Saber Rattling

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SF Weekly wades into the dirt-kicking fight between ESPN blowhard Joe Morgan and A's general manager Billy Beane. Actually it's a pretty one-sided fight, with Morgan missing no chance to point out that he hasn't read Michael Lewis' Moneyball and that Moneyball (which he seems to think was written by Beane) is a load of crap. Possibly because Tommy Craggs' article is so stacked against him, I came away sympathizing with Morgan, but before getting into that, dig Matt Welch's review of Moneyball/appreciation of the way sabermetrics has retired so many of baseball's treasured myths.

My sympathy for Morgan here is based in part on his touching attachment to those myths—he refuses to accept sabermetrics even though it's only through sabermetric analysis that he himself has been firmly established as the greatest second baseman in history:

Jon Miller remembers telling his broadcast partner about Bill James' second baseman rankings, that in fact James had rated him at the top. Says Miller: "Joe said, 'Well, how could that be? [Hornsby] hit .400 and 42 home runs, and I'm hitting .325 and 27 homers.' … What was interesting to me was, most guys, I think, number one, would already have been aware of that and would've savored that assessment. And number two, that even if they were just being told for the first time, most guys would be happy to embrace that. But Joe has such a sincere respect for the history of the game -- because who is Rogers Hornsby? I mean, Rogers Hornsby is an old redneck alcoholic who was probably as racist as anybody who's ever played the game. And yet Joe had this great respect for what he'd done and was very aware of what he'd done -- not many former players are aware of those kinds of things -- and Joe was sincerely ready to argue on behalf of Hornsby."

Beyond the admirable humility here (which you might not expect based on Morgan's insufferable Sunday Night Baseball commentary), I find another reason to sympathize: Who can blame a former major league player for despising stats geeks? It would subvert the natural order if Morgan didn't hate the legions of laptop-toting, begoggled dorks who are rethinking his game—and most maddeningly of all, being proven right. I'm taking it on faith (and on the behavior of an increasing number of teams) that the Bill James model is correct, but I do wish the sabermetricians would explain why their theories are supposed to be exciting to the vast majority of us who are casual fans rather than green-eyeshade fanatics. Craggs presents the following, without further explanation, as proof of Morgan's foolishness:

When it was suggested that the world-champion Boston Red Sox were a Moneyball team -- after all, they had Bill James in their employ -- Morgan snapped back (and you could almost hear his furious jabs at the keyboard): "The Red Sox had the second highest payroll in baseball next to the Yankees!!! The most important play last year was Dave Roberts stealing second base in game four … that is NOT the moneyball theory. Without the stolen base or just the THREAT of the stolen base Dave Roberts provided, the Red Sox would have been eliminated."

I don't care enough about baseball to puzzle out the details here, but what's wrong with this argument? Is he wrong about the Sox' payroll? Is his interpretation of the Dave Roberts play obviously misguided? Joe Morgan has more than enough enemies out there to refute him, but there's one point (beyond the fact that the A's haven't won a pennant since 1990) that sticks in my craw: When I've paid $50 for a ticket and $7 for a beer, I like seeing clutch plays, bunts, stolen bases, and plenty of other discredited stunts. Put another way: I don't really care whether the team's getting its money's worth; I care whether I'm getting my money's worth.

The interesting phase of the sabermetric revolution is just starting, as the generation of A's strategists scatters throughout the league. When most or all Major League teams are using the same models to pursue the same market inefficiencies, how will they keep asses in the seats? Craggs makes a pretty good case that Joe Morgan is a buffoon, but I'm not sure he understands that we keep buffoons around because they entertain us.

NEXT: Anarchy in the PA

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  1. You know what gives you your money's worth?

    Your team being in the pennant race in September.

  2. I don't care enough about baseball to puzzle out the details here, but what's wrong with this argument? Is he wrong about the Sox' payroll?

    Yes, because payroll doesn't equal success as much as everyone thinks it is. Steinbrenner and The Yankees are held up as proof that if have enough money and you can purchase a world series, but the fact of the matter is even when you have lots of cash to throw around you have to still be able to spend it wisely. Baseball is littered with teams that thought they could throw cash at a problem and ended up with dick (the Rangers, the Orioles, the Dodgers, The Red Sox pre 2005, etc, and if you want to leave the world of baseball you can point to the Redskins as another example of too much money, no GM talent). Steinbrenner never gets enough credit for generally making smart choices with the money he spends. Don't get me wrong, money helps ? you can afford to make more mistakes before you get bitten in the butt ? but money itself won't get you a pennant. And that's why Beane and the A's are doing so well. They are smarter at spending the money they have than most other teams with twice the payroll.

