Who’s on First: A Review of Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” University of Chicago Law School

moneyball the art of winning an unfair game
moneyball the art of winning an unfair game

It is the story of how an intellectual orthodoxy can resist change for years , and then can be shaken and overthrown by events. Moneyball is a book that shook the world of professional baseball, but not necessarily in the way it should have. Innovators are rarely https://forexarena.net/ appreciated by the people they work with, and Billy Beane was no exception. Lewis, an author given to hagiography, here produces a much more complex portrait of an inspiring figure, and in so doing has written the best book about competition I’ve ever read.

  • Beane and his assistant, Paul DePodesta, were applying sabermetrics, which meant they were looking for players with certain qualities that the rest of the league had undervalued.
  • Eventually James punctured countless myths about what was important to winning in baseball.
  • Michael Lewis is a great business writer who gets the “story” out of successful or unique industries.
  • This meant that, for example, the New York Yankees could spend several times the money that the Oakland A’s could, on getting the best players.
  • What these numbers prove is that the traditional yardsticks of success for players and teams are fatally flawed.
  • They don’t have enough money to buy the big name players and yet they keep winning.

They were players too green for any other team to consider playing them. Beane assembled a list of twenty players they would draft in a “perfect world”; meaning if money was no object and they did not have to compete with the other twenty-nine teams. Moneyball traces the history of the sabermetric movement back to such people as Bill James and Craig R. Wright. Lewis explores how James’s seminal Baseball Abstract, published annually from the late 1970s through the late 1980s, influenced many of the young, up-and-coming baseball minds that are now joining the ranks of baseball management. The team that Beane/DePodesta picked looked, on the face of it, like a nightmare of rookies, has-beens, and never-wases. At one point, someone referred to the 2002 Oakland A’s roster as “the island of misfit toys”, and to most people it was an appropriate moniker.

Maybe I will try again because Lewis writes in a manner that makes his subject accessible to all readers. Even the Mets hit 177 home runs for 9th in the league. They did win the pennant, but still fell short of winning a world championship. To my eye, they are a more complete offensive ballclub than Houston or Toronto and will be contenders again this year, but not because they hit a lot of home runs.

The Royals have speedy wheels and frequently turn bunts into base hits, which would probably keep them from finding themselves subjugated to a Billy Beane lecture. Some enlightened firms are already taking steps along these lines. Baseball is not the only realm for which The Book is in need of revision. Lewis has a wonderful story to tell, and he tells it wonderfully. His account of Beane’s success is punctuated by descriptions of numerous colorful characters, among them a promising fat catcher dumbfounded by Beane’s interest in him, an excellent pitcher whose fastball is extremely slow, and of course Beane himself. Lewis also raises some serious puzzles that he does not resolve, and his account has some large and perhaps profound implications that he does not much explore.

I don’t watch much baseball anymore, but as a youth I did watch many St. Louis Cardinals games with my dad, and enjoyed it. The game has a pace slow enough to encourage discussion, debate, and even prediction. There is enough time for those watching the game to guess what is happening, or what should happen, and enough of a pause afterwards to discuss it before the next play begins. You don’t just have time to say “Yay!” or “Oh no!”; you also have time to say “Why didn’t he…?” It’s not as if it is a purely intellectual exercise, but more than many sports it is tailored well for intellectual analysis.

Scouts, management, and journalists

Today, advanced statistics are the norm, and even casual baseball articles make reference to wins above replacement , weighted on-base average , and fielding-independent pitching . James had pored over box scores and started seriously questioning the traditional ways of measuring the performance of players with his initially self-published digests that eventually became must reads for hardcore baseball nerdlingers. As the digital age made mountains of baseball stats available on-line, fans with a mathematical frame of mind (And there are a lot of them.) started coming up with ways of looking at the data that called the old ways of evaluating players into question.

It answers the question of how a team with one of the lowest payrolls is capable of winning and keep winning year after year. Stats master Bill James devised the term “sabermetrics” in 1980 to describe the analytical work he and other members of the Society for American Baseball Research were doing, but author Michael Lewis introduced it to the general public. The story is narrow in scope, discussing a baseball team.

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To conduct an astonishing experiment in finding and fielding a team that nobody else wanted. Eventually James punctured countless myths about what was important to winning in baseball. He devised a formula to measure “runs created”–a formula that predicted, from just a few aspects of a player’s performance, how many runs he would produce for an average team. It suggested that professional baseball experts, those who ran the teams, were placing far too much emphasis on batting averages and stolen bases, and far too little on walks and extra base hits. After a slow start, James was widely read; his books became best-sellers, and he became a kind of cult figure among certain baseball fans. But baseball’s experts and executives treated James’s work as irrelevant.

