February 16, 2004

When you're hot, you're hot.: Recent subject of a double-post and then a "delete this" post, Oakland A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta, 31, has now become the new GM of the L.A. Dodgers. Sometimes I amaze myself.

posted by worldcup2002 to baseball at 04:37 PM - 44 comments

With new money from McCourt, and now, perhaps the most innovative GM in the MLB at the helm, how far will the Dodgers go? ("To the east coast" is not the answer I'm looking for.) I might just follow the Dodgers (and the MLB, for that matter) this upcoming season just to see how their GM fares ...

posted by worldcup2002 at 04:40 PM on February 16, 2004

It's stunning to me (and a real indictment of the Mariners) that the M's didn't even think DePodesta merited an interview. His contract with Oakland expired Oct. 31, so they wouldn't even have had to ask permission. But no, we had to hire Bill "unemployed for a reason" Bavasi. Great hire for the Dodgers.

posted by jeffmshaw at 04:46 PM on February 16, 2004

Obviously the ability to write academic papers too dense for the average ownerfan to understand was a key factor in the hiring decision.

posted by billsaysthis at 04:51 PM on February 16, 2004

Mr. DePodesta will be answering questions online at 5pm PST today. You can submit a question but "Please make them short and to the point. Long messages will not be used." Wannabes, here's your chance to learn at the feet of Guru DePodesta. And, yes, DePodesta overlords, you may enter via the red carpet and the blue-and-white door.

posted by worldcup2002 at 04:51 PM on February 16, 2004

New money from McCourt? He still has to sell his parking lots. Until then, I am not sure where the money is coming from. McCourt has done nothing to ease the wonders of Dodger fans, including myself. Him and Paul are going to have to prove us wrong.

posted by jasonspaceman at 04:55 PM on February 16, 2004

jason, you a Dodger's fan? Cool. Now, you can school me in baseball when the season starts. First, what's up with the AL vs NL rules. Somebody once and for all clear up this designated hitter etc. rigmarole for me.

posted by worldcup2002 at 04:58 PM on February 16, 2004

worldcup2002: DePodesta was hired too late in the process to do much this season. Tune in next year when he has had enough time to actually do something in the offseason.

posted by dusted at 05:09 PM on February 16, 2004

AL has a DH, and the pitcher does not bat. NL does not have a DH, and the pitcher does bat. you were looking for more than that, weren't you?

posted by jerseygirl at 05:24 PM on February 16, 2004

In our quest to make baseball more enjoyable for wc2k2, please drop a few suggestions here. I think this could make a good coffee-table book down the road.

posted by wfrazerjr at 06:13 PM on February 16, 2004

j-girl: That's a start. Now, what's a designated hitter? And why do NL and AL maintain that difference? Is one more boring than another? And whose rules do you play by in an NL v AL matchup? Home team?

posted by worldcup2002 at 07:05 PM on February 16, 2004

The DH is just what it sounds like - designated to hit in place of the pitcher. He doesn't play the field. It was brought about in 1973 to try to add offense to the game, which was being dominated by pitching and defense much like the NHL these days. I like the uniquness between the two leagues, and previously liked the fact that they didn't play each other. I never liked interleague. In interleague, and in the world series, they play by the home team's rules. So if it's Yankees at Mets, there is no DH, but Mets at Yankees, there is. Neither is more boring, really, though the NL is depending on who you ask. Having that hole in the lineup where the weak-hitting pitcher sits makes managing in the NL a bit trickier. They time pitching changes based on when the pitcher bats, pinch hit for pitchers, which removes them from the game, and they have to plan for that spot in the order early in the game too, usually meaning that they try to have the pitcher sacrifice a lot to move runners over.

posted by Bernreuther at 07:17 PM on February 16, 2004

ron blomberg of the yankees was first the DH (hitting for mel stottlemyre.) /useless trivia

posted by goddam at 07:21 PM on February 16, 2004

6-4-2 has an audio link to the press conference in this post.

posted by jasonspaceman at 05:46 AM on February 17, 2004

To give a slightly different (and *cough*vastly superior*cough*) perspective, the DH is an incredible abomination that makes managing an actual game a task for idiots, mostly. Just thought I'd make that clear.

