Monday, March 9, 2009

MONEYBALL by Michael Lewis

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a 2003 baseball book by Michael Lewis about the Oakland Athletics and general manager Billy Beane. Conventional baseball wisdom is flawed, Lewis says, and many coaches and scouts focus on the wrong statistics. The Oakland A’s, because of severe budget restrictions, sought to find objective ways (like sabermetrics) to evaluate players. In doing so, the A’s were able to find players who were undervalued in the market, which led to a very successful run with a relatively low payroll in the early 2000’s.

Lewis also explores the life and career of Beane, who was a very talented baseball prospect who never panned out as a player because of confidence issues. Lewis also includes lengthy sections on Bill James, the founder of sabermetrics, catcher/first baseman Scott Hatteberg, and pitcher Chad Bradford. Lewis follows, loosely, the A’s’ 2002 season.

Objectively, on-base percentage is typically considered the most important single statistic. The A’s strategy, though, goes beyond finding high-OBP players – they want any player with any quality that the market undervalues (this also explains why they haven’t been very good in recent years and why they don’t have many good OBP guys).

One of Lewis’s themes is how resistant Major League Baseball has been to Beane’s ideas – they took several years to catch on, and there are still many who oppose them. Several of Beane’s underlings (and other Beane disciples) have become general managers recently, but there is still an appalling ignorance among commentators (which is hardly surprising), coaches, and scouts.

Lewis, as in his other works, tends to ramble from time to time (he also likes to throw in the big word here and there seemingly for its own sake). Many sections are longer than they need to be, and become tedious; others are marginally interesting but have little to do with his topics. But Lewis also does a good job portraying the personalities of his characters, and as such, Moneyball is immersive.

Moneyball is important to the history of baseball – it, more than anything else, brought objective statistical analysis of baseball players into the mainstream. Any fan of baseball should find this interesting.