Typically, I go in phases when it comes to reading. I’ll chew books up and spit them out in great regularity for periods of time, and then I burn myself out, and not turn a page for weeks. My wife and I have recently moved, and in doing so, we’ve made trips to the local library a scheduled event. I’d always heard about the book, “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis and had attempted to pick up a copy while killing time in airports during business travel. It never worked out. Two weeks ago, my wife came home with a little surprise, she looked it up, and sure enough the local library had a copy. I was off and reading.
For those of you that haven’t heard of “Moneyball,” the basic gist of it is how the Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, has consistently put the organization on the winning side of baseball since he came on board. Billy and his staff, which at the time of writing consisted of Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, turned baseball on it’s head, with their new approach at how and what attributes are more important in determining winning in baseball. Stats, that “old man’s club” in baseball would like to make us think of as important, really are meaningless, where as On Base Percentage, Walks, Pitches per At Bat, etc., are more heavily weighted. Obviously, Mr. Beane and his crew were onto something, as we saw in the early 2000’s. Even as they lost players like Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada, they continued to win.
For my taste, I’m not much into Sabermetrics, as I am completely math challenged, but Micheal Lewis begins with the touching on the history of this newer stat idea by discussing Bill James’ approach, and his thought processes gaining a toehold with others throughout the the last three decades. It’s light in math, and more into the history of how James came up with the roots of Sabermetrics. As someone that loves to just get a glimpse into the psyche of a baseball player, Lewis also tells the tale of Billy Beane’s major league career after being a high draft pick. I actually found the thought process that Billy went through being a young player fascinating. Mostly because he had some of the same thoughts running through his head, as I do when I’m thinking about my silly little baseball “career.” At a higher level of competition, it was somewhat comforting knowing that even a guy with loads more talent still questioned himself on a daily basis.
The second two thirds of the book really begin to cover how Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta ran the Oakland A’s during two of the most extraordinary seasons by one team. To top it, with one of the smallest payrolls. They’d put a winning product out on the field, with no name players, draft picks that weren’t highly sought after, and making sure Art Howe managed to fit their new way of thinking. It’s really no wonder that teams like the D-Backs, Rockies, and Indians (three smaller market teams) made the playoffs. One which is awaiting for either the Red Sox, another team that is following Beane’s model, or the Indians. If you haven’t picked up this book, I recommend that you do. You’ll see baseball management in a whole new light. And perhaps you’ll start to get a bit angry at how a team like Oakland can be competitive each year, while the Cubs cannot.