Are Billy Beane Believers still expecting 97 wins this year?

What do the 100+ angry baseball fans who have posted livid responses to my earlier postings about Billy Beane have to say about the new data that has been assembled since I made my first claims? The A’s record is now 14-20. The chances of a team that wins 60 percent of their games going 14-20 in the first 34 games is about 1 in 50. Even a team that is expected to win 50 percent of their games (as the market predicted the A’s should at the beginning of the season) will start this poorly only 20% of the time.

So far it looks like the market knows more than the “experts” who respond to my posts. Which is, of course, what we should all expect.

Maestro

Haven't the A's started out poorly most of the past 5 years? One year, I think '01, they were truly awful for a month or two, and still won over 100 games. This doesn't prove anything, but neither does their record so far this year. For the record, I expected them to take a step or two back this year, and I still expect 81-85 wins.

Anonymous

So 34 games prove that you are right? Unbelievable.

Martin

Wow, that's an astonishingly rude and obnoxious way to engage you readership.I just reread the thread you're citing and it's full of heated, honest dissent. I didn't see a lot of lividity there.Being one of the top 3 or 4 teams over a 5-year stretch is extremely difficult if you don't have the resources of the Yankees. The A's have been a top team for 5 years or so, and it's quite possible their glory days are fading. This proves very little. Beane's method is sound, but the league's caught up with him a little bit, and also he may be in a down cycle that occurs when the free agents leave. If he's half as good as his reputation, the A's will be very good in about two, three years. Or then again, maybe not. The funny thing is, if you were to peg Beane on something legitimate, a lot of intelligent baseball fans, even your commenters, would be eager to agree -- Beane is overhyped, you have a point. But you are clearly not all that conversant with baseball (not as much as some of your commenters, who understand Lewis better than you do), or else your method isn't very strong. You seem almost desperate to pin Beane on some false straw-man version of Beane. Beane lost two of his top pitchers, and his third ace is maybe not as good as he appeared three years ago. This makes Beane's prowess at running a baseball team a mirage? Hardly.Have some respect for your audience and come with something really interesting about Beane. This amateurish nonsense won't cut it. You're treating your readers almost as well as you treated that restaurant a few posts ago.

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Anonymous

Hey people, don't confuse the coauthors. The restaurant piece was by Dubner, not Levitt.

Steve Sailer

Isn't it fascinating how much controversy Dr. Levitt's opinion's on Billy Beane have generated, while most commentators have been happy to take his seeminly more important abortion-cut-crime theory on faith, even though the latter fails dismally most of the obvious tests of plausibility (e.g., the first generation born after legalization of abortion went on the worst murder youth violence spree in American history)?

Anonymous

97 wins? Where did that number come from? Mr Levitt in the earlier thread you were going to be impressed with 90+ wins. And the betting line was 82.Each of your successive posts on Beane has been weaker. This being the meekest yet. In fact this post has nothing to do with your original point, that Beane (good or bad) simply wasn't following the strategy outlined in Moneyball. Now you have resorted to just saying that Beane is no good, or that the market outsmarted the "experts" on this discussion board.The two ways that you could salvage your baseball credentials are the following: (1) Post on a debunking of a sabrmetric fallacy as you alluded to previously, or (2) respond directly to those who, in fact, could pick out the A's from your challenge of 5 anonymous teams of the earlier post (the A's were clearly the team with the lower Batting Average yet comparable OPS as described in Moneyball).As for Mr Sailer's comment above: to a man who's only tool is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. Argue with Levitt on the merits of your case with respect to the crime/abortion issue. Leave the baseball talk as a separate issue, for the sake of your own credibility.Sincerely,Jeff

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Steven D. Levitt

Jeff,There was no team in that list that had a low batting average and a high obp. That was the point. Oakland did not even have the highest walk rate over this period among these five teams. Oakland was team (c) in the old post, just for the record. Not a single comment that I read (maybe I didn't read them all) said that Oakland was team (c).

Paul

Let's inject some more statistics into this. I haven't read Moneyball, but I also believe in looking at the numbers and all I'm trying to do here is figure out how many wins Oakland will have this year.As it stands now the 14-24 record gives Oakland's probability of a win at 14/38=37% a game. The estimated standard deviation is .08. So the 95% CI is [.21,.53] Right now Tradesports says Oakland will win 78-79 games which is around 48% win percentage which seems to be on the high end of the interval, but the interval is only valid if we assume a binomial distribution in the first place. But regardless of what distribution it doesn't seem likely that Oakland will win more than 80 games. I'm sure this blog will be around when the end of the season rolls around, so let's just wait.

Anonymous

You should read all the comments, Mr. Levitt - it might keep you from flogging further silliness on this topic. Your comment today was already answered in that thread. Here, because I am helpful, is a link:http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=11334977&postID=111429555645734629&isPopup=trueAnd some guy named "skull" pointed out it was c.

Maestro

Oakland had the lowest BA and the 2nd highest BB total. So, identifying them was pretty easy. But, so what?If your general point in all of this is that Beane is overhyped, you're probably right. If your general point is that most people have a caricatured view of what Moneyball was about, again, you're probably right. But my impression is that your view of Moneyball is a caricture and that you are lashing out at it like Idiot Joe Morgan and others like him did. You seem smarter than that, so please clarify your position.

Anonymous

I think the position here is professional jealousy. Running a baseball team is way more fun (and with higher market rewards) than being a neocon blowhard with a book that everyone will forget about in a few years.

Anonymous

It seems to me that the argument is not that the A's had a good offense but that they had a better offense than they would have had but-for the Beane strategy. While their succcess would not have been achieved without their superior pitching, their success would also not have been achieved if their hitting had been as bad as it would have been.

