Jeff Ma is a former member of the MIT blackjack team immortalized in Ben Mezrich's book, "Bringing Down the House," and Palgrave Macmillan has just published Jeff's book, "The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business."
Rob: Before we get into your new book, can you tell us a little bit about growing up a Red Sox fan?
Jeff: I was a huge Red Sox fan growing up and I definitely died a little in 1986 when the whole Mets debacle happened. I was actually a huge Jim Rice fan which caused internal conflict as I became more sabermetrically inclined and his Hall of Fame worthiness was debated. I also liked Marty Barrett as he seemed like the type of guy who made the most with his talent. It's funny, my love for them was definitely at its height when they were at their worst.
I moved from Boston to San Francisco right before the 2004 season, and at the time I joked that they would win the World Series the year I moved away. Their victory that year was a little bittersweet as I had 16 tickets to Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, but didn't get to use them since they swept the Cardinals.
Rob: Late in the book, you search for a successful pitcher who goes strictly by the gut, and talk to a couple of completely different pitchers. What did they tell you?
Jeff: I interviewed Craig Breslow and David Price. Since they were so obviously different from a talent and physical ability perspective, I thought it would be interesting to compare the way they make decisions on the mound. Surprisingly their processes were remarkably similar and both used a ton of data to make their decisions.
The funniest moment from those interviews was when I asked Price for an example of his best data-driven pitch: The pitch he threw that he knew would work because of all the data backing it up. He laughed, saying that the outside fastball he struck out J.D. Drew with to end the 2008 ALCS was his shining moment. He knows I'm a big Red Sox fan.
Rob: Breslow's been a solid find for the A's. But for a team that seems to go to great lengths to play the odds, doesn't it seem odd that the A's are working on their fourth straight sub-.500 season? And I know you must follow the A's at least casually ... Any idea why they've made so little progress these last few seasons?
Jeff: It's hard to find the method in Billy's madness. At first I thought he was planning for the future, hoping that in a few years when they opened their new park all of their young players would be peaking. Obviously, now that isn't as clear. They definitely had to rebuild after losing the Big Three but it seems to be taking a bit longer than you would expect. Clearly Billy sees an inefficiency between the value of veterans during the offseason and their value at the trade deadline, so it will be interesting to see what he does with Ben Sheets.
He certainly has collected some great young talent. Now it's just a matter of patience. For Billy and us A's fans.