Moneyball, 6 years later

So I was bored this weekend, and started rereading Moneyball.


You all (I hope) know the story, and many of the details (if you don’t, you really should read it).  “Greatest book about management ever written!”  screams the cover.  Billy Beane is an arrogant, hotheaded asshole.  Paul DePodesta is a computer geek who should move out of his mother’s basement.  Scouts chew tobacco, have two-syllable nicknames that end in –y, and don’t know anything about projecting performance.  The A’s don’t sell jeans.


Much has also been made of how well the A’s did in the ’02 draft (covered in the book); some say it was merely a function of all of their picks (7 in all), while others point out that even at that, they did better than you’d expect (3 became major leaguers).  As I read the names again, though, it struck me:  How smart was their draft?


First, there was a list of 20 names presented (8 pitchers, 12 hitters) that Beane wanted no matter the cost.  It contained zero high schoolers – Beane thought them not worth the risk.  Second, it should be noted that Oakland’s first pick wasn’t until #16, so you might expect that many of Beane’s favorites would already be taken.


Since he wouldn’t take a high schooler, though, that wasn’t the case.  In fact, Michael Lewis goes out of his way to denigrate those ahead of Oakland.  At #2, Tampa took Melvin (you know him as B.J.) Upton; the Reds then took Chris Gruler.  Other high school players taken before Oakland’s pick included Adam Loewen, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jeremy Hermida, and Scott Kazmir.  After Oakland took Nick Swisher, Philly followed with Cole Hamels.  Later, they passed on Matt Cain to select Joe Blanton.  The last 1st rounder they took that turned into something was Mark Teahan.


As I was reading this part of the book, two things struck me:


1.  The quality of the high school players they dismissed out of hand (James Loney was also taken in the 1st round)

2.  The fact that every one of the “quality” players they took in the first round, they were afraid weren’t going to be available to them (the first of many Beane f-bomb barrages was when he thought the White Sox would take Swisher).


So for all of Beane’s antics, the snide “They’re smarter than anyone else in the world” tone of the book, and later accolades heaped upon them, the A’s success in that draft was based on taking 3 guys who everyone else also thought of as a 1st rounder, and:


John McCurdy (he lead the NCAA in SLG!!! (of course, DePo’s computer didn’t notice it was 400 pts higher than either his soph or jr. year)) – washed out, never getting above AA.

Ben Fritz – currently pitching in AA for Detroit, sporting a nifty career ERA of 5 and WHIP of 1.5.

Steve Obenchain – never made it past AA for Oakland; last seen in the independent leagues.

And, most famously, Jeremy Brown – made it all the way to the bigs (for 10 AB), but Oakland released him after last year.


My point?  The A’s aren’t (or at least weren’t) all that much smarter than anyone else.  The three guys who made it were on everyone’s list (and Teahan was traded for one of those fungible closers before he made the bigs), while the guys they were so freakin’ smart to draft were not as good as the brainiacs wanted everyone to believe.


You know me; I fully embrace that much of performance can be captured in the numbers.  But maybe, when trying to predict the performance of kids (who haven’t reached their potential, and play against varying degrees of competition), just maybe, scouts are better able to see things then they’re given credit for.

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