    This is no different than the world of business. Take a look at GM. It may be the biggest car company in the world, but it doesn't guarantee success. They're getting their clocks cleaned by smaller competition.

    The Sox didn't win the World Series because they had the second highest payroll in baseball. The Sox won the world series because they spent the second highest payroll wisely.

  3. Oh, and the SFWeekly article was spot on about today's crop of color commentators. They (mostly) suck (especially Morgan). The Nats have Ron Darling on TV who is just awful. I literally want to throw shit at my TV when he's talking.

    The only ex-ballplayer of note I've ever heard who is fun to listen to is Bob Uecker, and only really when he's calling Brewer games (not so good on NBC). Less ex-ball players, more raving acoholics (a'la Carey, god rest his soul).

  4. I agree with Nathan on almost everything.

    ...I would add the further example of the Patriots winning the Super Bowl last year, in spite of landing at number twenty-four on the list of largest payrolls in the league.

    Talent can get you a shot at the top, but it takes character to stay up there. ...and stolen bases are devastating. I heard a statistic the other day, saying that the Reds hit their first sacrifice fly in two years the other week.

    ...I'm probably a little more than a casual fan of baseball, and a lot less than a green eyed statistics freak. ...but who discounts the value of a scary ass closer?

    ...and by the way, the Redskins are right on track--GM or no GM. Building character takes time--more than a season, at least. ..and they let vets go rather than pony up the cash this year. ...See Smoot and Pierce.

  5. Nathan, Jerry Remy for NESN is the best BoSox color man in years, with a local fan club comparable to Uecker. The nights when the Sox win/lose by blowouts make for some of the best comedy on TV. Check this out to see what I mean.

    Anyway, re Morgan and Moneyball, yeah, Dave Roberts was one of the very best key plays in the ALCS, but so were the Ortiz homers in games 4 & 5 and in the last game of the ALDS. Ortiz was an undervalued player from the Brewers who was snapped up for a ridiculous $6M a year, far outweighing the likes of A-Rod, and cheaper, too. That is the essence of Moneyball: reliable bang for the buck.

  6. What Joe Morgan and other Moneyball critics usually miss is that sabermetrics is not fundamentally about endless arguments about sac bunts, stolen bases, etc., or for that matter, about events in a single game. What sabermetrics is about is attempting to identify the factors that are critical to sustained success in organized baseball. In the end, it's quite simple - you try to maximize the number of runs you score, and minimize the runs you allow the other guy to score off of you.

    Moneyball is not the story of how Billy Beane found the magic elixir for baseball success, because such a formula doesn't exist. What the book details is how Beane has tried to identify overlooked and undervalued elements of player performance to keep his team competitive on a shoestring budget. If you're the Yankees, you have a $200 million payroll and spend your way through your mistakes; teams like the Twins and A's don't have that luxury.

    Why should the average fan be interested in sabermetrics? Well, as joe points out, seeing your team playing competitive baseball in September and making the playoffs in October is what it's all about, and as a fan you want your team to field the best possible lineup. Knowing something about statistical analysis means a greater depth of understanding as to what players your team may need and evalutating the players already in the lineup. It keeps you from joining the chorus of sports-talk yahoos who think Tony Womack is a great leadoff guy because he's a "veteran presence" with "great speed" and all the other cliches people use to excuse lousy hitters.

  7. I like seeing clutch plays, bunts, stolen bases, and plenty of other discredited stunts.

    Hear hear. Let's face it; without having the excuse to get drunk and eat incredibly unhealthy food, it would be pretty incredibly boring to watch an MLB game. Too predictible. Too safe. I vastly prefer watching minor league baseball. Closer to the field, cheaper tickets, and although the players are just a hair away from the majors, nothing is an "automatic." On every play, something interesting might happen, unlike MLB.

  8. "I like seeing clutch plays, bunts, stolen bases, and plenty of other discredited stunts. Put another way: I don't really care whether the team's getting its money's worth; I care whether I'm getting my money's worth."

