I'll talk more about this in the off-season, with a series of posts about conventional wisdom in baseball. However, Joe Posnanski nicely summed up my feelings with his Sunday post about the Royals:
"I’ve often said that what frustrates me most about the Royals is their refusal to be unconventional in any way — and the Royals CANNOT WIN conventionally. They just can’t. It’s simple mathematics."
I need to learn more about Game Theory, since I have only a rudimentary understanding of something that may have great benefit on my leisurely pursuits. But Poz's statement falls in line with my limited understanding of a basic postulate - you can't beat someone by playing "their game" if they play it better than you or have more resources than you.
The biggest mistake that small-market teams make is playing by the book. When the Yankees spent $200 million every year, and the Royals spend $50 million a year, who is generally going to come out on top? Well, if the Royals approach the task of winning the exact same way that the Yankees do, they're going to get smoked in the long run.
But if the Royals take the Moneyball theory of exploiting market inefficiencies, and then expand the theory to include exploration of alterative means of roster contruction, player usage and in-game strategy, they put themselves in a position to win.
Oakland's failure to win a World Series in this decade was not a failure of Moneyball's central premise. The failure to expand its application beyond player acquisition is what has doomed the A's. (That and the small sample sizes created by a playoff series, of course.)
Oakland still has a fifth starter. They still have a closer. They still have seven relievers - some of whom are specialists. The manager, Bob Geren, still sacrifices on occasion. His lineups are constructed in ways that do not maximize the skills of the nine players in the lineup card. The general manager, Billy Beane, oversees an organization that stresses uniform pitch counts and innings-pitched limits. Pitchers with unique motions or batters with distinct stances are scrutinized and sometimes compelled to find more conventional styles.
It's not their fault - the A's are trying to do it by the book. So is every other team in baseball, even the ones who cannot win consistently while doing it. It's not just about payroll - it's about the lack of vision to see new ways of doing things and a lack of courage to step outside the box.
That, more than anything, is what keeps the Yankees and a few other teams consistently ahead of the pack. Those teams are richer, but they aren't any smarter. But as long as the rest of the league tilts at windmills and tries to play the game the exact same way as the big boys, they are going to fail.