posted by tieguy at 07:39 AM on February 17, 2004

I agree with tieguy and the rest of the population with working brains. How long until we see a three way trade between the A's, Blue Jays, and Dodgers?

posted by mbd1 at 09:53 AM on February 17, 2004

As Rob Neyer points out in today's column, while all the others in this series are still available, the DePodesta article has been pulled. Conspiracy theorists start your engines! I looked for a google cache or internet archive link and I couldn't find one.

posted by dusted at 11:49 AM on February 17, 2004

I noticed the same thing dusted...I wanted to print a hardcopy, but alas, it was not to be.

posted by garfield at 12:02 PM on February 17, 2004

There has to be a copy somewhere on the internet.

posted by dusted at 12:09 PM on February 17, 2004

Just e-mailed the conference about the DePo article asking them when it will be back up.

posted by jasonspaceman at 12:38 PM on February 17, 2004

I had copied these paragraphs from the CSFB article to my blog:

I was on a quest to find relevant relationships. Usually it wasn't as simple as "if X then Y." I was looking for probabilistic relationships. I christened the new model in the front office: "be the house." Every season we play 162 games. Individual players amass over 600 plate appearances. Starting pitchers face 1,000 hitters. We have plenty of sample size. I encouraged everyone to think of the house advantage in everything we did. We may not always be right but we'd be right a lot more often than we'd be wrong. In baseball, if you win about 60% of your games, you're probably in the playoffs. One of the other problems is that the traditional metrics and stats used in baseball are muddied with so much noise that just didn't matter that I was having a tough time distilling all the information. I decided to throw it all out and start all over with no assumptions. I built a Markov model, or actuarial table, for the last five or ten years that recorded what had actually happened in the course of every major league baseball game. From that research I was able to figure out that a man on first with nobody out is worth "X" runs and a man on second with two outs is worth "Y" runs. From there I was able to jump to understanding what it means to have someone who can hit a lot of doubles. What was the value of that event and others? I went a step further and asked who the people were who could add these valueóenhancing skills to our team. Finally I was able to figure out what the cost of each of those activities was and what the margins were. This was process versus outcome. I just didn't believe the outcomes that the traditional stats were giving us. Once the research was complete, debated and stressótested (which took years) we had considerable new knowledge, and a lot of it was pretty startling. Now remember that we hadn't really invented anything. We had only discovered relationships that were already there. Fortunately for us, most of them were contrary to popular opinion. These discoveries ranged from broad philosophical ideas, such as the fact that 90% of the player population in major league baseball is replaceable by someone who makes less to the very minute detail, such as pitch counts or control of the strike zone. What I ended up doing was creating a whole new set of metrics around this objective core. When I was done we had stats but not in the traditional sense. It was an entirely new operating system. It wasn't an upgrade from Subjective 1.0 to Subjective 2.0. It was more like "Winning Baseball 1.0."

posted by smithers at 02:22 PM on February 17, 2004

Conspiracy theory: The server got slammed after the article got blogged. I've seen it on several non-sports sites, too. Hey, I tried to google for a cached copy, too, and came up with something else:

"Billy Beane is not a statistical innovator. Paul DePodesta is not some magical number cruncher who enters data into a computer and comes out with baseball gold. The statistics extolled in "Moneyball" as being revolutionary are well behind the curve. Any casual, intelligent fan who strolls over to baseballprimer.com or baseballprospectus.com can see that what Lewis has Beane touting as genius is already passť. Granted, what Beane accepts on a statistical level is more than any other GM (with the possible exceptions of Red Sox executive Theo Epstein and the Blue Jays' JP Ricciardi), but that does not make him a genius. It just means that Beane is not a fool, because the GMs that ignore this data that can be freely had are utterly inept."
So, all we need to be like Paul is to go to baseballprimer.com or baseballprospectus.com? Woohoo!

posted by worldcup2002 at 06:21 PM on February 17, 2004

When in doubt, e-mail Kottke. So I did. He's on the case.

posted by jasonspaceman at 06:35 PM on February 17, 2004

That's a possibility, worldcup2002, but since it's a text-only page and it's on the Credit Suisse First Boston site, you'd think their server could handle it.

