Today, eight years after Moneyball roared and Port's typewriter was silenced (Epstein took his place after the 2002 season), all 30 clubs incorporate statistical analysis in their baseball operations, with 15 to 20 of them relying on it heavily.
The advantage of the early adopters is gone. In his first winter as G.M., for instance, Epstein was able to scoop up Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, Todd Walker and Jeremy Giambi on the cheap because he understood that on-base percentage was a far better tool to evaluate a hitter than batting average, which was still the industry standard for rating—and paying—players. Epstein immediately built a team that broke the alltime slugging record set by the famed 1927 Yankees and set franchise records for OPS and home runs—and he did it while cutting the payroll by $8.4 million. But now "teams are looking at similar metrics," Epstein says. "So players are valued pretty closely by 30 clubs."
As Moneyball, the movie, hits screens this week, Beane and the Athletics have been trampled by their own revolution. They haven't had a winning season since 2006, and even amid great regular-season success in the aftermath of the book's publication, they never did win a playoff game beyond the first round. Playing in an antiquated multipurpose stadium with the worst attendance in baseball, Oakland is unable to compete with clubs that caught up to it intellectually and blow it away financially.
No team better defines the state of the art than the Red Sox, host to more than 700 straight sellouts at Fenway Park, a $163 million payroll and Carmine, which Epstein commissioned in 2006 to catch up to Cleveland, which had its own proprietary software called DiamondView. Under Epstein, the Red Sox have won two World Series, fielded more 95-win teams in nine years (six) than the franchise had in the previous 53 (four) and been judged by Baseball America as the team of the decade (2000--09) when it came to the amateur draft. "I'm proud of the people and the processes here," Epstein says, "but just about everything we're doing here is being done elsewhere, and a lot of it better. We have a pretty big cushion with our resources. We can take sixth-rounders and pay them third-round money without thinking twice about it."
When Epstein took over as general manager he developed a mantra, the clean version of which is, "We don't know spit." The quest for as much information as possible is at the heart of the Red Sox Way, especially now that the Moneyball blueprint has gone mainstream. Information is the game's currency—though the one issued by the Federal Reserve is also quite nice, thank you. "The field has been leveled [since Moneyball]," says one NL executive. "The fact that the Red Sox have the resources gives them an edge. [This year] they paid [lefthander] Andrew Miller a million dollars to pitch in Triple A. That's an entire Triple A payroll for most teams. But give those guys credit. They took that organization from a steam engine to a motorized gas engine. Why shouldn't they take advantage of their resources?"
The story of how Gonzalez became a Red Sox player is the nexus of Boston's intellectual and financial might in a post-Moneyball world. It is also the story of lesser names: first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whom the Red Sox drafted in 2007; pitcher Casey Kelly, an '08 pick; and outfielder Reymond Fuentes, an '09 pick—the three key prospects they traded for Gonzalez. It is the story of searching for any edge through information.
Now I can click on the screen... ." Epstein says as he executes a few keystrokes, "... and call up ... there's [Jacoby] Ellsbury."
A trove of information pops up about the Boston centerfielder. It includes some proprietary statistical data, including Boston's in-house defensive metrics (the popular ones cannot be trusted, especially in one-year samples) and an overall empirical valuation that combines offense, defense and baserunning metrics. Carmine automatically updates the numbers, including projections, every day for every player in professional baseball.
Carmine also guards less quantifiable data, including the first report filed on Ellsbury in 2003, two years before he was drafted, as well as eight follow-up reports chock-full of anecdotes culled from interviews with his coaches, trainers, college SID, opposing coaches, summer league coach and others. There is a story about a foot injury "no one knew about" that explained a brief slump in the Cape Cod League in '04. There is the story of the day in '05 when two cross-checkers worked out Ellsbury in a San Diego gym because of rain: The 21-year-old picked up a stray basketball and threw down a monster dunk, confirming their reports on his athleticism. All those notations—which a decade ago would have consumed just two or three sentences under "makeup" in most teams' player files—are separate from the actual nuts-and-bolts scouting report on his skills.
Each spring the typical area scout for the Red Sox will follow about 50 players on his watch list. Cross-checkers will see about 100 players each. They all file background reports with Carmine every time they see a player. "That's a lot of information," Epstein says. "But that's where you get the edge. You're not going to have the most success with the most obvious, readily available information."