Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

moneyball the art of winning an unfair game

Coupled with the handful of recognizable players scattered through the book, I had a good time with this one. I also remember seeing the film a few years ago; gotta watch it again. It’s not nearly as accurate to the book as it should be, but that’s an adaptation for you. What follows is a book that can basically be summed up, as the author puts it, “when reason collides with baseball”.

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Another interesting story was that of A’s first baseman Scott Hatteberg. Hatte had been a catcher for the Boston Red Sox, but after suffering nerve damage in his elbow, he could never catch again. Beane and DePodesta saw in him the potential to be a good hitter and trained him to play first base. One of my favorite chapters in the book was about Hatte and how thoughtful he was about his hitting. In a great scene, he’s in the team’s video room watching footage of pitcher Jamie Moyer, who Hatte will be facing later that day. Moyer was a tough pitcher and Hatte was trying to figure out a strategy.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game – Michael Lewis

Or more narrowly, discussing the general manager (i.e., the person responsible for hiring and firing players and coaches) who doesn’t have enough money to hire top-ranked talent. Zooming in even further, how this manager realized he could never win using the traditional tools of the trade, so he cobbled together a new toolset and changed the game forever. The story follows the Oakland A’s during the 2002 baseball season, which was when their general manager, Billy Beane, was following a different set of principles for assembling a team than the majority of the league. 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. This was critical because the Oakland A’s had very little money — back then their payroll was about $40 million, compared to the New York Yankees payroll of $126 million. The stats Beane and DePodesta were most interested in were a player’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

The existence of the save statistic seems to have altered the way teams use their relief pitchers. Statistics can do a lot better than intuitions; and relevant statistics can do a lot better than irrelevant ones, which tend to take on lives of their own. Lewis has strong opinions about the effectiveness of past methods, and makes no bones about criticizing scouts, managers, general managers, and pretty much anyone that disagrees with him.

Before sabermetrics was introduced to baseball, teams were dependent on the skills of their scouts to find and evaluate players. Scouts are experienced in the sport, usually having been players or coaches. The book argues that the Oakland A’s’ front office took advantage of more analytical gauges of player performance to field a team that could outsmart and better compete against richer competitors in Major League Baseball . My apologies to anyone to whom I have spouted this story – it is not true. It is still probable though, when the next radical Billy Beane comes along in sports.


As Beane himself admits, his tactics are great for the regular season, but don’t mean squat in the playoffs. You think you have all the time in the world to get things done, and then suddenly you don’t. I have tried to read Lewis’ other books but did not got get into them because they are about money, not baseball.

  • It takes time for a profession to discover what works and what does not; my own current profession of software development has certainly not sorted this out yet.
  • His team might like this trade-off, but if it lowered his value to other teams, then the player might suffer in the free-agent market.
  • This is one of the best baseball books I’ve read in a long time.
  • 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.
  • It is easy to see how his failures as a player made him eager to find a better rubric for evaluating talent.
  • When I check other sources for cross reference, some things don’t developed as in fairy tales that I imagine after reading this book.

You do not need a Harvard economics graduate to realize that “a walk is as good as a hit,” an expression that was around well before James started writing. Beane’s key insight was exactly that this market was inefficient and could therefore be exploited. Now that Beane has succeeded, it is likely that the market for baseball-player talent will get more competitive.

As the season opened, the Oakland A’s lost every single game they played for the first two weeks. In no field, not science and not warfare and certainly not economics, is this testing more rigorous than in professional sports. Every other expert in the field may disagree with you, and yet your strategy and theirs, when matched against each other in full public view, may declare yours the winner. Beane and the A’s have not won a World Series since the publication of Moneyball.

On base percentage plus slugging has upstaged the traditional measurements of RBIs, runs scored, and batting average. Whereas many general managers listened to their scouts’ advice, they would often judge a player not by their playing ability, but by a set of factors; speed, hitting, fielding–and even by their body type, appearance and mannerisms. But, to Billy Beane and Paul Depodesta, one really counts is the data-based evidenced that a player could get himself on base, which is highly correlated with the number of runs scored. And, since the team was starved for cash, Billy Beane often resorted to wily negotiations with the general managers of other teams. He could not express his interest in another team’s player too openly, because that would tip off others about the high value he placed on that player.

Essentially, Lewis tells the story of a new way of thinking about baseball. Small wonder, then, that from time to time people come across evidence that their model is wrong. Even in fields such as war which have been analyzed from time immemorial, by people whose life depended on it, new things are discovered.


Actor Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, while Jonah Hill plays fictional character Peter Brand, based on Paul DePodesta; Philip Seymour Hoffman plays A’s manager Art Howe. Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian was hired to write the script, and Steven Soderbergh was slated to direct, replacing David Frankel. But in June 2009, because of conflicts over a revised script by Soderbergh, Sony put the movie on hold just days before it was scheduled to begin shooting. David Haglund of Slate and Jonah Keri of Grantland have both criticized the book for glossing over key young talent acquired through the draft and signed internationally. In 2002, Barry Zito received the AL Cy Young Award and Miguel Tejada received the AL MVP Award.

