Did Giants Really Prove Moneyball Wrong?

San Francisco Giants celebrate their 3-1 victory over the Texas Rangers in game 5 of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on November 1, 2010. The Giants won series 4-1.  UPI/Ian Halperin Photo via Newscom

In the euphoric moments after the Giants won their first World Series since moving to San Francisco, Giants executive Tony Siegle was quoted as saying, “We’ve shown Moneyball is a bunch of garbage.”

I can understand being so happy about your hard work paying off that you would say something like that.  I can even understand taking a not-so-subtle shot at your rival across the bay.  But did the Giants really show that “Moneyball” doesn’t work?

The common perception of the philosophy among those who don’t really care to understand it is that it’s all about “made up” stats — a bunch of nerds in a back room crunching numbers.  Anyone who’s actually read the book knows that’s not what it’s about.  I’m going to bet Siegle hasn’t read it.

The book was about Billy Beane, unable to keep pace with teams like the Yankees financially, finding and exploiting market inefficiencies.  At the time, batting average and home runs were overvalued.  On-base percentage was overlooked, and the going rate for guys who consistently got on base was cheap.  Beane was able to win boatloads of regular season games on a small budget before the rest of the league caught on.

When you look at “Moneyball” as a philosophy that emphasizes not overpaying for free agents with mediocre skills, I suppose you could say the Giants disproved it.  This year they spent $18.5 million on Barry Zito, $12 million on Aaron Rowand, $9 million on Edgar Renteria, and $6 million on Mark DeRosa — way to prove those nerds wrong, guys!

Of course, you could also look at the players that actually helped the Giants win the World Series, and say that Moneyball absolutely played a role in their success.  A home-grown starting rotation of Tim Lincecum ($8 million), Matt Cain ($4.25 million), Madison Bumgarner (league minimum), and to a lesser extent Jonathan Sanchez ($2.1 million).  Aubrey Huff ($3 million).  Juan Uribe ($3.25 million).  Claiming Cody Ross, even if it was an accident.  And as much as he struggled in the postseason, the Giants don’t make the playoffs without signing Pat Burrell to a midseason minor league deal and seeing him hit .266/.364/.509 in 96 games.

The Giants did do one thing and Billy Beane’s A’s never did — they got lucky at the right time.  They faced an offensively anemic Atlanta club in the first round.  They faced a Phillies team that struggled to hit all postseason long, even before they ran into the Giants’ pitching.  And they faced the Rangers in the World Series instead of the Yankees. 

By all means, enjoy your World Series win, San Francisco.  You deserve it.  But by no means did you prove “Moneyball” wrong.

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