09 May 2011

Billy Heywood: The Big Screen's First SABR Manager?

Earl Weaver is generally considered to be the original sabermetrically inclined manager. While he may not have had any fancy names for his brand of managing, when looking back today at his managerial style, he fits snugly within the realm of sabermetrics.

In fact, that is one of the fun things to do with sabremetrics in general... to go back and reassess what we thought we knew and see if those perceptions hold up. Sometimes players we thought were great turn out to be... well still great. Some players are shown to not quite live up to their formidable reputations while others prove to have been more valuable than they were perceived at the time.

But why stop there? If perception is reality, then why not explore further? Out of all the sports, baseball seems to translate the best onto the big screen. Inspired by Larry Granillo, who discovered which real life game Ferris Bueller attended, I decided to explore the realm of cinema as well.

The movie I have selected is the 1994 classic, Little Big League. The story revolves around an 11 year old boy who lives, eats and breathes baseball. When the young boy inherits the Minnesota Twins he, in a move befitting of Ted Turner, names himself manager. However, before he can take that role he has to convince the baseball people in his organization that this isn't just a publicity stunt and that he has legitimate knowledge of the game. (Watch clip from 6:10 to 8:35)

As you can see young Billy Heywood takes on baseball's conventional wisdom and successfully explains why bunting can be a bad idea. Is it possible this movie, that came out several years before Moneyball took hold in Oakland, was ahead of its time?

Well maybe. Billy Heyward does stray some from traditional sabermetric principles. While at no point does he appear to employ a straight steal, he does take advantage of hit and runs. It would take more research and information about the context of these plays to truly determine their saber-worthiness. Likewise, there is no evidence he actually uses statistics to back his decisions (although the announcer comically uses overly detailed trivial statistics throughout the movie).

However, he seems for the most part to use sound logic and looks at the matchups when making decisions. And that's really what sabermetrics is all about: using sound statistics and appropriate data to objectively evaluate the game of baseball. Looks to me he has all the makings of a sabermetric manager when he someday makes his return to big league managing. Plus, he gets into one helluva spat with an umpire that would make even Earl Weaver proud.

Image credit: Wikipedia

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

fantastic analysis

my favorite part of that movie is the ridiculous stats