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Thursday, June 05, 2003

My first link to a friend in the blogosphere - Adam Lipscomb's amusingly named A Violently Executed Plan. Adam is a surprisingly reasonable liberal, and a similarly dedicated baseball fan.
Quotation and Thought for the Day

Probably more germane before the war, but I do love it, so it's still worth posting.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
John Stuart Mill

Book Review: Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Moneyball might be the best book I've read this year. It's almost exactly what you'd expect from Michael Lewis - an extremely well-written story about a particularly compelling character, in a particuarlly interesting environment. Billy Beane comes off as a remarkable character - both a gifted GM and, more remarkably, someone with the self-confidence to build an organization that seeks out players who are different from himself, using principles that he (from what I can tell) doesn't fully understand. Indeed, the cornerstone of many of Oakland's decisions seems to be Billy Beane's faith, as Rob Neyer pointed out, that "If I'm smart enough to do the right thing today, I'll be smart enough to do the right thing tomorrow." That's a remarkable degree of intellectual self-confidence, if you're a fan of the man, or arrogance (or hubris) if you're not. So far, the results seem to argue for self-confidence, but the jury's still out on that one.

So it's a good book. I recommend it to every baseball fan, or, indeed, everybody who is just interested in a compelling, well-told story. It's personally particularly powerful for me, because I learned about baseball, and fell in love with it, from reading Rob Neyer's ESPN column. (Hi Rob!) So sabermetrics isn't just the best framework I have for thinking about baseball, it's almost the only one.

For all of that, there are three problems that I would identify with the book. The first two have already been described in a number of places, and it's a simple one - the real story of the Oakland A's success is not, in fact, the story of identifying OBP as the master statistic in baseball. That was what made the 1999 A's team a success, certainly. But the 2002 and, so far, the 2003 teams have been successful because of Mulder, Zito, and Hudson - and none of them hit. The real mystery of the Oakland A's success isn't how do they identify cheap but effective hitters because, first, they actually don't seem to be all that good at that and, second, because that's not why they win. They win because they were able to take three first round draft pick pitchers and turn them into effective starters. That's actually a more impressive achievement. Look at the Orioles. In the last few years in the first round of the draft alone they have selected:
Matt Riley
Beau Hale
Richard Stahl
Mike Paradis
and probably some others whom I am forgetting. What do all these guys have in common? Not one of them is likely to be an impact major league starter. Now the Orioles are a singularly incompetent organization - there probably aren't many teams that could go 0 for 4 with first round draft picks. But there's a big difference between 0 for 4 and 3 for 3, which is what Oakland seems to have done. My guess is that Oakland has a regimen of physical training, mechanical drills, and strict pitch counts. But I don't know that - it's just a guess, because that's what I would do in Rick Petersen's (the A's pitching coach) position. That's the first big story that Michael Lewis missed.

The second problem with the book is not a story he missed, so far as a story that's incomplete. Lewis makes a big deal over Beane's 2002 draft. Now, it's much too early to tell if that draft was a success or not. Five years from now, I might be writing a message saying that the 2002 draft was the key building block of Oakland's 2006-7 World Series Championships. But the early returns on that prospect aren't encouraging. As David Cameron wrote in Strikethree.com the only one of those fabled first round draft picks who is doing all that well at the moment is Nick Swisher - and he's the one whom the Oakland scouts would have picked anyways.

The third problem I have with the book is that it pretty much completely ignores what is, if I had to guess, Oakland's real secret weapon, which is a really good method for defensive analysis. Last year, Oakland's defensive efficiency rating by the end of the season was second in the Major Leagues (Defensive Efficiency is, roughly, the proportion of balls-in-play that a team converts into outs). This was an improvement of _eight spots_ over where they were in June. Thus, once Beane worked his magic in a mass trade, their defensive efficiency suddenly skyrocketed - as did their position in the standings. Coincidence? Maybe. But maybe not, too. Because this year, Oakland's defensive efficiency isn't just good, it's phenomenal - .7492. Second is Minnesota, at .7349. Last in the AL is Texas, at .6708 (makes you wonder how much of Texas's bad pitching is just poor defense, doesn't it?).

Michael Lewis's first book, Liar's Poker , was also phenomenally good, and I recommended it to all my friends. It told the story of Lewis's time at Salomon Brothers, and in particular how people at Salomon made a huge amount of money on mortgage trading. It told an important story. Lewis missed, however, the really big story at Salomon Brothers - which was the story of how the people who would eventually go on to found Long Term Capital Management were making money hand over fist there. It would be kind of ironic if the same sort of thing happened to him here - if he told a really good, big story, while missing the even better, even bigger story that was happening right under his nose.
What is this blog about?

Or, why have I decided to do this?

The short answer is - it seemed like fun. I've been a fairly active participant in an internet discussion group called Brin-L for quite a long time now. Many of my posts there, and certainly the topics they cover, seem to be fairly germane to warblogging, as it's now called. So it seemed like a worthwhile project to put them into blog form as well.

So what will I cover here? I don't really know, to be honest. Certainly, thoughts on politics. That's my primary non-work interest, so that's going to take up a fair amount of time. Quite a few book reviews, probably, since even with work I try to read as much as possible. Discussions of baseball - almost certainly. Plus anything else that comes up. As Harold Macmillan is said to have commented, "events, my dear boy, events" will probably drive this site. Perhaps the most important of those events will be my professional workload - a few weeks ago I broke 100 hours per week, so for weeks like that, I'm guessing that this blog will be relatively unattended.
Who am I?

I'm a 24 year old male resident of Manhattan. My parents are immigrants from India, while I was born in Washington, DC. I grew up in the DC suburbs, going to high school in the Montgomery Blair Math, Science, and Computer Science Magnet Program. I went to Harvard for college, where I studied political science, with a focus in international relations and security studies. After college I worked at the Kennedy School of Government as the Administrator of the US-Russian Investment Symposium, then as Program Coordinator of the Kommersant Program for Executive Education in Russia. After a bit more than a year at the Kennedy School, I left Cambridge to join a management consulting company. There I've worked on projects involving non-profits, wholesale banking, asset management, and pharmaceuticals.

Politically, I guess I'm generally a member of the center-right, but I think (if anyone ever reads this) that you will find that my views are not always predictable. I studied with Harvey Mansfield, but am not (exactly) one of the fabled Straussians or neocons you keep reading about. I wrote a senior thesis on status competition in international relations that paralleled many of the findings of hegemonic stability theory - if that means anything to you, then, well, you, like me, have probably spent too much time in political science classrooms. At some point I'll get around to publishing that on this site, and that will give anyone brave enough to read it a fairly detailed picture of how I think the world of international politics works.
Welcome to Mukunda's Musings. I've been an eager reader of blogs for a long time now - I think I started reading Kausfiles as soon as Mickey Kaus started publishing it - and decided that I might as well get in on the action a little bit. This blog is actually something of an experiment, basically an attempt to answer the question of, given the demands of my job, can I still keep up something like this? I guess we'll find out with time.

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