Sunday diversion / 20 days to America's game, boy division

you’ve been counting down, right?
…So you know that the first day for pitchers and catchers to report to any major league baseball spring training site is February 18, February 19 for the Yankees, and February 21 for a hoping-to-not-finish-last team nearby.

But that’s just a lead-in to another baseball topic for a sunny Sunday heading into Oscars season.

Finally saw Moneyball yesterday, more in a getting ready for the Oscars mood than in preparation for Spring Training. Enjoyed it. A lot. As did the wife (certainly not a baseball fan, though she does have a certain regard for the leading man).

I remembered that my man Posnanski did a piece about the film when it opened. Always a good idea to read JoePo about anything.

About the thrilling Rincon trade, I think Pos is wrong. I think that serious baseball fans who know that Rincon did not turn out to be God’s gift will appreciate the scene exactly for that reason, in the context that Beane was playing percentages. His ‘advantage’ was that he was making better educated guesses than the other guys, by looking at (e.g.) strikeout-to-walk-ratios instead of whether the guy had a good-looking girlfriend. Sometimes they don’t work out, those percentages, those guesses.

(That was why the focus on Billy’s aborted playing career was so central to the film: a guess that didn’t work out. Loved that part. But note that over the longer term, the aborted playing career ‘worked out’ into a successful GM career.)

Same thing with Carlos Pena and Scott Hatteberg. Jonah Hill does the quick math to estimate that their chances of winning were about the same with each. But Hatteberg was the central player in the movie, around whom the undervalued story was hung. I bet Pena was not undervalued, and was probably not a high OBP guy (though he was probably a higher OBS guy); I wonder …. Point is: Beane was trying to do something specific (at least, Pitt-as-Beane was) and Hatteberg fit while Pena did not. Plus, that was a very funny way to get the manager to play Hatteberg, wasn’t it?

Out of habit, I went back to the New York Times review this morning, to see how it played when it was fresh on the screen. Nice review, one that captured the fun (“takes all this seemingly dry, dusty, inside-baseball stuff and turns it into the kind of all-too-rare pleasurable Hollywood diversion that gives you a contact high”). But as a baseball nerd (and owner of 6 or 8 softcover Bill James Baseball Abstracts), I am pretty sure that James did not “call[] his new approach sabermetrics”; at some point he was instrumental in the founding / propagation of the Society for American Baseball Research, and that SABR became shorthanded into sabermetrics. But I digress…

(Holy Co Inky Dink, Batman! I just noticed that yesterday was the third annual SABR Day. Great day to see Moneyball, indeed!)

© Sandy Mattingly 2012


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