Lewis explores the A’s approach to the 2002 MLB draft, when the team had a run of early picks. The book documents Beane’s often tense discussions with his scouting staff in preparation for the draft to the actual draft, which defied all expectations and was considered at the time a wildly successful effort by Beane. What these numbers prove is that the traditional yardsticks of success for players and teams are fatally flawed.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Paperback)

In 2015, they improved to 139 home runs, but were still 24th in the league. Their opponent in the playoffs in 2015, the Toronto Blue Jays, were 1st in all of major league baseball with 232 home runs. Their other opponent, the Houston Astros, hit 230 home runs and were second in the league for home runs. The central premise of Moneyball is that the collective wisdom of baseball insiders over the past century is outdated, subjective, and often flawed. Statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th-century view of the game and the statistics available at that time.

moneyball the art of winning an unfair game

And with a few exceptions, the tried-but-not-so-true baseball statistics such as batting average and RBIs remain the only ones reported. The principal motivation for this unorthodoxy, was that he was manager for a team, the Oakland A’s, which had far less money than its competitors. Unlike many other professional sports leagues, professional baseball teams each were free to spend as much as they wanted on player salaries. This meant that, for example, the New York Yankees could spend several times the money that the Oakland A’s could, on getting the best players. It was as if they were competing in a pole vault in which different players were able to use poles of different lengths, depending on how much pole length they could afford. Because he was never going to be able to outbid the richer teams for the players which those rich teams wanted, Billy Beane was forced to find ways to get players which the rich teams didn’t want, that were nonetheless just as good at winning games.

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I found this book extremely interesting, especially since I didn’t read it until eight years after it came out, meaning I knew how all the draft picks and other players mentioned in the book panned out . Only my rule of always reading the book before seeing the movie prompted me pick it up now, a decision I don’t regret. In fact, this book makes me wonder what other great baseball writing I may be missing. While Lewis’s book may seem like it might be a dry look at numbers that won’t interest anyone other than people who are die-hard baseball fans, it is anything but dry.

Moneyball was published in 2003, only a year after John Henry bought the Boston Red Sox. Before that time, very few people in baseball had ever heard the term sabermetrics, never mind tried to implement it into a strategy for drafting and trading players—very few people, that is, besides Billy Beane. What’s fascinating about Beane is how much he had to struggle against the tide in order to apply the statistical approach of sabermetrics to his managing of the Oakland Athletics. Of course, given the payroll of the A’s in the early 2000s one might argue that he had no choice. But still, he was the first general manager in baseball to attempt it, so his story is unique. Beane’s approach was to find undervalued players with a knack for getting on base.

When I check other sources for cross reference, some things don’t developed as in fairy tales that I imagine after reading this book. The A’s experiment worked and the team had a historical 20-game winning streak and made it to the playoffs. By now, the A’s analytical tactics have widely been adopted by Major League Baseball, but back in 2002, the strategy was mocked by almost everyone inside the league.

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I’ve never read a Michael Lewis book before, but I might consider reading more now. He has a simple, clean style that is really efficient at getting his story across, and he has an instinct for the best way to use his material. Beane, however, did not create the sabermetric movement.

The strategy utilized by Beane and his proponents may produce a more efficient style of baseball, about that I am in no position to quibble. It may be the only way that a small market team like the Oakland A’s can compete with the deep pockets of the New York Yankees and other large market teams (the ‘unfair game’ mentioned in the book’s subtitle). It’s a great book not just for sports fans, but for anyone who likes stories about people trying to shake up an established way of doing things. And if you’re a math geek or have a thing for hard nosed business deals, there’s a lot to like here. By framing the story in terms of the people involved, Lewis keeps it relatable in human terms and not just a dry recitation of on base percentages. He asked for a job in the As front office, and that began an odyssey in search of those players who were ”ballplayers”, not pretty head cases, not players that hit home runs and created RBIs, but players that could control the strike zone.

Details about  Moneyball : The Art of Winning an Unfair Game – Michael Lewis (2004, Paperback)

These observations often flew in the face of conventional baseball wisdom and the beliefs of many baseball scouts and executives. “Anti-intellectual resentment is common in all of American life and it has many diverse expressions. Refusing to draft college players might have been one of them.

Collins looked into the player’s eyes and saw what he wanted to see. Harvey had pitched brilliantly, but statistically, that bad word that Collins doesn’t like. When you look at the Royals, they get to pitchers late. The Royals got to Harvey and knocked him out of the game, which left a mess for Jeurys Familia to come into the game to try and save. Scott Kazmir – cited as an example of teams’ – in this case the New York Mets – foolishness in drafting high school pitchers because of the difficulty in projecting their future, as opposed to college players. I have been watching, playing, and reading baseball for 50 years, and this is the one book I’ve read that made me really rethink the way I look at the game.

He certainly has the last laugh because literally every baseball team uses analytics today and those insiders who jeered Beane should be embarrassed and ashamed. I particularly enjoyed the in-depth stories of the various players that the Oakland A’s recruited that literally no one else wanted. They were told they would never make it in baseball for one reason or other, and they probably never would have if it wasn’t for the A’s relentless pursuit of a way to win within their budgetary constraints. Overall, I really enjoyed Moneyball, and I’m glad I read it. Even though it’s focused on the emergence of new baseball-thinking, Moneyball seems much more comprehensive, and much more narrative than I expected.

This is because it would render their years of accumulated knowledge suddenly less valuable. In many fields, this resistance is enough to prevent any change to the orthodoxy, whereas in others, moneyball the art of winning an unfair game there is some objective method of determining whose mental model is most correct. I admit the author could delivery the story in interesting way, sometimes I forget this is a non fiction book.

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