Moneyball is the New Moneyball

As you may have already seen, the trailer for the Moneyball movie was released on the internet sometime last week. If you missed it, here’s the gist: You see Brad Pitt as Billy Beane flipping a desk, Brad Pitt as Billy Beane throwing a chair, and Brad Pitt as Billy Beane sulking in an empty stadium. (Also, Brad Pitt as Billy Beane making visors look cool.) All other characters are presented as stereotypes, hopefully just for the sake of the trailer. There’s an old scout with a hearing aid who doesn’t know who Fabio is. Jonah Hill — playing Peter “I’m not Paul DePodesta” Brand — is an awkward fat nerd who I assume lives in his mother’s basement and doesn’t talk to girls and spends all his time writing a Mets blog late at night . . . oh, wait.

Moving on.

But more importantly, Moneyball doesn’t look like a terrible movie the way The Green Lantern looks like a terrible movie based on just the previews. Or the way Mr. Popper’s Penguins looks like a terrible movie based on just the previews (and I loved that book growing up). Moneyball doesn’t look half-bad based on just the previews. This is exciting. It looks a little bit like The Social Network, only the action scenes are baseball games instead of shots of an awkward kid wordlessly running off somewhere in a sweatshirt. Moneyball looks like it should be entertaining, and the best baseball movie since HBO’s Sugar. I’m excited to see it whenever it’s released, so I suppose that makes the trailer a success.

In the meantime, seeing the Moneyball preview inspired me to do two things over the weekend:

The first was to rewatch The Social Network. It doesn’t hold up well the second time around.

The second, and more relevant, thing I did was reread Moneyball, the actual Michael Lewis book. I’m still 60 pages from the end – and gee whiz, I hope Billy Beane makes it out okay — but this, thankfully, did hold up the second time around. Though I’ll note that I think this is partially because I’ve come back to it with a fresh set of eyes.

The first time I read Moneyball, I found it depressing from the perspective of a Mets fan. There wasn’t a lot to inspire confidence in the organization. Then-Mets-GM Steve Phillips and recent-Mets-GM Omar Minaya come across as nervous, bleeding fishes swimming in a shark tank. The Mets trade away Jason Isringhausen for Billy Taylor because they overvalue saves. They take Scott Kazmir in the draft and have trouble signing him, and you know how that story ends. You can just feel the bad stuff coming, and you can’t stop it. It was almost like a horror novel.

Reading Moneyball this time around, I now know the sharks are running the Mets, and this makes for a far more comforting experience. Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, Paul DePodesta’s computer, and J.P. Ricciardi are all featured prominently by Michael Lewis. All four work for the Mets now, and there’s a lot of insight in the book about the way that group was thinking almost a decade ago. I figured most of it would be outdated: After all, there seems to be magazine article or blog post every few months explaining what the new market inefficiency is, something about Moneyball 2.0. Defense is the new Moneyball. Relievers and defense are the new Moneyball. More defense. Shy pitchers. Old players. Defense. The point being, the particular version of Moneyball, as explained by Michael Lewis, is outdated, mainstream, and has been replaced by other market inefficiencies.

But as I read through, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Most of the information detailed in Moneyball still seems relevant, and sounds like thing the Mets are doing. A quick example that stood out to me: In the draft room chapter, Lewis explains Paul DePodesta’s ideal draft in a throw away paragraph:

“Paul’s view – the “objective” one – is that the hitters are a much better bet than the pitchers. He thinks the best thing to do with the pitchers is draft them in bulk, lower down. He doesn’t want to risk losing his hitters.”

These are the Mets’ first seven picks of this year’s draft:

  • 1. Brandon Nimmo, a high school outfielder
  • 1S. Michael Fulmer, a high school pitcher
  • 2. Cory Mazzoni, a college pitcher
  • 3. Logan Verrett, a college pitcher
  • 4. Tyler Pill, a college pitcher
  • 5. John Leathersich, a college pitcher
  • 6. Joe Tuschak, a high school outfielder

Maybe this just me seeing what I want to see, but that looks a heck of a lot like what DePodesta described in Moneyball. Nimmo was the hitter the Mets wanted. They followed him with five pitchers in a row. It seems like the same thing to me.

But the draft strategy is not the only surprisingly up-to-date part of the book. The term “Moneyball” is now synonymous with on-base percentage, if mostly for people who don’t read. That misses the point of the book. Still, most Moneyball 2.0 articles take the position that a majority of baseball teams understand the importance of getting on base and keeping the lineup moving, such that it isn’t a way to find cheap, good players anymore. Moneyball-as-on-base-percentage is supposedly dead.

Only, once again, check out these current Mets. David Wright and Ike Davis are injured, Jason Bay can’t hit the ball past the infielders, and on most days, the lineup is Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and a half-dozen second basemen scattered all over the field. But they keep scoring runs. The Mets are sixth (out of sixteen NL teams) in runs per game, and they’re outscoring every other team in their division. They lead the league in scoring this month.

