Friday, May 4, 2007

Bad Hamstrings are the New Black

By now every GM has read Moneyball, and Beane has long since embraced defense as the new OBP. So what's the latest market inefficiency ready to be exploited? Jeff Sackmann at The Hardball Times thinks he has the answer:

In short, it's the acceptance of risk. That could mean, as in Cleveland's case, starting the year with a bunch of platoons with the understanding that some halves of those platoons won't be available for a month here and there. For Toronto, it means fully expecting to use eight or nine starters to get through the year. For Oakland, it means accepting that you may have to improvise to put three outfielders and a designated hitter in the lineup every night.

In other words, eschewing the roster certainty most clubs desire and, in Sackmann's words, "figur[ing] out a way to get far more production out of seven players and $6 million than other teams get out of two players and $10 million."

Not a bad market inefficiency in that, unlike the appreciation of OBP and defense, it will take more than the mere circulation of the idea for its proponents' competitors to exploit, and thereby nullify the inefficiency. It will also take hard work and guts, because any GM who seeks to exploit this inefficiency will be spending way more time on the phones and in his office juggling the roster, and will get way more flak from fans and the media for bringing in the often injured, the no names, and the other assorted castoffs that tend not to generate excitement about a team's chances. Fans have come to accept chunky players who know how to take a walk, but they still don't like ten-man rotations and DL casualties.

Added bonus: given the deft roster management such an approach would require, it may cut down on the number of armchair GMs who struggle to manage their fantasy rosters on a week to week basis from believing that they could do just as good a job.

Sackmann cites Beane and Ricciardi's 2007 roster plate-spinning as examples of GMs who may very well be trying to embrace risk in the name of efficiency. Given their bloodlines I suppose it's possible that those two are in fact stockpiling problem players as the result of some premeditated plan. With all things written by the sabermetric community, however, one must assess whether this is an objective observation or, instead, a case of stathead heartthrob syndrome.

Anyone have any insight into whether Oakland and Toronto's seeming embrace of risky players is the result of a grand plan or rather some ad-hoc work? I don't want to wait for Michael Lewis' next book to find out.