Was it a Mistake for the Oakland Athletics to allow access to Michael Lewis for the book "Moneyball"? Notorious Outlaw: Billy the Beane and why Baseball Front Offices should be run like a game of High Stakes Poker.
The Oakland Athletics have been known over the years as an organization that is exceptional at finding market inefficiencies. They are known for this because a writer named Michael Lewis (in perhaps one of the worst moves in Billy Beane’s tenure) was given permission to examine the Oakland Athletics use of sabermetrics. The book exposed a lot of inner workings of the Athletics organization.
Few teams have ever been comfortable with national exposure on how their most important decisions are made. NO other team had a big-budget Brad Pitt movie made on that subject. It is unclear if it was the Athletics intention for Lewis to so expertly learn and write about what they did; or if they didn’t realize just how much he would reveal. And reveal Lewis did in his best selling-book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game".
"Moneyball" was a major breach of the secrecy needed for effective strategies. The book exposed ( in detail ) how the Oakland Athletics were gaining an advantage over other teams. Whether the information was going to come out anyways is irrelevant. After all, you eventually show your hand in poker when called. That doesn't mean you want other players to see your hand during the deal.
Sports front offices and baseball General Managers usually live in the shadows. In high stakes poker, living in the shadows means not exposing your cards. "Moneyball" was a great experience for fans of the game but flashed the Athletics hand.
A baseball front office should be played like a session of high stakes poker. For the non gambling fans; don't worry, we're not going to try and teach you how to play poker. Let's teach you why optimal strategy for a card player often mirrors optimal baseball strategy for management.
Poker strategy at its most basic: The best hand wins. Like the five team American League West; you will get five cards, everyone else gets five cards too. Some of the time your hands are almost exactly the same; most times not. It does not matter in this case what exactly the best hand is. What matters is that everyone plays the game differently. Sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. We'll use five classic Western bad guys and they are going to represent the five teams in the American League West.
The Bad guys below directly represent each "team" as an overall personality. Some of that personality is their current front office, some of that personality is their last front office, some of that personality is overall team success or failures. When I say the Waco Kid ( Astros ) is comic relief, I'm not calling the current front office inept, I am saying the Astro's as a franchise has been inept. Billy the Kid is not Billy Beane, Billy the Kid is the A's.
Billy the Kid -113 y.o. Mankiller. Last Kill-1989. Quick Draw Kills-10
Bio: Brash. Smart. Takes things that are not his. Laughs about it. Billy the Kid is the Oakland Athletics.
Angel Eyes-53 y.o. Bounty-hunter. Last Kill 2002. Quick Draw Kills-1
(Lee Van Cleef, the "Good the Bad and the Ugly"). Angel Eyes was once the top bounty hunter but his best days are well behind him. He is still very dangerous and is known for killing someone very famous a long time ago. Angel Eyes is the Los Angeles Angels.
Tuco -52 y.o. Hornswaggler. Quick Draw Kills-0
(Eli Wallace, the "Good the Bad and the Ugly") embodies the Texas Rangers. Tuco is very cunning and very tough. He will survive getting hung and shot and come back stronger than ever. Just when you think you have him, he will pull a gun out of nowhere and blow you away. Tuco hasn’t found his gold yet, but he should never be counted out.
(Jack Elam, "Once Upon a Time in the West"). Snaky is kind of bumbling, kind of funny looking just like the Seattle Mariners. He is not the brightest bulb in the bunch. He is still big, and sometimes handles some of the lessor tough guys and assassins that come across his path. Known Sidekick- His cousin Inky.
The Waco Kid-52 y.o. Bushwhacker. Quick Draw Kills-0
(Gene Wilder, "Blazing Saddles"). He’s not a bad guy, He’s a comedian playing in a parody that makes fun of the genre of Westerns. The Houston Astro's... well, they're just the comic relief of baseball after all. Known Sidekick- Mondo
I will be using The Waco Kid, Snaky, Tuco, Angel Eyes and Billy the Kid in a fictional game of poker to show you why some teams acts as they do today.
If you are playing high stakes poker, the first and most important rule is to NEVER accidentally show your hand. Showing your hand to is almost criminal in the poker world and will get you kicked out of the game or shot in the old west. The reason for this is that all the other players that are NOT sitting right next to you will now lose more. And they lose more because the players that ARE sitting next to you win more than their fair share; this is because the players that see your hand have more information.
It's simple. If poker players are analogous to General Managers, then finding out what the other team has in their hand gives you an advantage. And because other teams may not have that information, it also gives you an advantage (albeit smaller) over those other teams as well. Those small advantages leveraged over time add up tremendously over a baseball season.
In addition to not accidentally showing your hand, you should also never intentionally show your hand. If you have a losing hand, you should throw it face down into the muck. Even though you lost, by mucking ( not showing ) you are keeping information away from other players.
