Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics designated hitter Jonny Gomes at bat in the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
My wife knows who Buster Posey is. She knows there are three outs to a half-inning and most of the words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." That's about the extent of her baseball knowledge.
She loved the movie version of Moneyball, though. Loved it. Seeing as she has her own version of Brad Pitt at home, it probably didn't have that much to do with the eye candy, either. As we walked out of the theater, she said something like this:
It was fascinating. I thought it was going to be about statistics, but it was about how teams had to figure out different ways of competing when they didn't have money.
I'm paraphrasing, but that was the general sentiment. I almost spit out the Jujube that was stuck in my teeth since the movie I saw six months before Moneyball because Jujubes are awful, godless candies that get stuck in your teeth. The near spit-take, though, was because my wife, who knows very little about baseball, figured out what Moneyball was about. For the better part of the last decade, most of us have been subjected to people -- and we're talking the ones paid to talk or write about baseball for a living -- misconstrue what the book and movie were about.
The misconception is that Moneyball was about on-base percentage and using statistics. It was never only about that. But it's easy to forget about the Cult of On-Base Percentage, and just how spooky it used to be. Take this article, for example, with an unfortunate headline of …
Moneyball baseball may be on its last legs
The article is about the Oakland Athletics changing their minor-league hitting approach, and it suggests that the OBP-heavy philosophy of the A's is now dead. That's … probably not entirely true. But check out this passage:
As recent as five years ago, Oakland's farmhands were required to walk a minimum of 10 times per month, since walks and — in a larger scope — on-base percentage were at the heart of the team's offensive approach.
The system was so ingrained that batters short one or two walks at the end of any given month were known to take pitches on 3-1 and even 3-2 to make sure they met the quota.
And in 2004, Modesto A's manager Von Hayes was forced on more than one occasion to bench outfielder Andre Ethier to break the future star's habit of swinging in forbidden counts.
Remember things like that? Blanket approaches to hitting that were mandated by the parent club? It seems otherworldly today. And who knows, maybe it helped. Maybe the reason Andre Ethier turned into an All-Star is because the A's did the Clockwork Orange thing to him, forcing his eyes open so he could watch filmstrips of hitters taking walk after walk after walk.
Moneyball is still about finding the market inefficiency. The Rays might be doing it with players of questionable character; the A's are trying to do it by trading young pitchers away years before they reach free agency. Finding a different way to find value has been the point all along.
The A's moved on, scrapping the quotas and the overzealous attempts at indoctrination. They aren't focusing on creating an army of Vlad clones now; the extremes have just been snipped at the ends, and they're going about their developmental strategies more or less like a normal team again.
But this is a reminder to not get too snotty with the people who still think Moneyball was about finding players who could take walks. Because that was a huge, huge component of the wacky scene back then. There were a lot of folks who didn't comprehend fully what the book or movie was about, but that doesn't mean that they didn't glean anything of substance. Read the above again: walk quotas for minor leaguers. There was an overcorrection at some point, and it trickled down to the teenagers and 20-somethings whom the A's were trying to develop. That ended a while ago.
Moneyball wasn't just about fat dudes walking, but for a while there, the extreme-patience fad might have been a little out of control, pun somewhat intended. The Stockton Ports, and the other A's affiliates, might be a bellwether of how the pendulum has swung back into the realm of normalcy. The A's minor leaguers will still take their walks, but they haven't been forced to take them for a while now.