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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Moneyball and Conventional Wisdom: Or, Why Mitch Ravizza Deserves to Play College Football

My son has recently attended several baseball prospect camps, which are typically hosted by colleges looking for potential prospects. The coaches put the players through the usual paces: batting, fielding, throwing, pitching, and running the 40-yard dash. As I watched some of the boys run, I couldn't help be reminded of how coaches and scouts often get so hung up on players' raw skills that they sometimes can't see the forest through the trees. Sometimes speed becomes more important than whether someone can actually play the game. To be sure, speed is important, but it doesn't make a baseball player. There have been plenty of great ballplayers over the years who have looked like they were pulling a piano when they were running down to first base. For me, this hangup on speed worked to my advantage since I ran rather well, but when I was in pro ball, I played with guys who could run like the wind but couldn't hit their way out of a paper bag.

And this brings me to a story told about Billy Beane by Michael Lewis in the first chapter of Moneyball. In 1980 a handful of professional baseball scouts attended a workout that included Billy Beane and four other prospects (one of whom, Garry Harris, I played with later that summer after we were both drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays). They ran, hit, threw at the behest of the scouts, and of the five, Billy was considered to be the best. He could throw harder, run faster, and hit farther than any of the other four. He was seen as being almost a sure thing, a can't miss prospect.

Except, he wasn't. Beane had all the tools, but he couldn't put them all together in order to be the superstar almost everyone thought he should be. And that is what led Beane to realize that there's more to being a great player than having all the right tools. In fact, Beane realized that were a lot of players who'd had successful careers but lacked the requisite skills that many of the so-called experts thought necessary in order to someone to succeed in professional baseball.

And, in many ways, that's what Moneyball is all about. As the general manager for the Oakland A's where he had to work with an extremely limited budget, Beane often ignored the expert opinion of his scouts and sought out players who didn't have great arms or could run fast or were great infielders, but were real good at either generating runs (i.e., position players) or keeping the opposition from getting on base (i.e., pitchers). The chapters on Scott Hatteberg (Chapter 8 -- "Scott Hatteberg, Pickin' Machine") and Chad Bradford (Chapter 10 -- "Anatomy of an Undervalued Pitcher") are especially illuminating in this regard (I plan to return to them in a later post).

An this brings me to Mitch Ravizza, a local high school quarterback who has been nothing short of amazing in his years as the starting quarterback for the Willow Glen Rams (see YouTube video below). He was named to the first team All-CCS (Central Coast Section) football team two years in a row. But in spite of his accomplishments, Mitch has hardly been recruited to play college football. I suspect it's because  they don't think he's tall enough to see and throw over defensive linemen at the college level. It certainly can't be anything else. He can run like a deer and throw the football a country mile.

If my memory serves me right, the experts thought Joe Montana wasn't tall enough to see or throw over defensive linemen at the professional level -- we all know how well that prognostication turned out to be! Which is why I think this is one of those times when the conventional wisdom needs to be ignored. Ravizza deserves to play college football. He's that good. I hope some college coach takes a flyer on him. I'm almost certain he won't be disappointed.

Full Disclosure: Four years ago I coached Mitch when he played for my Little League Juniors (13-14 year-old) baseball team.


  1. I agree. I've seen alot of great high school quarterbacks and i can say mitch was the best of all .Accuracy speed vision, great decision making.Its ashame that he didnt even get the chance to prove himself. Well, their loss

  2. Mitch is now playing baseball for San Jose State.