Monday, July 21, 2008

Small Ball Doesn't Work; Sox Swept in Anaheim, 5-3

Losing to the Angels is like losing to a guy who spins his foosball players; you concede they hit the ball, and that they scored more, but you're just not sure how much credit they should get.

Much is made of the Angels' aggressive small ball style, but I don't like it. They swing at everything, and so I don't know that it isn't random when they do hit the ball. They look to me like a team with a lower on-base percentage than batting average.

The Sox are disciplined; patience, which suggests passivity, isn't the right word. The Angels, though talented, are wild and uncontrolled. They are Nuke LaLoosh to the Sox's Crash.

It's obvious that the organizations have different values. The Angels have only 1 player with an OBP above .350 (Chone Figgins at .379), and only 3 qualifiers above .310. Egregiously, they have 7 players with at least 90 AB's below .315 in OBP, including qualifiers Mathews Jr and Anderson, and Jeff Mathis way down at .288.

Compare the Sox, with 8 players above .350 in OBP, including Casey (129 AB's) at.418, and qualifiers Drew .410, Ramirez .396, and Youkilis .382. The Sox have just 3 players with at least 90 AB's below .315 in OBP, and two are catchers.

National media types are inclined to call the Sox a "moneyball team", and Beane is famously cited as saying his shit doesn't work in the playoffs. But the Sox have trounced the Angels, 6 games to 0, over the last two A.L. Division Series (in '04 and '07. You should know this.) It's the Angels' shit that doesn't work in the postseason, because they are the far inferior offensive team- the Sox have outscored the Angels by 74 runs this season- and they're only even in pitching (with the Sox staff ERA at 3.84, the starters 3.77, and the Angels staff at 3.81, the starters 3.74)

The Angels win with pitching, not with small ball. And perhaps with Luck; the Angels' run differential is a mere +33, to the Sox' +87.

The philosopher Dan Dennett talks of "elbow room" for free will in a deterministic universe. Maybe, just maybe, says the ghost of Joe Morgan past, small ball creates some "elbow room" in the deterministic universe of wins as a function of random run distribution (i.e. the expected record based on +/-.)

Maybe. But a team with such a low OBP playing to the score only works with great pitching, and those goddam foosball spinners are f'ing lucky and should learn to play the real way.


Barry said...

1. Ok - I am convinced. The Sox are the better of the teams.

2. I wish the Angels had the courage of their convictions and had a bar inserted through their torsos. That would look way cool. Also, it would be funny to see them doing summersaults in order to bat with their feet (which would be fused together.)

3. The philosopher Dan Dennett also talks about the "belief in belief", which is roughly defined as the widely-held sense that it's good to have religious faith, with little regard for the object of that faith. Relevant to this post? No! But, I like Dan Dennett. He looks like Santa.

4. So, since the Red Sox are better - as you proved - WHY THE FUCK DID WE GET OUR ASSES HANDED TO US?!?!?!? UGH!

Joe said...

The Angels have a below average offense. OPS+ 91, and are 12th in runs scored. So it isn't even hovering around average. They swept the Red Sox, but I still feel that the Red Sox are the more talented team.

Soxlosophy said...

all good points, barry.

But to make a subtle grammatical-cum-ontological distinction re: your #4, the sox are better, but the angels were better. our general betterness may not manifest itself at any given moment. sometimes it goes on vacation. sometimes the bullpen makes it cry.

joe- it's pretty amazing a team with the poor offensive numbers you cite has the best record. that k-rod has the opportunities for as many saves as he has indicates how many close games they play. i think the coin has to start flipping the other way with these guys.

Texas Gal said...

I think it's important to note the distinction between "moneyball" baseball and Moneyball.

Moneyball baseball is Billy Beane's management philosophy: exploiting an asset that is undervalued in the market. Moneyball was one iteration of that philosophy, namely: to exploit OPS (and, more specifically OBP). But that is not the only iteration -- and, really, Moneyball's obsession with OBP is old news at this point.

So, while it's correct to say that Moneyball isn't designed to propel a team through the playoffs (more to carry a team to at least moderate success during a season) -- I don't agree that moneyball baseball necessarily will not work in the playoffs. It depends on what type of moneyball baseball is being played, and what market weakness is being exploited.

Soxlosophy said...

Texas Gal-

Thanks for the insightful comment! I think that's a great and important distinction you make, and I'm with you on it.

I guess I could have made it more clear in my post that I wasn't talking about what I thought 'Moneyball' is or isn't, but that i was trying to characterize, and respond to, the way that the Joe Morgans of the world use their idea of 'moneyball', whatever that is.

As far as your distinction, I think the Morgans of the world focus more on the obp/no bunting/no giving away outs version than on the 'exploiting market efficiencies'.

Personally, I like to think that whatever works in the regular season is perfectly equipped to work in the post-season, because there really shouldn't be a qualitative or categorical difference between them. I'm forgetting who said it, but anyone who only tries really hard in clutch situations isn't a good teammate, or soemthing to that effect. (i'm pretty sure I'm butchering that.)More specifically, if a good team plays up to its potential in the post-season, whatever its style, there's no reason it can't win.

I think the perception that some people- not me- have of 'moneyball doesn't work in the playoffs' is due to the assumption that it doesn't manufacture runs, down by 1 in the 8th inning, at that one crucial moment when you really need it, based on the idea that one needs dave roberts to steal or ed armbrister to bunt, and that these moves are 'anti-moneyball' strategies. But whether they actually are is another question.

But even conceding the point for argument's sake- suppose 'moneyball' is opposed to small ball- higher obp's score more runs before the 8th inning, and with good pitching, that's enough.

And it's pretty obvious that whatever the Sox are doing in the post-season, it works, and whatever the Angels are doing doesn't.

thanks again.

Joe said...

I don't know how many times those 75' and 76' Reds teams bunted, but maybe Joe Morgan "remembers" bunting each year and the end result being a World Series ring. It was just a "coincidence" that they also were tops in OBP, slugging, and OPS+ each year.

Soxlosophy said...

Ha! That's funny, Joe. Good point. Thanks.

What's also funny is that Joe Morgan had a career BA of .271, and a career OBP of .392, which shows that he was an extremely patient and disciplined hitter.

And in EVERY season Morgan scored 100 runs, he walked at least 97 times.

So I have no idea why he is so down on OBP.

Barry said...

He is down on OBP because he is an asshole.