February 7, 2012

Moneyball - then and now.

Last night I was at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where Oakland GM Billy Beane took the stage with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill to discuss 'Moneyball'.

Billy Beane, Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill. Photo: Pete Handelman
Based on the engrossing book by Michael Lewis, Moneyball is the term used to describe rigorous statistical analysis to find undervalued players. For several years, Oakland was able to field competitive, playoff-bound teams with a minimal budget.

But after the book was released, other teams, such as the Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Yankees and Padres began to use the same tactics, employing teams of statisticians to number crunch for cheap talent.

The last year Oakland was competitive was 2006. Teams got wise to Beane's approach, and no longer allowed themselves to be fleeced in trades.

It can be argued that the new Moneyball is youth, achieved by building a solid minor league system through scouting. Finding young, affordable players before they are eligible for max contracts is new trend.

Older players, who used to prolong their careers and pad their stats with steroids and PED's, can no longer do so under new testing rules. So, younger, athletic players are more trusted and desired.

Tampa Bay, with a collective team salary that averages around 40 million, best represents this tactic. For the last 4 years Tampa has matched up with the Yankees, whose collective team salary hovers around 180 million. Remarkably, the Rays have finished in first place in 2008 and 2010, and second place in 2009 and 2011.

The Rays farm system has rolled out a steady stream of incredible talent, while other teams take a risk on aging players from the free agent market.

The cost-conscious Minnesota Twins seemingly have a different approach - emphasizing hustle and clubhouse chemistry. Minnesota tends to hire dugout friendly players who run out every grounder and dive for every ball.

If a player lags, he sits, and the next all-effort guy gets his turn. They are like the Utah Jazz of baseball. No prima donnas allowed.

Billy Beane deserves credit for his success. But that success came long ago. It is time to heap some praise on Tampa, Texas, Cincinnati and Colorado for mining homegrown talent. Even the Yankees and Red Sox, with their big payroll, have done a stellar job developing young players.

Today, teams are singing a new tune when it comes to Moneyball: 'The Kids Are Alright'.

Billy Beane with Brad Pitt. Photo: Pete Handelman

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