CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Goin... (07/27)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday T... (07/27)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday T... (08/03)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Changing Speeds: A Fox... (07/28)

July 27, 2009

Future Shock


by Kevin Goldstein

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.

a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Six years after its publication, it's understandable that Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane is a little perplexed with the fact that people still want to talk about Moneyball. "I think there's been a broadly held misconception that the ideas put forward in Moneyball were a permanent template as to how we'd do business," said Beane during an interview on Friday. "But, it's really just a snapshot in a moment of time."

That much is clear when one looks at how the A's operated early in the decade as compared to now. There were lessons learned from Moneyball, and the A's have made adjustments. While the book helped make Beane a cult hero among more statistically-minded baseball fans, if anything, even his legion of followers have been forced to subsequently adjust their thinking when it comes to the value of judging everything by numbers alone. "A lot of people assumed that we'd be spending less on player development and scouting," commented Beane. "In reality, we've spent more, and we've hired more scouts."

To stick to the business metaphors so often used in Moneyball, if there's one thing the A's have done since those days, it's been to diversify their portfolio. That diversification has begun with the draft. The so-called "Moneyball Draft" of 2002 had the A's selecting seven times within the first 39 picks, and with each of those picks, Oakland selected what scouts often refer to as a polished college player; that year, they didn't take a high school talent until the 18th round. From among those college players, the A's selected three players who are big-league regulars today (Nick Swisher, Mark Teahen, and John Baker), as well as one quality starting pitcher in Joe Blanton. However, for the most part the selection of those players all had support from the scouting side of things as well. It's the players who had big numbers in college (particularly in the on-base department), but didn't have glowing scouting reports that were the most controversial of selections, and where some lessons were learned. Alabama catcher Jeremy Brown, one of the players focused on in the book, wound up playing in just five big-league games. Notre Dame outfielder Steve Stanley and University of Pittsburgh first baseman Brant Colamarino-of whom AGM Paul DePodesta said, "might be the best hitter in the country"-both fizzled out in the minors.

The internet-driven Cult of Beane would once mock those selecting high-risk high school players during that time, but slowly those players have moved up on Oakland's draft board. By 2006, when the team used its top high school selection not just on a high school player but even more riskily upon a high school pitcher (current big-league rookie Trevor Cahill), Beane supporters adjusted their thoughts, claiming the exposure of a new market inefficiency.

In reality, the A's simply adjusted their philosophies. Speaking of his list of top 20 players in 2002 draft from Moneyball, Beane says, "That list would look very different today," while adding, "Each year our draft board ends up looking a lot more like the draft goes, and that wasn't the case ten years ago."

According to Beane, one reason for that is the fact of the information age itself, as the amount of detail available on each player has increased significantly with the growth of the internet. "If you think about it, Baseball America was the first to do it," explained Beane. "They'd list their Top 200 draft prospects, and it was one list and you wouldn't always agree with it. Now you add ESPN and Baseball Prospectus to the mix, and you have a wisdom of the crowds, and more and more information. When you publish your Top 50 pre-draft players at Baseball Prospectus, you have your own opinion and biases, but you've also surveyed a diverse group of people that have seen these players a number of times. So there's more and more information out there and while we are still making high-dollar decisions with little information, it's become much less of a crapshoot now."

A second factor in the A's willingness to take so-called "high-risk" high school players is that with today's industry-wide focus on scouting and player development, Beane simply doesn't see them as the risk they once were, but more for reasons that have little to do with the talent itself. "Things have changed significantly for young players versus when I came out," explained Beane, himself a first-round pick out of a San Diego high school in 1980. "So much of the failure rate is tied to things off the field, but now so many of these kids have played on travel clubs, traveled internationally, maybe even played on television-they're much more prepared then they once were for professional baseball."

The other aspect of player procurement, the international market, is another place where according to Beane the A's have changed significantly since the days of Moneyball, or more accurately, it's one where they've returned to previous form. "We were very busy in Latin America in the 1990s, and we had a lot of success there, signing guys like Miguel Tejada and Ramon Hernandez," said Beane, "But then we spent the last decade spending very little money there, getting passed by, and ignoring a market that was once very good to us."

Last year the A's responded by not only building a new, state-of-the-art complex in the Domincan Republic, but also by signing right-hander Michael Ynoa to a historic bonus, and following that with more significant signings this summer.

