Saturday, December 4, 2004

Phase One
A busy weekend in Windsor/Detroit beckons. Some play. Mostly work though. So Weekend Reading might be a little late. In the meantime, a few things.

Brian Wong (in Chart) and Torontoist (who stood beside us on Thursday night) with reviews of Feist. The latter pines for a little Feist/Martha Wainwright action, but we're more interested in a Feist/Keren Ann pairing ourselves.

Here is us on U2, Bob Marley and God (theirs and everyone else's). And, for the sake of argument, we've added a comment option to our Best Of list for the year - a tally we expect to add to after a weekend spent strapped to some earphones.

Finally, we must ask: What exactly did Michael Lewis and Billy Beane do to the Toronto Star? For the past year the daring duo of Geoff Baker and Richard Griffin have gone out of their way to tar and feather Beane's baseball management theories as detailed in Lewis' Moneyball. And Friday there came this.

What starts as an argument that the Oakland Athletics' trading for high-priced star catcher Jason Kendall is a sign that the Moneyball philosophy - a stats-oriented concept designed to maximize every dollar spent, avoid paying too much for flashy big names and find hidden and under-utilized gems - is a failure, turns into a rather scattershot denouncement.

Boston, for instance, with its "Moneyball GM" Theo Epstein is held up as a sign that the philosophy doesn't work because A) Theo spent money and B) He placed some emphasis on defence. The first Beane has never been able to do, something that prompted him to employ a different strategy. And the second Moneyball outlines as a secondary consideration.

Fair enough. But didn't Boston also finish third in the Majors in Moneyball-endorsed walks (second if you remove the San Francisco Giants from the equation on account of Barry Bonds)? Didn't that help them lead the league in on base percentage (a previously neglected number popularized by Beane and Moneyball)? Didn't they succeed while upholding the Moneyball philosophy that stolen bases present an inefficient risk (finishing 21st in stolen bases)?

It stands to reason that those who have money are going to spend it. And it stood to reason that as Beane's theories were dissected, they would be adapted and adjusted. But neither of those eventualities debunk all of what Beane has put to use in Oakland. Beane, to our knowledge, has never said he has no interest in star players with expensive contracts. In fact, we think he's said quite the opposite.

Ironically enough - since Beane's theories were meant to eliminate such things - all of this is rather subjective. The Blue Jays, for instance, bombed this year. That could be blamed on any number of things, but maybe it proves that Moneyball doesn't work. Then again, a year ago when the Jays looked to be on the rise, Moneyball was the source of their newfound powers. So who knows? 2005 will be the rubber match.

A good test would be to poll team executives and see how many, regardless of budget, have adjusted, if even slightly, their management philosophies in light of Moneyball. You'd have a hard time getting anyone to make any sort of concession, but this corner is willing to bet that a large number, maybe even approaching a majority, have done so.

But we can't prove anything. So how's this? In the spirit of throwing out anecodtal arguments to see what sticks... The Boston Red Sox have always had money. They've always had talent. But they installed a "Moneyball GM" in Theo Epstein. And hired the great grandfather of Moneyball in Bill James as a senior advisor. And then this year, where so many other managers and experts had failed, the Red Sox, for the first time in like 317 years, won a World Series.


(Sorry. Don't be scared music geeks, we'll get to debating the various wonders of the new Ludacris record soon enough.)

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