Sports Talk

If you’re painting the Giants as some sort of anti-Moneyball team you’re delusional

Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle has a column today in which he praises the Giants for being a scout-based anti-Moneyball organization, claiming that they have no use for advanced analytics, that they base their decisions on “visual evidence” and that they are superior to “organizations cutting their scouting staffs and stocking computers.”

He then predictably paints a ridiculous caricature of statistical analysis and those who find value in it:

Numbers, they believe, tell the entire story – and their approach is worshiped by thousands of fans and bloggers who wouldn’t last five minutes in a ball-talk conversation with Tim Flannery, Mark Gardner or Ron Wotus.

Jenkins then goes on about the way the Giants put together their two-time World Series championship team, claiming that it’s all about old school scouting and experience and grit and all of that stuff and how the people who employ advanced analytical tools to build baseball teams have it all wrong.

It’s bad enough on its own, but it’s much worse when one realizes that Jenkins simply has his facts wrong. Dreadfully wrong. Wrong to the point of basic journalistic malpractice.  Why? Because he doesn’t once mention the name Yeshayah Goldfarb. Who is Yeshayah Goldfarb? Glad you asked!

Goldfarb’s title is long and clunky: He’s the Giants’ director of minor league operations/quantitative analysis.

What that means is that Goldfarb had a role in just about every player personnel decision the Giants’ baseball operations department made to shape this year’s team — from past amateur drafts to in-season trades to off-season free-agent signings.

“He’s one of our ‘Moneyball’ guys, if you will,” Giants president Larry Baer said last week, alluding to the process of finding valuable players that other teams might overlook. “He does a lot of our really important analysis on player acquisitions.”

Goldfarb’s job, that 2010 article from JWeekly.com notes, is to “focus on taking a mountain of statistics and data and “putting it into a simple, understandable format for people that need the information.”  And it’s not just some make-work job to satisfy some affirmative action for computer geeks requirement:

Goldfarb and his cohorts in analytics also were instrumental in re-signing Uribe before the season, trading for two relief pitchers in midseason (including lefty specialist Javier Lopez) and going after mid-season discards Burrell and Ross. He also helped convince officials to draft college stars Lincecum (2006) and Posey (2008).

That article is from 2010, so it describes the key, improbably useful pieces which helped the Giants win that title. Jenkins notes the similar improbably useful pieces that went into the 2012 title and would have you believe that it was all a bunch of lone wolf, Clint Eastwood scouts finding those guys. I have no doubt that the Giants’ scouting operation is top notch, but I’m willing to bet that Goldfarb — and his statistics — was every bit as important to the building of the 2012 champs as he was in 2010. Yet Jenkins doesn’t mention his name once and denies that his job function has a place on the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants President and CEO thinks this stuff is important. So too does the general manager. They both go out of their way to praise Goldfarb and the kind of work he does, crediting it with helping the team win a world championship.  How, in light of that, people like Bruce Jenkins can write the literally counterfactual sorts of things like he wrote today is beyond me.

There is no baseball team that sees the world like Jenkins thinks the Giants see the world. There is likewise no baseball team that sees the world the way Jenkins’ caricature of statisticians sees the world.  Every team uses advanced and often proprietary analysis. Every team has scouts and uses them.  Yet for some reason Jenkins and his ilk continue to fight a false war on bad information.  It boggles the mind.