Anyone who has read Michael Lewis's bestselling book Moneyball knows the story of Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane as a player. Extraordinarily gifted in virtually every physical tool a baseball player could want, Beane was one of the top prospects in the nation coming out of high school. He even had a football scholarship waiting for him at Stanford despite the fact that he had not played football for two years.
Selected in the first round of the 1980 draft by the New York Mets, Beane signed with the team and eventually made it to the majors, yet he never lived up to his athletic promise as a professional because he lacked the right mental traits to succeed. Part of his problems could be traced to a lack of motivation, confidence, and emotional control. His most visible shortcoming was that he did not handle failure well. Whenever Beane struck out, his teammates made sure to keep their distance to avoid suffering collateral damage from his vicious outbursts. His reputation for destructiveness grew to mythical levels, so even his opponents would watch his tantrums for their entertainment value.
Beane's foil in the book is Lenny Dykstra, Beane's teammate coming up through the Mets' system. While Beane carried his mistakes with him everywhere he went, Dykstra never let a little failure bother him. Dykstra was unflappable; he quickly put bad experiences behind him and was able to move on to the next inning, the next at-bat, or the next game. To Beane, Dykstra had the ideal temperament to play baseball, and that conclusion influenced him when it came to making decisions on players as a general manager.
While this little psychological study is a fascinating subplot in the book, the overarching story of Moneyball is the Athletics' ability to find undervalued players by weighting statistically meaningful measures of baseball performance over traditional, overrated metrics. Psychological traits were just one of many pieces of information that went into Oakland's decision-making.
The Baltimore shop
The Orioles' current administration bridges the old and new schools of baseball management. Their top prospect is a high-risk player touted by traditional, tools-based scouting analysis, but team officials have also publicly acknowledged the importance of on-base percentage and have entertained an unorthodox philosophy regarding bullpen usage. But while the Orioles may not be at the forefront of the sabermetric movement, they do appear to have made significant gains in the area of psychological profiling of prospects.
This past Sunday, the television program "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" featured an interview of Dave Ritterpusch, the Orioles' director of baseball information systems. On the program, Ritterpusch described the psychological profiling method that he developed to evaluate players for the Orioles, and how it figures into the Orioles' personnel decisions. This topic was previously covered in an article by John Eisenberg that appeared in the Sun on February 22. On Sunday Ritterpusch expanded on his method, although he stopped short of revealing the most critical details.
For those who are unaware of the show, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is a weekly half-hour program that airs on local television station WNUV 54 (Baltimore's WB affiliate) on Sunday mornings during the baseball season. It is essentially the equivalent of "Meet the Press" for the world of Orioles baseball. Like NBC's Tim Russert, local sports reporter Tom Davis conducts studio interviews of high-profile guests, but instead of grilling policymakers and heads of state, Davis talks one-on-one with Orioles players, coaches, and decision-makers present and past. The tone of the show is informal, but the long format of the program makes it possible for guests to expound in ways that are rarely seen in the mainstream, sound-bite-oriented news media. For Orioles fans seeking coverage of the team in more depth and from a different angle than is available from most news outlets—and if you're reading this, you probably are one of those people—"TMOB" is a unique and valuable resource.