Steven Levitt is back to stir up the pot again amongst statheads. He clarifies his point, which I think he has made quite clearly already.
My contention is that the secret to Oakland’s success has little to do with the things described in Moneyball, such as the emphasis on finding the skills in baseball that are good at producing runs, but not properly valued by the market.
Notice, he doesn’t say Billy Beane is a bad GM or that the things Oakland is supposed to be using to win games are irrelevant. He just says the book says this is what the A’s are doing, but it’s not really what they really did. This is one of the first things I noticed after reading Moneyball. For example, Scott Hatteberg was not an OBP monster as a catcher in Boston, in fact he was just slightly above average. Now, this doesn’t mean the A’s aren’t doing something different to win games, it’s just not necessarily the things described in Moneyball. Hatteberg has been much better since coming to Oakland, and I wonder why. I suspect it has something to do with his ability to teach guys to walk who take a lot of pitches (something touched on in the book), but I just don’t know. Maybe they had a scout who said, “this guy can rake, he’s just been held back by injuries.”
Anyway, Levitt posts a list of teams and asks readers to identify the five teams based on there stats. One of them is Oakland, and it’s easy to see that the A’s are not all that unique in their stats. Despite all of the childish backlashing in the comments no one has thought to answer Steve’s question. Here is the answer key.
Team A: Red Sox
Team B: Yankees
Team C: Oakland
Team D: Cleveland
Team E : Seattle
Levitt concludes with some strong words.
The story in Moneyball was how Billy Beane did it, and that story just isn’t an important part of the true explanation when it comes to generating runs.
While I think Levitt is correct to assert that some of the supposed factors Beane is supposed to exploit in the book are overhyped — I particularly don’t buy the mass inefficiency based on league-wide myopia of GMs — I think the book makes a point stronger than OBP matters. It’s about a frame of mind the team has in the quest for truth. Whether that frame of mind is unique to the A’s I don’t know. I have a feeling that is more of the exception than the rule, but that there are a lot of sabermetric-savvy GMs out there that we don’t even know about. I can’t prove this, it’s just a feeling. There is no doubt in my mind that Beane is a very good GM, and that the factors identified in Moneyball as most important for winning are true. But nothing Levitt is saying is false either.