Miller: The Oakland Athletics’ ‘happiness’ project

From Sam Miller at ESPN The Magazine on October 4, 2013:

A decade ago, when Michael Lewis published Moneyball, advanced baseball analysis was simple. Sabermetricians saw the sport as a series of individual battles between pitcher and hitter, which made it far easier to analyze than football’s or basketball’s moving and interconnected parts. The secrets of the Moneyball A’s — OBP is better than batting average; pitchers should be judged mostly on strikeouts and walks; context-dependent stats like RBIs, wins and saves should be ignored — were discoverable by anybody with access to box scores and an open mind. Sabermetrics were mostly about limiting decisions to what could be measured.

But today, with World Series contenders openly embracing advanced analytics, the Moneyball movement is increasingly about imagining what might be measured. Big Data has replaced box scores and helped illuminate the cooperative aspects of baseball: Defense is a collaboration among the pitcher, clusters of defenders, the bench coach who positions them and the advance scouts who guide those bench coaches. Strikes and balls reflect the pitcher’s command but also, to a startling degree, the catcher’s ability to frame the pitch.

But it’s clubhouse chemistry that takes collaboration to its distant terminal, one that front offices can’t necessarily ignore: If the gregarious lefthanded reliever “helps” the third baseman hit two extra home runs — if inducing happiness can be measured — then who should get paid for those two home runs? The man who hit them or the muse?

“What I can tell you unequivocally is that GMs and front offices are actively studying and trying to find ways to quantify clubhouse chemistry,” says Gabe Kapler, a former player who now consults for the Rays’ scouting and player-development departments. “Call me naive, but I believe there’s something to it.”


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Originally published: October 4, 2013. Last Updated: October 4, 2013.