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Amazin' Avenue Book Club: Moneyball, Chapter Three

Before we begin discussion of Chapter Three I'd like to say somethin' -- here is my brief advice for Terry Collins:

1. Defend your players. Don't throw them under the bus.

2. Keep the sacrifice bunting to a minimum. No sac bunting in the first inning.

3. Try to bat your best hitters at the top of the lineup. Reyes-Pagan-Beltran-Wright is a nice start.

4. No emo glasses.

5. Don't let Pedro Feliciano face Matt Diaz.

Follow that and there won't be too much manager bashing in AA game recaps. Now here is Chapter Three: The Enlightenment.

The focus of Chapter Three is Billy Beane's failed playing career and transition to role as A's executive. Billy struggles in the Mets' farm system in the early 1980s, as colleagues Darryl Strawberry and Len Dykstra enjoy tremendous success. Much like the Grady Fuson/Paul DePodesta juxtaposition in Chapter Two, Billy and Dykstra are presented as polar opposites in mentality. Dykstra is supremely confident and able to forget his failures almost instantly. Contrast with Billy, who broods over his defeats and openly discusses exiting pro baseball to go back to college. In one of the more memorable lines from Moneyball, Dykstra fails to recognize baseball legend Steve Carlton warming up on the mound, and says:

Sh*t, I'll stick him.

Dykstra sees fresh meat -- Billy sees the unhittable slider and 300+ career wins.

Billy is eventually traded to the Twins, has a stint with the Tigers and spends his final pro ball days with the A's. He fails as a player, and intangibles are generally accepted as the reason why. Talent isn't enough to compensate for psychological demons.

It's clear that in order to make the big leagues, certain intangible qualities are necessary. Most players who make it that far possess the requisite mental fortitude to succeed. At that point, production can largely speak for itself. This is why I, and many others, become annoyed at the overemphasis on intangibles in MLB. To make it to the bigs, a player is likely motivated, can perform under pressure, etc.

Sandy Alderson makes his brief Moneyball appearance in Chapter Three. Billy approaches Alderson and requests a job as a scout. Alderson obliges, probably not realizing at that time (the year is 1990) that he would be grooming his new hire as successor GM.

The remainder of the chapter focuses on Alderson and his scientific approach to the game as an outsider. He commissions a former aerospace engineer, Eric Walker, to research which statistics and in-game strategies matter the most. Alderson also hires a pair of Stanford business students for his burgeoning statistics department, although that is not mentioned in Moneyball. It seems so simple -- when running an organization, a GM should want to know which practices are most conducive to scoring and preventing runs. Yet this process was eschewed by generations of baseball bigwigs, for various reasons. Alderson's approach reminds me of a John F. Kennedy quote I read recently in Robert F. Kennedy's memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Thirteen Days. Here's JFK:

The first advice I'm going to give my successor is to watch the generals and to avoid feeling that because they were military men their opinions on military matters were worth a damn.

Alderson challenged the conventional wisdom of baseball men and enjoyed success because of it. This is what Sam meant a few weeks back when he wrote that "the Mets have now hired the man Moneyball is actually about." Billy Beane was fascinated by Alderson's take on the game and rose through the ranks of the A's front office. Without Sandy Alderson, there is no Billy Beane.

Let's end it there. For more on Alderson's involvement in Moneyball, check out 7 Train To Shea.

Mets-centric appearances/mentions in Chapter Three:

  • Len Dykstra, former Met and 1986 World Series Champion
  • George Foster, former Met
  • Davey Johnson, former Mets manager and 1986 World Series Champion
  • Jerry Koosman, former Met and 1969 World Series Champion
  • Rickey Henderson, former Met
  • Sandy Alderson, Mets GM
  • Art Howe, former Mets manager and battler

Discussion questions:

1. As a GM, would you prefer a "psychological freak" like Len Dykstra, or a more heady player who analyzes his performance (think Brian Bannister)? Which type of player is more primed for success?

2. Is Jeff Francoeur the present day version of 1980s Billy Beane? Michael Lewis writes in Chapter Three:

"He [Billy] didn't have a baseball mentality," said Jeff Bittiger. "He was more like a basketball or a football player. Emotions were always such a big part of whatever he did."

Frenchy isn't an unhinged buffet table flipper like Billy seemed to be (although Frenchy did bash a water cooler after a game in 2009). Still, I think there is a legitimate comparison -- physically gifted player; beloved by scouts; has The Good Face; can't hit a lick.

3. Is mental evaluation the next great frontier in scouting?

4. Was Moneyball your first introduction to sabermetrics? If not, what was?

5. Not a discussion question, but check out Dykstra's stats as a 20 year-old at Hi-A Lynchburg in 1983: .358/.472/.503, 107 walks, 35 strikeouts, 105 stolen bases and 525 ABs.