Saturday, October 24, 2009

21 comments "Moneyball" and the Yankees? No Way.

I sat down to write today and thought, “I am not sure I have ever made fun of a female sportswriter on this blog, so today is going to be a first for me in doing that.” Then I thought about it for a long while and even went through some of the topics we have discussed and found out that, yes, this was the first time I had made fun of a female sportswriter. Anyway, halfway through writing this post out, I realized that there were 18 tags with the name “Jemele Hill” referring to them on this blog. Ouch for her. I do realize she is a woman sportswriter but me not realizing this immediately may be more offensive to her than anything else I have written in this space.

On to today’s column. Johnette Howard asks the question “whether the Yankees’ mix of money, ‘Moneyball’is dynastic?” Nevermind the Yankees haven’t won the World Series yet, there is already talk about whether this team can be a dynasty or not. Nevermind the Yankees hadn’t even won the ALCS when this article was written, they were up 3-1 (and now it is 3-2), they hadn’t even GOTTEN TO the World Series, but we are already supposed to wonder if they are a dynasty. Maybe columns like this are a bit premature?

Sportswriters have an interesting relationship with dynasties in baseball. They can’t seem to make up their mind about if they are good or bad. If a team, say the Yankees, win the World Series one year, immediately every sportswriter with access to a keyboard and a computer will write an article asking whether this team can be a dynasty or not? The media feeds on dynasties because that means there are still “good” teams in the sport and baseball hasn’t declined in terms of having quality teams, which means teams are as good today as they were “back in the day” and Joe Morgan cries bitter tears of sadness over this. Then after the Yankees win a couple World Series titles, the media starts to wonder if this “dynasty” is really good for baseball and start pointing out how the way the Commissioner of Baseball has not facilitated a competitively balanced system where every team can compete from year to year…and many sportswriters start screaming for parity, ignoring the fact the #1 reason some teams can’t compete is because of poor management of the franchise. Johnette Howard is in the “excited we may have a dynasty” phase of the Sportswriting Dynasty Cycle.

If you’re wondering how the Yankees got back to being World Series favorites again this year — or, more correctly, what took them so freaking long, given the obscene stacks of cash they’ve been spending? —

This question is easily answerable. The playoffs are a small sample size and if a team doesn’t have good pitching and timely hitting they won’t win a playoff series. Take for example the Angels-Yankees series. The Yankees have gotten great pitching, which has helped them immensely, but what has helped them along with that is timely hitting by primarily Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Look at the numbers for some of the other players on the Yankees roster for the 2009 playoffs, if those two guys weren’t hitting the story being written would probably be what chokers guys like Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez are. We would also be subjected to the same stories about how the Yankees high priced offense can’t do anything in the postseason. In the playoffs there is a small window, maybe 2-3 at bats in a series that makes the difference in a hero and a choker. The pendulum swung the other way this year for the Yankees.

Maybe this answer to question was too logical and that’s why none of this reasoning is used in this column.

Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s coupon-clipping general manager, would seem like the last guy to be conflicted about the answer.

Yes, Billy Beane chooses to coupon-clip on his own accord while ignoring the massive amounts of money A’s ownership throws at him to spend on baseball players. That is exactly how it all happens.

Yet there is Beane on page 275 of “Moneyball,” the seminal 2004 book that laid out his number-crunching way of assembling a team, almost absolving the Yankees’ recent playoff flops by allowing that once any team gets to the playoffs, “My s--- doesn’t work … What happens after that is f------ luck.”

My feelings exactly. It’s how I live with and explain the fact my favorite baseball team made the World Series 5 times in a 10 year span and only won one of those series (Bengoodfella spits up into a trash can).

Then, wait — now here’s Beane on page 141 of this year’s best-seller, “The Yankee Years,” seemingly contradicting his crapshoot theory by telling Joe Torre’s co-author, Tom Verducci, that maybe you really can hoard so much talent that, “At some point, a team becomes so good that they overcome the randomness.”

