View From The Bleachers

Talking Cubs Baseball Since 2003



May 2009



I Have Seen The Light!

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Mine eyes have seen the glory by reading the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis (2003). This book presents, in a simple, clear and interesting way, a new and different way (to me) of looking at and understanding the game of professional baseball.

I have to admit that before reading this book, I knew absolutely nothing about this thing called sabermetrics. Now, I know a little bit. And Baby, I can guess the rest.

The story occurs in the context of GM Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics of a few years ago. It is well written and easy to follow. Here are some “gems” which I gathered from my reading of this book:

  • What he did last is not necessarily what he will do next.
  • Baseball people express their fondess for a thing by thinking up lots of different ways to say it.
  • Bunting, stealing, the hit and run, etc., are, in most situations, pointless or self defeating.
  • Hitting is the big thing.
  • Fielding is only about 5% of the game (ie. almost negligible).
  • Don’t make outs. Don’t walk batters.
  • “On base percentage” is the probability the batter will not make an out.
  • Every batter must act like a leadoff man and get on base.
  • Every batter must possess the power to hit home runs, draw walks, and maintain a high on base percentage.
  • The mental aspects of hitting are teachable.
  • The system is the star.
  • Bill James was looking into this in the ‘70s and 80s.
  • Every form of strength is also a form of weakness.
  • You have to do something RIGHT to get an error.
  • They believed they could judge a player’s performance simply by watching it.
  • The name “Sabermetrics” derives from SABR, the acronym of the Society for American Baseball Research. In 2002, the society had about seven thousand members.
  • “I think, really, that this in one reason that so many intelligent people drift away from baseball (when they come of age), that if you care about it at all you have to realize, as soon as you acquire a taste for independent thought, that a great portion of the sport’s traditional knowledge is ridiculous hokum.” Bill James
  • “….nitwits who glom onto something superficial in the book and misunderstand its underlying message.” Bill James
  • “…the invasion of statistical gremlins crawling at random all over the telecast of **** near every baseball game…” Bill James
  • Intelligence about baseball had become equated in the public mind with the ability to recite arcane baseball stats. What James’ wider audience had failed to understand was that the statistics were beside the point.
  • Abandon all hope of winning, and at the same time show up every day for work to collect a paycheck. The word for this is “rebuilding”.
  • The on base percentage for the majority of big league players is between .300 -.400
  • The slugging percentage for the majority of big league players is between .350 – .550
  • So the OPS (On base Plus Slugging) percentage for the majority of big league players is between .650 – .950
  • In Bill James’ model, an extra point of on-base percentage was worth three times an extra point of slugging percentage.
  • …broadly speaking, an attempted steal had to succeed about 70 percent of the time before it contributed positively to run totals.
  • “Derivatives” are those things that happen in the context of a baseball play that just never get recorded.
  • Morality is for fans.
  • Process versus outcomes
  • The five rules for shopping/trading players (roughly restated):
    1. Change is always good. Always be upgrading.
    2. You can always recover from the player you didn’t sign.
    3. Know exactly what every player in baseball is worth to you, in dollars.
    4. Know exactly who you want and go after him.
    5. To do this well, you have to ignore the newspapers.
  • “Trawling” for a trade.
  • “To get worked up over plays, or even games, is as unproductive as a casino manager worrying over the outcomes of individual pulls of the slot machines.”
  • The more money teams spent on players, the less able those players were to win baseball games (at least in the AL West).
  • “My **** doesn’t work in the playoffs – my job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is ****ing luck.” Billy Beane
  • “There are no secret recipies for the postseason, except maybe having three great starting pitchers.” Billy Beane

**Please accept my censorship in deleting some potentially offensive words. I do not mean to insult anyone’s intelligence, but I don’t want to offend any readers, either.

I enjoyed reading this book, and I recommend it very highly to anyone with an interest in professional baseball.

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