursuit of singles is a selfish endeavor to accumulate numbers rather than help the team win.

Posnanski caveats his accurate assertion that Ichiro isn’t a top tier offensive player by saying: “What I do think is that Ichiro Suzuki is one of most dazzling and unforgettable hitters I’ve ever seen. I get a jolt every time I see him step to the plate.”

Does Posnanski really think this? He wrote it, so I would assume he does. I don’t find Ichiro’s hitting all that engaging. I have little interest in watching him slap singles between third and short and he plays for an atrocious team in large part because of Ichiro’s style of hitting singles while having no one behind him to drive him in. It’s a vicious circle.

I’ve said this for years: Ichiro is overrated because his talents are misused—not due to the interpretation of his value by others.

Browsing through the comments to Posnanski’s posting, I was struck by the absence of vitriol as if they’re afraid to disagree. No one had an issue coming at me when I unloaded—accurately—on Ichiro a few months ago, but they had legitimate reason to be frightened when I retorted because I have no compunction about blasting back with no thought to collateral damage.

Let’s see if anyone comes back at me now.

Let’s….see….