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Amazin' Avenue Book Club: Moneyball, Chapter Nine

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Old friends Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya play a role in "Chapter Nine: The Trading Desk". Much of the chapter is devoted to Billy Beane's quest to improve the A's at the 2002 trade deadline. Interactions with other GMs like Phillips, Minaya (then with the Expos), Brian Sabean and Mark Shapiro are detailed.

Beane's A's lack a strong lefthanded contingent in the bullpen. With the Indians in town close to the trade deadline, he sets his sights on Indians lefty, and future Met, Ricardo Rincon. This is back when Rincon was useful. Sabean and Phillips are also competing for Rincon and Beane does his best to manipulate the market in his own favor. In attempt to lose one of his competitors, he offers lefthanded pitcher Mike Venafro to Phillips for a prospect and cash, sadly adding:

The money doesn't mean anything to the Mets.

The trade never materializes but the back-and-forth between the GMs provides a rare intimate look at trade deadline communications. Peter Gammons also appears, and not just as a scoop-hungry reporter. He trades inside info with the GMs. Beane offers that he is close to acquiring Rincon; Gammons says that Expos outfielder Cliff Floyd is available, to Beane's delight.

Beane speaks to Minaya, who is set to deal Floyd to the Red Sox. Floyd is coveted not only for his on-field skills but because he will be a free agent at the end of the season, netting oh-so-valuable first round draft picks when he leaves. After some used car salesman techniques, Beane fails to insert the A's into a Floyd deal (Beane wants to somehow acquire Kevin "Greek God Of Walks" Youkilis from the Sox), but does manage to snag Rincon from the Tribe. Combined with earlier trades for Ray Durham and Ted Lilly, the A's do quite well for themselves prior to July 31.

I don't doubt that Beane is a step ahead of the GMs he is negotiating with but Michael Lewis goes a bit too far hammering this point. Praise of Beane's charisma and cunning seems over-the-top at times. It will almost certainly never materialize, but an account of the events of this chapter from the perspective of the other GMs would provide a nice point of comparison.

In addition to the trade deadline storyline, Beane briefly touches on a saber-lightning rod, clutch hitting:

Of the many false beliefs peddled by the TV announcers, this fealty to "clutch hitting" was maybe the most maddening to Billy Beane. "It's f*cking luck," he says...

Here are some career slash lines for various players, overall and in high-leverage (read: clutch) situations:

Derek Jeter
Overall: .313/.383/.449
High-Leverage: .317/.395/.431

David Ortiz
Overall: .283/.378/.546
High-Leverage: .295/.392/.558

David Wright
Overall: .301/.381/.510
High-Leverage: .315/.385/.525

Carlos Beltran
Overall: .283/.361/.496
High-Leverage: .296/.377/.507

These are two players generally accepted as clutch and two considered by many to be un-clutch. Yet they perform generally the same in high-leverage situations as they do in all situations. In any given game, a player can have a clutch hit, pitch or catch. These are clutch plays. However, in the long run, players show no distinct ability to elevate their performance in clutch spots. A year or two of clutch hitting should not significantly affect player evaluation or personnel decisions. These players would not have made it to the height of their profession if they consistently folded in big spots -- they are all "clutch".

Mets-centric appearances/mentions in Chapter Nine:

  • Chad Bradford, former Met
  • Ricardo Rincon, former Met
  • Danny Garcia, former Mets minor leaguer
  • Jeff Duncan, former Mets minor leaguer
  • Cliff Floyd, former Met
  • Trot Nixon, former Met
  • Omar Minaya, former Mets GM

Discussion questions:

1. Moneyball is a book about business. Players are referred to as assets and Wall Street terms like "trading desk" are thrown around. Does this aspect of the book turn you off? Does this detract from your enjoyment of the game? Given the apparently negative sentiments about Wall Street in this country, do you think the business-ifying of baseball in Moneyball was a factor in the vitriolic response to the book from some corners?

2. General discussion of the Mets' in-season trades this season (Francisco Rodriguez for Danny Herrera and Adrian Rosario; Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler)

3. What is your stance on clutch hitting?

4. Assuming you are a sabermetrics proponent, which saber-concepts do you sometimes find yourself questioning or ignoring (e.g. the hot hand fallacy, appropriate times to sacrifice bunt, projection systems, defensive stats)?