Friday, February 20, 2004

Numbers vs. 'Nuts and Bolts' | Surf through the baseball blogosphere, and you'll find a ton of compelling writing by really smart folks who rely strongly on statistical measures to advance their cause. When the Dodgers got roasted by the Los Angeles media for hiring 31-year-old Billy Beane acolyte Paul DePodesta, it was the bloggers who came to the team's defense. To columnists who just couldn't get past DePodesta's age and lack of hard baseball experience, they pointed to the success of Oakland's Beane, Boston's Theo Epstein, and up-and-coming Toronto's J.P. Ricciardi, all of whom are converts to the Church of Sabermetrics.

I don't do a whole lot with stats, but it's not because I don't respect their power to predict performance. I just prefer that writing -- mine, especially -- not stumble over numbers and tables embedded among the prose. But while I find the approach less compelling as a reader and a writer, after reading Moneyball I can see why the approach is gaining so much steam.

In the meantime, really bright baseball guys like the Phillies' Mike Arbuckle are left behind when teams open GM searches. The Daily News's Paul Hagen files a story today examining the current situation of a guy who just a few years ago was "a hot name":

DePodesta is 31 years old and graduated from Harvard. Arbuckle is 53 and got his undergraduate degree at Northwest Missouri State and a master's at South Alabama. DePodesta relies on stats and computer printouts. Arbuckle has a wealth of hands-on experience gleaned from being a lefthanded pitcher who didn't sign after being drafted out of high school by the Cardinals, had his playing career end when he tore a rotator cuff and went on to coach at the high school, junior college and college levels. He broke into pro baseball as an associate scout for the Phillies in 1979.

In other words, Arbuckle isn't likely to be swayed by the flavor of the month.

"Individuals aside, I'm not sure the approach being taken by clubs [in hiring general managers] will prove to be a magic bullet over a 4- or 5-year period," he said. "I think at some point we'll come back to a nuts-and-bolts approach. Right now everyone thinks Oakland is the right way. That's just the lay of the land right now."

I'm so unqualified to say what makes a successful general manager, it's laughable. But the paucity of interest in Arbuckle is, given his notable achievements in rebuilding a farm system that was among the most barren in baseball. Whether Beane Ball is here to stay or not, Arbuckle has done a laudable job helping to put his team in position to win, and why that's not considered by owners who have openings in their front office is a mystery to me.


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