Hirsch: Why Moneyball Doesn’t Always Work

April 1st, 2011 at 3:48 am | 1 Comment |

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The Bleacher Report reports:

Co-author Alan Hirsch was kind enough to answer and respond to questions and criticisms of his new book, The Beauty of Short Hops: How Chance and Circumstance Confound the Moneyball Approach to Baseball. Alan co-wrote The Beauty of Short Hops with is brother Sheldon Hirsch.

Q: Billy Beane didn’t/doesn’t watch A’s games because, in your words, “He can’t bear seeing the damn players muck up what should be a perfectly predictable contest.”

Don’t all GM’s wish their moves would work out as planned and wish the game was predictable in some sense?  And is the wish and goal of GM’s and sabermetrics in general actually to make things perfectly predictable or to just gain as much insight as possible into who players are and what they are capable of?

AH: Yes, GMs are in the business of winning, and when they hire sabermetricians they try to improve their teams’ chances via statistical study. There’s obviously no problem with that.  We were on the Bill James bandwagon early, and we hope the teams we root for find edges wherever they can.

It’s the excesses we argue against, and the failure to recognize limitations.

Here’s Moneyball’s description of Billy Beane’s perspective: ‘The game can be reduced to a social science…It is simply a matter of figuring out the odds, and exploiting the laws of probability’ because ‘baseball players follow strikingly predictable patterns.’  As for other GMs, I can’t speak for them but I know that many of them watch the games!…

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One Comment so far ↓

  • balconesfault

    In Moneyball, it doesn’t say that Beane didn’t watch baseball games because he thought he’d already figured it all out – which is what I think Hirsch was implying here.

    Rather, Beane didn’t watch games for his own sanity – he was too temperamental … that’s what led in some ways to his own failure as a player, despite his fantastic talent … and so not watching games was a way to preserve the furniture in the clubhouse, the TVs in the owners lounge.

    I think there are some reasonable critiques of Beane’s strategies espoused in Moneyball …. but those critiques can come from analysis of the outcomes, and looking back to see where Beane went wrong. For example, I think that his and DiPodesta’s fetish for completely overlooking body type and only focusing on statistics was doomed to fail because something scouts understood from years and years of experience was that a body that looked like A at age 18 or 21 was likely to look like B by 27 or 30 … something just looking at college statistics can’t predict.

    I suspect that there also might have been a steroid era bias thrown in there that justified a Beane assumption – that guys with excellent plate discipline but no power in HS or college would end up developing power over time. Had Mark Teahen had the steroid regime of Jason Giambi, for example, it’s quite possible that he would have turned into more of a power hitter – but baseball finally cleaning up its act I think has made it where its going to be very few and far between that you see guys suddenly develop HR power in their late 20′s that they didn’t show at 23 or 24.