Tuesday, September 20, 2011

'Moneyball' Premiere Night in Oakland


On Monday night the city of Oakland played host to the premiere of Bennett Miller's Moneyball at the Paramount Theatre in the heart of downtown. I was fortunate enough to walk into a pair of tickets to the event, and even had the opportunity to stargaze alongside the guys who normally wear the Green & Gold. Oddly enough, I found it just as thrilling to watch Andrew Bailey get carded by a bartender as it was to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman filming a video on his iPhone. When I shook the hand of Ron Washington, I was so overwhelmed by everything going on around me that any sarcastic remark regarding his ace, C.J. Windbag Wilson, was completely invisible in the back of my head.

As invigorating as watching a movie with the Oakland A's and other MLB elites in the field of both writing and operations, (I don't consider Ray Fatto apart of anything 'elite,' though I do believe he was in attendence) I'll admit that I nearly lost my breath when Brad Pitt clapped along with the rest of the Oakland Faithful chanting "LET'S GO OAKLAND."

video
(Bennett Miller introduces Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jonah Hill, Billy Beane, and Brad Pitt)

My take on the film was as expected, (I thoroughly enjoyed it) although I couldn't entirely ignore some minor details that I wish were given more attention. Perhaps the most bothersome detail, (or lack thereof) was the hair on the actor playing Billy Koch (as of right now, he's not credited on IMDb). While a number of actors didn't resemble the guys they were playing, the reason I found the appearance of Koch's character especially irritating was greatly due to the transition between actual footage of the 2002 A's, and the actors portraying them. One scene shows the actual bald, demon-like Billy Koch giving teammates high-fives, and minutes later the actor playing him appears onscreen with hair on his head! Could the casting director not find a bald guy?

Aside from Koch, I was actually able handle some of the fictional aspects that include the following...
  • Carlos Pena was on the River Cats when he was traded; in the film, he's consistently in the lineup, all the way up to the point in which he's sent to the Tigers.
  • The Pena trade was a three way deal. The A's actually sent Franklyn German and a PTBNL (one that eventually became Jeremy Bonderman) along with Pena to Detroit, while the Yankees sent the A's Ted Lilly and two minor leaguers, and the Tigers sent Jeff Weaver to New York; in the film, the A's send Pena to the Tigers for a reliever and cash.
  • While it's not said specifically in the film, it's implied that the Jeremy Giambi and Carlos Pena trades occurred on the same day; in reality, Pena was traded more than six weeks after Giambi. (Though Beane did send Pena, Frank Menechino and Jeff Tam to Sacramento the day before trading Jeremy Giambi to Philadelphia for John Mabry)
  • In reality, Jeremy Giambi was acquired by the A's going into the 2000 season; in the film he's depicted as being on Beane's radar following the 2001 season.
  • Game 5 of the 2002 American League Division Series in which the A's were eliminated occurred in the daytime; in the film, Eddie Guardado gets Ray Durham to pop out to end the A's season in a night game.
All in all, Moneyball was a good film. Although I'm supposed to like it, in the spirit of book, the numbers will let us know - and as of right now, Moneyball boasts a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why Those Claiming Moneyball "Didn't Work" Are Wrong

Typing the term "moneyball" into the Twitter search bar will yield a number of results, especially in the wake of the upcoming film based on the Michael Lewis bestseller. While a good portion of the results will come from people with vested interests in baseball that may actually know what they're talking about if one were to delve into a conversation of Sabermetrics with them, it is difficult to ignore the immense percentage of people tweeting about Moneyball without any hint of what the book meant. A large portion - perhaps the majority of these people, have little knowledge of the 2002 Oakland Athletics (or baseball in general) other than the fact that Brad Pitt plays their GM in a movie, and they didn't win the World Series. This is completely understandable, since I doubt Columbia Pictures greenlit Moneyball so a niche market of baseball nerds and stat geeks could could boost their confidence for two hours. But seeing sportswriters like Jason LaCanfora, albeit an NFL.com writer, say "So I'm watching the trailer for Moneyball, and, remind me what the A's won again? Or what they did better/differently than say, the Twins?" is rather disconcerting because it insinuates that even those with vested interests may have failed to understand the somewhat simple objective within the complex design of Moneyball.