    Two things:

    a) There's nothing wrong with bunts and stolen bases (clutch hitting is really a whole different thing). You just have to be more selective with both than most teams have been for the strategies to be positive long term. Indeed, the Dave Roberts example is the sabermetric ideal stolen base situation: with a runner who is very good at stealing bases and at a point in the game where one run drastically changes the team's chances of winning. It's not the stolen base that's bad, it's the getting thrown out that sucks and so you have to leverage that risk by being picky about when to try. Concentraing on those situations where the rewards outweigh the risks.

    b) You may feel that entertaining play is what gets you to the park, but the numbers are fairly clear that the surest way to get more fans to the park (and on TV) is to win baseball games. Each extra win for a major league team is worth, on average, millions of dollars. With that the case, the team is going to concentrate on that bottom line regardless of stylistic preferences.

  9. Nathan's right about Ueck. But he isn't just a color guy. He does a minimum of three-innings a game, solo, as a play-by-play guy on the Brewers radio network each game. Jim Powell does three, and the two announcers team up for the rest of the game.

    Ueck has, with Powell, and before him, Pat Hughes (now the Cubs' voice on WGN), kept Wisconsinites listening to Brewers baseball through years of losing seasons. I especially appreciate, aside from the funny anecdotes, that Bob will refer to lousy play as just that. I'll turn down the TV sound and turn up Ueck and Powell's radio call.

    As for the stat-geeks, they have some things right. Batting average is the most overrated stat, nowhere near as important as On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and the super-stat, OPS (aka SLOB), which combines the two. Runs scored and RBI are traditional metrics for, respectively, banjo hitters and sluggers, but they are too dependent on what the rest of the lineup does. The Brewers' Carlos Lee is leading the majors in RBI, which is great. If the Brewers' lead-off man, Brady Clark, weren't having a career year (.796 OPS!), that probably wouldn't be happening. the Crew got Lee from the White Sox for base-stealing Scott Podsednik, who was fun to watch, but whose OBP fell off to .313 in the second half last year. Ya can't steal bases if you can't make it to first.

    Elvis, if you want unpredictability, watch the Brewers, with rookies Rickie Weeks (2B) and J.J. Hardy (SS) as the double-play (sic) combo, unless second-year man Bill Hall fills in for one of them. Sometimes Hall plays 3B, and the fun really begins. One might see great fielding plays, or balls thrown into the stands! These guys are all talented, but Hall and Weeks cannot field as well as they hit. Hardy may be able to hit someday, but he hasn't cracked the Mendoza line yet. He's getting enough walks that his OBP is over .300, though!

    Don't even get me started on the Mets.....

    Kevin

  10. Maybe if Bill James would write a sabermetrics book about sex it would get the laptop-toting geeks out of the ballpark and give baseball back to the good ole hard-living types like Mickey Mantle.

    If you want to watch good statistics and accounting take a job at IBM.

    Of course I completely ignore sports year after year.

  11. Hard to believe I can contribute when a character in the book already has! But Morgan's response, to give you an idea in light of recent legal events, would be as though someone someone argued that Kelo watered down the Takings Clause and someone replied, "The Pfizer corporation makes erectile dysfunction medicine!!!" One does not address the other.

    Moneyball in addition to as others have said being about maximizing your run-producing potential in the aggregate, not in a single game, is about exploiting market inefficiencies. Teams like the Yankees were willing and able to pay more for guys who hit .300, and/or had a .500 slugging average. But the guy who hit .250/.400 with a .380 on base percentage was sitting at home. The A's were able to sign those guys for more than other teams were offering, and thereby fielded division-winning offenses. But if every other team were paying for OBP what it's worth to an offense, the A's would have had to have done something else. Since everyone's gradually catching on, now they have to concentrate harder on defense and pitching, for example.

    The Red Sox had a high payroll but used it to assemble players that were worth more than their market value because of inefficiencies in that market. Trading for Dave Roberts at the deadline and sending him in game four didn't erase that. If a team with a $40M payroll gets $60M of "value" out of its players, that's great, but if a team with a $120M payroll squeezes $150M of value out of its players it's still going to win. That's what Boston did.

  12. People like to talk about Dave Roberts stealing second, but what they never mention how he got on base in the first place. He was a pinch runner for Kevin Millar, who had just drawn a walk, which for the uninformed, is very moneyball, for lack of a better term. And like Voros said, us SABR types aren't opposed to stealing bases, provided that the person doing the stealing is good at it. A runner has to have a 70% success rate in order for the bases gained to outweigh the outs given up.

