My girlfriend has a Netflix subscription, which given our cohabitation means that I have a Netflix subscription, or more accurately, I have a free Netflix subscription (Aside: Thanks M.).

Last Thursday, I couldn’t fall asleep. This has happened to me from time to time throughout my life, usually around when I have an important decision to make, and the stress from analyzing the potential outcomes from making that decision become overwhelming. I’ve found that in these instances resistance is futile, and it’s best to just accept the fact that I’m going to be a zombie equivalent the next day, so I might as well watch a movie and try to get my mind off of whatever is vexing me.

That night, I sneaked out of bed, fired up Netflix and watched Inherit The Wind, the 1960 film adaptation of a play by the same name that’s based on the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial, but is really an allegory about the dangers of McCarthyism. It’s charming in the way that only classic movies can be. It’s got the snappy dialogue, the overstated reactions and a clear moral to the story.

One line from the film stood out among all the others. It was delivered by Gene Kelly, showing that he was far more than just a song and dance man, portraying a role loosely based on journalist H.L. Mencken. His character, E.K. Hornbeck, is confronted by the antagonist of the plot for being biased against those in power.

His response:

It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

A minimal amount of research reveals that the quote was actually first attributed to humourist Finley Peter Dunne more than 60 years before the movie, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of what’s being suggested. Personally speaking, I believe it to be relevant to much of the baseball writing online.

However, as sabermetric thinking becomes more prevalent, I’ve struggled with identifying in terms of baseball thinking exactly who are the comfortable and who are the afflicted. I wonder if in some ways, following the ethos of Hornbeck might result in modern baseball writers constantly defending the actions of Fredi Gonzalez. God forbid.

I’d like to think that things become a bit clearer whenever Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports posts a column. For as much prevalence as analytical thinking in baseball has earned, there are many beyond the sheltered community found in our collective Twitter feeds who still believe in the ridiculous stats vs. scouts dichotomy, or at the very least, are willing to entertain such beliefs for the sake of page views and click throughs.

In his latest posting, Morosi compares the Toronto Blue Jays approach to the 2010 Major League draft with the Oakland A’s 2002 round of selections, made famous by Moneyball. Calling into question whether or not he actually read the book that dedicates multiple pages to the Athletics’ preparation for the draft, he labels what the Blue Jays did in 2010 as the anti-Moneyball approach, while describing it in terms that are almost completely identical to what Oakland did eight years prior: exploit a market inefficiency to gather what they believed was greater value than their competitors.

Alex Anthopoulos succeeded J.P. Ricciardi (a Beane disciple) as the Toronto general manager in October 2009. The following year, because of departing free agents, Toronto had seven of the first 80 selections. Presented with a similar opportunity to the one Beane had in Oakland eight years prior, Anthopoulos took the diametrically opposite approach: He hired more scouts.

Anthopoulos, 35, while youthful and analytical, believes strongly in the expertise of veteran baseball observers. He thinks competitive advantages can be found in human capital. Today, the Blue Jays employ more area scouts — 24 — than any other franchise in baseball.

The difference between the A’s and Jays is that while Oakland exploited the emphasis placed on seeking high ceiling high school players, Toronto exploited an opportunity in information gathering. There is no stats versus scouts battle between the two teams. In fact, what’s not mentioned in the piece is that along with assembling a massive team of scouts, one of Anthopoulos’ first moves in charge was to contract Tom Tango, presumably to put together proprietary metrics for organizational use.

To his credit, Morosi doesn’t personally reduce his argument against analytics to the clichés that most would. Instead, he quotes Blue Jays prospect Noah Syndergaard, as a means of getting his dirty work done for him:

Nothing against Billy Beane, I guess, but I don’t think you can generate players with a computer.

Which brings us to the crux of Morosi’s article, that the so called Moneyball draft was a failure.

For as long as baseball is played, scouted and debated, they will be known as the Moneyball draft class: Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, John McCurdy, Ben Fritz, Jeremy Brown, Steve Obenchain and Mark Teahen.

The revolutionary draft occurred 10 years ago this month. History has judged it a failure.

Not so fast. There was an unprecedented amount of attention and therefore unrealistic expectations attached to Oakland’s draft haul. A more reasonable summary of the picks is found in ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick’s review from September of last year.

The mixed bag of results is more a testament to the draft than Oakland’s approach. In that same 2002 draft, the Chicago Cubs had four of the top 38 selections and used them all on college pitchers — Rutgers University’s Bobby Brownlie, Ball State’s Luke Hagerty, Purdue’s Chadd Blasko and Orange Coast College’s Matt Clanton. Those four pitchers combined to throw zero innings in the majors. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds drafted a Canadian-born catcher named Joey Votto with the 44th overall pick that year.

