Monday, December 05, 2005

One of the main misconceptions with Moneyball is that it's all about on-base percentage (OBP). In fact, the main idea presented in the book was the idea that the best way to have success in baseball is to take advantages of qualities that the market undervalues. At the time that the Oakland A's were putting a mini-dynasty together, those qualities were on-base percentage. However, they've adapted. Last year they were 14th in the majors in OBP, yet they still won 88 games despite injuries to Bobby Crosby, Rich Harden, and Octavio Dotel. How? It's too general to say "pitching and defense", but that's in part how they did it: with a pitching staff built to not allow home runss and a truly outstanding defense to take care of anything put in play (they finished 2nd in baseball in Defensive Efficiency, behind the White Sox.)

Why am I talking about this? Well, what is undervalued in the baseball market these days? OBP? Nah. Defense? Maybe. Starting pitching? Never. I do like what the Cardinals have done, though - assemble one ace and back him up with a bunch of guys that can give you 4.00 to 4.50 ERAs. I still think a guy like Jason Johnson could do that for us. But truthfully, so far this offseason, very little is being undervalued. In fact, of all the signings made so far, I would have made exactly one (Brian Giles, 3 years, 30 million.) It looks like A.J. Burnett (career 3.73 ERA) is about to get 5 years / 50 million from the Cards. It seems like all the big-name free agents are getting huge deals, and even some mediocre players (Hector Carrasco, Kyle Farnsworth, etc.) are getting fairly big deals. What to do?

If I'm Tim Purpura, I don't make any big moves. Sign a 4th OF if you like, (Matt Lawton, Rondell White if he's healthy, Todd Hollandsworth, Mark Sweeney) in case Bagwell can't play and Berkman has to move to 1st. Don't re-sign Viz, Ausmus, or Palmeiro - let Chris Burke and Luke Scott be the backup OF's if you don't sign anyone. Bruntlett can take over Viz's utility spot. And only sign Ausmus if Clemens gives you an absolute ultimatum that he won't come back without him. Look to make trades (the Braves supposedly offered Johnny Estrada to the D-Rays for Julio Lugo. Show interest in Estrada! The Phillies might be looking to move Jason Michaels...etc.) Small, smart moves, and at least look into possible trades.

I'm doing a presentation on baseball statistics (a.k.a 'Sabermetrics') in my statistical theory class on Wednesday. I'm going to talk about how it got started (if you're interested, check out 'The Numbers Game' by Alan Schwarz), how I got into it, and new developments recently. It should be fun.

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