Nick Swisher, the prospect the traditional scouts and statisticians agreed upon.

Average for the last 12 months

This can, at times, be grating, as the former regime has certainly had successes in developing star players. Of course, most of this work occurred prior to the computing age, so they did not have the same tools, and, therefore, it is not a level playing field by which to judge. I did not see the need to come down so hard on some individuals, who are hard-working baseball people with good intentions. Really enjoyed this, partly because reading a baseball book in October when your team is in the playoffs gives you a great high and partly because I was surprisingly and honestly fascinated by the science of sabermetrics. Science and math have never been my strong points, but like Jurassic Park or The Martian, I was nevertheless intrigued.

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The point is that Beane’s deprecation of defense now seems rather shortsighted for a value-oriented GM. Many of the players mentioned in the book as Beane favorites never quite panned out . This isn’t to say that Beane was wrong in the premises, only that the game of baseball will always remain unfair. Finally, there is the impact of the media and the fans. When James was hired by the Red Sox last winter, there was great anticipation about how the team would deal with relief pitchers. The rational strategy of using pitchers to maximize the chance of winning the game was quickly dubbed “bullpen by committee” by Boston sportswriters, who knew that this was a terrible idea.

The author has challenged America’s Pastime with the modern world. He is a master at finding, explaining and making interesting the way technology and mathematics wrenches us into this current, new world. He has an “Afterword” in the edition I read which was laugh inducing and quite fun. According to Lewis, people like Beane—idea people, outliers with highly innovative new ways of doing things—must fight their way past almost-unstoppable barriers of ignorance, anti-intellectalism, and traditionalism. For every Beane, Steve Jobs, or Bernie Sanders, there are countless millions who may have had revolutionary ways of changing health care, education, the economy, the environment, etc. who simply gave up trying. Beneath all the baseball and the economic theory, though, Lewis is telling another story about the American people, one that isn’t very pretty.

It’s interesting to read it now, in light of all that has transpired. When the book first came out, it angered a lot of people in Major League Baseball. There are, it seems, a lot of innumerate luddites in the baseball world who couldn’t stand the way Beane viewed their game. I mean, you got a guy like Dusty Baker – a freaking manager – who doesn’t like walks because they “clog up the bases.” This kind of wrongheaded institutionalized dogma makes it difficult for fresh views to gain traction. The popularity of Moneyball helped bring the stat geeks into the mainstream.

Youkilis was drafted in 2001 by the Boston Red Sox and heavily desired by Beane, who tried to snare him via a failed three-team trade discussed in the book. The Oakland Athletics had the third-lowest team payroll in the league (about $40 million) marginally higher than that of the Montreal Expos, whose franchise was transferred to the Washington Nationals in 2005. Richard H. Thaler teaches at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and is the author of The Winner’s Curse . Cass R. Sunstein teaches at the University of Chicago Law School. His new book, Why Societies Need Dissent, will be published by Harvard University Press this fall.

For over a century now, people have been recording what happened, analyzing it, and debating it. In this sense, baseball was uniquely prepared for someone such as Billy Beane to disrupt it, by mining the data of all that history instead of relying on whether a scout liked the young fellow’s physique (“we’re not selling blue jeans here,” he liked to say). I am not a professional baseball fan although I enjoy reading some Japanese high school baseball manga. Pardon my approach, I read this book as if I read a fantasy novel where I don’t know the setting or magic system of the story.

I love his writing style — he is able to explain complex and insider ideas to a layperson, and he makes it interesting. That skill is as valuable to a reporter as a baseball player’s on-base percentage was to the Oakland Athletics. As such, he tends to find idiosyncratic characters upon which to hang his story. He ia a former ballplayer, a highly touted 5-tool athlete who became a high draft pick and a major bust. It is easy to see how his failures as a player made him eager to find a better rubric for evaluating talent.

That man is Billy Beane, the general manager of the small market Oakland Athletics. In 2002, the A’s were coming off a tremendously successful season in which they’d won 102 games. After the season, however, they lost three key free agents, including all-around masher (and later-admitted PED user) Jason moneyball the art of winning an unfair game Giambi. Beane wanted to replicate his team’s success, but he had to do it on a shoestring budget. I can’t speak for others, but I don’t watch baseball games in order to watch hitters work deep into the count, draw a walk, camp out on the bases until somebody gets an extra-base hit to drive them home.

Even the box score misleads us by ignoring the crucial importance of the humble base-on-balls. This information had been around for years, and nobody inside Major League Baseball paid it any mind. And then came Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics. With the second-lowest payroll in baseball at his disposal he had to?

We finally consider the problem of assembling a team within constraints ahead of the 2015 season and produce optimal hypothetical solutions. He did it largely by ignoring or defying baseball’s conventional wisdom, otherwise known in baseball lingo as The Book. (As in, “The Book says that you should bunt in this situation.”) It turns out that many chapters of The Book are simply wrong. Sacrifice bunts are rarely a good strategy, and steals are vastly overrated. Here he tried to figure out, scientifically, how much a player was likely to contribute to his team’s chances.

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