Moneyball by Michael Lewis
The book is always better than the movie, always. There aren't any exceptions. Well, Deliverance may be close, but no, the book is still better. Last night, I finally watched Moneyball with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, the movie based on the book by Michael Lewis, which I read last fall. Tomorrow I'll talk about the movie, but today, let's look at the book.
In Moneyball, author Michael Lewis chronicles how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane went against the conventional thinking in baseball and started looking a little deeper at players’ statistics. By finding so called diamonds in the rough, he was able to put together winning teams on a shoestring budget. They weren’t star-studded teams, but they won a lot of ball games.
But I like to think that the book isn’t about the Oakland A’s and their surprise success, it’s about how ineptly many sports franchises are run. In Moneyball, Billy Beane and his staff discover that by not following conventional statistics, which they find to be very flawed, they can get players that while good, other teams simply aren’t interested in.
Take a look at batting averages. While they do represent how often a player gets a hit, it doesn’t represent how successful he is at not making an out; that is better represented by on-base percentage. Of course today, everybody looks at that stat, but in 2000 it was cutting edge thinking. Because teams were so focused on batting average, instead of on-base percentage, Beane and his staff felt they could put together a great line up, by getting guys who had a really high on base percentage and paying them peanuts. These guys may not have as high an average, but there didn’t make as many outs. The thinking was it was better to have a guy batting .280 with a .400 OBP over a guy batting .310 with a .350 OBP. Sounds like a no brainer to me.
Naturally, when Beane first begins to look at these newer statistics, he meets a lot of resistance from his scouting department, who tend to rely on ‘gut feeling’ more than anything else, when trying to decide if an 18 year old will be a good player in six or seven years. He quickly realizes that his new system isn’t simply looking at a different column of stats, but a dramatic change in thinking about how the team is run. As most of the people running a team were former players, they tended to rely on the stats that were used in their playing days, however flawed. Basically, everybody seems to adhere to the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ philosophy, regardless of how ineffective it has always been.
Being a baseball fan and one who is interested in the economics of sports, the book is a natural fit. But one doesn't need t be a ball fan to enjoy this book. While Lewis delves pretty deep into the statistics and mathmatics of baseball, it's explained in layman's terms, allowing anybody to understand it and more importantly to be entertained by it. Much of the data is actaully quite generic and really could be applied to any sport. Like, say, hockey, which has no shortage of statistics that don't make any sense or provide us with any real information on a player's value. But that's another topic for another day.
Simply put, the book is well written, interestind, and entertaining, which I guess makes for a pretty good read.