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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

La Russa and Moneyball

Here's an interesting review of 3 Nights in August that contains comments on Moneyball. Haven't read the former book but plan to based on this review.

What I found interesting was the following:

"in a passage numerous critics have focused on, Bissinger probes La Russa’s thoughts on on-base percentage, the golden stat of the Moneyballers. La Russa, one of the game’s most successful managers, sees OBP 'as akin to the latest fashion fad oversaturated, everybody doing it, everybody wearing it, until you find out the hard way that stretch Banlon isn’t quite as cool as originally perceived.' La Russa combats the rise in OBP by urging his players to 'play the scoreboard.' La Russa wants to see aggression from a leadoff hitter and his RBI men. He doesn’t want to see players taking pitches down the plate in an effort to draw a walk to boost that OBP."

I think there are two ways of looking at these comments. The first is that La Russa is simply wrong if in his comment about Banlon he's actually saying that OBP is not as important as "stat heads" think. The structure of baseball - not performance analysis - dictates the importance of getting on base and since OBP reflects that ability, there really isn't alot of wiggle room for those who denigrate its importance. A comment like that is akin to saying that homeruns are just a fad and they aren't really as important as people think. No, the structure of baseball is such that homeruns are the most efficient way to score runs and that's the way it will always be. End of story.

However, what I think La Russa was really getting at is that if you make OBP the most important thing in all situations, then you are not playing the game strategically. There are times when sacrificing an out is important just as there are times when swinging at a 3-0 pitch is beneficial to the team. That doesn't mean that one should sacrifice outs willy-nilly or swing away all the time.

To me, the lessons of Moneyball are those strategies and approaches that can be applied over a large number of trials and that reflect the "house odds". What La Russa and others are typically referring to are exceptions to those strategies in very specific situations. Both are correct and baseball should have room for both.


Anonymous said...

nicely stated. the "moneyball" framework is incredibly useful at the macro level, but if you follow it blindly (as so many people seem to) . . . . well you see it with every religion --- some followers have trouble distinguishing between general principles and absolute truths, betw prescribed behavior and applied judgment.

Anonymous said...

i think what's also overlooked in this onp debate is one of the main reasons the a's went after players with high obp:

during the time covered in lewis's moneyball, obp was significantly UNDERVALUED by the market for baseball players. Beane and his staff recognized this, and took advantage of signing and drafting high obp players for comparably very little money.

now, the rest of the front offices have caught up to beane, and high obp is more accurately valued. lately, beane and his staff have surmised that good fielding is undervalued by the market, and have been trying to find bargains in that department.

-matty fred

8 said...

Well said.

Have you ever noticed that so many who say "I hate Moneyball" have either not read it or don't understand it?

My review of 3 Nights in August can be found here: