In 2002, the Oakland A’s relied on a concept of team-building that eventually led to the coined term, “Moneyball”. It was a new concept to baseball, but an age-old concept in economics, finding what is commonly called ”market inefficiency”. This is essentially the idea of finding value in products which your competitors have not placed value in. In another sense, you could just say it’s the idea of staying ahead of the curve. If player A offers the same value as players B and C combined, but player A costs 20 million and B & C cost 2 million collectively, the smart choice is to go with players B & C.
The A’s accomplished this task by building a cost efficient team that relied on statistical analysis as a key scouting tool and placed a stronger emphasis on the ability to get on base versus collecting a hit. While their competitors would spending tens of millions on free agents to hit the ball 400 feet, the A’s would instead spend hundreds of thousands on players that would get on base just as often, just not in as “sexy” of a way. When you combine this philosophy with brilliant young starting pitching and a deep bullpen, it can result in a lot of wins. To an extent, the A’s pulled it off again in 2012, upsetting the Angels and Rangers by assembling a deep young pitching staff, solid bullpen and a group of offensive weapons that were left on the scrap heap from their competitors. No one is exactly sure what statistical analysis or scouting the A’s used to figure out that Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick would have breakout seasons, but it worked.
So in reading the current economic market in major league baseball, where is the opportunity to uncover value that other teams have not yet picked up on? It certainly doesn’t come from something as simple as WAR or OBP as it did in 2002, every team has picked up on that now. But a strong argument could be made that such value does not come from potential free agents or prospects at all. Rather, I believe constructing a team built specifically off of three other factors could become the new direction of efficient baseball clubs. These three factors are:
- Stadium/Park environment
- Current defensive abilities
- Types of pitchers.
Take the 2012 Detroit Tigers for example. They’re essentially the “anti-NL” team. Their defense is terrible, they don’t steal bases and they don’t bunt. They rely on that one big strike, and by strike of course, I mean they rely on the three-run homer. And no offense in baseball may be better equipped for the long ball than the Detroit Tigers.
According to park factor, they are the eighth most hitter friendly field in the major leagues. But bad pitching or exceptional hitting can skew park factor. In Detroit, they experience both. The AL Central is notorious for having the worst pitching in major league baseball. And Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the same lineup is what I’d consider “exceptional hitting”. The Tigers saw this potential equation play out in front of them before the Prince Fielder signing and decided they were properly equipped. By moving Cabrera to third base, they knew they would have a terrible defense, they had a poor defensive squad before the Fielder signing. They also knew they’d score a lot of runs. However, the most important factor here is why the Tigers in particular were more equipped for Cabrera at third base.
Even the most optimistic among us would call Cabrera’s defense awful. You’d think it would take exceptional defense at other positions to make up for Cabrera at third base but this wasn’t the case. Detroit’s only “exceptional” defender was Austin Jackson in CF, and even he is still merely among the top five in his position in the AL. The Tigers got away with poor defense at virtually ever position because of a “swing and a miss” type of pitching staff. Their pitchers did not pitch to contact. Verlander, Scherzer and Fister all particularly rack up the strikeouts. When they brought in Anibal Sanchez, they brought in another starter who gets outs via the “K”. But it isn’t as if every team in baseball isn’t interested in strikeouts, they love them, but teams also realize that inning-eaters can be just as important. Some pitchers don’t need to strike hitters out, they rely on their ability to generate lots of ground balls. Groundballs that would eat a third baseman like Miguel Cabrera alive. But Detroit found success in high k/9 pitchers, bad defense and a hitter friendly environment to supplement their already monstrous combo of Cabrera and Fielder.
