Book Review: Moneyball
With the recent launching of this website, it seems only natural to review the best selling baseball book of the last decade.
“We take fifty guys (in the draft) 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.
Billy Beane was a supremely talented major league prospect who somehow never made it to the big leauges. However, his contribution to baseball is far reaching. The volatile and enigmatic Beane, as GM of the Oakland Athletics, brings analytics and economics into the mainstream operations of running a ball club. This new management approach represented a sea change in baseball philosophy and is the basis of Michael Lewis’ dynamic page-turner, Moneyball.
Lewis has a financial analyst background (his latest book, The Big Short, about the free fall of the US economy, was just released) and is able to describe Beane’s thought process in economic terms. Specifically, that some player statistics (for example, On Base Percentage) were undervalued relative to other statistics (for instance, Slugging Percentage) and that created market inefficiencies, read buying opportunities, for small-market teams like the Oakland Athletics. The market inefficiencies allowed Oakland to compete across a number of years with the likes of large-market teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox.
The book documents the ” religious war” between traditional scouting, which has been goverened mainly by a scout’s gut instinct, and a new methodology, based on rigorous statistical analysis. Some of Beane’s operational principles cut against the grain of conventional wisdom.
- On Base Percentage is more important than Slugging Percentage in determining a player’s worth,
- Drafting college prospects has a demonstrably higher chance of success than drafting high school prospects.
- Sacrifice bunting and stealing bases are, statistically-speaking, poor moves.
After his fledgling playing career came to an end, Beane got his start with Oakland from then current GM Sandy Alderson – an Ivy-League educated, military trained disciple of little known baseball statistical guru Bill James. Alderson told Billy to go out and find undervalued players. However, Alderson’s charge needed some intellectual firepower. For that, Beane hired Ivy-league educated Paul DePodesta as his statistical right-hand-man.
The analytical, objective lineage was passed from Bill James (and his ilk) to Alderson to Beane to DePodesta carried on to other teams with the hiring of J.P. Ricciardi by Toronto and Theo Epstein by Boston. The Moneyball philosophy is now embraced by almost all MLB teams.
Moneyball however is more than just a statistics lesson. It is a fascinating personality study of Billy Beane and an inside look at the entire front office operations of the Oakland A’s. The book makes readers feel as if they are inside the draft room when decisions are being made. Readers will no longer think about the annual baseball draft or, for that matter, watch a baseball game in quite the same way.
BoB Ratings: Home Run (a fantastic read, whether you are a baseball fan, a historian, a Sabremetrician, or a MBA student) (Amazon: 4.55 B&N 4.5 Goodreads 4.21)
Hear Michael Lewis talk about Moneyball