This is like the New York Yankees and the Alex Rodriguez suspension / salary cap situation. The Yankees still have something to gain (luxury tax benefits) by not giving away information even if they may not win the pot of money sitting directly in front of them today.
Don't let anyone get any information! Its much harder for another poker player to figure out tendencies when they only see what you MUST show them.
Over a full night of poker play, Tuco (Texas) will only show his hand when the rules dictate he must. The Waco Kid (Astro's) is drunk as usual and throws his cards face up every time he loses. The other skilled players at the table will use this extra information to see what kind of starting cards the Waco Kid prefers to play with.
There are also other people that are not playing poker who get to see what's happening. By the Athletics allowing operations and processes to be shown, that would be analogous to Snakys hairy' inbred cousin Inky. IF Snakys cousin was eight-foot two and bionicaly running through the Casino naked while screaming out what cards Snakys has in-between smashing up the place.
"Moneyball" (believe it or not) did far more damage to the Oakland Athletics ability to strategize than this proverbial Snaky cousin.
In poker, when you're giving more information than you absolutely have to, it helps other players to accurately spot your tendency's. With enough tendency's recognized, tendency's become more like a" tell". A tell is some random thing you do, that you don’t even know you do, that allows another player to accurately read your state of mind in a majority of situations.
This will be an example of a "classic tell":
Your name is Angel Eyes (Angels). You understand statistics, you know to not show your cards. But every time you feel you have a great hand, you push all of your chips into the pot with your left hand. Once another poker player notices you do this evertime, they take advantage. Let's say Tuco (Texas) notices. He doesn’t know exactly what Angel Eyes has, he just knows Angel Eyes thinks he has a strong hand.
This allows Tuco to fold faster if Tuco has a weak hand, but this also allows Tuco to milk Angel Eyes for all he is worth if Tuco has a better hand. Just knowing Angels Eyes thinks his hand is strong is enough for Tuco to accurately decide the optimal strategy a majority of the time.
This is much like Mike Rizzo trading for Doug Fister. Rizzo studied Detroit, recognized a tell and then took advantage. And Rizzo will keep taking advantage until either Detroit smartens up, or is tapped out. Furthermore, the next week, or the next month or the next year; the rest of the good Front Offices will figure out that Rizzo recognized a tell. They too will find the Detroit tell at some point now that they know it exists. The good Front Offices will also study the Nationals with increased vigor, looking for the process the Nationals employed.
Conversely, knowing if Angel Eyes hates his cards is just as useful in other ways. But, by now you get how reading the opposition is extremely important. Bluffing is also essential in poker. Bluffing is also essential in baseball as bluffing leads to Wins Without the Best Players (WWBP). (WWBP) is just one small part of Wins Without the Most Money (WWMM). Billy the Kid always seems to be at the top of the (WWMM) leader boards.
Sometimes a good poker player shows his bluff on purpose. This is an effort to force another good player to lose their cool and go on tilt. The Oakland A's getting another team to tilt would be like Billy the Kid counterfeiting his own money ( reduce the Kids risk of getting shot robbing banks , and still have money to play with).
In 2011, The Athletics started out recognizing that Texas figured out The Angels' tell. The Athletics then successfully studied the Angles in an attempt to find out the same Angels' flaws. The Athletics also examined the probable process Texas used to find the Angles' flaws. The Athletics beat the Astro's with one eye shut because the Waco Kid is not a gunfighter. The Mariners never win because Snaky only knows how to win pots with the best five cards.
Beane figured out the secrets and the flaws in the American League West in 2012-13. In doing so he flashed another slew of his own tendencies, feeding a self-perpetual process.
ANDREW KOO at BASEBALL PROSPECTUS is just the latest on what may be the A's Moneyball curse; people who want to examine a baseball team may naturally want to start with the Oakland Athletics, because there is usually something to find: The New Moneyball ? a-decade-after-moneyball-have-the-as-found-a-new-mark-1489963694.
Much like the first prospector at a gold rush, the Athletics gave away more information than they should have. This started a big wave of writers and stats buffs and bloggers to specifically look at the Athletics' in even more minute detail. A rich vein of ore once recognized by even one other miner, will force the first discoverer of gold to eventually move up river in an effort to fight off the claim-jumpers. "Moneyball" and other actions spawned by it, force the A's to move as well.
I may have figured out one of Billy the Kid's tells. The last thing The kid wants is to end up with "aces and eights". Otherwise known as "the Dead mans Hand". But now is the point in the poker game the notorious outlaw "Billy the Beane" is working on putting the Texas Rangers on "Full Tilt".
Cousin Inky-Foot stomper
( André René Roussimoff, " The Six- Million Dollar Man")
( Alex Karras, Blazing Saddles )