No, this is not seemingly contradicting anything. I believe journalism majors should take more classes in college that are numbers and statistics oriented, so they won’t be so afraid of numbers and can explain situations like this. What Beane is saying is that some teams are so good they can overcome the random quality of the playoffs. In essence if the playoffs are an economic model, the 1998 Yankees are an outlier in that model, which is not subject to the rules the model currently plays by. So this statement isn’t a contradiction, just an understanding 10 years after the fact that the 1998 Yankees were a very good team which wasn’t subject to the random nature of the playoffs for one reason or another. I don’t know if I believe the 1998 Yankees were outliers in this fashion, but I understand exactly what he is saying.

The 2009 Yankees could be a juggernaut in ascent.

Or they could be a very good baseball team that loses in the World Series to another good team, just like the 2001 and 2003 Yankees. Or this could be a team that is good but loses suddenly in the series due to poor pitching and poor timely hitting much like the 2004 Yankees. They aren’t necessarily a dynasty in the works. Let them win a World Series first.

I’m not going to go up and down the roster of this team, but I still see holes others may not see that would prevent the team from being a dynasty. You want examples? Here you go, let me get picky with this “juggernaut” team:

1. The catcher position is old. I know Posada is still raking but he is still old and we all know old guys tend to not necessarily decline gradually, but sometime it all happens at once. There are guys in the minors who could step up for Posada but from what I understand in reading the scouting reports they aren’t ready for next year and probably won’t even come close to Posada’s production when they are ready. I don’t know if the Yankees should be counting on landing Mauer either.

2. They still only have 3 good starting pitchers on the roster and one has almost opted for retirement before and the other is injury prone. The reason the Yankees are in a three man rotation is because they have screwed up Joba Chamberlain as a starter and don’t trust any of their other options. They don’t have much starting pitching depth, which isn’t in itself a problem, but a dynasty also inevitably has to withstand injuries and injuries to its pitching staff and as it is set up now this would be a major problem.

3. Damon and Matsui are free agents this year and Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera will never be able to duplicate their production. Even if these guys are re-signed, Matsui can only DH and Damon may not be worth the risk to sign him for what he may want (Yes, I know the Yankees will go sign Holliday/Mauer/everyone else in the league when they are free agents, but this has gotten them in trouble before and these are the NEW Yankees who go by the Moneyball statistical method according to this column). I still don’t know if they are good options over the next 1-2 years that can help this team become a dynasty.

4. How long will Rivera really stick around before he retires? The entire bullpen is based around the fact he can pitch two innings or come in when another guy screws it all up. What happens when the Yankees bullpen doesn’t have him to count on? He’s been a pretty big part of the Yankees postseason success.

(Here comes pure speculation from me: Hughes and the rest of the Yankees bullpen really benefit from Mariano Rivera (obviously), but not in the way you would think. Teams know they have to be aggressive against the Yankees bullpen if they are behind in the 6th/7th/8th inning so power pitchers like Hughes and Chamberlain are able to take advantage of this aggressiveness and sense of urgency by getting the batters to swing at more pitches out of the strike zone. I don’t know obviously know who the Yankees will get as their closer in 1-2 years but when batters feel more confident being patient with the Yankees set up guys, how will that affect them? I’m just saying it is a domino effect where Rivera not being at the end of the bullpen could change the mindset of the opposing team’s batting lineup. Again, this is pure speculation, but when batters feel like they can more patient and don’t have to swing at everything because Rivera is not there to close the games out and they have to score NOW, it will affect some of the Yankees other guys in the bullpen.

My basic point is that I am not sure if this Yankees team has the makings of a dynasty, or more importantly, can they win one World Series before we start talking about this?

threw $423.5 million at just three players this offseason: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. He traded for free-spirited Nick Swisher, coaxed Andy Pettitte into sticking around, and gave some young homegrown guys a chance.

Here’s another point I think is being glossed over by Howard. These young homegrown guys who have been given a chance aren’t going to be difference makers for the Yankees…at least the position players don’t seem to be. Gardner may turn out to be a decent starter and the same thing for Melky Cabrera but the young guys for the Yankees are primarily filling in roles for this Yankee team. I don’t know if the Yankees can be a dynasty if they have to rely on signing the best free agent available to replace guys on the roster. That’s usually not how dynasties are built.

