Should It Be Called Moneyball Or Banking On Prospects?

By Mitch Petanick

May 24, 2013 9 Comments

money-ball1-400x210Ever since Adam Rubin questioned where the Mets’ Moneyball players were yesterday, there has been a major buzz surrounding the topic in the Mets blogosphere. I actually wrote a piece last August regarding the topic of Moneyball on Mets Merized Online, basically debunking this whole entire Moneyball concept.

There is a major misunderstanding of what Moneyball really is among Mets fans, most likely due to the romanticism in the book and movie titled Moneyball. Most believe that the basis of Moneyball is to spend the least of money as possible to try and build your team. Ehhhh…wrong.

The fact of the matter is that Billy Beane wanted to spend money, he wasn’t trying to do his owner a favor by spending the least amount of money as possible. He had to think outside the box to try and find players that were overlooked by other organizations. He did that by using sabermetrics, and practically mainstreamed the idea after delivering some success with those early 2000s A’s teams.

But digging deeper, we find that there was more to meets the eye with those A’s teams. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote on MMO last August regarding the Moneyball concept:

It fails to mention the fact that the pitching staff consisted of Barry Zito (2002 Cy Young Winner), Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson who were affectionately known as the “Big 3.” Let’s put it this way, if Beane didn’t win the division with those three guys he should’ve lost his job. By the way, the closer was Billy Koch, and it gets even better. The A’s had Miguel Tejada (2002 AL MVP), Eric Chavez, Jermaine Dye, Ray Durham, and David Justice all in their lineup. So was the success of the A’s due to sabermetrics being used to add a few players that nobody even remembers from the team, or the fact that everything came together for the A’s due to great player development? And if you thought the 2002 pitching staff was scary, the 2003 & 2004 A’s added a young Rich Harden to the mix. How did the Athletics manage to never win a World Series with those guys on their pitching staff?

And there lies the rub — Beane had an outstanding core of young players that were dominating baseball before they got their big payday. Moneyball is just as much about solid player development and everything coming together, than finding the diamond in the rough using sabermetrics. In fact, had Beane not had those dominant young players, I would argue that we would never even know about Moneyball today. It wouldn’t exist.

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What does this all mean for the Mets?

There is hope. The Mets have a bunch of players on the cusp of breaking into the big leagues, and if they can all gel and have success…bam, you have your Moneyball Mets success story. Players like Travis d’Arnaud, Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, Wilmer Flores, Cesar Puello, Cory Vaughn, Matt den Dekker, and Juan Lagares are the guys that are going to make or break this whole Moneyball concept for the Mets. Further down the line, we have guys like Brandon Nimmo, Kevin Plawecki and Jayce Boyd.

The Mets also have one of the best crops of young right handed pitchers in their system. As the old baseball adage states, you can never have too much pitching. Having this abundance of pitching could ultimately lead to the success of Moneyball for the Mets in the future as well, as they will have the freedom to move some of the arms in exchange for hitters to bolster the lineup.

So as you can see, this concept of Moneyball is really more about banking on prospects than it is about finding low paid players to fill voids on your roster. Let’s face it, they aren’t being paid well because they aren’t very good . The Scott Hatteberg Cinderella story is exactly that…a Cinderella story. You aren’t going to build championship teams with Moneyball, but you will by having a solid minor league system and a bank account of prospects that you can borrow from when necessary.

The late 1990s Yankees teams spent a lot of money, but they also had a solid minor league system which provided the core of those great Yankees teams. Look what happened to them once the well dried up. The Athletics dipped back to levels of mediocrity after those solid early 2000s teams — why? Because the players they drafted never materialized to major league success.

The Mets have a shot here, and you can see them trying to bolster that minor league system in order to develop another Moneyball success story. It started with acquiring Zack Wheeler, and continued with acquiring Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. You will see a steady stream of players being promoted over the next two years, and they will be held in the minors until the team gains an extra year of control, because that is what this concept of Moneyball is really about.

The book and the movie were a nice story, but this is about building ball clubs using a core of players developed by the organization. This is what the Mets are trying to do, and is why the team is taking their time with the prospects now. If they get called up too soon, they fail, and the whole entire plan fails. It may not look like it, but there is a plan. The problem is, if this doesn’t work, the Mets could be looking at some very dark days ahead.

  • Mike Lloyd

    Very well written Mitch, and to date, an excellent explanation of what really was the basis of that teams’ success…Oh, the site is great, congrats to you all..

  • Mitch Petanick

    Thanks, Mike.

  • http://realdirtymets Mr North Jersey

    I second Mike’s comment. Very well written Mitch. Your last paragraph is pretty much my thinking on all this.

  • Eric

    You missed the point as well. Moneyball was/is about exploiting inefficiencies. The problem is that there are more smart teams and therefore the market is more efficient. It is the RBI/SAVE/WIN evaluation of players vs. the SO/BB rate. It is about how you develop the core, the looks good in a uniform vs. the production metrics. If you look at the standings payroll and wins do not have a very high correlation anymore as smart teams have figured out how to win.

  • https://twitter.com/FirstPitchMitch Mitch Petanick

    Oh, I get the point of what Moneyball is supposed to do…but my point is what inefficiencies did Billy Beane exploit? In theory, it sounds great, but the bottom of the barrel players get paid what they do for a reason. You can’t build a team looking for castaways and inefficiencies alone, as the Mets are proving this year.

  • Connor O’Brien

    “The book and the movie were a nice story, but this is about building ball clubs using a core of players developed by the organization. This is what the Mets are trying to do, and is why the team is taking their time with the prospects now. If they get called up too soon, they fail, and the whole entire plan fails. It may not look like it, but there is a plan. The problem is, if this doesn’t work, the Mets could be looking at some very dark days ahead.”
    Completely agree

  • Elliott Maddox

    But that scenario is a win-win. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, the Mets will continue to hemorrhage money until the owners are driven out of town on a rail….

  • http://ifiredstevephillips.blogspot.com Hank

    1. Very nicely done. It’s a joy to read you writing.

    2. I think you’re both right. The core of Moneyball is finding and then exploiting inefficiencies. Did it help that they had an unbelievable young trio of pitchers?? Why certainly. Bottom line though is that they worked within their budget to build an organization that reflected values that resulted in wins. Is the movie Hollywood, and the book also overdramatized?? Yes of course. But…the point Rubin makes remains, where are “our” Moneyball Mets?

    3. Sandy’s strength was supposed to be exploiting market inefficiencies, working with a smaller budget, and unearthing gems. This was what everyone knew. What I personally hoped for was that an ex-Marine, now baseball-lifer, and man with more ties in baseball that anyone else applying for the job…would have the willingness and ability to stand up to the Wilpons and put the best product out there.

    There are not only no Moneyball Mets, but the MLB product continues to get worse. And yes we’re banking on prospects. but that’s like playing the lottery. And in my book, we don’t have nearly as many tickets to be a consistent winning franchise. But hey…at least there’s always next year, or the year after.

  • Rich

    As a diehard since 1973, I could not agree more. Hope is all we have and its time to roll the dice again. All I can hope for is that it plays out like ’83-’84, when you could see it coming. They didn’t all work out (John Gibbons), but it felt like the tide was finally coming back in. Let’s play it out. Can’t be any worse than the last 5 years.