Crasnick quotes former A’s assistant GM and current Mets assistant GM Paul DePodesta who reflects on the 2002 draft with few regrets:

The baseball draft is very different than anything else. You’re talking about 50 percent of first-rounders becoming big leaguers and maybe 25 percent of second-rounders and down to 10 percent of third-rounders. The odds are very, very long. In a normal stable of picks, if you get one good big leaguer out of the draft, you’re basically playing par.

Could we have done better, knowing what we know now? Absolutely. But if we look back at that draft and see that all those guys got to the big leagues and a handful of them became good major league players, I think it’s something for us to be proud of.

Morosi would have his readers believe that the Blue Jays looked to the shortcoming of the 2002 draft for Oakland, and set about to do the opposite with their selections in 2010.

It was only a matter of time before an organization took note of what happened in Oakland — fired scouts, lost games — and decided the opposite approach might be wiser. The Toronto Blue Jays were that team, and 2010 was that year.

However, I’d argue that what Toronto did in 2010 has more in common with mimicking Oakland’s approach than doing the opposite. Both use thinking outside of the box to attain what they believed to be increased value. At the very least, what inspired Toronto to invest heavily in both scouts and analytics is more complicated than one team’s draft record eight years beforehand.

The Blue Jays, stuck in the highly competitive American League East, knew that they couldn’t compete in terms of acquiring high priced veteran talent like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Simultaneously, they were able to witness first hand the Tampa Bay Rays attaining success without utilizing free agent opportunities. While Toronto might not benefit from the high draft picks that the Rays had attained in their build up, they examined ways in which they could compete much like the small market A’s did in the early aughties.

The team happened upon an approach that emphasized acquiring low priced and controllable talent. The best route to acquiring such assets was by investing heavily in the draft, not just in terms of signing bonuses, but also in the way of information gathering. And the best way to gather information was through the increased presence of scouts.

While I might agree with Morosi that without the 2002 draft, Toronto’s 2010 draft likely wouldn’t happen. However, it’s for different reasons all together.

The A’s approach, which resulted in such a mix bag, was an attempt to do something differently. It represents a moment in baseball history when a team took a step back, looked at what was happening in terms of the bigger picture and decided that it needed to look for a hidden advantage in order to compete on a more level playing field. While books and Hollywood movies would like us to believe that taking such risks will result in a total reversal of fortunes, the truth is that nothing is so concrete.

As Morosi suggests:

It will take years to evaluate the Anti-Moneyballers of 2010, just like it has taken a decade to reveal the full wisdom of Oakland’s 2002 draft.

But make no mistake, the Blue Jays will be quite pleased if they’re able to develop two players out of their 2010 selections that have careers like Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton. Who knows? Maybe Toronto was also able to keep the Jonathan Papelbon that the 2002 A’s drafted but failed to sign. The hope will always be for more, but thinking outside the box tends to make for results that aren’t as easy to define as good or bad, just as approaches at the front office level aren’t as easy to label as stats or scouts.

I don’t know if realizing this makes one comfortable or afflicted, but perhaps the overall lesson here, the 1960′s style moral of the story, is that as we learn more, things don’t get clearer. They get a bit murkier, a bit less easy to define. So while labeling things comfortable or afflicted may be just as futile as categorizing things as good or bad, stats or scouts, it’s our approach in embracing the complications that truly matter. That’s something that I strive to do, and it’s something that I believe the Toronto Blue Jays did with their 2010 draft selections.

Comments (34)

  1. Bravo!

    Sir, this is an excellent post.

    • Agreed. I love how the DJF and GB crew are able to write so intelligently about baseball, often drawing reference other other aspects of culture and history. Very well done.

  2. Lede is way too long

  3. When I read commentary about the Moneyball era, I’m struck by the frequency with which various writers conceptualize Moneyball as a fixed set of principles and approaches. Often, even the slightest deviation from Beane’s original model is cited as proof that “Moneyball” is dead, irrelevant or has otherwise become redundant.

    In fact, “Moneyball” (if it can be classified as a single concept) is the result of a rebellion against a fixed and permanent way of valuing players and building baseball organizations. Unlike its predecessor models, its nature was to be responsive to empirical developments: as more information became known and more tools were developed, the methods changed but the spirit remained the same.

    As you write, Dustin, Moneyball is “thinking outside of the box to attain what they believed to be increased value” and “exploit[ing] a market inefficiency.” As far as the Jays and Anthopolous are concerned, the only things that have changed are the boxes and the inefficiencies.

    • That’s a great point eloquently made.