This is all a lousy development if you’re cheering against a Yankees’ renaissance. But that is not the worst news a Yankee hater could hear.

I still think we are getting a little bit ahead of ourselves here. The Yankees haven’t won the World Series this year yet and as of the time Howard was writing this column, they still hadn’t beaten the Angels. They may be in the middle of creating a dynasty, but let’s let them win a World Series first.

This powerhouse Yankees team we’re seeing now is what can happen when the Yankees combine their bottomless checking account with some of the Moneyball–style statistical modeling that Beane and Red Sox stats guru Bill James popularized.

The Yankees have not used Moneyball-style statistical modeling to put this 2009 Yankee team together. They signed the best two pitchers available in free agency. Then they signed the best position player in free agency, who just happens to play great defense and draw walks. It was a coincidence. The Yankees are the anti-thesis of Moneyball. Simply because Nick Swisher is on the team doesn’t mean the Yankees are now a Moneyball-type statistical modeling team. I just don’t see this as true. They still go get the best players available in free agency when they can. I hate it when sportswriters attribute things to “Moneyball” when it’s not always true.

Let’s see the evidence for the claim the Yankees are combining spending absurd amounts of money with Moneyball-style statistics.

The Yankees this season spent nearly $70 million more than the next closest big-payroll team, the Mets. They also spent smarter.

Smartly spending a ton of money for talented players is very near the exact opposite of the “Moneyball” approach. The “Moneyball” approach is about smartly spending very little money on talented players that other teams don’t view as assets. I am pretty sure none of the guys in the Yankees starting lineup really fit that description.

After signing far too many bust pitchers, Cashman admitted he more actively investigated the character of each new player this time around.

You mean he did due diligence before handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to a group of athletes this time? Any manager with any type of common sense would do this. I think this statement can help explain why the Yankees didn’t do so well over the past couple of years in the playoffs. Generally signing players without the GM actively doing background on the player is a bad idea. These background investigations have nothing to do with “Moneyball.”

Since taking sole control of the everyday baseball operations in 2006, Cashman has relied more on statistical analysis than he ever did,

This was probably the full extent of Brian Cashman’s statistical analysis since 2006:

(Brian Cashman in 2007) “I need someone to analyze for me if we re-sign Alex Rodriguez to a new contract how many teams will have lower payrolls than how much we pay the left side of our infield.”

(Brian Cashman in 2008) “I need someone to analyze for me how much money is coming off our payroll this year from our previous bad signings.”

(Brian Cashman in 2009) “I need someone to analyze for me how much money it would take to sign Mark Teixeira, AJ Burnett, and CC Sabathia. Also, please analyze how many teams have an entire roster that doesn’t have as high a payroll as three of our infielders. Someone please analyze what every other team has offered to these players and then outbid them. Analyze what that number will be for me so we can offer these three players the highest amount of money currently being offered to them.”

It sounds like sacrilege to say that Torre’s departure was needed. But it feels that way if you were around the Yankees his last three or four seasons. The team’s four rings in Torre’s first six years inhibited players who came later.

To me that doesn’t sound like sacrilege, but actually sounds a hell of a lot like bullshit. I am not saying Torre’s time hadn’t come but it is a crock of shit to use the excuse the Yankees success inhibited the players who came later. If these players felt inhibited by a standard that required them to make the playoffs every year and contend for a World Series, perhaps guys like Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jason Giambi, Jaret Wright, and Kevin Brown shouldn’t have been paid as much money as they got to play baseball for the Yankees. I have no sympathy for players that want to be paid like top players but then whine if the expectations are too high. If you don’t like it, don’t sign with the Yankees or don’t agree to a trade to the Yankees. It’s pretty simple.

Even superstars like Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson admitted that they tried to just fit in on arrival. They constantly heard they had to “earn their pinstripes.”

Yeah, I’m sorry but I am not buying this load of crap that Johnette Howard is currently selling. These statements may be true but I am not going to feel bad for either Clemens or Johnson for having trouble fitting into a culture that requires a player to cut his long hair or play well for the team in the playoffs. Again, if you don’t want this responsibility then don’t sign with the Yankees. It’s not a big damn secret success in the postseason is a requirement to “earn your pinstripes.”

