Moneyball and Game 7

Just to stay in baseball mode before this 2011 season comes to an end tonight or tomorrow night, I went to see Moneyball last night. It’s a must see for a few reasons. It’s very entertaining. It holds your attention. Art Howe will not be pleased with the way he looked. Artie always appeared to me to look like an ex-Marine. Shiny, bald head, good physique, excellent posture. He wasn’t portrayed like that in the movie. And “Wash” is leaner than he looked in the movie. Bille Beane should be pleased. Brad Pitt! Wow, Beaner. Good on ya.

I have a lot of respect for Billy and the way he has worked to make the A’s competitive with limited funds, but each time I talked to him on the phone (which was usually on speakerphone from Brian Cashman’s office), I would tell him, “Moneyball for me is having Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson healthy and starting 34 to 35 games a season. That’s a winning formula.” (Brian occasionally would have me sit in his office with him before Yankee games and talk about the game during the 12 years that I worked for MSG and YES.)

It is also important for the baseball fan to see to really understand the thinking that went into putting the 2002 A’s together. I was not pleased with the way they portrayed the scouts. These guys put a lot of time in to evaluate talent and try to project who will be a Major Leaguer. We all know that is hard to do.

If you want to entertain yourself on a rainy day, get the Elias Sports Bureau book on the first 25 years of the MLB Draft. From Rick Monday, who was the first player ever drafted, to Ben McDonald who was the number one pick 25 years later. Very interesting to see who made it and who didn’t and how high or low they were drafted. Remember Mike Piazza’s draft round? Look it up sometime. What the modern sabermetric guys use to select players who might help their team — like Peter Brand does in the movie and now many of today’s GMs do — are the batting statistics of players already in the big leagues like Scott Hatteberg. That’s not fair to the scouts who are hired to pick amateur players and project if they’ll ever be big leaguers.

Tim McCarver and I had a discussion recently about “money ballplayers” and “Moneyball” players. There’s a difference. Yogi Berra and Kirby Puckett were money-ball players not necessarily moneyball players. As a former pitcher, I would love to have had them look at two or three pitches before they swung, and not attack the first one that looked hittable. Facing them with a count of 0-2 or 1-2 would have been more comfortable than having them swing early in the count. Check out their walk/strikeoout ratios sometime on Baseball-Reference.com.

A Moneyball player may get on base more than some free swingers and  score a fairly high number of runs, but will they get the key hits to win close games?  In the movie, Peter Brand points out how they can replace the runs they lost when Jason Giambi left  by cobbling together what Hatteberg and a couple others could do in aggregate. They looked at total runs scored. Can’t agree with that theory. You can score 10 runs a game for 3 straight games and then only 1 a game for the next 3. total 33. over 5 a game. you’ve still probably won three and lost three.

So what I want is a team like the Yankee teams of the late 90s before Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez got there. O’Neill, Martinez, Brosius, Girardi, Jeter, Bernie Williams, Knoblauch, and others scored four or more runs a high percentage of the time and with good pitching, and with Mo and Wetteland pitching at the end of the game, they had quite a run. Not many MVP or Cy Young awards. Bernie won a batting title, but the trademark of that team was consistently scoring four or more every game. Their winning percentage when they did was by far the best in the AL. Atlanta was the gold standard for that in the NL. Why? Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Avery, Millwood.

My point about the Yankee lineup is none of them were the prototypical Moneyball batters. They were all good situational hitters, good two-strike hitters, made productive outs to move the runners up a base. Those are money-ball players. With no disrespect to Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez, it may surprise you that during my 12 seasons covering the Yankees (1995-2006), my all-time Yankee team would have Tino Martinez at first base and Scott Brosius at third. Neither one a Hall of Famer or MVP, but they knew how to play the game on both sides of the ball. Outstanding fielders, baserunners, and situational hitters. I think most teams could afford them both. They’re not superstars that will command a five-year, double-digit million-dollar contract.

Regardless of my opinions on the theory behind it and whether you or other baseball people agree, see the movie. I had a flashback when Billy Beane had to tell Mike Magnante he was cut from the roster. At least Mike was told in person. After 25 seasons in the majors, I got a phone call during the All-Star break in 1983  from Cardinal GM, Joe McDonald, telling me they were releasing me and had purchased the contract of Dave Rucker, a promising lefty they acquired from Detroit. I thought it was tasteless and classless. Still do.

At the time, 25 years was the longest anyone had ever played in the majors. Tommy John and Nolan Ryan passed me after that. TJ pitched for 26 seasons, Nolan 27. But as time went on, I realized that you either leave the game on your terms or the game’s terms. As they say in the movie, the game will tell you when you’re no longer wanted or needed. It might be when you’re in your 20s or when you’re 40. I was 44. Very fortunate. The film has a few tender moments like that. The times Billy Beane and his daughter shared were poignant.

That’s my Jeffrey Lyons critique of Moneyball.

Just a thought looking ahead to Game 7, if there is one. Always fun to try to think what the managers might be thinking. For the Cardinals, Carp starts, Westbrook is ready to go early, then it’s matchup time. For the Rangers, “Harry” starts –“Wash” is a loyal guy — Feldman next since the Cards may have a lot of righthanded batters in the lineup, then Holland ready for the right situation and Ogando, Adams and Feliz to follow. Nothing really surprising about that. Just trying to have fun thinking along with the managers.

A final thought. A lot of time was devoted to hearing Tony’s reasoning for not being able to bring Motte into Game 5 in the 8th. Not enough time to get ready. One of many things I learned from Eddie Lopat and Johnny Sain — my two favorite pitching coaches — was to have the relief pitchers throw from the bullpen mound before or during batting practice. Nothing stressful, just loosen up like you would before you get called on during the game. Almost game-ready. Then stop. Now, when the phone rings and it’s your call, you can get ready in a hurry.

Ted Power and John Franco took to that nicely when I coached them in Cincinnati in the mid 80’s. I did it myself when I was with the Cardinals in the early 80s. I found out that with six to eight pitches in the ‘pen and another eight that I’m allowed from the mound when I got called in, I was ready.

Speaking of calls to the bullpen. I always enjoyed guessing whose name was called when Dave Ricketts, our bullpen coach in St. Louis , answered the phone. The choices the year we won the World Series in 1982 were Mark Littell, John Martin, Jeff Lahti, Doug Bair, myself, and Bruce Sutter. I can honestly say that Whitey Herzog was so consistent in who he wanted for different situations that I was right on close to 100 percent of his calls. He was a master at matching up the right pitcher for the right batter.

Hope the weather has improved in St. Louis…

4 Comments

Brosius – 317 Postseason plate appearances. .245/.278/.418
Martinez – 405 Postseason plate appearances. .233/.321/.351
Giambi – 174 Postseason plate appearances. .290/.425/.486
Rodriguez – 299 Postseason plate appearances. .277/.386/.498

Kaat,

Still a stud buddy, after all of these years. Nice post, I’d take Martinez and Brosius too. I was getting into my teen years when they joined the club and really enjoyed that run. I’m still not sure why you aren’t in the Hall of Fame but something tells me that will be rectified very soon.

Keep up the good work!!!

Nice critique, Jim, and thanks! Indeed, Wash told us during the World Series that he is “not that fat.” Don’t ask Eric Chavez or Frank Thomas what they thought of Moneyball. I enjoyed it personally but have found a large number of people within the game who didn’t care for the portrayals or movie/book themselves.

It is great to see the thoughts about moneyball from such a great pitcher like yourself. Thank you very much.

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