In the world of movie-goers, Moneyball appears to be well-received. In the baseball world, it seems as though "generally well-liked" may be an appropriate description of the films reception. I'll be the first to admit that, as an A's fan, it will be hard for me to not like Moneyball, and I certainly want everyone else to like it as well. I was disappointed when Keith Law, someone I admire quite a bit, gave his review, but it was quite fair and very honest. In fact, I was thrown more off-guard when Michael Lewis responded with his attack on Law, when it wasn't Lewis' work being criticized initially, it was Bennett Miller's; Law actually recommended the book at the end of his critique on the film. It seems as though Law may have taken Lewis' comments personally, (understandable since they appeared quite personal) but goes on to say Billy Beane is a man who used to be a scout, but fails to respect them. Although Law probably knows Beane a lot better than I could even pretend to, his remark seemed presumptuous and unwarranted. On the other hand, Ken Rosenthal and Aaron Gleeman gave the film positive reviews, warning that baseball people should keep in mind that Hollywood's presence is certainly felt in the movie. Dodger Thoughts gave what is perhaps the most glowing review of the film that comes from a credible baseball-minded source. These reviews come from people who are not film critics; they're smart baseball people. Regardless of their feelings about the film, I can accept their opinions because they've shown their understanding of Moneyball in the past.

When people claim that Moneyball "didn't work" because the A's haven't won anything or that their recent failures illustrate such sentiment, not only are they taking the term out of context, but their claims are completely incorrect. "Moneyball" is a book, for one. Secondly, Billy Beane utilized a system that emphasized statistical analysis to determine what was overvalued and undervalued so that he could pinpoint inefficiencies in the baseball market. It's simple economics; the demand for two units of labor produce the same output, yet the demand for one was inexplicably higher for one unit and not the other. Different variables distinguished each unit's value to teams depending on how they evaluated players. Beane's system was doomed as soon as other teams or "firms" adjusted, which could not have been for much longer, though was likely precipitated by the book. In the off-season going into 2002, Scott Hatteberg, someone who posted a .771 OPS in 7 season with the Red Sox was not worth $1.5 million to the Rockies. Regardless of inflation, and while .771 may not scream "offensive centerpiece" it's a near guarantee that a 32 year-old with his numbers would be tendered a contract of more than $1.5 million in the current market. Hatteberg went onto post OPS' of .807, .725, .787, .677, .826, and .868 after the Rockies rights to him expired in 2001.

The point is, Billy Beane implemented as system whose focuses were on undervalued skills at the time. When people think of "Moneyball" as a team-building strategy, they think of walks, OPS, and a number of other non-triple crown stats. At the time, those things weren't universally valued the way they are now, and were quite radical in the eyes of baseball traditionalists. Today there isn't a team that thinks On-base% is a useless statistic. Moneyball accelerated the value of statistical analysis, but the baseball market has since adjusted to the point where a player's ability to draw walks is no longer an undervalued skill. So if we were to take the term "Moneyball" out of context and turn it into the strategic system of running a Major League Baseball team, then we're talking about a system whose purpose is identifying market inefficiencies through objective analysis. In that regard, the Athletics of 2002 may have been the most well-documented team to implement this particular system, but certainly were not the only ones doing it, like the film may imply. Since then, every team utilizes statistical analysis (sabermetrics) to some extent. I'll let one of my favorite, baseball writers, author of The Baseball Economist, J.C. Bradbury, comment on the 2002 A's, as well as the current market adjustment.

With that said, here is what I am trying to emphasize: The system documented in Moneyball did work. It was successful only because of how radical it was though. Since 2002, teams have found the value in statistics like OBP and OPS, depleting the market of it's original inefficiencies.