  13. Tim McCarver is the worst color commentator in the history of baseball.

    It had to be said.

  14. Jon Miller should be ashamed of his comments about Rogers Hornsby. And although he's probably best it's not like he and Morgan have second base locked up.

    Ever hear of Charlie Gehringer, Tony Lazzeri, Bobby Doerr, just to name three off the top of my head? Oh, and don't forget St. Jackie Robinson who played his best years at second base.

  15. Holy crap, THE Voros McCracken himself posted! Welcome to the fray, Mr. McCracken. (He is an esteemed sabermetrician, if you don't know.)

    In the Bill James book where Morgan is ranked the #1 second baseman, James basically argues that #1 is a virtual dead heat among Morgan, Hornsby and Eddie Collins, and that there is a lot of space between those three and the rest. He then selected Jackie Robinson #4 and Craig Biggio #5. Craig freakin' Biggio! (Although he does back away from this choice somewhat in the postscript of the book.) We all knew Morgan was great -- the Baseball Writers gave him back to back MVP awards long before the Moneyball era -- but it is the increasing acceptance of Biggio that shows the growing influence of sabermetrics more than the coronation of Joe Morgan.

  16. Dr. Fager, Bobby Doerr is only in the Hall of Fame because his buddy Teddy Ballgame was sitting on the Veterans' Committee at the time. Joe Gordon, who played 2nd base for the Yankees at the same time Doerr was in Boston, was every bit as good and is not a HOFer. Lazzeri had good taste in teammates (Ruth, Gehrig, et al) but was a marginal HOFer; Gehringer was legitimately great but not the power / on-base package that Hornsby was, nor the speed / power / patience / defense package that Morgan was.

  17. To emphasize points already made (as if Voros needs it), success in baseball as a business is drawing fans to the ballpark. Teams that win draw more fans than teams that don't. Moneyball is about taking advantage of market imbalances to get the most bang for your buck. When the book was written, OBP was an undervalued stat so Beane paid a premium for it because he was still paying less that its playing worth. With OBP increasingly accepted as a critical stat, playing Moneyball now will involve locating some other area where the market undervalues players and spending money there.

    As for Sabrmetrics, fans are certainly free to hate them, but they are an important factor for teams looking to improve. Make Joe Morgan a GM and watch how he does with his belief in little ball against a GM like Beane or Theo Epstein. Sabrmetrics is about results and facts rather than superstition and tradition. If teams with high OBPs score more runs than teams with high batting averages, that's a fact no GM can afford to ignore if he hopes to win ballgames.

  18. Mark B.
    What sabermetrics is about is attempting to identify the factors that are critical to sustained success in organized baseball. In the end, it's quite simple - you try to maximize the number of runs you score, and minimize the runs you allow the other guy to score off of you

    While true, wouldn't that be like saying "All causes of death are lack of oxygen to the brain."? Just curious.

    Not a huge baseball fan.

    Paul

  19. What sabermetrics is about is attempting to identify the factors that are critical to sustained success in organized baseball. In the end, it's quite simple - you try to maximize the number of runs you score, and minimize the runs you allow the other guy to score off of you

    Which is why moneyball and sabermetrics don't win championships.

  20. I will acknowlege the SABR benefits, but I am with the Morgans and Lou Pinellas, its always comes down to a gut feeling over statistics!

    I also think the Florida Marlins proved its not about payroll. No amount of money can compete with a team that is on a serious hot streak and all the players are clickin!

  21. McCracken, what's the sabermetric judgment on the intentional walk-a practice I do think should be discredited. It seems to me that if on-base percentage is such an important and historically undervalued thing, shouldn't the intentional walk be almost always a bad idea? I mean, you're giving your opponent the equivalent of 1/4 of a run, right? Factor in the statistical unlikelihood of the walkee getting any kind of hit at all, let alone an RBI (which is the only thing the intentional walk should be trying to prevent), is there ever a situation where the intentional walk is justified?

  22. Tim, one of my favorite plays in baseball is watching a guy hit a 3-run double after some "by the book" manager has intentionally walked the bases loaded. Some people swear it's a percentage play to fill the open slot at 1st and set up the double play and etc. etc., but it just seeems so colossally stupid to me that it makes me happy to see the manager get smacked for it. (This probably makes me not a very nice person. What can I say, I'm from Philly. That's what sports are for.)

