What Moneyball Missed:

Adam Fleisher says it was the impact of the reserve clause, which ties young players to their teams at below-market salary structures. More at the Sports Economist.

I think that Fleisher's argument can, to some extent, be reconciled within Moneyball itself. As I read it, he seems to suggest that the marginal value of moneyball simply may be higher when it comes to picking amateur players at the beginning of their careers, rather than free agent professionals. This is a point that Lewis stresses though--that the A's also developed better mechanisms for evaluating amateur players, such as taking college players. Note too that drafting college players reinforces Fleisher's argument: because college players are older and more mature, they are likely to have a greater number of productive years under the reserve clause umbrella than younger players.

Regardless, it is an interesting gloss on Moneyball.

Its hard to take seriously an article that misuses a term like "Reserve Clause". The Reserve Clause was thrown out in the 70's when first Catfish Hunter won his release in a arbitration over an insurance clause in his contract that was violated. Finally the Union was able to get it removed through collective bargaining.

What we have now is not anything even close to a Reserve Clause.
4.10.2009 12:35pm
What would make an interesting article would be to analyze the impact of abolishing the Reserve Clause on the birth of the Steroids Era. You could make a good case that the two were linked.
4.10.2009 12:39pm
Armen (mail) (www):
such as taking college players.

Maybe this is nitpicking, maybe not, but that wasn't the point of moneyball or how the A's operate. The point is they exploit the weaknesses in the market, regardless of where they are. After the book came out, every team began drafting college players. The A's drafted high schoolers. That's perfectly consistent with moneyball.
4.10.2009 12:48pm
DNL (mail):
Drafting college players shouldn't matter.

The Reserve Clause applies to the number of years (six) of **Major League service time** which a player is tied to the team. Time in the minors doesn't count. Time in the minors does count in a different regard -- after six years, the player can become a minor league free agent. But the time periods are distinct. You can keep a 18 year old until he's 30 this way.
4.10.2009 1:05pm
Volokh Groupie:
Is this why the O's keep on waiting to bring up weiters?
4.10.2009 1:37pm
byomtov (mail):
Evaluating talent and drafting intelligently is critical, of course. But there's another reason for the Rays' current success that teams like the Yankees and Red Sox cannot afford to replicate: the Rays were lousy for ten years. That gave them a long run of high draft choices.

It took no Bill james to identify David Price as the top draft possibility in 2007. The Rays got him because they had first choice. Similarly, Longoria was the #3 overall pick in 2006.

To the extent that player evaluation improves, so the draft becomes more important, The Rays' pattern - years of futility followed by a burst of success - will be repeated.
4.10.2009 1:43pm
Cold Warrior:
Wow. What a misguided article. One could easily say that the whole point of Moneyball was to show how the A's were able to exploit the below-free market rates for players with less than 6 years of major league service time.
4.10.2009 2:13pm
Bill reynolds (mail):
The Orioles are not going to compete this year so they are keeping Weiters in the minors to have another year before he becomes a free agent.

Fleisher refers to Bill james as a "Then-obscure" writer. Wrong. James had been well known for over a decade; it's just that BB people are so hide-bound they would not listen. Edward Bennett Williams is supposed to have said that the dumbest football owner is smarter than the smartest BB owner
4.10.2009 2:23pm
The 6 years of service time, while it puts ceiling on the players salary during the first 3 years, salaries are subject to arbitration the final three years. Last year players in arbitration average 146% salary increase. So obviously players are being grossly underpaid before arbitration, but 3 years of 146% increases is going to bring them close to market by the time they are free agents.

The other trend that has been rising in recent years is the teams buying out the arbitration years, and in some cases the first few years of free agency with long term contracts to give both the team and the player some security.
4.10.2009 2:25pm
Cory J (mail):
Armen and Cold Warrior,

You guys reminded me of this great post from
4.10.2009 2:29pm
Cold Warrior:
"Keep on waiting to bring up Weiters?". He is a fantastic prospect, but he would be jumping a couple levels to the big leagues. And as Bill R. notes, there's the arbitration clock thing plus the little fact that a good season for the O's this year would be a respectable 4th place finish.
4.10.2009 2:29pm
Cory J (mail):
As a Pirates fan, I grimace every time I hear the name Weiters.
4.10.2009 2:53pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Players as a group peak in ability from 26-28 years old (pichers may be 27-29). There are some exceptions, even without steroids, but not so many as you'd think. Nolan Ryan went on for years, but his 383 K's came when he was 27.

