Moneyball tells the fascinating tale of Billy Beane’s ingenious use of statistical analysis in order to assemble a winning ballclub without the luxury of a large payroll. Through statistics such as OBP, SLG, and a slew of other stats, Beane was able to snatch ballplayers with “hidden virtues” up for a song, creating a team on a $35 million budget just as successful, if not better than the richest teams in the game. Beane’s A’s had become the very definition of quality over quantity.
Michael Lewis’ masterpiece begins with five high school kids performing multiple drills for scouts with the hope of being drafted. One of them stands out significantly over the other four; his name is Billy Beane. Beane was so unbelievably talented in the eyes of baseball’s scouts that the hype for him to make it to the majors was comparable to what we experienced with Stephen Strasburg. Beane was the poster child of a five-tool player. His fatal flaw though, was himself. Beane could not learn plate discipline, but even more importantly, his anger destroyed his playing ability. Beane would have been the first overall pick if he had not been torn on whether to go to college or to sign on with the team that drafts him, making him a risky draft choice. After being picked first round, 23rd overall, Beane ultimately decided to take the money and sign with the Mets, commencing his career in professional baseball. Unfortunately, Beane could not find any success in the majors; his numbers, especially sabermetric stats, were terrible. As a result, nine years after being drafted in the 1st round, at the age of 27, Beane was no longer a player, but beginning instead his new career in the Oakland A’s front office.
Beane began working under Oakland’s GM Sandy Alderson, who turns him onto the idea of sabermetrics. Alderson, a military man and an ivy league graduate, got into baseball because of a man by the name of Bill James, the founder of sabermetrics. Alderson kept a stack of his books on his desk and when Beane came to Alderson, he gave him those books to read and learn from. Needless to say, Beane was hooked.
Fast forwarding to Beane as the GM of the A’s, Moneyball sheds light on his secret weapon behind his genius methods, Paul DePodesta. DePodesta, now scouting director of the Mets under new GM Sandy Alderson, used OBP and whatever other statistics his computer could generate in order to find the players most likely to have success in the majors, the A’s were not looking to “sell jeans”.
In one excerpt, DePodesta tries to get a word in to the scouts, who could care less what he had to say. They probably should have listened:
“Paul said the scouts ought to go have a look at a college kid named Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis was a fat third baseman who couldn’t run, throw or field. What was the point of going to see that? (Because, Paul would be able to say three months later, Kevin Youkilis has the second highest on-base percentage in all of professional baseball, after Barry Bonds.)”
As clearly shown in Moneyball, Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s were not just a few signings that he got lucky on, but carefully orchestrated acquisitions that not only benefited the current ballclub, but the A’s of the future. The idea of drafting carefully to produce star players, retaining them until the end of their contracts and then getting more high draft picks to produce even more stars has kept Oakland in contention while retaining their small market status. Any player the A’s lost to free agency could be easily replaced with a no-names like Scott Hatteberg, Chad Bradford or John Mabry and have the same measure of success, in most cases even more success, than with a marquee name like Barry Zito or Jason Isringhausen.
Even when the A’s lost Jason Isringhausen, Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi following their 102-win season in 2001 and were written off as a guaranteed last place team by any and every baseball analyst out there, they managed to outdo themselves the following season, winning 103 games, just as many as the Yankees had won, except the A’s did it with one fourth of the payroll the Yankees had. He proved they weren’t just some miracle fluke team, but that they were a team that could show perennial success without spending hand over fist.
Bud Selig was trying to get support for the idea of revenue sharing to help poorer, smaller market teams compete with the rich, successful teams. Selig’s biggest argument was that small market teams simply could not have the same year-after-year dominance that teams like the Yankees had. Beane blew his theory out of the water with the Oakland A’s. The second smallest budget in the big leagues had won 100+ games two straight seasons with a no-name lineup and a few starting pitchers. Beane made the baseball world stop and re-think everything that they thought they already about the game. He shattered many of the old ideas.
Beane’s method of Moneyball, very similar but somewhat different than sabermetrics, was to eliminate the concepts of ERA, RBIs, runs, etc, and to build the A’s around who were the best run producers and the best out-makers. As it turns out, these ballplayers tended to be very affordable and extremely undervalued. Beane was looking to eliminate from his club the free swingers and the players without plate discipline. He was looking to get rid of the exact type of ballplayer he once was.
Not only did he succeed in creating his lineup of eight OBP-centered players, but he overcame the disbelief from other clubs and reporters to show that he had something, something big, something that could change the way the rest of the league and its fans looked at baseball.
Moneyball is one of the greatest baseball books ever written, if not the greatest. It is Michael Lewis’ crowning achievement, hands down. Combining not only baseball stats and analysis, but the stories and reasoning behind it. Perfectly blending the facts, his and others’ opinions, stats, and even some humor thrown in Lewis has created a genuine timeless masterpiece.
Moneyball is more than just sabermetrics, the Oakland A’s or even baseball. Moneyball is the story of one man with an amazing, astounding new way that comes face-to-face with an entire social order, unchanged for over 150 years, facing countless critics and doubters along the way, and ultimately emerges on top. Whether you are a Moneyball supporter or the opposition, we can all appreciate someone who stands up for what they truly believe and continue to work at it, and emerge victorious.
The best way to sum up this book in one sentence is from a review done by Nat Newell:
“Open this book…and your mind.”