Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2003-04-02 12:49
by Alex Belth


Rob Neyer is probably the most famous popular sabermetrican not named Bill James. Although I value his insights as much as the next guy, what I enjoy most about Neyer is his unpretentious and self-depricating writing style. Neyer has a trio of columns this week that are worth checking out: one, one the fate of the Yanks now that DJ is down, another on the next revolution in baseball, and finally Rob's prediction that the Red Sox will win the World Serious this fall.

Here is Neyer's take on the Yankees' shortstop situation:

Do the Yankees have an alternative at shortstop? Not at hand, no. They have nobody in the minors who even remotely resembles a major-league shortstop. Minor leaguer Erick Almonte might become a decent player someday, but at this moment he's no better than Wilson. And platooning isn't in order, because Almonte bats right-handed and the switch-hitting Wilson has fared significantly better against left-handed pitchers.

So if the Yankees want a good shortstop, they're going to have look elsewhere.

Why the Sox? And why now? Does this have anything to do with the fact that Neyer's old boss, Mr. James now works for Boston?

Because I can, and because I want to.

...But the truth is that winning the World Series isn't about being the best, it's about being the luckiest. Yes, I know the 1998 Yankees were the best team, and of course they won the World Series. But weren't the 2001 Mariners also the best team? Well, they nearly lost their Division Series before getting crunched in the ALCS. I thought the Angels and Giants might actually have been the best teams in their leagues last year, but they both needed a bit of luck to get where they got.

So if you make me pick a World Series winner, then I might as well have some fun. I think the Red Sox are going to win something like 100 games, and I'm not going to not have fun just because it's been 85 years since the Sox got lucky.

And what of the next revolution in baseball? Neyer thinks it concerns the new generation of general managers coming into the game:

There are, today, baseball executives who are actively seeking guidance from brilliant men from other disciplines and professions. This is happening, in large part, because the new breed of baseball executives is both incredibly bright and incredibly educated, and so they're not intimidated by other people who are incredibly bright and incredibly educated.

I'm not suggesting that the "traditional baseball man" isn't bright. Of course he's bright. I've spoken to a dozen traditional baseball men in the last year, and I can report that not one of them wasn't bright.

...Most baseball executives, even the bright ones, don't want to try anything new, because new is hard. Instead, their goal is to do things the way they've always been done ... but better. And that can work. Both of 2002's World Series teams were (and are) run by men who have little use for this newfangled objective analysis that everybody's writing about, and it's hard to argue with their results. If you do it well enough and you get lucky enough, it can work.

Which is, of course, true of just about any approach. But everybody can't be the best and the luckiest, and there's an advantage to being among the first to figure this out.

In case you missed it, don't forget to check out Michael Lewis' lengthy profile on Billy Beane, adapted from ''Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,'' which will be published in May.

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