I don’t think I believe Howard should be making excuses for these players or criticizing Torre for attempting to create a winning culture where the players on the team are expected to measure up to the Yankees teams that won 4 World Series. It’s not a secret what playing in New York entails and it isn’t even Joe Torre who sets the expectations and puts the spotlight on the players, it is Yankee ownership and the media in New York who do set the expectations the majority of the time.

Jason Giambi, for one, never felt free to fully express his Inner Frat Boy.

I’m sorry but when he got that truckload of money backed up to his driveway, did that make him forget about the Yankees team policy on facial hair and that New York is the #1 largest media market in the United States so the expectations are going to be high? It could have, but it isn’t Joe Torre or anyone else but Jason Giambi’s fault this happened. A change of clubhouse culture happens anytime a new manager takes over a team, but that doesn’t always mean the previous culture was negative or bad in any way. To me, this is a case where Joe Torre had his time in New York run out, but highly paid baseball players were attempting to raise their income without a corresponding increase in expectations. I think it was more playing in the spotlight of New York and Yankees ownership rather than Joe Torre that set these expectations.

The Steinbrenner Manifesto — any year without a World Series championship is a bad year — had become such accepted gospel, a few Yankees admitted they actually cried with relief, not joy, after they clinched a playoff spot in Boston the year after the collapse.

Is the pressure probably over immense? Yes it is. I am not going to say there isn’t a lot of pressure on the players to do well. To an extent the Steinbrenner Manifesto can be a healthy thing. I don’t think it ended up being healthy over the past couple years and missing the playoffs last year may have caused the fans and ownership to lower expectations a little bit more, which was a good thing in the long run probably.

We’re getting a little off topic on whether the current Yankees are a dynasty or not…even though they haven’t won a World Series yet. Ah Hell, let’s just stay off topic…

Girardi has his faults too. He can over-manage, get too tightly wound.

He DOES over-manage and takes every opportunity to over-manage. In fact, the only loss the Yankees had in the series against the Angels was when Girardi made an inexplicable decision to pull an effective RH reliever in order to get another RH reliever in the game…even though the game was in extra innings and he only had one pitcher left for the rest of the game.

Other Girardi decisions — refusing to burn out his relievers as Torre chronically did;

I am not denying that Torre burnt out relievers, but we have to look at who Torre had in his bullpen over the last couple of years versus who Girardi has at his disposal this year. Torre tended to overuse the relievers that he trusted, which wasn’t exactly smart, but late in his career the Yankees did not give an extraordinary amount of brilliant options to choose from…unless someone has a higher opinion of Kyle Farnsworth than I do.

I have no idea why we are talking about Joe Torre v. Joe Girardi right now. This has nothing to do with the original premise of this column, which for those who have forgotten, is whether the Yankees could be a dynasty-in-the-making or not.

cultivating A-Rod’s trust — have been shrewd too. A ritual that newcomer Burnett started — ambushing each hero of the Yankees’ 15 regular-season walk-off wins with a whipped-cream pie to the face — has injected a sort of lightness the Yanks haven’t had in a long, long time. Music, once verboten in Torre’s clubhouse, is back.

I understand what clubhouse chemistry can do for a team, but am I really to believe on a team with a bunch of millionaires that A-Rod gaining trust in his manager (whatever that means exactly), whipped cream pranks and music are the what caused the Yankees to win one playoff series? It really has nothing to do with good pitching and timely hitting? Because honestly, I think things like the fact Sabathia has pitched three great games and A-Rod has had timely base hits and home runs has more to do with the Yankees success than whatever you want to call what Howard just listed here.

If they don’t win the World Series, it will be a mild surprise.

Considering they are one of three teams still in contention at the writing of this article that are still in the playoffs, I would say this isn’t a massive, bold prediction to call it a mild surprise if they don’t win the World Series. I don’t know why everyone is writing off the Phillies, but I guess we will find out if they deserve to be written off once the World Series starts.