Consider now the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. They constructed their team around their stadium. Just about any pitcher can limit the amount of homeruns he gives up in AT&T Park, but the expansive outfield is prime for doubles and triples and the Giants have a collection of fly ball pitchers. So San Francisco traded away players like Jonathan Sanchez and Andres Torres for outfielders Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan before the 2012 season. The goal wasn’t simply an offensive upgrade, but to grab two good defensive outfielders, combine them with another speedy outfielder like Gregor Blanco. Suddenly the Giants have the right players to fit that huge expansion of grass they call an outfield and they did it for cheap. So the Giants found success using a similar equation but opposing factors as the Tigers. They combined fly ball pitchers, with faster outfielders in a pitching friendly environment.
All around the major leagues, you’ll see teams bring in pitchers, outfielders and infielders that fit their specific ballparks, their specific pitching staffs and their specific defenses. Yankee Stadium is very hitter friendly, so it really doesn’t matter that their outfield defense was relatively poor. Most non-catchable fly balls will leave that yard anyway. A better point of emphasis was in finding good ground ball inducing pitchers or strikeout pitchers, which they did. The Angels are in the same boat as the Giants headed into 2013. In a pitcher friendly park, they intend to deploy Peter Bourjos, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton in the same outfield. At the same time they decided to bring in less expensive fly ball pitchers like Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton but not because they’re under the impression these three are really good. Moreover, these three pitchers will eat innings for cheap and those three outfielders will catch anything hit between the foul lines, or so they hope.
Using these three factors, there are a number of different combinations organizations can use to field a winner, but there are specific preset conditions which will not play out in a team’s favor. If you look at the unsuccessful teams in 2012, you can trace just about every team’s struggles back to this simple factor, their pitchers didn’t their outfielders or their park. Large outfields with slow outfielders is a bad combo, no matter what type of pitching. Having fast outfielders in a small park is a relative waste of money and talent and a move should be made. Fly ball pitchers in a smaller park is also a bad idea, but similarly, ground ball pitchers in a larger park may be a waste of resources. Regardless, this strategy allows teams to capitalize by saving money in non-valued pitchers or non-valued outfielders. The idea is that no matter the free agent market, there won’t be a perfect balance and players that can help certain teams may be paired up in the right circumstances with the right team and result in a great value signing.
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Your response is spot on. It's too hard to justify "going against the grain" for traditional managers (GMs) and benchmarks of what others are doing. I just wish they would say, "Hey, were 11-0. What are we learning here?"
Find a geeky economist who changes baseball to output is a function of inputs; and beware of diminishing returns - by inning or number of pitches.
First, it's important to say: "Nobody wins the World Series in spring training."
RE: Moneyball, Part 2; ex: Kansas City pitching rotations - Spring Training
They have almost perfected the rotation in spring training to the example I was suggesting. Yet, as spring training will draw to a close, watch. They'll extend the innings for starters; the bullpen work will default to normal practices; and four starters will throw nearly half of all pitches during the season.
I ran my theory by a local DII college where my son takes batting lessons. The batting coach said, "If a team did that (Moneyball, Part 2 - pitching) they would have to change the structure of the bullpen. Interesting."
Kansas City has nothing to lose by changing their formula of rotation going into this season.
I'm just finding it ironic right now.
So the Angels would rather face Ervin Santana as a Royal then pay him? And the Yankees would rather face David Justice playing for Oakland, per Money Ball.
2012: 2,859 pitches, 9-13 W-L, 5.16 era....he'll fit right in the traditional model so this should work. Hmm.
Oh well. I root for the White Sox anyways.
Another way to consider your premise is: "When would you trade Pena so Hatteberg could be in the line up?"
"Money Ball, part 2" Kansas City, cont.
Of the 23,894 pitches that were thrown by Kansas City in 2012, Mendoza, Chen, Smith and Hochevar threw 10,143. They were pitchers of record in 82 games; with a win-loss of 33-49; and a combined era of 5.07. This is of a pitching staff of 25 over the season. Simple observation of the staff suggests better results with fewer pitches being thrown, individually, over the course of the season in Kansas City.