For this reason, a 22 y/o college player has a different expected arc of usefulness to a team than an 18 y/o, and you draft them with a different prism. The A's exploited that subtlety when others didn't notice it.

Further confusing the evaluation is the threshhold necessary to be a major-league player. Yes, a marginal young player might in one sense be a bargain at $400K compared to a $4M older player, but if the former is not quite good enough to be a starter and the latter is, what does that bargain get you? You are paying much less per hit, but you still don't win games.

The heart of moneyball was in noting the importance of OBP for batters and walks/strikeouts/HR's for pitchers, and applying that metric rather than the "feeling" of who seemed to be a ballplayer. This allowed the A's to project more accurately which of the many bargain-basement players were most likely to be good. Young players with a good control of the strike zone will gradually become HR hitters (see Youkilis, Kevin).

The Red Sox have done more of this over the last few years, though not as much as I'd like. There are of course other ways to find advantage in any system.
4.10.2009 4:44pm
byomtov (mail):
Yet another point of Moneyball, IIRC, was simply that, in baseball as elsewhere, "performance predicts performance." I think this is an important contribution of sabermetrics in general.

The point is that instead of looking at skills, you look at results. One player may be fast, or strong, or have a great fast ball, or whatever, while the other looks lousy. But if the lousy-looking guy turns out better stats he's the one you want.

Again, IIRC, Beane's own career as an athlete helped him to adopt this POV. His results never seemed to measure up to his physical talents.
4.10.2009 5:00pm
Alan P (mail):

The heart of moneyball was in noting the importance of OBP for batters and walks/strikeouts/HR's for pitchers, and applying that metric rather than the "feeling" of who seemed to be a ballplayer

This is the key. Ironically, there are still teams and organizations and managers that do not see what the new statistics show. That is why some teams will do well with limited salaries and others will not.

The advantage of the Yankees and Red Sox and other resource rich teams is that they can throw money at the problem and not worry about their mistakes. Teams with limited resources cannot make mistakes lest they be unable to did themselves out for years. For the others the best strategy remains identifying the truly best players, and recognizing that even limited players have isolated superior skills.
4.10.2009 5:10pm
Fire Joe Morgan may be the best blog in the history of the Internet (sorry guys).

4.10.2009 7:15pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
The heart of moneyball was in noting the importance of OBP for batters and walks/strikeouts/HR's for pitchers, and applying that metric rather than the "feeling" of who seemed to be a ballplayer

This is the key. Ironically, there are still teams and organizations and managers that do not see what the new statistics show. That is why some teams will do well with limited salaries and others will not.

Manager Dusty Baker, now with the Reds, opined that he opposes his players getting walks because they just "clog the basepaths".
4.11.2009 12:26am
karl m (mail):
Angels 7 division titles in last 8 years
A´s 1
4.11.2009 10:49am
Volokh Groupie:
Thanks for the info on Weiters. Makes sense to try to keep him cost controlled as long as possible.
4.11.2009 1:51pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Angels 7 division titles in last 8 years
A´s 1
Well, for the Angels it's 4 division titles, but who's counting? (You have to go back 30 years, not 8, to find their 7th division title.) And for the As, it's 3 division titles plus another 102 win season that finished second to a fluke Mariners team. But who's counting?
4.12.2009 12:21pm

I've never read Moneyball, and I'm not an obsessive baseball fan, but given that, it seems to me that the success of the A's was simply due to the good fortune of having three ace pitchers in their starting rotation (plus having them stay healthy and having a ballpark that was perfectly tailored to their style). Take away Hudson, Mulder and Zito, and I doubt we have the Moneyball phenomenon.

Look at the Braves for comparison - they got lucky in that they had three aces in their prime, who sustained a remarkable run of durability and the Braves rode those horses to 14 straight division titles. I mean with all due respect to Bobby Cox and John Schuerholtz, how can you not win with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz giving you 225 innings in a starting rotation every year (plus Avery, Neagle and Millwood as a kicker)?
4.12.2009 9:25pm

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