Are there still inefficiencies in the baseball market? Perhaps. There are probably very few inefficiencies that exist in the statistics area today, however. There are still operational practices that have yet to be evaluated as thoroughly as players were in Moneyball. Perhaps teams overvalue (or undervalue) top prospects or relief prospects. Some sort of extensive marginal analysis to determine the total wins minor league prospects may have compared to MLB trade candidates could be the next step in the Moneyball saga. The area of Minor Leauge Equivalencies seems as though it may have plenty of room to become more efficient. Thorough analyses of transitions from the minors to the Majors could be a breakthrough in baseball. Pinpointing the differences between guys like Matt Holliday or Robinson Cano (guys with pedestrian minor league numbers and incredible MLB numbers) and Bobby Crosby (former top prospects with impressive minor league numbers and awful MLB numbers) could renew the level of competition between small markets and large ones.

Whether or not there truly are inefficiencies that exist in the current market, I'll still probably have to wait for a book about them to come out before I know what they are though.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back Again and Nothing Missed.

I guess I'm just as inconsistent as ever regarding this whole update deal, but here's my commitment to at least one update each week from here on out.

That's putting my credibility on the line and, although I may not have any in the virtual world, like a 19 year old in debt, I'd sure like to build me some credit...

Well everyone who may or may not exist that reads this - here's to the most disappointing A's season since...well I don't know. There have definitely been a few disappointing ones but the expectations put forth at the beginning of the year really make this season a shot through the heart. None of my aforementioned predictions came true and even worse, everyone on the offensive end decided to imitate the stock market of 1929.

The sad part is, with all of the expectations, people seem to be ashamed of who they're rooting for (if they're A's fans). Nobody should let that get to them. If the A's go 0-162, and judging by the local media, they might as well, I will still be an A's fan. So should every A's fan. It's times like these that turn the good times into great ones.

I will never make this blog about myself, and that's a guarantee, but I want to share my past Sunday with the ancient beings that uncover this writing median. I was in Cancun with my roommates for the 7 days prior to Sunday, August 14th. I had tickets for that day and being physically mobile was the last thing I wanted to do. All signs pointed to me not going; my girlfriend was working; my roommates were hungover; my roommates are Giants fans; and my phone was stolen so I had nobody to call and invite. But after hearing about CJ Wilson's comments regarding A's fans, I promised myself that the last thing I would do is not show up. I will not prove him right. When I sat there by myself in the RF bleachers that day, I was hoping Kara would walk by and ask me why I was sitting alone on Diamondvision.

Although that never happened, here's what I'd hoped to get off my chest:

"I came here by myself because I refuse to let some idealistic, left-handed bag-of-wind who wears two X's on his glove without truly knowing what it means, to be proven right. Of all the titles I may have warranted throughout my young life, being an A's fan is the one I'm most proud of"

That's all because I'm quite tired, but my next post will surely be about baseball...

Few quick thoughts though...
  1. Sogard > Pennington (Sogard for SS!)
  2. Don't offer arbitration to DeJesus
  3. 50/50 on inking Willingham
  4. Jai Miller needs an audition
  5. Grant Green's recent switch to OF kills his original value
  6. Sonny Gray should get a shot at the rotation in ST since Anderson's out
  7. Michael Taylor needs to start in 2012
  8. Brandon Allen should be our 1B in 2012
  9. Love Matsui, but hope hes not back in 2012
  10. Chris Carter needs to be the 2012 DH
  11. Michael Choice should skip double-A
  12. Michael Choice should compete for a spot in 2012
  13. Anthony Recker should learn to play defense
  14. Anthony Recker should be our catcher if he accomplishes #13
  15. Connor Crumbliss has the most amazing patience ever
  16. Connor Crumbliss can't play defense (OF's been solid though)
  17. Connor Crumbliss should and might make the Majors on patience alone
  18. We shouldn't give up on Daric Barton
  19. Daric Barton should give up on 1B (D's good but come on!)
  20. While at NYU, Adrian Cardenas should creatively write himself a way utilize his glove

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oakland A's 2011 Season Preview

The 2010 A’s finished 81-81, becoming the first Athletics team since 2006 to not post a losing record. Unfortunately, unlike the 2006 team, they also failed to post a winning record. Though it may not deviate from any other preseason plan, the 2011 A’s face winning expectations they’ve not seen in years.

