It’s truly amazing how many of our best and brightest baseball minds in the media still misunderstand the Moneyball concept. To some, it’s still rigidly defined as teams that value on-base percentage above all else. For others, it simply means finding ways to earn cheaply. However, the true definition is much more complex. The true meaning is still largely unappreciated and misunderstood.
Take New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden as an example. On Friday, he wrote an article detailing the demise of the Oakland A’s Moneyball. After watching the Yankees crush the A’s in a four-game sweep, Madden figured Moneyball isn’t enough to take down the mighty Yankees. Of course, this view assumes the A’s are the central characters in the “Moneyball era” that has evolved over the past decade. Now that Michael Lewis’s bestseller detailing the evolution of Moneyball is being made into a movie, the Oakland franchise serves as a reference point for the entire debate surrounding the concept. If Oakland wins, Moneyball is considered successful; if they lose, the entire strategy is declared dead. This thought completely misses the point.
The definition is quite simple. Basically, Moneyball means using advanced statistical analysis to find undervalued talent. Initially, these analytics were used by small market teams hoping to compete cheaply against larger market enemies. The Oakland Athletics served as an example of this, as Billy Beane was the first general manager to take these statistics seriously and build a team around them. At the beginning of the decade, the new stat was on-base percentage, which many teams simply overlooked when creating lineups. It worked for a while, but soon (and especially after the book was written) other franchises adopted the tactics Beane employed, including teams with high payrolls. In recent years, Oakland has fallen into mediocrity, leading many to dismiss the concept of Moneyball. Once again, this is wrong thinking.
Now that percentage on base is no longer underestimated, other metrics have been used to build lists while making efficient use of resources. The Tampa Bay Rays are the best example. By using new defensive stats, the 2008 Rays were able to go from the worst team in baseball to runners-up in the World Series. They accomplished this feat without signing any notable free agents or spending much more money. They just developed young talent and brought in players who could improve the defense overall. Of course, Moneyball cannot be seen in a vacuum. Using new stats alone won’t turn a pitiful team into a contender. Even the Rays had good young hitters and good arms. The point, though, is that Moneyball thinking allowed the Rays to compete with financial beasts like the Yankees and Red Sox without spending anywhere near the same amount. Tampa’s front office’s use of new stats helped build a contender. This is thanks to the Moneyball definition; the use of cutting-edge stats to build contending teams, while making more efficient use of money.
The A’s may be going through an era of mediocrity, but ruling out Moneyball as a result is foolish and shortsighted. Teams that do not use new statistical analysis and Moneyball tactics are now a minority in Major League Baseball. There will always be a demand to find and develop undervalued products. Although many in the mainstream media, especially those of an older generation, dismiss new stats and analytics, the monster created by Moneyball is here to stay.