Weekends With Toby: Numbers

“”There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – attributed to Mark Twain, who attributed the phrase to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. 

Today, we are all about numbers: Wins-Losses,  Honor Roll Rankings, Birthdates, and “Moneyball”.  

Two Weeks, 12 Games And Counting 

According to several local pundits – but we’ll give credit to our friend Anthony Andro because we read  him first – if the Rangers go 6-6 in the next 2 weeks, then LAA will have to go 10-3 including sweeping the last three games from the Rangers to win the division.  Can they do it (the Rangers that is) – stay tuned. 

Toby’s Honor Roll 

1. David Murphy – He is forcing his way into the Rangers everyday lineup even with Nelson Cruz getting close to return. 

2. Rangers starting rotation – Some signs showing everybody is getting their second wind and the extra time has helped. 

3. Tampa Bay Rays – This AL wild card is getting really interesting. 

Birthdays: This week’s theme is: Same Last Name – Probably Not Related 

White Sox IF Gordon Beckham, not related to uber-celebrity/athlete David Beckham turns 25.  Harold Winthrop “Doc” Martin, an RHP for the  Philadelphia A’s  and who did not patent the shoes was born September 20, 1922. Cardinals RHP Kurt Krieger, who as far we know never played an instrument, and is not related The Doors Robby Krieger was born September 16, 1926.  We’re sure this Dodgers LHP approached every hitter with his namesake’s mantra of “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” – the Dodgers/Pirates Vic Lombardi was born September 20, 1922. 

Birthday of the Week:  former Ranger left-handed reliever Dave Rajsich celebrates No. 60.  The Razor as he was referred to in his short stint with the Rangers,  was part of the trade that brought Sparky Lyle to the Rangers.  But what Toby remembers most about Rajsich, was a banner that was hung near the bullpen as at a sparsely attended game:  “The Man, The Myth, The Legend: Dave Rajsich”.

** TR wants all of our readers to know this:   he’s never read Moneyball and he’s probably not going to see the movie either.  

This is Toby’s review, and if you haven’t already figured it out – Toby isn’t TR’s “nom de plume”, Toby is indeed another mystical, magical writer for this blog.**

Toby’s Movie Review: “Moneyball” 

Moneyball is a deceivingly entertaining movie. 

If you are a baseball fan, you will like it. 

If you are hard core Rangers fan, you will like it. 

If you are a Baseball-Prospectus-Bill-James-is-god stathead, you will absolutely love it. 

But, if you are none of the above – then why are you reading a baseball blog? If you are not a baseball fan, you might like some parts of Moneyball, while other parts will confuse or bore you. 

As entertainment, this film is good.  I’m not much of Brad Pitt fan but his performance in Moneyball is outstanding.  Much like Carl Yazstremski and the 1967 Red Sox, he puts the movie on his back and carries to the final out.  Playing Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, Pitt portrays him as both the underdog battling the solidly entrenched baseball establishment as well as the cocky, temperamental guy you love to hate.  Beane is all too human: arrogantly addressing his scouting department or brusquely brushing off a contract request from his downtrodden manager Art Howe (underplayed really well by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and yes, throwing a chair after a loss.  On the other hand Beane is also shown as the typically regret filled divorced father of a grade school aged daughter and (in flashbacks) as an even more regret filled high school baseball prospect who passed up an academic scholarship to Stanford only to wind up having a marginal major league career. 

Moneyball follows Beane after the A’s  2001 playoff loss to the Yankees through the end of the 2002 season. Limited to a Scrooge like payroll by the owner, Beane decides to use a new method for evaluating the players to fill his roster (read: by stats rather than traditional scouting) after meeting Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) during a trade negotiation with Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro (Reed Diamond). He is intrigued by Brand’s number crunching analysis when Brand’s suggestions to Shaprio derail the trade being discussed.  Beane hires Brand to strategize the way into rebuilding the A’s whose offense was decimated by free agency before the 2002 season.

Hill’s Peter Brand appears to be the only fictional character in the movie. He is supposedly a composite of Beane’s assistants/apostles and maybe that lack of definition is why he is the weakest character in the film.  Hill is limited to sitting in offices looking confused, scared or comatose – it’s hard to tell since his expression doesn’t change much.  I don’t know if that’s the fault of the actor or the script (probably a little of both, I guess). 

