Saturday, August 30, 2003

Moneyball





Michael Lewis is another author whose new releases I eagerly await. His latest, Moneyball, did not disappoint. It's the story of the Oakland A's, and how they've managed to stay competitive despite one of baseball's lowest payrolls. Billy Beane, the general manager, was a hot high school prospect who turned into a great baseball bust. As an executive, he's searching for a way to evaluate players that will avoid wasting money on players like him.

He and his cohorts have reduced baseball down to a science. Not only do they pick out good players based on statistics (rather than who "looks like a baseball player" -- there's a funny scene where some old scouts discuss a player's butt), but they have figure out which statistics matter. For example, stolen bases "look good", but getting caught stealing is one of the most damaging things that can happen. Walks, on the other hand, are a much undervalued commodity for hitters.

I'm not a huge baseball fan, but I really appreciated the idea that some people are trying to bring careful analysis to a superstition-riddled environment. I wonder how it would do with something more important -- like, say, football. I suspect smaller sample sizes and the more team-oriented nature of the game would make such an analysis impossible. On the other hand, lots of the analyses cited in Moneyball were counter-intuitive, so who knows...

Lewis comes across as a complete Beane and A's partisan in this book -- it's not the most objective work. I have a long-standing prejudice against the A's from the days the obnoxious Bash Brothers competed against my Twins. (Science is never going to come to fandom.) But since finishing this book last week, I've been checking the baseball standings and rooting, just a little bit, for the As.

5 out of 5 stars.
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