  23. The intentional walk is fine if you're tied in the bottom of the ninth with two out, a man on third and first or second open, since in that case the possibility of an extra run is irrelevant. Similarly if the man is on second and first is open. The only real risk is your pitcher may be in to missing the strike zone and walk the next batter as well.

  24. Actually Tim, they were just talking about the intentional walk on the Sox game I'm watching here. One scenario that would justify it is in the national league, walking the number 8 guy in late innings to try to get the pitcher out of the game. Somebody like Roger Clemens (though apparently he's been hitting so well it might not apply specifically to him).

  25. Thomas Paine's Goiter

    I take it you were either out of the country or in a coma last October.

  26. What amazes me is how so many sports journalists today still think about baseball. Scott Podsednik is an All-Star and widely hailed as the instigator of the White Sox turnaround this year. Nevermind the AL leading team ERA. Forget that Carlos Lee, who Podsednik was traded for, has 22 HR and 200 extra points in his Slugging Average. Attributing team performance to a single player is one of the many hallmarks of traditionalist baseball thought. For example, the pitcher with the most wins usually wins the Cy Young despite the fact that wins are as dependant on the performance of the hitting as the pitching. I think this is what the point of Moneyball is, rather than just paying for whatever a player has done in the last year, trying to figure out a way to pay for what a player will do in years to come.

    As for intential walks, the value of putting a runner on base obviously depends on what the situation is. http://tinyurl.com/8qfl6 is a runs expectany matrix. As you can imagine, intentially walking someone with the bases loaded would add 1 run to the run expectancy, while walking someone with no one on and two outs would only add a smidgen.

  27. One scenario that would justify it is in the national league, walking the number 8 guy in late innings to try to get the pitcher out of the game.

    Not to get all geeky but in the NL you'd expect walking the #8 batter to get to the pitcher to happen at the beginning of the game where there's a better chance that the pitcher is going to hit, not late into it where, if its a tight game, chances are the pitcher's going to be pulled for a pinch hitter.

  28. Paul,

    The amazing this is, for years and years, baseball scouts and managers never actually thought about their jobs in terms of maximing their runs and minimizing the other teams's runs.

  29. Mark B., while it is true that the Yankees can spend their way out of mistakes, it is also one of the great underreported stories in baseball that the '90s Yankees were perhaps the first sabermetric team. In 1998 the team and even the commentators talked endlessly about how they were able to win because they took more pitches than the competition, leading to more walks, seeing better pitches to hit, and tiring out opposing pitchers.

    s.a.m.: You are, of course, correct that you can't beat a team on a "hot streak;" the problem is, you can't predict ahead of time who will be going on a hot streak, so you can't build a team around that concept.

    Look at the moves the Yankees made during the early and mid-90s: trading All-Star Roberto Kelly (couldn't take a walk) for (at the time) career-.250 hitter Paul O'Neill, who nevertheless was posting .350 OBPs, also opening up a spot for patience poster boy Bernie Williams in center field. With the exception of hacker Derek Jeter (and by the way, sabermetrics does not deny that it's fine to be a hacker if you can hit .320 every year; cf. Vladimir Guerrero), the whole 1998 lineup was packed with guys who knew how to take a walk.

  30. I suspect (hope?) that much of Morgan's bluster and intransigence is showbiz. Aside from that, though, I have two concerns about the whole issue of sabermetrics:

    1) The question of intangibles. A numbers geek could easily write off, say, Roger Maris as a generally so-so player (who in this case happened to have one extraordinary fluke of a year). But Maris always seemed to come through at the precise moment when it was needed most; who wouldn't want at least one guy like Maris on their team?

    2) Like Morgan, I worry that the focus on numbers will squeeze the heart out of the game. Loveable losers like the stumblebum Mets of the sixties have their appeal too - and are very much a part of the game's allure. Will the fans turn out in the long term for a cold, calculating, heartless, colorless team just because they happen to win a lot of games?

    For the record, I have not read Moneyball though I intend to. If my ideas are full of beans, so be it; like Bill James, I'll fix it in next year's edition...

  31. Will the fans turn out in the long term for a cold, calculating, heartless, colorless team just because they happen to win a lot of games?

    This assumes that either GM's currently pick players due to their "colorfulness" as opposed to their skill, or that players who have Moneyball'esque qualities (high OBP for instance) are uniformly boring people. Neither of which, of course, is true. People still have to play the game, and all sabermetrics does is help identify those people who, statisically, are better at producing offense. Chances are they are just as colorful as the crop of players who were traditionally sought after.