Anonymous

Thank you for responding, Mr Levitt. I just finished having a discussion about your thought- provoking book over lunch in the Loop with a UofC grad who wasn't lucky enough to take your Crime class. A lot of interesting questions came up that could fill another book.For the record Team (c) does have the lowest batting average by 5 points.While we're making season predictions in mid-May, put me down for the WhiteSox Jon Garland to win 30 games. He's 7-0 in 7 starts.Let me know if you want to go to the Sox-Orioles game on Sunday, I've got an extra ticket.Jeff

bigmouth

Sadly, Professor, the only "expert" here is you. You claim to debunk moneyball, and call your doubters names. You then exploit your knowledge of numbers to confer a false significance to 97 wins. "Expert" moves every one. Yet you fail to shame or confuse us. Why? You're still using the wrong metric, and we all know it. It's not the number of wins alone that matters. The amount of MONEY you spend for those wins is equally as relevant. Wins against total payroll...that's the moneyball metric.By that measure, the A's have done quite well over the past few years, though with diminishing efficiency, as the Big Three's salaries grew and others adopted the moneyball approach. Even this year, however, their wins per total payroll so far compares quite favorably with many division leaders.I'll admit, I haven't done the math. But I'd bet if you do, even the market's prediction of 81 wins against the A's 22nd ranked payroll of $55 million compares favorably to the market's predicted wins per total payroll of the rest of mlb.

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Paul

Ok here are even more numbers to chew on. Oakland is #11 on the list below. It's also very misleading to look at W/P (Wins/Payroll) because the value of a win from 90 to 91 is different from the value at 60 to 61 because it could mean the playoffs or going home. So teams with the money, are willing to spend the extra amount to get that extra win at the end because the value they place on getting into the playoffs is high enough. So teams with really high W/P aren't always bad. Name Payroll Wins W/P Expected Division Winner Tampa Bay Devil Rays 29.36 61.7 0.48 0Milwaukee Brewers 39.93 75.6 0.53 0Pittsburgh Pirates 38.13 70.6 0.54 0Cleveland Indians 41.50 75.6 0.55 0Toronto Blue Jays 45.72 78.5 0.58 0Minnesota Twins 56.19 90.1 0.62 0Washington Nationals 48.58 77.2 0.63 0Kansas City Royals 36.88 58.6 0.63 0Florida Marlins 60.41 92 0.66 1Texas Rangers 55.85 79.3 0.70 0Oakland Athletics 55.43 77.4 0.72 0San Diego Padres 63.29 86.5 0.73 1Colorado Rockies 48.16 64.5 0.75 0Arizona Diamondbacks 62.33 80.8 0.77 0Baltimore Orioles 73.91 90.5 0.82 0Chicago White Sox 75.18 91.75 0.82 1Cincinnati Reds 61.89 72.3 0.86 0Detroit Tigers 69.09 79.8 0.87 0St. Louis Cardinals 92.11 97.4 0.95 1Atlanta Braves 86.46 90.1 0.96 1Los Angeles Dodgers 83.04 86.3 0.96 0Houston Astros 76.78 75 1.02 0Chicago Cubs 87.03 82.1 1.06 0Los Angeles Angels 97.73 88.2 1.11 1San Francisco Giants 90.20 78.7 1.15 0Seattle Mariners 87.75 74.8 1.17 0Philadelphia Phillies 95.52 80.8 1.18 0New York Mets 101.31 83.5 1.21 0Boston Red Sox 123.51 94.5 1.31 1New York Yankees 208.31 92 2.26 1Wins taken from Tradesports.com (average of bid/ask as of Friday, May 13th), Payroll from MLB, Expected division winner just max of each division, plus the two wildcards.

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Martin

Paul: There's a way to account for the 60-win problem, which is simply to grant each team 60 free wins and make the ratio dollars per (wins-60). This is consistent with both general old-school baseball wisdom and also Bill James, whose Win Shares idea I believe is predicated on the idea of marginal wins, which has some similarity to this concept.The old-school version of it is, "Every team's gonna win 50 and lose 50 -- the pennant winners are the ones that do the most with the remainder." or something.

Anonymous

Well, I think Mr. Levitt started by pointing out that the A's didn't win for the reasons described in Moneyball and there's certainly some truth to that. The A's success had little to do with leading men Scott Hatteberg and Jeremy Brown. On the other hand, I do think it had to do with the market undervaluing OBP. Have you read this study? Levitt made the case that the A's success was based on Mulder, Hudson and Zito thus the relevance of failing this year without those guys. The problem with Levitt's logic is that the A's aren't really failing because of lack of pitching. They're failing because they've hit worse than any other team in the American League. Their .650 Team OPS is last in the majors. The team has an OBP of .312 and a SLG of .338. No, not even the market, expected that to happen. Their ERA is about average and 7th of 14 AL teams.Also, getting back to the comparison of the A's to 4 other teams (the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Mariner if I remember correctly), why those 4 teams? How were they chosen? The A's did manage to get their offense with the lowest batting average of those 5 teams but I'm not sure what the comparison to those 4 (other sucessful teams) was designed to show. Yes, most good offenses have good OBP's. The A's certainly weren't the ONLY team with high walk totals if that's the idea.btw, I picked up the book this afternoon and I'm really enjoying it so far.Jared

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Steve Carr

As an earlier reader posted, where did this "97 wins" criterion for excellence come from? Regardless, what kind of statistician reaches a conclusion about a 162-game season after a little more than a fifth of the games have been played?

Steven D. Levitt

Steve Carr, I am using statistics exactly the way statistics are designed to be used. The binomial distribution says that the chances of a team that has a baseline win probability of 60% going 14-20 over a 34 game period is .02. What possible gripe can you have against this most basic use of statistics?