posted by dusted at 06:49 PM on February 17, 2004

I've got it...(I forgot I saved it to my hard drive for research purposes)...please advise as to how I should post it, and the legalities thereof.

posted by smithers at 08:37 PM on February 17, 2004

Excellent Smithers! ... could you forward it to me?

posted by jasonspaceman at 08:40 PM on February 17, 2004

I've got it...(I forgot I saved it to my hard drive for research purposes)...please advise as to how I should post it, and the legalities thereof.

posted by smithers at 08:40 PM on February 17, 2004


posted by smithers at 08:41 PM on February 17, 2004

Jason, thanks for the hook to kottke. Very cool stuff.

posted by wfrazerjr at 08:49 PM on February 17, 2004

jason.....sure, how?

posted by smithers at 08:51 PM on February 17, 2004

The Thought Leader Forum page states (emphasis mine):

COPYRIGHT AND TRADEMARK All material presented on this Site, unless specifically indicated otherwise, is under copyright to CSFB, its subsidiaries and affiliates. The material is freely downloadable for browsing purposes only. None of the material, nor its content, nor any copy of it, may be altered in any way, transmitted to, copied or distributed to any other party, without the prior express written permission of CSFB. All trademarks, service marks and logos used on this Site are trademarks or service marks or registered trademarks or service marks of CSFB or one of its affiliates or other entities.
This sort of seems to be contradictory to me, so I will post a link to the material that I freely downloaded for browsing purposes only, from which you can freely download for browsing purposes only.

posted by smithers at 09:02 PM on February 17, 2004

smithers, could you hook me up as well?

posted by garfield at 10:01 PM on February 17, 2004

smithers has already hooked us up. smithers is da bomb.

posted by worldcup2002 at 12:45 AM on February 18, 2004

Ok conspiracy theorists ... it was also deleted here (google cache) as well ...

posted by jasonspaceman at 06:15 AM on February 18, 2004

Man, jason, that is an even better link than the CSFB one. More details! Thanks!

posted by worldcup2002 at 10:00 AM on February 18, 2004

Today's post on Aaron's baseball blog is an excellent rip-job of Bill Plaschke's column about DePodesta.

posted by jeffmshaw at 11:43 AM on February 18, 2004

Bill Plaschke is an idiot as noted in Aaron's post. Over the years I have learned to stay away from his articles unless I needed a good laugh.

posted by jasonspaceman at 11:54 AM on February 18, 2004

That ranks at about 5.0 on the smackdown richter scale. Now if he had written the same argument in 500 words instead of 2500, I'd have been impressed. But I guess we're all critics...

posted by dusted at 01:00 PM on February 18, 2004

Back to the Legg Mason article posted by jason. It gives more detail than the CSFB article. #1, DePodesta is not a stats geek, he's using the right tool for a situation that involves spending, making or losing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. On psychological biases in decision-making (biases that make us focus on the wrong or irrelevant things): 1. Emotion: "The team was playing well, the team was playing poorly, it didn't matter. Whatever sort of wave of emotion we were riding at that point caused us to make certain decisions that in otherwise rational times we probably wouldn't have made." 2. Need to fit in: "Most of these scouts had come up together through the baseball system. They had maybe played in the Major Leagues together. They sat behind home plate for 20 years together watching players, and no one wanted to be the one who didn't share the same opinion with everybody else." 3. Affirmation bias: "If we already had a particular opinion about something, we only looked for the data in support of the opinion that we already believed in. If we found any data that directly conflicted with that opinion, we tended to dismiss it." 4. Focusing on recent outcomes: This year ... in the amateur player draft we had the 25th pick in the country. ... There was one pitcher that we particularly liked, but everybody said he was going to be a top ten pick. So we weren't expecting to get him, and the Saturday before the draft in the regionals of the College World Series, he had a terrible outing. ... He gave up 6 or 7 runs, and even our scouts began to panic a little bit, and said, "Maybe there's something wrong with this guy and maybe we don't like him." I said to them, "Well last week A's pitcher Tim Hudson gave up 9 runs in 3-1/3 innings. Do we still like him?" And they said, "Yes, absolutely." "Then why don't we still like Sullivan?" I was sitting there thinking, "Excellent, I hope he gets crushed every time he goes out there!" Because I know scouts from all the other teams were there watching. So come draft day, the first 24 picks come and go and Brad Sullivan hasn't been selected. With the 25th pick we take him. And at the end of the day all the media coverage about the first round of the draft is about "How the A's stole Brad Sullivan with the 25th pick in the country." 5. Physical appearance: "Every scout is out there looking for the 6' - 3", 205 pound stallion, that Silky Sullivan with the great body, who could just do it all. But the problem is that doesn't always translate into success. Imagine that you're evaluating a company for investment, and you met with the CEO and the management team, and you came back and your analysis basically said, "The CEO seems smart. He's got a good body on him. I think we should go with this guy." It seems ridiculous, right? I got a great stat from Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point. He said, "3.8% of all adult males are taller than 6' - 2". And yet 30% of all Fortune 500 CEOs are taller than 6' - 2"." There's so much to learn here, and it's not just about sports. On the relationship between process and outcomes: "Michael Mauboussin's model says a lot. It's very simple and incredibly powerful. His matrix identifies the quadrants this way: Good outcome and good process = Deserved Success. Good process and bad outcome = Bad Break. Bad process and Good outcome = Dumb Luck. Bad process and bad outcome = Poetic Justice." [image] And this comment on scouting, or at least the old way of scouting, could just as well be applied to Bill Plaschke: "This was a sacred tradition in scouting. You were free to give your opinion on just about anything and you were not expected to provide any context or justification. You were supposed to be able to say, "Oh yeah, I think this guy can really hit, or really pitch." At the end of the year you get your 5% raise and everybody's happy. You get to go watch baseball all day long."

posted by worldcup2002 at 02:04 PM on February 18, 2004

Now, back to the stats (This Legg Mason article is showing up the kind of "proprietary" details that would warrant it being removed from a site, whoooo!): [all emphasis mine]

"We first started attacking it with the Markoff Model. We tried to figure out what is the value of every situation during the course of a Major League Baseball game. In every situation of bases and outs, we figured out the Expected Run Value of that situation, based on what actually happened over the course of the previous five to ten seasons in the American League. We could start figuring out that a man on first with one out was worth .94 runs, and if you bunted that guy to second successfully, you just went down to .673 runs. So we started realizing that a lot of the traditional baseball stuff was just wrong. We started coming up with the math to prove it. We tried to figure out with every individual player what those players actually deserved to get on every play. If the guy hit a line drive that ended up getting caught for an out, he got more credit for that. He got the credit based on what happened on that play over the course of the previous ten years of Major League Baseball. That bloop double that falls in is a double in the box score isn't a double for us. It is a very low-rated play. And that line drive, and the ball that was going over the wall that gets pulled back in by the center fielder - those plays represent a lot of value for the hitter, because more often than not those were runs. When we were done we had created an entirely new set of metrics that didn't resemble traditional statistics at all. There was no relation whatsoever, and what it showed was that there was tremendous inefficiency. There was a gross mis-allocation of credit and blame going on in traditional statistics. With our own metrics we were able to figure out not only what the value of every situation was, but what players were most likely to put us in the most advantageous situations. We did not necessarily care what they had done in the traditional box score for the previous five years, but what should have happened because of the way they played over the course of the previous five years. It created a tremendous inefficiency in our market, and we started realizing the value of all these players who were available to us for greatly undervalued prices, because they had been miscast or biased against for some reason. Once we started cooking up all this stuff, we realized that it was very contrary to public opinion. That was tough because ultimately we had to implement it with our people. We had to convince our staff and convince our player development people that this was truth, this wasn't opinion, and this is what we were going to do going forward. We are continuing to tweak it, continuing to stress test everything that we do, and continuing to try to make it better, but we were already so far ahead of everybody else at the time."
The breakthrough: valuing skills vs tools:
As Bill said when he introduced me, I think the fundamental thing that we found is that baseball wasn't about tools. It was about skills. You can be a great athlete, you can run the 40-yard sprint in 4.2 seconds in, but if you couldn't hit, it just didn't matter. If you didn't have the skill to consistently put the bat on the ball, put it in play hard somewhere, it didn't matter what you could do. And this definitely goes for all the other sports. The NFL Combine, which is the major scouting event where they bring in all the top college prospects and all the NFL people are there, the two most publicized things in the combine are the 40 yard dash, and how many time each player can bench press 225 pounds. So what happens if you can run a 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, bench 225 pounds 30 times, and you can't make a tackle? In the NBA, what if you can jump out of the gym but you can't shoot? Or play defense? These are sports, but they're not just pure athletic contests. What they are is games of skill. Just like golf. Who's the biggest and strongest golfer on the Tour? I have no idea. I know the best player is Tiger Woods, but he's not the biggest or strongest guy, the fastest or anything else. These are skill games, so what we need to do is start measuring the skills. Measure the skills and not the tools.
And the application of his methods to other sports or non-sports situations:
Bill: Is anyone using your process in other sports, or in political campaigns? What are the dumb things people are doing in football? Paul: People are certainly interested in it, that's for sure. Once Money Ball came out we had calls from NFL teams, NBA teams, NHL teams, and a lot of college programs that want to institute some of these ideas. I've talked to and met with a handful of NFL teams, just because football is one of my passions, so it's a little bit easier for me and more interesting for me to do. I think a lot of the same things exist. Certainly all of the metrics would have to be completely different. There are some things about football or basketball that make it even more complex - if an offensive lineman doesn't do his job, the quarterback doesn't even have a chance to do his, so how do you measure that? How do you account for that? There would be some obstacles, but I think the very core of skill versus tools is absolutely relevant to all the other games. And not just games, probably a lot of businesses. Even for all of you in terms of what you're measuring, if you could figure out what the tools are and what the skills are. Out of all that financial information that comes out of every company, or that I can pull up on MSNBC, how much of that is really relevant and how much of it is noise? That fundamental philosophy probably carries over to a lot more than just baseball.