As for the rest of the characters in the film, it’s filled with name dropping of recognizable, real, baseball people.  Among those shown are: Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) as the first reluctant recruit to Beane’s new philosophy, along with very unflattering portraits of OF Jeremy Giambi (Nick Porazzo) and A’s Scouting Director – and former Ranger Director of Player Development- Grady Fuson (can’t find the name of the actor who played him).  OF David Justice and Red Sox owner John Henry are treated much more kindly.  Of course the character we were most interested in seeing was current Rangers manager and A’s long time coach Ron Washington.  I think the filmmakers hit the mark with the actor portraying Washington right down to the little details like the toothpick he’s often seen chewing and the baseball jargon he often uses (such as: referring Hatteberg as “pickin’ machine” when he makes a play at first base). 

The film emphasizes the stats based evaluation Beane used to determine the players he wanted on his roster – thus the tagline for the movie: “What are you worth?”.  That concept remains a  heated debate between baseball traditionalists who favor scouting reports only vs. younger, more technologically inclined baseball types who prefer the numbers only.  This conflict is what drives the movie forward.  The filmmakers do acknowledge the controversy using clips from talk radio and other commentary as background vocals for several scenes.  

However the movie’s, like the book it is based on, primary purpose is to convince you that the stat based philosophy is the way winning teams should be built.   They do a good job of presenting their argument albeit with some very large artistic liberties that I’d like to point out, which is what I mean when I say “deceivingly”. 

Using the 2002 A’s season as springboard for their proposition is fine, but, and it’s very big BUT, the filmmakers make it look like the offense was the sole reason for the team’s success that year.  They totally ignore four very important names that were a big part of that team:  Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Billy Koch and Barry Zito (23 game winner and Cy Young award winner for 2002).  That was an extraordinary group of pitchers that a little research shows were scouted and drafted the traditional way and contributed significantly to Oakland’s success.  One other thing to remember is that the A’s were eliminated in the first round of the 2002 playoffs by the Twins (which is shown in the movie). 

Additionally, the filmmakers completely gloss over the odd situation Beane got himself into with the Red Sox. As I remember it:  Beane accepted the Boston GM position and then a short time later changed his mind which caused an embarassing PR nightmare for all involved.  In the movie that decision is portrayed simply as him turning down the position immediately without all the ensuing media circus it actually created. Also at the end of the movie one of the captions reads that two years later the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918 using the “new idea” Beane created.  What they fail to mention is that the 2004 Red Sox roster also included large free agent contracts: Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, (former Oakland OF) Johnny Damon and they traded for the large contract of Curt Schilling. All contributed significantly to Boston’s championship. 

The final boxscore:  as entertainment, it’s a W.  The script is smart and funny (of course, with Aaron Sorkin as a co-writer how could it not be good?) The acting, for the most part. is good especially Brad Pitt who is terrific. The cinematography is gorgeous and the baseball vibe about the film is true.  For accuracy: it’s an L. As I mentioned above, too many facts twisted or left out for this baseball fan.  

For me the most telling moment in the movie is the final caption before the credits that reads: “Billy Beane is still waiting to win that last game of the World Series”.  

 New method, same old results.  Woof! Woof! Woof! 

Last Call

 “The difference I found with Double A and Triple A is in Double A they’re free swingers and they swing at everything. In Triple A they are more disciplined players. You have to hit your spots and my first outing in Triple A was great. After that they started making adjustments to my pitches so I have to adjust myself. That was the difference.” — Rangers Left Handed Pitching  Prospect Martin Perez

2 Comments

There may be something to young Martin Perez…it takes some pitchers multiple trip to the big league to figure all that out.

Never read moneyball and will never see the movie. There are real books out thee to read and baseball games to watch.

Harrison and Ogando do seem to have responded the the rest and seem like they have gotten a second wind. Glad Ron Washington only let Ogando throw 91 pitches last night though.

David Murphy has been everything we wanted him to be in his September role…however when Cruz gets his timing back we want to seen him in the lineup.

Another aspect I’m guessing they gloss over in the movie is the fact that, while Hatteberg had a good season in ’02 at a low salary, he also played in Oakland another 3 years, one of which he was good while the in other 2 he hit poorly. He made significantly more money in those other 3 seasons, meaning they A’s got close to league average production at close to league average pay.

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