    Jason Giambi could be considered a "Moneyball" player, and its not as if he's a boring stiff.

  32. mik is spot on...ernie harwell's partner, the normally worthless jim price repeatedly contrasted the Tigers' hacking,impatient at-bats with Yankees' consistent patience...now neither team is patient and they both hover near .500

  33. I'd like to propose a toast to Steve Stone. The Cubs will never be the same.

  34. Here, here! [Clinks glass for Stoney]

    Screw lovable losers. The Cubs just sent their least "moneyball" player, Corey Patterson, down the the minors. He had all the raw talent scouts look for, but couldn't take a pitch or draw a walk to save his life. The Cubs need some stat-heads to stop drafting the Pattersons and get some guys who can get on base and knock in runs.

    To the people who are saying that gut instincts and feelings are as important as reason in baseball, you realize you're posting on a board for a magazine called "Reason", right?

  35. Hi,

    Joe Morgan came here to Durham, NC a few years ago, to have his number retired. He played for the Durham Bulls in the early 1960s.

    The Durham Bulls have a new stadium that's absolutely nothing like the old ballpark (which was really bush league...or had a lot of "character," if you want to be charitable).

    Anyway, Joe Morgan reminisced about the good time he had playing in Durham. This is Durham, NC, in the early 1960s. I would have imagined it would be real h@ll for a young black phenom.

    Based on that, and Joe Morgan's comments about Rogers Hornsby, I think Joe Morgan is a class act.

    I realize this has absolutely nothing to do with "Moneyball," which I haven't read. I'm just sayin'...I like Joe Morgan.

  36. For the record, I have not read Moneyball though I intend to. If my ideas are full of beans, so be it; like Bill James, I'll fix it in next year's edition...

    IMO Moneyball is a worthwhile read, but much more so for its storytelling and quality of writing than for its baseball analysis. For that I'd go directly to Bill James or Pete Palmer or even Rob Neyer (who isn't a top-notch analyst but he's pretty good, especially as an introduction for casual fans). Baseball Prospectus can be pretty intolerant of other perspectives but it has some useful analysis also.

  37. Tim, I don't know how interested you actually are in all of this, so feel free to ignore it. First, as somebody above mentioned, Voros is a respected sabermetrician, but you might not know he is also employed by the Red Sox. I agree completely with what he says above. As for what Jim Walsh says:

    "Will the fans turn out in the long term for a cold, calculating, heartless, colorless team just because they happen to win a lot of games?"

    the answer is unequivocally YES. The only thing that really correllates with attendance is winning. You have an outlier, like the Cubs, who will fill Wrigley even if they never win a game, but overall, you have to win to fill the seats.

    As for the comments in your original post, let me just address a few.

    "Who can blame a former major league player for despising stats geeks? It would subvert the natural order if Morgan didn't hate the legions of laptop-toting, begoggled dorks who are rethinking his game?and most maddeningly of all, being proven right."

    I have personally met several sabermetricians who went on to work for major-league clubs, and I consider them quite well-rounded people. They even play baseball. Can we dispose of the stereotyping please? Do you tire of people assuming things about your character because you write for Reason?

    "I do wish the sabermetricians would explain why their theories are supposed to be exciting to the vast majority of us who are casual fans rather than green-eyeshade fanatics."

    The answer to your question is in the comment you left later:

    "McCracken, what's the sabermetric judgment on the intentional walk?a practice I do think should be discredited."

    Watching a baseball game is fun when you see these situations come up, and you wonder what should be done, and you KNOW THE ANSWER. As to your particular question, the answer is that the intentional walk is *almost* always a bad idea. For example, some of the Baseball Prospectus guys worked out the math of whether it would be a good idea to walk Barry Bonds over the last couple of years, a period during which he has been the greatest hitter who has ever played. Even for Bonds, an intentional walk is usually a bad idea. The research is out there if you want to know more. Benaiah alluded to the run expectation matrix, which is simply the amount of runs you would expect to score given each base/out situation. The calculations involved are highly dependent on this.

    "I don't care enough about baseball to puzzle out the details here, but what's wrong with this argument?"