In managing "Money Ball, part 2" in Kansas City (Oakland is to Kansas City as Money Ball is to Oakland) none of the pitching staff would go eight innings (Hatteburg over Pena). The focus would be on disruptive pitching styles during the course of any game, earlier and more often; before needed.
I would assume in a normal course, a call up like Paulino, with a 3-1 record and a 1.67 era would be an exciting anticipation. But let him throw 2,500 pitches over the season. Pitch more innings. Kansas City is a different animal than New York, Texas, LAA, etc.
Kansas City and its continuous changing of players can't rely on prototypical game plan that makes traditional sense. Their season ending outcome won't change.
I have no credibility at a major league level, youth baseball coaching and the disruptive style worked. But, similarly to Money Ball, I do have a minor in economics and applied it to the game. Go ahead and laugh.
If you know someone in Kansas City, you can tell them there's this baseball clown that thinks....etc.
But, Kansas really does have pitching talent.
"He's toast after the 4th or 5th inning..."
Javier Vazquez was predictable to be vulnerable during the 5th inning as a White Sox some seasons back. This is where I started using a predictability factor. It's pitching the number of innings required as a starter to get the win that limits reviewing how to transition a bull pen into a process-ready service. A "Money Ball, part 2" team should disregard who gets the win and transition to cycles of pitching for wins. Kansas City has the pitching, they are just trying to conform.
The equal and converse is when does the batter adapt? In Luis Mendoza's example, if the batters adapted early he should have been out earlier (prior to more than 1 run within 3 innings). The forward-thinking assumption is he can pitch in more games; and middle relief and closers roles aren't defined.
Sorry it took me a while to reply as I enjoy your premise "What's the new Money Ball?" discussion as an assignment.
Let's look at it this way, if "Money Ball, part 1" was to get runners on base, "Money Ball, part 2" is to keep runners off base, on the cheap. "Money Ball, part 2" team: Kansas City. Example: Luis Mendoza; Career 5.40 era; from July 4 through Aug. 22, 2012
He's actually a much better pitcher than his stats indicate. If Mendoza gave up one run or less in the first three innings, he should be allowed to go five innings, but no more. If he has given up two runs prior to the fourth, he was in the game too long. Bullpen coaching for him should have a reliever working prior to the start of the game and the fourth inning. He should not pitch more than five innings. It's a about wins, not innings pitched for wins.
Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest pitchers ever, wants his pitchers to throw more complete games. Let him and Texas do it. Let Johan Santana throw a no-hitter for the Mets and see how he does over the next games. Let Kansas City review its 2012 innings for pitchers to discover the "predictability factor" of when a pitcher will allow runs. They are a different team, in need of a "Money Ball" solution.
But they have what it takes.
The next "Money Ball" is pitching. The operating theory is this: How a pitcher pitches is predictable; ultimately for a batter, adaptable. The goal should be breaking up the adaptability factor before it occurs. The question is: "When is it predictable for the batter."
The innings a pitcher gives up runs tend to follow a pattern. Another way to state this is you have a strong starters and those who settle in after early runs; those that are consistent to the middle innings and then give away runs.
The focus can't be on the complete games, but more disruption to the hitters.
Flipping the function of a bullpen to have activity not from the 6 or 7th inning of the game, but pregame-throughout the game, in rotations.
For example, an elite former White Sox pitcher would give up early runs and then settle in. Pitching two innings in the bullpen and coming in for the third would have been more effective. Another pitcher was predictable for giving up runs in the 5th. That pitcher should have been removed in the third.
The formula is assigning 3 pitchers to a game, with only two of those pitchers having similar signature pitches. The goal is not to face a batter more than twice. Use the rule of no more than 24 pitches in an inning as a barometer.
Complete game stats have to be ignored, improving era would be the goal.
Pitchers with high eras, but predictable zero run innings over time now become interesting - the "Money Ball" part.
Cincinnati's acquisition of Choo could also be an example of this. Getting rid of Stubbs, an exceptional defensive player, because there isn't as much of a need for a speedy outfielder in a small ballpark as there is for a place-setter for the offense. Or it could be because the Reds finally saw all my angry tweets about Stubbs's strikeouts?
