Monday, March 8, 2010

Moneyball Special----A 2010 Stories To Watch Addendum

  • The final act of Moneyball is upon us:

With all the maudlin whimpering emanating from the stat zombie community of Sandra Bullock's failure to acknowledge Michael Lewis for being the author of the book that the film for which she won Best Acrtress was based----The Blind Side----I'm stunned they haven't come up with a stat to function as "objective analysis" for an actor's performance.

Ostensibly to remove the ambiguity from the voting just as they've "removed" similar variances from the analysis of baseball players (yes, I'm being sarcastic), I could see a way to quantify the way an actor captures his or her character. Something to the tune of "Convincabiliy in Art to Reality Standard" or CARS; maybe "Oscar Rating Based In Transience" or ORBIT.

There has to be a way to remove any and all humanity from another enjoyable and elusive diversion like film and acting.

Speaking of performance art, what could be the final act in the running saga of the "genius" of Billy Beane is upon us.

Either he's going to recover from the last several years of fruitless trades; riding the wave of a bestselling and woefully inaccurate portrayal based on a baseball incompetent's agenda-driven bit of creative non-fiction, or things are going to come apart like a collapsing dictatorship.

I'm betting on the latter.

What stuns me about the way Moneyball has been treated as a still viable way to run a franchise is the way the remaining holdouts continue to move the goalposts via dissection and dismissal of parts that don't fit into the neatness of the story.

As the legion of failures in the "stats only" school-of-thought rises, we're hearing the alterations:

"Moneyball wasn't about on base percentage and new age techniques; it was about undervalued assets."

"The book wasn't meant to be taken literally."

"Beane's true genius is in his personality and willingness to base his decisions on reason, not success or failure on the field."

It sure seemed to me that the book was meant to be taken literally. But maybe my reading comprehension skills are failing me. Then again, as obtuse and resistant as I can be, I can still remember my freshman year of college when I went to see an academic adviser as she pointed from one divergent set of numbers to the other while looking at my permanent record and the first words out of her mouth----in undisguised bewilderment----were:

"Just one question: How does someone with this reading level have these grades?"

I stared at her blankly. I still don't have an answer.

Had the Athletics won a championship; had Beane's record of unobstructed "success" maintained itself, there wouldn't be this twisting and turning to keep the empire intact. They'd be strutting around and pompously singing the praises of the theory that plainly and simply hasn't worked. If anything is evidence of this, it's the failure of Billy Beane, the Athletics and the desperate bomb he's throwing this season with a newfound emphasis on defense and pitching that is going to fail miserably.

Understand that this isn't coming from someone who unloaded on the book at the start with a similar self-preservation in mind.

I bought into it too!!!

For years, I thought the same thing as the many new age unenlightened of the stat zombie set still think----the man must know what he's doing. There has to be some secret formula to what he's doing. He's the Michael Corleone of the baseball world. He's a "genius".

But watching as things fail over-and-over; as the subjective analysis of on-field nightmare rears it's head and demolishes every numerical projection in its path, an awakening occurred. Maybe he didn't have a plan. Maybe he isn't a genius.

Maybe Billy Beane, having lived for so long on the force of his personality; his overconfidence; and the fallacy of that book and making a great living at it without consequences----bulletproof as it were----is at fault for a staggering and stumbling team replete with inexplicable moves. Perhaps the allocation of blame on everyone but himself was a context-switch. Until now, the club has collapsed around him with no consequences to the architect of the disasters.

As for the conceited and smug hand wave of those that dare to think differently in the face of numbers, facts and figures; the oft-repeated: "oh you just don't get it", it's the same thing as saying that those who were against the Iraq war aren't supporting the troops.

It's a simplistic and ridiculous catchphrase to scare those that are thinking in a similar way from speaking out; and individuals with an investment in the belief of such nonsense are clever enough to capitalize on that fear and maintain control with people so dumb that they really think it's accurate.

Michael Lewis covers for his lack of baseball knowledge and that the book was a farce with condescension and power in the publishing industry; with skill at subtly steering the story toward what he wanted to portray; what would make it look as glossy and sacrosanct as possible.

But the foundation is crumbling beneath Moneyball.

Reporters are still afraid to look at the Athletics of 2010----seven years after the book was published----for what they are.

They're in a bastard of a division. They're relying on a bunch of players who can field and not hit; hit and not field; a load of young (and talented) pitching; an oft-injured ace who's being anointed as a guru; and a figurehead of a manager who's going to be sent flying off the hot air balloon of Beane's ego as ballast in a last-ditch effort for the "genius" to survive.

It's coming down.

There's no "wait and see". No "give it a chance". The chances are up. Beane's out of options; out of money; out of capital. Lewis's book----his caveats and the relentless defenders and final holdouts still defending Beane----are finished. Still crediting the book as truth; still saying Paul DePodesta, Sandy Alderson actually knew what they were doing as they took Moneyball and stat-based theories to its logical and ravaged conclusion; and attacking those that disagree with them isn't working anymore.

Could Beane again hit the lottery with the Athletics of 2010? If Ben Sheets is healthy; if the young pitching matures; if the defense-oriented strategy works; if the Angels stumble; if the Mariners don't hit or pitch; if the Rangers take a step back on their innocent climb, yes, it's possible that Beane will once again avoid paying for his complicity in the tale.

But he won't.

It's crashing down.

It's coming apart.

The story to watch isn't whether or not it's going to happen; the story is how quickly it spirals; and how Beane's exit from Oakland will be orchestrated for him to save face. A face that is no longer salvageable to those that understand the truth. The truth that the book was a hackneyed lie whose fate is at hand. It won't be a pretty sight. Nor should it be.

I can watch without flinching.