Ultimately, if there's been any one major change for Beane, it's been that so many teams have followed his lead, not adopting a purely analytical approach, but simply adding that as one piece to their own player-development puzzle. "Being a general manager today is far more difficult than it was ten years ago," said Beane. "You have lots of really smart guys running clubs, and then they're all surrounded by more smart guys," he explained, while showing that once again, the information age has changed the way baseball teams are run. "Look at Baseball Prospectus for example," he said. "Ten years ago, you were this rogue publication with numbers people didn't understand, and now look at where you are-you're mainstream."

And with the way things are going, with so many teams having learned the lessons of Moneyball and adapted, a much larger part of the game is taking a more intellectual approach to baseball, and that's making his job that much tougher. "I won't be able to apply for this job ten years from now," Beane jokes.  "And that's a good thing."

While Beane's inconoclastic style has come under some fire as the big-league team is on pace for its third straight sub-.500 season, Beane insists that optimism still rules the day in Oakland. It should be, as recent drafts and series of trades have given the organization one of, if not the most impressive collections of young talent in the game.

"The idea that any sports franchise is going to win all of the time... I just haven't seen that one," said Beane. "We knew we'd have to tear down and build things up again; it's the only way to do it. To sustain success we have to create things organically, and everything we are doing is geared towards trying to create something that will last. When you hit bottom, you want to bounce, not hit with a thud and stick there."

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


Thanks for the article, although I would have liked to see some more detail on how player development has changed the Billy Beane's attitude. Players are just more used to being famous? It seems like there is also a big change in how pitcher workloads are viewed, and that there is in general more support for treating players like high-value investments, instead of as substitutable commodities. I would have liked to see more on that aspect, but I appreciate your hard work.

Jul 27, 2009 15:30 PM
rating: 0

I think the "Player development" and the comment about "being famous" were only related in that they applied to High School draftees. The "Player development" was not elaborated on at all. I take it to mean that there is more of a focus on working with these kids to develop on the field as well as emotionally maturing them in the minors, both of which are more common now than it used to be. You don't have players just being sent to minor league teams with only their manager and some young coaches to help them. You have roving instructors and an entire player development department to help them along.

Jul 27, 2009 16:13 PM
rating: 1

I wish BP could be mainstream, but it never will be. 80% of Americans are incapable of grasping, much less applying, concepts such as VORP, WARP, etc.; and that percentage is only going to grow over time.

Jul 27, 2009 16:09 PM
rating: 0

I know plenty of people who could easily handle statistics like that. But they can't get over the talk-radio mindset of homerism, so-and-so just needs some playing time, Mr. 5th Outfielder just hasn't been given a chance, etc. etc. etc.

It's not just grasping the statistics, it's overcoming 100 years of sportswriting.

Jul 27, 2009 17:02 PM
rating: 5
Jason Wojciechowski

I agree that it's not about grasp. You don't have to understand how they're derived to understand what they mean. What you do have to do is be open-minded enough to believe in their utility over the traditional stats.

Jul 27, 2009 17:43 PM
rating: 6
Richard Bergstrom

Well, that's the issue with any statistic, number or fact. Understanding a fact is easier than properly and correctly applying that fact.

Jul 27, 2009 18:21 PM
rating: 0

Why are people blasting this person's opinion? I know many Ph.D.s in science who can not grasp WARP, VORP, etc. I discuss baseball with researchers who use math well beyond anything found in BP and who think that Joe Morgan is an oracle.

Learning terms like VORP requires time and effort and for many of us, baseball is entertainment. Making knee-jerk simplistic Rome-anian comments are so much easier.

Jul 27, 2009 19:27 PM
rating: 5

Understanding OPS, VORP, and WARP requires a paradigm shift within the public mindset about what's important to scoring/preventing runs, and therefore winning.

I remember sitting at a game with a friend of mine about seven years ago, when explained OPS to me. In less than thirty seconds, my understanding of baseball was forever changed. A few weeks ago, I went to a game at Citi Field and overheard two guys behind me having the exact same conversation. OPS is shown on the Citi scoreboard along with the traditional stats, so I expect that conversation has taken place many times in those seats.

I think we have passed the tipping point. AVG/HR/RBI may always be the triple crown stats, but OBP/SLG/OPS is going to be understood as the more important slash-stats to winning. There is already a substantial minority of baseball fans who have been exposed to these ideas through Rob Neyer and others, including all the contributors to BP.