posted by worldcup2002 at 02:41 PM on February 18, 2004

worldcup, if you like that stuff, you should definitely read Moneyball. (Apologies if you already have)

posted by yerfatma at 03:25 PM on February 18, 2004

I'd seen Moneyball in the stores, but it's only 'cause of DePodesta's talks posted here that I've become interested in baseball at all. Hmmmm. I'm too busy trying to finish reading a book I started months ago. By the time I do that, the baseball season will have started. So, I think I'll stick with learning to support the Dodgers for now.

posted by worldcup2002 at 04:21 PM on February 18, 2004

btw, I believe Moneyball is the missing fourth book from my earlier recommended reading list. It looks like the book has found me. Ha!

posted by worldcup2002 at 04:24 PM on February 18, 2004

Oh, another choice quote from a Michael Lewis interview on baseballprimer.com (are you reading, Bill Plaschke?):

Primer: Do you find that part of the reason some of these ideas are so slow to catch on has to do with the way baseball is reported? Lewis: Thereís no question that the source of baseballís bull-headedness is partly the media coverage of it. Itís just that, the sheer numbers of unthinking people who are either scouts or reporters, or more likely, columnist types, who donít want to have to think, who are insulted when itís suggested thereís this thing that maybe they donít know all about, thatís in the middle of their world, thatís new and different, theyíre insulted and threatened. I do think that is a force for resisting change. But I hate to generalize about the media, because Iíve been generalized about before. There are so many good ones, that you donít want to say theyíre all kind of the same, and theyíre all bad. There are bad ones and good ones. The bad ones are really badóitís just how bad the bad ones are that I canít stand. Iíve run across a dozen of these guys whose stuff Iíve read, who I canít find a single redeeming trait, not in spirit, not in their ability to craft a sentence, not in the freshness of their observations, not even in their ability to get an original quote. And yet they maintain their little corner of the newspaper. And some of them donít even seem to be enjoying what they do. Well, clearly, they donít like what theyíre doing. How could they like what theyíre doing? Thereís no excellence there; itís just horrible. So, those kind of people are going to be threatened, because this is going to force them to actually do some work. Theyíre going to have to actually learn something here. And itís insulting because it suggests that theyíve been writing all along with this big thing going on in their sport, with this thing that theyíve been oblivious to.

posted by worldcup2002 at 05:31 PM on February 18, 2004

So, I think I'll stick with learning to support the Dodgers for now. What a fine choice grasshopper! Get your Dodger fix at Dodger Thoughts.

posted by jasonspaceman at 05:35 PM on February 18, 2004

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