Variations on a theme by Joe Sheehan

People may think Moneyball started the sabermetric revolution in baseball front offices across MLB, but the truth is that the teams that are practicing the ideas attributed to Billy Beane et al by Michael Lewis are run by people who shared Beane's philosophies long before Moneyball was written. Toronto is run by GM J.P. Ricciardi, a former Beane disciple, and the Red Sox are run by Theo Epstein and John Henry (Henry initially tried to hire Beane himself and had a verbal commitment until Beane backed out at the 11th hour), both Bill James disciples. And Bill James himself is now on the Red Sox staff.
So look at yesterday's baseball draft. As Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus points out: the Blue Jays opened with 18 straight college players; the A's 20 straight; the Red Sox 17 of their first 18; the Royals (!) 17 of 21. Who knows what's gotten into the Royals (somewhere Rob Neyer is grinning just a little), but the actions of the others are no surprise. Drafting college players offloads player development costs and risks onto college programs, and such players generally move up the minor league system quicker and reach the majors at a higher rate. Why do other teams draft high schoolers? Because they tempt the imagination with their tools at such a young age--after all, if some young high schooler can throw 90+ mph now, imagine what he'll be throwing when he fills out and matures?
I'm still a Cubs fan--it's not like you can switch sports allegiances like you do mutual funds when the management philosphy differs from your own--but I sure am jealous of Oakland, Toronto, and Boston fans. They are putting the principles I've been reading about into practice, and now they'll be tested in the crucible of the real world. The AL East is changing, and I expect the Red Sox and Blue Jays to pass the Yankees in the standings over the next several years. The Red Sox in particular should do well because they can afford a larger budget than either the Blue Jays and A's, AND they have sabermetrics behind them. Call it smart money.
Sosa day two

As Joe Sheehan so elegantly writes (you need a Baseball Prospectus subscription to read the full text), all the immediate and sweeping condemnation of Sosa in the wake of the corking incident from all directions is unfair and a symptom of our tendencies towards evidence-free convictions. There's no proof yet that he used a corked bat to achieve all of his historic accomplishments, and Yale physicist Robert Adair's The Physics of Baseball notes convincingly that corking bats is a useless and ineffective strategy (Nate bought that book for me way back in the day, and I highly recommend it for any baseball fan with a scientific interest). All we know is he used a corked bat yesterday. Most everyone believe he's lying when he says he grabbed a batting practice bat by mistake, but what basis do we have for such accusations other than our own smug desire to judge?
I been guilty of the same flippant suspicion of people in high places. We see Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Bret Boone turn into muscle men over the years, and my friends and I casually assume they're juiced up on steroids. Britney has a "swell" summer and we assume her boobs are fake. We're all just a bunch of sleazy paparazzi, in search of water cooler gossip. It's really small-minded, and I'm going to try to stop.
Corking a bat in one at-bat doesn't take away from the way Sosa hustles, his charity work, his hard work in the weight room, and his hard work with hitting coach Jeff Pentland. People forget that Sosa was a power hitter even when he was a skinny beanpole. His problem then was that he swung at everything and insisted on trying to pull every pitch. Most of his power gains came when he learned to lay off breaking balls in the dirt and to keep his weight back with his little toe tap.
It was still a boneheaded move. Why does he even use a corked bat for batting practice when hitting against old men who can barely break 60mph? I hope he realizes his true fans could care less what he does in BP. I for one hope that he'll be man enough to shrug off the doubters, serve his suspension, and come back strong. While I'm still sad about the whole affair, I'm putting the miniature Sosa bobblehead back on my monitor.
P.S.: I just noticed that Neyer did a column on the Sosa corking incident today. I'm with him all the way. Coverage of the Sosa incident by the mainstream press (see the ignorant, grandstanding Rick Reilly or read any of the major newspaper columnists) points out just how mediocre the average sportswriter in America is.