Jul 28, 2009 08:17 AM
rating: 2
Richard Bergstrom

While you have a point, keep in mind that the general public have absorbed new concepts and statistics. Senior citizens use the Internet, people read about Ponzi schemes and toxic debt. Education, a normally stodgy institution, adapted to the No Child Left Behind Act. Any homeowner is now familiar with Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM), Debt to Income and Loan to Value ratios.

Besides, it's not like OBP/SLG/OPS/VORP/WARP are perfect metrics yet either. Just over the last year, VORP was recalibrated. I imagine there are some metrics that I don't know about that would make me feel like a dinosaur for mentioning OPS.

The point is, the general public does adapt and learn.. and chances are, when they learn some of what we consider as second-nature, there'll be new metrics that we'll be surprised that they don't know about...

Jul 28, 2009 17:58 PM
rating: 0

I agree that OPS is pretty easy to explain, however, if you think about it, OPS makes no sense. OPS is the addition of apples with oranges. There is no direct line between it and the rate of run production - it is used only for the purposes of correlation with offensive performance. (I believe 1.2 OBP + SLG is more highly correlated.)

Funny, the public often can accept it, but my friend, who performs math circles around me, thinks it is stupid.

Jul 30, 2009 19:52 PM
rating: 0
Adam Madison

Iconoclastic, not inconoclastic. I say this because I hadn't heard of the word and looked it up to see what it meant, only to realize that it was spelled wrong.

Jul 27, 2009 22:00 PM
rating: 0

The brilliance of the book was that Lewis and Beane both saw the the business of baseball for what it is: a matter of efficiency. Critics focused on the relative failure of Jeremy Brown (as if making the major leagues constitutes failure), without recognizing Beane's signature accomplishment simply was to take advantage of all the available start-of-the-art tools that otherwise went ignored by his peers.

Years ago, I recall writers feting Tony LaRussa for bringing a computer into the lockerroom, but really, what did that mean? That he could learn Jose Canseco had driven in 14 runs against Tom Candiotti? Alderson, Beane and their disciples took analysis and application to a much more useful level.

My take is many old- and not-so-old timers don't recognize (or don't want to recognize) this not because they can't grasp it, but because the thought is too unsettling to everything they've previously learned. Instead, it's "Earl Weaver never applied calculus to baseball and look where he got." What's disappointing is that the same group of Luddites fail to see that what made managers like Weaver so successful was his elegant application of the concepts statisticians now take for granted as smart baseball.

Jul 28, 2009 05:26 AM
rating: 4
Richard Bergstrom

Eh, I'm not sure unsettling is the right word. People are creatures of habit and are more likely to do something the way they learned it when they were younger, then adapt to some new way.

Jul 28, 2009 07:13 AM
rating: -3

Between this and Howard Bryant's excellent Beane column on ESPN.com yesterday, this was a big week for Beane profiles.

Jul 28, 2009 09:21 AM
rating: 0

Bryant's piece made me cranky. I like Kevin's less grudge-minded take.

Jul 28, 2009 12:53 PM
rating: 0
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Goin... (07/27)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday T... (07/27)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday T... (08/03)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Changing Speeds: A Fox... (07/28)

Premium Article Rubbing Mud: The Quarter-Season Odds Report
West Coast By Us: Day 2: Taco the Town
Going Yard: The Near Perfection of Pederson
West Coast By Us: Day 3: Nice
BP Boston
West Coast By Us: Day 4: There Are Two L's I...
BP Bronx

Premium Article Prospectus Today: Going For It
Premium Article Transaction Action: Senior Shuffling
Premium Article Under The Knife: Metastrophe?
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday Ten Pack
Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Aces and Attendance
The Week in Quotes: July 20-26

2009-07-30 - Premium Article Future Shock Blog: July 30
2009-07-29 - Premium Article Future Shock Blog: July 28
2009-07-28 - Premium Article Future Shock Blog: July 28
2009-07-27 - Premium Article Future Shock: Beaneball
2009-07-27 - Premium Article Future Shock: Monday Ten Pack
2009-07-27 - Premium Article Future Shock Blog: July 27
2009-07-24 - Premium Article Future Shock Blog: July 24

2009-08-10 - Premium Article Future Shock: Monday Ten Pack
2009-08-06 - Future Shock: Getting Dealt
2009-08-03 - Premium Article Future Shock: Monday Ten Pack
2009-07-27 - Premium Article Future Shock: Beaneball
2009-07-27 - Premium Article Future Shock: Monday Ten Pack
2009-07-21 - Premium Article Future Shock: Development Disasters
2009-07-20 - Premium Article Future Shock: Monday Ten Pack