The 2010 season was plagued by injuries and an anemic offense, using the DL more than any other team in baseball, and finishing 11th in runs scored. While it may not guarantee a healthy 2011, the A’s did away with Head Athletics Trainer Steve Sayles in place of former Rays Assistant Athletic Trainer, Nick Paparesta. Solutions to the offense required a bit more innovation on behalf of General Manager Billy Beane. Here’s a look at the offseason additions and subtractions taken by the A’s on the offensive side of the game.

Additions

2010 WAR

Subtractions

2010 WAR

David DeJesus

2.6

Eric Chavez

-0.4

Andy LaRoche

-0.6

Jack Cust

2.4

Hideki Matsui

1.9

Rajai Davis

1.2

Josh Willingham

2.7

Gabe Gross

-0.6

Jeff Larish

-0.5

Total

6.6

Total

2.1

This analysis, though not a sure-fire predictor of the future, illustrates a +4.5 WAR – essentially 4 to 5 more wins over the course of the 2010 season using the A’s offensive additions, as opposed to their subtractions. While five more wins would still leave the A’s four games back of the AL Champion Texas Rangers, it speaks volumes to the improvement of the team that took place in the offseason in simply one aspect: offense.

Josh Willingham is one piece to the A's revamped offense

Another area of improvement that received attention this winter, albeit attention often coming in the form of raised eyebrows, happened to be the bullpen additions, most notably RHP Grant Balfour and LHP Brian Fuentes. The interesting part of these signings, while most people (including Billy Beane himself) make the claim that the A’s plucked the two relievers off the open market because they had money to spare, is that the A’s finished 6th in bullpen ERA in 2010, despite have the best team ERA in the AL. Although there is little room for improvement on behalf of the starters, the bullpen was merely “above-average” in comparison to the rest of the league. The additions of Balfour and Fuentes solidify the bullpen, as well as strengthen the entire pitching staff.

This spring, open spots on the team can be found at the backup-catching position (Powell and Donaldson), the fifth starting pitcher (Cramer, Harden, McCarthy, Outman, and Ross), and the utility infielder (LaRoche, Sogard, Timmons, and Tolleson). In traditional A’s fashion, these competitions will likely meet their conclusion in the final spring series again the Giants in the Bay Area, just before the final cut.

Even though defending American League Champions are what stand in between the A’s and a division title, there is little doubt that improvements have been made, and expectations are high in the East Bay for the first time in a long time.

Monday, February 14, 2011

MLB Network's Top 10 Catchers Right Now; Suzuki Somehow Makes It

The cohesion of my affinity for MLB Network is obviously a result of the networks primary focus: baseball. As obvious as that may be, a lot of the decisions made in the "Top 10 Right Now" series has certainly reiterated a position of player-evaluation that works in sharp contrast with my own method. I'll admit that I may be helplessly biased toward the A's at times, but personally I only think two of the Athletics truly are in the top-10 at their positions right now. I'm well aware that MLB Network has also placed two Athletics in the Top-10 Right Now at their respective positions, (Andrew Bailey, and one I'll reveal after further reading). Obviously the A's strength is their pitching, and teams carry 5 starting-pitchers, (as opposed to one true starter at each non-pitching position) making it much harder for Anderson, Cahill, and Gio to crack the top 10 (which they did not). I'm actually completely fine with that. I think Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez are both better than Cliff Lee, while Josh Johnson and David Price probably could have been closer to the top as well, but the list wasn't necessarily "controversial" by any means.

Ironically, what's bothered me most is the one position-playing Oakland Athletic that did make a list - Kurt Suzuki. Now don't get me wrong, I love any national publicity for any Athletic. I don't dislike Suzuki one bit, but he was one of the worst-hitting MLB catchers to play in over 100 games last season, while throwing out just 21% of would-be base stealers. On the other hand, Daric Barton had the second-best WAR among AL 1st-basemen, and fails to get mentioned. That didn't surprise me at all, as I'm not expecting MLBN to start using WAR as their primary metric, but Barton was easily the most valuable position-player in Oakland last season. He was arguably the best defensive 1st-baseman in baseball last year (unarguably by UZR). He walked more than anyone in the AL, and finished second overall in walks to Prince Fielder. I wont start a petition for Barton to be on the list, but when Suzuki makes it based on Jeter-like intangible, "little-thing" nonsense, like handling his young pitching staff, it's unsettling to know Barton was left off.

