Note: The Hall of Fame inductees will be announced later today. Update: It will be Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar.
The season must be getting closer. Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster arrived on the porch this week and after successfully wrestling it away from my husband, I was able to look at Shandler’s summary over the last 25 years of his publication. Granted, this book is best known for Fantasy Baseball (including the stats we love to hate), but in 1986--well before anything related to Moneyball was published--it was an entirely unique way of measuring baseball talent. And after 25 years, does Shandler have it all figured out?
In his words:
You'll have to pick up the magazine to read the entire summary, keeping in mind, of course, that he is writing to a fantasy audience, which does not always translate to the strength of a team.
For years, we’ve been searching for the Holy Grail, some process or strategy that would yield constant success. But as much as we think we are getting closer to nailing this game, we’re really not even close. I don’t know that we’ll ever be.
In 2003, Moneyball was hailed as a breakthrough analysis on leveraging economic inefficiencies and sabermetrics to win at baseball. Forget the fact that the Athletics were never able to turn that intelligence into a World Series title. But after nearly a decade, the real lesson from the book was that sabermetrics alone is not enough. The optimal approach to player evaluation has to be an integration of sabermetrics and scouting. Why? Because players are human and not stat-producing robots.
But since his opening quote cited the A’s and Moneyball, I thought it was worth taking a closer look. First of all, kudos for referencing Moneyball as leveraging economic inefficiencies rather than telling a story about Billy Beane, but yet again, I must take issue with the Athletics’ (or anyone’s, for that matter) success being measured using the yardstick of a World Series title.
I align myself heavily on the stat side of baseball. I’m not on the cutting edge of discovering new measurements, but if you show me how it works, I will use it, cite it, and love it until something even more accurate comes along. I have no patience for most baseball mystique; calm eyes of scouts, scrappy, gritty, hustly players, and made up stories of a certain second basemen somehow "knowing" during a starting pitcher’s warmup tosses that he’s going to throw a no-hitter. Obviously it’s no secret that I wanted to fire Joe Morgan almost as much as a certain website, and when I hear the word "clutch", I stop listening immediately.
I firmly believe that the baseball playoffs are a crapshoot; that a five to seven game timeframe is not nearly enough to extrapolate the data needed to evaluate a player or a team. I think that by sheer measure of the A’s simply making the playoffs several times in the 00’s with the market inequality, is proof enough that something changed with Moneyball. Granted, there were singularly stupid decisions made which cost the A’s game after game, but don’t blame Moneyball, blame in-game management, individual players, and whoever set the pitching rotation against the Twins.
But is there any truth to Shandler's statement? Do we overlook the human element? Does baseball carry an unknown, unmeasurable quantity in every game, every play, every at-bat that we can't always explain? Or is that what we tell ourselves as we watch hundreds of A's games, believing that our first-person experience tells more of the story than the raw numbers? For me, there is some truth to that.
But back to my real point. Obviously, it’s too soon to make any real predictions until we figure out a 25-man and have an idea about playing time, but I had to share. I am pleased to announce that the Forecaster has Matsui with 20 homeruns (in a projected 430 at-bats) and Willingham with 23 (in 458 AB’s). For those of you who were A’s fans through the 1980’s, did you ever think you’d get so excited about 20 homeruns?
Less than 60 days until Spring Training!