Posted by: Peter | November 18, 2009

Moneyball from below?

Tom Tango catches a great quote from Royals ace and newly-crowned Cy Young winner Zack Greinke:

“That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.

The Royals were already sabermetric fan favorites due to the presence of Brian Bannister, who famously said:

Just had to let my Babip regress before I started dealing again.

It’s exciting to see players start to take sabermetric innovations seriously. But what I find most interesting about the case of the Royals is that the impetus to become statistically sophisticated about the game seems to be coming mostly from the players, not the coaches or the GM. As a commenter at Tango’s site quips:

[Royals General Manager] Dayton Moore plans to call Greinke to ask him what on earth he was talking about.

The way the story of the Moneyball revolution is usually told, it’s a story about enlightened team management, not stat-head players. The hero of Michael Lewis’s book was Billy Beane, not Scott Hatteberg. And this makes sense inasmuch as Moneyball–as distinct from sabermetrics in general–was mostly about exploiting inefficiencies in the market for player talent. That is, it was about getting the best players on your team, not about getting the most out of the players you have.

But what Bannister and Greinke are doing suggests that players can use sabermetrics to make themselves better, whether or not the organizations they work for understand what they’re doing. There’s a lot of empirical work that needs to be done to figure out how true this is. Can a pitcher intentionally bring down his FIP? Is it really true, as Bannister claims in the Times article, that Greinke intentionally induced more fly balls at home, in order to take advantage of a spacious outfield and a good left fielder? And if so, did it really improve his pitching? Every story like this that makes it into the media is a neat study waiting to happen.

All in all, the rise of sabermetrically-informed players–if it’s happening beyond Banny and Greinke, and I suspect it is–is an interesting story, and it’s new one. Maybe someone needs to write another book to tell it. Bannyball, anyone?

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