Whether the Giants or Tigers win, Moneyball loses
In the decade since Moneyball the book was published, Moneyball the concept has captivated some fans and heavily influenced some teams. Not the Giants and Tigers, who don't reject statistics but would never totally base a decision on them. No matter who wins this World Series, Moneyball the concept loses.
|Like their World Series counterparts, the Tigers employ old-school scouting methods. (Getty Images)|
DETROIT -- Two games in, the Giants look good and the Tigers don't.
Two games in, we don't yet have a winner of this World Series, but we already have a loser.
It's not the Tigers (not yet, anyway).
If the Giants continue this fun run they're on, Moneyball loses, because if there's one team in the game that's more old school and less Moneyball than anyone else, it's the Giants.
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Unless it's the Tigers.
If the Tigers become the first team since the 1996 Yankees to overcome a two games to none deficit (since then, eight teams have tried but failed), then Moneyball loses, too.
And don't think some defenders of old-school scouting aren't watching and celebrating.
For almost a decade now, ever since the Michael Lewis book that sold plenty of copies and sold plenty of fans on the idea that the A's won games because of a better use of computers, the old school/new school debate has been baseball's hottest. The Brad Pitt Moneyball movie from last year only heightened it, and the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera MVP debate from this summer only made it angrier.
The divide within the game never was as great as it was portrayed. The A's and other "Moneyball teams" rely on scouting (without it, the A's never sign Yoenis Cespedes). The Tigers and Giants and other "old-school" teams hire smart young guys who can analyze the numbers coming out of their computers.
But if it's not black and white, there are quite a few variations of gray, with the Tigers and Giants at one end of the scale and Moneyball as a concept at the other.
"It doesn't bother me what other people do," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We just don't agree with it."
While the Tigers front office uses statistics as part of the evaluation process, "it's not going to make the decision for us," Dombrowski said. "For some teams, it does."
Giants general manager Brian Sabean said the same thing. The Giants front office wants all the information it can get, but would never make or reject a possible deal simply because of something they saw in the numbers.
Dombrowski and Sabean aren't particularly close, and they didn't learn their baseball in the same place. Dombrowski began his career with the White Sox as a Roland Hemond disciple; Sabean worked eight years in the Yankees front office before moving to the Giants.
But both general managers got to the same place, baseball-wise. Both rely heavily on a veteran, extremely loyal scouting staff. People who work for both even use similar descriptions of them. When I quoted a Tigers official last week saying everyone in the organization had at one time or another felt "the wrath of Dave," Giants people laughed and said it could have read the "wrath of Brian."
Along with that wrath comes a high level of trust. Most decisions both these teams make come out of a strong belief about a player by one scout or another.
"You can't eliminate the human element of the game," said Scott Reid, who has long been in charge of Dombrowski's pro scouting staff.
Dombrowski and Sabean operate with different budgets, different rosters and different biases, so their similarities don't always lead them to the same player. One time it did was this past summer, when both the Giants and Tigers found themselves in need of second-base help at the trade deadline.
Before the Giants made the Marco Scutaro trade with the Rockies, the Tigers had discussed possible deals for Scutaro, too. The Tigers decided they needed a starting pitcher, too, and settled on a bigger deal that brought them both Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez from the Marlins.
The Tigers and Giants rarely trade with each other (the two teams haven't completed a single major-league trade in Dombrowski's 11 years with the Tigers), but they've spoken enough times to know how the other operates. Again, it's similar.
"When you talk to the Giants, you know right away where they stand," one Tiger official said. "They don't BS you, and they don't make you wait around."
"They're exactly the same way," a Giants official said.
And despite their old-school tendencies, neither front office is afraid to try something new.
The Giants approach their postseason advance scouting in a different way than any other team. Most of their top scouts have spent all of October in San Francisco and on the road with the Giants, watching their own games in person and then retiring to their hotel rooms to scout the other playoff games on video.
They communicate with a couple of scouts at those games, and work on the report together.
The Tigers stick to the traditional method, with scouts dispatched beginning in mid-September to follow all their potential postseason opponents. The most interesting twist for them this year was that they had a father-son scouting team, with Scott Reid and Brian Reid following the Giants.
Scott Reid has worked with Dombrowski for 20 years. Dick Tidrow has been with Sabean for nearly that long, and Paul Turco has been with him even longer.
They're exactly the type of guys who were most offended by the portrayal of scouts in Moneyball. They're exactly the type of guys who are most satisfied to see a 2012 World Series involving two teams that lean the other way.
"We've always tried to stay up with the times," Reid said. "The sabermetric stuff has been great for the game. It's great for the fans. But it's information based on past performance.
"It does sometimes verify what your eyes and your scouting people are seeing."
But when there are conflicts, the Tigers and Giants are more likely to trust their eyes and their scouts.
This year, the eyes are winning.
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