Fear Strikes In

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From Colby Cosh's entertaining & rambling World Series post-write:

The biggest winner tonight may perhaps be a struggling writer from Maine named Stephen King, who has spent this season following his beloved Red Sox for a book he's planning. It's nice when a little-known talent gets a lucky break, isn't it?

Cosh goes on to point out that it was also a victory for sabermetrics, an outsider-driven analytic revolution chronicled in the Michael Lewis book Moneyball, which I reviewed last December.

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  1. That was actually a pretty good article. I totally recommend Moneyball, by the way. A fascinating read if you are a baseball fan and even mildly interesting if you are not. I also think it’s time that Bill James was recognised by the baseball cognoscenti. This guy was ahead of his time and showed that the game could be explained in scientific terms, rather than just so called “gut feelings”.

  2. Uhhh, the Sox were hardly more of sabermetricians than the Yankees. Torre and Cashman had been filling the team with guys that hit lots of home runs, took lots of pitches (hence walked a lot) and had high OPS. In fact, during the last 4 games of the Sox series Torre was constantly yelling at his team and telling them to take more pitches.

    Not to diminish the great job that the Sawx did, but it’s easy to get the talent they had with a $130 million dollar payroll. There’s a reason Manny cleared waivers in the offseason, he’s a good ballplayer, but not an $18 million ballplayer. The Sox won by emulating the Yankees, overpay for players, but don’t buy crap.

  3. Mo — I disagree. Yes, both have overpaid for stars, and emphasized patience & power, but the Beane method was always more about identifying undervalued players, and the Sox beat the Yanks on that front like a gong. Look no further than the difference between Mark Bellhorn and Miguel Cairo.

    The Sox are filled with players who had been undervalued or even repudiated by the market —
    Ortiz, Millar, Kapler, Arroyo, and son. The Yanks don’t really have anyone in that category anymore, do they?

  4. Matt, point taken with Bellhorn vs. Cairo. Though one could make the same argument w/ Cairo vs. Kapler (he of .710 OPS). Ortiz was rebuked by the market for good reason. He was very suspect against leftys (OPS in the .600s). For a 1B/DH, he simply cost too much for a platoon guy. Since he signed with the Sox, he has lifted his numbers against all pitchers, but that wasn?t reflected in the past (not to mention, he took a spot that was held by Moneyball fave Scott Hatteberg). The Yankees fielded their worst team in years for many of the reasons you mentioned, plus the loss of Giambi to a mystery illness. John Olerud, who definitely fits as a guy rebuked by the marketplace that helped the Yankees a lot, was a critical pickup/loss (Olerud vs. Clark was probably the difference in the series). Historically, Paul O’Neill, Aaron Boone, and others filled those spots. And didn?t Arroyo have quite a few suitors in the offseason, including the Yanks?

    What Boston did was great and I love that sabermetrics is catching on (I?m esp. happy that my team?s GM is DePodesta), but this team is an example of a smart high payroll team more than a new Moneyball-esque team.

  5. I’m more concerned, myself, with the way the victory will be perceived. Oakland’s rough track record in the postseason has encouraged the illusion that a Copernican approach to baseball is associated with a lack of character; because of James’ presence, this is bound to be a turning point even though the Yankees’ decision-making is pretty sound from that standpoint.

    And we also know one very important thing about how Bill James shaped this team. Curt Schilling’s big concern about signing with the Red Sox was being a flyball pitcher in Fenway. He’s said that James prepared a package for him that showed the size of the park effects and convinced him that he could be successful in Boston. No James, no Schilling; no Schilling, no title.

    Schilling, who posts on Internet forums about the Sox and uses digital video clips to monitor his mechanics, is the model of the data-driven postmodern player. And you’d better believe these guys are reading Moneyball. If the players themselves spontaneously adopt a revolution in thinking about the game because they think it’s in their self-interest, no force of tradition or ridicule can stop it.

  6. Colby — Listening to Joe Morgan on the radio during the Series, there seemed no immediate danger that SABR Kool-aid would be distributed for free at all Major League ballparks any time soon. He even spoke, at one point, about how “computers can measure some things, but they can’t measure heart,” and (in the same paragraph!) that “computers can only measure statistics, and statistics aren’t how you win ballgames.” It was beautiful.

    And, pace Mo, I don’t think the response to this will be “oh, Moneyball works,” it’ll be more like “oh, being rich works.” Even in L.A., very few people gave DePodesta any Beaniac-style credit for the Dodgers finishing first; it was more like an accident or something.

    And that’s all fine by me. I find take&rake boring; I prefer watching Adam Kennedy play second than Mark Bellhorn, and I have a vested interest in making sure Billy Beane loses. Let a thousand flowers bloom, etc.

  7. Mo — Somewhere on the Innernut I have an over-long love-fest for Olerud’s D, in which I argue that seamheads consisently undervalue and miscount the defensive impact of first-basemen….

  8. The key question is whether the millionaire spreadsheet-using players of the near future are going to think more like Joe Morgan (assuming you want to call it “thinking”) or like Curt Schilling. That’s not a hard call. And first-base defence is a live subject of controversy in seamhead land these days; if it’s underrated unthinkingly anywhere, it’s on the other side of that fence.

  9. Hey, I’m a James fan from way, way, way back, but let’s see Epstein compete with a 60 million dollar payroll, and I’ll be a lot more impressed. Really, my Red Sox animus would be muted a great deal right now if they hadn’t won the first two games while stumbling around the field like a bunch of drunken sailors at sea during a typhoon; yeeeccchh!

  10. Colby — If you could direct me privately toward some of that tasty 1B discussion, I’d be much obliged.

  11. Hey — new to this site. Schilling methods are extreme for baseball; there’s a classic clip from this season where Schilling was in the dugout writing in his notebook after being relieved and Manny was looking at him. Then Manny noticed the camera was on them and he started waving his hands dismissively but playfully at Schilling, playing it up for the audience. It was replayed around Boston for a while. Schill had no clue but the scene brillantly said everything about the two men, two totally different approaches to baseball and the coming ensuing debate.

  12. The funny thing is, contrary to all appearances, Manny Ramirez is a very disciplines, studious, cerebral hitter. He watches hours of tape of pitchers and of himself, and sculpts his swing in BP as deliberately as Ted Williams.

    The Sox signed Kevin Youkilis, the Greek God of Walks. How much more Moneyball can you get?

    Johnny Damon was for years an aggressive, free swinging player. He’s singled out in Moneyball as a high average/low OBP waste. This year, he changed his style, and was one of the highest walkers in the league. The freest swinger on the Sox was Nomah, and you saw what happened to him. Even Cabrerra, who started off swinging at every pitch, was sitting back and waiting in the post-season.

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