Posted by: Peter Houston | November 23, 2009

Moneyball 2.0 by Alex Anthopoulos

Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is single handedly re-writing the bible of success for small and mid-market franchises in the MLB.

Ok, that was rash.

But, as Ken Rosenthal of explained, he has come up with a plan that might be considered blasphemous by disciples of the old baseball bible for the small-market teams. The bible I speak of, as you may have guessed, is Moneyball. It profiles Billy Beane’s attempt as GM of the Oakland Athletics to use advanced statistics, such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage, to value players. The A’s were convinced that other stats, such as batting average and RBIs, were overvalued by other clubs and thus, they were overvaluing certain players. Since the A’s were so cheap had such a tight budget to work with, they needed to take advantage of the players that big market teams undervalued. What this also did was dimish the role of the scout. The analysis of advanced statistics became more important. Now that the boring stuffs out of the way, this is where AA comes in.

As you probably already know, AA is reloading the Jays scouting department. He increased the Jays number of domestic scouts from 28 to 54.

AA’s thinking is that the days of Moneyball are over. Nowadays, pretty much every team takes into account the advanced stats, so it no longer offers much of a competitive advantage. The competitive advantage comes from the quality, and quantity, of your scouts.

We all know the science of baseball scouting and drafting is really more of a guessing game. How many times do we see 8th round picks end up as staff aces (Cliff Lee), or elite sluggers emerge out of the 13th round (Albert Pujols). How many first round top prospects end up making ends meet in the minors (Russ Adams). Recognizing amateur baseball talent obviously needs some work.

So, Anthopoulos is putting a fairly straightforward hypothesis to the test to improve the science. More and better scouts = better drafting. Better drafting = better young players. Better young players = better, cheaper team. Pretty simple math, really.

Now, the Jays are no Marlins. They do have a fair amount of payroll flexibility. But they’re never going to able to spend like the Yanks or the Red Sox, who drop almost as many bills as T.O. drops passes. In order to be competitive with the big guns, they need a significant amount of their good players to be young and cheap.

So why don’t other teams do this? Well, for one, doubling your scouting department can be costly. Secondly, there are no guarantees more scouts means better scouting. But again, AA has factored this into his plan.

In order to attract the best scouts, AA is going to do what any good scout’s union would have done. He’s going to offer them more money. He’s also going to allow them to take more time off and see their families more. From Rosenthal’s article:

“Scouts get paid $30,000-$35,000,” Anthopoulos says. “They’ve got no job security. The reason some scouts are with eight to 10 teams is because there’s no loyalty. They have to jump ship for a $2,000-$3,000 raise.

“If we pay our scouts well, allow them to be home more, we’ll make it a more attractive place for them to work. Hopefully in time people will say, ‘The Blue Jays are doing great things. They’re great for my family. It’s a great place to work.'”

He’s hoping to attract the best scouts and inspire loyalty and commitment.

So, what does Billy Beane think?

“Alex talked to me about it,” Beane says. “We’ve increased our scouting staff, not as dramatically in one year, but over the last couple of years. Everything is about getting as many looks as you can.”

Looks like he’s doing the same thing.

What I like about AA is he’s trying something new. He’s got an idea, nay, a vision for the Jays that’s low-risk, high-reward.

Moneyball 2.0 can be considered a working title for his future best-seller.


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