Dan Fox: Scout’s Honor Review

It’s a two-for-one Scout’s Honor review day. Dan Fox of The Hardball Times and Dan Agonistes also posted his review of the book today. Dan is the clear leader in the best title award for this review: Baseball’s Hegelian Dialectic. Like Nate Silver and me, he has some problems with Shanks’s handling of Moneyball.

Shanks is clearly setting up a straw man when he says the A’s or any of the other Moneyballers actually view OBP as the overriding indicator of major-league success. I say this because Shanks states in the preface that he read the book, yet his attacks often resemble mere caricatures. Either he didn’t understand many of the arguments, or he chose to misrepresent them. He seems like an intelligent guy, so I can only conclude that he went with the latter approach, perhaps as a marketing ploy (hey, a stathead like me bought the book after all).

Dan’s piece is more than a review, and he says much more about the book than the snippet I provide. Check out his study on high-schooler versus college draftees. It’s fantastic.

Dan’s opinion reinforces my belief as to what the problem is with the book: it’s attack on Moneyball is not just misguided but wrong to a fault. If anything, it’s a distraction to whatever the debate has been. There has been some rumbling among Shanks’s loyal followers that the critiques of Scout’s Honor concentrate too much on the anti-moneyball portion of the book. Well, clearly you guys didn’t read either Moneyball or even purchase a copy of Scout’s Honor —just read the back cover. Shanks’ pot-shots at moneyballers riddle the book. For example, in Chapter 8 Shanks writes,

[Bobby] Cox, [Paul] Snyder, and [Stan] Kasten had all done their jobs according to what they believed the best way to build a winning team. Not through college player stats, not through pricey free-agent additions or by farm depleting trades, but by patience and home grown nurturing. The type of nurturing that was only possible from an organization that relied on instincts of sharp baseball minds and the focus on makeup over math.

This type of statement is quite familiar to anyone who has read the book. If that’s not directed at the moneyballers, then …well, you tell me what that is. And let’s not forget the description put out by the publisher on Amazon, which is similar to what’s written on the back cover:

Stats vs. Scouts. Math vs. Makeup. Computers vs. Commuters. College vs. High-School. The debate is a new one in baseball, and it has recently taken on a life of its own. Ever since Michael Lewis’ best-seller Moneyball arrived on the scene, and spurred by the recent World Series victory by the sabermetric advocate Boston Red Sox, the dispute about the best way to build a professional baseball team has raged out of control – until now. In this fascinating and insightful look into what criteria major and minor league baseball scouts use to determine talent, Scout’s Honor shines a bright light on the job done by ‘old-school’ scouts and their killer instincts. The author uses the success of the Atlanta Braves as the focal point for a mesmerizing investigation into the debate of stats versus scouts, and why, if it’s a successful franchise you’re after, there is no debate about the bravest way to build a winning team.

This book has many good qualities that have nothing to do with Moneyball, that is true. But it’s also true that the main focus and selling point of Scout’s Honor is a rebuttal of the book with the Braves as the backdrop. Shanks states as much in the preface. That’s what’s selling this book, not the recounting of the recent history of the Atlanta Braves. So, let’s please stop this kind of response to the critique of Scout’s Honor. If the publisher wants to release a second addition entitled, My Love Affair with the Braves, then you have a point. Believe me, it would be a better book if this had been the focus. But you can’t continue claim this to be a critique of Moneyball and complain by saying “but there’s more to this book than Moneyball,” when people point out those critiques are wrong. Have some guts and stand by your man, and at least purchase and read copies of both books if you want to comment.

2 Responses “Dan Fox: Scout’s Honor Review”

  1. Dan Fox and Dan Agonistes are the same person.

  2. JC says:

    I believe Dan Agonistes is the name of Dan Fox’s blog.

    The blog is now up and running! I chose the title “Dan Agonistes” in reference to Milton’s famous Samson Agonistes. Agon, of course means “to struggle” or “wrestle” in Greek and so this blog will largely contain my struggles or wrestling with various issues in Information Technology and other topics.

    See here.