They had the best record in baseball and the feeling they’re throwing off is just different.

Oh, it’s “the feeling they’re throwing off” that is convincing us the Yankees could win the World Series. I always feel stupid when I try to use baseball-related reasons to combat the arguments sportswriters throw at me…especially when that sportswriter’s argument is based on “feelings” and whipped cream pies in the face being the catalyst for the argument as to why a team is going to win the World Series.

If the Yankees win it all this year, it’s not just the money, stupid. It’ll be a new twist on Moneyball itself.

No it won’t. The Yankees have very little to do with the book “Moneyball.” Now if this last sentence is supposed to be a play on the fact the Yankees spend a lot of money…well a World Series victory still won’t throw a new twist in the idea to sign the best players and hope they play well in the postseason.

I realize it has been a while, but wasn’t the original premise of this article that the Yankees could become a dynasty based on the “new” formula of spending money on the best players and a completely false connection to the book “Moneyball?” Johnette Howard never really made a compelling argument about the original premise of the article. Maybe she realized halfway through writing the column it may make sense to wait until the Yankees actually win the World Series before asking whether they can be a dynasty…and then felt like just rambling a little bit after that. Either way, other than the fact Nick Swisher used to play for the A’s, I don’t see a “Moneyball” connection to this Yankee team. I see a team who is finally well in the postseason based on one of the most successful postseason formulas available, good pitching and timely hitting.

21 comments:

Gene said...

Ben,

YOu seem to know a lot of baseball history. Who are some of the biggest overmanagers of all time? Cuz I gotta tell you, Girardi looks right up there to me. However, I don't know enough history to tell if he is that bad or not. What do you think?

Martin said...

Bobby Cox. Tony "the Mad Genius" La Russa. The list need go no further.

Gene said...

Martin,

Is Gerardi even in their class?

Bengoodfella said...

Bobby Cox tends to overmanage a lot and he also tends to rely on the same guys out of the bullpen night after night. Gosh...I will have to think about a few more of those. Everyone thinks La Russa is a genius but I am not so sure honestly.

Girardi has done some impressive overmanaging of late though. The other two would be proud.

Martin said...

Girardi doesn't have the decades long body of work that the other two have. He's over managed this post-season, but most managers will the first couple times they get there. I didn't see much over managing from him during the regular season, so i think I'd have to say that we have to give ol' Joe a longer rope before we hang him.

LaRussa is the worst I've seen in 30 years of watching baseball. He singlehandedly makes the games 15 minutes longer with all his "brilliant" moves. I'm sure AJ and Chris W can vouch and relate some of their own ideas about him and this topic.

Fred Trigger said...

I think Billy Martin could be another one who would overmanage. I mean, really, your going to have Reggie Jackson bunt instead of letting him do his thing? Oh, which reminds me, Dusty Baker is another canidate who did that same shit with Adam Dunn.

Gene said...

What about Whitey Herzog putting a left handed pitcher in left field and bringing him in to pitch when a left hander comes up. I think La Russa has done this as well.

RuleBook said...

And proof that Brad Childress is a bad coach. Vikings are down by 10 with 14 seconds left at the Steelers 36. That's a 53-yard FG. There is not enough time left to throw a TD, recover an onside kick, and run a play to get in FG range. The only chance the Vikings have at this point is FG + onside + hail mary.

Instead, Childress calls another play, and when the play was over, there was 4 seconds left on the clock. Now, no matter what happens, the clock expires at the end of the play.

Bengoodfella said...

I think La Russa is never seen as overmanaging because he is a "genius." Putting his pitcher at the #8 spot in the lineup (which brings up the point I want to make that if your #8 hitter isn't as good a hitter as the pitcher then you need to really look at the makeup of your team) and pretty much doing exactly what Martin says he does. He's seen as a genius though.

Rulebook, I don't need proof Brad Childress is a bad coach...I am sure TMQ will include that passage in his column this week.

Gene said...

Larussa doesn't do it because the pitcher is a better hitter. IT has something to do with bunching the outs and is so brilliant I can't even describe it. Basicallly, the genius says your worst hitter should not bat last.

Bengoodfella said...