    The thing that is wrong with this argument is that every sabermetrician would agree completely with Morgan on this point. Morgan persistently puts words in the mouth of people, then argues with them. Sabermetricians do NOT dislike stolen bases, they dislike outs. So, if you can steal enough to make up for the outs you will inevitably make, then you are increasing the odds of winning. Dave Roberts happens to be one of the best base-stealers in the major leagues, so I *guarantee* you that Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, Bill James, etc. would all think that him stealing in that situation is a good play. This is classic straw man.

    "I like seeing clutch plays, bunts, stolen bases, and plenty of other discredited stunts."

    All of these plays are highly dependent on how easy it is to score runs. One of the reasons there were so many more bunts, steals, and sacrifices in the 60s, 70s, and 80s is that it was more difficult to score runs then, so it made sense to try these plays. It isn't only stat-geeks who feel this way, Joe Morgan would say the same thing.

    I think you would enjoy reading Bill James' most recent Historical Baseball Abstract. Aside from just being an extraordinary writer, he spends some time writing about how he actually *prefers* this style of game to the current inflated scoring environment, which leads to more walks, strikeouts, and home runs. He suggests that you could fiddle with the rules of the game to make runs more difficult, and there are in fact many ways you could do this.

    "When most or all Major League teams are using the same models to pursue the same market inefficiencies, how will they keep asses in the seats?"

    I do think that inefficiencies are becoming harder to exploit, but that is why the better clubs are always looking for new inefficiencies. However, the asses will always fill the seats, because no matter how good you are at evaluating talent, constructing a roster, or making in-game decisions, there will always be a huge element of *randomness* to the outcome of a game, season, or playoff series. This is what keeps people interested -- anything can happen.

  38. First, thanks for the link. Second, your characterization of me as an enemy of Morgan is wrong. My post offers both criticism and praise for Morgan. Having worked with on air personalities at ESPN over the years, I know that on-air broadcaster is a difficult job. Joe does it well at times, and other times he's not so good.

    And while the Dave Roberts steal of second was the turning point of the game and maybe the series, it was because of the way it effected Tom Gordon, not in the stolen base itself. Gordon, concentrating on stopping the steal, lost concentration on the batter. If Gordon took the attitude of Jim Palmer or Dwight Gooden toward stolen bases (let them steal; if I get the batter, he's not going to score) the steal would have been irrelevant. Here's what I wrote at the time.

  39. Thanks for using me for the hyperlink for "enemies" in "Joe has many..." It was very kind.

  40. Serves me right for going on vacation!

    As a reader of James for 23 years (gulp), and an 87% Paul DePodesta apologist, my two cents are these -- I, too, prefer Little Ball, especially when it involves the stolen base, snappy defense, and *occasional* usage of the sac bunt in targeted situations. Luckily for me, my favorite team likes these things even more than I do, and also (relatedly) they are very good, so I get the best of all worlds.

    Also note this -- James has been regularly arguing *against* the more rigid pieties of the sabermetric revolution for at least five years now, and baiting his fans his whole career. It's part of his charm, his rigor, and his unlovable crankiness.

    Finally, as regards second basemen, and knowing no one will ever again read this thread ... I have spent way too much time tweaking around with the list of best 2Bmen, using James' Win Shares (and pro-rating all seasons to 162 games) .... and while I won't impose a long list of numbers here, I will just say that IMO there are four distinct groups of Hall of Fame-worthy second basemen; in each group there ain't a hell of a lot of difference between the top and the bottom. I make my list like this:

    GROUP A
    1) Eddie Collins
    2) Rogers Hornsby
    3) Joe Morgan
    4) Nap Lajoie

    GROUP B
    5) Jackie Robinson
    6) Craig Biggio
    7) Charlie Gehringer
    8) Ryne Sanberg
    9) Roberto Alomar

    GROUP C
    10) Frankie Frisch
    11) Rod Carew

    GROUP D
    12) Bobby Grich
    13) Billy Herman
    14) Joe Gordon
    15) Jeff Kent

    A Group E, comprising of on-the-bubble HoFers, would look to me like this:
    16) Nellie Fox
    17) Larry Doyle
    18) Bobby Doerr
    19) Lou Whitaker
    20) Willie Randolph
    21) Johnny Evers
    22) Tony Lazzeri
    23) Red Schoendienst

    ---

    These rankings don't discount too much the lower quality of play 80 years ago; when I finish wasting more time studying *that*, I might see how you'd rank Morgan first....

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