A Case for Moneyball in the College Game

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Monday May 1, 2006.

If you’re a baseball fan and you haven’t read it, you should. Whether you agree or not, it’s a great read and something that baseball fans should understand, simply because it’s starting to appear throughout the Major Leagues.

With that said, it’s rare that the Moneyball principles are talked about in great depth at the college level. But why not? I guess first, would be the “Money” part of Moneyball. Since salaries are not a part of the equation, value isn’t, either. But the basics should remain the same. The basics, as I see them, are to not give the defense outs, work pitch counts, and get on base.

Sure, that sounds like common sense, but think about it. Not giving the defense outs is very different from how baseball has been played through the years. For example, when you sacrifice bunt, you give them an out. So, as a Moneyball principle, don’t do it, except in very rare circumstances. Working the pitch count is similar. But many people will still preach that the first pitch will be the best you see in an at-bat. I would argue that if that’s the case, you better damn well crush the ball if you’re hacking at pitch one. But the reason for this principle is to get to the bullpen, where the lesser of the opponents’ pitchers reside. Play to their weaknesses. Finally, you have to get on base. Save your “clutch hitting” claptrap for someone who believes in it. You don’t score runs unless you’re on base. The more you’re on base, the more chances you have to score. And baseball is a game of averages.

With the basics behind us, let me get to the point. I was at the Pack-SJSU game yesterday. The Pack lost again and was swept by the Spartans. Things are not looking good at Peccole right now. The team, the past two Sundays, has not looked at all good to me. They’re 2-1 in games I attended, and haven’t looked especially adept offensively in any of them, save a two-homer game by Shawn Scobee. Without being able to cite other specific examples, I saw what has hit me as a recurring theme in the games I’ve seen this year: complete and utter ineptitude at handling certain in-game situations by head coach Gary Powers.

Below is the play-by-play account of the Pack’s half of the fifth inning.

Nevada 5th – Foley, R. walked (3-0). Williams, D. reached on a fielder’s choice, bunt (1-0); Foley, R. out at second 1b to ss. Bowman, M. flied out to rf (3-1). Scobee, S. struck out looking (0-2). 0 runs, 0 hits, 0 errors, 1 LOB.

To start the inning, SJSU’s pitcher walked the #9 hitter on four pitches. Down 1-0, this was a prime opportunity for Nevada to rally. What did they do? How about send the team’s leadoff hitter up to show sacrifice bunt. He took ball one. That’s five straight balls to begin the inning with what should amount to the team’s best on-base guy at the plate. So, on the second pitch, he again shows bunt. The pitch comes in just above the letters, he reaches for it and gets the bunt down – horribly. Force out at second. I was screaming at my dad. To my eyes, the pitcher had thrown six straight balls, yet had an out. That hitter should have been swinging away with the instruction to take at least one strike. Instead, he bunted to purposely give up an out, and it didn’t even work. Next hitter takes the first three pitches for balls before taking a pitch out of the zone for a pitcher’s strike. Then, instead of seeing the pitcher was struggling, he went after a pitch up in the zone and popped it to right for out number two. Having been gifted two outs and still being in no danger, despite throwing only two strikes in ten pitches, the pitcher then buckled down to get the Pack’s only fearful hitter on a called third strike.

Look at the situation. You have your ninth hitter on base with a four pitch walk, your leadoff hitter sitting with ball one, and your best hitter waiting in the hole. Nobody is out at this point. Plus, it’s only the fifth inning. Even when your team is struggling at the plate, do you seriously play for one run by bunting in the fifth inning? They wound up failing miserably – they didn’t even get a guy to second base. Because they immediately went into “play for the run” mode. It’s the baseball equivalent of the proverbial prevent defense.

As a fan, it was tough to watch, and as a coach, I hope Powers recognizes it was a very bad way to try to win a baseball game. Hell, at the time, his pitcher had given up one hit and without two throwing errors by the Pack third baseman in one inning (set your feet before throwing, Bowman, it’s getting ridiculous), the game is tied at 0-0 at that point. His pitching was keeping them in it, and they still had half the game to play. Had Nevada gone to the plate after the initial walk and taken a few pitches, they might very easily have gotten to the bullpen in that inning. Instead, the SJSU pitcher went into the eighth before being knocked out. Far less of the Spartan bullpen was seen, and the result was a loss for Nevada, and a sweep for San Jose.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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