Can you?

Can they?

  • Has Scott Boras tried this?

There was an article in yesterday's NY Times about Scientology and a couple's winding and booby-trap laden road in leaving the church----link.

I'm not venturing any opinion about this stuff one way or the other. I doubt they'd want anything to do with me anyway. A brief story about my one brush with Scientologists was when I was in the seaside town of Brighton, England a few years ago. I was wandering around the town center and a young woman holding a clipboard stopped me and asked if she could ask me a few questions.

Why not?

After the perfunctory bit, she asked me if I was unhappy or if there was anything about myself I'd like to change. I thought about it for a minute and said, "Well, I kinda think I'm pretty much perfect the way I am."

She stared at me.

When she didn't say anything I walked away. I don't think they'd know what to do with me.

Anyway, the snippet in the article that caught my eye was the following:

They signed a contract for a billion years — in keeping with the church’s belief that Scientologists are immortal.

While it sounds insane, think about it. What could Scott Boras do with something like this?

You think a 10-year-contract is enough to get Alex Rodriguez? 8-years for Mark Teixeira? 7-years for Matt Holliday? Whatever he demanded for Johnny Damon? How about this: "My client is a Scientologist and he wants a billion-year contract."

Man, I'd love to write that. Just once: BLANK signed a billion-year contract.

He'd have a book of accomplishments; a list of reasons why it was in a club's best interest to agree to such terms as they'll be paying him for his services slightly longer than his shelf-life would dictate.

Is it really that far-fetched? Famously, the late football star Reggie White said that God told him to sign with the Green Bay Packers. Why wouldn't someone like Boras take it further and use it to his advantage for his clients? And believe me when I tell you, they'd convert to Scientology for a billion year contract. In a second.

  • Viewer Mail 3.8.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She Fan writes RE the Blue Jays:

When you said the Jays needed a new manager, I was sure you were about to suggest Bobby Valentine. But then I read the word "young." Guess that rules him out.

Now that you mention it, Valentine would be a good fit for the Blue Jays but the Rays can be scotch-taped together much faster for a playoff run with the right manager who's going to get things in line over there. I was stunned that Valentine was even interested in the rebuilding projects in Washington and Cleveland, but he desperately wants to manage, so it looks like he'll consider anything.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Suzyn Waldman:

The first time I ever heard Waldman do a broadcast I made an emergency visit to my ears, nose & throat doc cuz I thought my ears were bleeding from every angle.

Therefore, all that comes out of her mouth is like poison to me. I disregard it.

"It didn't affect me none at all in any somesuch way of any infigh adsndna cbass,v mff,... 1##WAFSFASSFAS22@@ 4q3rn..... "

I have about 5 ex-girlfriends who say the same thing about me.

This is an invitation to the greatest link ever of Suzyn Waldman. I am of course referring to the Roger Clemens bloviation from 2007. It...does....not....get....any....better....than....THIS:

Regarding the women stuff, I can only say: "Can't live with 'em----they all wanna kill me".

And what makes it worse is that it's not because of anything I do intentionally. It just is.


Gabriel said...

This just in: the A's have signed Willy Taveras for a hundred-thousand years, hundred-thousand million dollars contract. Billy Beane says he's laying a good foundation and that as a veteran, Taveras will be able to teach the youngsters how to field properly.

On a serious note, who would you hire to manage the Blue Jays? I'd want someone to be what Scoscia is for the Angels, someone that grows with the team and makes them overall better. But I can't think of anyone from the top of my head.

She-Fan said...

Maybe the Jays will hire Mattingly since Torre has decided to stick around with the Dodgers.

Jeff said...

That Waldman clip you posted here is my Kryptonite. Nooooooooooooooo!

And yeah, it's best to leave the Scientologists to their own bag of crazy, billion year contract or not. Hahaha!

Anonymous said...

As the legion of failures in the "stats only" school-of-thought rises, we're hearing the alterations:

"Moneyball wasn't about on base percentage and new age techniques; it was about undervalued assets."

What? That's not an "alteration". That's what the book was about, and it was clear in that regard.

OBP is no longer undervalued; teams use it as a matter of course now, and therefore it's no longer nearly as accessible to teams lacking funds.

Why you seem to think that OBP becoming a mainstream concept implies that Moneyball was a "lie" is genuinely beyond me; not only is OBP not what Moneyball was really about, but also to the degree that it was incidentally about OBP, it has obviously been proven as true.

Am I being trolled here or something? Seriously, this just comes off as inanity wrapped in a few hundred words.

Anonymous said...

Dude: "Moneyball" has won. Get over it.

Greg Andrew said...

You never actually read Moneyball, did you?

And while Beane's certainly made some mistakes, my guess is that he he'll be the Oakland GM as long as he wants to be. Given the fact that his family is older and more able to move, and the reality that the Oakland franchise has the worst long-term stadium situation of any team in the majors (with the possible exception of TB), Beane may finally choose to move on. I'm sure he'll have no shortage of offers from other clubs, though he'll also have opportunities outside of baseball if he wants to pursue them.

I'm still kind of astonished at how much success Moneyball has had in spreading its message. After decades of inch-by-inch progress, Moneyball moved mountains.

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable article even though I strongly disagree with your basic premise. Beane prospered when he had the statistical advantage but now the A's have little chance. Teams with both money and stats are going to beat teams without both. Boston for example did very well recently but only after bringing in Bill James the absolute king of stat geeks. And the Yankee's ultimately purchased enough talent to win again. Oakland is still fun to watch because they still find outliers, but since they lack money and because everyone else is now using stats they just can't compete. That's the true lesson of Moneyball. If everyone can identify talent, only those with money enough to buy it will win.