Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Moneyball...sequel?

Good article by Michael Lewis in the NYT Sunday Magazine about the minor league system (warning: it's looooong). The focus is about the huge emphasis on power in baseball today, but it's interesting for a lot more reasons. There's a brief discussion about steroids, but Lewis is pretty ambivalent about the ireffects, saying it's difficult to separate the effects of steroids from other factors (he also seems skeptical about those other factors, but it's a refreshing view). The focus is on two minor league players drafted while he was writing Moneyball, one who got a whole lot of attention in the book (Mark Teahen) and one who I didn't remember at all but was in fact mentioned (Steve Stanley). Cool that he continued to follow those guys.

Anyway, in and high school and college both were (obviously) huge on-base guys; but what's happened since then is that everyone they've been around since being drafted has tried to make them hit for power. What's ridiculous is that this is from within the A's organization, the club which has popularized the importance of OBP over slugging. Listening to all the advice about hitting may have ruined Stanley's career, though Teahen chose to ignore them, and is now a major leaguer (probably thanks to the Beltran trade, sending him to KC, who needed a 3B -- unfortunately he's now on the DL).

So there's some pretty interesting insights into the way farm systems work. A couple other random notes from the article:

- In a refreshing change from his writing in Moneyball, Lewis seems to have added some (healthy) skepticism to Beane's views:
Oakland's first hypothesis was that a college player who got himself on base at an extraordinarily high rate, and who drew many bases on balls, possessed a core competency: an ability to judge, and control, the strike zone. A keen eye, and the discipline to use it, reduced the risk that a hitter would fail completely as a pro...The Oakland hypothesis might prove to be right; it might prove to be wrong. It might give Oakland a better-than-average shot at finding big-league players, or it might not.
[His point, though, is a good one: franchises can't be worse than they already are at picking talent, so why not gamble?] He also portrays Beane as a little more human, not guy who always knows what he's doing and who always alienates "the old scouts": when Stanley (5'7") first took the field, Beane blurted out "God, he's a little runt! Take a deep breath and say, 'This can work.'"

- A while back, when Giambi's admitting steroid use was leaked and the Yanks were trying desperately to get out of his contract, I was laughing at the Teahen section of Moneyball:
Everyone stares silently at Teahen's name for about thirty seconds. Eric says, "I hate to say it but if you want to talk about another Jason Giambi, this guy could be it." Giambi was a natural hitter who developed power ["developed"...yeah right] only after the Oakland A's drafted him. In the second round. Over the objections of scouts who [rightfully] said he couldn't run, throw, field, or hit with power. Jason Giambi: [steroid-powered] MVP of the American League in 2000.
Okay, sorry, I couldn't help myself with the editorializing. Anyway, Giambi was a 3B then too; also in the article baseball people compare him to George Brett. And Wade Boggs. Amazing how baseball people -- even nerdy Oakland front-office types -- can be so small minded, only describing players in terms of other similar players -- who play the same position. Isn't it possible that Teahen has a fairly unique set of skills? Or is more like, say, someone else who doesn't play third base?

- Finally, I have new-found respect for Mark McLemore.


  1. Also, Jay Payton rocks. Thanks for getting ejected, Trot!

  2. So Lewis's last NYT Magazine article, "Coach", will be a book soon. "Moneyball" first appeared as an NYT Mag article also. Meaning this is his next project? A sort of Moneyball II, following minor leaguers? I guess he's just a baseball writer now...

  3. Yeah, I enjoyed the article. its always nice to read about baseball written by people that are not traditional sportswriters - although Lewis may be heading that way.

    I guess it really is a good point that teams don't really know what they are getting when they draft players. And the Oakland theory is just one.

    On the comparisons to 3B Brett and Boggs, I kind of understand where they are going with that. I think that they have to choose those guys since 3B is traditionally a power position (maybe or maybe not - more on that in a minute). When dealing with guys that don't have power, you have to compare them to the only real non power 3B that were extremely successful, Boggs and Brett.

    Although that does beg the question - is 3B really a power position. In the past 50 years or so, how many 3B made the HOF? I can think of only Schmidt, Eddie Matthews, Brooks Robinson (certainly not a HR hitter), Brett and Boggs. So 3/5 of the HOF caliber 3B are not power hitters. And take a look at current rosters. sure there are some sluggers - ARod, Beltre, chavez, rolen, blalock. But there are also some solid 3B that I would not classify as big HR hitters - Meuller, Hinskie, Sean Burroughs, Joe Randa.

    Not sure what the book "Coach" is going to be about. Maybe it is about a coach in the minors? or a coach he had? I'm sure it will entertaining.

    Hey Joe Blanton makes the list tonight, another one to do so in a losing cause. Its a good thing the list isn't 7 innings cause we'd have a ton of those.

  4. Coach is somewhat of a memoir, of Lewis's high school coach. Tough love, heart of gold, yadda yadda yadda. Could be good, could be terrible -- I didn't bother to read the article.

    Man, there are a lot of new baseball books out. Seems every columnist has at least one. Here are a couple that seem interesting...

    The Book on the Book by Felber, The Juice by Jaffe (unfortunate title, thanks to Canseco), License to Deal by Crasnick