      I think people reading/citing Moneyball almost 10 years after its release also need to consider two important things. First, the audience for whom the book was written. Lewis was ostensibly writing a book about business through the lens of a baseball club. The “stats vs. scouts” dichotomy that he sets up (and that features prominently in the film) is oversimplified, probably for the sake of the readership. Second, Billy Beane wasn’t the only Bill James disciple working in an MLB front office at the time–his story was only compelling because the A’s were a cash-strapped, small market team that had some success. I don’t think you can quantify the success of “Moneyball” as a movement because it wasn’t really a cohesive movement–many GMs/front office staff were looking for market inefficiencies, often with different metrics and varying degrees of success. I usually look at that early-to-mid 2000s era as baseball’s front office equivalent of The Enlightenment, and Billy Beane was just one player in helping it come about.

    • It’s such a simple thing to grasp, yet so many dolts in baseball don’t (or refuse to) understand. Unfortunately, guys like Hawk Harrelson, Greg Zaun and Joe Morgan will never understand what it was they were so adamantly against. It’s actually pretty fucking sad.

      • There is no questions that Gregg Zaun takes a “steaks and taters” view of what really matters in baseball, which is ironic given that for a catcher he was quite good at not making outs. In a way, he does vandalism to his own solid major league career. Otherwise, he’s just a guy who hit for a indifferent average and who occasionally ran into one.

        • Joe Morgan is the worst offender at this.

        • I’m convinced Zaun only watched the movie and has no clue about it. All he talks about is walks being valued over hits. His discussion about it on TV is always so ridiculously narrow as to make him look like a simpleton.

  4. That last paragraph was just beautiful

  5. Thanks for that.

  6. moneyball nothin. balls is for hittin’ not spending. get it straight junior.

  7. Good post. Morosi’s article really needed to be ripped apart like this. The entire premise of it was absurd and the idea that the 2002 draft was a failure with good MLB players like Blanton and Swisher was also ridiculous.

  8. You do some brilliant thinking at night.

  9. Did you watch the porn before or after the movie?

  10. I agree Morosi was stretching it quite a bit to make a nice story about the Jays, but if you compare guys like Sanchez and Syndergaard to Jeremy Brown and Mark Teahen, it’s night and day between the Jays and A’s. Obviously, the term “Anti-Moneyball” is incredibly misleading, but the A’s and Jays could not have had a more different approach to finding the inefficiencies in talent evaluation. The Jays focused on scouting and took young, very high upside guys like Syndergaard and Sanchez much higher than any pundits or other scouting departments ranked them, while the A’s took college players with a focus on their stats.

    McGuire stands out from the rest of the Jays first 10 picks (even Wojo was thought of as a reliever from day 1 but still remains a starter).

  11. I’m too dumb to read this… Or maybe it’s Monday

  12. Great article, Parkes.

  13. You inspired me, I calculated the cumulative WAR of all the players drafted by team in 2002, and guess what, the team that had the best draft was none other than the Oakland A’s with a total 51.1 WAR.

    BTW – your Toronto Blue Jays came in at 2nd last with a negative 0.5 WAR, ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles.

    If I have time I’ll post the results on my blog.

    • This is great. I assume a lot of that has to do with the Papelbon pick though.

      • The Papelbon pick certainly helped but the A’s finished well ahead of the 2nd place Giants who had a cumulative WAR of 39.2 (thank you Matt Cain). So even without Papelbon’s 16.2 WAR the A’s still would have finished 6th overall, but then we would also have to look at who the other teams drafted and didn’t sign so that we are comparing apples to apples.

  14. Excellent post Parkes.

    When I read this a couple days ago – my first impression was that it was overly reductive in terms of what Moneyball was in the first place, and secondarily of what Anthopolous’ approach has been thus far as GM of the Jays. It seemed that the crux of his argument was that one system used almost no scouts while the other uses lots – and bam you have the Yin and Yang.

    I remember thinking – I guess if you throw out everything else about AA’s approach: statistics, money management, the stockpiling of picks by gaming the system, and the shying away from signing the Johnny Damons of the baseball world – you might think that Anthopolous serves as an antithesis to Billy Beane… How it is that Morosi didn’t see the similarities of a GM trying to find creative ways to compete with the Monsters of the American League – I have no idea.

    In the end I completely agree with your assessment that “thinking outside the box tends to make for results that aren’t as easy to define as good or bad, just as approaches at the front office level aren’t as easy to label as stats or scouts.” The media-types like Morosi love these easy to understand concepts of good vs. evil and stats vs. scouts. The fact is that even if you could identify a team that fit well within his created archetypes – that would still prove nothing about either approach. You could succeed or fail with every combination given the completely random inputs that go into every single draft, and the random events that happen after you’ve made your selection.

  15. Who will play AA in the sequel, “Moneyball 2: The Scouts Strike Back”?

    I would guess Colin Farrell, with Morgan Freeman as Cito, and Dame Judi Dench as Paul Beeston.

