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There are basically two schools of thought as to why about 100 Major Leaguers are still looking for jobs when 29 of the 30 teams have already begun Spring Training. The first is that baseball teams are owned by a cabal of weird evil skinflints who think nothing of asking municipalities for hundreds of millions of dollars for privately-owned pleasure palaces but refuse to pony up the same to actually try to win the games they stage in them. The other is that the people who own and run baseball teams are secret geniuses who aren’t going to get fooled into paying too much money on a Manny Machado, since paying too much money for Manny Machado counterintuitively makes it harder to win baseball games because then you can’t afford to pay any of the 24 guys Manny Machado plays with. This is how the team that won the World Series last year, and which could have essentially run the same nearly-historic roster out on the field this year, have decided that they can go without a bullpen.

Leaving aside that each and every baseball team owner has more than enough money to sign 25 Manny Machados without it even remotely impacting their life, and the fact that the two schools of thought laid out above are not mutually exclusive, the fact is we live in a world in which tanking while taking huge subsidies from the public coffers and receiving $50 million every year for simply existing is now called “process,” allowing fans of these teams to cheer losing many more games than they win over a period of many years in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle in one of those years. And this is all the fault of the quants, who have not only ruined investing and who are in the process of putting us all out of work, but who have also provided the intellectual underpinnings to make a virtue out of losing 100 games with a roster full of people you’ve never heard of.

To a quant, Harper and Machado are like, say, Netflix or Amazon or PayPal – great growth properties that should do well for years to come – but whose current price already builds in all those years of promised (but not wholly certain) future performance.

Baseball's quants are following along a similar path. Each player's statistical output is compressed into "wins above replacement" – a calculation of how many wins he accounted for, above a hypothetical marginal Major League prospect. Machado is near the top of FanGraphs' projection for 2019 in WAR at between 5 and 6 wins. That's a fabulous total, but also a target for a front office to try to approximate with other "portfolio components."

The nerds really have won: If this keeps up, we won’t even bother to have sports at all, because what’s the quantifiable value of playing games, anyway?

Machado and Harper haven’t signed because baseball teams are now run like Wall Street ‘quant funds’ [CNBC]


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Bookie Confessional, Early Baseball Edition

Mike is my best baseball client. He bets three or four grand a night, spread out over the whole card. He can't possibly win over time. Sadly, such golden geese occasionally shit on the lawn. That's what Mike did Friday, when he called and asked me to give him another bookie's number. Nobody in particular—just anybody's. He wanted a second place to bet. Basically he was sitting at his regular table and asking the Maitre d' where ELSE he should go to dinner. I told him to call me back Saturday. Well, I fumed awhile, then it came to me. Mike had rarely talked to Faithful Assistant. I summoned Faithful Assistant and told him his dreams were about to come true: he was opening his own shop, with exactly one disposable cell phone, and exactly one very good customer. Turns out that wasn't Faithful Assistant's dream. His dream involves some newly single woman with expensive tastes: the weasel told me that if he was going to play this charade it was going to cost me a full 15% of Mike's losses on both phone numbers. I was outraged and we started negotiating and by the time we were done 15% had become 20%. After making a mental note never to negotiate with Faithful Assistant again, I picked up the phone to hire the new book's collection agent. Melody, a good customer's wife, asked me for a job a couple months back. I offered and she accepted this part-time gig as an audition. Mike had his new place to play, Faithful Assistant was angling for a raise to 30%, and I set up a Monday meeting with Melody to tell her how all this would go down. Melody was a quick study. Faithful Assistant was her boss-and-contact and she was supposed to pass by Mike's office every Tuesday afternoon to pay or collect. She wanted to know what to do if Mike didn't have the money. She was disappointed to learn she should do nothing, just call us. I don't think she wanted to break his legs, but I think she wanted to give him a serious telling off, preferably in front of people. Too bad—that's not the way it works. It's a non-issue anyway: Mike pays. Turns out the 20% I'm paying Faithful Assistant is money well spent: he quickly put together that Mike is betting the same teams with both our places. That might be the stupidest piece of betting I've ever laid my eyes on. He calls one number, bets the Yanks, then calls the second number and bets the Yanks again. His second price is almost always worse—how much worse, well, it depends on how greedy we feel. There is no logic to this—he ought to put his whole bet in at the first place he calls, or better yet call both joints for prices and put the bet in at the shop with the better price. (Faithful Assistant is routinely varying prices on the Mike Phone by a penny or two anyway.) The only way Mike's current plan would make sense is if Mike was putting in maximum sized bets and needed to get down two max bets whatever the cost – but that's not happening: Mike's just putting down a few hundred at each place. Aspiring MBA-er Faithful Assistant says that Mike is trying to spread out his “credit risk," so that if one shop goes bust owing him money, he still has the other. Our shenanigans aside, that helps Mike little: If you think your bookie can't pay, don't spread out your risk—just stop calling him and find someone else you're actually comfortable with. It's a bookie joint, not a bank. So we were a little surprised about this but the final shock was Melody's. Melody showed up on Tuesday at Mike's office to pick up $600. She won't have to bother going downtown anymore: She knows “Mike” well: their kids are best friends since they've been neighbors for nine years.


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