The Royals & Moneyball, and The Right Way

I understand the premise, and I don’t totally disagree with some of the philosophy, but I think the philosophy has been so far overblown as far as its value…” – Mike Arbuckle, Senior Advisor to the General Manager

In 2003 a book was published by the highly acclaimed – and the ridiculously talented – Michael Lewis that changed the way the mainstream looks at baseball and baseball philosophies. It wasn’t an entirely groundbreaking venture, a lot of the theories and practices discussed and highlighted throughout the text are the same ones that Earl Weaver trumpeted in the 1970s. But with more media attention on professional sports now than ever before, the book opened a lot of eyes.

Baseball, more than any other business it seems, operates on the Good ‘ol Boy System where things that were done a certain way 40-50 years ago should be done the same way today. After all, if it worked for everyone in the 1970s when Baseball was great and pure and the focus of Americana, then there’s no reason to change that with any kind of information other than what we can see with our own eyes. It’s a “we do what we do because we do what we do” mentality. Baseball, as a business, was really quite terribly run.

The focus of Moneyball, the intention of Moneyball, was to merely show how an organization bereft of funds and at a disadvantage compared to the others in its industry because of it, was trying to do things smarter and more efficiently. You know, as any well run business would do.

Corporations all across the world each day have to make decisions, ultimately, with the bottom line in mind. And because of that, each decision they make is done in an effort to maximize their dollars spent in regards to expected revenues in an effort to beat their market. What the Oakland A’s were doing at the time the book was printed, was no different.

What Beane and company were trying to do was cut through the noise. They were trying to filter out the subjective nonsense that can cloud a human’s opinion on other humans. A “tell me what you can prove, not what you think because of what you think you see” mentality. Remember, the system as a whole was, and still is, full of guys that were taught to see something in players, by guys that were taught to see something in players, by guys that were taught to see something in players. They’re all taught to look for and appreciate the same things in an athlete.

The Athletics, as I’m sure teams before them were doing the same, were trying to get to the things that they could prove. Trying to find the “why” not the “what” in an effort to maximize the outcome.

Gasp.

“…I would point to the fact; I would ask the question of: how many World Series [has] Oakland won? And I would ask, how many of the ‘Moneyball’ disciples have been GMs who have won [a] World Series?…” – MA

The Oakland Athletics weren’t doing things “the right way”. We know this because they weren’t doing things how everyone else did them and, in a lot of ways, that’s Baseball. Do things the way you’ve always done them; do things in the way that only makes you comfortable. Never step outside your box especially when it comes to evaluating players. Pitchers can’t walk too many and batters can’t strike out too much. It’s comfortable that way. Players need to smile, celebrate with their teammates, hustle at all times, execute bunts, don’t get caught looking at a called strike-three, and don’t give up 0-2 hits. Those are the things that matter. Those, “intangible” things.

This is how the Royals currently act with Chris Getz.

My first year coaching in college we had a center fielder that would have basically been our equivalent of Getz. Every day at practice he would do something extra. He’d take extra swings in the cages until his hands would bleed; he would take extra fly balls in the outfield until it was dark. He would do whatever he could do to in an effort to get better. Everyone loved him for it.

During games he could always do those “little things” when asked and you always had the confidence he would get them done. If we needed a sacrifice bunt he could do it. If we called for a hit and run we had confidence that at the very least he wouldn’t swing and miss. He caught every ball he got to in the outfield and never missed a cut-off man. He hustled on and off the field; he ran-out every ball he hit no matter the outcome; he played the game incredibly hard.  Everyone loved him for it.

He also wasn’t good.

His backup was younger, bigger, faster, more athletic, and one cocky SOB. He didn’t always hustle and he didn’t always play hard. He struck out a lot and often didn’t hit his cut-off man. In fact, he had such a good arm, that he would purposely not charge groundballs hit to him in the outfield in the hopes that the runner would try and take an extra base. Everyone hated him for it.

He was also very good.

Even though he struck out a lot he walked a ton, and (seemingly) every ball he hit, he hit hard somewhere. Even though he didn’t always hustle he was an excellent base runner and led our team in stolen bases and was rarely thrown out. Even though he took chances with his arm strength he threw out more base runners in that one season than any outfielder I was ever around.

By the middle of the season he took over as our starting center fielder and became our best player. He wasn’t always comfortable because of the mistakes he would make, but we were a lot better team with him playing than with the other guy.

“…Compared to the John Schuerholz’s of the world in Atlanta, the Pat Gillick’s of the world in Toronto and Philly and in other places, so I would just let the record stand for itself as to which approach may be more effective over the long haul.” – MA

What you see can be deceiving, especially in baseball. The visuals of seeing a player make a glaring mistake like booting a ground ball or striking out or missing the cut-off man will stick in your mind longer than a simple act like drawing a walk or singling up the middle.

The mistakes have an almost tangible nature to them. You can see them, you can put your finger on them, you know why they’re bad and what they cost your team. The walk? Eh, it’s a non-event. It’s something that happens that you can turn your attention away from while the guy literally walks to first base. It’s because of this reason that some players “positives” get made into a lot more than they really are. It’s because of comfort.

Chris Getz has been labeled a “mistake free” player by the Royals and there’s a perfectly justifiable reason for that: he’s comfortable. He’s a perfectly average second baseman with limited range to either side and a noodle-arm, but he’s comfortable in that if the ball is hit right at him, it’s going to be an out. He’s a pretty terrible hitter that’s devoid of any power, but he’s comfortable because he puts the ball in play a lot, and runs hard down the line. The Royals don’t have to worry about the visual of him not hustling.

He’s also not good.

The comments from the Senior Advisor to the General Manager of the Royals concern me. There’s a “we’re doing things the right way” attitude about the way he spoke and a dismissal of the true methodology behind Oakland’s process as if it’s somehow less than. It worries me because it seems like he completely missed the point, and it’s a point that every responsible business should heed.

Whether you value on-base percentage or not (if not, what’s wrong with you) you must realize that the true message of Moneyball was not to solely trumpet a single statistic, but to show that an organization was trying to find an edge in a slow evolving industry. It was an organization full of people trying to think outside the box despite their own comfort.

The Royals seem to be firmly entrenched and unwilling to get outside of their comfort. They seem firmly boxed in to doing things the way they’ve always been done. And that worries me.

 

*The quotes in this piece were taken from an interview on 810 WHB’s “The Program” for the sole purpose of this editorial.

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Tags: AL Central Chris Getz KC Royals Moneyball

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