@rgrounds They are absolutely right, a restructuring, or more like a rethinking of one's philosophy concerning a bullpen would be needed. But honestly, do you picture Ned Yost or even Dayton Moore for example ever doing something so "against the grain"? I don't, for a number of reasons, the most certain of which are Moore's offseason moves. Had he not intended to change the way he structures a pitching staff, he would not have gone out of his way to bring in Shields, Santana and Davis. I mean everything about those moves screams "traditional pitching staff". More than anything, it seems the Royals are banking on their newly built rotation being average and their bullpen and young but dynamic offense making up for what they lack.
It's hard to criticize it though, because that's what the best teams are doing. The Tigers are hoping their backend bullpen flaws will be covered by their high powered offense and solid rotation. The Giants hope their relatively toothless offense (I use this term lightly, I actually like the way they're built) will be saved by a great rotation and deep bullpen. The Angels are hoping Blanton/Vargas can hold it together just enough for their offense to score runs and a newer, deeper bullpen to protect leads.
I can't say for sure which teams will be successful, but if you're going to built a pitching staff in a traditional manner, KC did the best they could.
@rgrounds For a team that was getting such terrible performance from their pitching staff, if I were the manager I would've given your idea a try. It's simple, when something isn't working and you can't figure out the problem, you go back to step 1 and start all over. So year, the Royals of the last couple seasons, this would've been an experiment. Especially when you consider the ridiculous amount of talent they have in their bullpen, both at the Major League and minor league levels. However, this season I think I'd be more willing to allow the pitchers to work deeper into games because you have Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana.
@rgrounds I agree with you in that case that we are talking about undefined relief roles. However, when it comes to starting pitchers, a more traditional approach may be better if combined with the assumption that 1 inning specialists will be used efficiently. By that I mean, keep the starter in as long as he's effective, whether that be 3 innings or 8 innings, but also get someone warming in the pen beginning in the 4th or 5th inning if the pitcher has shown a consistent history of lasting only 2 times through the order.
@rgrounds I appreciate the comment! You're right, the new Moneyball is about keeping runners off base for cheap, or putting up lots of run for cheap in certain situations. In today's game, one inning specialists are a large part of the equation. If a pitcher is so predictable that you now he's toast after the 4th or 5th inning, then of course you make that move. The only question I have is which pitchers are truly that predictable every 5th day? Can we really predict the game to that extent?
It seems to me that pitchign can not possibly be predictable, and if it were as you say it is, wouldn't teams catch on to the whole idea of relievers in set roles? The new moneyball has to be a concept slightly more complex than pitching, a main element of the game which every team is trying to acquire.
@JakesBogusTrips The Reds acquisition of Choo is most certainly this. Their defense comes across as very average, but with the swing and miss type of staff they're rolling out, any possible defensive shortcomings should be minimized.
@GregAlso @AngelsWin When I started writing it, the Angels didn't have Vargas or Blanton yet, so I used the Tigers and Giants as examples.
@GregAlso @AngelsWin Then I read your piece and it reminded me of my own and motivated me to rewrite it. Though I added in the Angels later.
@GregAlso @AngelsWin It is!!! I totally started writing it a month back, and forgot about it when the Winter Meetings rolled along.
@ScottyAllenLAAI @JakesBogusTrips I'd say outfield D is average, Infield D is a B to B+. However, this again favors your point because it benefits groundball pitchers like Cueto and Bronson. The other 3 guys on the presumed rotation (Latos, Bailey, Chapman) certainly back up your point as Swing and Miss guys. The small ballpark does not lend itself well to fly ball pitchers, which is why there isn't really one on the staff, unless you count Bad-royo.
@ScottyA_LAAI glad I motivated you! I like the addition of the Giants. I hadn't thought of them & their moves last offseason.