Fantasy Baseball Tumbling Dice: For the love of "Moneyball"

by Lawr Michaels, MastersBall.com on September 27, 2011 @ 10:35:44 PDT

 


Oakland general manager Billy Beane, in relating what a great job he had, once said something to the effect of, "Are you kidding? I get to play fantasy baseball for real."

And, though I am a movie junkie I rarely actually go to the theatre any more. But, I was interested in seeing the just-released Moneyball, for a myriad of reasons.

For one I have met Michael Lewis, who wrote the book (which I read) the movie is based upon, and I have spent enough time with Billy Beane for him to know who I am. I spoke with Art Howe on numerous occasions, as well as then-hitting coach Thad Bosley.

Ron Washington is among those I know best in baseball, and, well, when I work for MLB.com at the Coliseum - the park the Athletics call home - all the places the movie shows, from the press box to the executive offices to the exit where Brad Pitt sadly leaves as his 2004 season ends.

Jason Giambi
Giambi: really, an anomaly?

So, when our friends Jeanne and Bill asked if we wanted to see the movie Saturday and then go out for a bite, it was an easy sell.

Truth is I was not sure what to expect, which is probably a good thing, for I enjoyed the treatment.

The story - if you are not familiar - details Beane's realization that though there was a case for traditional baseball scouting; that is, looking at tools and temperament and physical prowess, that there was a case for similarly looking at specific statistics.

He understood there is a simple logic to a batter getting on base in order to score a run and how the hitter achieves that end is ultimately irrelevant. Conversely, Beane realized the equally simplistic counter: that, a pitcher who keeps batters off the bases will put a team in the position to win a game more often than not.

As we all know, the schools of which is a better way to approach player potential and performance is still a hardcore a battle in the baseball.

As for the movie, it does portray this continued banging-one's-head-against-a-wall argument well, setting up Beane as the maverick willing to think outside the box against the wall of traditionalists - some of whom still think the Oakland GM is a fool - which he did, and successfully.

The film takes some liberties with the book and truth. For example, Jeremy Giambi was already a member of the team in 2001, for during that postseason his lack of, in Washington's words, "not finishing the play," probably cost the Athletics a chance at the World Series that year.

But, the essence of Beane's drive to find another path to a championship in an alliance with Paul DePodesta (changed in the film to the name Peter Brent, and portrayed by Jeremy Hill) was well represented.

A year before that fated 2001 season, Jeremy's brother Jason won the American League MVP, something I called the fall before when I wrote my profiles for the then-STATS Inc. Scouting Notebook. For, if you look at the last paragraph of page 214 of that book, you will see my prediction, which was written in October 1999 in order to make the early spring publishing deadline.

Giambi got a lot of press that 2000 for seemingly coming out of nowhere, showing power and major plate discipline, and for good reason, for the Athletics first baseman led the league with a .476 OBP and 137 walks.

Near the end of that year I happened onto a member of the Oakland staff in the team clubhouse. So, I asked why the press was making such a big deal of Giambi's offense, for historically all the great hitters and most of the great years for baseball hitters depended upon strong on-base numbers, strike zone judgment, and plate discipline.

The staff member - a former player - said that the game was different now than then, and that comparing a big year from Lou Gehrig or Willie Mays was a mistake.

"That does not make sense," I responded, for a walk then is no different than a walk now, just like a strong on-base total now is no different than a good OBP was how ever many years ago one chooses to look.

We went back and forth and the conversation ended when I was told, "I played the game and you didn't. I know what I am talking about."

I let it go. Almost.

As I got into the elevator to go to the booth and watch the game that night, who would climb in with me but Billy Beane?

Shaking my head I recounted the conversation, finishing with "It is true that he played and I didn't, but that does not matter as what he is saying does not make sense."

"He's an idiot," was Beane's reply.

That alone leads me to believe Lewis' portrayal of the baseball status quo is dead on. And, the movie does it justice.

See more of Lawr's work, including the Hotpage (published each Monday) and Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down (each Saturday), along with the work of Todd Zola, Brian Walton, and the Mastersball team at www.mastersball.com.

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About Lawr Michaels, MastersBall.com

Lawr Michaels has been a player in the fantasy baseball industry since he began writing for John Benson in 1993. He has written for STATS, Inc, was the first fantasy columnist for CBS Sportsline, and has appeared in numerous journals and on websites. In 1996, he founded CREATiVESPORTS, a staple for serious fantasy players, which he merged into Mastersball in 2010.

Over the years, Lawr has participated in a wide variety of playing formats and won numerous titles, including AL Tout Wars crowns in 2001 and 2009. Along with his Mastersball duties, Lawr works for MLB.com as a statistician.

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