Here's what the Top-10 Catchers Right Now looked like for the curious ones...
10. Matt Wieters
9. Kurt Suzuki
8. John Buck
7. Carlos Ruiz
6. Carlos Santana
5. Yadier Molina
4. Victor Martinez
3. Brian McCann
2. Buster Posey
1. Joe Mauer

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

MLB Network's Top 50 Calls All-Time

I was trying to search for some of MLB Network’s “Top 50” countdowns online and I noticed I couldn’t find much. Here’s what I was able to gather from their top 50 broadcasted calls of all time. I didn’t get the idea to write them down until #22, so the details are scarce on a lot of them and unfortunately there’s some I’m completely missing. For some I was only able to note the team, but for all the ones from #22 and below, I was able to gather the announcer too. Sadly, some may be upset that I was able to provide less detail regarding the moment following #22, and for that I apologize.

Unfortunately, as this is an A’s blog, there was not one Athletics call on the countdown, though there were a couple done in a game the A’s experienced some famous misfortune. It’s a shame Bill King isn’t admired a lot more posthumously – I definitely expected to see Scott Hatteberg’s walk-off to seal the 20th consecutive victory in 2002, as it was truly unforgettable (both the call and the moment). Despite that, I’m surprised at least one of Ken Korach’s calls weren’t on the list. They couldn’t easily put Tejada’s walk-off home run off Eddie Guardado in the 17th consecutive win as one of the better calls ever, and the same goes with Braden’s perfect game. My perceived injustice is only magnified by the presence of Hawk Harrelson’s call of Mark Buehrle’s perfect game, in which he screamed “Alexei,” and subsequently screamed “YES.” Quite profound for the vocabulary-impaired, I suppose. I thought technical play-by-play involved painting a picture of some sort. Either way, the subjectivity involved in a national network’s countdown tends to leave the less-noticed teams near the bottom, or in this case, entirely off the list.

Despite that, it’s hard not to love MLB Network. Since I failed in collecting the announcer for each call, I listed what information I did have, starting with the team in which the call focuses on. Here’s the list...

MLB Networks Top 50 Calls of All Time

50. Detroit Tigers: Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game in 2010

49. Houston Astros: Chris Burke walk-off HR in the 18th inning

48. Chicago White Sox: Scott Podsednik walk-off in 2005 World Series

47. San Francisco Giants: Jon Miller calls Barry Bonds’ 71st HR

46. Atlanta Braves: Jayson Heyward HR in 1st MLB plate appearance

45. Milwaukee Brewers: Bob Uecker calls Ryan Braun HR vs. Cubs

44. Arizona Diamondbacks: Luis Gonzalez GW-single off Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of 2001 WS

43. New York Yankees: Chris Chambliss HR at Yankee Stadium, crowd storms field

42. ???

41. New York Mets: Endy Chavez robs HR in Game of 2006 NLCS

40. Chicago White Sox: Ken Harrelson calls final out of Mark Buehrle’s perfect game

39. New York Mets: Jesse Orosco K’s Marty Barrett to win 86’ WS in Game 7

38. Cincinnati Reds: Pete Rose breaks all-time hit record

37. Montreal Expos: Final out of Dennis Martinez’ perfect game

36. Detroit Tigers: Kirk Gibson hits HR off Goose Gossage in 84’ WS

35. St. Louis Cardinals: Willie McGee’s 2nd HR of Game 3 in 82’ WS

34. New York Yankees: Bucky Dent HR in 1978 AL East Tiebreaker at Fenway Park

33. ???

32. ???

31. New York Mets: Robin Ventura’a Grand Slam single in Game 5 of 99’ NLCS

30. Boston Red Sox: Joe Buck calls Red Sox’ final out of 2004 WS vs. St Louis

29. Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks’ 500th career home run

28. San Francisco Giants: Either Jon Miller or Duane Kuiper call Bonds’ 756th HR, sets all-time record

27. St. Louis Cardinals: Jack Buck calls Mark McGwire’s 62nd HR to set single-season record

26. ???

25. Boston Red Sox: Joe Buck calls David Ortiz’ walk-off HR in Game 4 of 04’ ALCS

24. ???

