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Mets' moves about winning, not Moneyball
Here we go again.
Rival executives with a background in scouting are privately snickering at the Mets for their newfound tilt toward objective analysis.
Statistical analysts and like-minded bloggers are publicly rejoicing over the Mets’ shift, as if numbers are the One True Way to baseball success.
I’m calling B.S. on both.
Paul DePodesta, the Mets’ new vice president of player development and amateur scouting, probably would, too.
“We’re still going to be wrong, probably often,” DePodesta said Tuesday on a media conference call.
DePodesta, you see, understands baseball’s deepest truth. No one, no matter how intelligent, can figure this game out.
Not Giants executive Tony Siegle, who said, “We’ve shown Moneyball is a bunch of garbage,” after the Giants won the World Series.
Not all the statistically-minded critics of Giants general manager Brian Sabean, some of whom have yet to acknowledge that he did a pretty fair job.
Not even the supposed best and brightest of the GMs, who routinely stumble into multimillion-dollar blunders.
The debate over “Moneyball” is tired. The concept, seven years after the release of the book, remains misunderstood. And the zealots on both sides are baseball’s version of political extremists, blinded by their respective beliefs.
Yes, the Mets just hired general manager Sandy Alderson, an early and fervent practitioner of statistical analysis.
Yes, Alderson just hired DePodesta, the guy with the laptop in “Moneyball” and martyred former GM of the Dodgers.
Are the Mets now guaranteed to succeed? No.
Are they about to draft every fat catcher, funky-throwing pitcher and OBP-crazed hitter that their computers spit out? Not if they want to win.
Smart teams combine both scouts and stats, subjective and objective analysis. Frankly, the Mets need to hop to it on the scouting side — they recently lost several well-regarded pro scouts after delaying decisions on their contracts.
Information is king — scouting, statistical and medical information, not to mention information on a player’s makeup. Shame on any executive who ignores any detail that might give him an edge.
“Moneyball” — the book, and soon to be a movie — turned DePodesta into something of a caricature. He is well aware of how he is perceived. But he has to be one of the most unwitting, unassuming polarizing figures in the history of the sport.
DePodesta, 37, joked Tuesday that he worried about being labeled a “dumb jock” while playing football and baseball at Harvard; little did he know that he would become known as a “geek” after he started working in baseball front offices.
Labels. They flow easily from dramatic narrative, the kind you find in a book or movie. But DePodesta isn’t one-dimensional. Neither, for that matter, is Alderson’s other recent front-office hire, J.P. Ricciardi.
“To some extent, Paul is viewed as an analyst, if you will. I think that’s very misleading given what I’ve actually seen him doing on a day-to-day basis,” Alderson said.
“On the other hand, J.P. is viewed more as a scouting/talent evaluator. But J.P. is also very aware of the kinds of analytics that have been appearing on the scene.”
Alderson actually might be the most dogmatic of the group, but let’s see how the Mets evolve before passing judgment.
One rival executive, noting the team’s lack of payroll flexibility, said the Mets are upgrading their decision-makers in advance of the 2011-12 offseason, when nearly $50 million could come off their payroll.
Another exec, raising familiar questions about the Mets’ finances, says that Alderson and DePodesta could prove shrewd hires because they worked under tight budgets in Oakland and San Diego.
DePodesta does not see it that way; if anything, he looks forward to working with greater resources. The Mets’ $134.4 million Opening Day payroll last season was the fifth-highest in the sport.
“I’ve seen a couple of people refer to it as, ‘Moneyball with money,’” DePodesta said. “That’s the Red Sox. In many respects, that’s the Yankees.”
DePodesta then rattled off the names of three leading American investors who try to exploit inefficiencies in their own markets — Warren Buffett, Jeremy Grantham and Bill Miller.
“Moneyball, I think, has taken on a lot of connotations that weren’t really intended or don’t really make sense,” DePodesta said. “In my mind, Moneyball really has absolutely nothing to do with on-base percentage. For that matter, it really doesn’t have anything even to do with statistics.
“Moneyball is really about a constant investigation of stagnant systems. It just means you can find value where it isn’t readily apparent. ... It can be anything. At the time (in Oakland), it happened to be utilizing statistics to help us make better decisions. ... But there are now new frontiers we need to conquer.”
DePodesta, in his new role, will oversee the Mets’ player development and amateur scouting; a farm director and scouting director will work directly under him. Ricciardi will oversee pro scouting, and assistant GM John Ricco and special assistant Wayne Krivsky also will work with Alderson.
This is not about ideology. This is about picking the right players and all of the different ways it can be done.
“We will make mistakes,” DePodesta said. “I know I’ve made plenty in the past and will continue to. Hopefully, we’re right more often than we’re wrong. Hopefully, we’re right when it counts.”
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