Will DePodesta Bring “Moneyball” To La-La Land?

By Jill Painter
February 17, 2004

LOS ANGELES–The Los Angeles Dodgers hired 31-year-old Paul DePodesta–and by association the philosophy of his former employer, the Oakland A’s–to be their new general manager on Monday.

The question is, how much of the “Moneyball” approach will DePodesta bring to the organization, and will it work in L.A.?

DePodesta, who spent the last five years as an assistant general manager in Oakland, was groomed by Billy Beane, who was the inspiration behind the book “Moneyball”. The book chronicled Beane’s success with a limited budget, and DePodesta was a prominent part of the book.

DePodesta wouldn’t commit to any certain operating philosophy at his press conference at Dodger Stadium.

When asked if “Moneyball” accurately portrayed him, DePodesta said: “It comes across as relatively black and white, and yet the (subtitle) of the book is the art of winning an unfair game. There’s an art to it. It isn’t science. These are human beings. Computers or statistics don’t play the game. There’s definitely an art to it.”

Beane’s approach has included an increased emphasis on statistics–with on-base percentage and slugging percentage a priority. There’s less of an importance on traditional scouting, and puts a premium on drafting college players.

DePodesta is in a markedly different situation. The A’s had a $56 million payroll last year. New Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has said the 2004 payroll would be about $100 million.

Jim Tracy was informed Monday morning that he’d remain the team’s manager, but the status of many in the organization, including assistant general manager Kim Ng, scouting director Logan White and president Bob Graziano, among others, is uncertain.

When Beane nearly accepted the Red Sox’ GM job last offseason, DePodesta was slated to be his replacement in Oakland. On Monday, DePodesta said he would’ve made David Forst his assistant general manager in Oakland had Beane left. If changes are made, Forst could join the Dodgers front-office staff.

DePodesta must hire a farm director as the Dodgers never hired anyone to replace Bill Bavasi, who left to become the Mariners’ GM.

The A’s and Dodgers have radically different views on scouting amateur players. Under White the last two years, the earliest the Dodgers have drafted a college player is in the seventh round (David Bagley, 2002, San Diego). Baseball America has ranked the Dodgers’ farm system second in the game on the strength of high school products such as pitchers Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller, both drafted by White.

Whatever approach DePodesta takes, he said the routine would start in the minor league system so players already would be familiar with it by the time they reached the majors.

DePodesta, a Harvard graduate regarded as one of the most brilliant young minds in baseball, said his best attribute is having an open mind.

He’ll have his work cut out for him; the Dodgers had the best pitching staff in baseball in 2003 but the worst offense, scoring just 574 runs. The Dodgers were unable to trade for any marquee players in the offseason because of the ownership change–the sale just closed on Friday–but DePodesta said he has the “mandate and resources to be as aggressive as I can.”

DePodesta replaces Dan Evans, who was unwilling to trade any of the Dodgers’ top prospects. Evans inherited a depleted farm system when he took over in 2001, but the system is in good shape with plenty of prospects. DePodesta isn’t opposed to trading prospects.

Time will tell just how much “Moneyball” will be infused into the Dodgers, a team that hasn’t gone to the playoffs since 1996 and hasn’t won a playoff game since the last of its six World Series championships in 1988.

“What we’ll try to do here is take everything into account when we make a decision,” DePodesta said. “I don’t think it’s as black and white to say we’re only going to rely on statistics or only going to rely on scouting reports. I think they all have their place, and I think they’re all important parts of the decision-making process.”