Because – points at Jonah Hill – they get on base. The Mets are 3rd in the league in on-base percentage and one behind the lead for walks drawn. It’s not because of their stars: Jose Reyes is the only player in the top ten in on-base percentage (he’s 10th), and no Mets are in the top ten in walks. It’s a collective effort. The average on-base percentage in the National League this season is .318; fourteen Mets have come to bat fifty or more times this season, and eleven of them have on-base percentages better than the average. (And the other three are close: Jason Bay is 12 points below average, Jason Pridie is 10 points below average, and Willie Harris is 1 point below average.) Anyone who isn’t getting on base tends to be quickly given the Ned Stark treatment — unlike last season, these Mets only keep the guys who get on base. So the duct tape lineup keeps the moving along, which adds up in runs. And those runs are keeping the Mets above water.

That is what I’ve found the most interesting revisiting the book: The ideas Lewis covers still work. The things Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta talk about in Moneyball seem to be the same things they’re doing with the Mets today. They drafted the exact way described in the book. They’re keeping themselves in the race – the Mets are just 5 games out in the wild card — by throwing hitters out there who keep the lineup moving. I’m interested to see how they handle the trade deadline, but if their strategy is as described in Moneyball, the Mets should be making a move any day now. But the larger point is that Moneyball reads a lot more like an expose on the Mets’ current front office than I thought it would. While everyone is searching around for the new Moneyball, it seems that the original ideas in Moneyball are doing a decent enough job with these Mets.

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8 Comments

Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

8 responses to “Moneyball is the New Moneyball

  1. Rob

    I wonder how the current Mets front office would be/wouldn’t be different if it were Billy Beane instead of Sandy Alderson running the show. Depodesta and Ricciardi are in place, but what do you think Beane would add or subtract from the group?

    • Patrick Flood

      Well, since 2006 Beane hasn’t had anywhere near the success he had early in the decade, though the A’s did manage a .500 finish last season. He’s still hamstrung by one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, so if you gave him the Mets money (or whatever is left of it), it’d certainly be interesting. But I’m not sure if it would be all the different from the Sandy Alderson Mets. They’re both guys who rely on progressive thinking; the biggest difference is, in Moneyball, Alderson comes off as a no-BS guy, while Beane is someone who’s emotions sometimes get the better of him. Plus Beane has the whole, “If you’re so smart, why don’t you win every game” thing dogging him since that book came out. All that makes me think maybe the Mets are better off with Sandy.

      • Rob

        Agreed. I guess it’s just a bit of curiosity to wonder how Beane might affect the whole dynamic in Flushing. But by far the best part about having Alderson in the GM chair is the notion that the adults are finally running things. Jeff Wilpon’s interview today is a great example. There’s just no way he’s going to step out of line and publicly contradict Sandy. With Omar it was the Wilpon’s taking away his speaking privileges, not the other way around.

  2. With your contention that the Mets’ draft shows the continuing vitality of the strategy DePo used in Moneyball, I think it might be a case of you seeing what you want to see. Drafting two hitters in the first seven picks does not sound to me like “draft[ing pitchers] in bulk, lower down.” That’s not necessarily a knock on the Mets’ draft strategy, just not sure it’s fits with what they did 10 years ago.

    • Patrick Flood

      I thought it might have been confirmation bias. But, I think DePo mentioned something in the press after the draft about “wanting to grab his hitter (Nimmo) early, because there was plenty of pitching in the draft.” Something to that effect. I’ll try to dig it up.

  3. Ed

    What you don’t mention here is every player on the Mets who’s being successful is an prodect from Omar Minaya. That while these accomplishments are note worthy it’s not Sandy or any of his staff swinging the bats. In fact the contributions of the players by their additions is nil at best. Whatever MoneyBall is or isn’t it’s not working on the field for the Mets left by Minaya, thats just called “playing hardball”.

    • Rob

      I’m pretty sure Omar didn’t actually take any swings either…It would be really impressive if Sandy had replaced every single player on the roster with “his guys” wouldn’t it?

    • Patrick Flood

      Well, Scott Hairston, Willie Harris, and Ronny Paulino are all Sandy Alderson guys. The rest are Omar Minaya guys, true, but it’s also true that Minaya didn’t use some of these guys last season. Jesus Feliciano and Jeff Francouer saw a ton of time in the outfield in 2010 — two out machines — and a 20 year old Ruben Tejada played second base and shortstop while Justin Turner torched Triple-A. Also: Jenrry Mejia.

      Just acquiring players isn’t good enough. You have to use the pieces you have correctly.

      Then again, Jose Reyes is a Steve Phillips guy. So is David Wright. Do we give him credit for the rest of their respective Mets careers?

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