*23. New York Mets: Bill Buckner’s E3 in 1986 WS

22. St. Louis Cardinals: Harry Caray’s call in October of 1964

21. New York Yankees: Phil Rizzuto’s call in September of 1961

20. St. Louis Cardinals: Jack Buck’s call on September 9, 1998

19. Boston Red Sox: Dick Stockton calls 1975 World Series

18. Atlanta Braves: Skip Caray’s call of Francisco Cabrera driving in Sid Bream in the 92’ NLCS vs. PIT

17. Seattle Mariners: Dave Niehaus calls 1995 ALDS

16. Seattle Mariners: Dave Niehaus calls Griffey Jr. scoring to win 95’ ALDS vs. NYY

15. Los Angeles Dodgers: Vin Scully in September, 1965

14. New York Yankees: Vin Scully calls final out of Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 7 of 56’ WS

13. Philadelphia Phillies: Harry Kalas calls Mike Schmidt’s 500th HR

12. Los Angeles Dodgers/ Brooklyn Dodgers: Red Barber calls 1947 WS

11. Minnesota Twins: Jack Buck calls Kirby Puckett’s walk-off HR to force Game 7 of 1991 WS

10. San Francisco Giants/ NY Giants: Jack Brickhouse calls Willie Mays’ catch in 1954 WS

9. Boston Red Sox: Al Michaels calls Dave Parker’s HR against Angels in 86’ ALCS

*8. New York Mets: Vin Scully calls Buckner play in 86’ WS vs BOS

7. Toronto Blue Jays: Tom Cheek calls Joe Carter’s walk-off HR to win 93’ WS

6. Atlanta Braves: Milo Hamilton calls Hank Aaron’s 715th HR to set all-time record on 4-8-74 (A’s won WS that year)

5. St. Louis Cardinals: Jack Buck calls Ozzie Smith’s HR in 85’ NLCS (“Go crazy folks!”)

4. Pittsburgh Pirates: Mel Allen calls Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off HR in Game 7 of 1960 WS vs. NYY

*3. Los Angeles Dodgers: Vin Scully calls Kirk Gibson’s walk-off HR in Game 1 of 1988 WS vs. OAK

*2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Jack Buck calls Kirk Gibson’s walk-off HR in Game 1 of 1988 WS vs. OAK

1. San Francisco Giants/ NY Giants: Russ Hodges calls Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard around the world”

(*play appears twice)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Strengthened Bullpen Solidifies Formidable Staff; Additions Make for Serious Spring

The additions of both Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes may not be earth shattering news within the baseball world, perhaps with the exceptions of those living either Down Under or in Merced, but the righty and lefty off-season acquisitions bolster a relief corps that finished 6th in the AL in ERA in 2010, and perhaps more importantly, a pitching staff that finished 1st.

Andrew Bailey, the Oakland anchor, is getting a solid foundation in 2011, thanks to GM Billy Beane

The road to recovery from Tommy John Surgery may prove to be just one of a few obstacles both Josh Outman and Joey Devine will face this spring. Outman, who’s been out since June of 2009, is considered one of the top candidates for the 5th starter job, while Devine looks to stake his claim in the Oakland bullpen, despite not having made an appearance since his stellar 08’ campaign. Outman’s candidacy is likely to be challenged by the returning Rich Harden, and former White Sox prospect Brandon McCarthy. LHP Bobby Cramer could also prove to be a dark horse, as could Tyson Ross, and were both formerly accompanied by RHP Clayton Mortensen, who was recently sent to Colorado in exchange for fellow righty Ethan Hollingsworth.

LHP Jerry Blevins may be the most obvious and likely odd man out in the wake of the Balfour and Fuentes additions, the predominance of righties in the pen could help his chances. Unfortunately, the names Balfour, Fuentes, Bailey, Devine, Breslow, Wuertz, Ziegler, Blevins, Harden, McCarthy, and Outman are all viable candidates for the pen, (possibly one of the last three if they don’t win the 5th spot) but 6 relievers tends to be the maximum in the AL. That likely means four, but possibly five proven pitchers may find themselves on the short end of the stick, and somewhere other than Oakland to start the 2011 season.