Right Back Where It Started

Aaron Schatz: “this league-wide rush to statistical analysis has created a problem for those optimistic that sabermetrics would have a leveling effect: Rich teams are discovering that they can play the sabermetric game, too. In the short-term, this is actually worsening the gap between some rich and poor teams, as rich teams with sabermetric approaches extend their advantage over poor teams without them. And, in the long-term, once everyone is using sabermetrics, every team will correctly value players, and there won't be any more inefficiencies to exploit. Suddenly major league baseball will be right back where it started: With the richest teams buying up the best players, and the poorer teams settling for the dregs.”

A vignette in Moneyball (p. 38 for those who have their copy handy) shows that this was already predicted.

"This is a cutting-edge approach we're taking this year," says Eric [Kubota], whose job, it is increasingly clear, is to stand between Billy [Beane] and the old scouts, and reconcile the one to the other. "Five years from now everyone might be doing it this way."

"I hope not," says Paul. He doesn't mean it in the way that the old scouts would like him to mean it.

Schatz goes on to say that Paul DePodesta, because he has “more resources to maximize” in Los Angeles although more resources also means more pressure to succeed. At one point in the book—and rather than say it was DePodesta, I would appreciate someone reminding me who said it, because there is no index to the book (!) and I couldn't flag down the passage—but one of the key managers of the A's is on record as saying that because salaries are low, expectations are low. If they failed in their experiments, then they can't be blamed because they didn't have much to begin with anyway. The A's correctly expected other people to expect them to lose more games than they won, which placed them in a situation where if the expectations weren't met, then that means they were doing something right. The Dodgers are playing in a big media market (not as big as New York or Chicago, but big), and expectations are high. (Some believe that the high expectations might be pretty close to realistic now that the Dodgers are making good moves even if one ignores the DePodesta hiring.)

There is more disagreement with the Schatz article: JC says that Scatz gets sabermetrics and its signficance wrong. Baseball Musings says there are multiple ways to win in baseball and that Moneyball is about finding undervalued players, and when the undervalued players become overvalued, others will step in and also be undervalued. In other words, there will always be inefficiencies: since the location of inefficiencies changes, the trick is to find out where they are.

So in other words: blah blah blah Moneyball blah blah Paul DePodesta blah blah blah Billy Beane etc.