  16. Parkes, you are a man of men when it comes to writing. Well thought out and articulate.

  17. Long time DJF reader, haven’t been into the GB at all hardly, despite Stoeten pimping Parkes in nearly every post.

    But this, this was fucking excellent. You should be fucking proud of this post, well written (tad long intro) and articulate piece of work.

  18. The complaint in Moneyball wasn’t that scouts couldn’t be useful if they used their own judgement, but that scouts at that time had a herd mentality that paid a ridiculous amount of attention to the most superficial and obvious aspects of a player – such as body shape.

    This pandered nicely to the most primitive prejudices of most managers, but it meant that hiring two scouts gave you the same result as one scout, and no scout would provide surprising or counter-intuitive information. Yet that’s what a low-payroll team actually needed – in order to find the unlikely bargains, that other teams had overlooked, they needed an edge.

    In other words, the scouts simply didn’t want to do their jobs, and risk embarrassment or unemployment by putting forward unpopular, unstereotyped views.

    Ten years later, I’m guessing that a new generation of scouts sometimes does do their job because the new generation understands that never telling their bosses something surprising, and never finding someone who others would likely have missed, is how they’ll ultimately lose their jobs.

    I’ve also argued elsewhere that the real premise of Moneyball was that an economic profit could be made on the draft by selecting players who hadn’t YET used steroids, but also hadn’t passed up on the opportunity to use them. As one must presume Billy Beane understood at first hand, that’s where the extreme, untapped upside was. Statistics could help find those players, at least as a first filter, and excuse hiring them, as well.

    The prejudices of scouts back in the days of Moneyball strongly forced them to choose the players who had ALREADY taken steroids; that is, the players who had no upside to speak of, and who needed to be AVOIDED in a draft. The opposite of what Oakland needed to do, but a hangover from the pre-steroid era on the part of the scouts, if accurate at all.

    This is a different day, with different rules and a different environment (I trust) so there’s no reason to suppose scouts would be useless now, or for the same reasons.

  19. Wow, I am completely shocked at how everyone missed the point of Morosi’s article this badly. Obviously “anti-Moneyball” is probably a misnomer for the Blue Jays draft class, but let’s not get carried away with this here.

    Morosi’s article uses the A’s 2002 draft to compare to the Jays draft because both drafts were “Moneyball” in the sense that both teams had a unique plan, and they stuck to it. Beane selected exclusively college players with less upside because there was less risk. AA selected almost exclusively high-school players in spite of the risk, because there is significantly more upside. That is the main point of the comparison, not “Moneyball” in the sense of exploiting market inefficiencies.

    You can talk about the success of the A’s draft, but no one on that list is a superstar (Papelbon was drafted in the 40th round, so he really shouldn’t be included). Sure, the A’s had a successful draft in terms of cumulative WAR, but they also had 7 picks in rounds 1 and 1A. The higher the pick, the higher the likelihood of success for that pick, and the A’s had 7 high picks.

    Don’t skew Morosi’s point with cherry-picked quotations. In the prototypical “Moneyball” draft, the A’s took 7 college players in the first 40 picks. None were superstars, but a high percentage managed to make it to the show. Alex Anthopolous chose to select highschool players. Likely, a lower percent of these players will make the majors, but AA bet on upside. Beane’s Moneyball tactic was to reduce risk, by also reducing upside in choosing more developed and mature college players. Anthopolous’ tactic was to increase risk, by increasing potential, however this requires more development time and players skills are much more raw.

    In terms of scouts vs stats, Morosi’s point is pretty simple to grasp. Billy Beane needed less scouts. College players are less projectable, they are more well-known commodities, and thus they require less scouting. Also, if Beane is only focusing on college players, he can save a lot of scouts by only sending them to college games. Anthopolous on the other hand needs more scouts. Highschool players are much less well-known, oftentimes they face poor competition, and players have yet to physically mature. Morosi says to project this type of young player more first-hand scouting is required. That seems pretty intuitive to me.

    All-in-all, your article missed the point. You really are nitpicking at a point that was not in the slightest the main point of the article. It comes down to this simple question: the A’s were successful drafting exclusively college players in 2002, but can the Jays be more successful with a similar number of high-picks by drafting almost exclusively high school players? Call it what you will, “Moneyball vs. Anti-Moneyball”, “College vs. Highschool”, or maybe even “Low-risk/low-potential vs. High-risk/high-potential” it is still a very interesting comparison worth watching.

    • +1 MLip, nice to see someone has some reading comprehension skills

    • Agreed. You did a better job of elaborating than I did above. Parkes did nitpick this too much and missed the point. The difference between the players drafted by the A’s in 02 and the Jays in 10, and their approach to finding them are so incredibly different.

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