I don't want to make fun of La Russa because he can be a pretty decent manager and kudos to him for thinking outside the box every once in a while. Still, that is a wacky idea that even after seeing the explanation I didn't completely understand.

AJ said...

I'm surprised La Russa just doesn't hit his pitcher 5th. In fact, why doesn't he just run a team full of one inning to two inning pitchers and pinch hit every time they come up? What he fails to realize is his pitcher will bat once every 9 batters, no matter where he is in the lineup.

Leyland over manages a lot as well. Or under manages, which is a form of over managing I think. Leyland sure does get a lot of credit for screwing up a lot. I mean he got tons of credit this year for the Tigers, but what about last years pathetic season? Or the fact he failed to make the playoffs even with that payroll? You want a manager that over manages, check out his lineup from day to day. I could NEVER tell where anyone would be hitting, except for Cabby, from game to game...and I watched all but a handful of games. You don't see that with teams that win (Yankees, Angels, Twins, Red Sox, Philly). And I can't even talk about the way he handles pitchers.

J.S. said...

What's with the font?

KentAllard said...

My friends, we are facing a crisis situation here. I think we are unanimous is supporting Jamarcus Russell’s valiant attempt to record the lowest passing efficiency rating for a season in NFL history. But a potential usurper has emerged. After this weekend, Derek Anderson’s rating is 40.6, while Jamarcus’ is a near-Pro Bowl level 47.2. This aggression must not stand. We must do everything we can to prevent this miscarriage of justice, whether it is calling on the Browns’ offensive coordinator to call 40 shovel passes in a row to raise Anderson’s completion percentage, or asking a Browns receiver to just once not drop a pass.

We have one ally in our fight. Despite pulling him in the second quarter of this week’s game against the Jets, Battlin’ Tom Cable says Jamarcus is still his man. “Why wouldn’t he be?” Cable asked. “He can throw the ball 90 yards from his knees. Most quarterbacks can’t even see the safety he’s aiming at from that distance.”

Bengoodfella said...

J.S., I copy and pasted from a Microsoft Word document and it looked like that for some reason. I hated it but had to live with it because I didn't have the time or energy to change it much.

Bobby Cox also changed his lineup a lot this year. It could have something to do with the fact the Braves absolutely refuse to find a good leadoff hitter, but my point remains. I know how you feel AJ. I sometimes wonder if teams would do just as well if decisions were made by paper/rock/scissors.

I sometimes think the affect La Russa, Cox and Leyland has is more in the locker room than on the baseball field.

Bengoodfella said...

Kent, Jake Delhomme may have something to say about this before the season is over. Just a warning...

I talk about this very briefly in the MMQB today. Russell has to stay on as starting QB.

AJ said...

I love the reason why he is staying with Russell...cuz he can throw the ball 90 yards from his knees. The only real problem I see with that is, you know, a QB throwing from his knees has most likely already been sacked. Not to mention throwing the ball 90 yards only matters for hail mary plays, and Oakland isn't in enough close games for that to matter.

What a stupid stupid coach he is. How does this guy have a job? Oh, I forgot, Al Davis hired him. Nevermind.

I think we can drop Anderson from the equation, since he probably isn't going to have enough starts to qualify for any records. Plus Cleveland still gets to play Detroit. So have no fear, he will post at least a 120 rating against them and probably raise his season total to above 50.

Gene said...

Is the following quote accurate?

“He can throw the ball 90 yards from his knees. Most quarterbacks can’t even see the safety he’s aiming at from that distance.”

If so, I think I see the problem. He is aiming at the SAFETY when he should really be aiming at the wide receiver!

KentAllard said...

Uh, that was a joke. Apparently, a very non-funny one. My apologies.

He actually has thrown the ball sixty yards from his knees, and as far as anyone knows, has never thrown at a safety. On purpose.

Bengoodfella said...

Haha...good catch Gene. AJ, you are right, if a QB is on his knees he either has fallen down or been sacked and if he has been sacked then he can't throw the ball to anyone. I think Tom Cable may not completely understand football too well.

Gene said...

It was a funny joke. Just wanted to make sure.