Yankee Post-Mortem, Part 2: Too-Much-Moneyball and the Crapshoot Factor
Our favorite scene is when the actor playing the Brad Pitt role — or, rather, in this scenario the Brian Cashman role — is thinking of new ways to spend money: "Overpay for hometown heroes," he says and the camera cuts to footage of Derek Jeter jumping up and down.
The video is more than a picture-perfect turnaround of the movie. It's a virtual compendium of all the reasons that big-market teams don't win every year, despite their obvious advantages.
As the postseason hits full swing, it's amusing watching the three richest teams in baseball scramble frantically to figure out why they lost despite their enormous resources. Well, it's amusing if you're not a fan of those teams.
Articles about what the Yankees need to do to win in the postseason next year are practically a light industry. Among the suggestions: "Replace Nick Swisher with Delmon Young" (because Young hit .333 in last year's postseason, though his lifetime postseason BA is just .234) and "Sign Larry Bowa as the bench coach" (Aha! Bowa's absence is the reason that Jeter, A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, and Swisher have hit a combined .212 over the past two postseasons).
Phillies fans, as you might expect, are bewildered. So are their sportswriters, and no one has been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation for why the team with the best starting rotation in baseball this century and the one that led the major leagues with 102 victories — and could have won several more had they not clinched so early — could have suddenly blanked out against an inferior Cardinals team.
There is no reason, no more than there is a reason as to why the Boston Red Sox went into their end-of-the-season flame-out.
The Red Sox, we're told at the end of the movie Moneyball, were the principal beneficiaries of the Moneyball tradition, and not only did they have the best staff of analysts in baseball, they had the money to implement it. Now, while Moneyball is still in first-run theaters, two of their all-time heroes, manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein, are gone. What happened? How do you combine the knowledge and the money and still not produce a winner?
Maybe because A's GM Billy Beane was right about one thing in Michael Lewis's book: "The postseason is a crapshoot." Maybe. Which isn't to say that the sloppy fielding and dreadful baserunning that Beane's teams were famous for didn't contribute to their postseason losses on numerous occasions. But sometimes you can have all those guys who finish on top in on-base percentage and the high-priced starting pitchers and ace closers and have good fielders and smart base runners and huge buckets of money and still lose.
It happened to the three richest teams this year, and it didn't happen because any lower-budget team came up with a better Moneyball-type strategy. It happened because, sometimes even when you have all the right factors in your favor, baseball is still a crapshoot.