Theo Epstein is the general manager of the Boston Red Sox. He is also a practitioner of sabermetrics.
At least that’s what we’re lead to believe.
After all, Bill James has been a senior advisor for the Red Sox since 2002.
You see, in the Church of Sabermetrics, Bill James is the deity. Many of his followers believe that he was begotten, not made, and that he will reign eternal in the halls of Strat-O-Matic Valhalla.
Their "good book" is divided into an old testament, Baseball Abstract, and a new testament, The Bill James Handbook. When in groups, they speak in a tongue that is incomprehensible to most heathens.
Pythagorean Winning Percentage
What looks like pure gibberish to the non-believer is sacred text to the SABR-phile.
Fortunately, for those individuals unable to grasp the majesty of it all, along came Michael Lewis, a modern-day Martin Luther. He translated the complexities of James-speak into a language most people could easily understand.
Lewis’ book, Moneyball, made the abstract tangible. The masses were no longer in the dark.
Moneyball taught us that a walk was as good as a hit and that objective values can be used to find a player's true worth.
Chubby guys that could work a pitcher are now sexy. No longer does it matter if a guy "looks" like a ballplayer—he needs the numbers. To quote Billy Beane in Moneyball: "We're not selling jeans here."
What is being sold is a philosophy—one that favors empirical data over gut reaction. Some owners and general managers buy into it with fervor. Epstein purports to be one of those people.
The fact is, he waivers from James’ philosophy so frequently that, in my opinion, he is a SINO (Sabermetrician In Name Only).
In many ways, Epstein is a bit of a paradox: he does a good job drafting and building talent for the future based off very little except college and high school production and scouting reports. Evidence of his success: Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Bard.
Yet, when a player has a body of work in front of him that includes significant major league experience, Epstein appears to deviate tremendously from sabermetric philosophy by allowing emotion to cloud his vision and, in the process, overvaluing that player.
And it’s not just a few isolated sins; he has a litany of offenses that require much penance.
The list is long, yet undistinguished: Matt Clement, Edgar Renteria, Wily Mo Pena, J.D. Drew, Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Eric Gagne and John Lackey, just to name a few. Add Josh Beckett’s contract extension to that list, too.
Now, I’m not saying that all of these players lacked value at the time. Some did; others did not. But all of the players were grossly overvalued by Epstein.
And that’s the crux of the matter. James’ philosophy looks for the true value in a player. Implied in that philosophy is to not pay above market value for a player. Epstein has violated this principle repeatedly.
Take Carl Crawford this year. He is a good ballplayer, but is he really worth a $142 million contract?
I don’t think so.
But Epstein signed Crawford as a way to renew interest in the Red Sox after a lackluster performance on the field and in the ratings last year. In sabermetric terms, the move made no sense—Crawford’s added value was not on par with the size of the contract.
However, when you have the funds, sense sometimes takes a back seat to politics. Epstein might not be selling jeans, but he is trying to sell tickets.
What this tells me is that Epstein is human. And as such, when put in a situation where he has more cash to throw around than his competitors, he will play loose with the sabermetric ideal and give in to temptation. In other words, he has a larger margin of error that forgives lapses in judgment.
I don’t fault him for this; it’s his prerogative.
Indeed, sabermetrics is for the have-nots with no money (and to help members of the BBWAA make Hall of Fame decisions). But for the landed gentry, sabermetrics is a convenient little way for them to pretend to be hip, in much the same way that a wealthy person might have a “Stop Global Warming” bumper sticker on his Cadillac SUV.
As for Theo Epstein, he should quit committing heresy against sabermetrics and renounce his faith. Perhaps, he can be like Henry VIII who separated the Church of England from the Vatican.
Once excommunicated from the Church of Sabermetrics as being the anti-Beane, Epstein can base his church on this simple philosophy: I have money; you don’t. Deal with it.
It may be harsh, but at least it speaks the truth. And as the saying goes, the truth will set you free.
So, set yourself free, Theo. Set yourself free.
Do I get an Amen?