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Pittsburgh sports talk with the Trib columnist

Wakeup Call: How ‘Moneyball’ was hijacked by extremists

Some sporting thoughts before sunrise …

>> Neal Huntington never has considered himself a “Moneyball” guy, as columnist Joe Starkey reminds this morning. That’s one of  many reasons why I’ve long found it peculiar that those who who worship at that particular altar have attached themselves to him as if we were one with the group.

Huntington uses stats, and he even hired Dan Fox, a numbers-cruncher from Baseball Prospectus, and had pitching coach Joe Kerrigan prioritizing data over teaching. But he’s always been deeply into the scouting aspect, up to and including having strong faith in the late Chuck Tanner and Bill Lajoie, as well as the rest of his no-tuck, Hawaiian-shirt wearing special assistants.

I loved “Moneyball,” and I have done extensive reading on baseball metrics, applying them regularly to my stories. Just did it again earlier this week with that piece on the Pirates’ defense. But where I find clear separation between me and the disciples is that I don’t respond in a Pavlovian way to everything I see in a game that doesn’t follow the book’s preachings.

There really is value in having a steady closer for the ninth inning.

There really are hitters who rise to the occasion, though I believe more strongly in the absence of clutch than the presence of it. (Another argument for another day.)

There really are managers who make a difference, unlike the way Art Howe is portrayed as a jaw-jutting clod in the book. Strategies do matter. And sometimes the best strategies are instinctual.

There really is a way to tell that Hunter Pence, Derek Jeter and Freddy Sanchez are very good baseball players, even if a single iconic stat might not match the “Moneyball” pretexts.

There really exists no good way — yet — to gauge defense numerically. That gets proven year after year after year. And it will remain that way until player positioning and the velocity and angle of hits can be fully measured. And that’s not just me talking. Huntington and I agree on this.

What kills me the most, though, is that group’s blatant misuse of the term “objective” to describe their approach. It’s anything but. Look up “objective” in the dictionary, and it stresses having an open mind. I happen to believe that was among the original motives behind “Moneyball,” to take in all information and use it to assess. But some have used the term as a synonym for statistics. That’s as subjective as it gets. It’s creating a polar opposite to scouting, which was not what the A’s did.

If you want to be objective, try listening to all sides.

>> I have one thing to offer yesterday’s game: Heap it on, man.

>> We will have our weekly chat today at noon. You can begin submitting entries at 6 a.m. Or, if you’re one of the extremists described above, you can begin hurling some objective invectives my way at 6 a.m.

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