Review: “Moneyball”

Posted: September 6, 2014 in Book Reviews
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Book Review
Book: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
Moneyball is a fascinating read for business and sports enthusiasts.  It highlights the importance of quantitative-based management techniques and teaches leaders to question assumptions.  General Manager Billy Beane’s short fuse and shrewd drafting decisions make for a gripping story.  And who better to tell that story than Michael Lewis?

The Reader’s Digest Version: How Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s used statistical predictions to draft better baseball players than the richest teams in the league

Many Major League Baseball (MLB) teams are backed by deep-pocketed owners who are able to “purchase success.”  (The Yankees come to mind.)

The Oakland A’s never had this luxury.  Hence, A’s General Manager Billy Beane was forced to develop a new strategy for producing a successful team — a strategy that did not involve paying top-dollar for well-known recruits.

Beane turned to “sabermetrics” — statistics used to gauge player performance in baseball.  Sabermetrics was pioneered by Bill James in 1977.

Most MLB teams focused on a player’s physical ability and batting average when making drafting decisions.  However, James developed complex algorithms to show that on-base percentages and slugging percentages were better indicators of run-scoring ability.

Beane was intrigued by James’s calculations.  He hypothesized he could use similar calculations to draft better players than his competitors.

Baseball Formula

Beane pored over piles of statistics with the team’s analytical genius, Harvard grad Paul DePodesta.  They began to select proven, yet virtually unknown college players rather than the high school standouts prized by other teams.

The result? From 2000 to 2002, the A’s won 91, 102, and 103 games respectively (out of 162).  To top it all off, they did this with one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball.  (In 2002, the A’s payroll was $42 million — the second-lowest payroll in the MLB.  By contrast, the Yankees spent $126M and also won 103 games that season.)

The Oakland A’s quickly became one of the hottest teams in baseball.  And what did it take?  Some nerdy math guys and their TI-89s.  Who could have guessed?

Simpsons Baseball

Interesting Quotes:
“Reason, even science, was what Billy Beane was intent on bringing to baseball.”

“The [MLB] draft has never been anything but a f***ing crapshoot.  We take fifty guys and we celebrate if two of them make it. In what other business is two for fifty a success? If you did that in the stock market, you’d go broke.” -Billy Beane

“The twenty-three-year-old star pitcher, Barry Zito, said that it didn’t matter who played for the Oakland A’s or how much money the team had to spend: as long as Billy Beane ran the team, it had a shot at championships.”

“The A’s started showing me these numbers…how guys’ on-base percentages are important. It was like they didn’t want me to hit for average or for home runs, but walks would get me to the big leagues.” -Eric Chavez

If you like this book, you may like…
The Hidden Game of Baseball by Pete Palmer
How Bill James Changed Our View of the Game of Baseball edited by Gregory Augustine Pierce

Other notable books by the author:
Liar’s Poker
The Blind Side
The Big Short
Flash Boys

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